Debate Over Haiti's Future Divides Former Comrades

October 04, 1992|By J. P. SLAVIN

Port-au-Prince, Haiti. -- Asadistic dictator, who preferred th title Emperor of the Sun but was known as Papa Doc, once united the two men as comrades-in-arms fiercely dedicated to ending the Duvalier family dictatorship.

But six years after the collapse of the brutal regime, the two Haitian leaders have split, battling against each other over Haiti's political future.

Francois Benoit and the Rev. Antoine Adrien have become adversaries over the future of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown by the Haitian army a year ago (the anniversary was last Wednesday).

Mr. Benoit is the foreign minister in the army-backed government that is battling to keep Mr. Aristide in exile. Mr. Adrien is Mr. Aristide's chief aid in Haiti responsible for negotiating Mr. Aristide's return. That return is increasingly unlikely, especially as diplomats say if Mr. Benoit can deliver a face-saving gesture to the Organization of American States, the OAS embargo on Haiti will be lifted, and Mr. Aristide will remain a professional exile.

Officials in the army-backed government are preparing to ask parliament to recognize Mr. Aristide as president but not to allow him to return. Diplomats from OAS member states, both in

Washington and in Haiti, say the recognition would be a major step toward ending the diplomatic isolation of Mr. Benoit's government.

"At what point do you say 'enough is enough'?" a diplomat said speaking of the year-long OAS effort to reinstate Mr. Aristide. "You don't destroy a country for one person."

Mr. Adrien rejects this strategy, saying the embargo must remain in place until Mr. Aristide returns.

"There will be no peace without that," Mr. Adrien said. "We're using a lot of energy to stop people from taking to the streets."

The OAS embargo on Haiti, while failing to pressure the army-backed government to accept Mr. Aristide's return, has greatly lessened the value of the Haitian currency, severely hurting Haiti's small middle class and the estimated 80 percent of Haiti's 6.6 million people who live below the poverty line.

According to statistics provided by the U.S. Embassy, a pound of ground corn cost $1.37 before the coup. In June the price nearly doubled to $2.30. In a country where the daily minimum wage is $3, such price increases are devastating.

One year after the coup, Haiti is violently divided by class over Mr. Aristide's return. Walking through the sprawling, stinking slums of Port-au-Prince, support for Mr. Aristide is nearly unanimous.

In the classy boutiques and restaurants in the upper-class suburb of Petion-Ville, however, Mr. Aristide is routinely compared to former dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

* It was the terror of the 29-year Duvalier family regime thabrought Mr. Benoit and Mr. Adrien together.

In 1963, Mr. Benoit went into hiding when he learned that Papa Doc blamed him for a failed assassination attempt on Mr. Duvalier's two children. Mr. Benoit, a lieutenant, was the best marksman in the Haitian military.

But his family didn't move quickly enough. Thugs from Mr. Duvalier's private militia, the Tontons Macoutes, stormed Mr. Benoit's home and murdered his parents. His infant son died when the Macoutes burned Mr. Benoit's house. A lawyer, Benoit Armand, was killed by the Macoutes on the same day. Haitian historians say Mr. Armand was killed only because his first name was Benoit.

After living for two years in the Dominican Republic Embassy, Mr. Benoit emigrated to the United States. (Mr. Duvalier had sentenced him to death in absentia.) He worked for General Motors before returning to Haiti in 1986.

Mr. Adrien, a Roman Catholic priest, was expelled by Duvalier in 1969 for opposing the regime. Two years later, Mr. Adrien settled in a Creole-speaking parish in Brooklyn, N.Y. From his church basement, Mr. Adrien started the first social agency to assist Haitian boat people, the Charlemagne Peralte Center.

Mr. Benoit's sister, Josy, a Roman Catholic nun, worked in Mr. Adrien's refugee office, and quickly, Mr. Adrien and Mr. Benoit became leaders and partners in opposing the Duvalier regime from exile.

"Francois Benoit used to visit Adrien in Brooklyn. He was a hero of the resistance," a close friend of Mr. Adrien said after requesting anonymity. "But it amazes me how some people who were victims of the army are now working for the army."

Mr. Benoit, 56, sees it differently. Speaking of Mr. Adrien, Mr. Benoit said, "We were in the same group that opposed Duvalier. Fundamentally we want the same for Haiti. But we have a different path. My approach is democratic. Adrien's is more of a populist."

Mr. Adrien is a leader among Haiti's liberation theologians, militant Roman Catholic priests who work to empower Haiti's disenfranchised peasantry. Mr. Aristide, a priest and a champion of liberation theology, said he views Mr. Adrien as a mentor.

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