TWO weeks of talks to break Haiti's political deadlock ended in a draw Saturday, as parliamentary allies of ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide failed to win the Army's support for a plan to reinstate the exiled president.
The virulently anti-Aristide provisional government went into the three-way talks hoping to overcome Parliament's tacit refusal to legislate new presidential elections.
Now Haitians are wondering whether the messy outcome of the meetings, which ended Saturday, is a first step toward compromise or the latest time-wasting diversion as an Organization of American States (OAS) embargo slowly throttles the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The United States, Haiti's main trade partner, began implementing the embargo a month after the Army overthrew the left-leaning reformist in a bloody military coup Sept. 30.
The three-way talks also cranked up tension between the forceful US ambassador, Alvin Adams, and Provisional Prime Minister Jean-Jacques Honorat. Two days before the talks ended, Ambassador Adams told journalists any agreement would be "illusory" if it took no account of the OAS-backed proposal for the freely elected president's reinstatement, negotiated by President Aristide and a parliamentary delegation Feb. 23 in Washington.
The next day, the prime minister warned in a communique that, if Adams did not like the talks, "he is always free to leave national territory as soon as possible."
Saturday's agreement calls for the formation of a new government of national consensus to negotiate the lifting of the international embargo. But the pro-Aristide National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD), Parliament's largest bloc, vowed to block ratification of the agreement.
Most Haitians assume that the Army, despite its professed neutrality, backed the ploys used by the provisional government to block parliamentary ratification of the OAS accord: alleged intimidation and bribery of legislators as well as a Supreme Court ruling declaring it unconstitutional.
But when the recent talks were about to start April 29, many in the FNCD believed the Army was ready to accept a modified version of the accord due to impatience with alleged government corruption and the country's diplomatic isolation. As the talks got under way, however, the hopes were quickly dashed. FNCD Deputy Fignole Jean-Louis said a member of the Army delegation led by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras blocked the parliamentary team's attempt to include the OAS accord on the agenda.
Prime Minister Honorat called the attempted inclusion "not a proposed solution but a proposed dissolution," implying that parliament could be dissolved, one participant alleged.
Parliamentary delegates claimed they were threatened by the soldiers guarding the villa where the talks were held.
"The guards said the senators and deputies would be put in handcuffs if they thought they could fool around," Sen. Turneb Delpe said.
The FNCD's representatives boycotted the last two days of the talks, warning the Army and government that they would ensure that Parliament refused to ratify any agreement that excluded Aristide.
Saturday's agreement matched forecasts in one respect by specifying that the new prime minister must have "good experience in public administration." Communist Party leader Rene Theodore, who had been designated prime minister of an interim government by the OAS accord, has never held public office.
Sen. Rony Mondestin, a Theodore ally, says he suspects that the likely alternative candidate is former World Bank representative Marc Bazin, a conservative economist and Aristide's distant runner-up in the 1990 elections.
Senator Mondestin, an advocate of the OAS accord, was adamant that Parliament would never ratify Saturday's agreement. But other legislators who support Aristide's reinstatement argued that the agreement could serve as a basis for further negotiations.