Haiti polls 'win for Aristide'

2006-02-17 15:22

Miami - Rene Preval's election as Haiti's new president is seen by some as a clear victory for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who many experts say was undermined by Washington before he was toppled in an armed revolt two years ago.

Preval was declared the winner of Haiti's presidential election on Thursday, after an agreement between the United States-backed interim government and election officials about disputed results that defused a potentially explosive crisis concerning last week's vote.

Washington welcomed Preval's victory, saying it hoped to help build a new future in one of the world's most impoverished countries.

Populist leaders

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said: "We are going to work with the Preval government. We want this government to succeed. This is a chance for a country that has had too few chances."

Preval, a former president and one-time Aristide ally, was the latest in a series of populist leaders in the Western Hemisphere - elected since Hugo Chavez won the presidency in Venezuela in 1998 - who could pose a challenge to US policy.

Despite Washington's public endorsement, his victory might not go down well with the US government.

Presidential elections

Political analysts said that along with polls pointing to a win by staunch leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after Mexico held its presidential elections in July, Preval's victory highlighted a fading US influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, a region Washington once controlled like its personal fiefdom.

Larry Birns, who headed the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, think tank, said the US was more isolated in Latin America than Cuba, a country it had tried to marginalise for more than 50 years.

Birns called Preval's election "a putative victory for Aristide," since the new president shares many of Aristide's political philosophies and beliefs, and said Preval represented "Aristidism without Aristide'.

According to Haiti experts, that was something the US, along with France and Canada, had very much wanted to avoid.

Haitians 'live on $2 a day'

The problem was that populist appeals were a powerful force in places like Haiti, where most people lived on less than $2 a day. Preval found his strongest voter support in the same slums that formed Aristide's power base.

Eduardo Gamarra, director of the Latin American and Caribbean centre at Florida International University, said: "It's almost ridiculous to think that somebody could have won the election that hadn't had something to do with Aristide."

Critics had described Aristide as a tyrant who relied on violent street gangs to enforce his rule. But, Gamarra said he was still a very popular figure in Haiti.

According to Gamarra, the irony was that US troops were sent into Haiti after Aristide was deposed in a bloody rebellion in February 2004.