Aristide backers clash with rivals
Violence forces partial shutdown of Port-au-Prince
BY YVES COLON
With signs that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is failing in
his promise to free Haiti from chronic political violence, his supporters
rioted Monday in the capital
Port-au-Prince and attacked opponents of the president's newly installed government.
Shutting down parts of the city, Aristide sympathizers set up
flaming barricades and stoned cars trying to drive around the obstacles.
Several drivers were injured,
according to news agency reports.
``The situation is deteriorating rapidly,'' said Edouard Paultre,
a member of a mediation group in Port-au-Prince that has tried to settle
disputes between Aristide and his
political rivals. ``We have entered a cycle of violence and political terror.''
Opposition leaders said Aristide's backers shot at their party
offices and threw rocks at some of their members, injuring three of them.
An independent radio station said it
received death threats.
Chanting ``Aristide or Death,'' government supporters demanded
the arrest of Gerard Gourgue, the veteran politician and human rights activist
who is the president of a
parallel government set up by an alliance of political parties that has challenged Aristide's victory in last November's elections.
``Our lives are in jeopardy,'' Gourgue said Monday. ``The government and the police have abandoned the country to street thugs.''
Haitian officials dispute charges that the protesters are paid
by Aristide's Family Lavalas party to cow the opposition. ``They [the protesters]
are doing this spontaneously
because they're tired of it,'' Guy Paul, minister of communication and culture said on Monday. ``They're trying to force the government to take this seriously, to finish with
this parallel government business. They're doing this alone.''
The outbreak of violence, which has been simmering over several
weeks and came to the surface Saturday, prompted the U.S. ambassador to
Haiti, Brian Curran, to
appeal for calm.
``The embassy calls on the government and the National Police
of Haiti to respect and protect the democratic and constitutional rights
of all citizens and to allow them to
peaceably assemble and express their political opinions,'' Curran said in a statement.
Jean-Claude Bajeux, the head of a human rights center in the capital,
warned that Haiti now faces real turmoil. ``The team in power now is going
full speed ahead and
they're going toward the precipice,'' Bajeux said.
The dispute between Aristide and the opposition has been simmering
since May, following legislative elections that gave Lavalas an 80 percent
majority in the parliament.
The opposition boycotted the presidential elections, which an electoral commission said Aristide won with 92 percent of the vote.
The opposition has rejected offers to join Aristide's government, saying both elections were fraudulent.
The Organization of American States has also said 10 Senate seats
won by Aristide party members should have gone to a second-round vote,
and millions in international
aid have been put on hold over the results.
Haiti's foreign minister, Antonio Philippe Joseph, addressed the
Permanent Council of the OAS in Washington last week, saying that his government
was searching for a
``consensual solution of the crisis'' stemming from the May elections.
Antonio presented a new calendar for legislative elections, pointing
that a number of measures had been implemented in keeping with an eight-point
plan of engagement to
which Aristide had committed himself in a letter to President Clinton last December.
Two legislators, Republican Peter Goss of Florida and Democrat
William Delahunt of Massachusetts, reminded Aristide recently that the
United States will help Haiti tap
into the promised $500 million in aid if he keeps his promises.
That OAS meeting was a disaster for Haiti's government, said an
observer of Haitian politics who did not want his name used. Joseph wanted
the OAS to set a permanent
mission to Haiti to satisfy the eight-point plan. They turned him down.
``Without money the country goes down the drain,'' he said. ``Without
Aristide making concessions, or the opposition accepting any concessions,
not a dime comes to