Haiti's provisional government is under increasing pressure to step down amid persistent popular unrest and instability in an Army ill-prepared to deal with disorder. Political parties, trade unions, civic groups, and radical Roman Catholic priests are increasingly criticizing the caretaker regime, headed by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, which has pledged to stay on until next November's general elections.
These critics accuse the ruling Council of National Government (CNG) of incompetent leadership, failure to reform a corrupt and inefficient administrative system, and reluctance to purge former associates of ousted President Jean-Claude Duvalier from Army and public life.
General Namphy's government recently survived a general strike, a reported coup plot, and a boycott of elections for a constituent assembly. These actions dramatically underline a loss of public faith in the government's ability to guide the Caribbean island nation to democracy after 30 years of dictatorship.
But the strongest challenge to Namphy's authority may be yet to come. People in the rebellious northern seaport city of Gona"ives have threatened to declare an alternative government this weekend and to block the main northern highway, which would effectively cut the country in half, if the government does not step down. The people of Gona"ives led the Feb. 7 uprising that toppled Mr. Duvalier.
The United States is backing Namphy with $108 million in economic aid and $4 million in nonlethal hardware for a 7,000-man Army and police force that US officials concede does not have the experience, training, or equipment to deal with disorder. The Army was subordinated during 30 years of Duvalier rule to Duvalier's brutal private security force, the now-disbanded Tonton Macoutes.
``When it comes right down to it, the CNG is the Army,'' said one US official. ``We are trying to give them some confidence in themselves. We don't see anybody else who could do the job.''
President Reagan recently underlined his support for Namphy by inviting him to the White House. Namphy became the first head of state in 30 years to leave Haiti. His trip nearly failed to come off. On the eve of his Nov. 19 departure, troops and armored cars surrounded the presidential palace after the discovery of an apparent coup attempt. Although the government did not explain this show of force, Haitian newspapers have since carried reports of a barracks uprising by discontented junior officers.
One newspaper report said the coup was thwarted only because the defense minister, Col. Williams Regala, was not where he was expected to be when the plotters were to have made their move. Many Haitians say Colonel Regala is the real Army strong man and have demanded that he leave the government.
In an apparent attempt to pacify the officers' rebelliousness, Namphy moved the conspirators to provincial posts rather than court-martialing them. US officials neither confirmed nor denied the coup attempt, conceding only that ``there has been a lot of turmoil in the Army.''
The turmoil in the military coincided with continuing civil unrest. Haiti was virtually shut down by a week-long general strike led by an estimated 5,000 bus and taxi drivers and backed by more than 50 political, labor, and civic groups while Namphy was visiting the US last month.
During the strike, troops fired on demonstrators, killing three. Critics say the deaths are not isolated. Much of the recent unrest has been to protest the disappearance of a church literacy campaign worker after he was seen being arrested by police in September. The Army defused the latest tensions by court-martialing an officer accused of murdering a bus driver. Last Friday, the officer received an eight-year prison sentence.
This was only the fourth time since Duvalier's ouster that a member of the security forces has been brought to justice. Human rights groups here say that among those still in power are people responsibile for some of the 30,000 deaths attributed to the security forces during the Duvalier years. With public attention focused on the trial last week, the inauguration of the newly elected constituent assembly went almost unnoticed.
The 60 deputies who will frame a constitution to be voted on by a referendum on Feb. 7, the anniversary of Duvalier's flight into exile, were sworn in last Thursday. Only a dozen people attended the ceremony, and no TV cameras were there.
Robert Duval, president of the League of Former Political Prisoners, believes there is good reason for public indifference. Less than 5 percent of the electorate did not vote in the October ballot. ``They boycotted it because they know that an election with the Duvalierists in power would not be a clean election,'' he said.
In a US speech, Namphy dismissed the unrest as evidence of ``the vitality of our infant democracy.'' In an interview, he said: ``It's only normal that we should go through a stormy period at first.'' He was confidence that he could lead Haiti to next year's elections. ``Meanwhile, we [the government] are the ones responsibile for the destiny of this country. Either we are in charge or we are not.''