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Path to Democracy Seems Distant : Terrorism in Haiti Leaves Military in Full Control

December 17, 1987|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Terror and violence over the past seven weeks appear to have put the military-dominated government in full command of Haiti's political fortunes and driven its opponents offstage.

Given the volatile mood of the people, Haitian and foreign observers say, it would be premature to predict that the government, headed by Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, can hold on to power indefinitely. It faces suffocating economic problems aggravated by a recent cutoff of foreign aid, by the United States and France among others, and the transfer of money to foreign countries.

But the violence, tolerated and in at least some instances led by the army, has muted the clamor for democracy into a wish that is now being expressed only in hushed tones. Pessimism reigns where hope had flourished after the ouster, in February, 1986, of President Jean-Claude Duvalier.

"The cherished dream of setting up a representative government has vanished in a blood bath," said Jean Jacques Honorat, head of the Haitian Center for Defense of Public Liberties, a human rights group.

A Western diplomat put it this way: "The government is in the driver's seat. Everyone else is scared and stunned."

And a customer at a tailor's shop on the Rue des Miracles said simply, "This is dictatorship."

These days, many Haitians, if they give their names at all, offer only their first names, or they make one up.

The bloodshed reached its peak Nov. 29, which was to have been presidential election day. The election, which would have been Haiti's first in more than 30 years, was called off after gunmen, accompanied in some cases by soldiers, opened fire on voters and newsmen. At least 34 people were killed in Port-au-Prince alone.

The Namphy government, which has ruled Haiti since Duvalier fled into exile, has repeatedly pledged to hold elections and has scheduled balloting for Jan. 17. Officials insist that the violence has been beyond the government's control, the result of "communist agitation."

Almost no one is convinced that the military is innocent or that the January elections will be entirely aboveboard.

'Government Must Resign'

"The government must resign; we cannot hold elections with the military in power," an unemployed Haitian who said his name was Jean Robert told a reporter.

The U.S. State Department has directly accused an army officer, Col. Jean Claude Paul, of organizing the election-day violence. Department officials told members of Congress in private that Paul was centrally involved in the violent incidents of Nov. 29. He commands about 1,000 soldiers stationed at the Dessalines Barracks, situated behind the presidential palace.

On election day, witnesses told reporters that soldiers cooperated with Tontons Macoutes, armed thugs who formed a presidential bodyguard in the Duvalier days, in attacking voters at polling places.

The shootings and intimidation have markedly changed the political climate.

"This is a jungle," said Louis Dejoie, one of four presidential candidates who have called on the government to resign.

Politicians Cautious

Eight members of the Electoral Council that organized the Nov. 29 election are in hiding. The ninth fled to the United States.

Politicians who had been highly visible, running for office and shaking voters' hands, now move about in secret. Few political activists sleep in the same place on consecutive nights. Some have left the country after receiving anonymous, threatening telephone calls.

"Intimidation is an old technique in Haiti," a Western diplomat said.

The situation has affected the radio stations, the primary source of information in this largely illiterate country. Radio Soleil, the Roman Catholic station that played an important role in mobilizing street protests against Duvalier, is back on the air, its transmitter repaired after being destroyed on election day. But reporters at the station say its tone has changed.

"We are cooling down our comments," one reporter said. "We must be a little more cautious.'

Threat of Invasion

Poor neighborhoods face the threat of sudden invasion by anonymous raiders. In Carrefour-Feuilles, an area of one-room cinder-block houses clinging to a mountainside above Port-au-Prince, armed men appear often in the dirt streets.

Occasionally, people in the area say, the armed men enter a home and arrest the occupant, tying his hands behind his back and taking him away to an unknown destination.

"Spies point out their neighbors," said Francis Seige, a mason who was building a wall along a road in the area. "People are afraid to stay home. They sleep in the mountains."

A woman who overheard him warned that although his remarks might appear in print only in the United States, they might be read later in a radio broadcast here.

Seige shrugged and said: "I am afraid, but speaking is all we have left."

Sleeps Warily

He said he has not felt the need to take refuge in the woods, but admitted that he sleeps on the roof against the possibility that someone might fire into his home.

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