Herald Staff Writer
Now that he has put Parliament out of business, Haitian President Rene
biggest task is convincing Haitians and the international community that he is a
defender of democracy, as he claims, and not a stalking-horse for dictatorship, as
his critics charge.
Preval brought an end to one crisis a week ago when he invoked a 1995 electoral
decree and declared that the terms of legislators had expired. The action came
after Parliament had rejected his nominees for prime minister three times and was
on the brink of turning down a fourth. He suggested that some sort of ``balancing
power'' would be created to oversee the executive branch in the absence of
His action plunged Haiti into even deeper political crisis by further alienating
already skeptical international community and narrowing even more his small base
of support inside Haiti.
Preval was elected in 1995 without a political movement of his own. His
candidacy was sponsored by outgoing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his
charismatic mentor, who has played an ambiguous role ever since. The former
president appears reluctant to build up Preval as anything but a stand-in for his
own return to power in next year's presidential election.
Internal reaction in Haiti was softened considerably by public antipathy
Parliament, which, according to one analyst, had passed no meaningful legislation
in 20 months as a result of the power struggle between the two wings of the
movement founded by Aristide.
Preval is expected to install by decree soon -- perhaps this week -- a
government headed by former Education Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, his
last candidate to be prime minister.
Alexis, in turn, has said that one of his first actions will be to form
electoral council to quickly arrange for new parliamentary elections.
For Alexis and Preval, observers say, it will be essential to name credible
-- as opposed to appointees seen as Aristide loyalists -- to Cabinet positions, an
electoral council and any kind of executive oversight group. But such people will
be even more difficult to find now than before, given the increased polarization and
disillusionment generated by Preval's actions ending the parliamentary term.
``Whatever process they put in place, it's very hard to conceive how anything
go forward if it isn't acceptable to different sectors of Haitian society and the
international community,'' said Rachel Neild, a Haiti specialist at the Washington
Office on Latin America.
``It will be a clear signal as to where this is going if Preval creates
council clearly stacked in favor of the Lavalas Family [Aristide's political party],'' a
Republican congressional staffer in Washington said.
``And given Preval's failure to negotiate with Parliament [over Alexis'
there is no basis to believe that a competent, credible provisional electoral council
can be formed,'' added the staffer, who regards Preval's action as another step in
moving Haiti toward a one-party state under Aristide.
The GOP attitude
Republicans in Washington were not inclined to cut much slack for Preval
he dismissed Parliament, and they are even less sympathetic now.
``The minute Preval issues his first decree, he will have formalized his
Parliament,'' said the same GOP staffer, who says congressional hearings are likely
soon, ``focused on the break in democratic government and drug certification.''
He also foresees an effort to cut off what little U.S. aid is still going
including security assistance for Haiti's fledgling police force, while preserving
humanitarian assistance like feeding programs.
Days before Preval's action, as rumors circulated that he would dissolve
Parliament, four influential Republican members of Congress, in a letter to
President Clinton, said that ``we should vigorously oppose U.S. government
funding of the Haitian government at any level or for any activity, including both
bilateral assistance and assistance from multilateral institutions.''
The letter also warned Clinton that his determination on the Haitian government's
cooperation in countering narcotics trafficking under the drug certification statute
will come under close scrutiny in Congress.
The letter was signed by Rep. Ben Gilman, R-Ind., chairman of the House
International Relations Committee; Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., chairman of the
Intelligence Committee; Rep. Sonny Calahan, R-Ala., chairman of the foreign
operations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee; and Sen. Mike
Impact of aid
It's doubtful, however, that an aid cutoff would have much of an impact.
``Haitians historically have never shown much concern about aid,'' notes
the Washington Office on Latin America.
That attitude was reflected in the international community's efforts to
agreement on the composition of Alexis' Cabinet, the immediate catalyst for
Preval's actions ending the term of a Parliament dominated by the Organization of
the People in Struggle (OPL), the anti-Aristide wing of the Lavalas movement.
According to well-informed sources, a top-level international delegation,
Anthony Lake, the Clinton administration's troubleshooter and former national
security advisor, met with parliamentarians Jan. 8 and Preval the next day, trying to
find a solution to the impasse.
In addition, there were calls from the European Union commissioner in charge
relations with Haiti, the Canadian minister for international cooperation and the
French secretary of state for cooperation. All the appeals were unsuccessful.
The bottom line, according to one U.S. official, is that Haiti is no longer
Clinton administration's ``win column'' of foreign policy successes, although it is not
yet considered lost.
``We've clearly crossed an important river here where we can't go back,
are going from bad to worse,'' the U.S. official said.
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald