Haiti's bleak present

Violence: Approaching elections bring renewal of political violence to strife-torn country.

May 20, 2000

IF ONLY the Western Hemisphere's poorest country weren't also arguably its most violent.

Haiti's dubious status, however, continues -- with the depth of its political dysfunction plumbed once again as scheduled elections approach.

The latest wave of violence began in early April with the murder of Jean Leopold Dominique, the internationally respected director of Radio Haiti. Mr. Dominique was equally hated by the left and right and had received numerous recent death threats, his family said. No group, however, has claimed responsibility for the killing.

Since then, there have been more than a dozen politically motivated murders as Haiti prepares for the first phase of two-part local and parliamentary elections, set for this Sunday. The balloting has been postponed five times since November of 1998.

The hopes Haitian democrats had for financial aid from the United States to support the election process ended in March when Sen. Jesse Helms blocked needed funds in a fit of pique over the actions of Haitian customs officers.

The money was to have been used in the mammoth task of training election workers and registering voters in a place where it's estimated that fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters bothered to turn out for the last elections in 1997.

That low voter participation rate is among the factors in the current state of political unrest.

What a huge price the Haitian people will pay if a U.S. rice shipper's customs dispute leads to yet another postponement and continuation of the violence.

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