Haitian Troops Oust Officers as Revolt Widens
A “sergeants’ revolt” spread through Haiti’s armed forces Tuesday as the country’s newly installed military president appealed for calm to troops still celebrating their newly gained power.
Noncommissioned officers and enlisted men ousted the commanders of army and police units in the capital and nearby districts, sometimes binding the officers and dumping them in front of the military headquarters building in Port-au-Prince.
The independent Radio Metropole reported at least 10 incidents in which commanders were either arrested or forced to flee by their men. One of those incidents involved Col. Hebert Valmont, the commandant of the navy, who was arrested and brought to military headquarters. Well-informed Haitians said they expect the mutinies to continue.
At the same time, the radio station reported, employees of the state-owned flour milling company and the government-operated electric company threatened to strike unless the firms’ chief ex1701016948officials both agreed to step down.
Evidence was growing that Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, proclaimed president early Sunday, must share power with the noncommissioned officers of the Presidential Guard, who spearheaded the coup that toppled Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, the previous military president.
During his three days in the presidential palace, Avril has not appeared in public without Sgt. Joseph Hebreux at his side. Hebreux, 27, has emerged as the spokesman for the noncommissioned officers.
“The insurgents are in charge,” a Haitian academic said. “It is quite clear that the military hierarchy has no control of the troops. It is obvious that Avril is not really in charge.”
A Western diplomat said it was not clear whether Avril was the leader of the noncoms or their figurehead. But he welcomed Avril’s promise that the new government would serve as a transition to democracy.
“It is definitely an open question of who is running things,” the diplomat said. “But whoever is running things is making the right noises.”
The noncommissioned officers presented Avril with a list of 19 demands, including restoration of the suspended 1987 constitution, early elections and separation of the police and military.
So far, the military commanders and company officials who have been the target of the grass-roots rebellion have been persons closely allied with the Namphy regime and often with the Duvalier family dictatorship as well. In addition, according to informed sources, most of the officials were accused of mistreating their troops or of some other form of malfeasance.
“There are specific people they want to get rid of,” the Haitian academic said. “But there is a question of momentum. If it succeeds, they might go beyond their original objectives. That can have any outcome.”
A Haitian businessman said the country seems headed for a fundamental change.
“I have an opinion that nobody in my family likes, but I say it just might work,” he said. “There are two classes in Haiti, the very rich and the very poor. This is the first time we’ve had a leader from each class.”
Might Offer Feedback
He said Hebreux and the other sergeants “might be able to give feedback (from the poor) that leaders in this country have never had.
“Since this morning there have been employees firing bosses all over town,” he added. “If it stops soon, it might be good. But what’s to prevent them six weeks from now to decide to change again? Once you taste power--once you name a general--it is hard to go back to being a foot soldier.”
Meanwhile, Avril went about the task of installing his new government, selecting Maj. Gen. Herard Abraham to be commander in chief of the armed forces. Although Abraham had served as foreign minister in Namphy’s government, he was described by diplomats and Haitians as a moderate who was untainted by his association with the former regime. One Western diplomat called him “everybody’s favorite general.”
In a short speech to the military ceremony, Avril called on the troops “to be calm and not adopt attitudes which will bring criticism on the (military) institution.”
Capital Surprisingly Calm
Port-au-Prince was surprisingly calm, meanwhile. Despite the periodic crackle of gunfire, most people seemed to be going about their business as though nothing much had happened.
“In the past, every time there were more than two bullets fired, shopkeepers closed up and went home,” a businessman said. “This morning there has been shooting all over town and the shops are staying open. I can’t say business is bad. Yesterday I had a normal day.
“We are getting used to it,” he said. “We are becoming like Lebanon.”
Unlike previous government upheavals here, there were no mass demonstrations in the streets. However, mobs lynched 10 men accused of belonging to the feared Tontons Macoutes secret militia. Radio Metropole described several incidents in which soldiers captured the suspected Tontons Macoutes and turned them over to civilians, who hacked them to death and burned their bodies.
Elite Units Affected
The sergeants’ revolt affected most of Haiti’s elite military units. As a result, Lt. Col. Jean Claude Paul, who was not deposed as commander of the 700-man Dessalines Barracks, may have emerged as the most powerful military man in the country because he is about the only senior officer still commanding troops.
Paul has been indicted in Miami on drug trafficking charges, and the Reagan Administration warned Avril that it would object strongly if he was promoted. According to a Western diplomat, the noncommissioned officers had proposed Paul for army commander in chief but backed away in the face of U.S. opposition.
A European diplomat said that Paul, who apparently enjoys the confidence of his troops, could have played a stabilizing role if it had not been for the U.S. objections.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that any increase in responsibility for Paul would be “viewed very negatively” by the U.S. government.
No Role in Upheaval
With the exception of the veto on Paul, however, a U.S. diplomat in Haiti said Washington was not involved in the latest upheaval.