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OAS Approves Haiti Crisis Proposal

By Michelle Faul, AP, 6 June 2001

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - Haiti's president promised to hold new elections in the Western Hemisphere's most troubled democracy - a promise that opposition leaders say he'll break.

In a resolution carefully couched with provisos, foreign ministers of the 34-nation Organization of American States gave a key endorsement of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's timetable to hold new elections in stages between this year and November 2004.

We expect concrete actions, no more empty promises, U.S. Ambassador Luis J. Lauredo told the assembly Tuesday before it passed the resolution.

The OAS also agreed to help unblock hundreds of millions of aid dollars frozen after last year's tainted legislative elections if there is progress toward an enduring solution to the crisis.

The resolution called on all sectors of Haitian society to accept Aristide's overture and compromise totally.

Opposition leaders rejected the proposal and charged the organization is giving Aristide what he wants: the opportunity to bypass their demands for immediate elections while helping to unblock the frozen aid.

It has diminished our confidence in the OAS. The proposals, for that reason, leave us cold, said Serge Gilles of the main opposition Convergence coalition. It is not the first time Aristide has made promises. We can count on his breaking them again.

The assembly also agreed to hold a special session in Lima, Peru, before the end of September to consider a U.S.-backed proposal specifying democratic standards for the hemisphere, which could carry sanctions for violators.

In countries once prone to military overthrows, democracies - albeit fragile in many cases - have emerged everywhere except Cuba.

Few seem as fragile as Haiti.

Haiti, with 80 percent illiteracy among its 8 million people, has a two-century history of dictatorship before Aristide became the first democratically elected leader 10 years ago.

He was ousted in a coup months after his inauguration and returned to power by a U.S. military invasion in 1994. Aristide was forced to resign by a constitutional ban on consecutive terms of office. He hand-picked his successor and returned as president after November elections boycotted by all major opposition parties.

May 2000 legislative elections drew international condemnation of what the OAS called a manipulated vote count that allowed at least seven candidates from Aristide's Lavalas Family party to avoid runoff elections.

Delegates emphasized that Aristide's proposal for new elections is seen as just a first step in a lengthy process to build trust between the Haitian parties and establish a path to democracy.

Lauredo said the United States expects immediate negotiations with the opposition (and) ... for Convergence and other opposition groups to play their proper role to help Haiti.

Delegates involved in the negotiations warned that Haiti's opposition risks being left out of efforts to resolve the crisis if they do not respond.

I think they would lose an opportunity. But if they want to exclude themselves from the process, well, all right, said Ambassador Albert Ramdin, the deputy secretary-general of the 14-nation Caribbean Community.

On Sunday, Aristide promised that the seven senators whose elections were disputed by the OAS would resign and new elections would be held for those seats before the end of the year. The senators resigned Monday.

The elections would be organized by a new electoral council that Aristide said would be appointed by June 25 and include representatives from all political parties. The resolution said it must be credible, independent and neutral.

Aristide also agreed to cut short the terms of all members of the House of Assembly and of a third of the Senate, with elections in November 2002. Another third of Senate seats would go up for early election in November 2004.

But another Convergence leader, former President Leslie Manigat, said it was highly unlikely Convergence will rally to a solution that leaves the top and bottom and most of the rest of Aristide's power structure intact.

The Haiti proposal turned out to be the highlight of a conference that was expected to tout a democracy charter. Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez opened the assembly Sunday saying that deviant countries should be suspended from the OAS and excluded from free trade markets. On Monday, Lauredo confidently predicted quick approval, denying there was any ambiguity in the definition of democracy.

But many countries felt it was too much like the U.S. idea of representative democracy, or too vague, and did not take into account different levels of democracy.

The ministers had come to the 31st general assembly with a proposal for a charter that called for representative democracy based on free and fair elections, access to power through constitutional means, party plurality and respect for human rights.

The ministers of Uruguay and Chile asked for a more tolerant approach, noting some countries have survived with some degree of freedom under one-party systems or benevolent dictators confirmed by elections.