Rene Preval, the prime minister whose policies during exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first year in office were so controversial that they contributed to Aristide's violent overthrow, is now under consideration for the same job, Haitian political sources say.
Preval, a onetime baker and political radical whose very name generates vitriol even among political moderates, is one of six candidates to fill the prime minister post when Aristide is restored to office.
That's unsettling news in the unstable political climate brought on by the U.S. military occupation with its potential for a violent faceoff between Aristide's mass following and the fast-fading regime of a military-civilian coalition.
Even anti-military figures who opposed Aristide's policies but insist on his restoration in the name of democracy are alarmed.
"I don't think Preval's the favorite," said one expert, "but just putting his name on the list raises doubts that Aristide is serious about reconciliation or that he learned anything from the past."
Aristide's and Preval's refusal to respond to parliamentary inquiries in August, 1991, and their call for popular defiance of the legislature were used by opponents to convince the military to revolt a month later.
News of the list of candidates came at a particularly sensitive moment as Haiti's Parliament prepared to meet today for the first time in 16 months to debate an amnesty law that is designed to facilitate Aristide's return in the next few weeks.
Under an agreement engineered by former President Jimmy Carter, the Parliament is supposed to quickly pass an amnesty law covering Haiti's military regime in exchange for the resignation of the three most powerful army leaders. Once they leave office, Aristide is to return from exile in Washington.
American troops took over the Parliament on Tuesday morning, setting up barbed-wire barricades, closing surrounding streets and refusing entry to everyone, including building employees and at least one legislator.
While the soldiers were occupying the legislature and, later in the morning, the city hall, other American troops were setting up posts throughout the city.
It was at such a position at the Electoral Council office that an unidentified U.S. soldier died from a gunshot late Tuesday morning, the first American casualty since soldiers began arriving in Haiti a week and a half ago.
Military officials gave no details, but Pentagon spokesmen said the death was an apparent suicide, the result of family problems.
Today's opening of Parliament is the beginning of a three-day period of powerful emotions and terrible apprehension. The symbolism of the resumption of a democratic assembly is expected to ignite public demonstrations.
Even if those pass without violence, U.S. diplomats and military officials fear that the emotions will build Thursday and climax Friday, which is the third anniversary of the military coup against Aristide.
Popular organizations have called for mass demonstrations and predict that hundreds of thousands of people will be in the streets, demanding the army leaders' immediate abdication and the return of Aristide.
Most of the legislature's pro-Aristide or anti-military members are currently in exile abroad or in hiding here as a result of murderous threats by the army and its attaches , the civilian thugs whom the generals often use to terrorize the country.
Further complicating the political equation are the claims of nine men that they were voted into the Senate in January, 1993, when a puppet civilian government called elections. The United States and most of the international community rejected that vote, but the "illegals" plan on claiming their seats when the Parliament convenes this afternoon.
There is additional concern that the exiled and hiding legislators either won't make it back in time for the opening session or will remain afraid to re-emerge, thus raising the possibility that there will not be sufficient attendance for the legislature to do business.
The special session, convened by Aristide to pass an amnesty bill, also will deal with at least five other measures, most of which will generate excitement in a Parliament that frequently breaks down in screaming, fist-swinging and even the waving of guns.
That is the way it was Aug. 25, 1991, when Parliament demanded that Preval appear to defend his government. Fearing a vote of no-confidence, Preval and Aristide refused to appear and called for a popular demonstration of support.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians circled the Parliament, brandishing machetes and clubs and carrying automobile tires as if they intended to "necklace" the legislators with burning tires.
Several senators and deputies were assaulted, and Parliament was suspended. A month later, Aristide was driven from office.
Aristide appointed Preval prime minister in 1991 against the wishes of all but his most radical leftist followers--largely, the experts say, "because Aristide thought Preval was the only one he could trust."
Preval's leftist policies, combined with a stubborn and abrasive manner, caused distrust bordering on hatred among business people here, a feeling they still retain.
"He should be shot on sight," said a prominent businesswoman when told Preval was on Aristide's short list for prime minister. "He is evil."
According to the sources, the others on the list are Leslie Delatour, a widely respected economist and former finance minister; Leslie Voltaire, Aristide's minister of education; Spark Michel, a wealthy businessman who gave Aristide significant financial backing during his campaign; George Anglad, a geography professor who has lived and taught in Canada for most of the past 25 years, and Marie-Michele Rey, a wealthy banker whom Aristide named as his finance minister.
Most of the sources said Rey would be the best, if not the most likely, choice to run Aristide's government for the 17 months remaining in his term.
In another development Tuesday, mobs looted a food warehouse near the capital, carrying off tons of rice and other food. It was the fourth such raid in the country in two days. With the Haitian police and military seriously impeded by American rules prohibiting force against demonstrators, there was no protection for the warehouses. U.S. forces were either too far away to intervene or arrived on the scene too late.