OAS trying to break Haiti impasse
Country could be left as pariah if election disputes go unsettled
BY DON BOHNING
A top OAS official will return to Haiti this week to make a ``last
chance'' effort to
resolve the political crisis that could make an international pariah of the
hemisphere's poorest country.
It will be the third trip to Haiti in a month for Luigi Einaudi,
secretary-general of the Organization of American States and the designated
point man for international efforts to broker a solution to Haiti's electoral standoff.
The crisis threatens the credibility of a scheduled Nov. 26 vote
for president and
nine Senate seats.
A week of shuttle diplomacy on Einaudi's last visit failed to
bring about a
face-to-face meeting between representatives of former President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's dominant Lavalas Family party and the opposition, prompting Einaudi to
declare a time out.
``This is an active pause for reflection,'' Einaudi said in a
telephone interview from
Washington. ``It is apparent that a very large number of different groups in Haiti,
not just political parties but also business and civil society representatives, are
increasingly coming together to push for an accord. And I expect enough
progress to take place in the coming week to be able to return to Haiti at the end
of the week to try to facilitate one.''
Even Einaudi concedes, however, that ``time is running out, and
this is the last
The government is moving ahead as scheduled in preparation for
the Nov. 26 vote,
which Aristide is expected to win handily and which the opposition is boycotting.
Candidate registration, scheduled to close Oct. 2, has been extended
The only presidential candidates who have registered are four unknowns without
party affiliation. Aristide had been expected to register, but the weeklong
extension was announced before he did so.
If an agreement is reached, say diplomatic sources, it will require
of Nov. 26 elections, probably until sometime in December, but a new president
would still be inaugurated Feb. 7, 2001, as scheduled. Candidate registration
would have to be reopened, if it is not extended again today.
BOTH SIDES PRESSED
During the break between Einaudi's last visit and the upcoming
one, according to
diplomatic sources, intense international pressure for an accord has been applied
on both the opposition and Aristide, along with his ally, the government of
President Rene Preval.
Additional pressure has come from the near collapse of Haiti's
gourde, which has gone from about 18 to the U.S. dollar four months ago to as
low as 32 to the dollar within the last week. It has sent the cost of living
skyrocketing and generated increasing discontent.
The electoral dispute centers on May 21 parliamentary elections
Aristide's Lavalas Family won an overwhelming majority in both legislative
chambers. But an OAS observer mission said 10 of the 18 Senate seats Lavalas
won in the first round should have gone to a runoff.
Lavalas Family insists the 10 seats are nonnegotiable. The opposition
won't participate in Nov. 26 elections unless a satisfactory solution for the 10
seats is reached. It has also demanded suspension of the new parliament seated
in August and a reconstituted Provisional Electoral Council.
As a counter-proposal, Lavalas Family reportedly offered not to
contest some or
all of the nine Senate seats to be filled in the upcoming elections, allowing them
to go to the opposition. The opposition rejects that offer and insists the May 21
vote be resolved before anything else is negotiated.
The Clinton administration has said that if no agreement is reached
to provide for
opposition participation in the upcoming elections, it will not support the elections
or an observer mission financially. The administration also says it would channel
aid to Haiti through nongovernmental organizations and would look closely at all
assistance provided by multilateral financial institutions.
Lack of an agreement would also throw into question international
the new president -- probably Aristide -- as well as the current parliament resulting
from the May and July votes, costing Haiti hundreds of millions of dollars in
Skeptics, of whom there are many, think Einaudi's effort to forge
a solution is
essentially a mission impossible, given the intransigence of the two sides.
``I don't hold out much hope,'' said a longtime foreign analyst
in Haiti. ``I think
enough pressure has been put on Aristide that he is prepared to make some
concessions, but not enough to please the opposition.''
``This is the last chance for getting it right,'' said a congressional
tracks Haiti. ``The mood in Congress is that it will not support something that falls
short of a full and fair process that deals directly with all of the concerns,
including May 21 . . . and obviously a new, credible, competent electoral council
free of Aristide influence.''