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by Ives Marie Chanel
(IPS) PORT-AU-PRINCE --
the first time since the fall of their dictator 15 years ago, Duvalierists are once again in positions of power in Haiti.
When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's cabinet was sworn in during March, it included a prime minister and three ministers who had been prominent figures in the brutal Duvalier dictatorship that ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986 -- first by Francois Duvalier and, upon his death in 1971, by his son Jean Claude. The regime was overturned by a popular uprising.
The new prime minister, Jean Marie Cherestal, served in the same post under the dictatorship. He was also a cabinet minister during Aristide's previous tenure as president in the early 1990s.
While some Haitians think the move is politically astute, others feel betrayed.
"Next we'll have the comeback of Jean-Claude Duvalier himself. In fact, there is no reason why people had to give their lives to overthrow the Duvalier dictatorship if the same people are in power today. Is this how we're honoring the memory of our dead?" asked a political militant, who requested that his name be withheld.
Some heads of grassroots groups close to Aristide have indicated that the gesture shows that he is open.
Joseph Jasmin, a former lawmaker close to a pro-Aristide group, said that Aristide wished to neutralize the Democratic Convergence -- an opposition alliance of right-wing and left-wing parties -- and show the international community that he is open to opposition participation by recruiting die-hard opponents from the Duvalier years.
international community is unhappy with Aristide's Lavalas Family Party's handling of parliamentary and municipal elections last May. The community has demanded that Haitian authorities revise the senatorial results.
An electoral mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) questioned the tallies of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), whose job it was to organize the elections. According to the observation mission, at least 10 senators running as members of Aristide's party had not actually been elected during the first round, as the CEP had announced.
On March 1, during a speech on government policy, Cherestal advocated openness in government.
"We've opted for an open government, an inclusive government, which unites, federates, and rallies, not one which rejects or leaves some sectors of society on the sidelines," he declared.
Aristide also named Marc Louis Bazin, an economist who was the minister of finance under Jean Claude Duvalier, to the post of minister of planning. Bazin was Aristide's main rival during the December 1990 elections, and prime minister under the military government which overthrew him in a violent coup d'etat in 1991.
The cabinet comprises 17 ministers and four state secretaries. Many are figures close to the president; some had been living abroad.
The Cabinet had hardly been named before the president announced the formation of a new electoral council. At least three former Duvalierist barons will have seats on the council. One was a founding member of the Party of National Unity, a neo-Duvalierist group.
The electoral council will organize the forthcoming senatorial by-elections, according to an eight-point bilateral agreement hammered out between former President Bill Clinton and then President-elect Aristide.
According to this agreement, Aristide committed himself to correcting procedural irregularities that marred the May 21, 2000 legislative and local elections, and agreed to form an open government where the opposition would have the opportunity to participate. He also agreed to take action to stop members of parliament from influencing the police, and to make sure that top police posts were filled by competent and credible individuals.
The agreement also specifies that a human rights observer mission from the OAS be stationed in the Caribbean country, and that Haiti will take back any of its citizens that U.S. officials want to deport for illegal entry into that country.
This last point is proving extremely controversial among Haitians, many of whom are economically dependent on family members working, sometimes illegally, in the United States.
The opposition has not criticised the fact that Aristide has chosen Duvalierists to serve on the electoral council. But it continues to reject the validity of the elections held last May, and has been demanding that they be annulled and that new general elections take place.
The Democratic Convergence on Feb. 7, the day of Aristide's swearing-in, inaugurated a "Provisional President" whose mandate it will be to organize new general elections.
The alliance is so angry about what took place last May that it rejected Aristide's offer to grant it four ministerial posts. Sauveur Pierre Etienne, a spokesperson for the coalition, said at the time the offer was made that Aristide's proposal was not up for consideration without a political agreement resolving all aspects of the lingering political crisis.
Political analysts think that by appointing Duvalierists, Aristide may indeed have taken the wind out of the Democratic Convergence's sails. At the same time, however, they say he may be destroying the image he has created for himself as a steadfast opponent of the dictatorship.
Jonas Petit, a supporter of Aristide's Lavalas Family Party, thinks that it is the opposition's refusal to work with the new president that has led to the inclusion of the Duvalierists.
"The Democratic Convergence declared that it would not participate in the government. Aristide held talks with a broader opposition sector...There is still the possibility he can hold talks with the Convergence, but a majority of eight million people should not suffer because of a minority," he noted.
May 14, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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