Port-au-Prince calm but tense while awaiting rebels
By Tim Collie
PORT-AU-PRINCE · An uneasy calm settled over Haiti's capital
city in the midst of the national holiday Carnival on Monday, as
anti-government rebels threatened to overtake one of the last remaining strongholds of embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Government loyalists set barricades on fire at the city's borders to
block rebel leaders' entry along the road to this capital, as 50 armed
Marines flew to the capital to protect the U.S. Embassy and its staff.
The traditional Carnival crowds were nowhere to be found, as peaceful
anti-Aristide protesters reiterated calls for him to resign and loyalists
voiced support at small demonstrations. Traffic was light on the capital's main thoroughfares. Many Haitians said they are tired and scared in
the face of the escalating rebellion that has spread to more than a dozen cities and led to the deaths of about 70 people, most of them
pro-Aristide police officers.
"It's just been terrible; you don't leave the house at night, and you
don't stray far during the day," said Marie Jean Charles, 22. "Things are
just very different. It's hard to describe people because they're acting so strange. I've never been through anything like this before. You don't
know what's going to happen next."
One day after rebels captured Cap-Haïtien, Haiti's second-largest
city, and threatened to overtake Port-au-Prince next, capital city police
were on alert, but no incidents of violence were reported.
American Patrick Moynihan, who has lived in Haiti running a school for
gifted children since 1996, condemned the escalating violence that
has gripped Haiti. Moynihan could not return to his home because of barricades arrayed around his neighborhood near Tabarre, the upscale
area where Aristide maintains his residence.
"I'm at a barricade with a 19-year-old kid with a gun asking me what
business I have in my neighborhood," said Moynihan. "That's what it's
come down to."
Fifty U.S. Marines landed Monday afternoon in Port-au-Prince to protect
the U.S. Embassy. With rifles at the ready, about 20 Marines in
combat gear and helmets rushed off the U.S. Air Force transport plane at Toussaint L'ouverture International Airport and ran to make a
secure perimeter around the aircraft before the other Marines got off.
Also Monday, France urged its citizens to leave the former French colony
-- a week after the United States and Mexico issued similar recommendations
citizens. About 30,000 foreigners are in Haiti, including about 20,000 Americans, 2,000 French and 1,000 Canadians.
At the Port-au-Prince airport, many Haitians said they were angry, sad and depressed at what many described as anarchy in many places across the nation.
"I don't know anything, really, about what's going on," said Dorcant
Similhomme, 70, a farmer. "It's politics and all beyond me. You wake up,
go to your little piece
of land, work it and c ome home and go to bed. I hear bad things are happening, but I really don't understand them."
In Cap-Haïtien, looting of homes, businesses and government buildings
continued Monday -- 24 hours after the Haitian National Revolutionary Front
took control of
the former Aristide stronghold, facing little resistance. Sunday's taking of Cap-Haïtien by only about 200 fighters was the most significant victory since the uprising
began on Feb. 5.
At least 17 were killed in Sunday's fighting, raising the toll to about
70 dead and dozens wounded in the revolt, The Associated Press reported.
Rebels now control
almost one-half of Haiti, as central government officials and pro-Aristide police -- who at 5,000 officers are outnumbered by rebels -- have abandoned their posts
or retreated to Port-au-Prince.
While many stunned Cap-Haïtien residents looked on from their homes
and balconies, hundreds of cheering people accompanied rebel units as they
port city of 500,000 Monday.
Rebel commander Louis-Jodel Chamblain said the patrols are aimed at
"pacifying" the city, but it was clear that the tours were also meant as
a show of force to
government supporters. Rebels hunted down militants loyal to Aristide, accusing them of terrorizing the population in the days before the fall of the city. It was not
clear what would happen to those detained.
One of those arrested was bricklayer Jean Bernard Prévalis, 33,
whom soldiers accused of being a chimère militant -- a member of
one of the pro-government
gangs that have collectively, sometimes violently, squashed opposition movements in many parts of Haiti.
"I'm not a chimère," said Prévalis as he sat, handcuffed,
in the back of a pickup, his head bleeding from where he said soldiers
hit him. Prévalis' hands were
trembling, and he was surrounded by men holding pistols, rifles and automatic weapons. Men under similar accusations were killed by angry rebels in Gonaives, the
day the front overtook that city Feb. 5.
Meanwhile, thousands of people in Cap-Haïtien demonstrated in favor
of the rebellion Monday, chanting: "Aristide, get out!" and "Goodbye, Aristide."
about 800 tons of food -- including lentils, fish, oil and sugar -- from the U.N. World Food Program warehouse, according to the agency's Andrea Bagnoli. The
colonial mansion of Mayor Wilmar Innocent, who supports Aristide, was looted and then torched. Looters also ransacked the airport and the port, where thousands
of sacks of rice, dozens of cars and other goods were stolen.
Rebel leader Guy Philippe said his men could do nothing to stop the
looting. He blamed Aristide's government for leaving most of Haiti's 8
million people hungry and
Aid agencies have warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is brewing,
with 268,000 people who depended on food aid in northern Haiti being the
Monday, the International Red Cross sent a truck and two specialists to Cap-Haïtien by airplane. The two specialists will bring medical supplies and stay in the
region, the Red Cross's Pedro Iseli said in an interview.
Aristide's Premier Yvon Neptune said the international community must help save Haiti from "terrorists that are sowing violence and death."
The United States made last-ditch efforts at finding a political solution.
As the opposition was on the brink of rejecting the plan on the grounds
that it did not call for
Aristide to step down, Secretary of State Colin Powell phoned opposition politicians and asked them to delay responding formally to the plan for 24 hours.
Aristide on Saturday accepted the plan, which would allow him to remain
president with diminished powers, sharing with political rivals a government
Evans Paul, a leading opponent who once was allied with Aristide, said
the coalition agreed to the extra time and said it would "perhaps give
Mr. Powell a little more
time to consider his position … and give us the assurances we need" on Aristide's departure.
Aristide was wildly popular when he became Haiti's first freely elected
leader in 1990 but he has lost support since flawed legislative elections
in 2000 led
international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid. Opponents accuse the former priest of failing to help those in need in the Western Hemisphere's poorest
country, allowing corruption and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs. Aristide denies the charges.
Special Correspondent Jane Regan contributed to this report, which was
supplemented with information from The Associated Press. Tim Collie can
be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4573.
Copyright © 2004