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1/18/04 - VIOLENCE IN HAITI - 2004-01-20

Political violence continues in Haiti. Police and pro-government thugs recently attacked demonstrators in Port au-Prince, the capital. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. condemns the Haitian government's actions:

"Some police officers at these demonstrations collaborated with heavily armed, hired gangs to attack the demonstrators. We believe these actions contradict the government's own declaration that it seeks compromise and we call on the government to end immediately its efforts to suppress peaceful dissent."

In recent months, more than two dozen people have been killed and many others injured in political protests in Haiti. Governed-sponsored gangs wearing masks and armed with automatic weapons rampage through the streets of the capital, stealing cars, attacking radio stations, vandalizing businesses, and attacking demonstrators. Instead of prosecuting the thugs, Haitian authorities are collaborating with them.

The protests stem from the rigged vote count of the May 2000 legislative and local elections. The ruling Fanmi Lavalas [F-L] political party manipulated the count to ensure control of Haiti's senate. Opposition political parties boycotted the July 2000 run-off elections and the presidential election that November. As a result, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was re-elected with very low voter participation. Opposition parties and civil society groups have also refused to participate in new elections unless President Aristide resigns. They have taken to the streets in increasing numbers.

The Haitian government has responded by cracking down on the opposition and the press. In September 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights protested against the "murder of journalists in Haiti, along with a large number of complaints regarding harassment and threats against journalists, the media," and others.

Free speech and democratic institutions are being threatened at a time when Haiti needs them most. There are many serious problems to be addressed. Haiti's economy remains dependent on foreign aid and money sent by Haitians living outside the country. Its only growth industry is illegal drug trafficking. Haiti's political crisis can be solved through dialogue and rule of law. But to do that, Haiti's government must protect the rights of citizens.