Haiti has a new president, but it will take time to stabilize the country, pick a new prime minister and cabinet and prepare for new elections.
BY DON BOHNING
Special to The Herald
With President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation and early Sunday flight into exile, Haiti again is confronted with a future as uncertain as its recent chaotic past.
The only thing clear is that Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as president within six hours after Aristide's departure.
Beyond that, given Haiti's chronic unpredictability, anything is possible.
If events unfold as outlined by diplomatic sources and Haitian analysts, however, the next significant step is for Alexandre to name a new prime minister who -- in turn -- would form a new government that would oversee new elections.
According to diplomatic sources, the new plan is to start a modified version of the so-called Caribbean Community plan, which called for Aristide to be stripped of some of his powers and to name a new consensus prime minister.
Now, according to the same sources, it is expected that a tri-partite group would be formed with representatives of the international community, civil society and moderate remnants of Aristide's Lavalas Family party government. That group would, in turn, select a so-called Council of Eminent Persons, numbering about nine.
It would essentially serve as a parliament, which is virtually nonexistent at the moment. Terms of all members of the lower house expired in January and no elections were held to replace them. The remaining few senators were mostly from Aristide's Lavalas party. Many have gone into hiding.
The Eminent Persons Council would recommend a new prime minister to the acting president. The prime minister would, in effect, be in charge of the government, appointing a technocratic Cabinet to keep the government functioning and prepare for new elections.
Names most consistently heard Sunday as potential prime ministers were Herard Abraham, a respected former commander of the Haitian army now living in Miami-Dade County, and Smarck Michel, a former prime minister under Aristide after he was returned to office by a U.S.-led 1994 invasion.
Abraham, in cooperation with the international community, was responsible for the security that made Aristide's first election to the presidency possible in 1990. He was forced to retire by Aristide six months later and was replaced by Gen. Raoul Cedras, who led the September 1991 coup that ousted Aristide.
Michel is a businessman who supported Aristide's first election but broke with him over policy and, more recently, went public in Haiti with a sharp rebuke of Aristide. His businesses near the airport were among those sacked by pro-Aristide gangs last week.
Haiti's constitution calls for new elections within 45 to 90 days after the presidency becomes vacant but virtually everyone agrees that is an unrealistic timetable, given the current chaos.
One Haitian analyst says he thinks it would take at least a year -- and perhaps even two -- to prepare and hold credible elections. The next scheduled presidential elections are in December 2005.
A host of obstacles remains before new elections can be held. The most immediate problem is reestablishing a semblance of security in the country, where the National Police, the country's only security force and one politicized by Aristide, has all but disintegrated in the face of rebel attacks.
That means dealing quickly with both the motley anti-Aristide rebel force that seized several major cities in the past three weeks, and a similar group of unsavory gangs financed by Aristide to counter resistance to his increasingly authoritarian rule that eventually brought his downfall.
The plan, according to diplomatic sources, is to quickly dispatch a multinational peacekeeping force, beginning as early as today, with national contingents of 1,000 or so troops, probably from the United States, Canada and France.
U.N. Security Council members were meeting Sunday to consult on a draft resolution that would put the world body's stamp of approval on any military deployments to Haiti.
In the meantime, U.S. troops on the ground and at sea around Haiti were expected to restrict their activities to providing security for U.S. Embassy buildings and Coast Guard cutters repatriating Haitian boat people to Port-au-Prince.
Replacing a president who resigned in the face of popular discontent is not uncharted territory for Haiti. A similar situation occurred in 1990.
The then-military president, Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, resigned in March amid intensifying popular protests. He was replaced by Supreme Court Justice Ertha Trouillot, who successfully led the country to elections that December.
The process was marred with pitfalls, including a nasty dispute between Trouillot and a 57-member Council of State that also functioned in the absence of a parliament. But it eventually resulted in Aristide's first election.