Haiti opposition: scant hope for the short term. It looks to economic crisis for way out

This week's military coup leaves Haiti's political opposition as remote as ever from the power struggles that rock this poverty-stricken nation. The popular sentiment that drove dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier from power in February 1986 and powered the vibrant-though-volatile two-year drive for democratic elections now remains dormant. The political parties that produced dozens of candidates for the aborted elections of last November were saying very little as President Leslie Manigat was dispatched into exile by the military Monday.

``Short of violence there's nothing they [the opposition] can do, and they don't even know how to do terrorism if they wanted to. The people feel defeated, they have no plans, they are lost,'' a longtime Caribbean expert says.

``They can't have strikes for long because after three or four days the people have no food. They can't go to the streets because they'll get killed,'' he explains.

``Now even the semblance of democracy won't be respected - the military is in the front seat again,'' says Francois Benoit, vice-president of the Movement for the Installation of Democracy in Haiti (MIDH) - the party of the popular former presidential candidate Marc Bazin.

``It looks as if this is a return to the hardline military Duvalierists,'' says another opposition strategist for the group of four center-right to center-left parties considered to have the most popular candidates in last November's elections.

``Before the end of this week we expect the opposition to raise the constitutional issue [of succession], to condemn the military as undemocratic, and for the Roman Catholic Church to say something,'' he says.

But, he and other opposition figures concede, they feel there is little they can do to resist the military government.

The Nov. 29 massacre of voters, believed carried out by the military, ``really traumatized the opposition,'' says this opposition figure. Since then opposition strategists have not called for any street demonstrations or public meetings which might expose their constituency to violence.

Mr. Manigat, the 23rd of 37 heads of state overthrown in Haitian history, was deposed after he fired military commander in chief Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy for insubordination last week.

Manigat came to office in February after suspect military-run elections, which were boycotted by most Haitian voters as well as by most opposition candidates. He is succeeded by General Namphy, who was the provisional President for the two years following Duvalier's fall.

The opposition never accepted Manigat as the legitimately elected leader of Haiti. Calling him a puppet of the military, opposition leaders said during the past four months that they were just biding their time for the inevitable showdown between Manigat and the military. Also, they said, they were waiting for the economic collapse they feel is inevitable.

US direct budgetary aid to Haiti was cut to protest the marred November elections - but money already in the pipeline was not scheduled to run out until this month or early July.

Observers in Haiti have been suggesting for months that at that point some sort of political crisis might arise because the nation won't be able to pay bills for essential commodities.

The expected economic crisis, continued US economic sanctions, and the low credibility Namphy has with the public seem to be the opposition's only immediate hope for a shakeup that could help severely flagging momentum.

``They [the military] put Manigat in, they're taking him out,'' says one opposition official, who points out that the lack of public expression of outrage this week confirms that the population did not support Manigat. ``Strategic silence might be the best course rather than to take the extremely risky chance of leading the people to a path that could ... be bloody,'' a popular former President said the weekend before the coup.

``Maybe we're missing an opportunity, but it's very difficult to call the shots not knowing all the cards,'' the former President said.

Democratic allies are still saying it is not clear exactly what alliances have been created in the new military government.

And the confusion makes strategy more difficult.

A June 22 article on the Haitian opposition incorrectly attributed an opposition quote to a popular former president. It should have been attributed to a popular former presidential candidate in the Nov. 29, 1987 elections.

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