[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

#4698: Haitian's Flight Shows Democracy's Slide (fwd)


Tuesday, July 25, 2000 | Haitian's Flight Shows Democracy's Slide 
By MARK FINEMAN, Times Staff Writer (LA TIMES)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--For two days last month, they  hunted the frail
old man. eat by seat, the police searched every commercial jet          
leaving Port-au-Prince's airport for the United States. They tore      
through cars crossing the remote Dominican border and pored           
over surveillance tapes from cameras outside diplomatic compounds here. 
They wanted Leon Manus at all costs--and, by his and most others'
reckoning, they wanted him dead. All because Manus, the president of
Haiti's independent election commission, had refused to validate
election results that  gave former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's
party sweeping victories. But even though the 80-year-old jurist had
been warned that assassins were coming to his house, senior U.S.
officials, who  knew about the threats, spent two days debating how far
to go to protect Manus' life. In the end, his relatives say and U.S.
officials privately confirm, Washington staged a clandestine operation
to evacuate  Manus and bring him to safety in the United States. But the
long  hours of indecision reflected the Clinton administration's
struggle  over how far to disengage from Haiti, six years after a
military  intervention and a $2.3-billion effort to restore democracy
here. Even now, the State Department officially refuses to confirm
 or deny the U.S. role in rescuing Manus, presumably fearful of       
jeopardizing what little sway Washington still has over Aristide     
and his handpicked successor, President Rene Preval.  State Department
spokesman Richard Boucher has said  only: "[Manus] and his wife entered
on valid U.S. visas they already had in their possession. Our
understanding is it was  entirely their decision to leave Haiti." But he
added that Manus' departure "says a lot about the difficult situation in
Haiti." Another State Department official, speaking on condition of   
anonymity, said the administration still believes that it can influence
Preval and Aristide, despite their defiant response to international
criticism in the elections' aftermath. Although the official
acknowledged that "frustration levels are high" within the
administration at a time when "traditional policy tools don't seem to
respond," he added that U.S. attempts to engage Preval's government "are
an indication that we are going to be the last to close the final door
here." That door appears only slightly ajar. The last permanent U.S.
military presence here ended in January. The State Department has been
drawing down its ambitious police-training mission after spending tens
of millions of dollars in an attempt to create a new police force that
the opposition asserts has been spending as much time rounding up its
members as chasing criminals. "There has been a ratcheting down of
assistance levels that  would have happened regardless of the
elections," the State  Department official said. "But what we're hearing
from Capitol  Hill now is: no new money . . . unless the secretary [of
State] or the president can certify the parliamentary elections have
been free and fair."  U.S. taxpayers, after all, paid for these
elections--$23  million for everything from new voter-registration cards
to the  ballots themselves. But all attempts to get Preval's government
to re-count the first election round have had no effect. 
Aid Hasn't Brought Democracy, Critics Say 
The election funds were part of a steady flow of U.S. largess         
to Haiti aimed at rebuilding the nation and its institutions. The
administration has listed as successes the new police force; new roads,
bridges and other infrastructure; and a higher voter consciousness,
which led to an impressive 66% turnout in the first election round in
May. But opposition leaders, Republican lawmakers in Washington and even
members of Aristide's Lavalas Family party say that the aid has so far
failed to institutionalize democracy here and that it hasn't brought
sustainable development. Those critics also assert--and the
administration concedes--that the overwhelming majority of the more than
$2 billion spent here didn't stay here. Rather, it financed the U.S.-led
1994 military intervention--dubbed Operation Restore Democracy--going to
military salaries, contractors and the United Nations.  Yet despite that
costly U.S.-led military and civilian effort,which drove out a junta and
restored Aristide to power,opposition leaders, business executives and
intellectuals here now conclude that there are more signs of a budding
 dictatorship than a blossoming democracy. Manus was just one of many
Haitians threatened with death before, during and after two rounds of
U.S.-funded elections that ended with the Lavalas party's many
legislative and local victories July 9. More than a dozen opposition
candidates and  supporters have been killed. Others have been in hiding. 
Most observers predict yet another round of desperate  Haitian rafters
and asylum-seekers flooding Florida's shores this  year, especially if
the U.S. and the international community  make good on threats to cut
hundreds of millions of dollars in  aid to Haiti. Already this year, the
U.S. Coast Guard has stopped more than 1,000 Haitians en route--more
than in all of 1999.  "To leave Haiti entirely on its own means [that] a
lot more boat people are going to start heading to America again,
washing up on the Bahamas and all over the beautiful tourist islands of
the Caribbean," said Jean Yves Jason, an opposition candidate who was
defeated by a Lavalas candidate in his race  for Port-au-Prince mayor. 
Some Haitians Hope to Help Rebuild Land 

Jason, who recently emerged from hiding for the first time since ruling
party supporters threatened to kill him and his family after the first
round of elections, said some of his supporters  already have left this
impoverished country for America.  Like many educated Haitians, Jason
already has a U.S. visa. But he and many others say they have chosen to
remain here to help rebuild their homeland. "It wouldn't surprise me if
there's a new kind of Haitian  rafter--people with U.S. visas in their
passports and money in  their pockets who fear they'd be stopped [by the
police] from leaving at the airport," Jason said. "And if people who
have money are leaving the country, what do you expect from the people
who don't?" Among those who have left in recent months is Manus' nephew,
Olivier Nadal, president of the Haitian Chamber of    Commerce.  "I've
been very vocal against the [Haitian] government for the past 12
months--locally and throughout the world. They tried to control me and
the Chamber of Commerce, and they couldn't," Nadal said in an interview
in Miami, where he is living  with his family. "So they threatened to
kill me, my wife and my  kids." For Nadal and other opposition leaders,
Aristide, who has ambitions to return to power in presidential elections
later this year, lies at the root of the problem. "Aristide wants total
power," Nadal said, an allegation that supporters of the former Roman
Catholic priest deny."To have total power, you have to eliminate every
obstacle,"Nadal said. "And opposition parties and voices are obstacles."
After the most specific of the death threats, Nadal said, he too was
evacuated by the U.S. government. He said he was secretly driven across
the Dominican border behind the tinted  windows of a U.S. diplomatic car
several months ago. Despite U.S. efforts on his behalf, Nadal criticized
the secrecy surrounding his uncle's escape, calling Washington's Haiti
policy "a total failure." "I believe they don't want to recognize the
truth about what is happening in Haiti," he said. "President Clinton
made it clear [that] Haiti was a foreign policy victory, a victory for
democracy. So everything that comes out of Haiti is just put in a box,
then in a drawer and closed." The Clinton administration has, in fact,
criticized the recent polls, though not as strenuously as the European
Union or the Organization of American States, which was the official
international election observer during the first round and     boycotted
the second. In response, Preval's government has asserted that the
nation's election commission is an independent body that signed    off
on the results and that the government cannot overturn its          
final determination, which gave Aristide's party 18 of the 19         
Senate seats at stake. But that wasn't Manus' final determination.      
The elder statesman delivered his bottom line from U.S. soil          
June 21. 

Account of U.S. Clandestine Operation 
Four days after his mysterious departure, Manus issued a 20-paragraph
statement declaring, in part: "My safety was seriously endangered
because I would never agree to certify the  last incorrect electoral
results, which did not conform to the electoral law. "At the top
governmental level, unequivocal messages were transmitted to me on the
consequences that would follow if I  refused to publish the false final
results. Also, groups of individuals claiming to belong to one political
party began to threaten to engulf the capital and provincial cities in
fire and blood, destroying everything in their path." The Haitian
government denies that any threats were made. Manus, like the State
Department, has not spoken publicly  about his departure. But his
relatives in the U.S. say he gave them a detailed account after arriving
in Miami on June 17 on a commercial flight from Santo Domingo, the
capital of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola
with Haiti. The account was confirmed by several U.S. officials.       
Nadal said that his uncle met with Preval at the presidential palace and
spoke to Aristide by phone the night of June 15--and that Manus left the
palace believing that he would be  killed the following day if he failed
to announce the results as instructed.    
 A Haitian working for the U.S. Agency for International Development was
dispatched in a U.S. diplomatic car the next day to fetch Manus at his
home, where he and his wife hurriedly packed. Surveillance videos later
aired on Haitian state television showed the U.S. diplomatic car then
entering the German ambassador's residence.  Manus remained there for
hours while U.S. officials debated the next step in saving his life:
whether to take the bold step of evacuating him from the country or to
negotiate his safety with the Haitian government.Amid U.S. indecision,
Nadal said, his uncle eventually was moved to another diplomatic
residence, where he waited out the night and much of the following day.
Finally, he and his wife were taken to a remote area on the outskirts of
Port-au-Prince, the capital, where, Nadal says, a helicopter took them
to the  Dominican Republic. During the negotiations, Manus explained to
a diplomat why he had refused to certify the wrong results: "If I was
40, I would have done it, because I would know that I had my entire life
to work to make it right. But I haven't enough time left to make  amends
for this."