Haiti Embarks on Return To Democratic Rule
President Aristide and military leader who ousted him sign accord detailing four-month transition
PORT-AU-PRINCE — HAITIAN President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile since September 30, 1991, signed an agreement July 2 that will permit him to return home Oct. 30.
The 10-point accord follows a week of difficult negotiations between the president and Gen. Raoul Cedras, head of the Haitian Armed Forces and leader of the coup that ousted him. Under tight surveillance on Governors Island, New York, United Nations Special Envoy Dante Caputo served as the go-between for the two camps.
General Cedras signed the accord early Saturday and returned to Port-au-Prince to a warm military reception at the airport, where a banner saying "Bravo General" swayed in the breeze.
Cedras later gave a televised speech appealing to all Haitians to respect the accords and giving his own assurances that he would follow through.
President Aristide signed the accord late Saturday, but there was little public reaction inside Haiti. Given the usual Sunday black-out in the capital city, very few even knew the details of the accord until Monday morning's news.
For the approximately 5 percent of the population who have access to cable television, there was a brief spot showing the signing on Cable News Network.
"I only know about the accord from what I saw on television," said Senator Eudrice Raymond. "Nothing is precise, and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. But an accord signed by these two parties is a positive thing because this crisis has lasted too long."
The agreement covers a four-month transition of power, beginning with a meeting of Haitian political parties in Washington to lay the groundwork for a new government. This will be supervised by a UN mediator.
Next, Fr. Aristide will nominate a new prime minister. The nomination must be ratified by Parliament, which voted to accept Aristide as their legitimate president several weeks ago. There is still the question of nine senators whom Aristide does not recognize because of their participation in rigged elections January 18.
Once the new prime minister is confirmed, the UN will suspend sanctions imposed on Haiti June 23. The oil embargo has already caused major traffic jams at gas stations on otherwise deserted downtown streets, despite assurances from the Minister of Commerce that there is enough gas for at least another month.
The UN Security Council has also frozen assets and revoked visas of more than 100 people involved in the coup.
"The sanctions have hurt the putchsists in their pockets," said Gerard Jean Juste, who was responsible for organizing Haitians abroad under the Aristide government. "That's what brought them to the bargaining table. If the sanctions are suspended, we have to make sure that all points of the accord are respected. Overall, though, I'm cautiously optimistic."
Financial development aid, suspended after the coup, will resume. The United States has agreed to give $37 million to a Haiti reconstruction and reconciliation fund, to be used for economic support, technical aid and development programs. US aid will help modernize the Army and establish a police force in the presence of UN personnel.
President Clinton said Sunday the US would back "to the fullest" the plan to return Aristide to power. He hailed the UN-brokered accord to restore democracy as "an historic moment for the Haitian people, for the hemisphere and for the principle of democratic rule."
Amnesty will be afforded for the authors of the coup, though nothing has been mentioned about the human rights violations which followed.
According to one human rights group, "Since the coup, human rights violations have continued unabated. In certain cases, the military government appears to be able to direct actions. In others, it appears that central control has broken down altogether and actions are taken spontaneously by local forces."
Cedras must step down before Aristide returns. Then, Aristide will appoint a new head of the armed forces, who in turn will choose his own military high command.
All of these steps need to be completed before Oct. 30 for the president to return on schedule. He will hold office until February 1996, when his five-year term will expire. According to the Haitian constitution, no president may run for a second term.
"Other accords have fallen through," said Serge Gilles, a senator elected January 18th and head of the French Socialist Party, PANPRA. "But I don't think this one will. This was an effort made on both sides, in front of the whole world and the international press. Two protagonists met, and it seems both parties met each other half way."
One reason Aristide held out so long is that he was hoping for an earlier return. It appears that he conceded because he feared the UN would lift their sanctions on Haiti, a measure Cedras has requested.
However, President Aristide has asked that as early as next week certain basic rights be restored in the country, such as the right to demonstrate and freedom of speech. During the week of negotiations numerous protest demonstrators and journalists were attacked.
The president would also like access to state-run radio and television so that he can speak directly to the Haitian people. There's no doubt that this will be particularly encouraging to those who see October as still a long time away.