Fri Oct 11, 7:14 PM ET

By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Democracy in Haiti is threatened, and the government will not be invited to a world conference of democratic nations next month, said the U.S. ambassador to this Caribbean nation on Friday.



“When you have the press threatened, bad elections, and impunity instead of the rule of law, democracy is threatened,” Ambassador Brian Dean Curran told The Associated Press.

“That is why Haiti was not invited as a full participant” to the Community of Democracy meeting of foreign ministers in Seoul, Korea in November, he said.

The meeting’s subcommittee for the Western Hemisphere was composed of the United States, Mexico, and Chile. Cuba was not invited, Haiti was invited as an observer, and all other countries in the hemisphere were invited as participants.

The government reacted swiftly to Curran’s charge.

“We respect the opposition and free speech. We are working at the reinforcement of democracy,” said government spokesman Jacques Maurice.

Haiti was unaware of the Seoul conference, Maurice said.

“But if we are not invited, it is because there is an international plot afoot to tarnish the image of our country,” he said.

The international community, including the United States and European countries, blocked aid to the government after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s party swept more than 80 percent of legislative and local seats in 2000 elections. The opposition charged the elections were rigged.

The OAS determined that winners were wrongly declared in seven Senate races that should have gone to a second round, and said aid would be frozen until the government and opposition agreed on new elections.

OAS officials tried more than 20 times to broker an agreement, but failed. Haiti’s chronically depressed economy, meanwhile, further declined while poverty proliferated. In September, the OAS passed a resolution urging international financial institutions to restore aid.

A December attack on the National Palace spurred Aristide supporters to burn down opposition headquarters and threaten journalists.

This year, some 30 journalists have been attacked or harassed, allegedly by Aristide partisans, and more than a dozen journalists have fled the country.

In May, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders put Aristide on its blacklist of press predators. The group criticized Haiti for stalling the investigation into the 2000 shooting death of Jean Dominique, the country’s most prominent journalist. He was killed in the courtyard of the radio station he owned.

Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, has seven million residents.