Marines Land in Haiti to Protect U.S. Embassy
By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Fifty U.S. Marines were sent to Haiti today to protect
the U.S. Embassy, a day after rebels overran the country's key northern
Cap-Haitien, extending their country to half the nation.
U.S. and other foreign diplomats pushed opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to accept their proposal for quelling the deadly revolt.
The U.S. military team, made up of security personnel from the Norfolk
naval base in Virginia, was dispatched at the request of the U.S. ambassador
in Haiti to protect
U.S. facilities in Port-au-Prince, the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command said.
The Marines arrived this afternoon, the Associated Press reported.
On Sunday, police put up little resistance as about 200 gunmen took
over Cap-Haitien after a few hours of sporadic gunfire. The quick submission
second-largest city — the latest in a series of towns to fall to the rebels — demonstrated the evaporating support for the once wildly popular Aristide.
While the rebels jubilated over their toppling of Cap-Haitien, Aristide
backers erected barricades on roads leading into the nervous capital and
across key intersections in the city center — to be fortified if rebels make good on threats to march on Port-au-Prince.
Although an assault on the capital seemed unlikely given the rebels'
scattered locations and limited numbers, Cap-Haitien also had been well
braced to repel an onslaught
until a few days ago, when frightened police barricaded themselves in their stations.
The armed, pro-Aristide gangs patrolling the capital scared most would-be
Carnival revelers into staying home Sunday, despite a five-day holiday
period that runs
through Tuesday. Major streets in this city of 2.5 million were eerily devoid of traffic, and even 24-hour gas stations closed to avoid being targeted by the gangs, which
have burned private businesses elsewhere.
In Cap-Haitien, residents cheered the arriving truckloads of gunmen
in camouflage, then looted public buildings in their wake, radio reports
said. One group of
government officials commandeered a plane and flew to the capital before the Cap-Haitien airport fell into rebel hands.
At least four and as many as eight people died in the rebels' morning
onslaught when Aristide backers at the airport tried to fend off the invaders,
reported. Among the dead was a 12-year-old girl, apparently caught in the cross-fire.
News agencies in the city described a lawless scene, with residents
surging into the police station, pro-government radio stations and shuttered
warehouses to steal
everything from food to furniture to lightbulbs to doorknobs.
The uprising began this month in the city of Gonaives, which had been
beset by unrest since the September slaying of Amiot Metayer, leader of
a once pro-Aristide gang
known as the Cannibal Army. Gang members believe he was killed by Aristide agents.
On Feb. 5, gang members — who had been armed and organized by Aristide's
Lavalas Party — attacked police stations and other government offices in
inspiring a spree of similar revolts in a dozen other cities. Several exiled figures from the dictatorship of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier that fell in 1986 and the
military junta that deposed Aristide in 1991 have returned to Haiti to help organize the ragtag rebels and guide their advance.
Guy Philippe, a former police chief in Cap-Haitien who took part in
the 1991 coup, led the rebel storm into the port city Sunday and proclaimed
the assault an act of
The sweep of violence and destruction has killed more than 60 people
and cut off the capital from vital ports and inland cities. Food, fuel
and medicine are in short supply
in many rebel-held areas.
The rebels' advances have complicated diplomatic efforts to resolve
a four-year impasse between Aristide and his mainstream political opponents,
as the chaos and
instability gripping the north and central plains have weakened Aristide to a point where the opposition believes he will be forced to flee the country.
On Saturday, Aristide conditionally accepted a peace plan presented
by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega and delegates of the
the Organization of American States and France. It calls for appointing a new prime minister acceptable to both the Lavalas Party and the opposition coalition, known as
the Democratic Platform, as a first step toward organizing elections that should have taken place last year.
Democratic Platform leaders, however, have refused to negotiate with
Aristide, contending that he has lost the support of most Haitians after
a decade of corrupt and
They contend that cooperating with Aristide under international auspices
would provide life support to a mortally wounded regime and betray the
will of the masses who
no longer want him as leader.
The political crisis began four years ago, when pro-Aristide gangs broke
up opposition campaign events ahead of the May 2000 parliamentary elections
party was accused of falsifying the results of the voting.
Those events prompted the opposition to boycott the presidential election
six months later, in which Aristide ran virtually unopposed and was elected
in a vote with low
turnout. Many countries soon cut off aid to Haiti, deepening the nation's already desperate economic plight.
So far, opposition leaders have rejected the diplomats' arguments that
unless they sign on to the plan for a new prime minister, they will be
seen as collaborating with the
rebels and cut themselves out of any role in Haiti's future. Insisting that Aristide step down first, the opposition agreed to take the weekend to ponder the situation before
making a final decision by tonight.
Most opposition leaders hinted broadly, however, that they were inclined
to reject the proposal and that the fall of Cap-Haitien had only intensified
their resolve to
remove what they saw as the cause of the violence and political impasse: Aristide.
"If we accept the plan, it will be perceived as an alliance between
Jean-Bertrand Aristide and us against the rebels," said Mischa Gaillard,
a professor and political
activist, arguing that it is the mainstream opposition's responsibility to maintain its distance from both pro-government gangs and rebel forces.
The rebels would have to be brought into any political settlement, added
another opposition figure, Evans Paul. He urged mediators to keep in mind
that disarming the
gunmen could be difficult if they saw the mainstream opposition as conspiring with Aristide against them.
A senior Western diplomat involved in the mediation said both Aristide
and his political opponents had been warned during separate talks Saturday
that the proposal now
on the table was "really the last chance" for involvement of the international community.
"We are intent on bringing home the message to the opposition that they
are really risking everything by refusing the helping hand of the international
Although conceding that the chances of winning over the opposition alliance
were "slim," he argued that the plan was much tougher on Aristide, because
remove his party's lock on power and expose any misgovernment to international scrutiny.
The plan's doubters point out that opposition endorsement of the road
map toward political stabilization would do little or nothing to halt the
rebel march through poorly
defended provincial towns — or the bloodshed and revenge killings that have followed each confrontation.
But the diplomat insisted that the nations involved in trying to ease
Haiti's crisis would probably be willing to accelerate the monitoring and
envisioned in their plan if both sides agreed to it.
Those measures foresee deployment of police forces capable of helping
disarm the pro-government militias, as well as training to "professionalize"
a national police force
decimated by desertions and demoralized by Aristide's insertion of loyalist thugs into its rank and file.
Haiti has fewer than 5,000 police, most with antiquated weapons and
battered trucks for transport. The Haitian army, which helped oust Aristide
in the 1991 coup, was
disbanded a few months after he was returned to power behind a 20,000-strong U.S. invasion force in November 1994.
Many Haiti analysts blame the Clinton administration in large part for
Haiti's descent into political chaos and economic devastation. U.S. troops
were withdrawn before
any reliable Haitian security force could be trained and deployed, and the allegations of electoral fraud in the 2000 elections were essentially ignored by Washington,
which was then, as now, focused on an upcoming presidential election.
In Washington this weekend, Haiti Democracy Project director James Morrell
lambasted the Bush administration for "deepening the crisis" by trying
to force the
opposition to collaborate with Aristide.
"The democratic sector in Haiti, emerging as the bearer of precious
political legitimacy, holds the key both to inducing the fighters in the
provinces to redeem their pledge
to disarm once Aristide leaves, and to putting Haiti on the path to free and fair elections, stabilization and modernization," Morrell said.
"This sector is uniquely able among all the actors both to stave off civil war and to orient Haiti toward political modernization."