Defying the country's history of military rule, civilian President Jean Bertrand-Aristide has asked the army to retire six conservative officers just hours after he became Haiti's first freely elected leader.
In his inaugural address Thursday at the white-domed National Palace to thousands of jubilant supporters, Aristide surprised the crowd with the appeal to the Army High Command. Many of those he asked to retire had been accused of crimes against citizens."I love you a lot, the way I love the army," Aristide said, addressing a somber Lt. Gen Herard Abraham, the army chief of staff. "But things must change . . . things must change for good. Not one drop of blood should flow in this country again."
He asked Abraham to retire six of the eight members of the Army High Command and replace them with officers with liberal reputations. The new president said he lacked the constitutional authority to order the retirements.
Challenging the military can be a risky endeavor in Haiti. The last president to do so was Leslie Manigat, who fired the military chief, Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy in June 1988. Namphy staged a coup two days later.
But Aristide's inauguration comes on the heels of an attempted coup that was put down by the army. Aristide also said in his speech Thursday that he wants to raise soldiers' low pay.