The Miami Herald
Mon, Mar. 01, 2004
Shock and grief are shared by many in capital

Shock, anger, shooting, looting and then a measure of calm hit Port-au-Prince after radio confirms that Aristide had resigned.


PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Former Miami pastor the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste got the news on a cellphone call after he had finished his Sunday sermon at the Sainte Claire Catholic Church.

His jaw dropped and his eyes turned glassy.

''I can't believe it. I never thought Tidid would leave,'' he finally said, using an affectionate nickname for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the friend and former priest who had just resigned and fled Haiti to end a rebellion.

His shock and grief were shared by many of the capital's residents. Other Aristide supporters, angry, shot wildly into crowds throughout the morning while still others looted banks and supermarkets.

Then the rebels arrived in the capital and, working with armed National Police special forces units, restored a measure of calm to a capital that had just seen Haiti's 33rd violent change in the National Palace in 200 years of independence.

Rumors of Aristide's resignation had begun to spread shortly after midnight Sunday. By daybreak, Aristide supporters had thrown up dozens of barricades all over the city, though its two million people remained relatively calm.

Then just after 7:30 a.m. radio announcers broadcast the official news: ``President Aristide has left the country.''

Within seconds, angry Aristide supporters surrounded the presidential palace. Women wept, holding their arms out in disbelief at the loss of the former priest who had promised that if he couldn't pull Haitians out of their abject poverty, at least he would return their dignity.

Men and teenagers brandishing shotguns, handguns and rifles shot in the air, at motorists, at journalists and into buildings where many scrambled for cover. Children without guns threw rocks.

Residents identified some of them as chimres, Aristide's notoriously rough and armed supporters. No one got close enough to ask them.

Hundreds of looters broke into any shops or businesses whose doors could be broken down and carried away everything they could. Then they burned many of the buildings.


Then came the rebels and police special forces -- a SWAT-like squad of 60 to 100 men whose loyalty to Aristide was first questioned last week. Together, they regained control of many of the streets.

Traveling in a convoy of pickups and SUVs, they swooped down from the hilltop upper-class Petionville suburb to the downtown district, stopping at nearly every block and shooting in the air to chase away looters.

''Run, run, run! Get out of here,'' police shouted at looters. Most dropped their goods and put their arms in the air. Others resisted and were assaulted with pipes, open hands or gun butts.

''You'll never have the country,'' one angry Aristide supporter yelled to the police as he ran away. ``You're a bunch of hypocrites.''

Elsewhere, small crowds cheered the police. The rebels, dressed in civilian clothes instead of their usual camouflage uniforms were identifiable only by the fliers taped to the rear windows of their vehicles: Liberation Front. As many as 50 rebels were said to have moved into the capital.

''This is exactly what we were waiting for,'' said Max Louissant, 27, a university student who opposed Aristide. ``We've been waiting for their help, but the police were under pressure by Aristide. But the demon has left. We are free.''

In Petionville, other armed Aristide opponents took to the streets to maintain order. Two bodies lay sprawled on one street for hours after the red van they were traveling in was riddled with bullets.


''Basically, whoever is bringing peace, we're going to work with,'' said Pierre St. Remy, 32, a business owner armed with a machine gun who added that his wife's garment factory in Cité Soleil was among the businesses looted.

Anti-Aristide mobs burned down the homes of Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, government spokesman Mario Dupuy and the pro-Aristide mayor of Port-au-Prince, neighbors reported.

Clouds of smoke from burning tires and burned buildings hung over the city through midafternoon.

''The one thing that is very important for us is the security of the country,'' said Patrick Brutus, who described himself as an Aristide critic not linked to the rebels or the political opposition parties.


At the Sainte Claire Church, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood overlooking the airport, Jean-Juste found it difficult to believe that Aristide had left until a young parishioner showed him a home video of security officers coming out of a white plane parked at the airport at 5 a.m.

''I thought he was going to stay,'' said Jean-Juste, who resigned his post as director of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami 10 years ago to support Aristide's efforts in his homeland. ``But he left. It's a big disappointment for his followers. I'm praying that God will save us from violence.

''I am a believer, a missionary,'' Jean-Juste added. ``I take courage and refuge in God almighty. Now I have to keep it cool because I have a community to take care of.''

As the day of grief and hope unraveled, other Haitians also looked to the future. Some kept an eye out for the U.S. Marines and other American forces that Washington announced would soon arrive.

''I want to know what the American forces are going to do for Haiti now,'' said Judith Praceide, 27.

And the nonaligned Brutus said that with the rebellion against Aristide successful, it was now time to think about the future of the hemisphere's poorest country.

''Aristide is gone,'' Brutus said. ``Now we need to sit and talk about how we're going to rebuild this country.''

Herald staff writer Trenton Daniel and photographer Carl P. Juste contributed to this report.