The New York Times
January 15, 1999
Haitian Leader's Foes Raise Specter of Dictatorship

          By JAMES C. McKINLEY JR.

          PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The streets of this impoverished capital buzzed with the normal
          hubbub of life Thursday, but inside the corridors of power opposition leaders were accusing
          the president of trying to establish a virtual dictatorship. The president insisted he was trying to build
          a democracy.

          So far, there has been little outcry here over President Rene Preval's decision on Monday to bypass
          the Parliament and form a government by decree. The only objections have come from some
          businessmen and opposition politicians.

          Preval's choice for prime minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis, promised to form a government and
          hold parliamentary elections as soon as possible. But some Haitians said they feared they were
          witnessing the unraveling of the country's fragile democracy, this time not through a military coup but
          through the political maneuvering of Preval and his mentor, the former president, Jean-Bertrand

          "The president should sit down and talk with these parliamentarians so that this thing will not
          explode," said a clerk in a downtown business, echoing the views of many and insisting on
          anonymity. "What's happening now is not good for anybody."

          The disagreements have paralyzed the government since June 1997, when Prime Minister Rosny
          Smarth resigned to protest the elections held that April.

          Since then, parliamentary leaders have rejected three of Preval's nominees for prime minister. The
          fourth, Alexis, a former education minister, was approved last year by both houses, but was required
          to present his program and Cabinet for approval before being sworn in. Opposition leaders
          threatened to reject him unless they were given key Cabinet positions.

          As the end of the year approached, the legislators passed a law extending their terms after they failed
          to reach an agreement with the president on the makeup of an election committee and an election

          But Preval scotched that plan on Monday. Saying he was upholding the constitution, he announced
          he did not have the authority to extend the lawmakers' terms. He also said Alexis had already been
          approved and could form a government even though a new Parliament had yet to be elected.

          "We are trying to build something called democracy," Preval said. "Democracy, above all, is the
          respect for the rules of the game. We can't every time a problem arises change the rules of the game
          in order to solve the problem."

          As a practical matter, however, Preval's move dashed the opposition's hope that it would control
          some important Cabinet positions. It also meant that the political faction supporting Preval and
          Aristide will put together the committee to oversee the next elections without influence from other

          Political opponents of Preval have accused him of what amounts to a bloodless coup, saying he
          eliminated the legislature's influence with a stroke of the pen. "Preval has staged a coup d'etat to
          establish a dictatorship," Myrlande Manigat, a constitutional law expert, told The Associated Press.
          "There are many kinds of coups -- not only military."

          Others have charged that Preval is laying the groundwork for Aristide to run for President in 2001,
          hoping to control the electoral committee and thus weaken the chance that factions opposed to
          Aristide might gain a parliamentary majority. They say Preval delayed holding elections in order to
          bypass the Parliament.

          But government officials insist Preval is only trying to break a political deadlock that has driven the
          country deeper into poverty. Despite four years of democracy, Haiti remains the poorest country in
          the Western Hemisphere. The country has not had a budget for two years. Millions of dollars in
          foreign aid have been placed on indefinite hold.

          "There is a general feeling among the people that this Parliament has been responsible for the
          gridlock as opposed to seeing to the well-being of the country," the foreign minister, Fritz
          Longchamp, said.

          "We have serious problems in Haiti, economic and social," he added. "The only way we can solve
          these problems is to have a government that has a majority in Parliament."

          Longchamp rejected suggestions that the president was trying to form a strongman government. "Is
          he trying to become a dictator by observing the law?" he said.

          Diplomats and officials here said the root of the current crisis was a simple power struggle between
          two wings of what was once Aristide's Lavalas movement: oneled by Aristide, called the Lavalas
          Family, and the other, the Organization of the People in Struggle, which dominates the Parliament.

          The opposition fears that if Aristide is returned to power, Haiti will become a dictatorship.

          For the moment, Preval's maneuvering appears to have paid off. Few people among Haiti's
          downtrodden lower classes, the bulk of Aristide's supporters, are springing to Parliament's defense.
          The Parliament has angered some people by passing an austere economic program backed by
          international lenders that calls for about 5,000 state employees to be laid off.

          In addition, Preval can count on the loyalty of the 6,000-member police force that replaced the army
          when Aristide abolished the military in 1994. Some top commanders are Aristide supporters and
          Alexis, as prime minister, will preside over the National Police Commission that controls the force.

          It is a measure of the neutrality of the new police force that there has been no reprisal for the
          shooting on Tuesday of Preval's sister, Marie-Claude Calvin, who was wounded when gunmen
          attacked her car.

          The investigation is following the theory that the attack was politically motivated, perhaps by people
          hoping to stir up violence in the wake of Preval's announcement. Under past right-wing governments,
          retribution killings would have been automatic, officials said.

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company