Haiti's Outspoken Find Their Names on Hit Lists

The rich are beefing up security and extending overseas trips

IN a country that roils with intrigue, plots, and rumors of assassination, getting one's name on a ''hit list'' has a certain perverse status.

Rarely victims of political violence before, Haiti's rich now are fortifying their homes and extending overseas trips in response to the half-dozen or so threatening lists against Haitian leaders circulating around the capital. Businesses are hiring additional bodyguards.

Seven months after US and international troops embarked on Operation Restore Democracy, the political system remains unstable. Outspoken Haitians increasingly are finding their names on political hit lists similar to the one lawyer Mireille Durocher Bertin was on until she was assassinated last month.

''Hit lists are part of the Haitian psyche,'' says one western diplomat, dismissing them as nothing more than a mechanism of self-aggrandizement.

But some of the lists are being taken seriously. According to Major Dany Toussaint, head of the Haitian Interim Security Police Force, three people have been murdered in the last few months from a list in his possession.

''This is an execution, this is not a list anymore,'' he says.

''The very killers who operated under the dictatorship are back,'' says Patrick Elie, a member of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Cabinet. ''Why? They stand to gain materially and politically if they can destabilize the country.''

Political analysts say the tension may be attributed to those who want to disrupt the first round of general elections, scheduled for June 25. (Presidential elections are expected in December.)

Few Haitians have faith in fair elections. Political parties are disorganized. Voter registration is down, and many parties have not chosen their candidates. Thieves have robbed and ransacked a number of electoral offices throughout the country.

''Those favoring the old way of life want to return to it,'' says Prime Minister Smarck Michel. ''They would really like to deter elections, as happened in 1987.

''But things are no longer the same. Back then, the terrorist group hid behind the military institution of the country. They can't do that now,'' he adds, referring to Mr. Aristide's effective dismantling of the military.

The origins of the lists are as varied as the people on them. The political party of Hubert DeRonceray, a right-wing politician who supported the coup against Aristide, has distributed a list with more than 116 names.

However, sometimes lists go beyond individual names to entire categories of people, such as: ''All those who have profited from the old regime'' and ''All the officers and subofficers of the Haitian Armed Forces.''

Last month's victim, Mrs. Durocher, a high-profile lawyer and political opponent of Aristide, was gunned down along with a client on March 28 in the middle of the afternoon on a crowded street here.

Nine days earlier, the then-US-led multinational force in Haiti arrested six people allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate Durocher. One of the suspects, a man reputed to be the 'father' of zenglendo (Creole for anyone involved in criminal activity), linked Haitian Interior Minister Mondesir Beaubrun to the plot.

After informing the Haitian government of the conspiracy, the United States asked that Mr. Beaubrun be temporarily suspended. Given the source and lack of evidence, the Haitian government declined.

But the government has requested the help of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to work on the investigation in conjunction with a local commission. There are still many questions about the how and why of the double murder. Rival political camps are each pointing a finger at the other.

Aristide opponents, many of whom themselves claim to be on a government hit list, have rallied behind Durocher's murder to denounce the current government. At her funeral, her political associate Carl Denis directly implicated the government in the assassination.

''This plot was foiled, yet it happened,'' says Mr. Elie in defense. ''The timing was optimum to embarrass the Haitian government, on the eve of President Clinton's visit.'' (Clinton visited Haiti last month to pass control of the multinational force from the US to the United Nations.)

''Who stands to benefit from this spectacular execution? Certainly not this government,'' Elie says.

But the killing has hit a nerve with the Pentagon, which earlier this month released a ''list'' of their own. They presented the US embassy in Haiti with the names of 27 Haitian political opponents of Aristide whom they say may have been selected for assassination.

The embassy has not made the list public, nor do they appear to be responding to it. ''The Pentagon list is just an internal debate,'' says an international official. ''It's designed to cover themselves because lists are floating around everywhere.''

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