Originally: Locals Brace for Backlash of New Haiti Govt

By STEVENSON JACOBS, Associated Press Writer

PORT SALUT, Haiti – For years, residents of this remote fishing town enjoyed luxuries uncommon to most parts of Haiti ・paved roads, electricity, clean sewers and health clinics. The reason, Haitians say, is simple: Jean-Bertrand Aristide was born here.

AP Photo



But locals fear the relative good times could be over for this coastal enclave on Haiti’s southern peninsula, following a bloody uprising that led to Aristide’s departure Feb. 29.

Work on several projects approved by the ousted leader have been on hold since the revolt, worrying residents that they’ll be subject to a backlash by Haiti’s new U.S.-backed government.

Among stalled works are a new road, a school, a hospital and a museum honoring Haiti’s peasants. Complicating matters, most jobs on projects were given to locals, depriving them now of desperately needed income.

“People used to be proud to be from the same town as the president,” said Albert Jean, a 33-year-old teacher. “Now only God knows what will happen to us.”

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s government insists the town won’t be punished for its association with Aristide, while conceding there’s no money for any projects. Officials charge that up to $1 billion was pilfered from state coffers under Aristide, although an audit is still pending.

“There are no funds at all,” Cabinet Minister Robert Ulysse said. “Every project in the country has stopped since the crisis. But I can assure that (Port Salut’s) projects won’t be neglected because they were being done by the former government.”

Outsiders don’t need a map to know when they’ve reached the town about 150 miles west of the capital. The spine-jarring and crater-pocked road leading in from Les Cayes, the nearest city, abruptly smooths out into a bed of bricked concrete lined with palm trees, electricity lines and pastel-colored buildings.

It’s changed a lot since Aristide was born here to peasants on July 15, 1953. Though the family moved to Port-au-Prince while he was still a toddler, they returned for the summers.

In his 1992 book “Aristide: An Autobiography,” the former slum priest described his native village, set in the hills overlooking once verdant fields now stripped bare by deforestation.

“There are no trees,” Aristide wrote. “There are neither roads, nor water, nor electricity.”

Hoping to change that after becoming president, Aristide embarked on infrastructure projects to lure tourists to Port Salut, a town of a few thousand known for white-sand beaches, cockfights and succulent spiny-tailed lobster.

The latest, including the museum and a potable water plan, were to be completed this year to mark Haiti’s 200 years of independence from France, according to a billboard posted in town with Aristide’s name on it.

But construction stopped shortly after the rebellion erupted Feb. 5.

Now a modern, vanilla-colored schoolhouse sits abandoned, not far from a row of wooden shacks. Next door, the nearly complete stone-brick Peasants’ Museum sits atop an ancient-looking cemetery where several of Aristide’s ancestors supposedly are buried.

“These projects were supposed to be for everyone. We just hope the new government won’t forget about us,” said Jeles Emile, a 40-year-old corn farmer who did shovel work on some projects.

Despite Aristide’s good graces, most in Port Salut remain impoverished, eking out a living by selling fish or growing corn, peanuts and manioc root.

Before the crisis, the projects employed up to 300 residents in jobs from digging ditches to paving roads. Emile Lalousse, a 30-year-old lobster vendor, said his business had finally picked up because of the construction.

“Now I’m back to rock-bottom,” he lamented, standing barefoot and shirtless in the deserted market. “Life has never been easy here, but these projects gave us a little hope.”

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