Col. Jean-Claude Paul, wanted in the United States on drug charges and feared in Haiti as the army’s most powerful troop commander, has been removed from his command and retired by the pro-democracy president of the new military government, Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril.
The controversial colonel, considered the only officer strong enough to unseat Avril’s two-week-old government, accepted his retirement without protest, according to Haitian radio broadcasts Saturday.
A few bursts of gunfire in the rain- and thunder-swept streets accompanied the announcement on national television late Friday of Paul’s retirement, raising fears of a violent reaction from the 750 loyal troops of his Dessalines Barracks, the army’s best-armed unit.
But calm prevailed throughout the capital Saturday, and there was no sign of action from Paul’s barracks, a tidy walled village of mustard-colored two-story buildings adjoining the grounds of Haiti’s massive white presidential palace in downtown Port-au-Prince.
The Dessalines troops appeared calm under the temporary command of Paul’s deputy, Lt. Col. Guy Francois, an American-trained officer. Local Radio Metropole quoted military sources as saying the soldiers have quietly accepted the change of command.
Paul reportedly earned the loyalty of his unit by giving monthly bonuses to the troops and paying scrupulous attention to the health, education and social needs of their families.
His retirement was greeted with expressions of relief and uncertainty. Although the colonel had endorsed the “sergeants’ revolt” in the Palace Guard Battalion that unseated Haitian strongman Gen. Henri Namphy two weeks ago, he was seen as a wild card in the country’s power game, capable of turning against the mild-mannered Avril and installing a tougher military regime of his own choosing.
Avril has pledged to surrender power as soon as the fragile country is stabilized and a civilian government can be freely elected.
“If it sticks, Paul’s retirement removes Avril’s greatest worry,” said a longtime foreign resident here.
“The situation is positive and encouraging,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Susan Clyde told reporters.
But some Haitians expressed reservations. “No one knows what’s going on behind the scenes,” said Andre Brutus, a functionary of the small National Progressive Revolutionary Party. “But if it is real, I am afraid there will be some reaction from Col. Paul.”
“I fear this could lead to bloodshed,” said Ignace Morel, another party official. “If they keep retiring the high-ranking officers, it might take months or years, but it will not happen without bloodshed.”
Since his selection as president by the noncommissioned officers who staged the Sept. 17 coup d’etat, Avril has retired about 60 senior officers, dismissed another half a dozen and reassigned another 60 who were rejected by their own troops. None so far has reacted to the mass internal housecleaning, but many Haitians have expressed fear that the disgruntled former officers--who held enormous power just two weeks ago--might regroup and try for a counter-coup.
Paul’s retirement was particularly significant because his federal indictment on drug charges in Florida has been one of the four major obstacles raised by Washington to a resumption of vitally needed economic aid.
The United States cut off more than $60 million in assistance last Nov. 29 when army-encouraged thugs massacred 34 voters, causing cancellation of what was to have been the poverty-ridden country’s first free democratic election after many years of dictatorship.
Before a resumption of aid, U.S. policy calls for positive steps against drug trafficking, strict observance of human and civil rights, economic progress on behalf of the Haitian people and establishment of a credible transition to a democratically elected civilian government.
With the backing of the noncommissioned officers, Avril has moved quickly to meet the American policy demands but has pleaded that, to establish the stability necessary to hold elections and to make economic progress for the people, he urgently needs U.S. financial assistance.
Washington has been particularly galled by Paul’s continued grip on power. During the early hours of the Sept. 17 coup, the enlisted troops were said to have demanded that Paul be named minister of interior and defense in the mostly civilian Cabinet that Avril appointed. His name was removed from contention only after U.S. Ambassador Brunson McKinley called Avril to tell him that giving the colonel any additional responsibilities would be unacceptable to the United States.
Also Signed Order
Instead, Avril gave the defense portfolio to one of his longtime associates, Col. Carl Dorsainville, who also signed the order retiring Paul.
Paul has exercised power by doing little in recent months. In June, when enlisted troops and senior officers stormed the palace to put Namphy back in power after four months of civilian government under President Leslie F. Manigat, Paul kept his troops in the barracks, offering help to neither side.
When the noncommissioned officers revolted two weeks ago, Paul again sat it out, offering verbal support only after they had removed Namphy from the palace.
His troops were linked to the massacre at the polls last November, and their deliberate inaction is said to have encouraged a wave of random terrorist actions that have kept the capital city in turmoil for most of this year.
About the time of the Paul announcement, there were two, possibly related military moves. The actions may indicate further steps in Avril’s pledge to disarm the terrorist Tontons Macoutes, believed responsible for most of the country’s recent bloodshed.
Unidentified troops stormed a Tontons Macoutes stronghold in the city, the headquarters of a Duvalierist political party. The building, long known as a training base for the Tontons Macoutes--former members of a private militia for the Duvalier dictatorship--was demolished.
In the second move, troops invaded the house of former Col. Claude Raymond, a former Duvalier backer whose supporters have been blamed for conducting the killings of last Nov. 29 and much of Haiti’s recent terrorism. After firing some shots at the house, the troops entered to find no one home.