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Aristide Quickly Gets to Work Running Nation


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The flags still waved, the troops remained on the streets and crowds milled about the Presidential Palace on Sunday, but President Jean-Bertrand Aristide spent his first full day back in Haiti out of sight, attending to the dull routine of governing.

According to diplomats, Aristide advisers and Haitian political figures, his first tasks will be to name a new prime minister and Cabinet and find the money to restore a bureaucracy that had become the personal servant of the military over the last three years.

Aristide, who was accused of indecision and even sloth during the seven months he ruled before the Sept. 30, 1991, coup that sent him into exile, immediately went to work Saturday after an official luncheon, talking to political and parliamentary leaders well into the night and again Sunday.

Aristide told reporters on his Saturday flight from Washington to Port-au-Prince that he had selected a prime minister but had not decided when to announce the nomination.

First, he indicated, he wanted to point Haiti toward reconciliation and peace in order to convince the nation that his focus will not be the past and vengeance.

"Nice words," said Franz Voltaire, an aide to caretaker Prime Minister Robert Malval, "and obviously the guiding principle of the government, but what he is doing now is looking at the hard work of translating words into action."

The prime minister is a key figure in Haiti, actually more powerful on a day-to-day basis than the president, since he and his Cabinet set and administer policy.

If Aristide has selected someone from an original pool of six candidates, he has kept it a close secret, although many sources think it will be Smart Michele, a wealthy businessman who has maintained links with the generally anti-Aristide industrial sector while strongly backing the president.


The other key Cabinet nominations that diplomats say must come quickly are the ministries of finance and planning and the president of the Central Bank.

"If Aristide expects to get a quick infusion of money, then he has to name a financial team this week," said a U.N. financial expert. Most sources think the finance minister will be Leslie Delatour, a free-market advocate who has designed a long-range economic program approved by Aristide and the international lending agencies.

The planning minister probably will be Voltaire's brother Leslie, an economic adviser to Aristide, while the Central Bank could be headed by Marie-Michele Rey, a veteran banker who was finance minister in Aristide's original government.

Those selections would be accepted, even welcomed, by most of the business community, including those who approved if not actively backed the coup because of Aristide's alleged leftist political views.

One possible ministerial candidate who draws shudders of fear from businessmen, but also from diplomats and some moderate pro-Aristide Haitians, is Rene Preval, Aristide's original prime minister and current political adviser.

While Preval, a baker whose leftist views and vengeful politics led to a parliamentary conflict that finally led to the coup, was in the original list for prime minister, Aristide is said to have found a less controversial job for him.

Preval told reporters Sunday that he "will be in the government," a prospect that led one Haitian political consultant to Aristide to say: "Preval? Even if he is minister of sewage, that would be a disaster."

While Aristide virtually has to start from the beginning and concentrate on the essentials in forming a government and creating policy for a country left stripped bare economically by the military and its civilian henchmen, there are some emotional and philosophical issues he must settle soon.

Among the most explosive are the related questions of amnesty, an investigation into the military rule and establishment of a new judicial system.

Peter Schey, a Los Angeles human rights attorney who advises Aristide on legal matters, says the questions about amnesty concern how broad it should be and for what period.

Schey and other American advisers "are adamantly opposed to a blanket amnesty," he said, "particularly for crimes against humanity. That sends the wrong message," Schey said.

Predictions are that Aristide will issue a narrow amnesty covering the period from the coup to his return. A larger argument has developed over a "truth commission," an investigatory body that would probe human rights violations.

Some Aristide advisers want the inquiry to be conducted by a government commission composed only of Haitians and to deal only with the coup and its aftermath.

Others prefer an international committee, probably organized by the United Nations and the Organization of American States, made up of foreigners. Its time frame would reach back to 1986 and the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier and finish with Aristide's return, thereby including Aristide's original seven months in office.

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