Poverty, elections place Haiti at risk for unrest
The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 4, 2009 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti:
Deepening poverty and ineffective governance have left Haiti at risk for renewed violence and political instability, a conflict watchdog warned on Tuesday.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group urged international donors scheduled to meet next month in Washington to provide the struggling Caribbean country with $3 billion over the next several years.
"Between now and the summer Haiti faces a series of challenges, and if the population doesn't see progress it could well result in significant instability," ICG senior vice president Mark Schneider told The Associated Press by phone.
A 16-page report by the conflict watchdog comes ahead of a March 9 visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton to promote international aid and economic security in the impoverished country. The U.N. Security Council will visit immediately afterward.
Haiti is enjoying a period of relative stability, but the report says economic and social conditions are even worse than last April, when political riots over high food prices overthrew the prime minister. Months later the country was socked by four storms that left nearly 800 people dead, caused $1 billion in damage and halted economic growth.
Tuesday's report says poor cooperation between President Rene Preval, new Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis and parliament is also deadlocking legislation and preventing passage of a proposed $256.4 million, mostly donor-financed budget.
That in turn could leave the door open for "spoilers" drug traffickers, corrupt politicians, gangs and business owners who prefer a weak government to create new problems.
Illegal flights carrying South American cocaine through Haiti and on to the United States and Europe increased over the past year, the U.S. State Department said in its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released this week.
Reminders of how quickly any tension can boil over into violence in Haiti were on display Tuesday in Port-au-Prince when university students threw rocks at U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police, who responded by firing tear gas. The students were protesting a curriculum change.
Observers worry far more violent demonstrations could erupt ahead of a long-delayed April 19 election to fill 12 vacant Senate seats, with concern centering on electoral officials' decision to block all candidates from former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's divided Famni Lavalas party.
The ICG report called for inclusive elections.
© 2009 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
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