Haiti's Aristide faces uphill struggle
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- Jean-Bertrand Aristide, champion of
Haiti's poor, is poised to return on Wednesday to the presidency he held five
years ago but faces an uphill battle to remedy a ruined economy and regain the
support of the United States and other international allies.
Since Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected president, left office in
government of the poorest nation in the Americas has been crippled by political
infighting, a paralysis that irked previously friendly nations and led them to freeze
$500 million in desperately needed aid.
"He's under tremendous pressure from the international community to reach
compromise," said ex-Prime Minister Marc Bazin, who lost to Aristide in 1990
elections and now leads the opposition party Movement to Install Democracy.
"And he faces resistance from his own camp about the whole compromise. He's
caught between a rock and a hard place."
Aristide rose to power in a popular grass-roots movement but was toppled
military coup seven months into his term in 1991 and went into exile. A U.S.-led
invasion restored the former slum priest to power three years later.
A constitutional mandate prevented Aristide from running for a consecutive
and he passed the mantle to his protege, Rene Preval, in 1996.
Haiti turned a cold shoulder to the world community last year when authorities
refused to recount allegedly tainted results from legislative and local elections
held in May. The poll yielded an overwhelming majority in parliament for
Aristide's ruling party, Lavalas Family.
The election irregularities, along with Preval's 1999 dismissal of parliament,
prompted the international community to suspend some $500 million in foreign
aid earmarked for the Caribbean nation of 7.8 million.
The United States, which did not send aid or observers to the November
presidential election, said it would send aid money only to non-governmental and
The presidential election was boycotted by the opposition and marred by
sporadic killings and violence in the weeks before. Aristide won with 92 percent
of the vote then agreed in a letter to then-U.S. President Bill Clinton that he
would implement a broad range of reforms, including a reexamination of the May
Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed the Bush administration's
support for Aristide's cooperation.
Aristide took a step toward mending political fences at the weekend, meeting
the first time in years with opposition leaders who had vowed to set up an
"alternative" government to Aristide's and to organize new elections.
Meeting at Vatican Embassy
Although the meeting, held at the Vatican Embassy, apparently produced
concrete results, analysts said it signaled that the two sides were serious about
resolving Haiti's long political crisis. They were scheduled to meet again on
Still, the United States -- which has always regarded Aristide with some
suspicion because of his leftist leanings -- and others are wary of his ability to
carry out his promises.
"He needs to get the international community to finance his economic plan,"
Kesner Pharel, president of Group Croissance, an economic consulting firm.
"Not only do they need to convince the IMF to finance the plan, but they also
have to find ways to attract foreign investment."
Private foreign investment, deterred by rampant corruption, violence and
instability, dropped to practically nil after the United States and United Nations
imposed embargoes following the coup. It has yet to rebound.
Foreign investment could help jump-start Haiti's sinking economy. Almost
percent of the population lives in poverty and the minimum wage is just over $2
An informal economy where street-side vendors sell snacks and cigarettes,
coupled with a booming drug trade, has helped keep the country afloat.
"We Haitian people want to see the country move forward," said Aristide
27, a local resident sitting in the recently renovated Champs de Mars plaza
downtown in front of the National Palace. "Not always breaking down, not
always breaking down."
Haitians closely followed the U.S. presidential elections, eager to see
foreign policy would treat their country for the next four years.
James Morrell, research director for the think tank Center for International
Policy in Washington, holds that the Bush administration will not differ from its
"They will continue the basic stance of the Clinton administration," Morrell
"They will probably send the ambassador to the inauguration but they will still be
pressing Aristide in the points raised in the letter."
Copyright 2001 Reuters.