PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A leading opponent of Haiti's army-led government was detained at Port-au-Prince airport and then taken to the national penitentiary Wednesday as he returned from abroad to protest Sunday's widely disputed, government-run presidential election.
Airport security police seized Louis Dejoie II, a former presidential candidate who had been on a Caribbean-U.S. speaking tour seeking to explain why he and three other Haitian political leaders had called for a boycott of this week's election. A large majority of Haitians heeded the call and did not take part in the voting, staged by the provisional government of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, which was marked by irregularities.
Dejoie, 59, was one of the four leading candidates in a previous election attempt Nov. 29, which was suspended after the massacre of at least 34 people. The four joined forces afterward to protest as unconstitutional the Namphy government's plans for last Sunday's balloting.
Dejoie was held for more than four hours at the airport after arriving on a flight from Puerto Rico, where he has business interests. He had planned to join the other three ex-candidates in a press conference today to denounce the election, which they have called a "farce" and a "masquerade."
Journalists who followed a white police pickup truck that took Dejoie from the airport under guard said that he was taken directly to the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.
There was no indication from the government whether he had been charged, as required by Haitian law, or how long he would be held. A government spokeswoman said security police had informed her only that Dejoie was being held for questioning.
Dejoie was known to have angered Namphy's ruling group by urging--in remarks made during the last three weeks in Washington, Miami and Barbados--a total international economic boycott of Haiti or even foreign military intervention here.
Economic sanctions against the country also have been urged by other government opponents, including a broad grouping of religious, social, professional, trades and human rights organizations that calls itself the Civil Society. But the others have insisted they do not advocate foreign intervention, and Dejoie has since retreated from that position, stressing that he considers intervention only a last resort.
Supporters who witnessed Dejoie's detention at the airport said they had warned him by telephone that he might be arrested when he returned.
"He knew the risk he was taking, but he had to return," said Charles Millery, treasurer of Dejoie's National Agricultural Industrial Party. "He is a political leader fighting for democracy in his country. If he had not returned, they would have said he was a defector."
Asked if he believed Dejoie's life is in danger at the penitentiary, Millery replied, "Who knows--they're furious with him."
Meanwhile, election returns continued to trickle in. The government's handpicked Electoral Council issued partial returns from four districts totaling about 20,000 votes.
Although officials of the council were seen duplicating broader tabulations from what appeared to be substantial numbers of provincial voting districts, they refused to release them to Haitian and foreign journalists.
A Times reporter who saw the guarded tabulations noted that they appeared to cover a total of about 120,000 votes, of which 75,000 were credited to political scientist Leslie F. Manigat. Several other candidates have charged that Manigat is being railroaded into office by the Namphy government. Many observers of Sunday's election estimate that only about 200,000 of Haiti's 3 million eligible voters participated.
Because of extremely loose controls over voter records, voting secrecy and ballot box security, critics have expressed fears that the government will tamper with the results not only in favor of a handpicked candidate but in order to make it appear that far more people actually voted. An inflated total could make the election appear more credible to foreign governments as well as to Haitians.