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Photos: *Jan. 29 *Jan. 22 *Jan. 7 *Jan 10 *Jan.17-20 *Jan. 15 - Books & Arts: *Debating Belgium's War-Crime Jurisdiction; can Aristide face the bar of justice there after leaving his de facto office of the presidency? - Special Reports: *Lives Lost - None of them had to die -  Editorial/Columns: *Waiting In Haiti's Totalitarian Dictator Aristide's Hell, More Haitians Are Likely To Risk Their Lives In Perilous Waters To Come To Uncle Sam's Paradise - *Editorial/Op-Ed *Bad report card for Haiti/tyrant

Posted at 11:55 p.m., Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Downtown Port-au-Prince burned down (photos)

                                                                                                                                Posted at 8:05 p.m., Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Embattled leader, proud to save Haiti from chaos, confident of majority support

By Michelle Faul, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 29 - Confronting growing hostility at home and abroad, Jean-Bertrand Aristide defended his record in office Wednesday, saying he has saved his historically violent nation from chaos despite mounting strikes and demands he resign (photos).

Aristide, who in 1991 became Haiti's first democratically elected president, admitted he may have lost support since his re-election in 2000 as he has faced a recalcitrant opposition and an electoral dispute that has frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.

But in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, he said he remains the first choice of the impoverished masses who, inspired by his fiery preaching for freedom and democracy, rose up in 1986 to oust the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier and elect him as a national savior.

During the 100-minute interview, Aristide blamed Haiti's many ills on a global economic and political system that "smacks of racism," going back to France's fight to prevent its colony from rising up against slavery. Following the only such successful revolt, Haitians founded the world's first black republic in 1804.

The diminutive and bespectacled former Roman Catholic priest is no stranger to the conflict and violence that has marred Haiti, including brutal dictatorships and 32 coups d'etat. Thugs paid by the military in power in 1988 staged a bloody attack on his slum church as he conducted a service, hacking and shooting to death more than a dozen people.

Eight months after he became president in 1991, he was ousted in a coup in which hundreds of his supporters were slain. Thousands more were killed before U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1994 sent 20,000 U.S. troops to restore Aristide and halt an influx of tens of thousands of Haitian boat people to Florida.

But the democracy his return also was to restore — along with a better life for the poorest people in the hemisphere — has proved elusive.

Every election has been flawed by irregularities. Haiti has been in crisis since flawed May 2000 legislative elections swept by Aristide's Lavalas Family party. A dispute over the holding of new elections has frozen some $500 million in international aid.

Aristide called the freeze in foreign aid a form of economic "apartheid" to keep blacks down.

"If some people don't want Haiti to promote economic growth, it's always to point a finger at Haiti to say, 'Hey, don't do that, you see they were the first black independent country in the world but they are so poor today — you better stay where you are instead of fighting for freedom.' That's their goal."

Opposition parties that boycotted the last presidential vote accuse Aristide of drifting toward dictatorship, and many opponents are demanding he resign. Aristide insists he is committed to democracy and says he need not step down until his term expires in 2006.

Negotiations with the opposition are deadlocked, but Aristide said he hopes to persuade opponents to participate in legislative elections by the end of 2003, saying Haiti's insecurities are nothing compared to the civil war that raged in Colombia while elections were held.

After Aristide was restored to power by the 1994 U.S. invasion, he disbanded the army. But the civilian police force he put in place, short of manpower and equipment, also is accused of brutalizing people, summary executions, drug-running and gangsterism.

Street gangs claiming links to Aristide's party have attacked demonstrators, journalists and opposition politicians in response to a recent rash of protests demanding Aristide resign. At least four people have been killed since mid-November and more than 350 people have been injured — the vast majority opposition supporters.

Aristide said Wednesday that while attackers were his supporters, others were claiming false links to dirty the Lavalas party name.

He said Haiti's reputation for violence was unfounded — pointing to higher crime rates in Jamaica and Mexico. Asked about police brutality, he pointed to an attacks by New York police officers, including one in which officers sodomized a Haitian with a broomstick.

Among his biggest accomplishments, Aristide counts preventing Haiti "from collapsing into a chaotic situation" and "in a peaceful environment ... despite not having yet many roads, many schools or hospitals."

He spoke on the first day of a three-day strike called by government school teachers demanding their 2,500-gourde ($65) monthly salaries be increased by 250 percent. Radio stations reported most teachers went to work, apparently fearful of a government threat to penalize strikers.

To support their demands last week, most teachers did not give classes for two days in a successful strike that is part of a growing movement against double-digit inflation and the failure to resolve the political crisis.

Recent protests centered on the government's sudden decision to halt fuel subsidies.

Increased kerosene prices mean there'll be even less light for the majority of Haiti's 8.2 million people who live in villages and slums deprived of electricity, piped water and telephone service. Port-au-Prince, the capital, has been suffering blackouts of up to 20 hours each day in recent weeks. The fuel price hikes are driving to the brink of bankruptcy businesses dependent on diesel-powered generators.

Yet Aristide insisted: "Yes, we may have less (support) than we had in 1990 ... but I think the huge majority of the Haitian people continue to support me ... And if you compare what I have and what the one who comes behind me can get — there you will see a huge margin of difference."

He acknowledges he has not delivered on promises to raise Haitians "from misery to dignified poverty" but said his countrymen and women looking to mark 200 years of independence next year can be proud of their place in world history.

"Yes, the misery will exist but it will not prevent us from knowing who we are." (maf-pd/mn/imj)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted at 12:49 a.m., Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Former military officers deported to Haiti

By Michael Deibert, Reuters Writer

By Michael Deibert PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters), Jan. 28 - Two former Haitian army colonels, one of them a multimillion-dollar U.S. lottery winner, were deported from the United States after being convicted in Haiti for their role in a massacre, officials said on Tuesday (no one writes to the tyrants)..

Carl Dorelien, 53, and Hebert Valmond, 52, were flown to Port-au-Prince International Airport on a U.S. government aircraft late on Monday and transferred immediately to Haiti's National Penitentiary.

They were convicted in absentia in Haiti in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison for participation in a 1994 massacre of nearly two dozen supporters of then-exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the Raboteau neighborhood of the city of Gonaives.

The two, who had been living in Florida since the mid-1990s, were the latest in a string of former foreign government officials and military officers to be arrested by U.S. authorities in recent years over allegations of human rights violations in their home countries.

Dorelien bought one of two winning tickets in a 1997 Florida State lottery that split a $6.3 million award.

He and Valmond were among 37 people who were tried in absentia and convicted for involvement in the 1994 massacre.


"They (Dorelien and Valmond) will have the right to a new trial on all criminal charges, with no presumptions resulting from the previous convictions," said Brian Concannon, an attorney who prosecuted the Raboteau trial for the Haitian government.

Concannon is a U.S. lawyer who works in an international lawyers' office set up by the Haitian government to prosecute human rights cases.

An INS spokeswoman, Barbara Gonzalez, said Dorelien, who lived in Port St. Lucie, and Valmond, who lived in Tampa, entered the United States on visitors' visas. The two were taken into INS custody after their convictions and lost appeals contesting their deportation.

The Raboteau massacre took place during the exile of Aristide, who became Haiti's first freely elected president in 1991 but was ousted in a coup months later. U.S. troops helped restore him to power in 1994. Aristide was re-elected in November 2000.

Valmond and Dorelien were the latest to fall foul of a more aggressive pursuit of alleged human rights violators from foreign countries by U.S. authorities.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted at 10:39 p.m., Monday, January 27, 2003

U.S. team pessimistic after Haiti visiti; Lawmakers from state in group urging Aristide toward reform

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Duvalier Redux?

For the past two months, Haiti has been paralyzed by strikes and violent marches. Last week’s walkout by the nation’s public-school teachers was just the latest in a string of protests against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his ineffective policies. Once the hope for democracy in the tiny island nation, Aristide has recently come to be seen as the cause of the people’s plight rather than their salvation.

So what happened to the overwhelming support for Aristide? Since his re-election in 2000, human-rights abuses, soaring prices and the government’s failure to curb poverty have sent the president’s approval ratings into the gutter. Two thirds of the labor force is unemployed, and six of every 10 people are malnourished. Prices for basic necessities increased sharply last year, and a recent transport strike was triggered by steep hikes in the price of gasoline and kerosene used by the urban poor to light their shanties. “The average person is worse off today than he was in 1991,” says economic consultant Jean-Claude Paulvin. “No wonder the people have revolted.”

Admittedly, Aristide’s Lavalas party has had little to work with. For the past two years the Bush administration, Canada, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have effectively blocked about $500 million in aid and loans earmarked for Haiti because of charges of fraud in 2000’s parliamentary vote. Aristide has “been ground down” by this “destructive policy,” says Larry Birns, di—rector of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. Haiti’s political opposition—a chronically splintered coalition—has also been uncooperative, attempting to block almost every Aristide initiative. With few options, Aristide “has failed to deliver” on promises both to his people and to the international community, says a diplomatic source in the region.

What’s making matters worse, say critics, is the fact that Aristide is resorting to authoritarian rule to keep control. Almost every antigovernment demonstration is quelled by groups of violent pro-Aristide thugs; the recent unrest has claimed the lives of five people and left more than a hundred wounded. Opponents say the president is resorting to tactics used by the dictator Francois Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude. “The Lavalas movement lost its way,” says Father Max Dominique, a former ally of the president’s. “And little by little [its] thugs have become what Duvalier’s Tonton Macoutes used to be.” Aristide has countered his critics with calls for “peace.” But it’s likely more chaos will come first. —

Jane Regan and Malcolm Beith

Copyright 2003 Newsweek

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 3:21 p.m.,  Monday, January 27, 2003

Congressional delegation promotes trade in Haiti

By Michael Deibert, Reuters Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters), Jan. 25 - A four-man U.S. congressional delegation exploring business opportunities in Haiti said on Saturday it believed the time was right to bring new low-wage factory jobs to the poor Caribbean nation (photos).

"We wanted to see first-hand the opportunity the bill my colleagues and I are presenting will provide for the American people and also the Haitian people," said Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio as he toured the Caribbean Apparel Manufacturing plant in Port-au-Prince's industrial park.

DeWine introduced the Haitian Economic Recovery Opportunity act to Congress late last year.

"If our bill would become law in the United States it would bring about an immediate increase in assembly jobs in Haiti," DeWine said.

Haiti's economic situation has grown more severe in recent years. Once home to some 100,000 textile and manufacturing jobs, firms have fled the Caribbean nation of eight million in the last two decades as a result of continued political unrest.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was first elected in 1990 but ousted in a coup months later. U.S. troops helped restore him to power in 1994.

Since his reelection in November 2000, he has been locked in a bitter dispute with opposition politicians over May 2000 parliamentary elections that observers said were rigged to favor Aristide's Lavalas Family party.

The dispute has resulted in the withholding of $500 million of international aid.

Recently, a devaluation of the Haitian currency, the gourde, and a rapid spike in fuel prices caused by an International Monetary Fund-mandated end to government subsidies helped increase the level of desperation many feel in an already spartan existence.

Political violence has also increased in recent months, with pro and anti-government protests rocking the country's major cities and a series of strikes called by Haiti's private sector to protest what they allege is Aristide's increasingly authoritarian and corrupt rule.

"The United States is not applying economic sanctions against Haiti," said DeWine when asked about the suspension of aid. "The United States is not currently providing money directly to the Haitian government. The money we are sending is going to non-governmental organizations and that will continue to be our policy as long as this political impasse exists in Haiti today," he said.

"We are suffering here and there is no one to help us," said Leopold Cuel, a 57 year-old gatekeeper at one of the industrial park's factories. "I work seven days a week but I can barely feed my family, because gas is so expensive, rice is so expensive."

The delegation, which also included Democratic Senators Richard Durbin of Illinois and Bill Nelson of Florida, as well as Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek of Miami, arrived in Haiti on Friday and was scheduled to leave Sunday afternoon.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 12:35 p.m., Friday, January 24, 2003

General strike affect Haiti's major cities

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 24 - Hundreds of business leaders, taxi drivers and doctors held a general strike Friday, clamoring for a better life in a country besieged by insecurity.

The strike, which affected Haiti's two largest cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, came as a U.S. congressional delegation led by Ethel Kennedy prepared to meet with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Friday.

The delegation is on a fact-finding mission to investigate how the withholding of foreign aid — prompted by 2000 legislative elections the opposition denounced as rigged — has deepened poverty in the nation.

Aristide has long blamed the vacuum of aid for stalled progress in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, but there has been growing discontent over the stagnant economy, crime and rising fuel prices.

Gasoline prices have jumped to more than 80 gourdes (US$2) per gallon this month as the government has halted fuel subsidies.

"The government is panicked," said businessman Andy Apaid, who participated in the strike.

Traffic was lighter than usual on Port-au-Prince's streets Friday as doctors canceled appointments, teachers missed class and factories were shut.

"The forces and financiers of the coup d'etat have decided to attack the people with the violence of unemployment and hunger, sickness, insecurity, and instability in all its forms," Premier Yvon Neptune said.

Some Haitians, however, said they couldn't afford to strike.

"It's a strike for the upper-class and not for us poor people," said Jean-Robert Philidor, 45, a soft-drink vendor near the capital's international airport. "They can afford to stay home. We can't."

More than 180 civil society groups comprised of thousands of people called the one-day general strike.

Some critics accused the government of trying to quash support for the strike by stoking racial and class divisions.

Some in the capital awoke Friday morning to scattered fliers that blamed the strike on the light-skinned upper-class. The fliers said the bourgeoisie was trying to subjugate Haiti's poor masses.

Although it wasn't clear where the fliers came from, the theme has been echoed by Aristide and his government.

Aristide, a former slum priest, traditionally has drawn his power from the poor. But lately more of the poor have joined protest strikes, unable to afford cooking oil and food.

"The government is appealing to class division at the moment when rich and poor are standing together to protest the government's mismanagement of the economy and violation of liberties," Apaid said.

Protests against Aristide's government have multiplied since mid-November, with government supporters holding separate rallies.

Since then, at least four people have died in clashes and more than 350 people been injured. The dead and injured include both Aristide partisans and government opponents.

Aristide has refused to step down before his five-year term ends in February 2006 but has said legislative elections will be held by June. (mn-pd/imj)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                                      Posted at 2:20 p.m., Thursday, January 23, 2003

Ethel Kennedy leads U.S. congressional delegation on fact finding mission to Haiti

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Leading a U.S. congressional delegation, Ethel Kennedy arrived in Haiti Thursday to investigate how the withholding of foreign aid has deepened despair in the impoverished nation (photo)..

The widow of Robert Kennedy and Rep. Donna Christensen, a Democrat from the U.S. Virgin Islands; Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois; Rep. Diane Watson, a Democrat from California; and Todd Howland, director of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights will spend two days meeting with politicians, religious leaders and banking officials.

On Friday, they plan to meet with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The group will also visit an AIDS clinic run by Harvard medical-school professor Paul Farmer in Cange, on Haiti's Central Plateau district.

Farmer directs Partners in Health, a non-governmental health care organization. Loune Viaud, the strategic director of his AIDS clinic, won the Robert F. Kennedy 2002 Human Rights Award.

Kennedy said she came to honor the work of the clinic and Viaud, and to visit Aristide, who she called "an old friend." She also said she would seek out more U.S. government "engagement" to help Haitians.

The group will "investigate the impact of the embargo on the poor," said Haiti's foreign press liaison officer Michelle Karshan.

Farmer and Viaud have been outspoken in their criticism of the suspension of foreign aid that followed controversial May 2000 legislative elections, which the opposition denounced as rigged.

In September, the Organization of American States, citing deepening poverty, urged international financial institutions to normalize their relations with Haiti, but no funds have been released.

Some US$149 million in Inter-American Development Bank loans for health, water, education, and rural road rehabilitation already ratified by Haiti's Parliament will not be released until Haiti clears some US$20 million in interest arrears, IDB officials say.

The United States has never suspended its $50 million aid package to Haiti, but it is disbursed only to non-governmental organizations.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 11:23 p.m., Wednesday, January 22, 2003

In Haiti, a funeral for three young brothers murdered by archivillain and notorious chief bandit Jean-Bertrand Aristide's thugs (photos)

Corruption accentuates economic and social crises, including in Haiti, says Transparency International

By Marcela Valente, Inter-Press Service Writer

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 22 (IPS) - Rampant corruption is increasingly undermining the credibility of democracy and politics in Latin America, although some countries have made progress against the scourge, Transparency International (TI) stated in its latest report, released Wednesday (http://www.transparency.org).

The Global Corruption Report 2003 by the Berlin-based international anti-corruption network warned that like last year, respondents to surveys and polls continue to ''view South America as one of the most -- if not the most -- corruption-plagued regions in the world.''

Nor have Central America, Mexico or the Caribbean made much headway against the corrupt, which has led to a deepening lack of public confidence in democracy and the political system, said TI.

But on a more upbeat tone, the report stated that ''The corrupt are running out of places to hide from courageous whistleblowers and journalists'' in today's world, due to a more effective press, quicker and more fluent information flows, and the determined action of civil society organizations.

The report's chapter on South America indicated that the region ''has been racked in recent months by economic crisis, social unrest and popular rejection of the region's political leaders.

''The persistent scourge of corruption in South America has nourished the roots of this discontent'' and ''graft has contributed to the (region's) economic problems,'' it added.

Continuous corruption scandals, in the midst of economic crisis, have eroded the credibility of the region's institutions and the already fragile public confidence in the political system, said the study, which is based on surveys and polls carried out in the region.

One of the surveys cited, conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank, found that public dissatisfaction with economic reforms in the region was growing, particularly among the middle class, and that only one out of two respondents said they believed democracy was the best form of government.

But despite the disenchantment with democracy, TI reported that there have been advances in the fight against corruption in the region, due to efforts by governments, civil society, and especially the press, in spite of the intimidation and aggression of which journalists are often the targets.

The Global Corruption Report 2003 also noted that multilateral financial institutions and donors have become more cautious about providing funds to governments under suspicion of corruption, and have been earmarking more funds to programs that emphasize government transparency.

The Organization of American States (OAS) began to monitor compliance with the Inter-American Convention against Corruption last year, drawing up evaluation reports ''to pressure governments to change or improve aspects that analysts consider unsatisfactory.''

The South American regional chapter of the TI report underlined the efforts made by Peru, especially with respect to investigations into the case of Vladimiro Montesinos, ex-president Alberto Fujimori (news - web sites)'s (1990-2000) former intelligence chief.

Peruvian authorities arrested Montesinos in June 2001, and he is in jail facing 60 separate lawsuits. In addition, officials were able to recover part of the money deposited in Swiss bank accounts, the product of graft and other forms of corruption in which the network headed by Montesinos engaged.

TI observed that more than 240 investigations, involving over 1,300 people, were under way in Peru into acts of corruption committed during the ''Fujimori-Montesinos era.''

According to ''preliminary findings'', Fujimori -- who is living in Japan -- may have stolen more than 180 million dollars from the public coffers, said the report.

Nevertheless, the investigations have done little to restore Peruvian society's confidence in its leaders, said TI, which pointed out that ''surveys suggest that 75 percent of Peruvians believe that corruption will persist.''

That view may not be unfounded, to judge by accusations that have emerged against President Alejandro Toledo over the way he pushed through the privatization of public enterprises that he had pledged to keep in the hands of the state.

Elsewhere in South America, presidents, ex-presidents and high-level officials are implicated in investigations of corruption.

In Bolivia, officials of the government of the now-deceased Hugo Banzer (1997-2001) face probes and legal action, as do Paraguayan President Luis González Macchi and his predecessor Juan Carlos Wasmosy.

In Argentina, former president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) was held under house arrest for six months in 2001, on charges of illegal sales of arms and money laundering.

Menem is also facing legal proceedings initiated last year for allegedly accepting a 10 million dollar pay-off from the government of Iran to conceal its role in the July 1994 bombing of a Jewish community and medical center in Buenos Aires, in which 87 people were killed.

Domingo Cavallo, who served as economy minister under both Menem and Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001), was also arrested in 2002 in connection with the same illegal arms sale scandal.

But the TI report referred to advances in the fight against corruption launched by president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994- 2002) in Brazil.

It warned, however, that most of the Brazilians polled believed corruption was on the rise, a perception that was largely based on accusations of fraud that forced Roseana Sarney from withdrawing as a candidate in the October presidential elections, which were won by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Colombia, meanwhile, ''where a brutal war continues to claim the lives of some 3,500 civilians a year...has suffered the tragic consequences of endemic theft by politicians and public officials for decades,'' said TI.

It pointed out that a World Bank (news - web sites) survey released in February 2002 found that ''bribes are paid in 50 percent of all state contracts.''

And while a number of anti-corruption initiatives have been seen in Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, they have brought few results, according to the chapter on that area.

One consequence of fruitless attempts to crack down on corruption and of the broad use of the issue as part of campaign platforms is ''the weakening of people's trust in a democratic regime and in the system of political parties,'' said the report.

TI underlined that Central America ''continues to exhibit asymmetries in corruption.'' While scandals have been ''relatively infrequent in some countries, such as Costa Rica,'' graft has increased in countries like Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Puerto Rico.

But in Mexico, ''important advances'' have been made thanks to the anti-corruption measures adopted by the government of Vicente Fox (news - web sites), according to the report.

Former presidents in Central America are also facing legal proceedings, while presidential candidates who ran on anti- corruption platforms often become the focus of scandals and allegations of the misuse of campaign funds.

On the list of former presidents facing corruption charges are Rafael Callejas of Honduras (1990-1994), Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic (1996-2000), and Oscar Alemán of Nicaragua (1997-2002). TI lamented that their successors have not done much to set themselves apart from that trend. 

Copyright © 2003 OneWorld.net.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 3:16 p.m., Monday, January 20, 2003

Civil society charges Haiti has failed to create a favorable environment for elections this year

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - More than 180 groups, ranging from chambers of commerce to student unions, signed a declaration Monday accusing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of failing to create a safe environment for upcoming elections (photos).

The 184 civil society groups, comprised of thousands, last month gave Aristide's government until Jan. 15 to show it was laying the groundwork for legitimate legislative elections in June (related press release)..

But the groups said the government has failed, lacking the political will to create "conditions for citizens to exercise their political, social and economic rights" and "making it impossible to have elections that are free, transparent and credible."

The government has done little to stop criminal gangs or arrest perpetrators of political violence, the groups complain. The civil groups also accuse the government of intimidating the media and trying to stifle opposition.

Unidentified gunmen opened fire early Monday on independent Radio Maxima in north-coast Cap-Haitien, hitting a radio antennae and putting it off the airwaves. The local station, which promotes social change in Haiti, has been attacked on two other occasions recently, apparently by Aristide partisans.

The government did not immediately respond to Monday's declaration, but in a Jan. 10 interview with the state-run daily L'Union, presidential spokesman Haendel Carre said, "Haitians are demanding elections while 184 individuals, on the basis of personal and narrow interests, are saying they won't participate in elections."

They should "adopt a more rational attitude" and encourage the international community to resume suspended aid, Carre said.

Haiti watched much of its international aid disappear after Aristide's Lavalas Family party in 2000 swept legislative elections that observers said were flawed.

Since then, Aristide's government has been under steady pressure to improve the country's dismal economic situation and elevate living standards. Most people in this Caribbean nation live on 40 gourdes (US$1) per day, and malnutrition and disease are rampant.

The civic alliance called for a nationwide general strike on Friday "to protest against the political, social and economic mismanagement of the country," said Maurice Lafortune, president of the Port-au-Prince Chamber of Commerce.

The alliance has not yet called for Aristide's resignation, but left the question open for the future, said civic leader Rosny Desroches.

Protests against Aristide and his government have multiplied since mid-November with government supporters holding separate rallies to defend their once uncontested popular leader, a former priest.

The latest government move prompting mass discontent has been the decision to halt fuel subsidies. Gas has risen to more than 80 gourdes ($2) per gallon, and the price of some staples like rice, has gone up more than 20 percent.

Aristide has refused to step down, accusing his opponents of planning to overthrow him before his five-year term ends in February 2006.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Posted at 11:01 p.m., Friday, January 17, 2003

Group of Haitians detained after Key Biscayne landing

By Tere Figueras, Miami Herald Writer                                                                                                 tfigueras@herald.com   

A group of Haitian migrants arriving on Key Biscayne on Thursday was quickly taken into custody by law enforcement near Cape Florida. The group numbered about 20 people, according to Miami-Dade police.

The Haitians were first spotted about 9 p.m. near Bill Baggs State Park. A police helicopter searched the area, looking for migrants that may have eluded police.

The migrants were taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol, which processes migrants before handing them over to immigration authorities.

In October, at least 220 Haitians landed on the shores of Key Biscayne -- running onto the Rickenbacker Causeway in a bid for freedom before being detained -- and kindled an ongoing controversy over U.S. immigration policy.

All migrants arriving by sea -- except for Cubans -- are subject to detention and quickened deportation proceedings. Cubans who reach U.S. soil are usually granted the right to stay in the United States.

This news article appeared in The Miami Herald of January 17, 2003.

                                                                                                                                                                                     Posted at 3:39 p.m., Thursday, January 16, 2003

Government issues warrant for arrest of opposition leader Himmler Rebu

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 16 - The government issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Himmler Rebu, charging the former army colonel with assaulting and shooting government partisans during a demonstration last week, Rebu said Wednesday (photo, Rebu).

The warrant, issued Tuesday, accuses Rebu of injuring partisans of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a Jan. 10 protest that called for the president's resignation.

The protesters clashed with rival Aristide partisans, leaving at least seven injured on each side. Several people were hospitalized with bullet and stab wounds, or with bruises from rocks and bottles.

Rebu said Wednesday he was innocent and had been unarmed during the demonstration.

"The government has been planning this for a long time," he said. "It fits into the general framework of a campaign to repress dissent."

The government could not immediately be reached for comment, but a judiciary official confirmed the warrant on condition of anonymity, according to independent radio station Kiskaya.

Human rights activists criticized the warrant as a ploy to stifle dissent.

"We want justice for the victims, but we don't want it to be a pretext to persecute the political opposition," human rights advocate Pierre Esperance said. "The warrant for Rebu's arrest is an example of political persecution.

" Rebu, 52, who runs an athletic center in suburban Delmas, commanded a battalion that in 1989 attempted to overthrow then-dictator Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril.

The coup attempt failed and Rebu went until exile until 1990, when Avril was ousted and Aristide was elected president.

After less than a year, the army overthrew Aristide. When U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994, he dissolved the army and replaced it with a civilian police force.

Rebu has since written many editorials and several books on the army, criticizing the coup d'etat and opposing the military's involvement in politics.

On Nov. 17, he re-entered the limelight as a spokesmen for an opposition demonstration that assembled tens of thousands in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city.

During the event, Rebu lowered the Haitian flag to half-mast to indicate the nation was in mourning — an action Aristide said was treasonous.

Dozens of demonstrations across the Caribbean country have since called for Aristide to step down, saying his government was undemocratic and powerless to stop escalating poverty.

Pro-Aristide partisans have countered with their own demonstrations. Clashes between the two groups have left four dead and more than 350 injured.

Aristide, who says blocked aid has hindered progress in easing poverty, has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006. (mn-kd)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                              Haiti's public school teachers strike for higher wages

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 16 - Thousands of teachers went on strike in Haiti's major cities Thursday, calling on the government to raise their wages and improve public school conditions.

Haiti's teachers also called on the government to reinstate gasoline subsidies eliminated earlier this month, driving up the cost of living in what is already the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.

Public school teachers showed up to classrooms Thursday but refused to give lessons, demanding the government increase their monthly salaries of about 2,500 gourdes (US$67) by at least 250 percent. They said they protest again Friday.

"We can't live on our miserable salary," said teacher Marie-Denise Alexis Chery, 34, at Guatemala Primary School in Petionville, a suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The strike also affected private schools, as teachers protested in solidarity with their public school counterparts, said Jean-Frederic Lavaud, leader of one of five unions that called the strike.

About 70 percent of Haitian youths are enrolled in private schools, but many do not attend as parents say they cannot afford the uniforms or tuition fees. Private school teachers are paid by the hour and their salaries vary.

The government criticized the teachers' strike, but said it was open to negotiations. It urged teachers to "show more understanding for students and their parents," saying the strike could jeopardize students' performance on final exams, according to a statement.

Unions representing the 14,000-15,000 public school teachers have also demanded better conditions at dilapidated and overcrowded schools, where many classes have more than 65 students though the legal limit is 40.

But teachers said the last straw was the Jan. 1 elimination of subsidies on petroleum products, which has caused gas prices to go up 75 percent, to 80 gourdes (US$2.16) a gallon on Thursday.

Bus fares have since doubled, preventing many poor people from sending their children to school. Taxi and bus driver strikes in major cities have also forced many to miss classes this month.

The government has said the subsidies had to end for the country to overcome a 3 billion gourde (US$80 million) deficit. It also blamed the suspension of foreign aid and higher world fuel prices due to the general strike in oil-producing Venezuela.

But for many Haitians who subsist on as little as 37 gourdes (US$1) a day, the increased cost of living has been debilitating.

"It's heartbreaking, but we have no choice but to strike," said math teacher Guevara Geneus, 30, of Marie-Jeanne Girls High School in the capital. "It's for the good of the children." (mn-fg/kd)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted at 3:51 p.m., Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Haitian capital back to normal as drivers ignore call for second day of strike

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 15 - Schools reopened and business returned to normal in Haiti's capital Wednesday as bus and taxi drivers ignored a call for a second-day strike to protest a dramatic rise in fuel prices.

The transport strike was still on, however, in north-coast Cap-Haitien, the country's second largest city, causing businesses to stay closed and children to stay home from school.

On the first day of the strike Tuesday, most schools, shops and commercial banks were closed in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs, where about 2.5 million people live.

But bus and taxi drivers in the capital said they couldn't afford a second day of protest and returned to work. "I can't afford to take time off. If I do, my family will go hungry," said driver Pierre Paul, 44.

During Tuesday's transportation strike, two men were shot and wounded as police tried to clear a flaming tire barricade on a highway outside Mirebalais, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital, police said. The circumstances of the shooting were unclear.

Drivers want the government to continue fuel subsidies, which kept gas prices down. Since Jan. 1, gas prices have increased about 75 percent to 80 Haitian gourdes (US$2.16) per gallon (21 gourdes (57 cents) per liter).

Some protesters on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince barricaded a road on Wednesday and smashed the windows of passing vehicles. No one was reported injured.

Most Haitians depend on buses or vans for transportation. Fares have doubled, preventing many poor people from sending children to school. Staple food prices also have surged due to higher transportation costs.

A separate transportation strike paralyzed the west-coast town of Gonaives on Monday. On Jan. 7, a strike brought the capital to a standstill.

The government has condemned the strikes, saying the elimination of subsidies was overdue considering the country was struggling to overcome a 3 billion gourdes (US$80 million) deficit and the currency had depreciated.

The government also blamed the need to end gas subsidies on the suspension of foreign aid after disputed 2000 legislative elections, as well as higher world fuel prices stemming partly from an opposition strike in oil-producing Venezuela.

Many of Haiti's 8.3 million people subsist on as little as $1 a day. With a 96 percent rise in kerosene prices this month, many who live in slums without electricity have been unable to light their lamps at night.

The government will now peg prices to world fuel prices, intervening only if fluctuations exceed 5 percent.

Since November, government opponents have held dozens of demonstrations calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation, saying his government is undemocratic and incapable of reversing the economic decline.

Aristide claims he has brought relative peace, and that blocked aid has hindered progress in easing poverty. He refuses to step down before his term ends in 2006. (mn-kd/imj)

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 7:10 p.m., Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Transportation strike paralyzes Haitian cities, slows down capital

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

Writer PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 14 - A transportation strike paralyzed several cities Tuesday with taxi and bus drivers refusing to work because of soaring fuel prices and a government decision to halt subsidies (photos).

The strike, the third this month, caused most schools, shops and commercial banks to close in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and its suburbs where about 2.5 million people live. In northcoast Cap-Haitian, the country's second largest city, the strike halted all business.

Drivers want the government to reinstate gasoline subsidies, which had kept fuel prices affordable. Since Jan. 1, gas prices have increased about 75 percent to 80.44 Haitian gourdes (US$2.16) per gallon.

Bus fares have doubled, preventing many poor people from sending children to school. Food costs have also risen, with a bag of rice costing 25 percent more than it did two weeks ago.

"We've got to force the government to lower the price of fuel it raised so cruelly," said Lolince Zamor, leader of one of the nine transport unions that called for the strike.

Most Haitians depend on private transportation in the form of buses or jitneys called tap-taps. In the capital Tuesday, people flooded street corners waiting for a rare bus or taxi. Many gave up and walked.

Some drivers, although sympathetic with the strike, continued to work on Tuesday saying they couldn't afford to miss work.

"I went on strike last week. But I can't survive if I miss work every week," said Guyto Jean-Pierre, 62, a taxi driver in Port-au-Prince.

The government condemned the strike, saying the elimination of subsidies was overdue considering the country was struggling to overcome a 3 billion gourdes (US$80 million) deficit.

"The situation could have been clarified through negotiations," said Gabriel Zephyr, an official in the Commerce Ministry. There have been no negotiations over the rising prices.

The government also blamed the need to end gas subsidies on the suspension of foreign aid after the disputed 2000 legislative elections, as well as the higher world market prices for fuel stemming partly from an opposition strike in oil-producing Venezuela.

Many of Haiti's 8.3 million people subsist on as little as $1 a day. With a 96 percent rise in kerosene prices this month, many who live in slums without electricity have been unable to light their lamps at night.

The government will now peg prices to world fuel prices, intervening only if fluctuations exceed five percent, Premier Yvon Neptune said Monday. But economists warned that the new policy could further undermine the government's popular base.

"Incomes no longer correspond to prices. The price hike will increase the imbalance, and might lead to the fall of the government," Haitian economist Claude Beauboeuf said.

Last year inflation was at 10 percent and the growth rate fell below zero. No jobs were created, while the population grew more than 2 percent.

Since November, government opponents have held dozens of demonstrations calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation, saying his government is undemocratic and incapable of reversing the economic decline.

On Monday, a similar strike shut down the westcoast town of Gonaives. On Jan. 7, another strike brought the capital to a standstill as almost every driver joined the protest. On Friday, government and opposition supporters clashed in the capital, leaving at least seven people on each side injured.

Aristide claims he has brought relative peace, and that blocked aid has hindered progress in easing poverty. He refuses to step down before his term ends in 2006. (mn-kd-pd)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                                          Posted at 8: 39 p.m., Monday, January 13, 2003

Haitian medical students lead demonstration over a classmate who was killed

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 13 - More than 1,000 medical students marched through the capital Monday, protesting the killing of a fellow classmate and calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign (photos).

Chanting "Down with Aristide!" the protesters brandished placards with "Justice for Eric" written on them (prison is a member of their family).

Eric Pierre, a 27-year-old medical student, was shot to death last week after he left the university. Like many students who study under park and street lamps after sunset because of frequent power outages, Pierre had been studying all night long in a lighted university courtyard.

A 96 percent increase in the price of kerosene Jan. 1 has made it increasingly difficult for the poor to fuel lamps at night.

We are marching "to say no to that crime, no to impunity, and no to the devaluation of human life in our society," said medical student Harrison Ernest, in an interview with Radio Haiti Inter.

No arrests have been made in Pierre's killing, but police spokesman Jean-Dady Simeon said an investigation was under way.

Monday's protest comes amid mounting pressure against Aristide's government.

Since mid-November, thousands of Haitians have marched in anti-government demonstrations, and Aristide's supporters often have countered with their own marches. More than 350 people have been injured and four killed in clashes.

There were no reports of violence during Monday's protest as it curled past the National Palace and Justice Ministry.

Government opponents have been calling for Aristide's resignation, accusing him of tolerating corruption and failing to stave off poverty.

Aristide maintains he has brought relative peace to the Caribbean country, and has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006.

Taxi and bus drivers have been protesting a dramatic rise in gas prices since the government abruptly halted fuel subsidies on Jan. 1.

The government stands by its decision to halt fuel subsidies as sound fiscal policy, given a rise in world oil prices and a 3 billion gourde (US$80 million) deficit. Millions of dollars in foreign aid also have been blocked since disputed 2000 legislative elections. Aristide has agreed to hold new legislative elections by June, but the opposition has resisted, saying the government must guarantee security and bring to justice perpetrators of past political violence.

The Organization of American States announced on Monday that it had received a US$5,000 (186,000-gourde) donation from the Holy See to support the Washington-based group's special mission to strengthen democracy in Haiti.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 8.2 million residents.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                          British Virgin Islands authorities detain 40 illegal migrants

By The Associated Press

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, Jan. 11 - Police detained 40 illegal migrants who arrived Saturday aboard two wooden boats in this British Caribbean territory, officials said.

The first boat, holding 23 Haitians and six Dominicans, ran aground on the northeast end of Virgin Gorda, Chief Immigration Officer V. Victor O'Neal said.

The group included 16 women, one of whom was pregnant, he said. A doctor treated two people who had said they felt ill after the voyage, O'Neal said, but gave no details.

Authorities detained a second group of 11 Haitians on Norman Island, 10 miles (16 kilometers) from where the first group landed.

Police were questioning the migrants, who are being held at a hotel in the capital, Road Town.

All would likely be repatriated to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, O'Neal said.

Thousands of Haitians each year risk voyages aboard rickety, crowded boats to try to escape the misery of poverty compounded by a political crisis that has frozen aid. Many subsist on $1 a day.

Though they make three times as much as Haitians, Dominicans also make the trip hoping for better economic opportunities on U.S. soil. (bvi-kd)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Posted at 2:45 p.m., Friday, January 10, 2003

Government supporters hurl stones to break up opposition protest in Haiti, injuring at least 15

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 10 - Government supporters hurled stones to break up an opposition protest Friday, injuring at least two people (photos).

About 200 supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide descended on the similar-sized opposition march near the National Palace, shouting "Aristide or death!"

Those injured by stones included an opposition supporter and radio journalist Rosny Mathieu, both of whom were struck on the head. Mathieu was hospitalized, while the other man retreated with his head bleeding.

"Aristide uses street thugs who with the complicity of the police broke up our demonstration," opposition politician Jean Limongy said.

Police who were escorting both groups blamed the violence on the opposition group that held the protest, saying it had strayed from the approved route.

Since mid-November, thousands of Haitians have marched in anti-government demonstrations, and Aristide's supporters often have countered with their own marches. Some 350 people have been injured and four killed in clashes involving demonstrators and police.

Opposition protesters retreated under the hail of rocks Friday, and police fired tear gas to disperse Aristide supporters.

Earlier, a small group of Aristide backers burst into the opposition march and seized a banner reading "We are fed up."

Government opponents have been calling for Aristide's resignation, accusing him of tolerating corruption and failing to stave off poverty.

Aristide maintains he has brought relative peace to the Caribbean country, and has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006.

Taxi and bus drivers have been protesting a dramatic rise in gas prices since the government abruptly halted fuel subsidies on Jan. 1. A separate union-organized protest against the price hikes was canceled Friday following threats by Aristide supporters, organizers said.

"Haitians must realize they have the right to assemble," opposition protest organizer Himmler Redu said.

Police require that demonstrations be announced two days in advance, but Limongy said Friday's march by Aristide supporters was unannounced.

The government stands by its decision to halt fuel subsidies as sound fiscal policy, given a rise in world oil prices and a 3 billion gourde (US$80 million) deficit.

Millions of dollars in foreign aid also have been blocked since disputed 2000 legislative elections. Aristide has agreed to hold new legislative elections by June, but the opposition has resisted, saying the government must guarantee security and bring to justice those responsible for past political violence.

Aristide says his efforts against poverty have been hindered by the suspension of aid. On Thursday, he said "the opposition has a lot of responsibility" for the increases in fuel prices.

Staple food prices also have surged due to higher transportation costs.

In an effort to offset price hikes, Social Affairs Minister Heude Saint-Preux Craan said the government was negotiating with business associations in an effort to double the minimum daily wage to 72 gourdes (about $1.95) from the current 36 gourdes (about $0.97).

Marc Bazin, a former minister in Aristide's government, said the plan won't work and would only push unemployment higher. A majority of adults in Haiti already have no regular job. (mn-imj)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                       Posted at 11:45 a.m., Friday, January 10, 2002

Two Haitian detainees win political asylum court cases

By Jacqueline Charles, Maimi Herald Writer, 01-10-03                                                                         jcharles@herald.com

Two Haitian detainees who were among the more than 200 who scrambled ashore at the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne nearly three months ago won political asylum in immigration court Thursday, a surprise ruling for a group that has had its hearings fast-tracked and has found it difficult to get legal representation.

The migrants, both men, are believed to be the first from the Oct. 29 boatload to win their asylum claims, advocates say. Immigration officials could not confirm that.

''I am very happy,'' said one of the detainees who received asylum, a 45-year-old construction worker named Pierre who declined to give his last name. ``I had a lot of persecution in Haiti. It would have been very difficult for me to return to Haiti.''

In both his asylum claim and a hearing before U.S. Immigration Judge Daniel Dowell in Miami-Dade County on Thursday, Pierre said he and his family were repeatedly attacked because of their allegiance to the coalition opposing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

As a result of that support, he said his father was killed, his mother injured and his daughter raped during the alleged Dec. 17, 2001, coup attempts in Haiti.

His family, including his four children, remain in Haiti. As a result of the asylum decision Thursday, he will be able to bring them to the United States immediately. He will also be able to apply for permanent U.S. residency status in a year.

Despite his claim, Pierre said he wasn't sure the judge would grant his request to remain here.

''I felt discouraged because so many had gone before and had not won,'' he said, referring to the first batch of asylum requests from the Rickenbacker migrants, most of which were denied.

No information was available about the second detainee who received asylum.

Both men are expected to be released from Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade today, following completion of paperwork.

Candace Jean, an attorney for Catholic Charities Legal Services who helped Pierre fill out his claim forms and prepared him before his appearance Thursday, said the two victories give hope to detainees.

''Hopefully, we'll start to see others being granted,'' Jean said.

Despite the optimism, Jean and other attorneys maintain that the pace at which the asylum claims are being heard need to be slowed down so that lawyers can prepare cases and detainees can find legal representation.

Most of the detainees do not have lawyers.

Neither of the men who won asylum had an attorney. But instead of viewing Thursday's victories as a sign that detainees can win without legal representation, Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said: ``It speaks to the strength of the cases in general. ``

In those cases where we are not able to represent someone in court, our agency or Catholic Charities may have well prepped the Haitian asylum-seeker before the hearing.''

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted at 7:17 p.m., Thursday, January 9, 2002

Chief bandit Aristide's notorious bandit is said to have died in captivity

By Yves A. Isidor, wehaitians.com executive editor 

Cambridge, MA, Jan. 9 - It has long been anticipated, especially in the world of uncommonly criminality of Haiti's totalitarian dictator, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (photos).

A notorious bandit of chief bandit Aristide reportedly died in captivity Thursday, but Haiti's penitentiary General Director, Clifford Larose, said Thursday the alleged expired bandit, Ronald Camille, commonly known as Ronald Cadaver, who many in Haiti and the immigrant diasporas are convinced has been injected with an AIDS-type poison on the order of bestial dictator, Aristide, in an effort to consign to the archives of history an extremely embarrassing criminal, was being transferred rather to a hospital in the trash-filled capital of Port-au-Prince.

His medical condition and the name of the concerned medical institution were not revealed, despite repeated pleas by journalists for Larose to do so, and that his contention could subsequently be substantiated. More, but in French notorious bandit died.

Bishops urge release of Haitian migrants, Florida clerics ask for an end to 'humiliation'
By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald Writer

Stating that the continued detention of Haitian migrants is indefensible, Florida's Catholic bishops Wednesday called on President Bush to release more than 200 Haitians who washed up on South Florida's shores in October.

''For more than two months now, these 228 Haitian asylum-seekers have suffered the humiliation of continued detention, separated from their awaiting families and community sponsors,'' the bishops wrote.

The letter was signed by nine Catholic bishops from Florida, including Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora and Bishops Agustin A. Roman and Thomas G. Wenski.

It refers to a federal government policy in effect for more than a year that holds Haitian asylum seekers in detention indefinitely -- a change from the previous policy, which released most of them into the community while their claims were being heard. The letter comes as the U.S. Catholic Church marks the observance of National Migration Week, a time when Catholics are reminded that the United States is a nation based on ''a delicate balance of laws and faith,'' the bishops wrote.

''The federal government, through the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, has failed to articulate a compelling moral or security-based rationale for the continued detention of those who seek only freedom for themselves and their children from political persecution and human rights violations in Haiti,'' the letter states.

``We call on President Bush to apply the same standard set for all others who seek political asylum to the detained Haitians, and their children as well. We also urge Gov. Jeb Bush and our federal and state legislators to contact the president, asking that he immediately release these detainees."

*This news article was reproduced from The Miami Herald of Jan. 9, 2003.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 10:59 p.m., Wednesday, January 8, 2002

Haitian police fatally shot passer-by during clash with anti-government demonstrators

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 8 - Haitian police shot and killed a passer-by Wednesday during a clash with rock-throwing anti-government demonstrators, a radio station reported (photos).

The man, identified as 25-year-old Volny Saurel, was shot once in the head when riot police attempted to disperse the demonstration in the west-coast city of Gonaives, Radio Independence reported (tyrant Aristide's criminal record, in French).

The protest began at dawn with protesters setting up a flaming-tire barricade and calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Police intervened and, when met with a hail of rocks from demonstrators, opened fire and hit Saurel, the Gonaives-based radio station reported. Police could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gonaives, about 110 kilometers (69 miles) northwest of Port-au-Prince, has been a hotbed of political violence since Aug. 22, when an armed gang broke into a city jail and freed its leader, pro-Aristide activist Amiot Metayer, and more than 150 other inmates.

Few escaped inmates have been recaptured. Police say it is too dangerous to go after Metayer, who has broken up several anti-government demonstrations.

"No one is above the law," but the life of residents would be endangered if police attempted to arrest Metayer, government spokesman Mario Dupuy said. Metayer had been arrested on arson charges and also was accused of other crimes connected with political violence.

Saurel was the fourth person to die during demonstrations since mid-November, in which Aristide's opponents have clashed with government supporters and police. More than 350 people have been injured.

Police in the Caribbean country had banned demonstrations from Dec. 20 through Wednesday, calling a "truce" for the holiday season.

The opposition, at loggerheads with Aristide since his Lavalas Family Party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000, denounced the ban on protests as a violation of the right of assembly.

On Dec. 22, police and Aristide partisans broke up an anti-government demonstration in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city. Human rights groups have criticized the alleged police complicity with pro-government forces in crushing opposition demonstrations.

"Despite a few isolated incidents, Haitian national police officers bounce between extremes, either crushing passive demonstrations with brutal force or standing by doing nothing as aggressive Lavalas partisans attack," the National Coalition for Haitian rights said in a report last month.

Opposition parties on Dec. 16 overcame past divisions over whether to accept Aristide's legitimacy and united to call for his resignation.

Last month, 184 civil society groups warned they would not endorse elections that Aristide has pledged by June if his government continues to tolerate restrictions on free speech and assembly.

Aristide has refused to step down, accusing his detractors of planning a coup d'etat to overthrow him before his five-year term ends in 2006.

Wednesday's protest came a day after a strike by bus and taxi drivers that forced schools and many businesses to close in the impoverished country. The drivers were protesting against dramatic increases in gasoline prices this month, which followed a government decision to halt fuel subsidies. (mn-kd/imj)

                                                                                                                                                                                        U.S. senator, British journalist, Chilean filmmaker, Haitian activist and professor win Mexico's highest foreign honor

By E. Eduardo Castillo, Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 6 - Mexico on Monday awarded a U.S. senator, a British journalist, a Chilean filmmaker and a Haitian human rights activist the Aguila Azteca medal, the highest honor the government can bestow on foreign dignitaries.

Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castaneda said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., New York Times correspondent Alan Riding, director Miguel Littin and Gerard Pierre-Charles, one of the leaders of the Haitian opposition group Organization of Struggling People, all won medals, which are awarded annually. Castaneda said the four had "blessed Mexico with their energy and talent" and that the medals were a token of President Vicente Fox 's appreciation.

Castaneda said Dodd won a medal thanks to his efforts to build a "mature and constructive relationship between Mexico and the United States." The senator was among the U.S. Congress' most-vocal critics of America's annual certification of other countries in the war on drugs.

Riding was his newspaper's Mexico City correspondent from 1971 to 1984. He now works as the Times' European cultural correspondent and is based in Paris. Riding is author of "Distant Neighbors," considered by many to be among the most-influential books ever written on U.S-Mexican relations. Castaneda said the articles Ridding wrote while in Mexico showed "an unbending loyalty toward Mexicans." Riding was the only medal winner on-hand for Monday's ceremony. Upon receiving his medal, he said Mexico had defined his life but added that "not everything we wrote was applauded" by Mexicans.

Littin, who served as head of Chile's film industry during the Socialist administration of President Salvador Allende, fled to Mexico and lived in this country in exile for 11 years after right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet (news - web sites) came to power in a coup in September 1973.

Pierre-Charles' work as a human rights activist forced him to flee Haiti for Mexico in 1960. He became a noted professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico before returning to his homeland in 1986.

Castaneda said Pierre-Charles' work at Mexico's largest university "provided an extraordinary contribution" to Caribbean studies in Mexico.

Copyright The Associated Press

                                                                                                                             Law firm becomes the latest to begin issuing pink slips

By The Associated Press

Boston, Jan. 8 - Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault, a prominent Boston law firm that flourished during the technology boom and forced competitors to try to match its $150,000 starting salaries, said Wednesday it would lay off 34 associates, or 9 percent of its attorneys.

The Boston-based firm expanded rapidly to a peak of 417 lawyers in 2001 during a period that saw a salary arms race as firms tried to lure talent from top law schools. But demand for corporate business has slumped, and now some of those lawyers will lose their jobs as the firm cuts back to about 350 attorneys.

``I don't think it was a mistake,'' managing partner Bill Asher said in a telephone interview. ``In the 1999-2000 time period, we were experiencing just a quantum increase in demands for our legal services from our clients. We made the decision back then that in order to serve our clients we had to grow the size of our legal staff and in order to grow the staff with the highest quality lawyers, we had to pay them accordingly.''

``The decision we're implementing today is not a reaction to that but it is looking at the world as it is today,'' he said.

Before the 1990-91 recession, it was almost unheard of for law firms to lay off attorneys. But in recent years the law business has become more closely interwoven with the business cycle, and numerous firms, especially in high-tech areas like Boston and California's Silicon Valley, have begun to let lawyers go - though often without a public announcement.

In Boston, other prominent firms including Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels and Palmer & Dodge have also recently laid off attorneys. Hill & Barlow, with 130 attorneys, announced last month that it would close its doors. Other firms have quietly reduced staff.

``It's just the latest in the bleeding going on in the large firms in Boston,'' said David Yas, editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. ``Corporate work is simply drying up and there's not enough of it to go around.''

But Yas said despite the well-publicized problems of large firms, average starting salaries in the Bay State have increased each of the last three years.

In a statement, the firm said it was returning to the size ``it would have been had it not experienced the hyperbolic growth of 1999-2000.'' The layoffs are predominantly first- and second-year attorneys.

The firm had a large practice in the venture capital and private equity fields, which were hit hard by the economic downturn.

``Given the state of the economy, we had been anticipating, hoping, that we would see the signs of an uptick in the economy through the end of the year,'' Asher said. ``We didn't see that.''

Yas said the associates, who probably have not had time to develop their own clients, would have a tough time latching on elsewhere.

``They're not the kind of lawyers who can go out and open their open shop,'' he said. ``These lawyers are going out there to an atmosphere that's rather dim. The market has been kind of gutted for them.''

Copyright 2002 Associated Press. 

                                                                                                                                                                                        Posted at 2:59 a.m., Wednesday, January 8, 2002

Bus, taxi drivers call strike in Haiti

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan. 7 - Bus and taxi drivers called a one-day strike in Haiti's major cities Tuesday to protest gas prices, forcing schools and most businesses to close (photos).

Price increases since New Year's Day followed a decision by the government to halt subsidies of gasoline and other petroleum products.

Low-octane gas was selling at $2.16 per gallon, a 74 percent increase from a week ago. Many of Haiti's 8.3 million people subsist on as little as $1 a day. A 96 percent rise in kerosene prices was making it difficult for the poor to light their lamps in shantytowns far from power lines.

"I have to go to work, but I support the strike 100 percent," said Leonard Pierre, 42, a factory worker waiting in a crowd for a rare bus in Port-au-Prince. "Prices are out of control, and kerosene is so expensive my family spends its nights in the dark."

Few buses or taxis were out in the capital, where schools and most businesses were shuttered in the metropolitan area of 2.5 million people. The strike also paralyzed the second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, and businesses and schools were reported closed in other, smaller cities.

Government officials defended the decision to halt fuel subsidies as sound fiscal policy for the impoverished Caribbean country, and refused to cede to pressure.

"The aim of the government is to ensure the protection of all consumers," government spokesman Mario Dupuy said.

The government blamed the end of subsides in part on the $80 million national deficit — and on the suspension of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid after disputed 2000 legislative elections.

Another factor was higher world market prices stemming partly from an opposition strike in oil-producing Venezuela.

Diesel prices were sharply up, and economists expected a corresponding increase in prices at supermarkets and other businesses that use diesel generators.

Some gas station owners feared higher prices could put them out of business. Many gas stations were closed Tuesday, as were some commercial banks. An unusually small number of street vendors were out working.

There were no major reports of violence, though youths threw stones at passing cars, smashing windows. Some people built a barricade of flaming tires on a seaside boulevard, but police removed it.

The strikers have political motivations and are acting in "bad faith," said Jonas Petit, acting head of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family party. "They know the government had no choice, but they seize on any opportunity to destabilize the country."

The government buys oil shipments and, until this year, passed them along to wholesalers below cost. The subsidies cost the government about $13.5 million for the months of October and November alone, Dupuy said.

The government now will raise or lower gas prices depending on the market, but only if fluctuations exceed five percent, Commerce Minister Leslie Gauthier said.

Since mid-November, thousands of Haitians have protested to call for Aristide's resignation, accusing his government of corruption and failing to stave off poverty.

Aristide claims he has brought relative peace, and that blocked aid has hindered progress in easing poverty. He refuses to step down before his term ends in 2006.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

                                                                                                                                                                                       Posted at 9:19 p.m., Monday, January 6, 2003

Like Haiti's uncommonly vicious thug Aristide, Boston's legislator Marie St. Fleur, who is of Haitian orign, uses the taxpayers' money to purchase personal vehicle

By The Associated Press 

BOSTON, Jan. 6  - State Rep. Marie St. Fleur, D-Boston, has agreed to pay a $750 civil fine and return a $5,000 payment made to her from her campaign account in 2001, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The payments were made as part of a disposition agreement that St. Fleur, who represents the Dorchester section of Boston, made with the oversight agency.

It stems from an August 2001 payment to St. Fleur which she said was an initial payment toward the committee's purchase of her personal vehicle for $13,000. The Remaining amount was never paid, according to OCPF.

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St. Fleur

The agency concluded that the payment violated a law prohibiting the use of campaign funds for the candidate's or any other person's personal use.

In addition to the financial agreement, St. Fleur agreed to seek written guidance from OCPF before making any future automobile-related expenditures, to keep detailed records of these transactions, and to file an additional campaign finance report in July 2003 covering the first half of the year.

St. Fleur, who is beginning her third term, did not immediately return calls for comment.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press.

Broad-based coalition offers hope for troubled Haiti
By Haiti Democracy Project

L'Union Fait la Force

A Broad-based Civil Society Coalition Offers Hope for Haiti's Beleaguered Democracy in the New Year The recent joint declaration of 184 Haitian civil society organizations signals that a new day may yet dawn in Haiti's dark night of division, d*rive and despair. It comes on the eve of the bicentennial of its revolution, whose beacon of freedom cut through the pall of New World slavery like a knife. It comes some seventeen years after the sun rose on the vampire that was the Duvalier dynasty. Now Haitians from all walks of life once again appear ready to unite in the higher interests of the nation.

This time, may they find their strength not only in a common enemy, but in a common cause; may they place their faith not in any one leader, but in the democratic process itself; and may 2003 be remembered as the birthdate of Haiti's long-awaited Republic.

The Declaration

The declaration is ambitious; and its ambitions are nothing short of revolutionary, when seen against the backdrop of Haiti's strife-torn history and current crisis.

Towards a New "Social Contract" for Haiti

First, it commits its diverse and multi-talented signatories to work together towards the elaboration of a new, consensus-based "social contract" for Haiti¯one which justifiably aims to improve the lot of all Haitians, but quite properly prioritizes the needs of the nation's mercilessly overexploited and shamefully underserved (that's right, "poor") majority.

Such calls for a new social contract for Haiti¯for a national "project" that would finally transform the bitter legacy of slavery into a patrimony of freedom¯are nothing new, of course. Many have demanded as much over the years.

But the notion that such a project is best pursued on the basis of unity and consensus, as opposed to one of discord and competition, is a relatively fresh and important one. For if vigorous competition among divergent interests is a hallmark of any truly free society, then it is the absence of a much more fundamental consensus on the so-called rules of the game¯on the principles and precepts that must govern such competition, if it is ultimately to be open and fair¯that most clearly marks those societies that are not yet free in any real sense. Haiti has borne this mark of Cain¯pitting brother against brother in untrammeled and self-consuming conflict¯for far too long.

The new (or perhaps "first") social contract being called for here, then, is not some kind of utopian and eternal agreement about "who gets what," from now on. Rather, it is and must be about how people can, and should, go about getting, or trying to get, what they want; and, conversely, about what kinds of stratagems, and results, will no longer be considered permissible or legitimate in the pursuit of self-interest. These new rules, in order to be binding in their effect, must be mutually agreed upon and acceded to in advance. And this is not just a question of agreeing to disagree (difficult enough, it seems, in today's Haiti), it is also a matter of agreeing on how to disagree, so as to favor just and equitable outcomes, and to privilege competition that is constructive, rather than its opposite.

Priming the Electoral Process

In keeping with these larger concerns, in fact, the declaration then quickly turns the bulk of its attention to what is obviously the most immediate and most pressing instance of intra-societal competition confronting the nation¯the upcoming national elections. By setting seven preconditions for "any credible and democratic electoral process in Haiti," the signatories seek to put the nation, the regime and, indeed, the world on notice that it is patently absurd to consider going to elections under prevailing circumstances.

For the next elections to have even a chance of being free and fair, they argue, some basic changes have to take place first¯and fast. Tellingly, all of these have to do essentially with leveling the playing field¯not only for those who would compete in the upcoming campaign, but for those who will be called upon to go to the polls and cast their ballots, as well. They are, for the most part, self-evident. (They also, lest it go unnoticed, almost precisely mirror the government's existing commitments under OAS Resolution 822 and the sense of the recommendations of the Permanent Council in that and other resolutions.) They are that:

@ Freedom of assembly must be guaranteed @ Criminal gangs must be dismantled and disarmed; police officers and other public authorities associated with such gangs must be removed and brought to justice @ The leaders of these gangs, particularly those associated with the violence of December 17 and the assassinations of journalists Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor must be brought to justice @ Political prisoners being held illegally, and others ordered to be released by the courts, must be released @ Hate speech inciting violence, from the regime and its supporters, or from any other quarter, must cease @ The government must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and tranquility of journalists, students, teachers and others currently being harassed by armed gangs openly associated with the ruling party @ Security assistance from the international community must be forthcoming.

And they are right, of course. Anyone who's actually lived through a national electoral campaign in Haiti¯and there are unfortunately far too many politicians and voters who have not¯will immediately recognize that these seven points (including the last) are nothing more than the desiderata minima that may permit the next electoral process to unfold. Much more, in fact, will have to be done to ensure that Haiti's next elections do not simply reproduce the failures of the past; moving from one electoral crisis to another is hardly the kind of progress needed there.

The Coalition

If the events of the past several months were insufficiently convincing to some outside observers¯who may quite sincerely, albeit entirely futilely, continue to yearn for some kind of a messianic solution to Haiti's admittedly daunting predicament¯then the emergence of this new civil-society coalition in December can leave no further reasonable doubt: The jig is up for Haiti's politicians, whatever their stripe, at least for now. This new coalition is cross-sectoral, diverse, national in scope and articulate. What's going on in Haiti today¯and what's at stake¯is simply too important to be left to the political class. NO. Enough, finally, is enough!

Today, as in 1804, and again in 1986, the people will¯and must¯lead; they will not be led. And Haitian civil society is clearly preparing itself to rise to this next challenge, this next opportunity, to attempt to consolidate the kind of change that has until now proved to be but a vain hope for Haiti¯irreversible democratic reform.

In 1990, to be sure, the people of Haiti legitimately and overwhelmingly conferred the stewardship of their patrimony on a single man¯one who, not incidentally, then stood at the head of a vast democratic movement, and strode the barren Haitian political landscape like a colossus. By and large, however, those of comparable stature who once stood with him, and behind him, are long gone. They were either forced out, as the catholic embrace of the movement gave way to the parochial exclusivity of a ruling party; or they walked away, driven by some potent mix of disappointment and conscience. Now, little remains but the proverbial feet of clay¯and a legacy of frustration, fear and factionalism that are but the fuse on Haiti's looming social implosion.

Therefore, to suggest (as some shills and scoundrels already have!) that these 184 organizations are somehow a figment of the opposition's Machiavellian imagination¯or, worse still, a product of their machinations¯is to betray what must be a profound contempt for the capacity of the oft-invoked but little-respected "Haitian people" to identify and to pursue their best interests. They are no more an inchoate mass today than they were in February of '86, or in December of '90 or, indeed, during their three years of ultimately successful massive resistance to the de facto military regime, from 1991 to 1994.

And their organic leadership is today reemerging to take up the same cause, yet again: Haiti's civil society, although admittedly somewhat slow to reawaken after what will ultimately come to be known as "the numbing nineties," is on the march again¯this time, let us fervently hope, better organized, tempered by bitter experience, and even more intent on establishing the basis for Haiti's democratization, so long deferred. The list of signatories to the recent declaration, while it may include a few individuals and organizations who may be dismissed too facilely as "putschists," or even "macoutes," reads like a who's who of the Lavalas movement, circa 1990.

"Fool me once, shame on you," as the proverb says, "fool me twice, shame on me!"

Moreover, that this leadership, in its full diversity, and putting aside past differences, has determined in advance to work together, to work consensually, and to work through the electoral process, is the best grounds for renewed hope in Haiti's future to materialize in many a day.

Next Steps in Haiti

The coalition has set its own, quite stringent, deadline. It has demanded some substantive demonstration of intent on the part of the regime by January 15. Mutatis mutandis, the coalition itself must be poised¯on that very same date¯to respond to whatever response, or lack thereof, is forthcoming.

Between now and then¯a scant ten days or so¯this new "Group of 184" needs to be advancing on two distinct, but clearly interdependent, fronts.

1. They must intensify their own outreach efforts, and move to expand the circle of their adherents beyond even what they have already accomplished. There are some prominent and highly respected human-rights and women's organizations, for example, whose absence from the initial declaration's signatory list is notable, and that should be brought on board, if at all possible.

2. They must simultaneously craft a new consensus concerning what exact position to take on the fifteenth, and then articulate that position as clearly and concisely as they did their first.

3. By January 15 this group must be ready to make some concrete proposals concerning the development of the new social contract they have endorsed¯recommendations as practical and as forthright as those they've already put forward concerning the elections.

The convening of a "national conference" of some kind, under neutral (and perhaps even external) auspices would seem an appropriate first step. Calls for such a conference have been multiplying over the past few months; and insofar as an initial open and public debate can pave the way for (rather than distract attention away from) the critical next elections, this could prove to be a positive and even transformative undertaking¯with the potential to break the impasse that the politicians (and diplomats) seem to have accepted as the best they can manage under the current circumstances.

While this may all seem a tall order, so too was the task of convening this refreshingly diverse coalition in the first place. If the mantle of democratic leadership in Haiti's immediate future is indeed to pass to civil society, as it clearly must, then those at the forefront of this movement will simply have to be up to the task.

Next Steps in U.S. Policy

The United States has been looking for an honest broker in Haiti for as far back as memory serves. They've made enough mistakes down through the years¯both on their own and with the help of far, far too many Haitians¯that it may seem fatuous to suggest that they may have finally stumbled that broker, even in spite of themselves. But that is essentially what has happened here. Of course, if an otherwise preoccupied State Department simply doesn't want to hear any bad news from Haiti, this new potential opening¯above the fray of Haitian politics-as-usual¯won't represent anything more than another annoyance to them. Who wants still more conditions placed on progress in this problematic little polity, after all? Who's ready to hear the truth, if truth be told?

On the other hand, if our government's commitment in Haiti is to a more stable, just and prosperous society¯one that doesn't, in short, remain just an implacable incubator for illegal immigrants and political refugees¯then it may well be time to take a fresh look at just who's worth talking with, and listening to, among the citizens of our nearby neighbor to the south. By their courage and solidarity, this new coalition has at least earned as much, and some acknowledgement of their signal initial achievement from the United States, however modest, would be strongly in the U.S. interest.

The old saw of "elitism" used thus far to dismiss the Initiative de la Soci*t* Civile¯in spite of its patent ecumenicism and its obvious role in inspiring this new and promising development¯simply cannot be leveled at the Group of 184. We can't continue to demand "more responsible leadership," on the one hand, and then turn around and dismiss this emerging vanguard as some kind of new "elite" because they have stepped to the forefront. Or can we?

Moreover, there is much to be done, as noted earlier. A symbolic gesture will suffice, perhaps, prior to January 15, but thereafter, the United States should position itself to provide significant and substantial support¯technical, financial, and diplomatic¯to this new coalition's efforts to turn the tide in Haiti. Such support should immediately focus on assisting the outreach and civic-education efforts that will be required to broaden the scope and representativeness of this already diverse group's composition even further; and on facilitating the convening of a National Civil Society Conference on the Electoral Process in the very near future.

What better way to kick off a truly new year in Haiti, and particularly this critical, coming year of preparation for the celebration of the bicentennial.? Let it not be to Haiti's wake that the world is invited in 2004¯as some discouraged diplomats have decried¯but to its rebirth. And let us lend our full support, as soon as feasible, to those whose midwifery is bound to be critical to a successful delivery¯Haiti's own rich and varied civil society.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 11:31 a.m., Sunday, January 5, 2003

U.S. Department of State daily press briefing - Haiti

Richard Boucher, Spokesman, Washington, DC, January 2, 2003

Haiti 22 Position on Human Rights Situation

QUESTION: All right. While I have the floor, let me ask about -- you began with human rights in Burma. There is, again, an incident, a suspected attack on a journalist or a journalist's family. Do you have any leverage with what seems to be widespread violation of human rights in Haiti as well as, you know, a horrible situation. Is the U.S. -- does it have a hand in Haiti any more?.......

MR. BOUCHER: I think we've been quite outspoken with regard to Haiti over a long period of time. We continue to work with other governments in the hemisphere on the subject of Haiti. We continue to support the efforts of  the OAS down there, as well as others. I think we've been quite clear on our calls for people to -- for the government to respect human rights in Haiti and for the government and the opposition to look for peaceful ways of solving their differences**

QUESTION: Could someone check, to go back to (inaudible)? This information comes from Reporters Without Borders. I wonder if they are in touch with the State Department. You know, you've got a very straightforward statement of concern about what's going on with the al-Hayyat reporter and it seems like 37 reporters in Haiti are in hiding. I appreciate your generic statement, but the latest information comes from a group called Reporters Without Borders, and they seem to be on top of the situation. So if there are any facts that are corroborate -- that the State Department could corroborate, I would appreciate.

MR. BOUCHER: I will have to -- I will get you what I can on journalists in Haiti.

QUESTION: I know I'm blindsiding you and I don't mean to, but --

MR. BOUCHER: It's an issue that we have addressed repeatedly in the past and I'm sure we'll address it again in our Human Rights Report. I will see if I have any update for you today**

                                                                                                                                                                                         Posted at 5:15 p.m., Saturday, January 4, 2003

Haitian government abandons fuel subsidies, prompting major rise in prices of gasoline, kerosine

By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Jan 4 - Haiti's government has halted subsidies of gasoline and other petroleum products, leading to sharp price hikes, government and business officials said (photos).

The price increases since New Year's Day also have affected diesel and kerosene. Responding to higher prices at the pump, bus drivers are raising their fares.

"I don't see how I can send my kids to school now. Prices are spiraling up," street merchant Nadine Florentin said, selling candies on the roadside Friday in a daily struggle to support three children.

A national budget deficit of some 3 billion gourdes (US$80 million) was one of the factors that made it impossible for the government to continue subsidies, Commerce Minister Leslie Gauthier said earlier this week.

Higher world market prices - stemming in part from a Venezuelan opposition strike paralyzing the country's oil industry - also made it more difficult for the Haitian government to continue subsidizing fuel, Gauthier said.

As a common practice, Haiti's government was buying oil shipments and passing them along to wholesalers below cost.

The increase in prices in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has little relation to the Venezuelan political crisis, Haitian economist Claude Beauboeuf said.

"The government should have cut the subsidy a long time ago," he said. "It's lack of foresight that led to this dramatically painful measure."

Since October, the subsidies have cost the government an estimated 500 million gourdes (about US$13.5 million), and its cash reserves in U.S. dollars have fallen below US$50 million, Beauboeuf said.

Since Dec. 31, prices for low-octane gasoline rose from about 46 gourdes (US$1.24) to 80 gourdes (US$2.16) per gallon, a 74-percent increase.

"We have to raise our fares, but our passengers can't afford them," bus driver Edy Pierre said.

Diesel and kerosene prices, meanwhile, rose by about 55 percent. Many poor Haitians use kerosene for lanterns in shantytowns with no electrical power.

One factor forcing the government to end subsidies included the suspension of millions of dollars in foreign aid after disputed legislative elections in 2000, Gauthier said.

The International Monetary Fund had demanded the subsidies be halted. One US$50 million loan still pending from the Inter-American Development Bank, intended to help the country meet its budget shortfall, is contingent on the government meeting the IMF demand.

Haitians have lined up for gasoline and kerosene several times in recent weeks amid rumors of a fuel shortage, but officials insisted there were adequate supplies.

Economists warned that the higher fuel prices could spill over into other parts of the economy, affecting prices at supermarkets and other businesses that use diesel-fueled generators due to frequent power outages.

Since mid-November, tens of thousands of Haitians have marched in anti-government demonstrations, demanding that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resign for failing to solve the impoverished country's problems.

Aristide maintains he has brought the country relative peace and progress, but has been hindered by blocked aid and a combative opposition. He has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Posted at 3:20 a.m., Saturday, January 4, 2003

Clashes in Venezuela leave dozens hurt

By Susannah A. Nesmith, Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan 3 - Troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas Friday to keep opponents and rock-throwing supporters of President Hugo Chavez from clashing outside the Venezuelan capital's military headquarters. Eighty people were hurt, including three who suffered gunshot (photos).

The violence erupted when several hundred supporters of the president threw rocks, bottles and fireworks at thousands of opposition marchers and police in Los Proceres park, outside Caracas' Fort Tiuna.

The anti-Chavez marchers were demanding the release of a dissident national guard general and urging the military to support a 5-week-old strike aimed at forcing Chavez to hold a nonbinding vote on his leadership.

Stinging white clouds of tear gas drifted through the district's tree-lined avenues as guardsmen fired tear gas and buckshot near the base, the armed forces' main headquarters.

Crouching behind an ambulance, marcher Maria Arismendy poured water over the face of her small dog while he howled. "We're peaceful, but you see what they do," she said through her tears. "We just want our country back. Chavez has ruined everything."

Marchers taunted soldiers and police with chants of "murderers" in between doses of tear gas.

The unrest rekindled hours later, with protesters and police ducking behind trees and lying flat on the streets as gunfire rang out.

Caracas Fire Chief Rodolfo Briceno said three people were injured by gunshots and 77 people were hurt by rocks or suffered asphyxiation from the tear gas. It was unclear who had fired the gunshots.

Among the injured were seven police officers, said Police Chief Henry Vivas. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez said 11 people were hurt in a stampede.

Col. Jose Rodrigo Pantoja, commander of the military police, said marchers weren't authorized to enter the plaza, which the government has declared a security zone — one of eight such zones in Caracas. He said soldiers acted only after the opposition march reached the plaza.

Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel blamed "irresponsible" march leaders for trying to enter the security zone. "They tried to break through a security barrier and that produced the clashes with security forces," Rangel told The Associated Press.

Thousands of people milled about in neighborhoods near Los Proceres as guardsmen clashed with jeering Chavez supporters, some of whom ran through a cloud of tear gas carrying an injured colleague on a stretcher.

Opposition protesters demanded the release of Gen. Carlos Alfonso Martinez, one of about 100 officers who revolted last fall. Martinez was arrested Dec. 30 without a required court order. A judge ordered his release, but he remains under house arrest.

"We will resist until the end, until we achieve the objective of getting rid of Chavez and his authoritarian regime," said Carlos Ortega, president of the nation's largest trade union.

Venezuela's opposition called a strike Dec. 2 to pressure Chavez to call a referendum on his presidency. Venezuela's constitution permits a possible binding vote halfway into Chavez's six-year term, or next August. Chavez rejects an early nonbinding ballot.

Opposition leaders blame Chavez's leftist policies for deep economic troubles and accuse him of grabbing power. The president counters the opposition wants to stage an "economic coup."

The strike has paralyzed oil production in Venezuela, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and a top supplier to the United States. The strike has helped push international oil prices above $30 per barrel. Oil workers have defied a back-to-work order by the Supreme Court.

Talks mediated by the Organization of American States have made little progress.

The strike has forced Chavez to seek food and fuel abroad. On Friday, he discussed aid for Venezuela with an Algerian diplomat. He also met with OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria on the deadlocked negotiations.

Chavez said fellow Latin American leaders have told him "not to cede to (opposition) blackmail" because it could promote "destabilization campaigns" in the region. "The force of law is going to be imposed here," Chavez said, adding he saw no immediate need to declare martial law.

Chavez said Thursdsay that he would support diplomatic efforts by a "Group of Nation Friends" to help resolve the crisis.

Ali Rodriguez, president of the state-owned oil company, told the state news agency Venpres the government has purchased 250,000 barrels of gasoline from a U.S. firm and 600,000 more barrels from Russia. Venezuela also has received gasoline shipments from Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago.

The government is trying to negotiate long-term gasoline import deals with those countries, as well as Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico, to meet the domestic demand of 400,000 barrels a day.

Analysts say importing gasoline will force Chavez' government to make budget cuts and slash social spending — a move that could weaken his support among the poor, his power base.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Posted at 12:35 p.m., Friday, January 3, 2003

Sudden, steep gas-price hike stuns Haitians

By Jane Regan, Special to The Miami Herald

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan. 3 -- Ermicil Cherizier and her three boys usually live by the light of two kerosene lamps.

On Thursday, Cherizier tried to buy a refill to illuminate her home in the capital's foothills, but found the price of kerosene had nearly doubled overnight (photos).

''I had to buy candles instead,'' said Cherizier, whose income selling cassava bread and crackers on the dirt roadside couldn't cover the increase.

In Haiti, many people live on less than $1 a day. For Cherizier, a half liter of kerosene was suddenly 35 cents.

As the international price of oil shoots up to $32 a barrel, Haitians are beginning to feel the pinch. On New Year's Eve, the government raised the official prices of gasoline and kerosene -- without warning -- by between 85 and 90 percent.


The increase will affect not only drivers, or anyone who uses the public transportation called ''Tap Taps,'' but also the majority of the nation's eight million people who light their homes with kerosene.

''I don't know what I will do,'' said Cherizier, who says she already feels pinched by the country's economic crisis, which has sent the national currency plummeting. ``We'll just have to sit in the dark.''

The oil strike in Venezuela has sent prices soaring and forced nations such as Haiti -- one of 11 that have a special treaty with the South American nation for oil purchases -- to turn to the spot market.

However, the government says the crisis in Venezuela isn't what's driving up the prices in Haiti. Instead, the government has had to stop subsidizing gas prices because its monetary reserves are low, said Jacques Maurice, a government spokesman.

The International Monetary Fund also has asked the government to raise gas prices, a condition the fund set for giving aid to the country. Haiti last raised prices in 2000, according to an IMF report. The issue is a political hot potato in the nation.

Maurice said the National Palace is aware prices for food and other goods will go up.

''But we got to the point where we couldn't subsidize the rise on the international market any longer, since our resources are scarce,'' he said. ''We are doing everything possible so that the price hike doesn't affect the population,'' Maurice explained, adding that the government will make efforts to keep food prices down. Maurice didn't give details on how that would be possible.

Artificially keeping gas prices low only hurts the consumer in the end, because a dramatic increase like this week's ultimately comes, said Claude Beauboeuf, a Haitian economic consultant and commentator.


Economist Jean Claude Paulvin, director of a Haitian consulting firm, said the price increase will affect all aspects of life, from food and transportation to daily services.

''People's buying power will descend dramatically,'' Paulvin said. He believes the increase will lead to civil unrest and protests.

Local businesses say they, too, foresee trouble.

''We are the ones who will lose out,'' explained Carmel Lanauze, who runs Roger Lanauze Funeral Enterprises with her husband. At their 12 funeral parlors, bodies are preserved with electricity from generators.

``The government just all of a sudden announced there was no gas two weeks ago, and now it doubled the prices without telling us. We knew it would go up due to the international situation, but we thought it would be a gourde or two, like in the past.''

Herald staff writer Marika Lynch contributed to this report.

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Venezuela's chief proposes global effort to end strike
By Larry Rother, The New York Times

RASÍLIA, Jan. 2 — Venezuela's embattled president, Hugo Chávez, said today that he favored the creation of a group of "Friends of Venezuela" to lead an international diplomatic effort to end the monthlong general strike that has crippled oil production and brought normal activity to a halt in his country. Advertisement

The Venezuelan leader was here for the inauguration Wednesday of Brazil's new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He made the announcement at a news conference after a breakfast meeting with Mr. da Silva, leader of the left-wing Workers Party and an advocate of a negotiated solution to the growing turbulence in Venezuela, the world's fifth largest oil producer.

"This is a good initiative," Mr. Chávez said this afternoon. "Any country that wants to cooperate will be welcome."

Mr. Chávez, a former army colonel who led an unsuccessful coup attempt in 1992, said the composition of the support group and the exact role it might play were still in the talking stages. But he said that he expected that the countries taking part would be drawn from Latin America, Europe and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, which Venezuela helped found more than 40 years ago.

At a news conference this evening, Mr. da Silva's spokesman, André Singer, said Mr. da Silva had asked the governments of Spain and Portugal to join him in trying to bring about "a peaceful resolution" to the standoff in Venezuela. Mr. Chávez returned to Caracas this afternoon, but Mr. da Silva was scheduled to have dinner here tonight with Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, and was expected to discuss the Venezuelan situation with him.

The Venezuelan leader, whose 1998 election mandate was reconfirmed by another national vote in 2000, said that he had also met with Libyan officials and other Latin American heads of state while here. He said his fellow presidents were universally supportive, in part because they fear that the demands that Mr. Chávez be replaced might establish a precedent that could undermine their own hold on power.

Jimmy Carter, the former United States president, and César Gaviria, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, have tried to mediate the political crisis in Venezuela, so far without much visible success. Mr. Chávez said the "Friends of Venezuela" group could serve a similar function, but also made it clear that his negotiating position had not changed.

The strike, which comes eight months after Mr. Chávez was briefly deposed in a military-led rebellion, has been organized by a coalition of business, labor and retired military leaders. They have called for Mr. Chávez's removal from office through institutional means, such as new presidential elections or activating a provision in the Venezuelan Constitution for a referendum.

"Moving elections up is impossible," Mr. Chávez said today. "A referendum, yes, but only at the midpoint of my term," which would be in mid-August of this year.

Venezuela has the largest reserves of oil outside the Middle East and is a leading supplier of gasoline and heating oil to the United States. But executives and many workers at the Venezuelan state oil company, Pdvsa, have supported the strike, causing normal production of about 2.5 million barrels a day to drop by as much as 90 percent and leading to supply shortages and long lines at gasoline stations.

"What is going on in my country is not a strike," Mr. Chávez charged today. "It is a coup attempt disguised as a strike," organized by "terrorists who are blocking oil and food distribution and sabotaging refineries."

To relieve that pressure, Brazil last week sent an oil tanker with 520,000 barrels of gasoline to Venezuela. Mr. Chávez said he had asked both Mr. da Silva and Brazil's departing president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to approve the shipment and acknowledged that if the situation continued he might have to ask for additional fuel supplies from Brazil and other allies.

"Yes, that's possible," he said, adding that his government had already been in contact with both OPEC members and neighboring countries like Mexico, Ecuador and Trinidad and Tobago. A Russian tanker loaded with 600,000 barrels of gasoline should be arriving in Venezuela soon, he added.

Mr. Singer, the Brazilian presidential spokesman, said Mr. Chávez had also requested that the Brazilian tanker be allowed to remain in Venezuela to haul gasoline from refineries there to Caracas. No decision has yet been made, he added.

Mr. da Silva has expressed his admiration for Mr. Chávez and his "Bolivarian Revolution," saying that the Venezuelan leader "thinks like I do." Mr. Chávez in turn welcomed the Workers Party landslide victory here in October, saying he hoped that Mr. da Silva would join him and Mr. Castro in building a Latin American "axis of good."

Today Mr. Chávez said he hoped the Venezuelan and Brazilian state oil companies would create a joint venture that could be extended to other nations in the region and act as a sort of "Latin American OPEC." He said Mr. da Silva had expressed his "total support" and predicted that Brazil and Venezuela would make "great advances together in the coming years" because of the similar views that he and Mr. da Silva share.

Mr. Chávez was dismissive of news reports from Caracas that opposition leaders were now willing to begin temporarily limiting their strike action, an offer that does not extend to the oil industry, which accounts for about 80 percent of Venezuela's exports. He argued that the proposal was not a good faith gesture but a sign of weakness.

"The Venezuelan opposition is divided and fragmented," he said. He described the leaders of the strike as "a fifth column who would stab their own mothers in the back" and said that "no one can accept this kind of blackmail."

"We have to dig in and defend ourselves," he said.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Posted at 11:45 p.m., Thursday, January 2, 2003
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A leftist takes over in Brazil and pledges a 'New Path'
By Larry Rother, The New York Times

RASÍLIA, Jan. 1 — Latin America's largest nation embarked on an ambitious political and social experiment today, as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of the left-wing Workers Party and a former lathe operator and labor union leader, was inaugurated here as president of Brazil, promising "a new style of government" and a crusade against hunger, injustice and corruption (photos).

"The time has come to tread a new path," Mr. da Silva declared in his inaugural address, arguing that Brazil's progress had been stalled by what he called the "economic, social and moral impasse" of a system based on self-interest.

"Yes, we are going to change things, with courage and care, humility and daring," he added.

On at least two counts, Brazilian history offers no precedent for the rise to power of Mr. da Silva, who has only a grade school education, lost part of a finger in a factory accident and, as he recalled in his address, sold peanuts on the streets as a child to help his divorced mother make ends meet. He is the first member of the working class to become president here and the first candidate of a left-wing party to win a presidential vote.

Mr. da Silva gained a landslide victory in October, receiving more than 52 million votes in his fourth attempt at the presidency, by running on a platform that promised Brazil's 175 million people better times after nearly a decade of austerity. He sounded that theme again today, saying that "creating jobs is going to be my obsession" and that "it is absolutely necessary that this country return to growth."

The new president has credited his resounding triumph to rejection of the free market policies of his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

The change of guard has delighted and reinvigorated the Latin American left, as was evident from the foreign labor and political delegations that were waving Argentine, Uruguayan, Ecuadorean and Peruvian flags as they mixed with ordinary Brazilians along the parade route.

World leaders attending ranged from President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to the Prince of Asturias, heir to the Spanish throne. But the two heads of state who drew the most attention and applause were Fidel Castro of Cuba and the embattled president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, who recently invited Mr. da Silva to join him and Mr. Castro in what he called a Latin American "axis of good."

In what was regarded here as a calculated snub, Robert B. Zoellick, the United States trade representative, led the American delegation. During the recent campaign, Mr. da Silva sarcastically dismissed Mr. Zoellick as "the subsecretary of a subsecretary of a subsecretary" after the American official suggested that Brazil would be reduced to exporting to Antarctica if it shunned the Bush administration's plan for a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"It's natural that the American president wouldn't come to Brazil on this date," José Genoino, president of the Workers Party, complained in a newspaper interview Monday. "But he could have sent a representative with more weight. But never mind. That's how the Americans are."

Mr. da Silva's only direct reference today to relations with the United States was to call for "a mature partnership" between the hemisphere's two most populous nations. But he indirectly criticized the Bush administration twice, arguing that "crises like those in the Middle East should be resolved peacefully and through negotiations," and complaining of subsidies and tariffs that undercut Brazil's ability to export agricultural products.

One of Mr. da Silva's campaign slogans was that "hope vanquishes fear," and the optimism and enthusiasm that his victory engendered was amply on display. As Mr. da Silva, 57, rode to his inauguration in a Rolls-Royce, onlookers climbed trees to cheer him and broke through an official honor guard on horseback, with one person even jumping into the car to embrace and kiss Mr. da Silva.

The vast esplanade in front of the congress building where Mr. da Silva took his oath looked like a giant tail-gate party, with tens of thousands of the new president's supporters gathering to sing, dance, eat and drink. Some were camped out in tents after traveling for days to take part in the celebration, while others have been living out of cars, trucks or buses.

Many followers, often dressed in red T-shirts or berets, carried the Workers Party's red flag with white star or banners recalling Mr. da Silva's humble origins. One cartoon placard showed three contrasting images of him: the first with a cheap suitcase recalling his peasant family's migration from the poor northeast, the second with him holding a wrench to symbolize his years as a factory worker, and the third with him wearing Brazil's presidential sash.

Kleber Gonzaga, 24, was part of a group of 14 college students from Mr. da Silva's home state of Pernambuco that rented a van and drove exactly 1,321 miles to see him sworn in. They missed a New Year's Eve party back home by leaving on Sunday, and the trip will cost each of them the equivalent of a month's salary, but they said that did not matter.

"It's not just that Lula is from the interior, like us, or that he, as a man of the people, has experienced in his own skin the same kind of problems and difficulties that we have," Mr. Gonzaga explained. "Most of us are social science majors, and we wanted to witness this historical moment so as to be able to tell our future students that we were there."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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