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7 senators' resignations signal new course for Haiti

By Yves Colon <ycolon@herald.com>, The Maimi Herald, Tuesday 5 June 2001

Seven senators from President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family party resigned on Monday, clearing the way for his government to correct serious irregularities from the May 2000 elections that have caused a rift among Haitians and isolated the country from the international community.

The resignations were among many promises Aristide made in a letter delivered to delegates of the Organization of American States, who are meeting in Costa Rica. Aristide sent the letter via OAS Secretary General César Gaviria, who left Haiti on Thursday after failing to break an impasse in the year-old stalemate between Aristide and a coalition of political parties.

The opposition calls the May elections fraudulent, while the OAS takes issue only with how Haiti's electoral council counted the votes in the seven senate districts.

The new elections for the seven seats would be held within 90 days of a resolution from the OAS. In the letter, Aristide also promises to set up an independent electoral council within 30 days and hold new legislative elections next year.

Also Monday, police released former lawmaker Gabriel Fortuné, an opposition leader who had been jailed two weeks ago, the independent Radio Metropole reported. Fortune was charged with attempted murder when three Aristide partisans were wounded during an armed attack on an opposition meeting in Les Cayes.

Gaviria credited international pressure for getting Aristide to agree to what he sees as a first step in a long process that should make it possible to begin normalization of relations.

The respect of promises made by President Aristide should allow us to set a new course in the negotiation process, with our help as mediators, to get beyond this crisis and strengthen democratic institutions, respect for human rights and justice, Gaviria told OAS delegates Sunday night.

Gaviria added that the prospect of having Haiti isolated from its contacts in the international financial community is too severe for the Haitian people.

Because of the domestic stalemate, Haiti has been unable to access nearly $500 million in loans and grants from lenders such as the World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank. Petit, the Lavalas spokesman, said the Haitian government has only enough money to pay salaries.