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Grasping at Haiti's Future

`Conference of reconciliation' would jeopordize Aristide's mandate

HAITI'S Prime Minister, Robert Malval, has completed his break from the democratic ranks, accusing exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of ``playing with our lives, playing with the future of Haiti.''

The struggle for Haiti's future looks very much like game playing. But if the name of the game is democracy, then Mr. Aristide is the only contestant playing by the rules. While President Clinton presents a facade of support for Aristide and democracy, his actions do not support his rhetoric.

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The most recent flap revolves around Mr. Malval's proposal to hold a ``conference of national reconciliation'' to form a new, ``centrist'' government.

It seems to have been forgotten in this impasse that the Haitian people elected Aristide, giving him 67 percent of the vote in a 13-candidate race - a mandate by any standards.

The coup government has, by contrast, shredded the Haitian constitution, redirected much of the Caribbean cocaine traffic through Haiti, and taken the country to the brink of a human-rights apocalypse.

Malval and the so-called four friends - the United States, Canada, France, and Venezuela - have even suggested that this new government would include the likes of Frank Romain, the former Port-au-Prince mayor who is widely considered responsible for a 1988 arson attack on Aristide's church that left 11 dead. Alix Cineas, a former minister in Jean-Claude Duvalier's regime, has also been considered. But their participation in government is explicitly banned by the Haitian constitution.

As Aristide recognized, this conference would only further the dictatorial goals of the military and its allies. Such a gathering implies the participation of the entire nation. But 90 percent of Haitians today are politically immobilized by the terror of military rule.

Since the coup 26 months ago, more than 4,000 people have been killed. Repression has worsened since the signing of the Governors Island Accord promising Aristide's return.

The military has forced thousands of people underground, especially local leaders of the democratic movement. Social groups, professional organizations, student associations, labor unions, and peasant cooperatives have been violently dismantled.

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The concerted attack against my organization, the Peasant Movement of Papay, has been particularly brutal. The military has destroyed our economic base. They have ravaged our grain depots, destroyed our credit cooperatives, and killed our livestock. Hundreds of our members have been arrested, tortured, and killed; this violence has driven away thousands more. If we are not safe quietly tending our fields, how can we hope to safely speak our minds at this conference?

Understanding that such a climate of fear precludes the participation of the vast majority of Haitians, Aristide rejected this initiative from the outset. Yet the international community - particularly the US - continues to pressure him to give it his imprimatur. He is being blamed for not wanting to ``expand'' this government, as if to suggest that giving power to antidemocratic forces would facilitate his return. But to add legitimacy to the de facto power that they already have would crush any hope for Aristide's return.

The US has used this cynical strategy repeatedly against Aristide, forcing him first to sit down with the illegal military government, and again to compromise as he did with the ill-fated Governors Island Accord.

So why is Aristide rewarded for his commitment to democratic principles with an invitation to his own beheading?

The Haitian people must prevent this ``national reconciliation'' at all costs. We have not been resisting the illegal military takeover for two years only to give the military legitimacy just because Mr. Clinton wants the Haitian question settled.

We know that democracy in Haiti is within reach. We need only act on the principle that democracy cannot profit from trade with dictators.

There is no substitute for the full resignation of the military elite and the full restoration of Aristide to complete the job we elected him to do. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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