Reporters on the Job

Encounter with the Chimères: Staff writer Howard LaFranchi had heard of Haiti's chimères, the young street thugs organized and armed by exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide and named after a fire-breathing monster in Haitian folklore. But a personal encounter with them gave him a glimpse of the kind of terror they have wreaked on ordinary Haitians.

"On Sunday, I wanted to get to the center of Port-au-Prince to talk with some Aristide supporters. I had interviewed groups of them the day before, and although I had passed many burning barricades and destroyed gas stations to get there, I hadn't otherwise had any problems. As my driver and I got within blocks of the national palace, a pickup full of heavily armed, ski-masked young men screeched around a corner and roared up in front of us. They all jumped out and, with their guns pointed at us, ran up to our doors and pulled us out. Several shots were fired in the air, while others of the masked men trained long, dark automatic weapons on us. Personal items were quickly grabbed - two boys pulled off the Ray-Bans I had around my neck and argued over them, the driver's cellphone was taken.

"All this time they were sneering 'American!' but I told them in French, 'That's not so, I speak French!' Then a man without a mask, who appeared to be their leader, ordered the others back. He held a pistol on me, but demanded money. I gave him most of what I had, then several others demanded a take and I gave them the rest.

"By this time they had turned the driver's car around and were going to steal it. My driver, an older man, was shaking as the young men taunted him and poked him with their guns. But the man I assumed to be the leader now had his face in mine, and I saw something in his eyes that told me he wasn't going to shoot. I said, 'Don't take the man's car. He's Haitian like you. It's all he has.' His eyes narrowed, but he turned, ordered the young men out of the taxi, and told us, 'Leave now!' "

Later, Howard heard from his colleagues that several foreign journalists had been robbed, and the chimères had executed some Haitians.

Monday, Howard went back into the city center and instead of the chimères, he found thousands of jubilant Haitians greeting the rebel leaders (page 1). Before Aristide left, chimère leaders were fond of saying that even the rats in Haiti couldn't defecate without their permission. Monday, dancing Haitians were holding up dead rats as a sign of defiance.

David Clark Scott
World editor

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