The Miami Herald
March 22, 2001

Aristide vows crackdown on opposition in Haiti


 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Calling Haiti's opposition politicians ``enemies of the Republic,'' the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised the stakes Wednesday in
 its fight with a coalition of opponents who are challenging Aristide's legitimacy.

 In a communiqué issued Wednesday, the government said ``that tension continues to mount in the capital. The enemies of the Republic have not laid down their

 The statement said the government would end what it called illegal acts by its opponents.

 Such a move will likely mean the arrest of Gerard Gourgue, the 75-year-old jurist and human rights activist the opposition has established as the country's alternative

 But the government has set no deadline for a crackdown on the opposition, a coalition of 15 parties known as Convergence Democratique.

 On Monday, renegade Aristide supporters trapped a group of Convergence activists in their Port-au-Prince headquarters. The confrontation became a standoff on Tuesday
 when Aristide supporters rushed the offices, throwing stones, lobbing Molotov cocktails and firing weapons.

 The Convergence members were forced to cower for a day before being escorted from the building late Tuesday under the protection of police.

 Backers of Aristide's Family Lavalas party have been calling on the government to arrest Gourgue on charges that Convergence is creating disorder and inflaming
 passions or for treason. Minister of the Interior Henri-Claude Menard said last week that his government would no longer tolerate Gourgue's alternative presidency.

 Menard on Wednesday said ``we are going into second gear. We are taking our responsibility to follow the law.''

 Gui Paul, minister of communications and culture and a close aide of Aristide, was more direct. ``Order and discipline have to be established. We have to draw the line
 somewhere,'' he said. ``In a matter of days, if there is no change, Mr. Gourgue will be arrested unless the two sides can come to some sort of agreement.''

 In a taped message sent to radio stations Wednesday, Aristide condemned the violence that has shaken his country. He said he had asked his justice minister and the
 police to do their jobs. He did not provide any details.

 The president said he was open to dialogue. However, Aristide laid the blame for the turmoil at the feet of the opposition, saying that they caused it when they named a
 provisional president challenging the will of voters.

 Sauveur-Pierre Etienne, a spokesman for the Convergence, dismissed Aristide's charge. ``He didn't say anything about the people who were attacking us yesterday, but
 according to him, we are the ones responsible for the violence because we tried to defend ourselves,'' Etienne said.

 ``That doesn't make any sense. He's telling his people to do their jobs and we take that as a threat.''

 Etienne said several members of the peasant organization loyal to an anti-Aristide leader were wounded by gunfire in a demonstration that was broken up outside of
 Hinche in the Plateau Central, several hours from the capital. He said Lavalas sympathizers with heavy weapons cut off a bridge leading to the city and would not let the
 march organized by Movement Paysans Papaye take place.

 The leader of the organization, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, a former Aristide ally, was reportedly wounded in the battle but that could not be independently confirmed.

 ``We don't know how this is going to end,'' Etienne said. He added, however, that he would not yet call what was occurring between his group and the ruling party a civil
 war. ``How can you talk about a civil war when war means that both sides fighting have weapons?'' he said.

 ``We don't have guns. If they come after us, it's going to be a massacre.''

 The opposition coalition of 15 political parties wants new elections, saying last year's elections, which gave Lavalas a majority in Parliament and Aristide the presidency,
 were fraught with irregularities. Negotiations between Lavalas and Convergence broke down in February, before Aristide's inauguration, and there are no signs that both
 sides will soon sit down to settle their disputes.

 Meanwhile, the capital, which witnessed running mob violence over the past four days, was getting back to its usual rhythm Wednesday. Children returned to school and
 traffic clogged the streets.

 However, many businesses still remain closed the day after Aristide supporters attacked the opposition in the most violent outburst so far. Two people were reported dead
 and 17 others wounded in confrontations that began over the weekend when hundreds of people who say they are Lavalas members erected flaming barricades throughout
 the city, bringing the capital to a standstill.

 Last week government supporters broke up a peaceful demonstration by members of Convergence, beating up several of its members.

 Another group surrounded a school owned by Gourgue, threatening to burn down the building with the students inside.

 Parents and teachers say the children were traumatized by that incident.

 Gourgue on Tuesday appealed to the international community for support, saying the goal of Lavalas was to eliminate all dissent and to install a new dictatorship in Haiti.

                                    © 2001