The Miami Herald
December 13, 2001

Violence eroding Aristide's rule

Crisis keeps aid, loans from reaching Haiti


 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- A chaotic confrontation this week between police and mourners at the funeral of a murdered Haitian journalist serves as an ugly reminder of Haiti's endemic political violence.

 On Dec. 3, Brignol Lindor, the news director for Radio Eco 2000, was stoned and hacked to death with a machete by a mob near the town of Petit-Goave, 40 miles west of the country's capital. The week before, Lindor, 31, had received death threats after inviting members of the opposition Convergence alliance to speak on his radio show.

 Political insiders and experts say Lindor's killing is another example of the type of mob violence and vigilantism infecting Haiti.

 Taken together with a riot that broke out Tuesday at Lindor's funeral when police stopped 4,000 mourners heading for the cemetery, the political climate is one of eroding confidence in President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government and his ruling Lavalas Family Party, both inside and outside the country.


 On Wednesday, Luigi Einaudi, a top official with the Organization of American States, left Haiti after a 17th visit, saying the country's political crisis had not been resolved.

 At the same time, senior State Department officials told Haiti's visiting foreign and finance ministers Wednesday that unless progress is made on Aristide's proposed
 reforms, the United States would continue to oppose international loans and direct assistance to the government of Haiti.

 Aristide's plan calls for resolving last year's controversial elections, improving counternarcotics cooperation, strengthening democracy, addressing security and migration issues and improving respect for human rights.

 ``We are past the point of no return,'' said Jean-Claude Bajeux, director of the Haitian Ecumenical Human Rights Center, referring to what he believes is the onset of
 political upheaval.

 Signs around the country that once said Aba Lavalas (Down with Lavalas) are now joined by Aba Aristide, scribbled in bold red lettering on official government buildings and other structures.

 Einaudi, the OAS's assistant secretary-general, arrived in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 5. For more than a year, he has been trying to defuse a crisis between members of
 Aristide's Lavalas party and the opposition over last year's disputed parliamentary and local elections. The opposition has charged they were rigged.

 The OAS determined that seven senators declared winners after first-round voting should have faced runoffs. As a result, the United States and foreign donors have
 blocked millions of dollars in aid.

 ``The growing polarization and violence demoralizing Haitians underscores the critical need for building democratic space,'' said Einaudi, who submitted a set of proposals for new elections to both sides before leaving. ``An electoral agreement between Fanmille Lavalas and the principal opposition, Convergence Democratique, is increasingly difficult to achieve but more important than ever.''

 New elections, however, are only part of Haiti's difficulties.

 The country is contending unsuccessfully with government corruption, mismanagement, deadly assaults on freedom of expression, the blockade on international aid, and the rampant vigilante justice by those claiming to defend the government.


 Feeding the vigilantism, Bajeux and others say, is a speech by Aristide early this summer in which he urged the Haitian people to take a ``zero tolerance'' attitude toward crime. However, some pro-Aristide supporters and government officials have interpreted it to also mean ``zero tolerance'' toward anyone linked to the opposition.

 ``A lot of local authorities are behaving exactly like the Tonton Macoutes under Duvalier,'' Bajeux said, referring to the secret police that exercised their own brand of enforcement on Haitians during the Duvalier dictatorship. ``What we are seeing now are offshoots of anarchy that go through the local authorities.''

 Bajeux said there have been nearly 40 incidents of people killed by mobs in public lynchings since Aristide's speech.

 Luc Especa, a press secretary for Aristide, said the lynchings and the Dec. 3 killing of Lindor are isolated incidents brought on by clashes between ``people who claim they are Lavalas'' and Convergence members. He blames the Convergence for the anti-Aristide signs, and say they by no means reflect the general public sentiment.

 He said Aristide has condemned Lindor's killing and has asked for an inquiry.

 Michele Montas-Dominique, the widow of slain Haitian radio journalist Jean Dominique, said no one is safe -- not journalists, not human rights workers, not everyday citizens. Dominique, a friend of former President René Preval, was gunned down in the courtyard of his radio station in April 2000 after criticizing some Lavalas party members. His killers have not been identified .


 ``The society has become so polarized,'' Montas-Dominique said. ``The social tensions are across the board.''

 In the week following Lindor's death, reports have circulated that he was a member of the opposition Convergence alliance. His family and Convergence members dispute those claims.

 ``He was not a member of the Convergence,'' said Osner Févry, a member of the opposition.

 Robert Ménard, general secretary of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, which has been pushing the government to seek justice in the Jean Dominique case, blames the attacks on police and local officials. His group has documented 15 attacks against journalists this year, ranging from death threats to physical assaults.

 "This wave of attacks and the last killing is a direct consequence of Jean Dominique,'' Ménard said, referring to the lack of justice surrounding the case.

 "If there is impunity, they believe they can repeat these kinds of acts without fear of arrest and of being judged.''

                                    © 2001