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Vatican role stirs Haiti debate: Haitian church split weakens Malval's plan.

KANSAS CITY, Mo.--Indications last week were that Haitian Prime Minister Robert Malval's trip to Rome earlier this month may have created a rift in the camp of exiled President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

After meeting with top Vatican officials, including Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Malval said the Vatican supported his new initiative to return Aristide to power. "They told me they never questioned the legitimacy of his election, although they prefer a priest not be president," Malval told reporters in Rome. He said Aristide was considering offering his temporary resignation as an active priest to meet the Vatican's concerns.

But an Aristide aide, Paul Dejean, condemned Malval's proposal for a Vatican-sponsored national reconciliation conference, saying it was an international community attempt to find a settlement that would exclude Aristide's return to Haiti. Other Aristide supporters said the Vatican did not have the moral authority to sponsor such a conference because it was the only state in the world to recognize the de facto government that replaced Aristide after the 1991 coup.

Haiti's military rulers have called for Vatican mediation. Malval stopped short of echoing that call, but he did say there was a place in his proposal for Vatican "intervention." Some Aristide supporters questioned the effectiveness of any Vatican intervention because Rome is identified with a Haitian hierarchy that has almost unanimously opposed Aristide's return.

As a result, there are two churches in Haiti--the hierarchical church of the rich and powerful and the church of the poor, most of which supports Aristide. Malval said that Haitian Catholics are the "only force" that can unite the country, but he admitted that in any attempt at national reconciliation the church itself would have to be reconciled.

Malval said part of Aristide's hesitation to temporarily resign his ministry concerns how the basic church communities at the root of his constituency would view the resignation.

In another development last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs John Shattuck returned from Haiti saying he would advise that the U.S. government's policy of forcibly repatriating Haitian refugees intercepted at sea be re-evaluated. Shattuck said that both human rights abuses and the number of people fleeing Haiti are increasing.

Reports of repression surged dramatically after the military regime backed out on the U.N.-brokered agreement that would have returned Aristide to Haiti Oct. 30. Many observers say another exodus of refugees may be imminent.

Nevertheless, an angry Clinton administration quickly rebuked Shattuck and said the policy stands. Shattuck's humanitarian concern earned him a severe dressing down from a high-ranking State Department official.

Also last week, France, the United States, Canada and Venezuela threatened the Haitian regime with tougher U.N. sanctions, including a ban on all noncommercial flights. Diplomats said the move would make it harder for drug traffickers to use the island as a refueling stop. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said the amount of cocaine passing through Haiti has reached 4,500 kilos a month, more than double what it was before the coup.

Vowing they would never accept Aristide's return, about 2,000 demonstrators, many of them fashionably dressed members of Haiti's elite, marched outside Portau-Prince's vacant presidential palace Dec. 11 to protest against the U.N. embargo. An army that ruthlessly crushes pro-Aristide demonstrations this time served as an armed escort.

Meanwhile, Aristide supporters in the United States planned hunger strikes, rallies, press conferences and acts of civil disobedience near the White House Dec. 16, the third anniversary of Aristide's overwhelming election victory.

Organizers want the Clinton administration to "stop sending mixed signals to the Haitian military," to end the forced repatriation of refugees interdicted at sea, to impose a total embargo on Haiti as Aristide has requested and to energize its efforts to restore democracy (and Aristide) to the country.
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Title Annotation:Prime Minister Robert Malval
Author:McCarthy, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 24, 1993
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