Clashes between militia groups and government supporters put residents on edge. Neighbors in small-town Haiti view one another with suspicion.
BY TRENTON DANIEL
''People are either [with Aristide's party] Lavalas or the opposition,'' said Michel St. Cyr, 24, a cabdriver in Limbé, a town of a few thousand people in northern Haiti. ``Right now, I don't know who I can trust, and I sleep with both eyes open.''
Gunmen formerly known as the Cannibal Army and now calling themselves the Anti-Aristide Resistance Front for the Artibonite region seized the central Haiti port city of Gonaives two weeks ago in a bloody challenge to Aristide that later spread to 10 other towns and villages.
The ragtag band says it plans to take over major cities like Cap Haitien and St. Marc. Their threats, coupled with street marches by the political opposition in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, have thrown one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations into its worst turmoil since a 1994 U.S. military invasion to restore Aristide to power after a 1991 military coup.
Today, government forces have retaken control of three of the towns.
Gonaives is completely under the thumb of the heavily armed Resistance Front, and Limbé and many other towns do not appear to be controlled by either side.
On the road between Cap Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, and Limbé, a town about 18 miles to the southwest, motorcycle riders wave shotguns in the air to intimidate bystanders. But no one is sure which side they are on.
So residents of Limbé, where everyone seems to know everyone, keep their counsel to themselves and take precautions.
Sleeping on a mattress close to the floor has become a common practice of late in such uncertain parts of Haiti. St. Cyr and his 25-year-old wife, Gladice, and a 3-year-old son do it because they fear bullets -- wayward or otherwise.
Asked who set fire to the police station and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, residents say only that it was ``the population.''
The precinct, whose walls were once white and sky blue, is now shut down, and the rusty front gate is locked. Residents say the officers fled the town before or during the arson, and no one was killed or injured.
A Herald reporter could not find the mayor on a recent visit.
NOT ALL SUSPECT
To be sure, residents don't look at all of their neighbors with such suspicion. Rather, some are much more concerned with the country's violent protests.
''No, I don't have any problems with my neighbors -- we all get along fine,'' said Marguerite Alcene, 52, a Port-au-Prince resident stuck in northern Haiti after a relative's funeral when the Resistance Front cut off much of the north from the capital by erecting barricades of rocks, car parts and flaming tires. The action also caused food and fuel shortages.
''The biggest problem is the demonstrations. They block everything,'' said Alcene, an unemployed teacher and typist.
Still, suspicion rears itself in other ways.
Yves Teneus, director of the privately owned Radio Concorde, said a death threat issued against him -- painted on a school wall -- prompted him to shut down his radio station like others in the north.
''The political situation is making it difficult on everybody, including
neighbors,'' Teneus said. ``Right now, they don't have any security in
the country, and it's easy to be afraid.''