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Carter Returns to Bolster Haiti's Democratic Process amid Anxiety

By Douglas Farah
The Washington Post
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti

Former President Carter, who played a crucial but controversial role in persuading Haiti's military rulers to step down last year, returned Thursday to try to bolster the nation's nascent democratic process under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The visit, although unofficial, has triggered anxiety in the Aristide government. Many officials here view Carter as favoring the former military regime and fear an attempt to meddle in parliamentary and local elections scheduled June 4. In recent days, graffiti have been sprayed across much of the downtown area denouncing Carter in vulgar language.

"Carter is a false democrat" and "Carter is a thug" are among the less-harsh signs sprayed in red paint around the city, including on the outside gates of the Presidential Palace. A group of 36 organizations, strong allies of Aristide, Thursday denounced the visit, calling Carter a "danger to democracy."

Aristide's supporters fear Carter is here to bolster and unite the badly fractured conservative and centrist opposition to Aristide for the coming elections in an attempt to build a credible alternative to the president's party.

Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to arrive Friday to accompany Carter. The three came in September and persuaded Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and other military leaders to step aside, just hours before a U.S. military strike against Haiti was to begin.

President Clinton had ordered the attack to oust the military and restore Aristide. After the Carter accord, some 20,000 U.S. troops occupied Haiti on Sept. 19 in a peaceful environment and suffered no casualties. The mission will be turned over to the United Nations on March 31. Of the 6,000 troops to remain under U.N. command, about 2,400 will be from the United States.

But the Carter agreement allowed the military leaders to go into gilded exile and escape punishment for overthrowing Aristide in a bloody 1991 coup and for thousands of deaths for which they share responsibility. The accord also sought to protect the army from being dismantled. Both points of the agreement deeply angered many in the Aristide camp, who denounced the deal as giving away too much.

In a sign of the tension over the visit, no one from the Aristide government met Carter's delegation at the airport. While Carter said Aristide invited him, two senior Aristide aides said the president never extended an invitation.

"He said he was coming and so we will invite him to dinner, but we do not know what he is doing here," one Aristide aide said. "We know we have to watch all three of them carefully, because they are tricky, sneaky."

In a brief arrival statement, Carter said he had returned to Haiti for three purposes: to assess progress being made and see what help is needed for the June elections, as well as presidential elections in December; to evaluate Haitian economic development; and to analyze security issues.

Aristide was elected in 1990 with 67 percent of the vote and remains tremendously popular, and his allies are expected to get a large majority in both houses of Parliament in the June election. This would give Aristide a virtually unlimited mandate his last nine months in office, because he would control all three branches of government.