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Haiti's Slim Hopes

NEXT Monday will mark Haiti's first national elections since the voting in 1987, which turned into a melee as terrorist gangs sprayed polling areas with bullets. One of the best things that can be said about the coming elections is that they are taking place. Last summer, such an event looked improbable. Haiti's status quo has been illiteracy, corruption, poverty, and violence - all fed by the legacy of ex-dictator ``Papa Doc'' Duvalier.

The coming election may look like progress, but it is shaky progress at best. Some observers have been encouraged by the transitional government's barring of such candidates as ex-Duvalier crony Claude Raymond and convicted criminal Roger Lafontant, leader of the terrorist Ton-tons Macout, a group known for publicly murdering citizens and opposition politicians.

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High voter-registration rates could also lend an upbeat tone, as could the invitations to three different teams of international election observers, including one led by former president Jimmy Carter.

But the question has to be asked: What has really changed in Haiti since 1987? Voter-registration rates ran nearly 80 percent then. Jimmy Carter and hundreds of reporters were on hand then. Yet the polls were bloodied, and corrupted.

Last week's terrorist gunfire on a political rally in Petionville, which killed five, struck a sobering note.

Haiti needs a president that will try to dislodge the small elite that runs the island. The main qualifying candidate is the Rev. Jean Bertrand Aristide, who only recently entered the race (and has survived three attempts on his life).

To have elections is certainly better than not to have them. But Haiti must move beyond the personalized, violent politics of its past before elections can truly be democratic.

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