The top UN envoy to Haiti urged followers of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to reject violence and take part in elections, saying their participation could end the political polarization and turmoil in the Western hemisphere's poorest country.
Nearly a year after Aristide was forced into exile after an armed uprising, Juan Gabriel Valdes said Haitians have the opportunity to forge a new agreement among all political forces and create a transitional government that will tackle poverty and corruption.
He said the cooperation of Aristide's Lavalas Family party is essential but its members don't seem capable, for now, of publicly rejecting violence and announcing that they will participate in elections and act as a democratic party.
In a wide-ranging interview late last week, Valdes spoke of the complexity of trying to create a functioning government in a country which has had 200 years of formal freedom but a history of instability, political upheavals and violence.
"It is clear that the seeds of violence that have always been there in Haitian society were very much sown during the Aristide period," he said. "The level of tensions rose and confrontation and hatred between Haitians was very evident. ... They polarized the country."
Despite the deployment of a US-led peacekeeping force, which was replaced by a UN force in June, rebels and former soldiers who ousted Aristide have refused to disarm and still occupy police stations in the countryside. In the capital and elsewhere, street gangs loyal to Aristide refuse to disarm until their opponents give up their weapons.
Valdes said the Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping force was approaching its full strength of 6,700 troops, and he insisted that that force controls the country -- not the former soldiers.
"There have not been any coup threats because these soldiers could never, ever make a military coup in Haiti," he said. "One of the myths that continues to persist, I would say with all due respect, within many experts on Haiti is that these military [forces] of today are the same that overthrew Aristide in the 90s. They have nothing to do with that. They are people without jobs who kept weapons and who should be disarmed."
But Valdes stressed that because the ex-soldiers can't overthrow the interim government doesn't mean that they have been disarmed and couldn't destabilize the country in the future.
"We think that one of the biggest problems in Haiti is the relationship between politicians, parties and armed gangs," he said.
The former Chilean ambassador to the UN said the level of violence in Haiti isn't much more serious than in the rest of Latin America.
Meanwhile, Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's Cabinet chief, Raymond Lafontant, was shot in the back on Sunday in downtown Port-au-Prince as he was on his way to visit his mother, a police spokesman said.
The official was shot in the back and the bullet hit his abdomen. He was taken to a hospital and the operation was successful, police spokesman Jessie Coicou said.
"The criminals had demanded the keys to the car," Coicou said.