Uncertainty, fear of violence dominate life in countryside
Neighbors in small-town Haiti view one another with suspicion as violence erupts without an always-precise picture of who is fighting for whom.
BY TRENTON DANIEL
LIMBE, Haiti - No one seems to know who torched the local police station. Neighbors view each other with suspicion or mistrust. Everybody seems to be on edge.
In small-town Haiti, amid bloody clashes between supporters of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his opponents that have left some
60 dead, nerves are raw, mouths are
shut but eyes are wide open.
''People are either [with Aristide's party] Lavalas or the opposition,''
said Michel St. Cyr, 24, a cab driver 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, who now call 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 rag-tag band says it plans to take over major cities such
as Cap Haitien and St. Marc. Their threats, coupled with street marches
by the political opposition in the capital
city 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 everybody seems to know everyone, keep their own counsel 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 station, 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.
To be sure, residents don't look at all their neighbors with 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. 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 shows 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