Haitian Senate Appears Engaged In Ploys to Delay Aristide's Return
The lifting of sanctions, an end to gas lines, and an infusion of foreign capital hinge on restoring President Aristide to power
ALTHOUGH the signing of the Governor's Island Accord, which guarantees Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide's return, was a major breakthrough in resolving the 22-month-old Haitian crisis, the situation is far from stable here. Human rights violations continue unabated. A political truce agreed to by various political parties has not been respected, and the country is still under a United Nations oil and arms embargo.
The accord sets the president's return for Oct. 30. But it appears that senators supporting the military regime are delaying his return by putting off prerequisites spelled out in the accord. Before Fr. Aristide can return, the parliament has to ratify his choice for prime minister, businessman Robert Malval. In order to ratify Mr. Malval, the Senate, or upper house, must hold an election to choose its own president.
Leandro Despouy, representative for UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo, met with members of both senatorial blocs yesterday to find a solution. US Charge d'Affairs Charles Redman promised $20 million in US aid if the Senate confirms the prime minister by the end of the week.
The problem is not that the Senate doesn't have a president - it's that it has two.
Since the 1991 coup that ousted Aristide, the Senate has been divided into two camps, and each has named its own president. The "Alliance" bloc, former coup supporters, elected Thomas Eddy Dupiton, while the "Anti-Corruption" pro-Aristide bloc, elected Firmin Jean Louis.
Early last week Senator Dupiton announced he would step down, providing Senator Jean Louis would do the same. But Jean Louis has refused to give up his position because he insists he was legitimately elected.
Heightening tensions over the issue are nine Alliance senators who were elected Jan. 18 in what has been widely denounced as rigged elections, and who have since agreed to step down under international pressure. If the Alliance were to win the vote for Senate president, it would be in a position to reinstate the nine senators and gain a majority in parliament to oppose Aristide.
Supporters of Jean Louis's Anti-Corruption bloc have also accused the Alliance of using stalling tactics, including staging the shooting of Senator Dupiton on July 27. The police were called to Dupiton's home because a group of kids was hassling a foreign journalist doing an interview with the senator. The shooting report could have been plain police bungling, or a media stunt.
"No one can be sure," says a former Aristide adviser, "but it could easily be part of the whole [delay] initiated by the Alliance bloc. They don't want to be forced to vote and lose. If they could secure [a majority] in the Senate, they'd have a counter power-bloc when the president returns."
In addition to Dupiton, three other senators may not vote. Facing death threats and allegedly refusing a bribe in the tens of thousands of dollars, Senator Judnel Jean fled to safety in the Dominican Republic last Wednesday. He was rumored to have been ready to switch from the Alliance bloc to the Anti-Corruption bloc.
One of his colleagues, Senator Bernard Sansaricq, who has switched camps numerous times and has allegedly been bribed back to the Alliance bloc, has gone after Senator Jean. Mr. Sansaricq accuses the Anti-Corruption bloc of kidnapping Jean.
And when the Senate formed a provisional committee to hold elections last week, the oldest member, Frank Leonard, who was designated as provisional president, collapsed at the Senate Chambers. He was taken to the hospital and is still recovering.
"It appears that one after the other, senators are dropping out," said a Haitian analyst. "The situation is so fragile that no one wants to push it any further."
Once parliament does ratify the prime minister, paving the way for Aristide's return, the UN will suspend its embargo. Gasoline rationing had crippled transportation to and from the countryside and pushed the black market price of gasoline up to as much as $15 a gallon.
Then last week, de facto Commerce Minister Saidel Laine removed the rationing. Gasoline is flowing again, but lines 50 or 60 cars long are growing as people worry how long it will last. Some suspect that it is just a ploy to leave the new prime minister with empty pumps. A new petroleum order would take at least seven to 10 days to be filled.