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Posted Sunday, November 19, 2006
Extreme violence-issued gross incompetent Haiti President Preval's days are largely numbered in scale
By Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters Writer

Six months on, Haitians grumble over government By Joseph Guyler Delva PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Six months after President Rene Preval took office, little is changed in Haiti -- gangs control parts of the capital, the economy is moribund and officials accused of corruption run government offices.

Half a year is a blink of the eye in politics, especially for a government starved of funds and facing perhaps insurmountable problems in the hemisphere's poorest country.

But some Haitians already complain that the man elected to bring change has not built roads, freed political prisoners or ousted officials suspected of rights abuses and corruption.

"President Preval has disregarded the voters' will by keeping those officials in place and I feel really outraged," said slum resident Marc Orel Caseus, 26, who voted for Preval in the general election on Feb. 7.

Preval, an agronomist and Aristide protege who was president from 1996 to 2001, was the poor's overwhelming choice to replace Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's interim government, installed after rebels pushed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004.

Washington, always a behind-the-scenes player in its turbulent neighbor, sent troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide to power after his ouster in a 1991 coup, and sent them again in 2004 after accusing Aristide of despotism and corruption and urging him to leave during the revolt.

Security has improved since Preval's May 14 inauguration: Most of the country is relatively calm and U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police have established positions in volatile Port-au-Prince slums once wholly controlled by gunmen.

But gangs still call the shots in parts of the capital and a Roman Catholic Church report said gun violence killed at least 228 people, including 11 police, from June to September.

The country also remains a major transfer point for drugs en route to U.S. consumers from South America.


"Dismantling the gangs and pursuing serious police reform are critical to every broader goal of the new administration, from education reform, infrastructure, private sector investment, jobs and agriculture to governance," the non-profit International Crisis Group said in October.

Haiti fell to last place on Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index released this month.

With unemployment at nearly 70 percent, efforts to stimulate investment have produced little. The volatile security climate is blamed for keeping investors away.

Foreign donors pledged $1.3 billion in 2004 to help Haiti build its economy. But Haitian officials say the money is coming too slowly to build social and economic programs.

"We understand the impatience of many people who are suffering," said Joseph Jasmin, a spokesman for Preval's administration. "But I would like to tell them that the government is working relentlessly to improve their situation."

Jean-Germain Gros, a Haiti analyst at the University of Missouri, said Preval has had modest success bringing together Haiti's myriad political groupings and allowing the media and other elements of civil society to operate more freely.

But the new president has not moved against corrupt officials or violent gangs and failed to appoint diplomats to important foreign capitals, he said.

"I think more could have been done," Gros said. "The government has been moving too slowly in doing things that could have been done fairly quickly."

Preval says he has released 100 political prisoners jailed under Latortue, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert. But some advocates continue to accuse Preval of failing to free scores of Aristide loyalists.

Some still hold out hope for Preval, the only leader in Haiti's 202-year history to win a democratic election, complete a term, peacefully hand over power and then get re-elected.

"Things have not gotten better for me, but I know President Preval has the will to change this situation," said Marie-Ange Norzeus, 38, a peanut vendor in Port-au-Prince. "All we have now is hope, but I hope we won't have to wait too long."

NOTE: De facto Preval, not an agronomist as stated in the above text.

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