It’s official! Democracy is dead in Haiti. It had been on life support for the last 21 months but President Renee Preval officially pulled the plug shortly after 11:00 p.m. on Monday January 11 by following through with his threat to dissolved parliament, setting up what should be a confrontation with the United States and the international community.
Preval stressed that he did not have the constitutional authority to either dismiss lawmakers or keep them in office, but declared their terms over, citing a 1995 decree imposed by his predecessor, Jean Betrand Aristide, which reduced the terms of Haiti’s deputies (members of the lower chamber) by one year. This unconstitutional act by Aristide was never ratified by parliament and was ignored by President Clinton who forced this bloody former priest back on his people when he invaded the tiny country in 1994.
In his unusual late-night TV address, following a day of violence, Preval announced that he is appointing his education minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis prime minister, who will form a cabinet, thus by-passing the legislature which had refused to confirm him.
Haiti has been in a state of political stagnation since June of 1997 when Rosny Smarth stepped down as prime minister to protest the fraudulent election that occurred three months earlier on April 6. Preval also is putting together an electoral council with pro-Aristide delegates chosen in that controversial election in which less that 5% of Haiti’s population voted. This move is designed to pave the way for Aristide’s formal return to power.
After serving out his term with the help of the U.S. military, Aristide officially turned the country over to Preval, his hand-picked successor, in February of 1996. Although Preval has held the title of president, it is no secret in Haiti that Aristide continues to call the shots from the sprawling pink palace he built for himself in TaBarre, backed up by an army of well-paid thugs.
President Clinton has refused to acknowledge the obvious and continues to promote Haiti as the crown jewel of his foreign policy. Mr. Clinton cannot say he didn’t see this coming. On January 8, Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, had a letter delivered to the president, along with Porter Goss, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio alerting Mr. Clinton to Preval’s intentions. The three urged the president to “exercise leverage and unequivocally signal to the Haitians that U.S. assistance must be deserved or it will end.”
Mr. Clinton dispatched his troubleshooter, former National Security Council adviser Anthony Lake, to meet with Preval later that evening. Monday, there was widespread rioting by pro-Aristide demonstrators urging Preval to carry out his threat to fire Parliament. The smell of burning tires filled the air, a throwback to the days when Aristide urged these mobs to murder his political opponents by a process known as necklacing, where a tire is placed around the neck of a victim and then set afire.
Anti-riot police were stationed around the Parliament building as Preval was scheduled to give his state of the nation address at 10 a.m. Mr. Lake was present with a group of diplomats, from the U.S., Canada and several other countries, who wanted to show their support for members of Parliament. Just to set the record straight, these legislators had passed a bill extending their terms until an agreement on a new election could be reached. Preval’s speech was postponed until noon, and then 2 p. m, but he didn’t show.
By the time Preval took to the airways and addressed the nation shortly before midnight that evening, the harsh rhetoric was gone. He sounded almost conciliatory as he urged “all sectors” to join him “in seeking a way of correcting this problem,” and urged Haiti’s citizens to “remain calm in the face of a new ordeal.” However, his message was clear: Democracy is dead. I am doing it my way, or more correctly, Aristide’s way.
On Tuesday, the violence continued. President Preval’s sister, Marie-Claude Calvin, who serves as a secretary to the president, was severely wounded by snipers on motorcycles. National Assembly President Edgard Leblanc characterized Prevl’s speech as a “single opinion” and said, “It does not effect our work.” In other words, Haiti’s legislators are going to stand their ground. Leblanc is trying to put together a majority to begin impeachment proceedings. Anthony Lake caught a plane back to Washington and the Pollyanas in the State Department put out a release saying this: “We regret the further gaps that have developed between the executive and the legislative branches in Haiti regarding the formation of the government. We hope with continuing good faith and effort by the parties concerned, a resolution will be found.”
Chairman Goss, a former CIA intelligence officer, assessed the situation quite differently. “It was a takeover and it’s not a constitutional situation any more. Preval is in charge as a puppet of Aristide and very soon you are going to be looking at a situation where Aristide sets himself up as president for life.”