- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 11, 2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

More than 19 months after U.S. Marines whisked away Pres-ident Jean-Bertrand Aristide amid an armed revolt, Haiti remains beset by worsening poverty and violence, despite a U.N. peacekeeping force and nearly $195 million in U.S. aid.

The ouster of Mr. Aristide was welcomed by the Bush administration, which had accused the former Roman Catholic priest of tolerating drug trafficking and of using gangs to attack the opposition.

But the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has failed to deliver stability and economic progress while making enemies among both rich and poor and exasperating its international backers.

Mr. Latortue yesterday confirmed what many had predicted, telling Agence France-Presse that “technical problems” have forced the government to defer general elections set for Nov. 20 by three weeks.

“We have problems. We have considerable delays in the logistics and finalization of the lists of candidates,” he said, adding that the presidential inauguration remains fixed for Feb. 7.

It was the fourth time this year that the government had changed the date of the elections.

Bob Maguire, a Haiti specialist at Trinity University in Washington, said a surprise visit to the capital, Port-au-Prince, two weeks ago by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a sign of the U.S. administration’s growing concern that just such a delay in the critical first vote was imminent.

“It’s painfully apparent that the interim government, which faced steep challenges to begin with, has disappointed,” Mr. Maguire said. “The U.S. is clearly staked to these elections and wishes to see them free and fair enough so that the winner can be supported with international aid and other assistance. But the bar may be set rather low in order to achieve this, which does not portend well for the future of Haiti’s democracy.”

A multinational effort

In contrast to Iraq, “regime change” in Haiti has been a broadly multilateral effort, with France and Canada sending troops to join U.S. Marines after Mr. Aristide’s departure, and Brazil helping lead the U.N. peacekeeping force, enlisted from more than 40 nations.

But the United States has played a central role, from arming the national police force to financing the elections, and Congress this year has budgeted $407 million, more than twice as much as any other donor or lender.

Washington has helped rebuild Haiti’s run-down police force, providing trucks, equipment and guns. Making an exception to the 14-year-old arms embargo on Haiti, the Bush administration provided 2,600 weapons to the police last year and has since approved a sale of $1.9 million worth of pistols, rifles and tear gas to the Haitian government.

Meanwhile, Haitians from all walks of life are on the U.S. government payroll, including more than 800 street sweepers, who earn $2 a day through a program financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the prime minister’s spokesman, whose $4,000 monthly salary is paid by the agency.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman who asked to remain anonymous said Washington pays “technical advisers” to work in several “key ministries” and the prime minister’s office.

“This interim government would have fallen without the United States,” said Leslie Voltaire, a Cabinet member under Mr. Aristide who was part of a three-member commission that helped form the interim government in March last year.

“The United States has subcontracted Brazil for security and Canada for economic development. But they’re all reporting to Washington. The final decisions are made there,” Mr. Voltaire said.

Damian Onses-Cardona, a spokesman for the U.N. mission in Haiti, denies that the United States exerts more influence over the peacekeeping force than other countries.

“On all the big issues — security, stability, elections — everybody agrees on what needs to be done,” Mr. Onses-Cardona said.

Election concerns

Despite Washington’s support, the interim government has been unable to avoid stumbling toward elections.

Even before Mr. Latortue’s acknowledgment yesterday, a member of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council had said the election date might have to be pushed back. The council opened a voter registration center in Cite Soleil, the most populous slum in Port-au-Prince, only last week.

Haiti’s police force has been accused of numerous high-profile killings and human rights abuses, including the slaying of at least eight persons during a USAID-sponsored “Play for Peace” soccer match in August.

Haitians not on the U.S. payroll complain of continually worsening conditions, especially rising prices and lack of jobs.

“It is not so much that results have not met expectations, but that achievements need to be consolidated and expanded to combat political instability, poverty and unemployment,” said the U.S. Embassy spokesman.

“Violence has also slowed or inhibited the implementation of projects in slum neighborhoods. In particular, providing assistance in the area of Cite Soleil has been difficult.”

Although the United States has been a strong supporter of the interim government, American officials have gone out of their way to express concern about the imprisonment of two Aristide allies, former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste.

Considered “a prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, Father Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest, was prevented from running for president in the elections by not being allowed to go to the election council to register his candidacy. He was chosen by Lavalas, Haiti’s most powerful political force.

During her visit to Haiti, Miss Rice told Mr. Latortue, “Justice has to come in a timely fashion, and it should not be the case that anyone can interpret that there is some kind of political motive here.”

At the same time, the United States has tried to undercut Father Jean-Juste’s support through the Office of Transition Initiatives in USAID that is known as “the Special Forces” of development aid.

‘Legitimacy’ prevented

One of OTI’s aims is to reduce participation in demonstrations supporting Father Jean-Juste. The OTI Web site said the office organized a summer camp for young people in the priest’s neighborhood, helping prevent a Lavalas “demonstration from being larger and giving greater legitimacy to the protesters.”

“The United States is speaking out of both sides of its mouth,” Mr. Voltaire said.

“On the one hand,” he said, “Condoleezza Rice is lamenting the imprisonment of Jean-Juste and Neptune, but then nothing happens. He remains in jail. With the world looking on, she capitulates in front of this weak government that the United States itself has installed.”