Haitians from all walks of life say military government must go
Haitians appear to be reaching a consensus that the provisional military government of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy must go. The unflinching Haitian resolve to replace the three-man National Council of Government has been strongly evident in the widespread public support for opposition strikes in the past two weeks.
The capital was calm yesterday. But two events could spark further unrest: a funeral scheduled for today for citizens killed last week by government forces and an antigovernment march planned for Friday.
The call for a new government comes from people as diverse as a peasant woman headed home from market with a jug of water laid sideways on her head, politicians brainstorming in the steamy dampness of political party back rooms, and a rich industrialist in the whitewashed air-conditioned chic of his suburban mountainside office.
But the opposition is not unified on how it proposes to achieve a new government.
United States officials at the embassy here and at the State Department in Washington expressed concern this week that the continued pressure for a change in the ruling council could destabilize the nation and delay the planned inauguration of a civilian president in February.
Political groups began Tuesday to issue various alternative plans for a caretaker government. One centrist coalition suggested a government that would include a human rights official, a Supreme Court justice, and a Roman Catholic and Protestant church representative.
The council has not publicly responded to the developments since Saturday when it agreed to demands of antigovernment strikers' to reinstate a labor union and an independent election council.
The antigovernment strikes were sparked by the suspension of the two groups. But widespread calls for the ouster of the ruling council did not begin until Saturday, when the reinstated election council refused to work with the government because of the military's shooting of civilians during last week's strikes.
Haitians broke the grip of generations of the Duvalier family dictatorship on Feb. 7, 1986. Haitians, the poorest citizens of the Western Hemisphere, with no tradition of democratic institutions, suddenly were permitted a free press, and a Constitution passed by representatives elected in the first untainted elections in 30 years. The Constitution, passed in March, set up an independent election council, which has exclusive power to control the elections.
The subsequent proliferation of political parties - with more than 129 declared presidential candidates at one point - has prevented any unity of political agenda. The country's extreme poverty has been unrelieved since the Duvaliers were ousted. Because of this, frequent public demonstrations have erupted within the last year. But none have so seriously threatened the interim government as has the current two-week crisis.
The US, France, and Canada have indicated that a delay in the Haitian electoral agenda would jeopardize millions of dollars in foreign aid to Haitian agriculture, education, and forestry programs.
Officials at two Western embassies here faulted:
General Namphy for following hard line - perhaps Duvalierist - cues from his advisers in suspending the constitutionally allowed union and independent election council.
The opposition for jeopardizing the democratic process by not accepting Namphy's decisions on the union and election council as part of normal democratic concessions.
One Christian Democratic Party official, accustomed to authoritarian rule, characterized Namphy's move not as concession but as an admission of guilt.
There is great suspicion here that Namphy has acted under the influence of those left in his administration that supported the Duvalier dictatorship.
``If you leave these people in, they are never going to allow a real election,'' says Hugo Triest, a Roman Catholic priest who directs Radio Soleil. The Catholic station is credited with orchestrating opposition to Jean-Claude Duvalier among the lower-class majority.
Ernest Stoodly, secretary-general of the Alliance for the Renewal of Haiti, a centrist political party, says he supports ousting the interim government because it would be a stern reminder to future governments ``to respect the Constitution.'' (The opposition claims that Namphy violated the Constitution by suspending the union and the election council.)
The larger question that lies ahead is whether a democratically elected government can weather Haiti's adjustment to democracy while getting a handle on the desperate economic and social situation here.
For example, the government estimates that 15,000 jobs were lost in June 1986 alone because foreign manufacturing companies pulled out during just one period of social unrest.
The prospect of Haitians hitting the streets in lengthy strikes, rather than using constitutional routes to accomplish change, does not encourage businesses to take advantage of the country's low wages.
Further, the huge population pressures on land already squeezed dry of its resources and terrible poverty are problems that future presidents are likely to have to deal with for generations to come.
Noting these problems in an article on Haiti in the latest Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs, Anthony Maingot, an authority on the Caribbean at Florida International University, says:
``The question that must be addresssed in any discussion about prospects for democratization is ... what are the prospects for any government to handle these [problems] within a reasonable period of time, i.e., before a people not yet socialized into a political culture of democracy begin to view democracy as expendable?''