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Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 23:22:16 -0500 (CDT)
From: Haiti Progres <HAITI-PROGRES@prodigy.net>
Organization: Haiti Progres
Subject: This Week in Haiti 17:9 5/19/99
Article: 64767
Message-ID: <bulk.18773.19990520194517@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

The Pitfalls of a Compromise: Privatization Moving, Elections Not

From Haiti Progres,
Vol. 17, no. 9, 19-25 March 1999

Barely two months old and already the government of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis is in trouble. A chorus of protest has greeted the May 7 privatization of the state cement factory, which many brand illegal, and popular organizations and parties are calling for the resignation of recently reappointed Secretary of State for Justice Robert Manuel and his sidekick Police Chief Pierre Denize.

Meanwhile, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has been meandering through agenda-less meetings with an endless parade of parties, ambassadors, and civic groups while avoiding its two most awaited decisions: a verdict on the April 6, 1997 polling controversy and a date for new elections.

It must be recalled that the Alexis government and the CEP both issued from a deal struck on Mar. 6 between President Rene Preval and an "opposition" coalition calling itself the Cooperation Domain (Espace de Concertation). As a result, several seats on the nine-member CEP and in Alexis's cabinet went to partisans of the Concertation, which is composed of five center-right parties: Ayiti Kapab, Generation 2004, KONAKOM, KID and PANPRA.

The Mar. 6 pact was made at the expense of the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL), who withdrew from negotiations and the front in an ill-conceived display of brinkmanship disguised as dismay over the assassination of one of its leaders (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 16, No. 52, 3/17/99). The OPL still does not recognize the new government nor the new CEP.

Alexis proclaimed in the days leading up to his less-than- Constitutional appointment as PM that his government would "have a single mission: the holding of new elections." Instead, Alexis has picked up right where his predecessor, former OPL Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, left off : privatizing Haiti's state enterprises.

The privatization of the state flour mill in Oct. 1997 by Smarth, who had already resigned, was declared illegal by many Haitian parliamentarians. But the auctioning off of Ciment d'Haiti two weeks ago appears to be even more irregular.

The factory is one of the largest in the Caribbean, capable of producing more than 300,000 tons of cement annually. Only 30 km from Port-au-Prince, the plant is close to quarries which can supply material for 500,000 tons of cement a year for the next 125 years, has its own 100 meter wharf which can receive up to 12,000-ton vessels, has high capacity crushers and ovens, and boasts a 6.4 megawatt diesel power plant. A 65% controlling interest of this jewel was sold to a Swiss-Colombian-Haitian consortium for a mere $15.6 million. From this sum, the Haitian government must pay about $13 million in plant debts, including back salaries, largely accrued when the facility's coffers were plundered and machinery vandalized during the coup.

Many have condemned the move because Alexis never had his general policy, including privatization policy, approved by Parliament, which expired Jan. 11. Therefore, he is supposed to be only an interim prime minister charged with carrying out elections.

But Alexis is charging ahead, unabashed. "I don't want to miss this opportunity to remind everybody that modernization [i.e. privatization] of the Haiti's public enterprises is a step we are obliged to take," he said at the signing ceremony. "I give you a rendezvous at future ceremonies of this type."

Alexis said that he would next sell off the National Port Authority, which runs Haiti's wharfs and warehouses. But the port workers' union said that it would vigorously fight the move.

"Although it is not Constitutional, we see that Alexis is rushing to sell off the national patrimony instead of dealing exclusively with organizing elections as he promised" declared Ben Dupuy of the National Popular Assembly (APN) in a May 17 press conference.

The same day the Ti Kominote Legliz (TKL) of St. Joseph held a press conference lashing out at Alexis. "Are you blocking elections so that you can stay on as prime minister and continue carrying out the privatization plan?" asked Louis Jeannot, reading from a prepared statement. "We remind you that you are a de facto prime minister which has no parliament to ratify any agreement or convention you sign concerning the country's future. The other day you privatized Ciment d'Haiti, but we swear before God and humanity that you will not be able to advance any further with your plan because the people will block you. And we are warning any buyers that the people will foil this sale because you purchased badly. The sale was made behind the people's back. Privatization is happening behind the people's back."

The TKL St.Joseph also renewed the call, heard in every demonstration over the past month, for the removal of security chiefs Manuel and Denize, who are held responsible for a recent series of brutal police rampages. Jeannot predicted that Manuel's promised security plan would be just like that which "[Raoul] Cedras and Michel Fran‡ois implemented during the three-year coup d'etat, where they came with attaches, the [death-squad] FRAPH, and other thugs to kill people day and night in popular neighborhoods to prevent them from making demands and speaking their mind."

The campaign for the removal of Manuel and Denize seems to have the full support of the Lavalas Family party (FL) of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In recent weeks, the FL has criticized President Rene Preval and his appointees more strongly than ever before. The FL is also the only major party, other than the OPL, which has not met with the CEP, for reasons which are not yet clear. "There are political parties that we have invited but which have never come," claimed CEP spokesman Macajoux Medard. "We will invite them again, but we always keep the door open and are ready to sit down with them whenever they are ready." Meanwhile, Yvon Feuille, an FL spokesman, said that "the Lavalas Family is ready to meet and discuss with the CEP."

But Patrick Norzeus, another FL leader and mayor of Delmas, said on May 14 that when the CEP proposed sitting down with ten different parties a day it was an "insult" and "demagogic" because "they are not resolving anything."

The FL has also said that the two Senate seats the FL won in the contested vote of April 6, 1997, are non-negotiable and "a closed matter" since the results were published last year in the official government record Le Moniteur.

Norzeus reiterated the critique made by Ben Dupuy on May 6 after the APN met with the CEP. Dupuy told the body that it was "putting the cart before the horse" by meeting with parties before having proposals. "They should first come with a draft electoral law and then ask for the comments of parties," Dupuy said in a Radio Haiti interview. "To sit down just taking haphazard suggestions is a waste of valuable time." Dupuy also demanded that the CEP scrap the elitist electoral decrees of Gen. Henri Namphy's neo-Duvalierist military regime.

But Dupuy was most shocked by the CEP's response to a problem he raised. "We told them that a member of a political party in the Espace de Concertation contacted an APN member in the North - he didn't know the person was an APN member - and offered him a job as the president of the local electoral bureau (BEC)," Dupuy explained in the May 17 press conference. "To our great surprise, instead of telling us that they were troubled by this and would investigate, a prominent CEP member told us that the APN should be happy that their member would be proposed as the electoral bureau president. We told him that we would not be party to any monkey-business and that corruption seemed to be continuing. There are members of the political parties from the Concertation who are going around the country recruiting members for the electoral machine. This is very disturbing..."

Meanwhile, the CEP has set no date for elections, although they claim to be shooting for December. They have come up with a budget though. According to spokesman Medard, the price-tag will be about $17 million. Of course, the U.S., France, Canada, the U.N., and other assorted "friends of Haiti" have all promised to pitch in.