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Aristide takes office amid election fraud charges


Jean-Bertrand Aristide, inaugurated president of Haiti for the second time on Feb. 7, pledged to make peace with his opposition and improve conditions for the republic’s vast underclass. “My arms are open, my heart is open with honor and respect for the Haitian people,” he said in his inaugural address.

But some in Haiti are less than open to Aristide. Haiti’s 15-party opposition alliance, the Convergence, believes Aristide won election through fraud, and the alliance has refused to recognize his presidency, according to press reports. After a reconciliation effort with Aristide failed Feb. 5, the alliance named a provisional president of its own, Gerard Gourgue, and is calling for new elections. Gourgue was justice minister after dictator Jean Claude Duvalier fled the country in 1986.

Commenting on the conciliatory tone of the inaugural speech, Gourgue said, “Words are one thing, acts are another. We are waiting for Aristide to do something positive and concrete.” According to a New York Times report, Gourgue said the country is worse off now than when Duvalier was ousted.

Few foreign dignitaries attended the inauguration as a protest to the disputed election and failed negotiation with Convergence. The European Union has withheld nearly $50 million in aid in protest.

Aristide has promised to create a half-million jobs as president. His plans call for a significant increase in public works jobs and a strengthening of the police force to combat corruption.

The peaceful installation of Aristide as Haiti’s president was a “victory for the democratic process in Haiti,” as was Aristide’s election, said Melinda Miles, who directs the Haiti Reborn project of the Hyattsville, Md.-based Quixote Center.

“The United States should see it,” said Miles, “as a good development that offers us an opportunity to work with a popularly elected stable government.” In reality, she said, “the U.S. government is not ready to work with Aristide, who has historically fought for rights of poor.”

According to Miles, the Convergence has the support of many Republicans in the U.S. Congress through the party’s overseas outreach, the International Republican Institute.

Having Republicans in power in the White House and Congress represents “enormous challenges for Aristide in working with the U.S. and international community,” said Miles, “as well as Aristide having to live up to the expectations of the people who elected him.” Haiti’s economic situation is the poorest in the hemisphere.

Aristide, a laicized priest, rose to fame in the mid-1980s with his fiery sermons criticizing the totalitarian Duvalier family regime. His homilies won the support of Haiti’s impoverished minority. In 1990, he became Haiti’s first democratically elected president.

National Catholic Reporter, February 16, 2001