- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hope for Haiti

The secretary-general of the Organization of American States concedes he is an optimist as he hopes for a free and fair election in Haiti, one of the poorest nations on Earth that is also wracked by political violence and gang warfare.

Jose Miguel Insulza this week said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Haiti’s interim government with support from the United Nations can hold legitimate elections next year for president, the national legislature and local offices.

He noted that Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council set Jan. 8 for the first round of national elections and Feb. 15 for runoffs and March 5 for the local elections. The elections have already been rescheduled several times because of the continued violence that has spread throughout the country since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile in February 2004.

The electoral council moved the elections to January after complaints that the previously scheduled date, Dec. 27, was too close to Christmas and the interim government was not adequately prepared.

“The OAS has supported the Haitian electoral process from its beginnings and can affirm [the electoral council’s] concern is not only to hold elections but to hold good elections, which will enjoy the credibility of all actors in the process and ensure a good turnout of voters after the holiday period,” Mr. Insulza said.

“Although the electoral process was slow to get off the ground, considerable progress has been made, which allows us to be cautiously optimistic about having organized, orderly and credible elections early next year.”

Mr. Insulza praised the electoral council for a “massive voter-registration campaign” that signed up 3.5 million Haitian citizens, more than 80 percent of the total eligible voters. He said he was pleased that the council has recruited 36,000 poll workers.

He also expressed relief that interim President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard Latortue have “every intention of leaving office as soon as the electoral process is completed.”

The International Crisis Group called on the United Nations to disarm and demobilize the Haitian paramilitary groups that are mostly divided between Aristide loyalists and those who deposed him.

The think tank, in its latest report on the country, called Haiti a “nation with a history of coups, unwieldy constitutions [and] failed elections.”

It urged the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions against any warlord or politician who interferes with the elections.

“Given the many influential Haitians with dual citizenship in the U.S., France and Canada, the threat of that action might well encourage the kind of cooperation that has been lacking in the transition to date,” the group said.

Pakistani trade-off

Pakistan is seeking a reward for its risky alliance with the United States in the war on Islamic terrorism in the form of a free-trade agreement to open the American market to the South Asian nation.

Pakistani Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan met yesterday with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman. Mr. Khan told reporters that President Pervez Musharraf, who has survived assassination attempts by terrorists opposed to his cooperation with the United States, believes a free-trade agreement will help combat poverty and reduce extremism.

Gen. Musharraf “feels very strongly the very strong political ties between Pakistan and the United States should also include economic ties,” Mr. Khan told Reuters news agency in Washington.

“He feels that in order to remove poverty, which is essential for curbing extremism in that part of the world, Pakistan needs market access and the United States, being one of the largest trading partners, should give that access to Pakistan.”

Mr. Khan dismissed the expected opposition from the U.S. textile industry to a free-trade agreement. Most of Pakistan’s exports to the United States are textiles.

“The entire trade and economic relationship between the United States and Pakistan should not depend on the issue of textiles,” he said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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