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Member of Haitian Cabinet Now Suspect in Murder Plot

By Douglas Farah
The Washington Post

U.S. and Haitian authorities say there is growing evidence that a member of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Cabinet plotted to murder a political enemy.

The charges, and Aristide's refusal so far to deal with them, underscore the deep fissures that remain in Haiti's highly polarized society and the difficulty facing the United States and the United Nations in working to build functioning systems of law and justice in a country that has spent most of its nearly 200 years of independence under dictatorship.

The FBI-led investigation into the alleged participation of Interior Minister Mondesir Beaubrun in a plot to kill Mireille Durocher-Bertin - and Aristide's unwillingness to suspend the minister - have plunged U.S.-Haitian relations to their lowest level since U.S. troops occupied Haiti six months ago to restore Aristide to office.

New details of the investigation, obtained from U.S. and Haitian authorities familiar with the case, suggest Beaubrun not only knew of the plot, but supplied a vehicle to carry it out. The investigation also suggests that Leslie Delatour, the governor of the central bank, was also to be a target.

Beaubrun declined requests for an interview but has publicly denied any link to any plots. Aristide, in an interview last week, said there was no evidence of Beaubrun's involvement, and the minister has not formally been charged with any crime.

No one is suggesting Aristide knew of or sanctioned the killing. But his unwillingness to take steps against Beaubrun, despite heavy U.S. pressure and the advice of some of his closest advisers, has revived old questions about the president's willingness to tolerate abuses among those who have shown loyalty to him.

"It has turned from a relatively straightforward case into a test of the rule of law," said one official familiar with the evidence against Beaubrun. "The question is now what did the minister know, when did he know it, and why is Aristide protecting him? The president is hurting himself badly, but he has always been a stubborn man who prized personal loyalty above all else."

Durocher-Bertin, an American-educated lawyer who was a senior adviser to the military that overthrew Aristide in 1991, was assassinated March 28. The killing came just three days before Clinton arrived to declare the U.S. invasion a success and turn over command of the operation to the United Nations.

Aristide requested FBI help in carrying out the investigation. His resort to outside help reflected the chaotic state of a Haitian justice system long contorted by autocratic government and the embryonic stage of U.S. and U.N. plans to train and equip a competent police force in place of the corrupt enforcers used by the Duvalier family and the military to sustain their dictatorships.

The issue of whether Beaubrun should be suspended pending results of the enquiry has also sharply divided Aristide's Cabinet. The president has come under pressure particularly from his traditional, more hard-line followers, who want him to scuttle his free-market economic program and pursue a more radical political philosophy based more on retribution and less on the reconciliation advocated by the United States.

"I think we are seeing a fight for the president's soul," said one diplomat who works closely with Aristide. "Is he the old Aristide the people loved or the new Aristide people in Washington hoped he had become? How he handles Beaubrun will be an important signal about his intentions."

Beaubrun was part of the officer corps that overthrew Aristide. But he also was a good friend and military academy classmate of Pierre Cherubin, an officer who remained loyal to Aristide after the coup. The United States has long pressed Aristide to break his ties with Cherubin because Cherubin was implicated in human rights abuses, including the murder of five young men in 1991.

Although holding no official title, Cherubin is still a regular palace adviser. The tie to Cherubin, according to U.S. and Haitian sources, is the reason that Beaubrun was named first to the high command, then briefly as army commander late last year, before being appointed to the Cabinet in February.

U.S. and Haitian officials said U.S. Lt. Gen. George Fisher wrote a letter to Aristide and Justice Minister Jean-Jospeh Exume about March 22, warning them of a plot to kill Durocher-Bertin about a week before the killing occurred. In the letter, Fisher outlined Beaubrun's alleged participation, according to three sources familiar with the contents of the letter.