PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former President Jimmy Carter confronted insulting graffiti and a suspicious, antagonistic government when he arrived here Thursday for what he said is an effort to strengthen the faltering Haitian electoral system.
Carter told reporters that he had been invited to check the progress of the process he helped start last September when he negotiated the removal of the military regime that had overthrown President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.
But the Aristide government wasn't buying Carter's claim.
Although stopping short of directly insulting the former President, Aristide aides made clear their feeling that Carter's visit is an intrusion. They declined to send even a junior protocol officer to welcome him at the airport.
The aides also denied that he was asked to visit.
"Carter simply informed us he was coming," one aide said. "We felt we had to invite him to dinner, but that is all. He won't even get a gift"--a customary courtesy extended to official guests.
What the former President did get were widespread insults in the form of protests painted on walls throughout the capital.
"Jimmy Carter is a false democrat," said one of the less offensive slogans scrawled on the wall surrounding the presidential palace. "Go home, Carter," said one sign.
Carter's cold reception, Aristide aides said, resulted from the fear that the former President came to help Aristide's political opponents.
"Carter is here not because he's worried about the electoral system," one Haitian government official said, "but because he thinks Aristide will overwhelm the opposition."
One Aristide aide said a Carter representative recently requested that Aristide's political party refrain from running a full slate of national legislative candidates so that at least some opposition candidates could be elected to the National Assembly.
Although that claim was neither confirmed nor denied by diplomats, the overall assessment that Carter wants to strengthen a non-Aristide opposition was largely supported by foreign experts and other Haitian political sources.
"The fear by Carter," one diplomat said, "is that the center and moderate-right have been unable to organize and that Aristide will be in a position to totally dominate" legislative elections scheduled for early June.
Other sources said the 2 1/2-day visit was arranged when two anti-Aristide politicians--former legislative deputy Duly Brutus and perennial candidate Hubert de Roncery--sought the former President's help after failing to form a common front with other right-wing parties.
"It is hoped he (Carter) will galvanize the center-right and help them organize so that Aristide won't run away with the elections," one Haitian political analyst said.
Aristide's suspicions were not eased when Carter adviser Robert Pastor said before leaving for Haiti that the country is in danger of being pulled apart by "extremists on both sides," including "those on the left who wanted the military destroyed by a foreign invasion."
Aristide, who this week finished dismantling the Haitian army by ordering into retirement its last 43 senior officers, reads such statements as meaning that Carter sees him as an extremist to be equated with the military that overthrew him in 1991.
His coldness toward Carter dates back to the 1990 presidential election here when Aristide was asked by the former President to promise that he would accept a defeat and not claim fraud.
Although this is a standard request when Carter monitors any election, Aristide believed that it was an insult.
Aristide aides say he also resents what he saw as a pro-military bias in the September negotiations. At that time, he signed an agreement promising immunity to army leaders and permitting them to leave the country.
On Saturday, Carter, a Democrat, will be joined by Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and Gen. Colin L. Powell, retired chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Both were part of Carter's September mission.
In his airport statement, Carter said: "We are here for three basic purposes. One is to assess the progress being made and see if we can be of help in an orderly election process, both to the Parliament in June and for president later this year. We will be assessing some elements of economic development for Haiti . . . and assessing the quality of security matters, both now and in the future."
Besides meeting for 90 minutes with 36 political leaders Thursday and dining with business leaders at the U.S. ambassador's home, Carter will be briefed today by U.S. military officers and will tour the north of Haiti. Saturday, he, Nunn and Powell will receive honorary degrees from GOC University, a little-known trade school here. All three are to depart Saturday evening.
Carter clearly was aware of the antagonism he faced when he arrived. Noting sarcastically "the graffiti artist who with red paint has written word of welcome to me," Carter called the slogans "a lawless act, apparently by one who is against democracy and freedom."
Aristide aides denied that the graffiti was sponsored or inspired by the government. But they chortled over the anti-Carter messages and gave reporters directions to the most insulting ones.