PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The tense impasse between Haiti's army-led government and nervous civilian political leaders over how to resume the country's bloody and faltering march to democracy continued Tuesday as frightened residents of this capital city tried to pick up the threads of normal life.
Rumors that the terrifying violence that forced cancellation of Sunday's long-awaited presidential election would resume after another night of random gunfire in the streets forced shopkeepers and businesses that had reopened Tuesday morning to close their doors at midday. Police and army officers belligerently refused to comment on reliable reports that they have begun sweeping through Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, arresting scores of people.
50 Observers Leave
Tension remained palpable in every sector. Although scheduled civil airlines are still serving Haiti, the U.S. Embassy, which has ordered its non-essential employees to stay home after the wanton killings of would-be voters Sunday, chartered a jet to evacuate 129 people, most of them Americans, from the country.
The group included 50 of the estimated 200 international observers who had come to help assure the fairness of the aborted election and a number of foreign journalists who feared a renewal of the armed attacks on them that began Sunday when soldiers and gunmen thought to be Tontons Macoutes, the former secret police of ousted dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, coldly fired on some of the observers and journalists.
The evacuation plane also took away seven U.S. military personnel who ironically had been training the Haitian police and military in crowd control techniques. They were withdrawn because the United States canceled military assistance and some economic aid in response to the failure of the military-led National Government Council to live up to its pledge to protect the election process.
While admitting that the failure of the council surprised the American Embassy here, a U.S. official cautiously expressed continued confidence that its leader, Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, will resume the electoral process and have a civilian government in place by Feb. 7, the date set in the new Haitian constitution for the inauguration of a president.
"I believe that he sincerely believes what he is saying," the official said of Namphy's pledge in a speech Sunday pledging to carry the electoral process forward. He refused to comment on reliable reports that U.S. Ambassador Brunson McKinley met with Namphy on Monday to protest and to pressure the government into restoring the civilian-run electoral commission.
"The leverage of the U.S. government on Haiti has always been far less than many Haitians and even members of the press corps assumed," the official said. "Rationally, $100 million in aid should buy a lot of leverage. Clearly, in Haiti, $100 million doesn't buy much leverage."
Namphy on Sunday dismissed the U.S.-financed Electoral Council of nine civic leaders responsible for organizing the election, and there were fears that he will attempt to replace them with army-picked men who will engineer an election to favor their own candidates.
Three of the beleaguered election councilors issued a statement Tuesday rejecting Namphy's action as unconstitutional and saying they will not voluntarily resign their constitutional responsibilities. Any electoral procedure other than one that they organize would be "null and void," they said.
In a separate statement, the Rev. Alain Rocourt, a Methodist minister who is the election council's treasurer, rejected Namphy's "false accusation that we overextended our rights, violated the constitution and invited foreign countries to intervene in national affairs."
Rocourt's home was attacked with gunfire and grenades on election eve.
Stunned political leaders meanwhile began tentative efforts to find a common ground from which to confront the Namphy government in order to get the electoral process back on the track.
Two leading candidates among the 22 seeking the presidency, Marc Bazin and Gerard Gourgue, condemned the "acts of banditry" and Namphy's "power grab" in dismissing the election councilors, but offered no solution to the crisis.
Four centrist presidential candidates met during the day to try to frame a common approach to the crisis, but according to one of the participants, front-runner Louis Dejoie II, the meeting broke up in disagreement.
Jean-Claude Bajeux, the country's top human rights activist and a leading supporter of Gourgue, even more bitterly denounced the National Government Council.
'The theory of a political fight is that you and your adversary each have principles and you arrive at a compromise. Now you find murderers who don't believe in any principles, who don't even respect human life. . . ."
Asked if he feared civil war, Bajeux said wearily, "The people have no guns so no civil war is possible here. There is only massacre."
The apparent confusion among the candidates over what to do next was heightened by Namphy's failure to make the government's intentions clear. Authorities have said nothing about future plans since Namphy's speech Sunday and have persistently refused to respond to questions.