By GEORGE GEDDA
WASHINGTON, Feb 18 (AP) — Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has
rebuffed Bush administration suggestions that he convene early presidential
elections as a way to defuse the country’s accelerating political crisis, a
senior U.S. official said Wednesday.
While rejecting any Haitian opposition efforts to remove Aristide by
force, administration officials are privately discussing ideas for a
possible constitutional succession before Aristide’s term expires in
U.S. officials worry that the current crisis would only worsen if
Aristide is forced to flee. One option being discussed internally is a
transfer of power, with Aristide’s consent, to a temporary governing board
made up of Haitians who would run the country until a new president was
It is not clear how much support that proposal has at top levels of the
Haitian government spokesman Mario Dupuy said Port-au-Prince, the
capital, that his government could not accept any proposal involving a
change in the election date or an early handoff of power.
“I can neither confirm nor deny that any such offer was made, formally
or informally,” he said. “But both proposals are unacceptable. They are
tantamount to admitting the legitimacy of a coup d’etat against the
Aristide was elected to a five-year term in December 2000. He has said
repeatedly that he intends to serve out his full term. The Haitian
constitution says the head of the Supreme Court is next in line in the
event the presidency is vacated.
U.S. interagency meetings on what to do about the situation in Haiti
include representatives from the Homeland Security Department and the Coast
Guard, the senior U.S. official said, asking not to be identified. This is
an indication that officials are concerned about a possible new Haitian
A sudden surge in boat-building by individual Haitians would be a sure
sign of preparations for an escape from the impoverished country, but U.S.
officials say they detect no such activity on a meaningful scale. They
caution that Aristide’s forced removal could provoke as mass exodus as
rival groups compete to fill the power vacuum.
Tens of thousands of Haitians fled during the era of the military junta
that deposed Aristide. The military ran the country for three years before
the U.S. military reinstated Aristide in 1994.
Secretary of State Colin Powell says the administration has “no
enthusiasm” for a new military intervention. But Marine Corps Commandant
Michael Hagee said Wednesday the U.S. military is upgrading contingency
plans, which he described as a normal process in unstable situations.
Aristide enjoyed wide political support both here and in Haiti when he
was reinstated in October 1994. Among his strongest backers was the
Congressional Black Caucus. There is little overt backing by the group for
Aristide now but there have been expressions of concern that the
administration may be seeking Aristide’s ouster by unconstitutional means.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who often speaks out on human rights issues
on behalf of the black caucus, said in a Feb. 11 letter to Powell that
there is “a violent coup d’etat in the making, and it appears that the
United States is aiding and abetting the attempt to violently topple the
The administration has repeatedly called for a political solution to the
crisis. The mediation effort is being led by Caribbean nations and the
Organization of American States.
The decline of support for Aristide among black U.S. lawmakers has been
coupled with growing disaffection for Aristide among Haiti’s Caribbean
Last Friday, Powell made clear his impatience with Aristide and
suggested that the Haitian leader is backed by disreputable elements.
“We need him to start taking action, to reach out to the opposition, to
make sure that thugs are not allowed to break up peaceful demonstrations,”
TransAfrica, a Washington-based group that monitors U.S. policy toward
Africa and the Caribbean, said in a statement Tuesday the administration
should halt its “contemptuous attitude toward President Aristide” and focus
on a negotiated settlement.