Pressured Haiti Lawmakers Stall Pact to Return Aristide
WASHINGTON — HAITIAN President Jean-Bertrand Aristide marks his sixth month in exile Monday with precious little to show for an unprecedented hemispheric push - including multilateral negotiations and an embargo - to reinstate him.
The Haitian parliament last week failed to ratify a tenuous accord that calls for a consensus government under moderate communist Rene Theodore. Installation of Mr. Theodore as prime minister would trigger release of $450 million in international aid, end the embargo, and lead the way to the eventual return of Mr. Aristide, the first freely elected president in Haiti's history.
The Organization of American States (OAS) diplomats who brokered the settlement during months of difficult negotiation between Haitian elected officials were clearly frustrated by the setback.
And United States officials, certain there had been a majority of parliamentarians in favor of ratification, are giving credence to reports in Haiti of legislators being paid or threatened by anti-Aristide factions to walk out before a vote could be taken. (Five politicians who supported the accord were attacked by a mob outside parliament after the vote was called off March 18.)
"The OAS is looking for ways to intensify pressure on people apparently blocking action on the accord and the regime in general," says an OAS diplomat familiar with the situation. US officials suggest they may refuse visas to and freeze the assets of those in the military-backed Haitian regime.
The OAS also will be looking at ways to strengthen the embargo, which has been violated at least once a month by tanker deliveries of such key goods as fuel oil.
A diplomat directly involved in the negotiations expressed concern that if the OAS reacts too quickly, it could aggravate the situation by alienating fence-sitters whose votes are needed to ratify the agreement. This diplomat and others explain that given the volatile, often deadly, political conditions in Haiti, it is not logical to expect the accord to sail through to ratification without some struggle.
Several OAS officials express concern that Aristide himself has endangered the negotiated settlement by publicly denouncing Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who was in charge during the Sept. 30 Army coup.
The accord that Aristide and other Haitian leaders - except the military - were a party to, offers a general amnesty to those involved in the coup. Those directly involved in the accord say it was understood by the signers that the amnesty would include the military leadership.
But against the urging of OAS diplomats, Aristide has continued to call for "justice" for General Cedras - most recently in a two-week speaking tour through the US that ended last week.
The exiled president this week indicated he still hopes lawmakers will approve the plan to restore democracy. But Aristide's ambassador to the United Nations, Fritz Longchamp, says he "has doubts" it ever will be approved.
"There was a coup dtat and those who staged it are still in power," the ambassador says. "So I don't know why they would vote for this."