Originally: Rice to Visit Haiti Tomorrow in Bid to Boost Reform

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Haiti tomorrow to encourage political and economic reforms ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Nov. 20.

“Her visit will underscore U.S. support for Haiti’s upcoming elections and its ongoing process of political and economic reform,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement in Washington.

Rice is scheduled to meet during her one-day visit with leaders of Haiti’s interim government and members of the UN Nations Stabilization Mission there.

The United Nations force of roughly 7,600 has been trying to restore security and stability to the violence-plagued, poor nation since an armed rebellion early last year led to the fleeing of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“A high-level pep talk from Secretary Rice could help encourage government and civil society to bolster the electoral commission” in Haiti, said James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project, an independent Washington-based research group.

Morrell said half of Haiti’s 4.5 million eligible voters have registered, even as the electoral commission has “been dragging its feet” with regard to overall election preparation.

Election Concerns

Election observers have expressed concerns the election could be plagued by fraud and a lack of transparency. The last elections were in 2000 and were heavily criticized by election observers.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy analysis group, said Rice’s visit coincides with a period when “violence has diminished somewhat.”

“It suddenly seems a bit brighter,” Hakim said. He said crime had dropped in recent weeks largely because “the UN has taken a more aggressive position on security.” Elections were postponed three times because of violent gang attacks.

Gerard Latortue, prime minister of the transitional government, is to turn over power to elected leaders on Feb. 7, 2006.

Morrell said a high-level U.S. focus on Haiti is necessary because, “otherwise, you start sending a message of benign neglect again.” Rice’s trip “is a very good piece of news,” he added.