Aristide offers bailout plan for Haitian crisis
BY YVES COLON
Secretary General César Gaviria of the Organization of American States left Haiti Thursday with a formal proposal from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that could put an end to the political crisis that has paralyzed the country for the past year.
In that letter, Aristide spells out provisions to end the political stalemate in Haiti, including setting up an independent electoral council within the next 30 days, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. That council, in turn, would organize elections for eight contested senate seats within three months after that.
Although Aristide has not commented in public on his proposal, Gaviria will take his letter to OAS delegates in Costa Rica, where the organization is holding its general meeting this Sunday. Gaviria will present a report on his trip, and the delegates will then debate whether they should take Aristide at his word.
``We told Mr. Gaviria that we had no problem with either of these
issues because we want to resolve this as quickly as possible,'' said Yvon
Neptune, a member of
Aristide's Family Lavalas party and the leader of the Haitian senate. ``Our country is going through an embargo right now and the reality is that we cannot let this suffering go on any longer. We're ready to do whatever it takes to get us out of this.''
Any agreement that would come out of this proposal would obligate the OAS and CARICOM, the Caribbean's political and economic organization, to work with lending agencies to free up more than a half a billion dollars in aid and loans held up since last May, when the crisis began.
Gaviria's delegation to Haiti included Dame Eugenia Charles, the former prime minister of Dominica representing CARICOM. During their two days in Haiti, the delegation met on several occasions with Aristide, Lavalas officials and members of the Convergence Democratique, a coalition of 15 minor parties that has opposed Aristide's presidency for the past year, setting up its own ``provisional president.''
According to sources familiar with the talks, both Gaviria and Eugenia Charles accused the opposition of ``inflexibility'' in the standoff. They were equally hard with Aristide and the government.
Aristide and his party have made several overtures to the opposition that were turned down. Convergence members agreed last week to sit down with Aristide before Gaviria's trip, but canceled at the last minute.
Before they talk, they said, they wanted the government to release
Prosper Avril, a former general arrested last weekend on charges of human
rights abuses, and
Convergence supporter Gabriel Fortuné, an outspoken former member of the parliament.
Convergence rejected Gaviria's proposal. Gerard Pierre-Charles, head of one of the largest parties that make up the coalition, called Aristide's proposal and Gaviria's role a blow to the group's efforts.
``We're thoroughly disappointed by this `agreement,' and we're asking ourselves what motivated Mr. Gaviria to do this,'' said Pierre-Charles, who had just returned from Washington, where he was lobbying his group's position before Congress and members of the Bush government.
In the proposal Gaviria takes with him to Costa Rica, Aristide also pledges to organize new elections in two years for all deputies, and to cut by two years the terms of senators. He promised as much in a letter to President Clinton last December.
``This should satisfy anyone who had any problems with the elections,'' Neptune said. ``At least that's what we're hoping. We want to get this thing resolved as quickly as possible. Too many Haitians have already suffered because of this.''
The break between Lavalas and the opposition took place last May, before local and legislative elections where some 29,000 candidates were running for 7,500 posts.