Collapsed Talks Dim Liklihood for Short-Term Fix for Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ The collapse of talks aimed at restoring exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power underlines the army’s inflexibility and darkens hopes for a quick end to Haiti’s agony.
U.N. special envoy Dante Caputo left for New York and Washington on Saturday after the military failed to show up Friday to discuss what he said is the only plan that will lift the oil embargo slowly strangling Haiti.
Meanwhile, schools are closed, gas is scarce, public transportation has ground to a near halt, the health system is in ruins and the few jobs available are vanishing as businesses close.
The country continues to be terrorized by army-backed rightist gunmen determined to prevent the return of the popular leftist president.
Conditions here could worsen dramatically if the United Nations decides to expand economic sanctions to punish the army for its intransigence.
Completion of the accord signed in New York in July by Aristide and military commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras was presented to the army on a take- it-or-leave-it basis, and the army chose to leave it.
The agreement calls for Cedras to step down and for Aristide to return. Only then, the United Nations says, will the embargo be lifted. It was imposed after Cedras failed to resign when he was supposed to last month, effectively blocking Aristide’s scheduled Oct. 30 return.
Rightists, however, blamed Caputo for the breakdown.
″The failure of the talks to get off the ground was a failure of Caputo’s method, not of negotiations as such. He is an obstacle to compromise,″ said sociologist and former military-backed government aide Herard Jadotte.
He said Caputo was seen as going from ultimatum to ultimatum and had insulted the army.
But the U.N. civilian mission here noted before it was withdrawn in mid- October for security reasons that army-condoned violence increased whenever prospects for a breakthrough emerged.
″The army’s desire to humiliate Caputo is real,″ a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
″But the reason for their refusal to negotiate goes deeper. Army leaders simply do not want to lose their privilege.″
The accord included an amnesty for killings and other human rights violations committed since Aristide’s September 1991 ouster by the army and provided for a law putting police under civilian control.
The diplomat said the key issue for army leaders wasn’t a blanket amnesty for the killings, but a reformed police department. In a country without a functioning judicial system, impunity is automatic, but control of the police means access to extortion and control of state enterprises.
Far-right supporters of the military believe there is an alternative to negotiations, even if it means weathering stiffer sanctions.
They advocate the appointment of a provisional president to oversee elections within 90 days to replace Aristide, who won Haiti’s first free elections in 1990.
The United Nations has said that could lead to a total economic blockade, which is advocated by Aristide and some countries, including France, but opposed by Washington.