Originally: But Haiti’s president remains unbowed


Jan 15th 2004 | MIAMI
From The Economist print edition


You’re not a real student

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE says he wants to hold fresh parliamentary elections; the opposition says he stole the last vote, and won’t negotiate while he remains in power?which he insists on doing until 2006. Meanwhile, the mandate of Haiti’s current parliament has expired, leaving the president to rule alone. It’s a familiar stalemate in a country whose history, though short, seems doomed to repeat itself.

Haiti had more than two years without a parliament in the late 1990s. This time the risks are greater. At least 40 people have already died since September in protests over alleged government corruption and constitutional and human-rights abuses. A general strike, which began last week, has shut down much of the private sector, though public employees and most of Haiti’s poor, self-employed street vendors are still working. International loans must be ratified by parliament, so any further cash that the Inter-American Development Bank might have released may not arrive.

Students?the vanguard of the protests since a university campus was attacked by pro-Aristide thugs in December?demonstrated peacefully on January 12th, though a march through an area regarded as home turf by pro-Aristide street toughs, scheduled for January 15th, may be less tranquil. The president himself talks ambivalently about his critics. The students have legitimate grievances, he concedes, yet they are also political agitators: ?a distinction has to be made between [real] students and false students?. Rich, coming from him: the government seems to be orchestrating the counter-protests and anti-opposition violence. On January 13th armed men wrecked the antennae of the country’s main opposition radio stations.

The United States, which reinstalled Mr Aristide after he was overthrown in a coup in 1991, has criticised the handling of the protests. But Haiti’s bishops may offer the best (if faint) hope of a breakthrough. In November, they proposed that parliament be replaced by a diverse interim governing council. The president accepted the idea; the opposition demurred. The Bishops Conference may take a tougher stand this weekend, perhaps insisting that Mr Aristide surrender almost all of his power.

The street clashes alone seem unlikely to dislodge him. One observer likens the protests to body-blows in a boxing match: Mr Aristide has been bloodied, but it’s still not clear if or when a knock-out punch might come.

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