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From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
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.
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
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
''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.''
THE FIRST TIME AROUND
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
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
''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.
IN THE WORKS
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
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.''