Haiti asks for renewal of U.N. role
President shifts course in quest for economic aid from abroad
BY STEWART M. STOGEL AND YVES COLON
Faced with a deteriorating economy and the possibility that Haiti
will remain off-limits to international lenders, President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide has asked the United
Nations to renew its political presence in Haiti.
The change in policy represents a concession to the international
community and an acknowledgement of Haiti's precarious economic condition,
which will require
international aid in order to improve.
That political presence would come in the form of a special representative to succeed Alfredo Lopes Cabral.
He left Haiti in February after Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended that the mandate of the U.N.'s International Civilian Mission to Haiti not be renewed.
At the time, Aristide chose not to request an extension of Cabral's mandate, reflecting the view of many Aristide supporters that U.N. workers were meddling in national affairs.
This reversal in policy comes at a crucial moment when several
international agencies are meeting in Washington and New York to discuss
international aid for Haiti.
Among them are the World Bank, the Organization of American States and the International Monetary Fund.
``It will be Haiti's week, that's for sure,'' said Mauricio Valdés, who heads the United Nations Development Program's effort in Haiti and just returned from a tour of the country.
According to Valdés, the OAS members want Aristide to offer greater concessions to a coalition of political parties that oppose his government in order to improve political stability and create a climate of confidence for international lenders.
The members wanted a meeting now in advance of the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Quebec, Canada, on April 20.
``I think Aristide will be presented with options,'' Valdés said, but he declined to elaborate.
Before winning reelection to the presidency last November, Aristide steered his Family Lavalas party to victory in more than 80 percent of local and legislative races, which the opposition charged were fraudulent.
Afterward, Aristide made a number of overtures to the opposition concerning future elections, but all were rejected.
The OAS said the presidential election was valid but cast doubt on 10 first-round Senate victories claimed by Aristide's party.
The international community supported the OAS assessment, with some countries blocking aid and others threatening to withhold or re-orient desperately needed funds, believed to be as much as $600 million.
Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Marie Cherestal has said the amount of aid being withheld was not proportionate to the allegation of electoral wrongdoing.
Valdés said he believes that as long as the electoral crisis
remains unresolved, ``it is good that the international community keeps
up some pressure and not commit
additional monies in large quantities.''
However, he said, ``what we think is necessary is to remain engaged in certain key institutions concerned with the rule of law -- precisely, police, prisons and justice.''
In its last report, updated in 1999, the International Development Bank, a key lender, pointed out that the Haitian economy had improved in 1998, growing 3.1 percent, compared with 1.4 percent the year before. It was expected to grow even more this year. The uncertain political situation, among other things, threatens to erase all that progress, Valdés said.
``This will continue to undermine investor confidence and disrupt
the implementation of donor-backed efforts to remove Haiti's serious structural
necessary to alleviate poverty,'' the report said.
The latest picture to be presented by the International Monetary Fund at the Washington meeting will be ``very grim, to an extent never seen before,'' Valdés said.
Valdés said the U.N. Development Program believes that its operation would be enhanced if Annan agreed to name the new special envoy, as Aristide has requested.
``We need someone who carries some political weight,'' Valdés said.
``The people now in the country are seen by the government as U.N. bureaucrats and as such do not carry the necessary political weight.''