The Miami Herald
January 18, 1999
Haitian president works on his image
Preval plans new government and elections

             DON BOHNING
             Herald Staff Writer

             Now that he has put Parliament out of business, Haitian President Rene Preval's
             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 an
             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 toward
             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.

             Decree expected

             Preval is expected to install by decree soon -- perhaps this week -- a new
             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 a provisional
             electoral council to quickly arrange for new parliamentary elections.

             For Alexis and Preval, observers say, it will be essential to name credible people
             -- 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 can
             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 an electoral
             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' Cabinet],
             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 before
             he dismissed Parliament, and they are even less sympathetic now.

             ``The minute Preval issues his first decree, he will have formalized his usurping of
             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 to Haiti,
             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
             DeWine, R-Ohio.

             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 Neild of
             the Washington Office on Latin America.

             That attitude was reflected in the international community's efforts to broker an
             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, including
             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 of
             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 in the
             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, and we
             are going from bad to worse,'' the U.S. official said.


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