March 7, 1999
Aristide charity could boost him back to power in mired Haiti

                  DUVIVIER, Haiti (AP) -- When the sugar mill that provided their
                  livelihoods shut down, residents of this farming village on the outskirts of
                  Haiti's capital burned the sugar stumps and began growing vegetables for
                  their families.

                  Convinced they could multiply production if they didn't have to haul buckets
                  of water from the nearby river, they appealed to the government for a water
                  pump -- a leap of faith in a country whose leaders have mostly been corrupt
                  or uncaring.

                  "The government would do nothing for us," said Wilfried Mervil, chief of the
                  village's cooperative project.

                  To make things worse, bureaucrats tried to expropriate the land to make
                  way for a housing project to take in people from a swampy shantytown now
                  overcrowded with a quarter million residents. Protests by the farmers finally
                  persuaded the government to drop that plan.

                  Enter a foundation run by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom
                  many Haitians see as the only political figure who can get anything done in a
                  land where poverty and official inertia seem to be crushing the national spirit.

                  Two years, six pumps

                  At the Aristide Foundation, the Committee to Uplift Duvivier found
                  sympathetic ears, an interest-free loan for $1,000 and people with the
                  influence to persuade the Ministry of Agriculture to rent them a pump.

                  Two years later, the villagers have six small pumps feeding water to 740
                  acres of plantain, bananas, callaloo leaves and okra, up from 50 acres. In
                  February, Duvivier's residents were even able to move a pump to the village
                  of Sibert to help their neighbors.

                  Since the Aristide Foundation was founded in 1996, Aristide's squabbling
                  rivals have watched in frustration as it has helped strengthen a popularity that
                  few doubt will help sweep him back to power in the 2000 presidential

                  The foundation's credit bank last year gave a total of $625,000 in loans
                  repayable in different ways to its 12,000 members, each of whom paid 25
                  gourdes ($1.50) to join.

                  Critics claim political ambitions

                  Part of the foundation's broader appeal is its effort to persuade its
                  beneficiaries to sell their goods at low prices -- critical in a society where a
                  proliferation of middlemen has made staples expensive.

                  At Christmas, the foundation sold piglets at half price. Parents and students
                  in search of textbooks come to buy at discounted rates. The foundation even
                  provides foreign-language classes at a third of the tuition of private schools.

                  Aristide and the foundation do not lack for critics. His opponents contend
                  the foundation is really just a means to promote Aristide's political ambitions.
                  And they try to raise suspicions about its financing.

                  The foundation won't release details on its income, saying only that its money
                  comes from anonymous donors and the proceeds from Aristide's lecture
                  tours and book sales.

                  Preval and paralysis

                  The United States was wary when Aristide, a left-leaning former Roman
                  Catholic priest, won Haiti's first democratic election in 1990. But he was a
                  dramatic improvement over previous Haitian rulers, and after he was
                  overthrown by a murderous military regime, U.S. troops invaded in 1994 to
                  reinstall him.

                  Constrained by a constitution that banned consecutive terms, Aristide
                  handed power to President Rene Preval in 1995. Aristide's critics charge
                  that since then he has not stopped scheming to return to power.

                  Haiti's paralysis has certainly fed a national yearning for a savior. Preval and
                  his combative parliament could not agree on a prime minister for 19 months,
                  leaving the country without a budget and causing world donors to withhold
                  hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. In January, Preval declared he would
                  no longer recognize parliament, and fears of violence have mounted.

                  Some Aristide critics go so far as to charge he is conspiring with Preval to
                  prevent real progress in order to better his chances to be seen as a potential
                  savior by the masses. The foundation, they say, is just more manipulation
                  that feeds a debilitating traditional dependency on patronage from

                  "The foundation is a propaganda machine for Aristide's party ... a
                  recruitment center for street activists," said Mischa Gaillard of the socialist
                  National Congress of Democratic Movements.

                  Sour grapes

                  Aristide has refused to respond directly. But the foundation's defenders say
                  the attacks are sour grapes from politicians who rarely raise a helping hand

                  "Not only do we operate in the social domain, but equally in the economic
                  domain -- and if that involves politics, we do politics, but constructive
                  politics," said the foundation's director, Hilaire Toussaint.

                  "Of course, this is the kind of thing the government should be doing. But if it
                  is incapable, why shouldn't someone else help?"

                  At the foundation, Aristide occasionally preaches in a cathedral-like hall that
                  can hold 1,000 people. Portraits of the diminutive, bespectacled priest hang
                  in most rooms.

                  He lectures on the virtues of a populist democracy and the need to expand
                  the kind of grass-roots organizations that propelled him to the presidency.

                  "The foundation to some extent is probably more effective than the
                  government, and consequently Aristide is being perceived as the person who
                  gets things done whether he's in power or out," said professor Percy
                  Hintzen, a political sociologist and chairman of black studies at the University
                  of California at Berkeley.

                  The political implications of such patronage are clear.

                  "I'm not a fan of Aristide's, but if I use his services, then I have to vote for
                  him," said a policeman who bought cheap schoolbooks from the foundation.
                  "That's how it works in Haiti."

                  Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.