Haitians Act Defiantly In Response To Threat Of Invasion
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — IN response to the continuing threat of international military intervention, Haiti's provisional government and powerful right-wing supporters are trying to whip up a campaign of nationalism while increasing pressure on foreigners.
Military-backed President Emile Jonassaint implemented last week's state-of-emergency decree Friday by restricting the movements of journalists and foreign observers. Rightist groups, meanwhile, have launched threats against political dissenters and sought to shame Haitians into a nationalist stance.
``It's time to put resistance into practice,'' says Emmanuel Constant, leader of the military-backed Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti. Mr. Constant says if there is no diplomatic shift by today, FRAPH will declare a state of siege tomorrow. Though the paramilitary group has no authority to invoke a state of siege, an act that needs parliamentary approval, Haitians take the threat seriously because of the power FRAPH wields within the government.
President Jonassaint signed a decree Friday restricting journalists and observers from entering ``strategic zones'' without proper authorization. The zones include the area stretching two miles in from the 240-mile border with the Dominican Republic, the seashore, and territorial waters. If caught, foreigners will be expelled immediately; Haitians will be punished by law.
Hordes of journalists have taken up semiresidence here waiting for an invasion, adding to the skittishness of the military-backed government. Special permits are now required to take cameras and video cameras into areas near telecommunication centers and electric generating plants. Last week, NBC reporters near military headquarters had equipment seized.
In addition to FRAPH, a number of right-wing political groups have hopped on the nationalism bandwagon, and are fueling the frenzy with menacing statements against the political opposition and the international community.
``I support FRAPH's initiative calling for Haitians to defend their territory,'' said Dr. Hubert de Ronceray, a conservative politician who was a presidential candidate in 1990. ``I see nothing wrong with a call to arms if that's what it takes to keep [foreigners] off our soil.''
Appealing to Haiti's proud heritage of being the first black country to declare independence, Constant has announced that he is ready to begin training people with traditional weapons - ``ice picks and powder'' - to ward off attacks against Haiti's sovereignty. FRAPH is also changing its name to the Haitian People's Armed Revolutionary Front.
Capois Lamort, an extremist right-wing group named for a hero of national independence, is asking the Army to reinstate its retired and former military men for reinforcement against an invasion. The group also demanded that diplomats be restricted to Port-au-Prince.
Not all right-wing groups are calling for force, though. A group of right-wing Haitian legislators is going the constitutional route, asking for a ``mediation committee'' to press for the resignation of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. There has been almost no response to the proposal because it is not supported by the military. As one foreign observer said, ``Parliamentarians in favor [of the military] don't speak with authority. Parliamentarians out of favor don't have a fighting chance.''
FRAPH is widely known to be financed and directed by the Haitian military, but sources close to FRAPH say there has been some internal grumbling in the military. Although the crack is still small, if not controlled it could be the opening the international community is looking for. Rank-and-file soldiers resent the power given to FRAPH members, while higher-ranking officers are fighting over who controls FRAPH.
The question of divisions within the security forces arose last week when Evans Francois, former Haitian ambassador to the Dominican Republic and brother of Chief of Police Lt. Col. Michel Francois, said General Cedras was responsible for the threat of intervention and should retire. He then said his brother was ready to make concessions.
Colonel Francois was immediately called into Military Headquarters, and later rebuffed his brother's statement, though a well-placed source said he was coerced into doing so. Francois, trained at Ft. Benning, Ga., is reputed to have control over the military's heavy weaponry.
``To the degree that this can be interpreted as representing divisions within the coup family,'' said a United States diplomat, ``[the declaration] suggests that it is the fault of the military and its insistence on remaining in power long after it should have departed the political arena.''
Meanwhile, the Haitian left, which has been underground because of unrelenting repression, is beginning to regroup. Eighty-five organizations are calling for a series of peaceful actions - demonstrations and strikes - to oust Cedras.
``I think the situation here has gotten out of control for all those involved, even the United States,'' said Evans Paul, mayor of Port-au-Prince and leader of this new coalition. ``They have two feet in one shoe. We have to unite people, because once there is a solution to the crisis we have to know what we are going to do.''
No one, however, is expecting anything to happen until after World Cup soccer championship, though the deadline for a ban on all commercial flights to the US and a limit on financial transactions with the US of $50 per day will pass on Friday. Political persuasions are on the back-burner as Haitians focus on the soccer matches. Taking advantage of the captive audience, during half-time the national television station plays films of the US invading Panama. During the games, they have a runner at the bottom of the screen saying ``Intervention no, Democracy yes.''