Washington was scrambling yesterday to make sense out of Sunday's late-night military coup against Haiti's President Leslie Manigat. With phone lines clogged and the airwaves filled with famous Haitian rumors, administration and congressional sources are taking a cautious line. ``It all depends on what General Namphy does now,'' a congressional specialist on Haiti says. ``We want to see democracy in Haiti. Nobody likes choosing leaders by guns, but our reaction will depend on what comes out of this.''
Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy has declared himself President, dissolved both houses of parliament, and said his government will rule by decree. According to wire reports, he has named a Cabinet made up of 11 members of the military and one civilian. The general justified his coup in the name of democracy, saying President Manigat was turning the Army into a ``docile instrument of personal control.''
State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said the situation was too fluid to draw definitive conclusions, but if this proves to be ``a straight military coup d''etat, it would represent a severe setback for the hopes for democracy in Haiti, and we would condemn it.''
Earlier comments by Secretary of State George Shultz and other officials suggested that if the coup is a setback for Col. Jean-Claude Paul, who is accused of drug trafficking, the administration would see that aspect as positive. On the ground, neutralizing Colonel Paul and his Dessalines battalion - either through a deal or by fighting - is vital to consolidating the coup, say US officials.
But there is also a great deal of worry about what will emerge. A senior foreign diplomat who follows Haiti says: ``The coup brings us back to Square 1, and it's not at all clear that it is good for the Haitian people. ... We had thought Manigat's rule could eventually have let the situation develop in a positive way and let the opposition come out to organize. But Manigat tried to move too fast. ... [Now] let's see who ends up exercising power. A number of those involved in the coup are old Duvalier loyalists, and that's ominous.''
The violent disruption of last November's presidential elections, reportedly by forces loyal to Paul, led Congress and the administration to freeze US aid to Haiti.
Many say that they think Namphy shares a large part of the blame - by ineptitude or design - for derailing the democratic process. He will have to demonstrate his bona fides with concrete gestures, US sources say, before there is any improvement of relations.
Fritz Longchamp, director of the Washington Office on Haiti, which supports the civilian opposition, says the new regime may well see a return of prominent Duvalierists. Other sources note that Duvalier is reportedly funneling money to his allies in Haiti to destabilize the situation.
According to well-placed Haitian sources, the coup was organized by Col. Avril Prosper, who has long ties to Duvalier, as well as to Namphy. The immediate spark was an order by President Manigat to transfer key military allies of Namphy, whom Manigat fired Friday. The Army leadership came to see the moves as an effort to weaken the military institution.
Namphy had led the transitional government that ruled Haiti from the departure of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986 until February this year when Manigat was sworn in. Subsequently, Namphy served as commander in chief of the armed forces. Colonel Avril was Namphy's right-hand man during the two-year transition and held an important position in the Presidential Guard.
``Manigat clearly tried to move against the military without enough support,'' says the senior foreign diplomat. ``He tried to play `Papa Doc' [dictator Franois Duvalier] ... with only Paul on his side.''
In an apparent move to expand his own limited influence, Manigat last week publicly allied himself with Paul when Namphy tried to transfer Paul. Manigat condemned an order from Namphy transferring Paul from his garrison command to a staff position. While all of Namphy's motives are not known, a well-informed Haitian says that at least part of the rationale was to deal with Paul's drug trafficking and growing power. Washington had been pressing for action on Paul.
Haitian sources speaking before the coup, said Paul threatened violence if Manigat did not aid him. But they added that Manigat had been courting Paul for some time.
Manigat apparently saw an opportunity to weaken the Army and expand his room to maneuver. The President had been kept relatively powerless by the military and former allies of the Duvaliers, who control both houses of Haiti's parliament.
Manigat's alliance with Paul yielded initial success. Namphy was unable to rally other commanders to face down Paul. He was dismissed and was placed under house arrest by Paul's troops. Bolstered by this success Manigat tried to strike against Namphy's allies while the iron was hot, says one well-placed Haitian.
However, this source says, the military leadership was already worried that Manigat was trying to split them as the Duvaliers had done.
Once the transfer orders were issued, Prosper did not have trouble rallying support for a coup, this source says.
As of press time, the new military government indicated it would expel Manigat from the country. Negotiations were reportedly underway between the coup leaders and Paul, while his troops remained surrounded with in their garrison.
Haiti's turbulent past
1950 Army coup overthrows civilian President.
1956 Military regime overthrown and followed by five provisional governments.
1957 Fran,cois Duvalier (``Papa Doc'') takes power in disputed election.
1964 Duvalier declares himself president-for-life.
1971 Duvalier dies. His son Jean-Claude (``Baby Doc'') Duvalier succeeds him as president-for-life.
Feb 7, 1986 President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier flees to France after food riots grow into massive unrest. Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy takes power in an interim military-dominated government and agrees to elections.
March 29, 1987 Constitution, ratified in a referendum by a 99 percent majority, creates a Provisional Electoral Council with exclusive power to control elections.
June 1987 Namphy's ruling junta tries to supersede election commission, but strikes and diplomatic pressure force junta to back down.
Nov. 29 Electoral council cancels national elections after armed thugs - reportedly led by Col. Jean-Claude Paul - kill some 34 civilians waiting at the polls. General Namphy's government disbands the electoral council. In protest, US suspends $60 million in economic aid and part of $1.2 million scheduled military aid. (Haiti continues to receive about $26.6 million from the US in humanitarian aid through private and religious groups.)
Jan. 17, 1988 Leslie Manigat declared winner in rescheduled national elections. Critics charge that elections were rigged by military and opposition candidates refuse to take part.
Feb. 7 Mr. Manigat assumes office.
Feb. 12 Manigat names Cabinet, including Brig. Gen. William Regala as defense minister. General Regala was a member of the military-dominated interim government.
March 14 US informs Manigat that Colonel Paul was indicted in Miami on narcotics trafficking charges.
June 15 Manigat rejects an order by Namphy, the commander in chief of the Army, to transfer several high-ranking officers, including Colonel Paul.
June 17 Manigat retires Namphy as commander in chief of the 7,000-man Army.
June 19 Namphy leads successful coup against Manigat and declares himself President.