Duvalier Supporter Leads Coup, Claims Control of Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — ROGER LAFONTANT, a supporter of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier took Haiti's president hostage and claimed power in a coup early Dec. 7. The move came one month before the planned inauguration of a populist priest who won a landslide victory in the nation's December elections. It was unclear at press time if Mr. Lafontant was supported by the Army. Some early reports indicated that most of the Army did not support the move.
After nearly two hours of shooting in or around the presidential palace, Mr. Lafontant said on state radio: ``I have assumed the presidency of the republic.'' Haitian President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, who made a brief resignation speech prior to Lafontant's comments, was being held hostage, the United States State Department reported.
Western diplomatic sources told Reuters that Lafontant was accompanied by only 15 or so supporters when he declared himself to be in power shortly after midnight Sunday. The sources also said that the Army did not appear to be supporting his coup attempt.
In an interview with French radio, Lafontant said no force was used to bring about Mrs. Pascal-Trouillot's resignation and no one was injured in the coup.
Thousands of Haitians in the capital city of Port-au-Prince took to the streets to protest during the night, chanting ``Lafontant, you're a pig'' and other slogans, eyewitnesses said. Supporters of President-elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide set tires on fire and barricaded streets.
State Department spokesman David Denny said the United States called on Lafontant to free Pascal-Trouillot and ``to abandon unconditionally any effort to overthrow the legitimate government of Haiti. We will provide no support to, nor conduct normal relations with, any government of Haiti that comes to power by unconstitutional means.''
A former Interior Minister under Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier and long-time associate of the late Fran,cois ``Papa Doc'' Duvalier, Lafontant has sought to unify the remnants of the toppled Duvalier family dynasty.
The precise whereabouts of Mr. Aristide, the fiery young leftist priest whose sermons helped spark the 1986 uprising against Duvalier, were not known. Associates told Reuters during the night that he was safe.
Aristide's commitment to sweeping social and economic change and his pledge to prosecute Duvalierists represented a threat to the privileges still enjoyed by associates of the Duvaliers.
Lafontant, who admits to having been a member of the Tontons Macoutes, the Duvalierist militia, denies having headed the feared force. He returned from exile in July. Security officials never acted on a warrant for his arrest and he gradually began publicly rallying the Duvalierists - and vowing that Aristide would never become Haiti's president.
Several associates of Aristide said they feared Lafontant would try to quickly round up prominent backers of Aristide, who won a landslide victory in the Dec. 16 poll, the most peaceful and democratic elections in the history of the impoverished Caribbean nation.
But Lafontant, in a five-minute television speech before 3:00 a.m., called the December balloting a ``pseudo-election'' that was ``an insult to six million Haitians.''
``We have linked with the armed forces and the police to assume power and carry the country on the road to democracy,'' he said. Lafontant was disqualified from the presidential race in November on a technicality.