31 March 2004

SUBJECT: The difficulties facing the interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

SIGNIFICANCE: Although some progress has been made in restoring a degree of normality, stability and national reconciliation remain distant goals. The interim government’s limited political support may force it into a closer relationship with the armed opposition.

ANALYSIS: The 13-member cabinet sworn in by interim President Boniface Alexandre in mid-March was described by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue as “non-partisan” and “transitional,” composed of experienced technocrats. There are some signs of returning normality: the public administration and schools are beginning to reopen. The new ministers and officials enjoy the approval of the international community — that is, the United States and France — and their presence should mean that foreign aid, frozen for the past four years, will be restarted. However, while Latortue, a long-serving official of the UN Development Programme, regards lack of political affiliations as a virtue in his appointees, it means that his administration is already under attack from all sides, and its claim to be a government of national unity and reconciliation is in doubt:

Fanmi Lavalas (FL), the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, refused to propose any nominees to the new cabinet, and activists complain that there is an ongoing witch-hunt against them, including kidnappings and summary executions.

The ‘opposition platform’, made up of Convergence Democratique (CD) and the 184 Group (G184), complained that they were not consulted about the composition of the interim government. Aristide sympathizers disagree, arguing that at least seven cabinet members have links to the political opposition, including Foreign Minister Yvon Simeon (CD) and Justice Minister Bernard Gousse (G184). Nevertheless, the CD boycotted the swearing-in ceremony, to underline their dissatisfaction.

Philippe fortunes. The armed opposition, led by Guy Philippe, has also been excluded under US pressure (see HAITI: Stability in balance after Aristide’s flight – March 2, 2004). Philippe has agreed to withdraw his forces from the capital, and said they would lay down their arms as soon as the international peacekeeping force had restored order. However, while the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) has confined itself largely to Port-au-Prince and, latterly, Cap-Haitien, Philippe and his allies have continued to exercise effective control over most of the country — sometimes working in uneasy partnership with the police, but in most cases replacing them. Philippe has been traveling around the country, organizing his supporters and reinforcing his authority. The MIF has decided not to disarm the rebels, saying it is not practical — though French peacekeepers have begun an operation against the FL gangs known as ‘chimères’ in the slums of Port-au-Prince.

The MIF, made up of units from the United States, France, Canada and Chile, is due to be replaced after three months by a UN force, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pledged to remain committed to Haiti for the long term. However, Latortue is anxious to hedge his bets, and has decided to begin building bridges to the armed rebels. He met Philippe in Gonaives, his hometown, on March 21, and publicly hailed him and his forces as ‘freedom fighters,’ even though many of them have very dubious pasts. Several members of the G184 have also expressed their admiration for Philippe’s militias.

Election process. Latortue and his administration must now try to prepare the ground for legislative elections — a process that could take several months. It may be up to two years before the interim government is ready to hand over to a successor. It is not as yet clear to what extent FL will be able to maintain itself as a political force in forthcoming elections, nor to what extent it can muster popular support. However, the unrepresentative nature of the interim government, Latortue’s overtures to Philippe and the need for a continuing international force, could tend to bolster Aristide’s image and strengthen his claim to be the legitimate president.

CARICOM?s tensions. Latortue’s growing rapprochement with the armed rebels is also widening the breach with Haiti’s Caribbean neighbors, who have not accepted the ouster of Aristide and are unhappy with the role of the United States and France in removing him: Latortue was pointedly excluded from the CARICOM summit in St Kitts on March 25-26. He had earlier clashed with the CARICOM chairman,

Jamaican Prime Minister Percival Patterson, over the latter’s decision to withhold recognition of the new government, and to invite Aristide to visit Jamaica, ostensibly to be reunited with his two young daughters. Although Aristide, who arrived on March 15, has been told not to engage in political activities, his presence in Jamaica — less than 200 miles from Haiti — is most unwelcome to Port-au-Prince. Latortue told Patterson that his invitation to Aristide was an unfriendly and unhelpful act, and he threatened to ‘freeze’ diplomatic relations with Jamaica and CARICOM.

CARICOM?s stance is that member countries should maintain a democratic form of government, and that Aristide’s removal undermines CARICOM and its commitment to institutional stability.

CARICOM?s plan for Haiti, agreed to by Washington in Kingston in early February, proposed a form of power-sharing that would have involved keeping Aristide as a figurehead president, to serve out his term (see HAITI: Impasse may force concessions, but not peace – February 16, 2004). In the event, Washington decided that Aristide must go, and the CARICOM plan was abandoned. Patterson and other English-speaking Caribbean leaders regard Aristide’s fate as a bad precedent, and as further evidence of Washington’s ambivalent, not to say cavalier, attitude towards the region.

The St Kitts summit produced a statement that there could be no lasting solution to the Haiti crisis without CARICOM involvement, and confirmed an earlier demand for an international inquiry, preferably by the UN, into the circumstances of Aristide’s departure.

Political plays.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is seeking to make diplomatic capital out of the situation, refusing to recognize the new Haitian government and demanding a formal investigation by the Organization of American States (OAS) into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s flight. Chavez has also offered hospitality to the former president. Chavez has seized the opportunity to criticize Washington for its hypocrisy and failure to uphold the democratic values it claims to support, and to assure the English-speaking islands of his support and solidarity. Chavez has been working hard to court the CARICOM countries, and stirring up their resentment of the United States over a number of other issues — trade, aid, deportations of criminals and the perceived indifference of the Bush administration — suits his purpose.

Aristide himself has made clear that he has no intention of disappearing from the scene. He has already turned down a (US-inspired) offer to go into exile in Nigeria, and denied reports emanating from the St Kitts summit that he would accept an invitation from South Africa, after the elections there on April 14. He still regards himself as the legitimate president of Haiti, who was removed by a US-backed coup d’état, and he has no intention of leaving Latortue and his foreign sponsors in peace.

CONCLUSION: The international peacekeepers must establish order and stability quickly if the interim prime minister is not to be forced into closer ties with Philippe and his colleagues. Such a de facto alliance would ensure that CARICOM remained unreconciled, and would strengthen Aristide’s claim to represent democratic legitimacy.