Talks in Haiti Renew Hope For a Diplomatic Solution
First meeting of military chief and new prime minister seen as `positive'
A STALEMATE between the Haitian military and the civilian government finally dissolved late Saturday night, renewing hope that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide may indeed return home Oct. 30, after 25 months in exile.
Haitian Prime Minister Robert Malval, accompanied by members of his Cabinet, met with Army Chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his high command for the first time since Oct. 15. According to the United Nations-brokered Governor's Island agreement signed between the two parties on July 3, General Cedras was to have retired by that date.
At the three-hour meeting, General Cedras again pledged to step down. His retirement, along with the resignation of Police Chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, would follow steps proposed by Lower House President Antoine Joseph. Those steps would include parliament passing a bill legally separating the police from the Army, as well as turning an amnesty decree issued by Fr. Aristide into an amnesty law. Cedras and Mr. Malval are scheduled to meet again today.
Shortly after the meeting between the two camps, Malval met with top UN officials in Haiti.
UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo, who has been spearheading the negotiations, called the development ``positive.'' But he said UN sanctions imposed on Haiti last week would not be lifted until Aristide returns.
In order to pressure the military to respect the Governor's Island Accord, the UN has re-imposed strict sanctions. It has seized assets of 41 people involved in the coup that ousted Aristide, including those of Cedras. There is also an embargo on arms, oil, and petroleum products. UN spokesman Eric Falt said on Saturday that there is ``a strong possibility that the Security Council would take new measures early next week to include a complete commercial embargo, excluding humanitarian aid.''
Haitians already feel the impact. Although gasoline tanks on shore are well stocked, the British-owned companies are not distributing to the pumps. Gas stations have officially closed. An occasional station is open, but lines are snarled and armed military patrol the pumps.
To enforce the blockade, an international force of 10 naval vessels is encircling Haiti. Eight United States Coast Guard cutters are patroling Haitian waters for boat people attempting to flee Haiti.
The Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a group that has used violence in voicing their opposition to Aristide's return, has called for the removal of the sanctions. The military-backed group has also demanded the resignation of Mr. Caputo and the broadening of the Malval government.
``We would have to be represented because we're the mediators,'' Emmanuel Constant, secretary-general of FRAPH, said in an interview. The overseas assets of Mr. Constant and his partner, Louis Judel Chamblain, have been frozen by the UN.
Many people say FRAPH's mediating skills stop at the barrel of a gun. Although Constant portrays FRAPH as a social organization, it is widely believed that of the several hundred supporters who turn out for their demonstrations, many are on the take.
``I think they get an average of $150 a month,'' says a young man who lives near some FRAPH members. Policemen average about $200 a month. ``They are paid for very specific things - whether it is harassing, surveying, or harming people. And they do the deeds for pure economics.''
Meanwhile, the Malval government maintains that Aristide has followed the accord to the letter, and will not bend under pressure.
``At this point, we will make no more concessions,'' Malval told the Monitor, speaking deliberately. ``We have pledged to broaden the government a long time ago and we won't do it under fire. That's final. If they think they can make us move forward by using their guns, they are making a mistake. We will never do it.''
Saturday night's breakthrough renews hope that a diplomatic solution is possible to end the two-year crisis. Most people are worn down by the endless political upheaval and desperately want to go back to some semblance of a normal life.
But there are still many questions that need to be answered, including the role of the UN. The UN transferred several hundred observers from Haiti to the Dominican Republic Oct. 15. It is not clear if they will be reassigned. Even if they return, it is unknown how Haitians will respond to them. Haitians may be wary of giving them their trust.
The UN also had planned to send nearly 1,300 military advisers, who were to provide technical assistance and help train a new police force. ``Any solution has to pay careful attention to the rank-and-file soldiers,'' says a retired Army career man. ``The military institution has suffered from a breakdown in a broader political sense, and just focusing on the Army alone will not change things either.''
THE international community has pledged nearly $1 billion for Haiti, once democracy is restored.
``What people don't seem to understand is that we don't have many options left as a government,'' Malval explains. ``If the international community backs away, it backs away with all the aid and assistance programs they had proposed to Haiti. Then they [the Army] will have to tell how they will run it.''
Malval has made it clear that if the plan for Governor's Island should be aborted, he will resign.
``My job stops on Oct. 30,'' he said. ``If I don't do it, I run the risk of being viewed as an accomplice of the military.''