Leading candidate vows to steer Haiti back to democracy

``Tonton Macoutes can throw stones; we don't care. When Louis comes, the earth will tremble,'' chanted thousands of peasant supporters of presidential candidate Louis Dejoie II. Mr. Dejoie, on a three-day campaign tour of northern Haiti, was cheered by roadside supporters all along the six-hour drive from Port-au-Prince to this isolated mountain village. On the last 20-mile stretch, on an almost impassable dirt road, the crowds were sometimes so thick that the 10-vehicle procession was forced to a halt.

Haiti's 35 presidential candidates have until the Nov. 29 national elections to convince this Caribbean nation's mostly rural, illiterate voters that one of them is the best choice to lead the country back to democracy after 29 years of Duvalier family dictatorship.

There is a climate of insecurity - concern that the Tonton Macoutes (the disbanded militia that terrorized opponents of ex-dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier) are still active. But the atmosphere is charged with electoral fervor as candidates campaign across the country and radio stations broadcast election news and political ads.

Speaking in Creole to about 5,000 people, Dejoie angrily denounced the candidacies of former high-ranking Duvalier officials who two weeks ago proclaimed themselves presidential candidates.

Dejoie, like most of the other seven major candidates, condemned the interim government's recent discharge of prominent Duvalier officials. The discharge certified that the officials embezzled no funds nor committed any crimes during their term in office.

The nine-member Provisional Electoral Council - which the Constitution created last March with exclusive power to control the elections - has vowed to enforce the constitutional clause banning all notorious Duvalierists from running for public office.

Dejoie owes much of his popularity to his father, Louis Dejoie Sr., who ran in elections against Francois Duvalier in 1957. Duvalier allegedly stole the elections through fraud and Army support, and the elder Dejoie died in exile in 1969.

A survey done by a private radio station and a research firm indicates that virtually all Haitians intend to vote, although most have not decided for whom. Of those who have decided, most say they support Dejoie.

The only mulatto candidate, Dejoie says if he is elected he promises honest administration. He says competence is a virtue forgotten after 30 years of corrupt government. An agronomist and successful industrialist, he urges sensitivity in handling the urgent needs of Haiti's masses.

While campaigning in northern Haiti, Dejoie's procession ran into a traffic jam on the main highway caused by another cortege of vehicles following Thomas Desulme, also a former exile and prominent presidential candidate. In Gona"ives, presidential candidate Leslie Manigat was delivering a roadside speech as Dejoie's train of supporters drove by.

``Under the Duvaliers and the presidency-for-life, we had no hope; we never knew when it would be over,'' said Fritz Stevenson, a member of Haiti's mulatto elite and fervent supporter of Dejoie. ``Now, with elections coming up, in spite of the violence and threats from Macoutes, at least we have hope.''

[Reuters reports that former US President Jimmy Carter met with Haiti's military leaders and electoral officials and urged them to work together in holding presidential elections in Haiti next month.

[Speaking at a news conference here on Thursday, Mr. Carter said: ``We are here to let the people of Haiti know the whole world is watching this democratic process, which we believe will be fair and free.'' Carter was in Haiti on a one-day trip with the Council of Democratically Elected Heads of State and Government to encourage fair elections in Haiti.]

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