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Haitian poor rebel at suspected poll-rigging
HAITIANS WENT to the polls on 8 February for the first vote since the populist president Jean Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a US-backed coup, two years ago.
Initial results indicated René Preval, a former ally of Aristide, on 60%, would become president, with Charles Henry Baker, a wealthy garment factory owner, and the candidate of the rich elite, coming third with only 6.1%.
However, on 14 February, electoral officials claimed that Preval only had 48.7% and that a second round run-off was likely on 19 March. This announcement immediately provoked widespread protests by tens of thousands of Preval supporters, who suspect right wing, pro-elite, pro-US forces are behind poll-rigging.
The impoverished protesters paralysed the capital, Port-au-Prince, to which UN 'peace-keepers' responded with gunfire, reportedly killing one young Preval supporter.
The 'interim government' has now blocked publication of the results "until an inquiry into fraud allegations is completed".
Local TV showed hundreds of burnt ballot papers on a city rubbish dump, many marked in favour of René Preval. His supporters again took to the streets to denounce the fraud.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a life expectancy of only 51 years. 65% of the population living below the poverty line and adult literacy rates are at a mere 52%. For decades, the country has been plagued by poverty, joblessness and military dictatorships.
Jean Bertrand Aristide, a popular priest working in the slum areas of Port-au-Prince, was president twice during the 1990 and early 2000s and pledged to tackle poverty and to bring about social justice.
But Aristide's support lessened as he failed to make any real change to poverty conditions. His populist gestures meant little while conditions in shanty towns worsened.
But still the ruling elite could not stomach Aristide's popular base. The reactionary opposition mounted an uprising in 2004, with the Bush administration's support, and overthrew Aristide.
US marines and several thousand United Nations troops, including forces sent by the supposedly 'left' government of Lula, in Brazil, have since occupied the country. They are there primarily to safeguard the interests of the ruling elite, capitalism and US imperialism, while earning the hatred of many of the poor.
Under US/UN control, conditions in Haiti have only worsened. Lawlessness and kidnappings are rife and factories have shut down due to a lack of foreign investment.
The huge social gap between the poor Creole-speaking black majority, that make up 95% of the population, and the French-speaking mulattos, 1% of whom own nearly half the country's wealth, remains unaddressed.
For several years, Haiti has been wracked by violence and gang rule in the slums.
Preval's presidency will not bring the social justice that the poor desperately yearn. Even before taking office, Preval put distance between Aristide and himself. He told the BBC that if elected he would allow Aristide to return from exile in South Africa, but that he "will not tolerate the violent groups that pledge him allegiance".
Although the US ambassador to Haiti, Tim Carney, said before the elections that a Preval victory was not "problematic", the White House will be very wary of a one-time Aristide ally becoming president.
The wealthy Haitian elite fear Preval's victory even more. If they try to block Preval from becoming president, widespread protests will erupt. Both UN and US troops could be used to shoot down more of the very people they were supposedly sent to Haiti to 'liberate'.
If the US and elite give way and allow Preval to take office, they may later decide he is beyond their control and too pro-poor.
In this situation, the reactionary opposition will try to destabilise and overthrow Preval, replacing him with another brutal, pro-US regime. At the same time, Preval will not satisfy the needs of the poor and working class with mere populism.
Only the masses of Haiti, with the working class playing the leading role, can find a way out of the endless poverty, joblessness, violence, coups and dictatorships.
A mass socialist alternative has to be constructed in opposition to the tiny rich elite that live in mansions on the top of the hill in Port-au-Prince, while the majority - impoverished, jobless, illiterate and hungry - lives in shantytowns at the bottom.
A socialist alternative would fight for real fundamental change, making an appeal to the working class and poor across the Caribbean and the whole Americas.
Lasting democratic rights and rising living standards can only be guaranteed if desperately poor Haiti is part of a regional socialist federation of states.
In The Socialist 16 February 2006: