Aristide asks OAS to demand end to Haitian coup, recounts ordeal

October 03, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Organization of American States, heeding a dramatic request by Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was poised last night to dispatch a mission to his impoverished nation to demand an immediate end to the coup that toppled him and to warn of further action if necessary.

Father Aristide told OAS foreign ministers his people were determined to resist a new dictatorship and said such a mission would help prevent a blood bath at the hands of a junta led by Brig. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who seized power Monday.

Later, speaker after speaker called Haiti's crisis a crucial test of the organization and demanded decisive action to restore the Aristide government.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, endorsing the proposal, warned that additional steps must be considered if the mission failed, an apparent warning of some kind of collective military force. He vowed that as long as the junta lasted, it would be treated as a pariah, without assistance, friends or a future.

Early this morning, OAS foreign ministers reached tentative agreement on a resolution that would dispatch a high-level mission to Haiti to demand that the junta step down and turn power back to Father Aristide.

Should the mission fail, the foreign ministers would reconvene to consider other options, diplomats said. The resolution also recommends that OAS member states sever economic, military and diplomatic ties with Haiti so long as the junta remains in power.

The OAS was expected to adopt the resolution later today.

Yesterday, as the OAS ministers met, hundreds of sign-carrying Aristide supporters demonstrated across the street, blocked from OAS headquarters by a long line of helmeted Washington policemen, vehicles and horses.

President Bush said earlier in the day that a multinational force was possible but that he was disinclined to send U.S. forces. He also suggested that further economic sanctions would be imposed by the world community.

The United States was sending Marines to Guantanamo Naval Station in Cuba, however, to help evacuate Americans from Haiti if needed. There are 8,000 Americans in Haiti, but they appeared not to face any threat yesterday.

Father Aristide, his slight frame appearing all the more so in the vaulted OAS chamber, stood somberly, head slightly bowed, as the foreign ministers greeted him with a standing ovation.

Speaking without a text, he gave a blow-by-blow account of his ordeal starting Saturday, when he first heard rumors of a coup and called General Cedras, who said he didn't believe them.

The following night, he realized the rumors were true after soldiers arrested and killed the director of the national radio station and his own residence was fired upon with machine guns, Father Aristide said.

Monday morning, troops and tanks occupied the streets, firing at crowds of people.

"If I am alive, it is thanks to some ambassadors," he said, describing how the French ambassador braved the troops to come to his house and take him to the National Palace. En route, their car was struck by bullets.

At the palace, Father Aristide told General Cedras he wanted to address the nation, only to learn that all communications had been cut off.

A phone call to Father Aristide at the palace from U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams had to be interrupted because it was "raining bullets from the military under Cedras," he said.

Battalions loyal to Father Aristide tried to resist but "I told them no, I would rather die" than encourage more bloodshed. Eventually, he left the palace with his hands up and surrendered, Father Aristide said.

"They started firing. I was lying on the ground. One of the soldiers next to me was hit by bullets. Eight

people with me were tortured and beaten and taken to military headquarters.

"Cedras told me, 'Now, I am the president.' "

Five of the general's soldiers then deliberated on what to do with Father Aristide. Some favored killing him, others wanted to let him leave so as to avoid problems with the United States and France, he said.

At 11 p.m. Monday, Father Aristide was taken to the airport. With the U.S. and Venezuelan ambassadors present, "I asked if I could leave alive," he said. His request was granted, and he and his family left for Caracas, Venezuela, at 1 a.m.

He said that the rebels had killed 26 people and wounded hundreds.

"The whole country said no to dictatorship and followed a strategy to fight," he said, adding that he came to Washington to pay homage to the Haitian people.

"I am not afraid of death when it is a question of dying for democracy," he said.

Father Aristide also urged the OAS nations to increase economic aid to Haiti after the junta was gone, in part to strengthen its legal processes, without which democracy could not flourish, he said.

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