Woes of Haitian Premier Spotlight Army's Key Role


HAITIAN Prime Minister Marc Bazin's two-track approach to normalizing the country's political situation has yielded little fruit.

His efforts to hold negotiations with exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have sputtered, as have his efforts to encourage the international community to lift a leaky but damaging trade embargo. The hardship caused by the embargo, along with repression by the Army and other armed groups, has prompted 40,000 people to flee Haiti since the September 1991 coup that overthrew Fr. Aristide.

And now Mr. Bazin's plan to hold parliamentary elections here has also been foiled.

Bazin wanted to form an electoral council to set elections for a third of the Senate's 27 seats by the Constitution's February deadline. But the Constitution requires parliament's participation in forming the council, which would also open the door to new presidential elections. By boycotting a special parliamentary session for the second time in five days on Nov. 30, Aristide's allies blocked Bazin's plans.

Accusations that the Senate election would be rigged came from all quarters, underscoring the isolation of Bazin, a conservative who ran a distant second to Aristide in 1990 election. Sen. Rony Mondestin, an Aristide ally, claimed that after threatening to leave the government, one of the two main parties allied to Bazin's moderate socialist party had been promised three of the nine Senate seats.

Francois Latortue, an Aristide critic who heads a small right-wing party, alleged that only members of the three main government parties were being considered for the electoral council. He and Hubert Deroncerary, a minister in the former Duvalier family dictatorship, demanded Bazin's resignation and elections to choose a successor to Aristide.

The parliament's refusal to cooperate poses a dilemma for the Army and its political allies. They have always said they acted to defend the Constitution when ousting the left-leaning Aristide, and they have labored to maintain a semblance of constitutionality.

Observers now say they could succumb to the temptation to close parliament and suspend the Constitution, whatever the international risk. Bazin himself acknowledged the possibility in an interview last week. If all else failed, he said, the Army might take over, call general elections, and turn its back on the international community, which would have to choose between giving in or mounting an invasion.

"A new chapter in the coup is starting, the true nature of the coup is being revealed," says opposition politician Jean-Claude Bajeux, a human rights activist.

S Bazin's fortunes wane, more attention has focused on the Army chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

General Cedras, who led the 1991 coup, called in a speech last month for talks "inside Haiti first, abroad later."

Foreign diplomats who see Cedras regularly say they believe he is sincere. They say that for the first time he had voiced a readiness to hold talks with Aristide's representative in Haiti and that the two were discussing a venue through go-betweens. Aristide's negotiator, fellow Roman Catholic priest Antoine Adrien, had refused to talk to Bazin on the grounds that he lacked real power.

After intense US lobbying, diplomats say, Cedras and the rest of the Army high command appear ready to accept something akin to the provisional accord brokered last February by the Organization of American States. This "Washington Accord," which won Aristide's reluctant assent, would reinstate him as president while delaying his return to Haiti indefinitely. The reason for the change of heart, they say, is the fear that President-elect Clinton could be ready to restore Aristide by force to head off the p ossibility of another major exodus of Haitian boat people toward Florida.

Many Haitians are not so sure. "Cedras could be bluffing in order to buy time," a political scientist says, recalling how he appeared to accept the Washington Accord at first, only to back away.

Diplomats acknowledge the strong resistance to Aristide's return in the Army rank-and-file, which is credited with starting the 1991 coup. They hope this can be overcome in part with international aid to improve pay and living conditions.

But the Aristide camp may not now be eager for talks.

"Why should Adrien negotiate now, with the other side on the verge of doing something really outrageous that could galvanize the Americans into action?" a pro-Aristide political leader says on condition of anonymity.

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