Haiti's new leader seen as all over the political map
Port-au-Prince, Haiti — Haitian political observers used to dismiss Leslie Manigat's presidential candidacy out of hand. ``He's too intellectual for the peasants. They don't understand him,'' observed a newspaper editor here in mid-November.
Ironically, in the end, it was his intellect and political savvy - rather than any broad popular support among the peasant majority, who hardly know the Sorbonne-educated professor - that helped Mr. Manigat win the presidency. (US view of new leader. Story, Page 28.)
It will take considerable political savvy to lead this troubled nation that verges on anarchy.
A complex man, Manigat is a political chameleon, whose friends and detractors alike say he is calculatingly brilliant at politics. Friends, colleagues, and diplomats are at a loss to define him ideologically.
``I've read all his stuff and it's virtually impossible to pin him down,'' says Anthony Maingot, an authority on Caribbean affairs at Florida International University, who worked with Manigat on the faculty at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad.
In the troubled months leading up to elections here, the most popular candidates were gaining votes by criticizing the military. Manigat chimed in mildly. But he fell solidly in line with the military government when it took over the electoral process. And he decided to stay in the race when the four leading candidates dropped out after November polling ended in a voter massacre.
Manigat has often said a candidate cannot win ``without or against'' the military. Indeed, it is widely suspected here that Manigat's victory was engineered by the military.
Observers reason that the military needed a winner with world-class credentials like Manigat's to quiet international critics. (The United States cut more than $60 million in aid - 20 percent of Haiti's budget - to protest the November massacre.)
In turn, they say, Manigat, who appeared to have little or no constituency among the illiterate masses, needed the government's support to win. Even some friends of Manigat wonder aloud how else he could have won a majority in the first round of an 11-man race.
Political observers here suspect election rigging because of the many reports of polling irregularities, of soldiers handing out Manigat ballots, and the prohibition of observers in the vote-counting process.
``It is true that one cannot go to the elections against the Army or he'll lose. Manigat is realistic. He chose to be on the side of the top officials of the Army,'' a Haitian academic colleague says. Though he does not agree with Manigat, he says Manigat's moral compromise may be more effective at advancing civilian rule than the opposition tactic of total rejection of the military.
Manigat started as a supporter of right-wing noirism - promotion of blacks over the mulatto elite - during Francois Duvalier's dictatorship. But betrayed by the dictator and exiled for 23 years, Manigat's prolific writings from academic residences place him all over the political map - including as far left as Marxist socialism.
In exile in Venezuela in 1979, he developed strong ties to the Christian Democratic International and founded his National Progressive Democrat Party. He tried to unite the Haitian exile community behind the one party, and the Haitian political scene is littered with that experiment's alliances gone sour.
Now that Manigat is seen as a military sympathizer, ties to his old alliance have become a political embarrassment to at least three of the top opposition candidates.
Manigat minimizes the controversy surrounding his election.
The rotund political science professor sits by his palm-shaded pool at his California-style stucco home these days, greeting an endless stream of foreign journalists. In his trademark gravelly bass voice and the shake of a meaty forefinger, Manigat has been taking them to task for their reporting.
The press has been ``intoxicating the American opinion'' about Haiti's troubles, he claims, speaking fluently in English, Spanish, or French. Election day ``was a day of perfect order, and that's what you should emphasize, because that's what Washington wanted to see,'' he says, referring to the international outrage that followed the first election.
He discounts reports of electoral irregularities, saying a flawless election cannot be expected yet under troubled conditions.
On Feb. 7, Manigat will replace the interim military government installed two years ago when street protests and US pressure sent Jean-Claude Duvalier into exile.
Haiti's 184-year political legacy is not a positive one for the new leader. Nothing but puppets and strong men have preceded Manigat - and none have left office in a democratic succession.
If the military is intent on maintaining power through Manigat, critics and friends alike cannot picture him restraining his near-authoritarian will for the military. ``By temperament and background he can't accept being a puppet. So he's going to have a lot of difficulties,'' says a friend who has known him since his school days.
While criticizing the military's human rights abuses, he says the Army acted under the only model it knows - Duvalierism. But at bottom, he says, it is ``totally false'' that the military is ``ugly and antidemocratic.''
Campaign rhetoric in this poorest of Western Hemisphere nations has focused on a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Manigat's wife, Mirlande, a political scientist and newly elected senator, says Manigat would try to focus development on individual farming, not on new industrial development. ``One of his top priorities is to prove credibility and get American aid back.''