Haiti Ready for Aristide Return As Cedras Promises to Leave
WITH the resignations of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the obstacles to the triumphant return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after three years in exile have been removed.
General Cedras relinquished power yesterday to second-in-command Brig. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval, while Col. Mondesir Balbrun was expected to replace General Biamby as Army chief of staff at a ceremony at military headquarters. The replacements are provisional, until President Aristide's government names its own team.
General Duperval, in remarks on assuming command, called on the military to go forward to build a modernized Army that respected life, democracy, and human rights.
De facto President Emile Jonassaint was scheduled to deliver a national address at 2 p.m. yesterday, but at press time it was unclear if he planned to announce his own resignation.
Cedras also indicated he would leave Haiti, a condition Aristide has insisted on before his return. ``I have decided to leave our country so that my presence will not be a motive to create terror,'' Cedras said at the resignation ceremony. Cedras's resignation agreement was worked out in Washington over the weekend between representatives of the Haitian military and Aristide. Biamby submitted his resignation last week.
It is not clear whether Cedras could be tried for criminal acts committed under his command in accord with the amnesty law approved by parliament last week.
In anticipation of Aristide's return on Oct. 15, spontaneous demonstrations erupted almost daily. Small groups swell into large crowds as people revel in their freedom to demonstrate.
``I have only God to thank for this day,'' said a man in the crowd of about 1,000 gathered in front of Military Headquarters yesterday, waiting for Cedras's resignation. Others moved a tattered, suitcase to the chair designated for Cedras, saying, ``Cedras, we brought this for you.''
At a demonstration on Friday, Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a close Aristide ally who has spent most of the last three years underground, said: ``I feel great. I feel like I am learning to walk again.
``But we're not safe yet, because there are still some hotheads who don't want democracy for Haiti,'' he continued. ``They can still shoot us with guns, cut us with machetes, and kill us with grenades.''
That feeling of insecurity was compounded this weekend with the death on Saturday of one of Haiti's best-known artists and an outspoken Aristide supporter, Stevenson Magloire. He was reportedly beaten to death by pro-military thugs.
Also on Sunday, a bus drove into a pro-democracy march in a town southwest of the capital killing 14. Some labeled the deaths as accidental, while others said they were politically motivated.
Aware that thousands of arms remain in the hands of paramilitary organizations, neighborhood groups throughout Haiti - underground or inactive since the 1991 coup - are helping to organize disarmament sweeps. More than 4,000 weapons have been confiscated by US troops, while rough estimates indicate as many as 30,000 may be still uncollected.
IN preparation for Aristide's return, the government is hurriedly refurbishing his cement-block home gutted by pro-military supporters in 1991.
``I want this to be a collaborative effort between all of us - Haitians and the Americans,'' said Victor Sensirein, who used to be a driver for Aristide, of the house's restoration. Mr. Sensirein helped fill sandbags for the US soldiers who are providing security. ``I have been in hiding since the coup and only came back now cause I believe my president is coming back too.''
Haiti's government has also hired a firm to clean the National Palace, where Haitian presidents normally reside, and to implement a security system there. But work on the stately white palace will not begin until Mr. Jonassaint leaves office.
Yet Aristide's return can't be soon enough for his supporters. They are painting over the pro-military graffiti with new pro-Aristide sentiments. Some have already bought their cocks, in keeping with Aristide's campaign symbol, so the birds can crow in celebration with the rest of the country when Aristide returns.