WORLD

ISLAND OF FEAR

CANADA AND OTHER NATIONS USE SANCTIONS TO RESTORE HAITI'S OVERTHROWN PRESIDENT

MARY NEMTH October 14 1991
WORLD

ISLAND OF FEAR

CANADA AND OTHER NATIONS USE SANCTIONS TO RESTORE HAITI'S OVERTHROWN PRESIDENT

MARY NEMTH October 14 1991

ISLAND OF FEAR

CANADA AND OTHER NATIONS USE SANCTIONS TO RESTORE HAITI'S OVERTHROWN PRESIDENT

WORLD

The priest-tumed-politician with the diminutive stature, the drooping left eyelid and the fiery rhetoric is a folk hero to many Haitians at home and abroad. And the military coup last week that overthrew Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, sent Montreal’s 50,000-member Haitian community into a collective state of shock. Many say that they remember Aristide, who spent two years at the Université du Québec in Montreal earning a master’s degree in theology in 1985. Franklin Midy, a longtime friend who is now a sociology professor at the university, described the Roman Catholic priest as “brilliant” and a gifted preacher who “could raise people’s hopes” in his desperately poor Caribbean island nation. But the coup that left scores of Haitians dead may have dashed those hopes. “Our community is frantic,” said Aly Maurice André, a broadcaster at Montreal’s Haitian Radio Centre Ville. “No one knows what is happening to their families.” Rose-Pierre Magloire, who joined hundreds of tearful, flagwaving protesters near the Haitian community centre in north Montreal, added: “Aristide was our dream come true. If he is not allowed back in Haiti, the country is finished.”

The coup led to swift international condemnation, as well. Canada, France, the United States and the European Community suspended direct government aid to Haiti. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney called Aristide’s overthrow a “bloody disgrace.” And External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall, entering the assembly hall of the Organization of American States in Washington on Oct. 2, said that “force is always the last, ultimate step.” Two days later, she and eight other OAS representatives flew to the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, to confront the three-man military junta.

The Canadian armed forces 707 thundered down the runway at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington and headed out over the uncharted waters of high-stakes international negotiations. The 34-member OAS has been a divided and largely moribund, U.S.-dominated organization since its inception in 1948. But now, said an adviser to McDougall aboard the plane, it “has leapt into action.” And Argentine Foreign Minister Guido di Telia warned that if

the coup leaders fail to restore Haiti’s legitimate government, they “will face complete isolation or military intervention.”

After a three-hour flight, the plane descended towards the sprawling city of Port-au-Prince. In the distance, the white National Palace, where rebel soldiers seized Aristide on the morning of Sept. 30, glistened in the afternoon sun. Shortly after the delegation landed at the city’s nearly deserted airport, 10 Toyota pickup trucks filled with green-helmeted soldiers carrying Uzi submachine-guns screeched to a halt on the tarmac. The coup leader, Brig.-Gen. Raoul Cedras, stepped out and, flanked by seven high-ranking officers, marched briskly up the black metal stairs to a spartan second-storey conference room. There, the OAS delegation delivered a blunt message: restore Aristide or face harsh economic sanctions.

The OAS may become mired in extended negotiations. After their meeting, the delegates flew to Kingston, Jamaica, for a night’s rest. And as they prepared to board the flight back to Port-au-Prince for a second round of talks last Saturday, a clearly subdued di Telia said: “We have just begun our discussions— and they will not be short. The complexity of the Haitian situation is very great.” But just before the second meeting between the OAS team and the junta leaders began, Cedras told reporters that Haiti’s political stalemate could be solved through negotiations.

Some Haitians last week openly criticized Aristide, accusing him of fomenting mob violence during his rule. One magazine editor,

who requested anonymity, said that he had been afraid to speak against the president—not for fear of police retaliation, but because “the people will put a burning tire around my neck.” Still, support for Aristide, a champion of the poor who swept last December’s presidential elections with nearly 70 per cent of the vote, was evident in Port-au-Prince. Public transportation was at a standstill last Saturday, and most shops remained closed, despite appeals from coup leaders for Haitians to return to work. Burned-out cars and debris still cluttered intersections where Aristide supporters had erected barricades, and “Démocratie” and the president’s name were scrawled on buildings.

Aristide, who fled from Haiti to Caracas aboard a Venezuelan jet during the coup, flew on to Washington last week to address the OAS.

The 38-year-old Aristide told the assembly that he first heard rumors of a mutiny on Sept. 28. And on the morning of Sept. 30, rebels attacked the National Palace. Aristide said that Cedras, whom he had appointed provisional army commander just three months earlier, confronted him there and declared:

“Now, I am the president.”

The rebels debated whether to shoot Aristide. Finally, he recalled, they decided not to risk international condemnation and allowed him to flee.

According to independent radio stations in Port-auPrince, at least 250 people died during the coup as soldiers fired into crowds of Aristide supporters. Late last week, Western journalists viewed about 100 bullet-riddled bodies of men, women and children in a single morgue in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti’s traditional power brokers have been its 7,000member army and the Tontons Macoutes, an even larger paramilitary force that terrorized the country under the 29-year rule of the Duvalier family. After Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier fled to France in 1986, a succession of six military-backed regimes governed the country. Aristide had been an outspoken opponent of the Duvaliers during their rule. And he survived three assassination attempts, including one in December, just days before the

country’s presidential elections were held.

After being sworn in as president on Feb. 7, Aristide dismissed several senior officers and, later, appointed Cedras commander-in-chief in an attempt to curtail the military’s influence. “Taming the army,” said a Western diplomat who requested anonymity, “would be an essential step on the road to normality in Haiti—but

we have just seen what happens if an elected leader tries.” After just eight months of democracy, armed force again reigned in the beleaguered nation.

MARY NEMTH

HILARY MACKENZIE

ANN McLAUGHLIN

GLEN ALLEN