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17947: (Chamberlain) Haiti-Aristide's Opponents (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By PAISLEY DODDS
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 14 (AP) -- One is a businessman barred from the
presidency because of his dual nationality. Another led a failed coup
attempt. A third managed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's campaign.
Opposition is mounting to Aristide's embattled administration, but it's
unclear whether any of the movement's leaders has the international backing
and popular support to lead the country out of its deepening morass.
None has presented themselves as alternatives to Aristide, and few have
offered real solutions for Haiti's worsening poverty or unrest.
"The opposition is out for the kill," said Larry Birns, director of the
Council for Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. "The problem is there's no
natural substitute leader."
The opposition coalition of political parties, businesses, civic
organizations, students and clergy has demanded Aristide's resignation,
saying he should be replaced by a nine-member transitional governing
council until new elections are held within two years.
"It should be reassuring that we're proposing a collective leadership
since Haitian history has been filled with so many cults of personalities,"
said Rosny Desroches, 60, a soft-spoken leader in the coalition who is a
former school principal.
Due to disparate views, the coalition has often struggled to find one
voice, slowing its efforts to gain international recognition.
But it has managed recently to organize strikes and bring huge crowds to
demonstrations. Less than a year ago, anti-government strikes and
demonstrations often fizzled before they began.
Its most outspoken leader, but unlikely messiah, is Andy Apaid Jr. A
factory owner born in the United States, his family fled under Francois
Duvalier, or "Papa Doc," who ruled from 1957 to 1971.
With pressed pastel shirts and gold-rimmed glasses, Apaid looks more
like a Miami businessman than a political activist in the Western
Hemisphere's poorest nation. Without a constitutional amendment, he will
never become president because of his dual nationality.
"I am just as much a part of this country as anyone," said Apaid, 51.
"That's why I am saying we must choose another path for the country."
In contrast, coalition member Evans Paul, 48, once helped put Aristide
in power by managing his election campaign.
A playwright and journalist under Jean-Claude Duvalier, Paul was jailed
for opposing him. Years later, he managed Aristide's campaign in 1990 but
broke ranks after Aristide left him out of his inner circle.
Following violent protests that have left at least 45 people dead in the
past four months, U.S. officials have raised concerns over the
deteriorating situation and urged both sides to find a solution.
Meanwhile, the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded group
whose mission is to train political groups, has been working with sectors
in the opposition coalition -- not with Aristide's Lavalas Family party.
"We're trying to create a level playing field," said Thayer Scott,
spokesman for the group. "(Lavalas) is well-entrenched in power."
Aristide, Haiti's first freely elected president, was ousted in a 1991
coup and restored to power by U.S. troops in 1994. He refuses to step down
until his second term ends in 2006 and accuses the opposition of fomenting
Himler Rebu, another voice of the opposition, was a former Army colonel
who commanded a battalion that in 1989 attempted to overthrow Lt. Gen.
Prosper Avril. The coup attempt failed and Rebu, 53, went into exile.
Rebu, who now owns a health club, last year helped organize an
opposition protest that assembled tens of thousands in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's
In the 1990 elections that Aristide won in a landslide, the U.S.
government backed Aristide's main opponent, Marc Bazin, a former finance
minister and World Bank official. Bazin won barely 12 percent of the vote.
The outcome could be similar if the international community backs
another contender who is unable to win the support of Haiti's masses.
Most of its 8 million people are poor and live in the countryside,
isolated geographically and politically, but important for popular support.
Aristide, a former parish priest, managed to win the trust of the masses by
using the church's expansive network of parishes.
Student leader Herve Saintilus, Protestant Federation leader Edouard
Paultre and businessman Charles Henry Baker have also emerged as leaders in
the opposition coalition.
But all suffer from the same problem: none has offered a prescription to
Haiti's many ills, says J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, a cultural
anthropologist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., and an observer in
the 1995 elections.
"The opposition isn't saying anything except they're not Aristide,"
Kovats-Bernat said. "This time Haitians won't elect a personality but will
rather choose a system that will guarantee their survival."
Associated Press writer Michael Norton contributed to this report.