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Haiti Spins Toward Civil War

February 27, 2004

Newsday – With 80% of Haiti’s population under the poverty level, agriculture in ruins, nearly three in four workers jobless, and drug lords controlling parts of the countryside, even onetime supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide began calling for his ouster.

Last year, a coalition of students, opposition parties, clergy and business leaders known as the Democratic Platform began staging increasingly larger demonstrations, calling for him to step aside. Aristide responded by embracing some of the tactics of the Duvaliers.

He politicized the 4,000-member Haitian National Police and diverted government money to violent gangs, who attacked anti-Aristide demonstrators and murdered journalists critical of the government.

He has vowed to complete his term, which runs until 2006, and is doing little to curb armed attacks by his supporters against the demonstrators.

GANGS once aligned with Aristide have turned against him, drawing former soldiers and Aristide opponents into their fold.

On Feb. 5, rebels took Gonaives, a town astride the main road leading north from Port-au-Prince, effectively cutting the country in two and threatening the north with starvation.

With Haiti spinning toward civil war, the United States pulled Peace Corps workers from the country last week and warned U.S. citizens to leave as soon as possible.

On Sunday, rebels captured Cap-Haitien, the nation’s second-largest city, after just a few hours of fighting. Some boasted that their next target was Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

 

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