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Posted November 9, 2003
                                   
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Political Crisis Far From Over
                                                
By JANE REGAN

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- A year ago, the Organization of American States brokered a road map for ending Haiti’s political crisis through free and fair elections.

Today, rocks, bottles and sometimes bullets still fly, opposition politicians call President Jean-Bertrand Aristide a dictator while his supporters call the opposition ``decomposed bodies.’’

And many Haitians who once pinned their hopes for stability on the OAS are now bitter. ’’Hey OAS ! What are you doing here ? Go on back home and take Aristide with you !’’ one shouted recently at a foreigner he mistook for an OAS official.

According to a road map charted by the OAS, the Haitian government and representatives of opposition parties, churches and business groups, a Provisional Electoral Council was supposed to be set up by Nov. 4, 2002, to supervise parliamentary and municipal elections due before the end of this year.

Ever since allegedly fraudulent parliamentary races in 2000, the opposition has refused to participate in elections, alleging that government manipulations and pro-Aristide gang attacks on the opposition made a fair ballot impossible. Aristide ran for his second term virtually unopposed later that year, and the political impasse in part led foreign donors to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

A WAY OUT

The road map finally offered a way out of the impasse, the OAS thought. But the situation has only grown worse.

When opposition marches started to draw thousands, Aristide supporters stepped up their attacks. An anti-government paramilitary group appeared in the mountains. Opposition parties called for regime change. Journalists, judges and police fled the country, saying their lives were in danger.

In March, an emergency OAS delegation tried to get the process back on track by handing both the government and the opposition a list of steps to take to resolve the standoff, with a March 30 deadline.

The list included appointing a new police chief, disarming pro-Aristide gangs and arresting Aristide supporters who attacked the opposition on Dec. 17, 2001, following an alleged coup attempt, and paying reparations to the victims.

The government carried out a few of the steps but not enough, say the opposition and civil-society groups, which are still refusing to participate in the Provisional Electoral Council.

’’The OAS refuses to pressure the government to fulfill its promises,’’ said Paul Denis, spokesman for the Democratic Convergence opposition coalition and a former senator. ``Now they are putting pressure on us.’’

The original OAS road map put the burden on the government for creating a ’’climate of security’’ for new elections. But the March to-do list told the opposition that only ’’progressive movement towards a climate of confidence’’ was needed for the balloting to take place.

’’The opposition is afraid of elections,’’ said Secretary of State for Communications Mario Dupuy. ``Disarmament has started. The judicial machinery is moving. Its a process. The only thing the opposition has done is collect its reparations money.’’

VIOLENCE DEPLORED

Last week, the head of the OAS Special Mission for Strengthening Democracy in Haiti, David Lee, told a news conference that the hemispheric organization deplored recent police violence in the northern city of Gonaives, the arbitrary dismissals of judges and a new wave of violence by the president’s supporters against opposition demonstrations.

’’The Special Mission is preoccupied by the deterioration of the political and social climate,’’ Lee said solemnly.

In an interview with The Herald afterward, he said there were ’’a lot of steps the opposition and civil society could take’’ to help break the impasse. Joining the electoral council would help improve the security situation, he said.

The 26 member-Special Mission has cost the OAS about $6 million since it was set up 18 months ago. Its staffers work with government officials, observe demonstrations, help write laws and sit in at a half-dozen police headquarters.

But they haven’t brought the government or the opposition any closer to completing their part of the March to-do lists.

CAN’T DO IT ALL

’’We are not here to do it all,’’ Lee said. ``We are not here to replace the Haitians. If they dont make decisions, theres nothing we can do.’’

Concerned about the continuing stalemate, OAS member states asked Secretary General CÚsar Gaviria this summer to evaluate whether or not the Mission can fulfill its mandates. That report is expected by the end of the year.

 

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Reprinted from The Miami Herald of November 6, 2003.

                                        
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