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Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 19:02:27 -0800 (PST)
From: Robert Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 16:46 2/3/99 (fwd)
To: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@netcom.com>
Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9902041940.A23075-e200000@netcom13>

Democracy Hypocrisy

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 16, no. 46, 3-9 February 1999

Is the scene not ridiculous? A delegation of U.S. congressmen solemnly nodding to a circle of Haitian politicians, for the most part collaborators of the 1991-1994 coup d'etat, railing against the supposed coup d'etat of President Rene Preval on Jan. 11, when he refused to recognize some parliamentarians' illegal self- extension of terms?

The only hypocrisy more outrageous is that of the U.S. government itself as it scolds and pressures Preval to reconcile with rump parliamentarians and right-wing politicians whose constituencies rarely extend much beyond their immediate family.

Take the bloody coup of Russian President Boris Yeltsin against the Russian Parliament in September 1993. With a totally unconstitutional presidential decree, Yeltsin dissolved the sitting Parliament which had stopped many of his reforms. In retaliation, the Russian parliamentarians discharged Yeltsin as president and replaced him by the vice-president, a move which was approved by Russia's Constitutional Court. In response, Yeltsin had the Parliament surrounded with tanks and elite paratroopers. Thousands of Russians rallied to the defense of the parliamentarians holed up inside, street-fighting ensued, but finally Yeltsin's troops stormed, bombed, and burned the building, vanquishing the elected deputies. Scores of Russians died. And the U.S. applauded heartily.

Victory Seen for Democracy was the headline on the Washington Post's article about the U.S. government's all-out support for the coup. President Yeltsin had no other alternative but to try and restore order, said President Clinton, who had thrown huge financial and political backing behind his Russian counterpart.

It's an odd sight: One by one, the defenders of order and process have woven elaborate excuses for Mr. Yeltsin's coup d'etat, declaring it the best hope of constitutional democracy in Russia, said a Miami Herald editorial at the time. Odder still, they are right. To prove it, the Herald argued that the Russian constitution isn't worthy of the name, that a few months before the Russian people voted for new leadership -- and by implication a new constitution, and that Yeltsin would soon hold elections. The U.S. government and corporate media support for Yeltsin's violent coup was beyond brazen. It was flippant.

Compare that to the treatment being given today to Preval's cautious and constitutionally dictated moves. It is hard to see that any good can come from President Rene Preval's reckless march toward authoritarian rule in Haiti, declared the Herald in a Feb. 1 editorial. The editors go on, obliviously, to enumerate the ways that the U.S. has meddled and bullied the Haitian government to reverse Haiti's risky new course. So far, none has succeeded in persuading Mr. Preval that pushing Haiti toward the kind of autocratic rule that marks its past cannot be tolerated. Tolerated by whom? The U.S. government which propped up the Duvalier regime? The Haitian people have overwhelmingly supported Preval's move.

The next day, the Washington Post followed suit with an editorial saying that President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide's hand-picked successor, Rene Preval, moved to bypass the existing (and hostile) parliament in what looked suspiciously like a political coup d'etat. Of course, neither was Preval hand-picked nor the parliament existing.

These positions, as usual, mirror the thinking of the powers in Washington, which hide behind vaguer declarations like U.S. State Dept. spokesman Jim Foley's: We along with other members of the international community continue to stress the importance we attach to the continuity of all of Haiti's democratic institutions. In other words, unlike Preval, we recognize the parliament.

This is borne out by Washington's busy shoring up of the former legislators. Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince set up a special service to provide travel visas to the ex- parliamentarians and their families, since their Haitian diplomatic passports are officially void. Ms. Alfreda Meyers of the U.S. Embassy's Political Section -- out of which the CIA traditionally works -- sent her Jan. 25 letter offering diplomatic services to Vasco Thernelan, addressing him as President of the Chamber of Deputies, a post which expired with the legislative body on Jan. 11.

But the principal prod of Washington came from a four-member delegation of Congressmen Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), Porter Goss (R- FL), Charles Rangel (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), which visited Haiti on Jan. 28. In addition to opposition politicians, the whirlwind delegation met with representatives of the societe civile (or civil society, code for the business and professional elite), the United Nations, and former parliamentarians, as well as President Preval and also Aristide.

Conyers put out a commendable Jan. 29 press release. This is a Haitian problem that demands Haitian solution, he said in the release. I think the best thing the Congress and the Clinton Administration can do at this point is to remain engaged but neutral in the dispute. He also called a bit premature the proposed Senate resolution, sponsored chiefly by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), which condemns the irregular interruption of the democratic political institutional process and calls for sending an Organization of American States (OAS) fact-finding mission to Haiti (see Haiti Progres, Vol. 16 No. 45, 1/27/99).

Unfortunately, Conyers' opinion doesn't count for much. The whole purpose of the delegation was to allow arch-reactionaries Gilman and Goss to touch base in Haiti before introducing that very Senate resolution to the House of Representatives later this week, most likely. Whatever their reasonableness, Conyers and Rangel belong to the minority party in the U.S. Congress and hence mostly served as bipartisan cover for the Republicans' mission.

To get a sense of his viewpoint: Goss, who sits on the Select Intelligence Committee, during the coup proposed moving Aristide out of Washington and setting up him up as a government-in-exile on the barren island of Gonave, in Port-au-Prince bay.

Gilman also made it very clear who he was listening to. When we met with the political leaders there were two former presidents there at that meeting, Gilman said at a Jan. 29 press conference, referring to military installed puppets Leslie Manigat (1988) and Marc Bazin (1992-3). A group of civil society leaders were very eloquent. They left us with a feeling that they expressed the feelings of the people, that there's a perception among the people in Haiti that there's been a coup d'etat and a dictator has taken over because President Preval has dissolved the parliament. Naive or cynical? You be the judge.

The pressure may well be having some effect. All during last week, Preval met with opposition politicians. Late on Feb. 2, instead of announcing the composition of his new government and of the new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) as scheduled, he said consultations with various sectors would continue. But he also reiterated his reasons for not sanctioning the parliament's illegal extension. My friends, what is more dangerous? he asked in the short nationally televised address. Violating the Constitution? Or accepting to live a few months as we did in 1995 without a functional parliament? I truly believe that it would be more dangerous to violate the Constitution. An institutional void we can fill with an election. But violating the Constitution, we don't know where that would lead us.

Meanwhile, popular organizations keep reminding Preval that, although they have thrown their support behind his defense of the Constitution, they still reject any privatization of Haiti's state enterprises, especially during this unusual period. They also continue to demand a say in the formation of any new CEP and remain vigilant that, as one group put it, deals don't get made on the back of our mobilization. As negotiations continue this week, the grassroots groups, which have brought out thousands to support Preval's moves, will be making sure that the broad consensus being cobbled together does not exclude the broad masses of the Haitian people.