Haiti: With Friends Like These

A host of shadowy figures is helping Haiti's military rulers hatch a plot to sideline Aristide permanently

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In a radio interview last Friday, Cedras said that the U.N. agreement brokered in July was dead if Aristide did not return as planned the next day, and would not be revived unless both he and Aristide decide otherwise. Anti- Aristide sources said last week that with the U.N. accord now technically expired, the junta is planning to invoke Article 149 of the Haitian constitution, which calls for the chief justice of the Supreme Court to assume the presidency. Haiti's bogus Parliament, which was elected last January under military rule, will then be called into session to ratify the change. After that, the new President will call for the establishment of a "reconciliation government" that includes all major players, save Aristide. Ninety days later, elections will be held -- leaving the U.N. to choose between two "elected" Presidents. Supporting those claims is a communique issued last Saturday by 12 political parties and movements. It stated that if Aristide did not resign by 3 p.m. Sunday, they would announce plans to replace him.

Garrison claims that during a visit to Washington last month, he was told by officials (whom he declines to identify) that the way out of the Haitian logjam involves three steps: discrediting Aristide, removing him from the presidency, then proposing and implementing a new government. Garrison says further that these American officials asserted that a primary U.S. objective was to maintain the integrity of the Haitian military because it is the only stable social structure in the tropical disasterland. While Garrison may know officials who believe this, the U.S. Administration remains officially committed to Aristide's return.

The idea of an interim presidency, however, is hardly far-fetched. Since seizing power in 1991, Cedras and the two other members of Haiti's reigning troika -- Lieut. Colonel Joseph Michel Francois, the police chief, and army chief of staff Philippe Biamby -- have tried repeatedly to set such a scheme in motion. Now, emboldened by the military-staged thug-fest that turned back the troopship U.S.S. Harlan County from Port-au-Prince on Oct. 11, the triumvirate is ready for its end game.

Last Friday, U.N. special envoy Dante Caputo warned the military government specifically not to try to appoint an interim President. Caputo insisted that the U.N. plan "remains fully in force." He added that representatives of Aristide and the military would soon be invited to meet in Haiti to continue discussing plans for the ousted President's return and an amnesty for the 1991 coup leaders.

In Washington the Clinton Administration tried to walk the fine line between encouraging negotiations with the military leaders while not seeming to hand them a political victory. In private, Clinton has spoken of his decision not to send any American troops to Haiti. Instead he plans to create a "duststorm" of diversions, foremost among them a tightening of the international arms and oil embargo. Publicly the President warned Haiti's military leaders that if they thwarted "democracy's return," they would be "making a grave mistake." But he also spoke of "America's commitment to finding a negotiated settlement."

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