Some see hope in change of guard in Haiti. Was popular will behind Namphy's ouster?
Port au Prince, Haiti — The always volatile Haitian mood is suspended between relief over the weekend ouster of Gen. Henri Namphy and uncertainty over what is to come. Yesterday, mutiny rippled through Haitian Army units. But the actions appeared to be more a consolidation of the coup, as rank-and-file soldiers ousted unpopular commanders they saw as linked to the old regime.
By press time, two separate Army units had ousted their commanders. In the first incident, noncommissioned officers and enlisted men of the downtown Fourth Company arrested their commander, Maj. Renaud Symbert, and deposited him unharmed in front of the in front of the headquarters, radio stations here reported.
In the second incident, gunfire was heard at the Army compound in Mirebalais, about 25 miles northwest of the capital, as soldiers turned against their commander, Lt. Simeon Francois. The lieutenant fled, and his fate was unknown.
At least 12 people have been reported killed in the streets since the coup took place late Saturday night.
Despite widespread confusion and fear of more bloodshed, diplomatic and local observers say the coup, which places Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril at the helm of Haiti, is historically significant.
It signals, they say, the first real break in Haiti's traditional power structure, which was based on nearly three decades of dictatorship by the Duvalier family.
``This is a big turn in the fight for democracy .... The biggest turn around since the days of Duvalier,'' says Louis Roy, a civilian opposition figure who played a large role in the writing of Haiti's first post-Duvalier Constitution last year.
While stopping short of any comment on the new President, Mr. Roy interprets the coup as the first time that the popular will has seriously influenced who was in power.
That does not mean that Avril has popular support, Roy explains. Rather, it means that the military institution was influenced by a public outcry against General Namphy.
Roy specifically links the rise in public outrage to a Sept. 11 massacre at a Roman Catholic church, in which unidentified hoodlums killed 13 people and wounded 77.
Amid the explanations that abound, it is still unclear who masterminded the weekend coup.
A mid-level military officer, not connected with the coup, says that sentiment for uprising existed among the military's rank and file, but he believes it was Avril who actually instigated the action.
Some Haitian businessmen agree with this assessment.
But many average Haitians believe the coup represented a genuine uprising of soldiers from the lower classes. They say that the massacre at the church last week triggered the coup because family members of many soldiers were attending services that day.
These soldiers apparently were of the view that Namphy could no longer control thugs believed to be operating for Franck Romain, the mayor of Port au Prince, who has long been associated with the brutal Tonton Macoute secret police.
On the morning following the coup, says a European woman here, she was caught in a traffic jam outside Mr. Romain's house. Civilians celebrating the fall of yet another hated Macoute from the Duvalier era had broken into the mayor's home, traditionally guarded by thick-muscled, gun-toting men.
Soldiers stood by and quietly watched while potted plants, clothes, sliding glass doors, and lightbulbs stripped from the house were carted away or sold to passersby.
An official at Radio Soleil, the Catholic radio station that is influential among the lower classes, says he is convinced there was - and is - pressure from the foot soldiers to clean out the old, corrupt, and violent order.
And, he says, Avril realizes that he ``has to work with the little guy.''
But twinned with the popular Haitian notion that the lower ranks, drawn from the masses of poor, authored the coup, is a cynicism born of many political disappointments.
Avril is a big question mark here. And his reception by Haitians has been cool so far.
Following the fall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986, opposition groups forced Avril's ouster as a top adviser to the original transition government. Although Avril had helped engineer the ouster of Mr. Duvalier, he was widely considered a Duvalierist and thus not trustworthy enough to usher Haiti into a new era of democracy.
It's still unclear exactly how Avril was selected by the rebelling soldiers. Some suggest his presence as a behind-the-scenes political boss positioned him for the role. Others suggest there was simply no one else capable within the military hierarchy. And others, more skeptical, believe Avril staged the entire uprising.
In an apparent attempt to calm public fears, and appease the Western aid donors who have pushed for democratic rule, Avril named civilians to 11 of 12 Cabinet posts on Monday. Yesterday, he appointed a new Army chief.
Still, a bare-chested tailor in the slum area of the national fort here says he views Avril as a Duvalierist.
``But maybe he changed,'' the tailor concedes. ``... because if he hasn't, whatever happened to Duvalier, can happen to him.''