Rival leader challenges Aristide to arrest him
BY YVES COLON
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Gerard Gourgue walks into the backyard of his
home, and the men who are watching over him, his family and his
students, snap to attention. They salute and refer to him as ``Your Excellency.''
The 75-year-old Gourgue has been named the provisional president
of Haiti by a coalition of political parties that accuse President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide of stealing the office. Aristide supporters, members of the president's Family Lavalas party and Haiti's Senate have called for Gourgue's arrest.
Without naming his rival, Aristide said Wednesday that the Convergence
Democratique, as the opposition coalition is called, was violating the
law because it is acting as
if there were two presidents in the country.
``Arresting me would be the most beautiful gift Aristide could
give me,'' Gourgue said Thursday, as several supporters stopped by to pay
their respect and speak with him.
``This would be the drop of water that breaks the dam.''
The violations of law cited by Aristide, usurping titles and functions, do not apply, Gourgue said.
``I have no function,'' he said. ``I'm a symbol. You don't arrest a symbol.'' Lavalas officials are misinterpreting the law, he said.
``They can't come here and tell me what the laws are,'' said Gourgue,
a former professor at the national law school who counts Prime Minister
Jean-Marie Cherestal and
Justice Minister Gary Lissade as former students. ``I've spent 30 years teaching law. I'm an encyclopedia.''
SCHOOL AND HOME
Gourgue's home, which is also the location of a secondary school
he runs with 400 students attending, came under attack Tuesday from Aristide's
another group was attacking the coalition's headquarters not far away.
Gourgue showed three bags of large rocks -- he calls them painful
memories -- collected after the riots. He pointed out an eight-inch diameter
steel pipe the crowd used
as a battering ram to break down the walls.
``The assault lasted two hours,'' said Paula Castor Gourgue, the opposition leader's wife of 45 years. ``We called everywhere without results.''
Some children were able to escape by climbing a ladder that allowed
them to jump over the wall into neighbors' yards. The riot police came
later and escorted the other
children out of the school.
Gourgue was calm as he toured his property, showing off the scars from the attack. He wasn't afraid, he said.
He is no stranger to political controversy. He has a long past
in Haiti's political history, beginning in 1956 when he supported a candidate
who ran against François ``Papa
In 1986, Gourgue was one of two civilians on a seven-member military council that replaced Jean-Claude Duvalier. Gourgue spent 45 days on the council.
Gourgue's wife has her own political lineage. She is the sister
of Suzy Castor, the wife of Gerard Pierre Charles, who broke away from
Aristide's Lavalas party years ago
and whose Organization of People in Struggle is the dominant member of the opposition coalition.
In 1979, Gourgue, his wife and four daughters were attacked while
Gourgue, as head of the Haitian League of Human Rights, was giving a lecture
on the presidency-for-life
of the younger Duvalier. ``We have paid with our blood for human rights in this country,'' Gourgue said. ``This is not something we're just starting.''
CANDIDATE IN '87
The National Front of Concertation picked Gourgue in 1987 as its
candidate for the presidency but those elections were called off after
dozens of voters were murdered by
thugs backed by the military.
``You know I was elected president with a huge majority,'' said Gourgue, a twinkle in his eyes.
Daniel Supplice said Gourgue became the opposition's choice for
provisional president because of the respect he commands as someone who
knows the law and who is
widely regarded for his integrity.
``He's a man everyone knows and respects,'' said Supplice of Generation
2004, another participant in the coalition. ``He makes everyone comfortable.
He's not an
extremist. He's a symbol of old Haiti, people with morality.''
Said Gourgue, ``I'm above it all.''
It is hard to gauge Gourgue's popularity because only few of the
coalition's supporters have taken to the streets to march, unlike Lavalas,
which can mobilize hundreds of
supporters within hours.
``The 50 people who were inside the headquarters of the coalition
two days ago under siege were just there,'' said Firmin Jean-Louis, an
aide. ``If we wanted people
around, we could have had hundreds, thousands. People are afraid to come out because they know what will happen to them.''
Haitian police officials said Thursday that shootings reported
at the coalition offices were coming from inside the building and rejected
charges that the crowds were
responsible for any gunfire. They also denied that police officers aid the Aristide supporters.
Gourgue has called for the return of the Haitian army that Aristide
disbanded. He dismisses the charge that the coalition represents only well-to-do
Haitians who are said
to be afraid of an Aristide presidency because his political base is among the poor blacks who want to see a redistribution of the country's meager resources.
``I'm the president of all Haitians,'' Gourgue said.
WAITING FOR ARISTIDE
Although Aristide repeated on Wednesday that he was open to dialogue, Gourgue said he was waiting for the president to take the first step.
``Acta, non verba,'' -- acts, not words, said Gourgue, who sprinkles
his conversations with Latin quotes and verse from 17th Century French
playwrights. Aristide ``should
write a letter to the Convergence and tell them that he wants to meet again,'' he said. ``He should be doing it because he's the power.''