Haiti's new military-dominated governing council, moving to restore calm and rebuild political life here, is planning to dissolve the notorious militia unit, the Ton-Tons Macoutes, and to set up a people's assembly to write a democratic constitution, according to informed Haitian and foreign observers.
Dissolving that force, whose nickname means "bogeymen," has come to be seen as the top priority of the council as it seeks to end the violence that has rocked this island nation since Friday. Fear of escalating violence forced the new government today to cancel the annual Mardi Gras carnival festivities, which were supposed to begin this afternoon.
[The Associated Press reported that at least 100 bodies were stacked in a morgue at the General Hospital.]
As Army troops continued to sweep through neighborhoods, disarming small bands of militiamen, the archbishop of the powerful Roman Catholic Church delivered a strong message supporting the change of government and calling on Haitians to stop seeking revenge against members of the once dreaded security forces that propped up two generations of Duvalier dictatorship.
"I call on you to love your enemies, to pray for your persecutors," said Msgr. Francois Wolff Ligonde, archbishop of Port-au-Prince, in a message read in all the capital's Catholic churches. "We cannot and must not let our passions lead us to violence.
"We do not have the right to hate anyone, even the people we call our enemies or the enemies of our nation," he said. "As human beings, as Christians, we must pardon the outrages against us, forget the insults and love one another."
While most of the capital appeared calm today, scattered violence was still reported in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
The situation was said to be much calmer in the provinces, according to western diplomats monitoring the provinces from the capital.
Eliminating the Ton-Tons Macoutes, which Duvalier had called Volunteers for National Security (VSN in French), could signal an important step as Haiti prepares an appeal for a massive infusion of foreign aid. "Basically we think they're doing a good job disarming the VSN," said one western diplomat, who added that no aid decision had been made. Most U.S. aid in recent years has been conditioned on improved human rights performance.
"Haiti is changing its face," said one Haitian close to the governing council. "Everybody is now looking sympathetically at Haiti. They will respond to our request for aid because we are a new country."
But while opposition leaders and informed observers said they expected the council eventually to call for democratic elections, the timing of future elections seemed uncertain. Most here today were talking in terms of months or years.
The timetable for moving to a democracy could divide the old-line Duvalierists and one of the two civilian members, human rights advocate Gerard Gourgue.
"There are different sectors represented in the government," said one diplomat. He said Max Valles, former head of the presidential guard, and Alix Cineas, a former Cabinet minister, were "representative of the old guard of Duvalierists."
"They were not in favor of democratization. They were never democrats," the diplomat said. Gourgue, he added, "is the legal, democratic force in the government." Before the date for future elections is settled, the governing council first is expected to call together a people's assembly to draft a new democratic constitution. One source close to the council said that process could take three months.
"Duvalier used to change the constitution in one night," the source said. "We need one that is solid, stable, so it will never have to be changed again."
Clovis Desinor, who has close ties to members of the council, said he expected the new constitution will guarantee the existence of political parties, freedom of the press and civil liberties -- all factors that had been conspicuously absent here, in practice, for most of the last 29 years.
Desinor, a former aide to the late Francois Duvalier, said he will form his own political party as soon as the new counstitution is drafted. "We are going to form it when we have a constitutional guarantee that party politics will be recognized," he said.
Jean-Claude Duvalier announced a new "political party law" last June that would have authorized parties for the first time since his father was elected in 1957. But that attempt was greeted warily by opposition leaders as an effort to appease Haiti's foreign-aid suppliers, since the law still guaranteed Duvalier's status as "president for life."
The council was expected to dissolve Duvalier's rubber-stamp legislature and the old government ministries, in order to install on Monday the new 19-member civilian-military Cabinet announced yesterday.
The Cabinet contains many old-line Duvalierists, although opposition leaders and some neutral observers here pointed out that after 29 years of dominance by one family, it was practically impossible to find anyone here who was not associated with Duvalier.
With Duvalier now gone, they said, the old Duvalierists will come to show themselves as a diverse lot.