In direct defiance of the United States and United Nations, Haitian military rulers and renegade legislators on Wednesday named a new government to replace exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and all but dared the international community to stop them.
With army commander Raoul Cedras and other military officers looking on in the Parliament's main hall, Sen. Bernard Sansaricq, one of two rival presidents of the Haitian Senate, declared that Aristide, overthrown by a violent coup in September, 1991, had abandoned his office and betrayed the country. They picked Supreme Court President Emile Jonassaint as president.
In Washington, the White House denounced the Haitian action, which Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers called, "cynical, unconstitutional and illegal."
"We don't recognize that there is a vacancy" in the Haitian presidency, Myers said, noting that the Clinton Administration still considers Aristide to be Haiti's legitimate president.
But Jonassaint's elevation raised a key question as to what steps the international community might take next, including military intervention. And on this topic, officials in Washington on Wednesday took special pains to criticize a Times report Tuesday.
The report, citing diplomatic sources, said the United States plans to send at least 600 heavily armed and protected troops to purge Haiti's military, even if a broader, tougher program of sanctions forces the Caribbean nation's military rulers from power.
"The story is wrong," Myers said. But she added that the President is not willing to rule out the use of force.
And Madeleine Albright, American ambassador to the United Nations, said that no matter what happens in Haiti, officials think that some kind of a U.N. force, with an American component, will eventually be needed in the country. She said on NBC's "Today" show that the Administration is doing "contingency" planning as it awaits the results, if any, of tough new sanctions against the military regime.
Meantime, in Port-au-Prince, in a speech marked by bellowing attacks on the United States and the United Nations, Sansaricq said the new government would take office immediately and serve until new elections are held later this year. As he spoke, four cannons were rolled onto the grounds of the Presidential Palace to fire a 21-gun salute.
By naming the little-known, frail, 81-year-old Jonassaint as president, Sansaricq, who acted with Cedras' support, openly defied the U.N. Security Council.
The council approved a resolution last Friday aimed at forcing Aristide's return with tough economic sanctions. That resolution "condemns any attempt illegally to remove legal authority from the legitimately elected president (and) declares that it would consider illegitimate any purposed government resulting from such an attempt."
Sansaricq called the resolution an "invasion of national sovereignty" and said Haiti will "resist" any effort by the United States to restore Aristide, including the use of military advisers and other troops as contemplated by President Clinton as part of an earlier agreement to reorganize and retrain Haiti's military and police.
One diplomat here said the move Wednesday was "the military's way of saying 'Take your best shot.' " The move was condemned by American officials and representatives of other nations.
But beyond its symbolism, the naming of a new government has practical, potentially threatening aspects, most alarming among them the possibility that Jonassaint will order the U.N. Civil Mission, which monitors human rights and represents the United Nations, to leave the country.
The naming of the new president on Wednesday escalated the conflict between the Haitian regime and the international community.
In Haiti, Sansaricq indicated he was dismissing the likelihood of an American military reaction by "blessing" public opposition to such a move from individuals such as former President George Bush, Senate Republican leader Bob Dole and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
Sansaricq--who claims the Haitian Senate presidency based on a 1993 election that even the military in Haiti has acknowledged was fraudulent--denounced the U.N. mission here. It is made up of about 100 observers and administrative personnel.
He called the U.N. mission illegal, saying the agreement permitting its presence is no longer valid. "The international community," he said, "wants to wipe us off the face of the earth. . . . May God spare us this vile and murderous pursuit of pseudo-democracy."
In elevating Jonassaint, Sansaricq operated unilaterally and in violation of the constitution he claimed as justification for his decree; neither chamber of the Parliament approved the action, as required. There was never even a legal vote, and the swearing-in was boycotted by the majority of the legislators.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council condemned what it called "the attempt to replace the legitimate president of Haiti." In a statement read to the press by Ambassador Ibrahim A. Gambari of Nigeria, the council president this month, the 15 ambassadors reminded anyone taking part in the new government that they will automatically fall under special sanctions.
Under the sanctions resolution passed last Friday, the Security Council banned anyone taking part in an illegal Haitian government from traveling outside the country or using any funds deposited in foreign bank accounts.
In Port-au-Prince, U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Shrager said Wednesday's events "will not prevent nor delay" the implementation of new, stringent economic sanctions. Neither, he said, will the United States be "diverted from pursuing the restoration of democracy or the return of President Aristide to Haiti."
But the question now, said one international official, is "whether the U.N. would refuse to go and what it would do if the military forced them out."
In reacting negatively to The Times' report on Haiti, Administration officials confirmed that Clinton is actively planning to send troops if the regime quits. And if it does not, the Administration has said it is considering unspecified military options.
The Times' report Wednesday, citing diplomats and American officials in Haiti, said the Administration would prefer to send the troops in after Haiti's military leaders step down but would also do so if the military remained in place.
The only question remaining, The Times said, was the timing and ultimate size of the force.
While Myers disputed The Times' story, the White House said the United States still plans to take part in a U.N. military and police advisory group that would go to Haiti after democracy was restored to train a new police force, restructure the army and build roads.
"The use of force, the President is not willing to rule out," Myers said.
"But I haven't heard discussed, and I can't imagine discussing, sending in some kind of people to try to achieve a mission like that," she said of The Times' report that the United States would consider a reform of the Haitian military even if the ruling regime does not step down.
At a photo opportunity, Defense Secretary William J. Perry observed of The Times' story: "I read that report. I didn't recognize it as any plan we're working on." Pressed, however, to describe American options in the matter, Perry said he could not discuss "any of our contingency plans."
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the Administration wants to assemble a multinational force, including American troops, to help "train and professionalize the Haitian army."
"In our discussions, we're once again reviving that concept, in feeling the need for some military forces there to try to ensure that the transition there is a peaceful and positive one," he told reporters at the State Department. "That's the kind of force that's being discussed at the present time."
The Times' story Wednesday quoted sources as saying that such a force would be called a U.N. military advisory group but, in reality, would be almost entirely an American operation because of the reluctance of other nations to participate.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday was ordered to return to Port-au-Prince 14 Haitians who were intercepted off the coast of Florida last Friday.
A total of 16 refugees were traveling in a 25-foot motorboat stopped about 60 miles east of Daytona Beach.
A 4-year-old boy who was found near-dead from dehydration was airlifted off the patrol boat Pea Island and transferred to a hospital in Orlando, Fla. His father, also aboard the boat, was later allowed to join him.
The Haitians, believed to be longtime residents of the Bahamas, presented special problems for the Administration since last month the Bahamian government announced it would no longer accept the return of illegal immigrants, either Haitian or Cuban.
At least some of the 14 Haitians still on the boat have been residents of the Bahamas for years, according to one reliable source.
The 14 Haitians now are being held aboard the Coast Guard cutter Confidence, which has remained offshore for the last six days while a decision was being made on where to take them, according to Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. James Howe in Miami.
They are scheduled to reach Haiti on Friday.
Times staff writers Doyle McManus in Washington and Stanley Meisler at the United Nations, and Times special correspondent Mike Clary in Miami, contributed to this report.