US Troops Land on Haitian Soil; Islanders Disappointed by Pact
AN agreement heralded by US officials and Haiti's de facto President Emile Jonassaint as a tool for bringing peace to this devastated island nation has, in the short term, brought confusion and uncertainty to this capital and raised more questions than it answered.
While leaders of the military regime that has held the country in its grip since September 1991 agreed to resign, the timing and extent of their departure left opponents incredulous and supporters shooting their automatic weapons into the night air.
``I consider this agreement a real blow,'' says one middle-class Haitian, holed up in her home because of gunfire in the streets. ``Clinton backed off. He had all the cards in his hand, and now, what are we left with?''
President Clinton's last-minute diplomatic delegation - former President Jimmy Carter, Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, and former Armed Forces Commander Colin Powell - negotiated for 32 hours with Haiti's military leaders before President Jonassaint signed the agreement Sunday - reportedly over opposition from his Cabinet and military leaders. The accord stipulates that the three junta leaders leave power (but not necessarily Haiti) once parliament passes an amnesty law or by Oct. 15, whichever comes first (US-Haiti accord, Page 3).
Under the accord, US troops landed on Haitian soil in midmorning Monday in the second US occupation of the country this century. The occupation is to take place with the cooperation of the Haitian military. Initial targets included Port-au-Prince's airport and seaport as well as deployment of light infantry to outlying areas. Exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return is not planned until after Haiti's military is disarmed, probably next month.
In spite of the fact that an invasion was avoided, many Haitians were disappointed by the omissions, contradictions, and compromises incorporated into the agreement.
The agreement specifies that Haiti's three military leaders - Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Brig. Gen. Phillipe Biamby, and Lt. Col. Michel Francois - will resign, but the US administration's earlier demand that they leave Haiti was not mentioned. Nor does the text mention the names of General Cedras or President Aristide.
``I'm mad because they didn't give a date of Aristide's return,'' one Aristide supporter said. ``And the deadline for the military leaving - it's too long.''
The extent of the amnesty is also unclear. One US official says it could be broader than that agreed to by Aristide last year, because this could forgive human rights violations as well.
``We're being forced now to work with the very same people that we've been told to disregard for the last three years,'' another US official says. ``Cedras has come out of this smelling like a rose and running for president.''
A foreign official says any revision of the military and police forces, with or without peacekeeping troops, will be like trying to undo a knot that has had 200 years worth of pulling on it.
According to information from military walkie-talkies, immediately after the agreement, Haitian soldiers began calling for resistors to ``regroup and react.''
``I'll fight whatever way I have to,'' said one young man as he left the demonstration outside the National Palace shortly before the Port-au-Prince accord was signed. ``I'll eat you foreigners for dinner. And I'll save my last bullet for Aristide if he thinks he's returning.''
Many soldiers are fearful of retaliation, in spite of Aristide's assurances that he would like to return in peace with no vengeance. And many in the military have begun ``evaporating'' into the civilian population. Most soldiers do not go out in uniform. They have taken their weapons home with them, prompting US officials to fear that innocent Haitians as well as targeted foreigners will be victims of sniper fire.
The Oct. 15 deadline is one year exactly after the date originally set for Cedras's resignation - which he reneged on - as negotiated in the July 1993 Governors Island Accord.
THE agreement specifies that Haiti's parliament approve the military amnesty law drafted last year by Aristide in accordance with the Governors Island Accord. But the parliament has been inoperable since the beginning of this year, because of having a Senate president elected at the same time as Aristide in 1990 and another appointed at the beginning of this year. They also recessed last week, and are not expected to reconvene until Oct. 15.
``Who is going to convoke parliament,'' a Haitian analyst asked. ``Jonassaint or Aristide? Who is going to preside over legislative elections the Constitution says we are supposed to have?''
Haitians are feeling relief, however, from the psychological strain of the uncertainty of not knowing when and under what conditions an intervention may occur. One man, looking up as the helicopter flew overhead, shook his fist angrily. ``Go away,'' he said. ``You're like a big elephant attacking a mouse - a mouse on a chain.''
Haitians are also relieved to see the end of United Nations sanctions. A resolution has already been submitted to the UN Security Council asking that all sanctions except the arms embargo and those directed at the military be removed immediately. Recent measures, which include cancellation of all air-traffic and the suspension of all imports and exports, have devastated Haiti's economy.