March 2, 2004
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 2 ? Haiti plunged deeper into political anarchy today as one of the rebellion’s leaders proclaimed himself the new commander of the army, appearing to grab power without legal authority.
“I am the chief,” the rebel leader, Guy Philippe, announced at a conference. “The military chief.”
The Haitian army was dissolved in 1995 by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fell from power on Sunday, after a hard shove from the United States. Many of the armed rebels who stormed into Haiti’s capital on Monday are veterans of the army, which overthrew Mr. Aristide in 1991, and past leaders of military-affiliated death squads.
United States Marines sent as part of a multinational peacekeeping force set up a guard at the offices of Mr. Aristide’s prime minister, Yvon Neptune, also unseen since Sunday. There were rumors that Mr. Philippe intended to arrest Mr. Neptune, setting up a possible confrontation with the Marines.
Mr. Aristide’s appointed successor, Boniface Alexandre, also has not been seen or heard from since he was sworn in on Sunday. The whereabouts of Mr. Alexandre, the chief justice of the supreme court, were unclear, as were his political intentions and his constitutional authority. Haiti’s constitution says his appointment must be ratified by the legislature, which has been dissolved.
Complicating the political chaos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti’s former “president for life,” said in Miami that he planned to return to Haiti. He ruled from the 1971 death of his father, François, the dictator known as “Papa Doc,” until the army overthrew him in 1986. During the three-decade Duvalier dynasty, the government killed thousands of opponents and stole many millions of dollars from Haiti’s treasury.
With the apparent grab for power by Mr. Philippe and his rebel allies, Haiti seemed to be falling deeper into the clutches of a self-appointed armed junta.
“It is an absolutely failed state ? no institutions, no rule of law, no spirit of compromise, no security,” said Robert Pastor, director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University. Mr. Pastor has monitored elections here since 1987.
“There is no state right now,” he said.
Haiti has no real police, only private militias and the contingent of 200 United States Marines sent here by President Bush on Sunday. The marines are not under orders to police Haiti’s streets.
In addition to a provisional president and a vanished legislature, Haiti has a severe lack of “basic health care, clean water, education, roads” said Dr. Paul Farmer, an American physician who has worked for the better part of 20 years. “And I don’t see that as a basic priority of the chaps with guns.”
For the moment, those men with guns are in charge here.
The United States is trying to help create a “council of elders” among a squabbling group of political elites “who were united only by their hatred for Aristide,” said Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti Program at Trinity College in Washington.
Now that Mr. Aristide is gone, so has the political opposition’s unifying principle.