WASHINGTON – Petty fighting within Haiti’s political class and international complacency over Haiti’s difficulties ”are leading the country as a whole toward disaster,” the deputy chief of the Organization of American States bluntly warned on Wednesday.
Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general of the OAS, offered a grim critique of efforts to pull impoverished Haiti out of domestic turmoil and end its isolation from international lenders and donors.
”The usual skepticism, complacency and hostilities have remained in play both in Haiti and outside the country,” Einaudi told the organization’s Permanent Council of ambassadors.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s administration fell significantly short of a Nov. 4 deadline to improve security, punish violent gangs, disarm the populace, take steps to hold fair elections in 2003, and fulfill other goals, Einaudi said in unusually strong language.
His report came amid rising tensions between Washington and Port-au-Prince. In a sign of those frictions, diplomats from Haiti and the United States traded barbs following Einaudi’s presentation.
U.S. attacks on the good faith of the Aristide government ”could be destabilizing” in a nation where there is ”a great deal of frustration,” Haitian Ambassador Raymond Valsin said.
Twice in the past week, U.S. officials have voiced concern that deterioration in Haiti may spark massive migration toward Florida. They have cited ”deep disappointment” in Aristide, and suggested that his populist administration flirts with illegitimate practices and does little to fight rampant drug trafficking.
Sensitive that it might appear to be bullying impoverished Haiti, the Bush administration in September abandoned direct pressure on the Aristide government, opting instead for a more multilateral approach. It signed on to an OAS resolution Sept. 4 that could open the way for Haiti to receive loans from the Inter-American Development Bank after a two-year suspension. The resolution laid out goals for Haiti in order to overcome a political deadlock caused by flawed legislative elections in May 2000.
Einaudi said Haitian political forces had failed to reach a main goal — that of constituting a nine-member provisional electoral council by Nov. 4 to pave the way for new legislative elections next year. He noted that some political and civic groups had sought a 15-day extension to nominate members to the electoral council, and that Aristide had accepted.
Einaudi said the Aristide government had made headway in offering nearly $1 million in reparations to opposition political parties whose properties were ransacked last Dec. 17, but was ”hesitant and slow” in seeking justice for the murders of two journalists, Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor.
The climate of insecurity remains a major obstacle, he said. ”Tire burnings, local clashes including deaths and other disruptions occur often enough to cause understandable concern to ordinary citizens,” he said. “Major confrontations have occurred in Gonaive, Cite Soleil and Cap Haitien. Individuals have disappeared or been threatened.”
Einaudi, who has led numerous OAS attempts to broker an end to the crisis in Haiti, sounded exasperated at what he described as petty attitudes making stability elusive in Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere.
”The long and short of it is that the key actors have been unwilling to rise above entrenched personal positions in terms of allowing for an end to the fragmentation and paralysis that are leading the country as a whole toward disaster,” Einaudi lamented.
Einaudi said it would be ”a mistake” to focus only on Haiti, saying that neighboring countries and the international financial community must play a greater role to end the crisis.
Opposition by the Clinton and Bush administrations has derailed some $140 million in loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to Haiti.
The Bank has sent a preliminary mission to Haiti to see about new loans, and potential donor nations plan to meet in December, diplomats said.
In sharp criticism on Oct. 30, Roger Noriega, the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, said that the administration has ”very serious concerns about the leadership of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” Two days later, Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich said the Aristide government “faces the prospect of forfeiting its credibility and legitimacy.”
The remarks drew fire from some Democratic legislators.
”President Aristide has given every indication that he is moving forward in good faith to hold elections next year,” Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., wrote to Secretary of State Colin Powell last week. He urged Powell not to undermine the process “with undeserved criticism.”