PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haiti's U.S.-backed leader formed an interim government that excludes ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's (search) Lavalas Party — one that still commands a formidable following.
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's (search) 13-member Cabinet was to be sworn in Wednesday, aides to Latortue said after a meeting with President Boniface Alexandre (search), who temporarily assumed the post after Aristide fled on Feb. 29.
Locking Lavalas (search) out of the government risked further polarizing this Caribbean nation shaken by a rebellion and Aristide's sudden departure under U.S. and French pressure, warned Latortue's predecessor, Yvon Neptune (search).
"There should at least be a sincere expression of accepting Lavalas as an organization," Neptune said in a telephone interview Tuesday before the Cabinet announcement. "The plan was to try to set the stage for reconciliation."
After Neptune resigned on March 10, Latortue had pledged to include members of Lavalas in a unity government.
Latortue had no immediate comment.
Leslie Voltaire, a former Aristide Cabinet member, and said no Lavalas Party members had been chosen. Voltaire said Lavalas officials were studying the matter.
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.
Latortue said last week that he wants to hold legislative elections in six to eight months.
In an interview published Tuesday, Aristide repeated his claim that the United States committed a coup d'etat. "They broke the constitutional order by using force to get me out of the country," he said.
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.
He said 19 agents who were guarding him in Haiti told him that "U.S. officials ordered them to leave and to leave immediately."
Aristide 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 acknowledged that Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces would not protect him from the rebels.
Aristide was in neighboring Jamaica, which offered him temporary asylum despite fears in Port-au-Prince and Washington that his presence would provoke more violence among his supporters in Haiti.
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 Aristide's Lavalas Party. Aristide and party leaders lost support due to corruption, their failure to improve life for Haiti's impoverished majority and attacks on opponents. But Lavalas remains a force to be reckoned with.
Aristide is a former priest who survived several assassination attempts under military rule and became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990. He was ousted in a 1991 coup and restored by U.S. troops in 1994. He stepped down in 1995 but was re-elected in 2000.
A street gang that used to terrorize Aristide's opponents started Haiti's rebellion Feb. 5. The uprising was spread by former Haitian soldiers. More than 300 people died before Aristide fled.
Aristide apparently was staying at a Jamaican government residence in the rural community of Lydford, about 80 miles northwest of Kingston.
Haitian police arrested a dozen people, including key Aristide partisans, over the weekend for alleged crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking. No attempt was made to arrest convicted assassins among the rebellion leaders.
Neptune lamented that those rebels were "roaming free." He said it appeared that "there is some form of working relationship between them and the police force and that is very, very dangerous."
"The people that are in power say they are not involved in a witch hunt, but it seems to me that is what they are participating in," Neptune said.