The Miami Herald
Mon, Mar. 01, 2004
In rebels' first city, a celebration

Thousands of Haitians celebrate in Gonaives, the port city where the anti-Aristide uprising began 25 days ago.


GONAIVES, Haiti - In the first city to fall to rebels, women wrapped themselves in Haitian flags and men passed around bottles of rum Sunday as this dirt-poor town celebrated the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

''I don't know what will happen now, who will run Haiti, but it has to be better now,'' said Nazaire Pouleman, 32, as he celebrated along with thousands more in Gonaives, a port city 70 miles and a two-hour drive north of the capital.

The yelling and horn honking began just after 7:30 a.m., when the radio announced that Aristide had resigned and left the country to end a 25-day rebellion that left up to 100 dead and the country in chaos.

Then came the wild firing of guns into the air, and the dancing and singing in the streets of the town where it all began on Feb. 5 with an uprising by a gang once known as the Cannibal Army.

Thousands gathered in a central plaza and near the outdoor food market, holding up machetes and bottles of rum and chanting, ``Aristide is gone.''

Women wrapped themselves in Haitian flags while men passed around bottles of rum and toasted the end of Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president.

The Cannibal Army were once pro-Aristide gunmen known as chimres, French for a mythical monster. But they turned against Aristide when their leader, Amiot Métayer, was killed in September by agents allegedly of the president.

Métayer's brother, Butteur, was nowhere to be seen during the day Sunday but a cousin, Laveaux Francois, owner of the Hotel Chachaou, said he was still in Gonaives rejoicing.

''He is crying, he's so happy,'' said Francois, who said he had been financing the Gonaives rebels and was already making plans to get the central Haitian city functioning again.

On Saturday, Métayer told The Herald that he hoped Aristide and his Lavalas Family party would take the initiative and surrender power.

''We don't want to fight with the police,'' he said.

On Sunday, some of his men led haphazard victory parades, standing on the roofs of cars and waving their rifles in the air.

By midday, women and children were out in the street shoveling up rubble and sweeping up garbage accumulated since the revolt began.

''We're already cleaning, and by Tuesday I'm going to tell everyone to go to school,'' he said.

Francois said the rebels had decided not to attack Port-au-Prince last week because of a request from the international community that they wait.

''We waited but we told them that if nothing happened by today, we would go in tonight,'' he said.

By midday, the celebratory gunfire had also stopped.

And at least some of Gonaives' residents said the town would have a hard time getting back to normal.

''We have a long way to go,'' said Luce June, 42, pointing to trash piled two feet high in the streets and the remains of barricades set up since Feb. 5. ``We have no schools, no food, we have nothing now. But we're going to survive.''