The Miami Herald
March 20, 2001

Aristide backers clash with rivals

Violence forces partial shutdown of Port-au-Prince


 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

                                    © 2001