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New Haitian Cabinet draws criticism
Updated: 2004-03-18 10:04

Haitian politicians complained a new U.S.-backed government to be sworn in Wednesday is partisan and risks further polarizing a population divided between enemies and supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

French peacekeepers, meanwhile, set up roadblocks to start a risky disarmament campaign in the Cite Soleil seaside slum, an Aristide stronghold. They hope to succeed where U.S. troops failed a decade ago to persuade residents to surrender weapons.

Opposition politician Mischa Gaillard asked Wednesday why no members of his Convergence coalition of political parties and civic groups was in the new Cabinet.

"You cannot call this a government of national unity," Gaillard said on Radio Vision 2000.

From the other side of the political divide, former Aristide Prime Minister Yvon Neptune warned that locking Aristide's Lavalas Family party out of the government risked further polarizing this Caribbean nation shaken by a rebellion and the president's sudden departure on February 29.

"There should at least be a sincere expression of accepting Lavalas as an organization," Neptune said in a telephone interview. "The plan was to try to set the stage for reconciliation."

Neptune resigned March 10 to make way for the U.S.-backed Gerard Latortue, who had pledged to include Lavalas in a unity government. Aristide's party is believed to command the largest following in Haiti.

There was no immediate comment from Latortue, a retired U.N. official and business consultant who returned from decades in exile in Florida with promises to reconcile Haiti.

Latortue's 13-member Cabinet was to be sworn in Wednesday, his aides said after a meeting with interim President Boniface Alexandre.

The Cabinet includes Yvon Simeon as foreign minister; Henri Bazan, president of the Haitian Association of Economists, as finance minister; and former Gen. Herard Abraham as interior minister.

In an interview published Tuesday, Aristide repeated his claim that the United States committed a coup d'etat, saying, "They broke the constitutional order by using force to get me out of the country."

The United States denies the claim and says it acted at Aristide's request, probably saving his life as rebels threatened the capital.

Aristide told Amy Goodman of Radio Pacifica's "Democracy Now!" that before he left Haiti, the United States stripped him of his personal security detail, which had been provided by the California-based Steele Foundation.

Aristide said 19 agents who were guarding him in Haiti told him that "U.S. officials ordered them to leave and to leave immediately." He claimed another 25 agents who were supposed to reinforce the team were told that they could not leave the United States.

U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces would not protect him from the rebels. After his ouster, he was flown to the Central African Republic.

On Wednesday, Aristide was in neighboring Jamaica, which offered him temporary asylum despite fears in Port-au-Prince and Washington that his presence in the Caribbean would provoke more violence among his supporters.

The 15-member Caribbean Community, chaired by Jamaica, has called for an investigation into his ouster. Venezuela offered Aristide asylum and said it won't recognize the new government.

Latortue protested Aristide's presence in Jamaica and suspended Haiti's participation in the Caribbean Community, which has said it will decide at a summit later this month whether to recognize Haiti's interim government.

Haiti's crisis stems from flawed legislative elections in 2000 that were swept by the Lavalas Party. Aristide and party leaders lost support because of corruption, their failure to improve life for Haiti's impoverished majority, and attacks on opponents.

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