WORLD

A PLEA FOR HELP

FACING AN IMPASSE WITH HAITI’S MILITARY RULERS, ARISTIDE ASKS THE UNITED NATIONS FOR A TOTAL RLOCKADE OF HIS HOMELAND

ANDREW BILSKI November 8 1993
WORLD

A PLEA FOR HELP

FACING AN IMPASSE WITH HAITI’S MILITARY RULERS, ARISTIDE ASKS THE UNITED NATIONS FOR A TOTAL RLOCKADE OF HIS HOMELAND

ANDREW BILSKI November 8 1993

A PLEA FOR HELP

FACING AN IMPASSE WITH HAITI’S MILITARY RULERS, ARISTIDE ASKS THE UNITED NATIONS FOR A TOTAL RLOCKADE OF HIS HOMELAND

WORLD

Despair reigned last week in the poor districts of Port-au-Prince. Dieudonne, an unemployed 28-year-old, said that he danced with

delight in July when he learned that Haiti’s military leader, Lt.-Gen. Raoul Cédras, had agreed to allow exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return on Oct. 30. But his elation passed as Cédras reneged on the agreement

and the United Nations slapped an oil-and-arms embargo on the Caribbean nation. Slumping dejectedly in the doorway of a one-room home, with images of Catholic saints covering the walls,

Dieudonne said: "There is only one thing that will bring our president back.” He glanced left and right, then whispered:

“Military intervention.” Most working-class Haitians seem to agree. Washing clothes in the yard of an upper-class home overlooking the capital’s downtown, Adeline, a 31-year-old laundress and mother of three, waved her bar of soap at the U.S. frigate enforcing the embargo in the bay below.

“Those soldiers won’t do any good as long as they stay in their ships,” she said. ‘They must come ashore.” And like

most poor Haitians, Adeline believes that the embargo will only add to their suffering while contributing nothing towards Aristide’s return. “Rice, cooking oil, charcoal—everything has jumped in price again,” she sighed.

Things could soon get worse for poor

Haitians like Dieudonne and Adeline. At the United Nations last week, Aristide, 39, a Roman Catholic priest and the first democratically elected president in Haitian history, called for “a total and complete blockade” against his homeland. He asked the UN Security Council to expand sanctions to force out the soldiers who overthrew him in September, 1991, and have ignored a peace

accord, signed last July on New York City’s Governors Island, calling for his reinstatement on Oct. 30. “Late, but too late, they will have to leave,” declared Aristide. “This flagrant violation of the Governors Island accord can only dramatically accelerate the headlong course to a national breakdown.”

HAITI IS ON A HEADLONG COURSE TO A NATIONAL BREAKDOWN’

—Exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Efforts in Haiti to reach a political settlement to the impasse appeared to be deadlocked. Cédras, who refuses to step down, and Prime Minister Robert Malval, an Aristide supporter, cancelled a planned midweek meeting. Meanwhile, parliamentarians repeatedly failed to muster a quorum to begin debate on legislation essential to the restoration of democracy: a broad amnesty

for participants in the 1991

coup and their supporters, and a law to separate the police from the military. Many pro-Aristide lawmakers were in hiding and unwilling to attend parliament where attachés—armed civilians who are believed to take orders from Portau-Prince police chief Lt.-Col. Michel

Fransois—loitered near the entrances. UN officials had asked foreign parliamentarians to act as escorts for pro-Aristide legislators. But in a letter to the United Nations, an international group of parliamentarians said that task was too dangerous without guarantees of security from the Haitian military.

The population of Luly, a dusty fishing village 65 km north of Port-au-Prince, has swelled in the last few weeks with people who have fled the capital’s slums. They have come either to escape growing violence—an estimated 200 suspicious killings have occurred in the capital since July—or because the countryside offers a better chance of surviving the UN embargo’s impact on the economy. One of them is Prosper Pointvil, 30, who came with his wife and three children. Nodding towards the sea, Pointvil says: “If it weren’t for that, we would die of hunger.” He says he fishes day and night to feed his family. Another refugee from the city, 16-year-old Précieuse, says that many people are losing the battle for survival. Squinting at the sun from the doorway of the thatched hut that she shares with six relatives, Précieuse says: “If you are sick, the only thing you can do is lie down and die. A lot of people are dying.” Many in Luly are talking of trying to flee in sailboats to the United States, as more than 40,000 Haitians have already tried to do since the 1991 coup. “I’m off if Aristide does not come back in the next few days,” says a 19year-old unemployed youth from the capital who wears a Malcolm X T-shirt. Since May, 1992, U.S. authorities have repatriated most Haitian boat people intercepted at sea, including at least 15 last week. But in Luly, people refuse to believe that the policy is still in effect. “They cannot send us back now,” says Antoine, 23, a fisherman with two sons, who voices concern about the emergence of several new pro-military parties such as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, known by the acronym FRAPH. “Do they think FRAPH would leave me in peace if I were sent back?” Antoine asks. Marc Andre Lemonde, 24, a boat builder who has already fled once only to be repatriated, declares: “We Haitians will never tire of trying to escape.”

The embargo could well heighten that impulse, and there was clear evidence of its impact in Port-au-Prince last week. A refusal by the three foreign oil companies in Haiti to distribute any fuel from their storage tanks brought city traffic to a virtual halt. Officials at the the U.S. embassy estimated the available supplies at 10 to 12 days for gasoline, and 24 days for diesel, but few gas stations were selling fuel last week. Some black-market fuel was being sold for as much as $15 a gallon.

Another result of the embargo was an increase in power outages. The state electricity

company, which uses both fuel-generated and hydroelectric power, announced that it would turn off two of the three turbines at the main hydroelectric dam every weekend to conserve the water level. A spokesman for Prime Minister Malval said that the government would use its emergency reserve diesel stocks to keep such essential services as the hospital, the electric company and the water plant running.

With the threat of a total blockade looming over Haiti, UN special envoy Dante Caputo late last week calld for emergency talks to restore democracy. But he made clear to Haiti’s military that it was not going to be a “renegotiation” of the Governors Island accord but rather discussions on how to get it implemented. At the same time, Caputo warned FRAPH and other hardline Haitian groups—who threatened to use a constitutional manoeuvre to replace Aristide with an interim president and then hold new elections—that such a move would give UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali “no alternative but to recommend that the Security Council strengthen its sanctions.” For struggling Haitians, the immediate future looks decidedly bleak.

ANDREW BILSKI

MICHAEL TARR