"Three More Years!" is a slogan seen and heard more frequently in Haiti these days - the rallying cry of those who want their president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to stay on.
Aristide's term, interrupted by a military coup, ends Feb. 7. He has repeatedly said he will step down as required by the constitution and as desired by the United States.But that doesn't deter many Haitians from hoping he'll change his mind. And it doesn't deter his critics from suspecting some official support for the movement, which littered the city with leaflets last weekend declaring: "Justice for the coup d'etat means three years. Long live Aristide."
"Those leaflets cost a lot of money," former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul said in an interview Monday. "Aristide says he wants to go. But, honestly, the people who are making this propaganda cannot be acting without his knowledge."
Paul lost City Hall to an Aristide ally in a June 25 election.
On Sunday, the anniversary of Aristide's return from exile, hundreds of Aristide's supporters proclaimed their joy in provincial Gonaives with the call, "Three More Years!" The same cry livened street parties in Port-au-Prince and was declared in graffiti in southeastern port of Jacmel.
Aristide was elected to a five-year term in 1990 but was overthrown a year later by the military. Three years later, last October, a U.S.-led multinational force restored him to office.
As many as 4,000 civilians died during the military's reign of terror. Back in power, Aristide told the people not to seek vengeance, and they obeyed. In February, in the most popular move of his tenure, he liquidated the armed forces.
"I was so scared of the army and its attaches, my back used to tingle with fear when I walked down the street. That's a thing of the past. I just don't see why Aristide has to go," said Roosevelt Mark, a 25-year-old chauffeur.
Constitutionally, Aristide is ineligible to run for a second term until 2000.
After decades under military and civilian dictators, many Haitians do not understand why their popularly elected leader should surrender power. They presume he is bowing to U.S. demands only because Haiti is dependent on foreign aid.
"Today, Haitians are concerned about jobs and not about elections. If they like the president and he wants to rule for five or 10 years or for life, it doesn't matter to them," said Haitian historian Michel Soukar.
"It is a strange idea to most Haitians that Aristide should step down. They suppose he is being forced to under foreign pressure," Soukar said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the movement. But some of it appears motivated by what Aristide's supporters see as U.S. meddling in Haitian affairs.