The Miami Herald
October 9, 2000

OAS trying to break Haiti impasse

Country could be left as pariah if election disputes go unsettled


 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, assistant
 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 until today.
 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 a postponement
 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.


 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 currency, the
 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 in which
 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 says it
 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 recognition of
 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
 foreign assistance.

 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 staffer who
 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.''