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From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Miami Herald

Posted on Fri, Feb. 17, 2006

For Préval, winning was the easy part
After winning Haiti's messy election, President-elect René Préval now must rebuild a nation crippled by poverty and crime.

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian President-elect René Préval's victory Thursday after nine days of electoral chaos and street violence may have been the easy part. Now he must build a nation -- starting with a sack of rice.

Amid grinding poverty, Préval must restore order, jump-start the economy and make the nation's emblematic staple again affordable to the vast majority of Haitians who live on less than $1 a day.

He will need to address the dire needs of the poor masses who backed his campaign, while reassuring the foreign donors who provide much of Haiti's finances that his government merits their dollars. And he must establish a working relationship with a prime minister who will be chosen by a parliament where his party is unlikely to hold a majority.

Then there's the critical issue of whether he will allow former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist priest still revered by the poorest of Haiti's poor, to return from his exile in South Africa and regain his influence.

''Every single thing he has to do is a massive, complicated headache,'' said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert and political science professor at the University of Virginia. ``But he has a chance, however small, to begin to bridge the gap between poor and rich.''


Préval's first presidential term, 1996-2001, is generally considered lackluster. His few modest accomplishments were overshadowed by complaints of human rights abuses and a paralyzing political crisis brought on by allegations of voter fraud in the 2000 parliamentary elections.

Still, the soft-spoken agronomist is far different from the fiery Aristide. He tends to act like a low-key bureaucrat, focusing on small- and medium-scale projects.

But today's Haiti is far different, and far worse off. Its judicial, healthcare and police systems have all but collapsed. Most of its bright minds have left, and electricity and roads are sorely needed. Even the price of rice, a staple of the Haitian diet, has gone up and is out of reach for the vast majority of poor Haitians. It is currently $31 for a 110-pound sack, compared with $22.50 shortly before Aristide left two years ago.

''I don't think he has the leadership to do it,'' said Gervais Charles, an attorney for Group 184, the coalition of business and social groups that helped force Aristide's 2004 ouster. ``Préval is very average.''


The first test, both Haitian and international observers say, will come as Préval picks his prime minister and Cabinet. Pressure already is mounting for him to establish a unity government by choosing either someone from the opposition or the business elite for the powerful prime minister's post -- what could be the first step toward reconciliation in this deeply polarized Caribbean nation.

''He's regarded as a reasonable guy and I think he is prepared to reach across to the opposition,'' said Roger Noriega, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

But if Préval gives the prime minister's post to someone from his own circle, he may run into severe weather in trying to get his choices approved by a Haitian parliament. Although the makeup of parliament will not be known until March 19 runoffs for those seats in which none of the candidates won an outright majority, the president's Lespwa party, or hope in Creole, is not expected to win a majority in the 129-member parliament.

That means he will have to show the political will to maneuver the tricky aisles of Haitian politics by making allies out of opponents.


Préval will inherit some projects already started by Haiti's U.S.-backed interim government, which started to build and repair roads with some of the $500 million in international aid pumped into Haiti since Aristide's ouster.

Despite those projects, the country remains a mess. Only about 250,000 Haitians out of an eligible workforce of five million are employed in formal jobs. The rest eke out a living through anything from farming to selling chewing gum by roadsides.

Job creation, many Haitians say, must be the top priority of the Préval administration. The number of jobs at duty-free assembly plants, once a key sector of the economy, has dropped during the past two decades by about 40,000 from a high of 60,000. At the same time, the purchasing power of the average Haitian is the same today as it was in 1955.

But Préval has offered few details during the campaign about his plans for Haiti, saying only that he has two missions: economic development and strengthening government institutions.

''You win political campaigns with politics, but you govern with economics,'' said Leslie Voltaire, a former minister in Aristide's administration who believes that Préval's success will depend largely on his economic performance.

But in order to attract new jobs and keep the few that do exist, Préval must work quickly to repair Haiti's image as a lawless place where armed gangs rule slums, such as the capital's Cité Soleil, and dozens of kidnappings are reported each month.

A few top gang members offered to halt their constant fighting with other gangs and the 7,500 U.N. peacekeepers deployed here if Préval were elected. But some of them are living off drug trafficking, extortions and kidnappings, and are unlikely to surrender their main sources of income.

Préval also will face pressure from hard-liners in Aristide's Lavalas party demanding the return of their leader, who has denied that he officially resigned in 2004 and accused the U.S. and French governments of virtually kidnapping him and forcing him out of the country.

Préval has said the Haitian constitution forbids exile. But two reports from corruption investigators working for the interim government have alleged the former president illegally diverted tens of millions of dollars from government coffers to his private charities. The reports were handed over to an investigative judge, who so far has not filed official charges.

''It's his relationship with Aristide that is going to prove to be the trickiest one,'' Noriega said. ``He can treat Aristide's return as a priority or the recovering of the country as a priority, but he cannot do both.''