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27861: (news) Chamberlain: Rich-poor divide to challenge Haiti's Preval (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Michael Christie and Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Haitian President-elect Rene
Preval has begun meeting rivals to build a parliament coalition as he
embarks on an effort to patch deep divides between the country's small
elite and the poor majority who propelled him to office.
A constant stream of well-wishers on Friday trooped through the
hilltop house of Preval's sister outside Port-au-Prince. Meetings over the
last two days have included fourth-placed presidential candidate Chavannes
Jeune, and a Senate candidate for the Fusion party, both bitter enemies of
Preval's one-time mentor, ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
A reticent, 63-year-old agronomist, Preval was declared the winner of
the Feb. 7 election after electoral authorities agreed to redistribute
85,000 unmarked ballots to settle allegations of vote fraud.
He had yet to address the Caribbean nation and lay out his plans after
his election was announced in the middle of the night on Thursday.
But Haiti experts and nongovernmental organizations quickly sketched
out Preval's challenges in a country where rich and poor are divided by
hatred, 80 percent are unemployed and incomes average just $400 a year.
The wealthy elite's mistrust of the large slum populations -- which
fueled turbulence during Aristide's two terms and ultimately led to an
armed revolt that ousted the former Roman Catholic priest in February 2004
-- has not gone. The country remains awash in firearms and plagued by
gunmen and gangs.
The chaotic and ramshackle capital was ravaged by kidnappings and
crime before the election, despite the presence of 9,000 Brazilian-led U.N.
troops and police.
"As difficult as getting elected was, the challenges now are
absolutely staggering," said Ken Boodhoo, a Florida International
University professor who runs the Whole Man Ministries charitable missions
Security, jobs, "the problem of the elite" and the potential for
Aristide to return from exile were leading challenges for Preval, Boodhoo
said. "He needs massive support from the international community and he's
probably going to get it."
Charles Arthur of the British-based Haiti Support Group said Preval's
first problem will be managing the huge expectations of his supporters in
The second challenge was working with parliament, where election
results have yet to be announced, he said.
Preval's coalition "Lespwa," Creole for "The Hope," fielded 19
candidates for 30 Senate seats and 58 candidates for 99 lower house seats,
But Arthur said other groups were likely to dominate parliament and
elect a prime minister, who under Haiti's Constitution holds more executive
power than the president.
"I see them all (the other leading parties in parliament) as hostile
to Preval," Arthur said.
Preval's two main campaign rivals, ex-president Leslie Manigat and
industrialist Charles Baker, have both condemned the unusual deal that led
to Preval's election, a harbinger perhaps of continued political
The United States, long the key foreign player in Haiti, has welcomed
Preval's election, but U.S. officials have also warned him not to bring
Aristide back from exile.
The international community and $1.3 billion in promised aid that has
been only partially dispersed since Aristide was deposed, are crucial to
Preval's government, aid organizations said.