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The Haitian army, traditionally a tool of repressive regimes, surprised many Haitians by quickly smashing a coup by supporters of the ousted Duvalier dictatorship.

Questions remain, however, about the depth of support within the notoriously corrupt, 7,000-member force for President-elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist Roman Catholic priest and avowed enemy of Duvalierism.The loyalty of the Army High Command to the interim civilian government could be a milestone for a nation that has been ruled almost exclusively by despots since independence from France in 1804.

When provisional President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, a Supreme Court judge, was appointed in March 1990 to lead Haiti to democratic elections, she received a pledge of support from Lt. Gen. Herard Abraham, the armed forces commander.

Violence continued and Haitians remained wary, remembering the 1987 Election Day massacre in which thugs helped by the army shot and hacked 34 people to death.

With the help of 1,000 international monitors, the Dec. 16 election was carried out peacefully and fairly. Aristide, a 37-year-old champion of the poor, was elected by an overwhelming 65 percent of the vote.

Now, the army has won praise for defending democracy.

"The army correctly evaluated the massive desire of the people to establish democracy and was exemplary in protecting its achievements," Serge Gilles, a prominent socialist politician, said after the unsuccessful coup.

"In spite of the obstacles ahead, with the dissolution of hard-core Duvalierism our advance will be more secure."

Whatever the military's actions later, the apparent ease with which coup leader Roger Lafontant and his tiny band of 15 co-conspirators seized the National Palace on Jan. 6 suggests army complicity to many Haitians.

"How could 16 people just walk into the palace?" asked Jean-Claude Roy, a businessman and political leader. "Unless that question is resolved, the new government will be in an insupportable position."

Roy said many people feared Aristide would be assassinated before his inauguration Feb. 7.

Some feel the main reason the coup failed was the enraged response of thousands of Haitians who went on a rampage of killing and pillage. This theory holds that the army sensed the people never would allow Lafontant to hold power and acted accordingly.

Another theory is that Lafontant, who once led the hated Tonton Macoute militia that enforced the 29-year Duvalier regime, was encouraged by army officers who wanted to assassinate Aristide. The idea supposedly was to get rid of the priest and then arrest Lafontant, making him the scapegoat.

Aristide reported that a commando unit was sent to his home the night of the coup attempt but could not find him. He said he did not know whether the army conspired with Lafontant but that he had confidence in the military.

Loyalist soldiers brought the coup attempt to an end after a 10-hour standoff during which Mrs. Pascal-Trouillot was held hostage at the National Palace. Lafontant and his group were put in the national penitentiary to await formal charges.

The president-elect and others say many Duvalierists bent on sabotaging democracy remain at large.

Among them are Claude Raymond, a former Duvalier army chief of staff, and retired Maj. Gen. Williams Regala, who is widely blamed for the 1987 election massacre.

Aristide said there were fears that violent Duvalierists, with "the bitter taste of defeat in their mouth," would regroup, possibly under Raymond.

"It's not finished yet," said Louis Dejoie Jr., who ran third in the December presidential election. "There are people who will try to stop the wheel of democracy."

The late Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier founded the family dictatorship with a rigged 1957 election. It ended when his son, Jean-Claude, fled to exile in France in February 1986.

A U.S. official said the new government's most difficult task would be to establish such democratic institutions as an independent judiciary and legislature in a country that has never had them.

He said, on condition of anonymity, that the Bush administration was encouraged by developments and was moving to restore $70 million in aid suspended in protest of the election massacre.

After the coup attempt, there were widespread lynchings, burnings and mutilations, aimed mainly at Duvalierists. At least 75 people were killed and 150 injured, according to radio, hospital and city morgue reports.

Aristide described the violence as "hideous." He also called for "vigilance without vengeance," which some critics regarded as an endorsement of further protest.