Related topics

Haiti Torn by Power Struggle

November 6, 1997

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ A U.S.-mediated compromise to resolve Haiti’s worst political crisis in years is unraveling, torn by a power struggle between friends and foes of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti has been without an effective government since Premier Rosny Smarth resigned in June saying April elections, in which fewer than 10 percent of eligible Haitians voted, had been rigged to favor Aristide’s party.

Millions of dollars in foreign aid have been held up as the ailing economy declines, and Haitians are fed up.

``No matter who is in power, things get worse. We just don’t care about politics any more,″ said Claude Jean, a 34-year-old electrician.

But what has developed into Haiti’s worst crisis since the 1991 coup in which the military ousted Aristide appears to be all about the ambitions of the former president.

``Aristide’s return to power in 2000 is what is at stake,″ electoral council member Jean-Reynold Jean-Pierre said.

If the election results hold, Aristide supporters would win control of the Senate, where they plan to challenge a major economic program pushed by Smarth and the international community. More importantly, they also would control district councils, which help choose the electoral council that will oversee elections in 2000.

Aristide indicated Monday that he would oppose attempts to overturn the elections: ``The people handed in their verdict. Democrats must respect it.″

The Organization of American States condemned the ballot tallying, however, and the United Nations cut aid to the electoral council. Still, the United States deemed the election fair _ a stand widely considered a refusal by Washington to admit failure in Haiti.

The United States restored democracy _ and returned Aristide to power _ during a 1994 invasion.

Efforts to fill the leadership vacuum after Smarth’s resignation, and to resolve the political and economic crisis have stumbled.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stepped in with a visit to Haiti, then U.S. national security adviser Anthony Lake negotiated an Oct. 28 agreement to settle the election dispute.

President Rene Preval, Aristide’s hand-picked successor, tried to implement the deal, which involved revamping the electoral council and the quick appointment of a new premier. Most political parties, however, rejected the deal.

``U.S. policy makers have a limited vision of Haitian reality,″ said journalist and political analyst Francois Roc. ``So, they hastily improvise unworkable solutions.″

Preval’s choice for the new premier, left-leaning economics Professor Herve Denis, has no chance of parliamentary approval.

Preval said Monday that he would hold off formally nominating Denis, who shares Aristide’s hostility toward Smarth’s economic plan, until parliamentary approval was more certain.

That does not appear likely to happen soon.

Smarth’s party dominates Parliament and, because of the election dispute, refuses to cooperate with Preval.

Two-thirds of the often-criticized provisional electoral council resigned Monday and a commission appointed by Preval will review the elections, but Smarth’s party wants the entire council to resign.

``It is only (Smarth’s) Lavalas Political Organization that is standing in the way of Aristide, and it must be destroyed. That is what this is all about,″ said former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul.

The capital’s current mayor, Emmanuel Charlemagne, said he believes Preval secretly fueled the crisis to make way for Aristide’s return.

Next month, ``bands will be paid to create disorder″ that would lead a compliant Preval to resign, Charlemagne predicted on the independent television station Telemax.

Update hourly