Failed Coup Clears Air For New Haitian Leader
Potential threat to President-elect Aristide removed
WASHINGTON — THE scuttled coup in Haiti Monday may ultimately prove to be a sign of strength rather than just another cruel jolt to the Caribbean nation's democratic hopes. Despite the coup attempt's suggestion of political instability, Haitians and foreign analysts see genuine democratic progress in the military's swift move to crush the coup by a former henchman for the Duvalier family dictators, who ruled the West Indies nation from 1957 to 1986.
Observers say it should strengthen domestic politics, as well as international resolve to re-start foreign development aid, lending, and trade - all of which dwindled to nearly nothing in the post-Duvalier years because of international outrage at the violent succession of five military-backed governments in five years.
Interim President Ertha Pascal Trouillot was held hostage for 10 hours Monday and at least 40 people were killed before government troops quelled the uprising, led by Roger Lafontant. Madame Trouillot will maintain power until the newly elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist priest, is inaugurated on Feb. 7.
In a sense, ``a failed coup is better than no coup at all,'' says John C. Whitehead, a former deputy secretary of state under President Reagan and an observer at the Haitian presidential election in December. The coup offered the military a chance to reconfirm its apparent loyalty to the democratic process, say Mr. Whitehead and other analysts. ``And with the news that Mr. Lafontant was arrested, nothing could be better, because now the new president doesn't have to arrest him and prosecute him on old charges,'' Mr. Whitehead says. The military had neglected to enforce longstanding arrest warrants for Lafontant, and the enforcement of those by Fr. Aristide could have sparked violence that would mar his new administration.
``What has occurred should build everyone's confidence in democratic change,'' says Robert Pastor, a former member of the National Security Council under President Carter and another observer of the recent Haitian election.
He and other analysts suggest that United States-Haiti relations look more promising now than in recent memory. Despite Aristide's history of stem-winding anti-American rhetoric, Dr. Pastor says the US appears to be ``a bulwark'' of support for him. Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson recognized Aristide's election victory even before it was officially recognized by Haitian officials, and US officials this week quickly denounced the coup attempt.
More crucial than US support says Pastor, will be World Bank and InterAmerican Development Bank lending. These multinational banks have ample funds available to Haiti, he says. But because of Aristide's political and economic inexperience, it remains to be seen if he will install the managerial talent that will qualify the country to get the loans, Pastor adds.
The Congressional Task Force on Haiti is likely to press for a quick infusion of foreign aid once Aristide is in office, says Rep. James Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, a member of the task force. He says $100 million - about the level of US aid when it was cut off after election violence in 1987 - would be enough to get jobs programs and infrastructure building back on track for this poorest of Western Hemisphere nations.
The congressman, who in the 1960s taught English to young Haitian military officers, including the last three military chiefs, says he is convinced of the military's commitment to protecting the democratic process - even if Aristide's leftist philosophy is anathema to many military men. Mr. Oberstar knows military chief Gen. Herard Abraham personally and believes the military's role in peaceful December elections and its response to the coup are proof that General Abraham will keep the military in check.
Because the armed forces ``moved so quickly without intervention from anywhere, this [failed coup] is a reaffirmation of the armed forces' determination to see the democratic process through,'' agrees Ray Joseph, the charg'e d'affaires at the Haitian embassy here.
But he qualifies that: ``I don't say the armed forces have been converted overnight, but we do not have the same armed forces as we did in 1987,'' when they stood by and let voters be massacred at the polls.
Mr. Joseph, too, is optimistic about US-Haitian relations, noting that had the leftist Aristide ``been elected in 1987 and we had not had Eastern Europe and communism collapsing all around'' the US would not have been so supportive of the new president.