PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) -- Stores and schools were closed in Haiti
on Friday during a national strike called by political groups to oppose
President Rene Preval's decision to rule without parliament.
The standoff between Preval and the legislature began 11 days ago when
Preval said he would uphold an electoral law that set Jan. 11 as the end of
the term for most of the Caribbean nation's legislative and municipal officials.
Legislators objected to the decision, which in effect dissolved parliament
allowed Preval to rule by decree.
Although Preval has promised to hold elections as quickly as possible,
legislators said new elections must be held before they will vacate their seats.
The lawmakers say their terms should not end until October.
Most larger businesses in Port-au-Prince were closed on Friday, and there
was less street traffic than usual.
Police reported no unrest or violence.
Radio reports from outside the capital city said the strike call seemed
have had little effect. And for poor and working-class Haitians, even in
Port-au-Prince, it was business as usual. Small stores were open and
informal markets fanned out across major streets.
"What's the strike about?" asked Nikel Louis, slicing honey bread outside
bakery in Pont Rouge, a Port-au-Prince slum.
Many people in poor neighborhoods of the capital said the current political
crisis was a game between politicians and was not about helping the
country's poor majority.
"All the politicians in the country are not helping the people, they are
filling their pockets with money," Louis said.
But legislators who called the strike said they felt it was necessary to
democracy in the hemisphere's poorest nation, where U.S. troops ended a
military dictatorship only four years ago.
"It is a strike to send out a warning about the political situation and
the installation of a de facto regime," Sen. Elie Plancher said by telephone
from his home, referring to Preval's decision to install prime
minister-designate Jacques Edouard Alexis as the head of government by
The battle between Preval and the lawmakers is the latest standoff in a
19-month political crisis touched off by the June 1997 resignation of Prime
Minister Rosny Smarth.
The failure of Preval and parliament to agree on a new prime minister--
parliament rejected his first three nominations-- has virtually paralyzed the
government and delayed millions of dollars in international aid to Haiti.
Jean-Wildes Aristide, who was cutting wooden painting frames in Cite
Soleil, Haiti's largest slum, said striking was a luxury poor Haitians could not
"If we strike, we can't make money to feed our children," Aristide said.
grew up here ... grew up surrounded by mud, nothing has ever changed," he
said, "but I still believe in democracy."
Preval stepped up pressure on defiant lawmakers on Wednesday, ordering
their diplomatic passports annulled and telling them to return government
He issued the order as legislators said they would take their dispute with
president to the Haitian Supreme Court.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.