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Coup Leader Says Uprising Necessary to Stop ‘Apprentice Dictator’

October 2, 1991

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ The military clamped down on the Haitian capital Tuesday, and the leader of the coup that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide claimed it was necessary to stop an ″apprentice dictator.″

Reports indicated more than 100 people died in Monday’s revolt, led by Brig. Gen. Raoul Cedras, once an Aristide loyalist.

Aristide sent impassioned appeals from exile to his countrymen, warning of an impending bloodbath. He pleaded for an armed U.N. force to restore democracy in his homeland, saying from Caracas, Venezuela, that Haitians ″cannot resist the military alone.″

But Haiti’s U.N. ambassador, Fritz Longchamp, said Haiti was not actually calling for armed intervention, only that the world condemn the coup and support Aristide, the former parish priest who came to power in February.

The coup leader, Cedras, said he was forced to oust Aristide because of flagrant cronyism, abuses of the military and judicial system and attempts to establish a private militia along the lines of the Tonton Macoutes, which enforced the Duvalier family dictatorship for more than two decades until 1986.

″There was a deliberate choice not to respect democratic norms,″ Cedras said in his 15-minute televised speech Tuesday night. ″The situation threatened the country’s democratic future; the familiar nightmare of a dictator regulating all national institutions ... made us fear the worst.″

Cedras spoke in French and then Creole. He was seated at a bare desk in the corner of a room, in front of empty bookshelves. While on Monday night he had spoken of creating a ″serene climate favorable to the next election,″ he made no mention of elections Tuesday.

Cedras spoke of the need to ″liberate the country from apprentice dictators for good,″ and promised to respect the constitution and guarantee the existence of all political parties.

But the military remained in full force Tuesday, imposing a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

Gunfire reverberated throughout the capital, with soldiers firing menacingly into the air in what amounted to a daytime curfew as well.

Port-au-Prince’s normally bustling downtown area was nearly deserted.

There were unconfirmed reports the National Penitentiary had been emptied of all 1,000 prisoners, including Roger LaFontant, a former head of outlawed Tonton Macoutes.

Another report was that LaFontant - jailed after leading a coup before Aristide’s inauguration - had been killed Monday.

Haitians reported that several former Tonton Macoutes imprisoned at the Penitentiary were seen walking city streets Tuesday.

There was little sign of resistance to the coup. Small groups huddled in the streets talking, and occasionally some scampered out to rebuild barricades of burning tires.

Aristide, the first democratically elected president in Haiti’s nearly two centuries as a nation, was with his family Tuesday in Caracas, after Venezuela’s president sent a Lear jet to rescue him and lead him to safety abroad.

He was to travel to Washington on Wednesday for a meeting of the Organization of American States, according to Haiti’s U.N. ambassador, Fritz Longchamp.

President Bush met Tuesday with Haitian ambassador Jean Casimir, suspended the $85 million U.S. aid program for Haiti and called for ″an immediate halt to violence and the restoration of democracy.″

France and Canada also halted aid programs.

In Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, the toll from the uprising rose sharply.

The Caribbean Human Rights Network, based in Barbados, said preliminary counts indicated more than 100 dead. Frantz LaMothe, a photographer who visited the General Hospital morgue in central Port-au-au-Prince, said authorities reported 140 bodies at that facility alone.

″The military is in full control,″ LaMothe said. ″They are driving all over town, 15 to 20 in pickup trucks.″

Richard Morse, manager of the Olaffson Hotel on a hill overlooking the Port-au-Prince harbor, said ″most of the shooting today is in the air. Yesterday they were shooting at people.″

American tourists holed up in the hotel, the setting for Graham Greene’s famous Haitian novel ″The Comedians,″ said they feared for their lives.

Cathy Zimmerman, 30, of Berkeley, Calif., said she arrived Saturday for what she hoped would be a unique two-week vacation. She got a little more than she and her companion, Brad Adams, bargained for.

″Just now there was a shot very close to where we are,″ she said, her voice trembling in a telephone interview. ″The military doesn’t care what object they are shooting at. They’re just shooting to scare people.″

The international airport has been closed since Monday afternoon, when rebel soldiers seized Aristide at the National Palace.

Aristide, 38, mobilized Haitians to vote in the first free elections since the former slave colony gained independence from France in 1804. As president, he retired the army’s high command and took steps to purge the notoriously corrupt 7,000-man army.

On Tuesday, in a message to the Haitian people, the exiled president warned of worse ahead.

The military has ″a very long list of people they plan to kill still,″ Aristide said in a statement dictated to the Haitian Embassy in Washington. ″They will kill them like flies. Do everything possible to stop people from dying.″

Aristide also urged Haitians not to lose heart.

″Hold on, don’t let go. I have confidence the people will continue on the road to democracy,″ he said in Creole, the language of most Haitians. ″It’s a blow we’ve taken, but we have not lost the fight.″

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