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Posted November 9, 2003
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Haiti's Bicentennial of Bad News
By OAKLAND ROSS, Feature Writer
Little to celebrate since 1804 war of indepence. Bad hust gets worse in Hemisphere poorest country

It’s shaping up to be a confused, gloomy and perhaps even bloody bicentenary for Haiti.

In less than two months, the troubled Caribbean country will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence from French rule.

In 1804, following a long and violent slave uprising under national hero Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haiti became the first black republic in the world and only the second territory in the Americas to win freedom from its colonial masters, a quarter-century after the United States sent the British packing.

By rights, the bicentenary should be a happy time for Haiti’s 8.3 million people. But it probably won’t be.

In Haiti these days, almost all the news is bad.

Canadian politicians and businessmen were moaning last week after the Swiss-based World Economic Forum published a study suggesting Canada had toppled from ninth place in global competitiveness to a lowly 16th.

Their Haitian counterparts can only dream of such sweet sorrow. Of the 102 countries surveyed in the poll, Haiti wound up right smack-dab in 102nd place, just behind Chad and Angola.

Meanwhile, an organization called Transparency International chose last week to publish its annual list of the world’s countries - in this case, according to their proclivity for corruption.

First place, Bangladesh. Second place, Nigeria. Haiti came in a not very respectable third.

And it only gets worse.

Just a week ago, the special representative in Haiti for the Organization of American States called a press conference in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, in order to express his deepening concern at the downward spiral of life in the hemisphere’s poorest and possibly most benighted land.

"The OAS is preoccupied by the deterioration in the political and social climate, the attacks on human rights and the putting into question of the rule of law," said David Lee, a Canadian, who is the top OAS official in Haiti. He is not alone.

Eduardo Bertoni, the OAS special rapporteur for freedom of expression, was recently in the country and came away deeply troubled by what he saw.

"In the past week, we have received many reports of attacks against journalists," he said in an interview last week. "The state has a responsibility to avoid these attacks and to go after those responsible."

For the most part, it doesn’t.

"The situation has deteriorated considerably. Polarization is deeping. It is getting more difficult to promote dialogue."
A non-partisan political observer in Port-au-Prince

Just last week, two radio stations - one in the capital and another in the north coast city of Cap-Haitien - were forced to close down after attacks by gangs of armed men whose precise identities are unknown but who evidently support the government of former priest and leftist firebrand Jean-Bertrand Aristide, judging by the slogans they chanted while shooting up the two stations’ premises.

In the minds of many Haitians, the two incidents have already been filed into a fat, menacing folder that also makes plentiful reference to the assassination three years ago of Jean Dominique, head of Radio Haiti Inter, and the murder last year of Brignol Lindor, a reporter for radio station Echo 2000, in the town of Petit-Goave.

Like similar incidents, the two cases remain unsolved.

"There is no doubt that the Haitian state must not only respect rights but also guarantee those rights," said Bertoni. "But there are still cases pending of assassination of journalists."

And not only journalists.

The country is mired in a seemingly intractable political conflict that began more than three years ago, following disputed elections for Haiti’s legislative assembly. Lately, the tensions have turned bloody.

Copyright 2003 Toronto Star. Reprinted from The Toronto Star of November 9, 2003. Also, read: An extremely painful comparative analysis of lives. To top it all, please see: In Gonaives and other cities violent protests.                  

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