Terror Across the Border

By: Alejandro Kirk – Inter Press Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 12, 1996 (IPS) — No one, not even the prime minister, dares predict the fate of the democratic process in Haiti after U.N forces leave later this year.

Along the border with the Dominican Republic, thousands of Tontons Macoute and former soldiers from the dissolved army wait for the six month extension to the mandate of the forces to expire, in the middle of the year.

Well-heeled and ambitious, they plot and wait, plot and wait, for when the moment is right.

”It is a delicate situation because, although the dismantling of the Haitian armed forces offers more possibilities for peace, the new police force is not yet sufficiently well-trained to be able to keep the situation under control,” Prime Minister Rony Smarth told IPS.

”The former Duvalierists have weapons and a great deal of money,” he added.

As President Rene Preval Tuesday began his official visit to Haiti’s neighbour, the presence of that army of instability is among his main concerns. Preval wants to prevent Duvalierists getting official support from Dominican president Joaquin Balaguer.

The Dominican leader is considered here to be an enemy of Haiti.

During a recent visit to Port Libete, a town on the border with the Dominican Republic and east of Cap Haitien (Haiti’s second largest city), Preval encountered an angry crowd which asked him for arms to defend themselves.

The fear – as characteristic here as anger — is that the Macoutes would return from their present refuge in the neighbouring Republic. The Tontons Macoute are the sordid paramilitary force which used to support the dictatorial regimes of Francois Duvalier and his son Jean Claude, and their military successors.

Thousands of Macoutes and soldiers fled or were expelled to the Dominican Republic when American troops invaded Haiti in September 1994 and reinstalled as president Jean Bertrand Aristide, an ex- priest who was elected president in 1990 and overthrown in 1991.

Many former Haitian authorities have taken refuge in the Dominican Republic, and there, with their fortunes intact, they are plotting their return home.

”We have six months to strengthen the police and formulate a correct and bold diplomatic policy towards the Dominican Republic which will prevent it from being transformed into a rearguard of the Duvalierists,” Prime Minister Smarth told IPS in an exclusive interview.

According to some sources, the former Macoutes (also known as attaches) are only waiting for the U.N. Blue Helmets to withdraw from Haiti before beginning their return, which can only be a bloody one.

”I feel worried, but not afraid, for I believe the international situation will help us, in one form or another, to control the situation,” declared Smarth.

The prime minister is a specialist in agrarian economics trained in Haiti, Chile and Mexico. Since being sworn in on Wed., Mar. 6 has been having difficulty in getting his wide-ranging economic and institutional development programme which will consolidate democracy off the ground.

He admitted that the future of Haiti’s independent democracy will perforce have to be largely worked out in the United States and will depend on who wins next November’s elections there.

Robert Dole, virtually certain to be the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, has already expressed his disagreement with the aid being given Haiti by the Clinton administration. He alleges that policemen loyal to Aristide have assassinated representatives of the military dictatorsyip.

That accusation, though serious, pales before the massive crimes attributed by judicial officials to dictatorial functionaries, but this ‘detail’ forms no part of Dole’s political equation.

If after the American elections ”Clinton does not win a second term, the situation would be more delicate, but neither do I believe that an administration led by Dole or any other Republican would reach the point of invalidating the Haitian elections and permit the return of a de facto military regime,” emphasised Smarth.

He fears, however, that an eventual Republican government would exercise economic and political pressure in favour of a different choice than the present Lavalas Party, which clearly dominates the present Haitian political panorama.

Lavalas is a broad alliance grouping political parties and peasants, the supporters of Aristide and enemies of Duvalier, the Tontons Macoute and the military.

Yet it would seem that the U.S. Republican Party would prefer different people to be in power in Haiti, perhaps closer to the former regimes and always ready to cooperate.

Yet the Preval-Smarth government has no proposals that would give the Republicans anything to be afraid of. The idea of the new Haitian government is to create in the medium term a free market economy oriented to exports, which at the same time would immediately begin to change the terrible consequences of the absolute misery in which 80 out of every 100 Haitians have always been forced to live.

In the prime minister’s judgement, the danger of a return of the Macoutes and the military hangs over a weak country which is ”socially atomised, and where there are no large ideological currents, political parties or institutions”.

In Haiti ”there are thousands of organised atoms, which makes it a difficult country to govern,” he added.

The proof of this can be seen every day in Cite’ Soleil, the slum district of this capital, where mud, garbage and disease reign supreme. It is this area that formed the axis of anti- dictatorial resistance put up by Aristide and his followers.

In Cite’ Soleil, the base of the government’s support and a political barometer, small rebellions occur almost daily. They are always spontaneous, and almost always protesting against whoever wants to impose their authority.