Haitian military demand cabinet posts: Opponents of the exiled President have been encouraged by US failures, writes Patrick Cockburn in Washington

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE Haitian military leaders are demanding a central role in any incoming civilian government before they agree to step aside and allow the exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to return. The demands, made as US and Canadian ships started to enforce a blockade, show that General Raoul Cedras, the army commander, and Lieutenant- Colonel Michel Francois, the chief of the Port-au-Prince police, are far from ceding power.

Evans Francois, the brother and spokesman for the chief of police, who controls the attaches - similar to the Tontons Macoutes established by the former dictator 'Papa Doc' Duvalier - told the Los Angeles Times that 'a big Macoute . . . a big Duvalierist' must be put in charge of the four ministries of defence, interior, social welfare and information. He added that other posts in a new government should go to people who 'supported the coup' against Father Aristide, the Catholic priest elected president with two-thirds of the votes in 1990 and overthrown by the army the following year. Only then would General Cedras and Colonel Francois be prepared to give up their posts.

Over the past few days the Haitian military leaders have started to state their demands, none of which is likely to satisfy the US or Fr Aristide. They show a determination not to give up real power and to abrogate the Governor's Island accord, under which Fr Aristide was to return on 30 October.

The confidence of the military that they can survive American hostility is probably a miscalculation, possibly based on an exaggerated sense of American weakness after the debacle in Somalia. In Haiti, US interests are heavily engaged because of its proximity.

The current offensive by Republicans in the Senate is evidence that Mr Clinton cannot afford another foreign-policy failure. The White House yesterday indicated that it was failing to reach a compromise with the Republican Senate leader, Robert Dole, who is putting forward proposals to bar the use of funds for US forces in Haiti or Bosnia without the approval of Congress, except in cases of emergency.

Under the 1973 War Powers Act, passed during the war in Vietnam, the President cannot commit US troops abroad for more than 60 days without seeking congressional approval. No president has accepted that this is constitutional.

LONDON - Britain is to join the naval blockade of Haiti in an attempt to quash military resistance to the return of Fr Aristide, the Press Association reports. The frigate Active will join warships from the US, Canada, France and the Netherlands to enforce trade sanctions, which began yesterday. A US frigate stopped a Belizian ship off the Haitian coast yesterday in the first maritime intercept since the blockade.