[Documents menu] Documents menu

From editor@haiti-progres.com Sat Sep 9 13:45:17 2000
Date: Thu, 7 Sep 2000 23:35:33 -0500 (CDT)
From: =?iso-8859-1?Q?Haiti_Progr=E8s?= <editor@haiti-progres.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 18:25 9/6/2000
Article: 104405
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: `)R"!56B"!`>_!!D7U"!

New Parliament faces mounting challenges

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 18, no. 25, 6-12 September 2000

It took 18 grueling months which saw assassinations, resignations, street demonstrations, election delays, and massive foreign meddling for a compromise government and electoral council to install Haiti's 47th legislature, but they finally did it on Aug. 28. Now comes the hard part.

The new parliament is faced with sky-rocketing food and gas prices, a collapsing currency, hostility from the Washington and Europe, and rampant insecurity. Nonetheless, its inauguration has offered a glimmer of hope to many Haitians weary of hunger and political turmoil.

The Lavalas Family party (FL) of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide dominates the new parliament, holding 19 of the 27 Senate seats and 72 of the 82 lower house seats.

Immediately after being sworn in, the legislators got to work, forming committees and working groups. Yvon Neptune, an FL senator for the West Department, was elected as president of the Senate. Extending an olive branch to the opposition, the Lavalas deputies voted in as president of the lower house Sainvoyis Pascal, a former Duvalierist deputy, elected under the banner of the right-wing Protestant formation MOCHRENA.

Washington continues to challenge the elections, held on May 21 and July 9, charging that electoral council computing methods unjustly allowed 10 Senators to win in the first round, rather than going to run-offs. Despite heavy U.S. pressure, the Haitian government has refused to overrule the council, which is constitutionally designated as the election's final arbiter.

In an Aug. 28 press briefing, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker said that the parliament being seated prematurely would cause the U.S. to certainly question the legitimacy of that legislature. A week later, at a Sep. 5 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Clinton administration announced that unless the summer's election results were scrapped, it would withhold $20 million in aid for the presidential elections, which are scheduled for Nov. 26. There has also been no announcement about some $400 million in assistance which was supposed to be released once a legislature was seated. Washington did say that it would not give any direct aid to the Haitian government but only channel it directly to so- called non-governmental organizations, a strategy already outlined in a USAID five-year plan last year.

Canada has demurred from threatening an aid cut-off, but announced via a spokesman that in the present circumstances, Canada will have difficulty supporting a new observer mission for the presidential elections in November. The U.S. also said it will not send observers, a deprivation which many Haitians welcome.

When OAS Secretary General César Gaviria visited Haiti from Aug. 17-20, he met with President René Préval, Aristide, and the Haitian opposition, which was incensed that Gaviria didn't condemn the Haitian government and the elections during his visit. When Gaviria presented his Haiti report at the Sep. 5 OAS meeting in Washington, he only reiterated the same general calls for dialogue he had issued in Haiti.

This again infuriated the opposition, which drew solace from the U.S. and Canadian threats. The secretary general's report didn't really come with anything new, complained Hubert Deronceray of the neo-Duvalierist Movement for the Salvation of the Nation (MPSN). He basically restated what he already told us here in Port-au-Prince. What interested us more were the interventions of the U.S., Canada, and Caricom, which globally went in the sense of the opposition. Caricom has offered to act as a mediator to resolve the dispute.

But clearly the opposition is in no mood to dialogue. With virtually no popular support, their only option is to goad the international community to further meddle in Haitian affairs and destabilize Haiti so that they can seize power by other means. Even Hervé Denis, who Préval had proposed for prime minister two years ago, called for his former mentor to be removed from office and a provisional government to be set in place to hold new elections.

But such incendiary calls find no echo in the Haitian people, which is telling given the grave economic crisis in the country. Prices for basic food stuffs are going through the roof. In the last six months, for example, a marketplace marmite (a large coffee can) of corn or millet has risen from 15 to 28 gourdes (87%), black beans from 45 to 70 gourdes (56%), and sugar from 6 to 8 gourdes (33%). Meanwhile the gourde, which used to hover at about 18 to the dollar, is now at 22 and climbing.

The biggest blow to the country, however, was this week's giant hike in gas prices. For almost a year, the government had desperately sought to subsidize lower gas prices with tens of millions of gourdes each month, straining an already fragile budget. Recently the Finance Ministry announced that it had a shortfall of about 1 billion gourdes in public revenues since the government was foregoing its gas tax, further deepening the budget deficit. As a result, the government drastically hiked prices on Sept. 2 on all petroleum products: diesel leaped from 22.5 to 30.5 gourdes per gallon (36%), leaded gas from 33.5 to 46 gourdes (37%), unleaded gas from 37 to 56 gourdes (51%), and kerosene from 17.5 to 26 gourdes (49%).

Downtown city tap tap fares jumped from 2 to 3 gourdes (50%), while the Port-au-Prince to Pétionville fare went from 2.5 to 3.5 gourdes (40%). A trip to Port-de-Paix now costs 125 gourdes and to Cap Haïtien 135 gourdes.

The gasoline price hikes are expected to loft food prices even higher within a few days. Many people complained that the government would have done better to gradually raise prices rather than postponing the inevitable and creating such a brutal jump. The government said it would be checking gas stations to check for price gouging and incorrectly set pumps. The government will also review gas prices in three weeks, Commerce Minister Mathilde Flambert said.

On top of all these troubles, schools opened on Sep. 4 this year, one month earlier than usual, creating yet another hardship for cash-strapped Haitian families. The start of a new school year is always a time for purchase of books and uniforms, expenses which many families cannot meet. Education Minister Paul Antoine Bien Aimée argued that the extra school days would help counteract drastically falling test scores of Haitian students.

But Josué Merilien of the teachers union UNNOH vigorously protested this rationale as diversionary. It is just a way for the government to fool people, Mérilien said. They know that the schools are functioning without libraries, without trained teachers, without teaching materials, and that teachers can't even eat. These are the problems that must be addressed.

Despite the economic crisis and foreign threats, the government and electoral council aim to hold the presidential elections on time according to a tight schedule, which was announced Sept. 5. The mandate for the last electoral council has been extended since there was not seen to be enough time to reconstitute a new one.

The council announced that presidential candidate registration will be from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5, with a campaign season running from Sept. 27 to Nov. 24. Voter registration will be from Oct. 2 to 31.

Aristide is expected to easily win any presidential election, which is why the U.S. is so hell-bent on discrediting this summer's elections and the new parliament. But such transparent maneuvers to stop Aristide are only spurring on Haitian resistance, both in the country and abroad.

For example, in New York, Haitians are planning to demonstrate in support of Haitian sovereignty in front of the United Nations on Sep. 7 when Préval is scheduled to speak at the Millenium Summit, which 151 other heads of state will also attend.

Washington is unhappy with the [election] results, reads the flyer of the Coalition for Haitian Sovereignty, which is organizing the action. Through its bureaucrats, CIA agents, media control and Haitian lackeys, it has attempted to discredit the elections and destabilize Haiti, threatening an aid cut-off and diplomatic isolation. U.S. Special Forces soldiers are also stationed with Dominican troops along Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic, poised for invasion. The Haitian people call on the United Nations and other international bodies to take no part in Washington's games and to oppose continued foreign threats against Haiti, a sovereign country.