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Haiti General Strike Lingers Amid Political Turmoil

December 09, 1987|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A general strike, called to protest the violence that aborted Haiti's recent attempt to hold presidential elections, entered its second day Tuesday as factory workers trickled back to their jobs, some stores opened and rain as much as political fervor kept street vendors indoors.

The strike failed to halt commerce completely in the capital, and it is not clear how long businesses that are closed will remain shut. Different political leaders have called for strikes of different durations.

"We have to feed our families," said a clothing vendor near Port-au-Prince's waterfront. "And Christmas is coming, you know, and we need money."

More Workers on Jitneys

More factory workers appeared to be traveling to work on the colorful "tap-tap" jitneys that roam Port-au-Prince's streets than was the case Monday. Larger stores remained closed for the second day while small stores opened. Midday rains drove pedestrians and mobile stalls off the streets.

The calls for a general strike followed weeks of turmoil in this Caribbean nation, which last year ousted President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose family had dominated Haiti for three decades.

Violence on election day, Nov. 29, forced cancellation of the first democratic vote in Haiti. Gunmen and machete-wielding assailants attacked voters at polling stations, killing at least 34 people. The provisional government, headed by army Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, failed to step in to protect voters and the independent Electoral Council called off the election.

Namphy then dismissed the council, whose nine members went into hiding. The government's action has thrown into doubt its devotion to holding a free vote.

Opinions Vary

Haitians interviewed Tuesday on the streets expressed a variety of opinions as to how to end the impasse. Some called for reinstatement of the old electoral council, but some were willing to accept a new council if the members appeared to be democratically inclined. Others demanded the ouster of the provisional government before any new elections are held.

The government has promised that elections will take place in January and a president would be inaugurated next February. There are reports that the government is preparing to name its own electoral council. On Tuesday, it appointed a six-member commission of inquiry to investigate the Nov. 29 violence. The inquiry will be conducted by two military officers, representatives of the ministries of justice and defense, a civilian lawyer and a representative of a human rights organization.

Many Haitians say they support the protest, including some who showed up for work Tuesday. "The government is responsible for the violence," said a watchman at a clothing plant near the airport here. "Namphy wants to rig the elections."

Despite the criticism, the watchman said he felt he had to come to work. "If the owner (of the factory) loses too much money, he will leave, and I will lose my job."

Effectiveness in Question

Political leaders have offered different appraisals of the strike's effectiveness and how long it should continue. Two of the four leaders who called for the strike said it should last only two days, while the others endorsed a strike of indefinite duration.

Some Haitian politicians said that an anti-government strike last summer was more effective, but they noted that youths blocked roads and threatened anyone who did not stay home during those protests. That strike was prompted by an effort of Namphy to take direct control of the electoral council.

"This strike was fully voluntary and therefore more successful even if some stores and businesses stayed open," said an aide to one presidential candidate, Louis Dejoie II.

But Louis Roy, one of the authors of Haiti's new Constitution and an organizer of election volunteers, offered a different view. "The strike has been disappointing to many people," he said.

No Common Strategy

The leading presidential candidates, caught up in their own rivalries, have yet to come up with a common strategy to prepare for possible elections.

"One candidate might be favored by the selection of, say, a right - wing electoral council," said a foreign diplomat here. "But no one is sure, so they are not doing anything together."

Reports from other cities in Haiti suggested that the strike was only partially successful. Stores in the town of Les Cayes in western Haiti were mostly closed, according to independent radio broadcasts, but several businesses in Gonaives, north of Port-au-Prince, were open.

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