Haiti’s bishops urge Aristide to fix problems or resign as president

By Catholic News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNS) — Haiti’s bishops have suggested that President

Jean-Bertrand Aristide step down voluntarily, reduce his term of office

significantly, or carry out serious reforms to restore public confidence in

his government.

“You are at a rendezvous with history. Rise to the importance of your

mission,” the bishops told Aristide, a former Salesian priest.

Amid mounting pressure, some of which has come from sectors previously loyal

to Aristide, the president announced in a speech in the southern city of Les

Cayes that he intended to complete his five-year term, which ends in 2005.

In their Dec. 2 statement, the bishops used the image of a ship at sea to

describe the serious political and humanitarian crisis that has almost bled

dry the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere.

Alluding to an imminent shipwreck, and even to the possibility of a

“fratricidal civil war,” the bishops wrote, “Let us all join forces within

the ship, not to destroy it, but rather to save it.”

The bishops urged Haitians to “focus not on one man, but rather on the

entire nation,” in reference to Aristide’s charismatic personality, which

has won him the support of the poor majority of the Caribbean nation’s 7

million inhabitants.

However, the bishops also warned the opposition to resist the temptation to

destabilize the country even further.

“To throw out the captain of the ship is at the same time to expose all

those on board to the unfortunate consequences of one accident followed by

another,” they said, adding that opposition parties must propose

alternatives and consolidate the country’s weakened institutions, especially

the urgently needed Electoral Council.

Any transfer of power must be made in a peaceful and constitutional way, the

bishops said.

Their statement was issued as the Caribbean nation again hit headlines with

scenes of unrest in the streets as groups loyal to Aristide’s government

clashed with opposition groups.

In mid-November, 15,000 opposition supporters led by a former army officer

marched against the government in the northern city of Cap-Haitien; 48 hours

later, the streets of Port-au-Prince were blocked with burning tire

barricades, erected by Aristide supporters.

The crisis in Haiti has gradually worsened since a flawed vote count in the

May 2000 legislative elections and the government’s failure to correct it

resulted in the freezing of international aid worth $500 million. Since

then, the value of the local currency has decreased dramatically, and

inflation is running at more than 20 percent.

In a Nov. 22 meeting with the new Haitian ambassador to the Vatican, Pope

John Paul II urged the Haitian government to lead the country out of

“unbearable” poverty by extending social services to rural areas, respecting

democratic institutions and protecting the legal rights of the poor.

The Organization of American States attempted to broker a resolution to the

crisis last September with its Resolution 822, which urged the international

community to restore much-needed humanitarian aid, but on the condition that

the government disarm gangs and form a new Electoral Council. Compliance

with the former condition has been sporadic, and the government failed to

meet the latter condition by the required early November deadline.