Haitian Bishops Fear a Civil War Looms

“Complete Confusion” Reported in Caribbean Nation

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, FEB. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Haiti’s bishops fear a civil war might follow the “complete confusion” that grips this Caribbean nation, says a member of the Church hierarchy.

The prelate, who preferred to remain anonymous, made his remarks Thursday during a phone call to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

He said the protest movement against President Jean Bertrand Aristide is large. But Aristide “sticks to his throne” and, therefore, a “civil war is foreseeable,” the bishop said.

The so-called Group 184, made up of trade unionists and employers’ associations, is the main movement calling for the president’s immediate resignation, the Church leader explained.

According to the same source, there are pro and anti-Aristide armed groups, in particular near the border with the Dominican Republic that “are killing each other without knowing who is who.”

Haiti has been in crisis since 2000, when Aristide won legislative elections, which the opposition and the international community challenged. The opposition refuses to participate in new elections until Aristide resigns, while he insists he will stay until his term ends in 2006.

Over the past few weeks, Aristide has confronted a large anti-government movement on the one hand, organized peacefully by the political opposition and civil society and, on the other, insurgent armed groups. Sources of the Missionary Service News Agency confirmed that the discontent is gaining supporters from the ranks of the Lavalas Family, the president’s party.

The crisis is hurting the economy of this already poor country. Three-quarters of Haiti’s 8.1. million people live in abject poverty.

Since Feb. 5, the city of Gonaives — 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of the capital — is in the hands of the rebels of the Artibonite Front of Revolutionary Resistance. They are threatening to march on Port-au-Prince.

In Saint-Marc, 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Gonaives, about 70% of people have fled their homes after exchanges between the police and rebels of the Rassemblement des Militants Conséquents de Saint-Marc.

Gonaives and other towns of the north already suffer a lack of fuel, food and medicine.

Although the Haitian capital is under the control of the central power, in the rest of the country Aristide’s government has limited influence, police forces are insufficient, and the administration is disintegrating, the Efe agency reported today.

Since the start of the unrest in January, more than 50 people have reportedly died.

The source in the Church hierarchy told Aid to the Church in Need that “priests and bishops are frequently being stopped on the street and asked who they are and where they are going. All this for the control of drug-trafficking on the island.”

Haiti is known to be a channel for Colombian drugs that go through Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic en route to the United States and Europe.

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ZENIT Staff

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