Haiti Archives 1995-1996
21/12/95 HAITI-POLITICS: For Lavalas, the Long March Continues by Dan Coughlin

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec. 21 (IPS) — For Haiti’s ruling Lavalas coalition, the presidential elections this past week represented not so much a historic transition from one elected president to another, but rather another step in the long process of building a state of law.

‘’We’ve had ten years of social struggle in the country and I think the movement has now arrived at the point of democratic institutionalization,’’ said Gerard Pierre Charles, the leader of the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), the largest of three political parties in the ruling Lavalas Platform.

Lavalas represents an ensemble of social groups that emerged from 40 years of dictatorships to become Haiti’s dominant political force.

‘’We want a state of law to be institutionalized, a change in the nature of the state, an end to corruption, a participatory democracy, not just representative democracy,’’ he said, reeling off a list of half a dozen points that the Lavalas movement, which means ‘cleansing flood’ in Creole, has at the top of its agenda.

‘’In effect, it’s a programme of modernizing society,’’ he told IPS.

Set to lead the Lavalas Platform in this endeavor is Rene Preval, a 51-year-old former prime minister. Although official results of the Dec. 17th presidential ballot are not slated for release until Dec. 27, early indications are that Preval swept the field of 14 candidates, taking as much as 80 percent of the vote.

If those indications are correct, they will again confirm that the Lavalas Platform remains the only credible political movement in the country.

Already, Lavalas controls both upper and lower houses of parliament, and all the major towns, villages and administrative regions across the country. The Platform swept municipal and legislative elections earlier this year, winning 45 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting last June. The feat was more impressive given that there was a field of more than 20 political parties .

Though most political parties then boycotted the subsequent municipal and legislative rounds, citing mismanagement and fraud, there was no doubt that they stood little chance against Lavalas, which was endorsed by the hugely popular president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Now in full control of the political apparatus, Lavalas will push for what the movement’s leaders call a renovation of the political system. The first step in that renovation was the effective abolition of one of the main threats to democratic rule here — the hated Haitian army and the network of more than 500 rural ‘’section chiefs’’ and their cohorts that terrorized the country for years.

‘’We’ve solved the problem of a political coup d’etat through the restoration of President Aristide, and the military coup d’etat by abolishing the army,’’ adds Lesley Voltaire, President Aristide’s chief of staff.

‘’Now we need to solve the problems of the economic and social coup d’etat,’’ he said, citing the need to eliminate the concentration of wealth in the country and what he called both public and private monopolies.

While most sectors of Lavalas might agree on the ‘’grand lines’’ of building a state of law, an effective judicial system, and ending monopolist control of the Haitian economy, that task might not be easy.

First, there remains bitter opposition from many of Haiti’s small political parties, the wealthy and powerful elite, and the former Haitian army and paramilitary groups.

‘’People from the old regime don’t want change and they’re pseudo- democrats who still want a piece of the pie,’’ said Yvon Neptune, a spokesperson for President Aristide, referring to the boycott of the Dec. 17th election by some of Haiti’s parties. ‘’This makes progress very difficult.’’

But as the prospect of any serious challenge to civilian rule wanes, particularly since the Haitian army — ‘’the spine’’ around which paramilitary groups ran rampant for the last 35 years — no longer exists as a nationally organized force, the problems Lavalas faces may come from within.

This problem is underscored by the fact that Aristide, who was able to unify the movement — and indeed most of the country — through sheer force of personality, will give way to the less popular Preval.

Composed of liberation theologians, socio-professionals, veteran anti-Duvalierists, former communists, peasant groups, small non – governmental organizations (NGOs), and even parts of Haiti’s elite, the loosely organized Lavalas has several different currents that could easily come unglued.

Indeed, the Platform has no specific and detailed political programme, partly as a way of keeping all the different factions unified through the difficult transition through the coup d’etat to the U.S./U.N. military intervention last September.

Adding to the lack of unifying elements, the Platform has no formal democratic structure and no national organizational base. Moreover, the austerity pressures of a tough World Bank and IMF Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) will inevitably impact sectors in Lavalas, contributing further to the possibilities of polarization.

But what many are focusing on now is the impact that the high abstention rate in the Dec. 17th election will have on Lavalas. Unofficial observers are reporting that only 15 percent of the registered voters cast their ballot. That means that Preval, unlike Aristide, will govern without a significant popular base of support.

‘’Preval will have less power, less margin of manoeuvre and will not be the only leader — Aristide will remain strong,’’ noted one Aristide government official, touching on the differences between Aristide and the Lavalas ‘’caciques,’’ who are happy to see the charismatic and popular president out of power.

But despite the differences, there remains hope among Lavalas partisans that some significant progress will be made over the next five years .

‘’We’ve come from a long way back, from 30 years of obscurantist dictatorship,’’ said Pierre Charles, taking the long view. ‘’We’ve conquered the democratic space, now we’ve got to make it work.’’(END/IPS/IP/DC/DA/95)

Origin: Kingston/HAITI-POLITICS/ ----

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