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Cablegate: Haiti: Rumors Abound Regarding Aristide's Possible

VZCZCXRO7912
PP RUEHQU
DE RUEHPU #1389/01 2771205
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 031205Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8923
INFO RUEHZH/HAITI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PRIORITY 2078
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA PRIORITY 1851
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1639

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PORT AU PRINCE 001389

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/EX, WHA/CAR, S/CRS, AND INR/IAA
DEPT PLEASE ALSO PASS TO USAID FOR LAC/CAR
WHA/EX PLEASE PASS TO USOAS
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/02/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL HA SF VE
SUBJECT: HAITI: RUMORS ABOUND REGARDING ARISTIDE'S POSSIBLE
MOVE TO VENEZUELA

REF: PORT-AU-PRINCE 1364

Classified By: Amb. Janet A. Sanderson for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

Summary
-------

1. (C) Rumors of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide's possible move from South Africa to Venezuela are
swirling through Port-au-Prince following Aristide's meeting
with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in South Africa on
September 3 and the announcement September 20 that South
African President Thabo Mbeki would resign. Members of
Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party assume that Aristide
would be under fewer restrictions in Venezuela and therefore
more free to involve himself in Haiti's internal affairs.
Some Lavalas insiders privately fear that Aristide's more
active intervention in Haitian politics could further divide
their party -- even as they concede that no one in the party
can openly oppose Aristide because of the support he still
enjoys among the party base. On one side of this fault line
are current and former party officials and others who
distrust Aristide, have a critical view of his two terms in
office, and who want to forge a disciplined national
organization with a leadership elected by and accountable to
the party in Haiti rather than to the ex-President. On the
other side lie activists linked to popular organizations who
hope to harness Aristide's greater proximity to Haiti to
revive grassroots militancy. End summary.

RUMORS OF ARISTIDE'S MOVE TO VENEZUELA PERSIST
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (C) While several Embassy contacts have relayed to us
rumors that Aristide is planning to visit or even move to
Venezuela, we have no firsthand accounts of discussions
between Aristide and Chavez on the subject. Local press
reports quoted a statement attributed to the Venezuelan
presidency as confirming that the September 3 meeting took
place and highlighting Chavez' support for Aristide in 2004.
Lavalas Deputy Sorel Francois (protect) told Poloff on
September 19 that Chavez had invited Aristide to visit
Venezuela in the coming months; Francois claimed secondhand
access to the information through sources he declined to
identify. In a September 20 meeting with the Ambassador,
President Rene Preval made reference to these rumors, telling
the Ambassador that he did not want Aristide "anywhere in the
hemisphere." Subsequent to that, he remarked that he is
concerned that Aristide will accept the Chavez offer but
deflected any discussion of whether Preval himself was
prepared to raise the matter with Chavez.

3. (C) Lavalas Deputy Jonas Coffy (protect), in an October 1
meeting with Poloff, claimed to be "certain" that Aristide
would move to Venezuela but said he had no firsthand
confirmation. He further asserted that certain FL-linked
grassroots organization leaders, although not the
organizations in the "Cellule de Reflection" (see paras.
7-8), were planning marches and protests after Aristide
arrived in Venezeula. On the other hand, well-connected
former Lavalas Deputy Franky Exius (sometimes spelled
"Exeus") told DepPolCouns on September 24 that Aristide is
comfortable in South Africa and expects him to remain there
for the foreseeable future.

ONE FACTION TRIES TO LOOSEN ARISTIDE'S GRIP ON LAVALAS
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (C) Paradoxically, more active intervention by the head of
Fanmi Lavalas in Haitian politics could have a destabilizing
effect on his already divided party. Some influential
Lavalas personalities question the legitimacy of the party's
current Executive Committee, which failed to secure
party-wide agreement on the party's position in negotiations
with Preval on the composition of the Prime Minister's new
government or its strategy as the next Senatorial elections
approach.

5. (C) The most prominent FL Deputies have aligned themselves
behind former President of the Chamber of Deputies Yves
Cristalin, who did not favor Lavalas' participation in the
new government and who is decidedly opposed to Aristide's
return to Haitian politics. Cristalin told Poloff on
September 26 that Aristide had made a number of mistakes
during his last years in power. Despite his disagreements
with Aristide, Cristalin said he feels compelled to keep his
opposition to Aristide's return private due to the
considerable support for the former President among many
segments of the population. Deputy Coffy echoed these
sentiments in his October 1 meeting with Poloff, noting that
he shared Cristalin's belief that the Executive Committee
appointed by Aristide was illegitimate. Like Cristalin, he
made an impassioned plea for U.S. assistance so that factions
of the party willing to renounce violent demonstrations and
forego illicit financing would prevail against other factions
of the party.

RECONCILIATION EFFORTS SO FAR UNSUCCESSFUL
------------------------------------------

6. (C) Efforts to reconcile dueling factions within the party
have thus far been unsuccessful. Deputy Coffy told Poloff
that Lavalas representatives from Haiti's ten departments
would convene on October 9 to attempt to resolve their
differences and agree on a common strategy for the upcoming
elections. He added that he expected the meeting to produce
a coordinating committee to manage Lavalas affairs, including
the selection of senatorial candidates, regardless of whether
all factions of the party were represented at the meeting.
He said that an ad hoc "facilitation committee," consisting
of himself and MP Pierre Jerome Valcine, Lavalas Senators
Rudy Herivaux and Yvon Buissereth, Annette "So Anne" Auguste,
and representatives of Lavalas "popular organizations" had
been formed to mend the party's divisions but has yet to make
significant progress. (Note: A previous reconciliation
meeting, planned for September 26 by Yves Cristalin was
cancelled for reasons that remain unclear. End note.)

SOME FACTIONS MAY SEE SURGE IN SUPPORT
--------------------------------------

7. (C) Although many elected Lavalas officials would likely
be sidelined if Aristide takes a more active role in Haitian
politics, other wings of the party stand to benefit greatly.
Maryse Narcisse, for example, member of the contested
Executive Committee and a claimant to the title of
spokeswoman of Aristide, remains prominent in the party for
her activism for the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. She
was a vocal critic of Coffy and of Senator Rudy Herivaux when
they each claimed the party's support during negotiations
with Preval over the composition of the new government. In
addition, a group of representatives of Lavalas popular
organizations called the "Reflection Cell of the Lavalas
Popular Base," which organizes demonstrations and events
commemorating Aristide's birthday and other significant
occasions, would presumably be well situated to benefit if
Aristide's profile grows.

PREVAL REPORTEDLY TRYING TO CO-OPT LAVALAS GROUPS
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (C) Embassy sources tell us that President Preval is also
actively working to co-opt popular groups affiliated with
Lavalas to shore up his support. Deputy Sorel Francois told
Poloff on September 19 that Preval met "at least weekly" with
the leaders of the "Reflection Cell," including Jean-Marie
Samdy, at the National Palace and that Preval had promised
the group HTG 58 million (approximately USD 1.5 million) in
funds from the PetroCaribe account to distribute to parents
in poor neighborhoods for the beginning of the school year in
early October. Coffy provided a more plausible account of
the agreement, saying that the Education Ministry had agreed
to task Lavalas-affiliated "popular organizations" to
identify needy families in poor neighborhoods, and that the
Ministry would then pay their school fees directly to the
school concerned. Coffy put the amount committed under the
program at HTG 40 million (USD 1 million) in greater
Port-au-Prince and HTG 430 million (USD 10.8 million)
country-wide. We have been unable to confirm either report,
although the Haitian government did eventually announce over
USD 197 million in emergency spending from PetroCaribe funds
under the recently promulgated State of Emergency law
(reftel). Coffy, for his part, claims to have the popular
organizations' support in his battle with other factions of
the party.

COMMENT: LAVALAS ADRIFT WITHOUT ARISTIDE
----------------------------------------

9. (C) Although Aristide is nominally the "National
Representative" of Fanmi Lavalas, the party has essentially
been leaderless since Aristide left Haiti in 2004, and any
attempt to reassert control over Lavalas would be fiercely
opposed (albeit privately) by one or another group within the
party. From South Africa, Aristide has been either unable or
unwilling to resolve disputes within his party or mobilize
popular support for Lavalas. In his absence, Lavalas has
become a loose collection of Deputies and Senators elected
under the party's banner, a few respected Lavalas luminaries,
and a handful of grassroots organizations associated with
Aristide in the popular imagination. Many Lavalas leaders
here believe that Aristide's insecure status in South Africa
has prevented him from speaking out and involving himself in
Haitian politics from afar; they reason that he would not
face similar restrictions if he were to move to Venezuela.

10. (C) We judge that our sources' "assurances" that
Aristide's move to Venezuela is imminent are based not on
confirmed knowledge but rather a desire to mobilize
international support behind their faction of Lavalas.
Although the effects of Aristide's possible return to
prominence are difficult to predict, it would certainly shake
up his divided and moribund party. Factions in the party
have their reasons for opposing or supporting a greater
political role for Aristide in Haiti and in the party. On
one side of the divide are elected officials and former
government officials who want to unify feuding groups into a
disciplined party organization and have the leadership
elected by and accountable to the party in Haiti rather than
to Aristide. These individuals resent Aristide's
interventions in party matters from afar, and are critical of
Aristide's conduct during his two terms in office. On the
other side lie leaders linked to popular organizations who
hope that Aristide's greater proximity will help them revive
grassroots militancy, which would then propel them to
positions of prominence.
SANDERSON

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