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Election Terror Leaves Haitians Stunned, Bitter

December 01, 1987|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — From behind the barred steel gate of what was to have been the vote-counting center of Haiti's bloodily aborted presidential election, an aged janitor, now the sole occupant of the electoral headquarters, nervously cried " Ferme , ferme " (closed) Monday.

Like most of their fellow citizens, the headquarters staff and electoral councilors who were forced to cancel the election Sunday when gunmen and government troops mercilessly slaughtered voters at the polls had prudently decided to stay away from the place that only two days ago they hoped would be the birthplace of Haitian democracy.

Terror at the polls and in the streets, which continued relentlessly through the night with thousands of rounds of random gunfire, led all but one of the nine "wise men" who formed the electoral council to seek safety by sheltering overnight in foreign embassies.

Fear of Tontons Macoutes

A few of their aides who ventured out in Port-au-Prince explained that the councilors feared assassination by soldiers or rampaging Tontons Macoutes--the secret police under ousted dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier--after their abrupt dismissal Sunday by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, leader of the U.S.-supported junta that was supposed to provide security for a free and fair election but instead let terror reign.

Throughout the capital city Monday, people stayed home or near their doors. Virtually all shops and businesses remained closed. Normally crowded marketplaces were empty. Only two of the country's radio stations, one of them government controlled, dared to remain on the air. It was as if all of Haiti had been wounded and was waiting for the coup de grace .

Stunned politicians who had campaigned for months in the face of official hostility and insecurity hurriedly drafted statements, some of them bold but others cautious, in case the Namphy regime reschedules the elections under a yet-to-be-named new Electoral Council, which most fear will approve only candidates of the military's choosing.

Namphy Promises Elections

Namphy said in a televised announcement Sunday that elections still can be held by February and said he plans to hand over power to an elected president on Feb. 7.

"It is Duvalierism without Jean-Claude Duvalier," protested Baptist minister Sylvio Claude, 53, one of the front-runners in the field of 22 presidential candidates. "There is no Haitian today who will risk going to the polls, because he knows they will shoot at him. (Free) elections are not possible. I call on the United Nations or the Organization of American States to send a multinational force in Haiti to safeguard the election."

But in a statement deploring the bloodshed in which more than 30 people died at the polls--including 17 massacred at a Port-au-Prince elementary school--another presidential front-runner, building contractor Louis Dejoie II, 59, cautiously praised Namphy's "solemn determination" to reschedule the election "in a renewed climate of security."

The leftist Front for Concerted Action, which supported 61-year-old lawyer-schoolmaster Gerard Gourgue for president, warned that if Namphy does as he pledged Sunday and reschedules the voting, it will only be to engineer the election of a front man for the military.

"It is clear to national and international opinion that the National Governing Council (Namphy's junta) doesn't want fair and free elections . . . it wants controlled elections that will permit those who do not want any change in this country to take power," the party said.

Claude and others, including a spokesman for the Haitian Labor Federation, bitterly assailed the United States for its support of Namphy. Until Sunday morning, the U.S. Embassy here had insisted that Namphy's government would keep the streets safe for voters to cast their ballots freely.

"The United States of America is the boss of the government," Claude said.

"We accuse the United States government of too much support of a fascist, Duvalierist government," Armand Pierre of the labor union said.

A number of people interviewed on the streets and by telephone revealed a popular perception of American culpability in Sunday's carnage.

Noting the week of unobstructed election-week terrorism that the Namphy junta had condoned by its silence and inaction, one U.S.-educated businessman said his friends were questioning how the U.S. Embassy could have been so wrong in its expectations. Diplomats of other countries that had followed the U.S. lead in backing Namphy as the best hope of getting a fair election also questioned what one called the blindness of the embassy.

One diplomat, who has close ties to the Americans, said that neither Ambassador Brunson McKinley nor his chief political officer, Lawrence G. Rossin, "have any sense of what is going on in Haiti. They eat lunch in the embassy cafeteria every day instead of going out to meet with people."

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