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Brazen Political Violence, Duvalierists Threaten to Derail Haiti Election

October 22, 1987|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti — Many of this nation's citizens had expected political violence and a move by loyalists of the Duvalier family dictatorship to cling to power, but when they came last week, even the most hardened Haitians seemed surprised by their brazenness.

In daylight, a presidential candidate was shot to death Oct. 13 in front of police headquarters in the presence of reporters, allegedly by a plainclothes officer who escaped. Then, several former Duvalier associates announced their candidacies for president--despite a constitutional ban on their running--and made veiled threats against an electoral council that may reject them.

Some candidates and political observers say the two events are linked, noting that on the day of the shooting, several truckloads of soldiers protected the kickoff rally for Clovis Desinor, a wealthy presidential candidate who held senior posts for more than 10 years in the regime of the late Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier.

Duvalierists Feared

Others say the incidents may be unrelated but agree that they have fueled a new crisis in Haiti's troubled presidential campaign and threaten to derail the U.S.-backed elections scheduled for next month.

"People say the Duvalierists are back; forget about elections and democracy, those people are back," said Marc Bazin, a leading presidential candidate. "It will take much more now to convince people that elections are the order of the day."

Candidates and election officials charge that the caretaker National Council of Government, led by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, has done little to promote elections or prevent violence. Although Namphy has repeatedly vowed that there will be elections and that he will turn over power, some suggest inaction may be his way of letting the elections fall apart so that he can stay in power.

"If there is so much trouble, there will be no possibility of holding elections and the army will retain power," said Louis Roy, one of the principal authors of Haiti's new constitution.

Radio Haiti Inter reported Tuesday that the government ordered the military to stay neutral and ensure that next month's elections are fair. The radio said the order from Brig. Gen. Williams Regala, the defense minister and a member of the junta, was read Monday evening to the chiefs of staff of the armed forces.

Western diplomats concede that the elections may be in chaos but insist that it would be worse not to have them at all. The United States is spending about $5 million on the elections, while Canada, France and Venezuela are donating about $2 million worth of voting materials and technical assistance.

Municipal elections are scheduled for Nov. 15, followed by the national balloting Nov. 29. A run-off election is scheduled for Dec. 20. The new president is to take office Feb. 7, 1988, the second anniversary of the flight from office of President Jean-Claude Duvalier, son of "Papa Doc" Duvalier. The departure of the younger Duvalier, often called "Baby Doc," ended nearly 29 years of corrupt and often brutal family rule.

Climate of Violence

Some candidates and election officials say that even if elections are held next month as scheduled, the climate of violence may keep so many people from voting that the results would be inconclusive and lack legitimacy.

Since the shooting of Yves Volel, a minor but dynamic presidential candidate, the streets of this impoverished capital have grown unusually quiet by 9 p.m., and some residents say they hear shooting at night. Crime is said to be on the rise in recent weeks, although some candidates believe the muggings and robberies are political violence in disguise, a means of adding to the confusion and instability surrounding elections.

Volel, a lawyer, was shot twice in the head and once in the heart as he held a press conference in front of the police station to protest that he had been unable to meet with a client detained for a month without charges. Witnesses says that he was killed by a plainclothes policeman, but the government issued a denial and asserted that Volel was brandishing a .45-caliber handgun.

Several candidates and election officials say they have received death threats since Volel was slain. One candidate pulled a .38-caliber revolver out of his desk drawer during an interview to emphasize the danger he feels, while another admitted to having a dozen bodyguards and to varying his route to and from campaign headquarters. Others say they sometimes sleep at different houses and always are indoors early at night.

"I don't want any accidents," Bazin said.

Volel was the second political leader killed during the campaign. Louis Eugen Athis, leader of the Social Democratic Party, was hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob in a remote village Aug. 2. His unexplained death brought a halt to campaigning for a month, and political activities had just picked up again when Volel was shot.

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