The Christian Science Monitor
March 05, 2004

US marines clean up, to Haitians' relief - and chagrin

             By Howard LaFranchi | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

             PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - As the number of US marines in Haiti's capital approaches 1,000, small groups of them began to move into the
             tense neighborhoods near the presidential palace, using armored vehicles to push torched cars and other debris from the streets.

             The physical vestiges of a month-long crisis that violently pitted armed insurgents and a disparate political opposition against the
             government - culminating in Sunday's resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the arrival of international security
             forces - are being cleared away.

             The patrols may be a harbinger of the healing, or the chaos, that's ahead. Haitians are relieved that the barricades - built by Aristide
             supporters and those fearful of the rebels - are being cleaned out, returning some semblance of normalcy. But some say the marines'
             cleanup may be a sign that Haitians aren't ready to solve their own problems.

             " 'Strength in union' is our motto, it's right up there on our flag," says Alexi Bergelat, a mechanic, pointing to the national banner waving
             from the presidential palace. "But since our independence 200 years ago we've never been able to achieve that. In one way we are happy
             the Americans are here, but it also reminds us of our failures as a nation."

             Some Haitians flashed the marines a thumbs-up as they took up posts or roared through town; most responded passively. But with each
             day the US military presence - initially criticized by some Haitians and Americans alike for being too slow and tentative - is having a clearer

             Most evident so far is the influence the US presence has had on Haiti's armed rebels. The militia now says it will lay down its arms and go

             After entering the capital with a swagger on Monday and then quickly taking a series of brash but divisive and disruptive steps - most
             notably declaring himself the head of a disbanded Haitian army and announcing he would arrest the prime minister - rebel leader Guy
             Philippe abruptly changed his tone. At a subdued press conference Wednesday, Mr. Philippe gave little explanation other than to say that
             "foreign troops have given their guarantee to protect the Haitian people."

             Asked earlier by the Monitor why he had decided to stop activities he had committed to a day earlier - such as patrolling against the armed
             gangs created and supported by the departed Aristide, or providing security for a food giveaway by the US-based Global Peace Initiative -
             Philippe said, "The Americans don't want us to; the Americans don't want us here."

             The US is clearly anxious to demonstrate that Haiti's post-Aristide transition is following an orderly process based on the country's
             Constitution, a process that does not have room for an extralegal group.

             Philippe says he was assured by US officials that they would begin taking steps to disarm the pro-Aristide gangs known as chimères. But
             several sources with contacts among the rebels say the US also let Philippe know it would not tolerate disruptive acts like announcing a
             move to arrest the prime minister, or plans to confront the chimères.

             The US showdown with the rebels does not preclude their return. With many Haitians predicting the country will eventually reverse
             Aristide's disbanding of the Army a decade ago, Philippe says he hopes to play the leadership role in a new army. He briefly declared
             himself Haiti's "military chief" this week.

             "We're going to have an army here no matter what," says Reynaldo Corvington, a private security consultant in Port-au-Prince. He says
             either the US moves to disarm the chimères, who still control the capital's worst slums where Aristide enjoyed fervent support, or someone
             else will.

             Still, the return of a military that for many Haitians conjures up memories of repression does not meet unanimous support. At a press
             conference announcing the state of emergency Wednesday, Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said the question of an army would be
             taken up by the next government. But he added that the army "never protected the country or the people." In any case, Mr. Neptune, an
             Aristide appointee, is not expected to be in office much longer.

             To get Haiti's political transition rolling, a tripartite commission with one member each from the government; the Democratic Platform, an
             umbrella organization of the political opposition; and the international community will name a committee of "wise men" to form an interim
             government. Haiti's Constitution calls for new elections to take place between 45-90 days after a president resigns.

             But no one expects elections for a new legislature and president to take place before a year at the earliest.

             "The international community's plan looks at a year and the Democratic Platform plan suggests two years, so it will probably be
             somewhere in between," says the United Nations Develompent Programme Mr. Guindo, the international member of the tripartite

             Interim President Boniface Alexandre this week named a new chief of the national police - one more step in the process of wiping away
             Aristide's influence over security affairs.

             But all during the transition, international forces will be on Haiti's streets. The interim multinational force headed up by the US marines will
             be replaced in three months by UN stabilization forces, which are expected to number around 5,000.