Originally: Former envoys describe systemic weaknesses in Haiti as elections approach

 Appeared March 17, 2005

By George Gedda, Associated Press.

WASHINGTON–Two former U.S. ambassadors to Haiti said Wednesday the country faces grave economic and security weaknesses as it prepares for national elections this fall.

“The transitional authority is weaker than anyone had expected,” said Tim Carney, who heads the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project.

“There doesn?t seem to be an ability to get things done,” Carney told a gathering of Haitian experts.

Carney and fellow former ambassador Ernest Preeg reported on a mission they undertook to Haiti last month with other experts to assess the country?s democratic prospects.

“The most urgent need is jobs,” Carney said. “The most important need is security.”

Special tribunals are needed to cover judicial weaknesses, he said, adding that efforts to disarm rival factions also have fallen short.

These groups are blamed for hundreds of killings in recent clashes. Left unchecked, there is concern that the groups could pose a threat to the elections.

Carney also said the international community has let Haiti down during this crucial period when Haiti attempts to make the transition to a fully elected government from the interim authority that was installed last year.

“There has been an inadequate disbursement of funds already promised,” Carney said, alluding to pledges by donor countries for Haiti made last year.

Preeg sounded a more optimistic note, predicting that the fall elections will be more credible than the 2000 election won by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

That election was marred by an absence a free press, a ban on criticism of Aristide and a scant turnout, Preeg said.

He said a 60 percent turnout in the October-November balloting this year should be within reach.

But, he said, corruption at the ports cause shipping delays of one to two weeks, threatening the country?s small apparel industry.

Preeg also criticized Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeepers for limiting their operations to urban areas. But he credited Chilean peacekeepers for helping to restore a measure of security to Cap Haitien.

The Haitian National Police, he added, need more equipment, better training and more lethal firepower to cope with lawless groups in the country.

Preeg also recommended that retired Haitian-American police officers volunteer for service in Haiti to upgrade the local police.

The International Crisis Group, which monitors trouble spots around the world, said in a report last month that the planned national elections are unlikely to produce a legitimate government without significant improvements in security, reconciliation and economic revival.