Mar 5, 2001
Last February 7, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was officially installed as the president of Haiti.
Ten years ago, his triumphal election had awakened immense hope for change, among Haiti's poor population. Aristide now returns as the head of state, but on a totally different basis. Even if there still exist illusions in the midst of the poor population about what Aristide and the politicians tied to him can bring them, his candidature did not raise nearly the same enthusiasm.
In contrast to 1991 when the population was massively mobilized, the recent elections for the presidency were marked by a high abstention rate, including in the poorest neighborhoods, once considered Aristide's bastions of support.
The campaign and voting itself, like the legislative election the previous May 21, were marked by numerous acts of fraud and violence. Moreover, the elections were contested and boycotted by several opposition parties, who denounced "an electoral coup d'etat aiming at installing a new dictatorship." Aristide was the winner, not only because he didn't have serious competition, but also because he had taken care to have all the voting places under the control of people in his pay, who didn't hesitate to use physical threats to run off observers from other parties.
The big powers, for their part, the United States and France in particular, after having bragged about contributing to the "restoration of democracy in Haiti," disassociated themselves from this electoral masquerade. The United States immediately decided to freeze 500 million dollars in aid promised since 1997, while the European Union is waiting, before releasing some 60 million dollars, to see if the new power agrees "to respect democracy and human rights."
The poor population will continue to be the first to pay the cost of a deplorable economic situation. It pays by massive unemployment, by the complete decay of the few public services which exist in the country, and by high prices which have made basic consumer goods unaffordable for the great majority.
There is no reason to expect that Aristide will bring any change in this situation. Neither he, nor the politicians who surround him, speak of taking on the wealthy –those who speculate on basic consumer goods and who loot the state treasury and the public services –in order to better the condition of the vast majority of the people. Neither have they promised that once elected they would raise the minimum wage or ease the extreme misery which rages in the cities as in the countryside.
Instead of these measures, they have established a system of patrolling the poor quarters with bands of hoodlums, who cause a reign of terror, shakedowns, attacks and assassinations, all the while enjoying the goodwill of the police. These bands could very well be used against this poor population if it revolts against the condition it is put in.