Haiti's Hope and Search for a President

Article excerpt

Reading the political situation in Haiti is not unlike trying to figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. One line of thinking says that no matter which candidate wins the troubled Haitian elections, the new administration will fail because the country is infested with corruption, criminal activity, and an inept security force. The other believes that the only way to stabilize Haiti is to install a legitimate government dedicated to providing security in defiance of political and economic pressure to keep the status quo.

Thirty-five presidential hopefuls have lined up to take on this Herculean task of righting a country that has seen nearly a dozen governments in the past 20 years. But the one candidate who has pulled away from the pack of politicians, alleged drug traffickers, ex-military officers, honest well-wishers, and government officials is former president Rene Preval. The agronomist is the country's only president to be democratically elected and to have completed his five-year tenure, sandwiched between the two truncated terms of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Mr. Preval's popularity can in part be attributed to leaving office without alienating large sectors - not the wealthy ruling class, the peasants, urban and rural poor, or the de facto security forces. And his bookkeeping is clean. Since 2000, he has lived in his small hometown of Marmalade, where he runs agricultural development projects, a wind instrument music project, and provides communal cybernet access. Once considered a close associate of the deposed Mr. Aristide, Preval is now running as an independent and leading the polls, although there is concern that he is still connected to armed groups that supported Aristide.

But it will take more than popular support for Preval to neutralize forces that have made Haiti one of the most corrupt countries in the world. To be fair, the entire nation is not paralyzed by criminal activity, though nearly everyone suffers from the paltry $300 annual average household income, 50 percent illiteracy rate, dearth of roads, a nonexistent healthcare system, and all but inoperable public schools.

The main source of Haiti's problems is concentrated in the capital, a sprawling metropolis of more than 2 million people who live with extended blackouts, sporadic and often violent demonstrations, and constant shooting. Despite the presence of several thousand United Nations troops, Port-au-Prince is also saddled with a proliferation of kidnappings, which average 10 a day. …

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