For most Haitians, Gona"ives is the birthplace of the struggle against Jean-Claude Duvalier. It was here, in Haiti's fourth-largest city, where the killing of three high school students late last year sparked a series of violent demonstrations that spread throughout Haiti's provincial towns.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Haitians from all over the country jammed into the city's main square to hear two Episcopal bishops officiate an open-air mass of gratitude for the fall of Haiti's President-for-Life last week. Both bishops, Msgr. Franois Gayot of Cap-Ha"itien and Msgr. Emmanuel Constant of Gona"ives, were prominent figures in the movement to overthrow Mr. Duvalier.
The crowd quietly listened to the bishops giving thanks for the events of last week and emphasizing the need to keep fighting against social injustice.
The rally in Gona"ives, however, had to do with much more than a grateful look at recent events. A quick glance at the political slogans sprayed on walls and hundreds of vehicles throughout the town -- such as ``Every four years'' and ``No reelection'' -- showed Haitian preoccupation with forthcoming elections and an intense desire not to fall into any new dictatorships.
Underneath the joy there were clear currents of concern. Popular attention focused on the timing of future elections, the composition of the current transitional government, and the return of Haitian exiles.
Gona"ives is the most militant and politically conscious city in Haiti. It is the seat not only of this revolution but also of the 1804 slave revolt that overthrew the French.
A petition circulating in Gona"ives demands that Alix Cin'eas and Col. Prosper Avril -- the two members of the ruling National Council most closely linked to the Duvalier regime -- be removed. Many of those active in the recent uprising had already signed the petition.
Mr. Cin'eas, a former minister of public works under Duvalier, comes from a well-known Duvalierist family. His brother Fritz, former Haitian ambassador to Washington, was appointed by Mr. Duvalier.
Col. Avril was an important member of the top echelons of the Duvalierist Army and especially close to Duvalier and his wife. Both men were known as moderates within the regime and were reputedly helpful in persuading Duvalier to resign. Duvalier allegedly made his departure conditional on their inclusion in the government.
A petition similar to that circulating in Gona"ives is reportedly about to be circulated in the capital. The petitions' demands were reiterated by Christian Democrat opposition leader Silvio Claude in a rally yesterday morning in the capital.
Both Mr. Claude and the petitions raised the issue of a quick return of Haitian exiles. Political analysts here say there are some 600,000 to 700,000 Haitians living abroad. Other observers place the number somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000.
Although there are some flights coming into the country, travel has been restricted to foreigners. The government is concerned with the safety of exiled Haitians returning to their homeland because the Tontons Macoutes -- Duvalier's militia -- are still armed and at large.
National Council member G'erard Gourgue says, ``The question of the exiles return is such an important one that it will take some time to resolve.''
Some government members are more direct in their analysis. Guy Meyer, a holdover from the Duvalier regime who is still director general of the Ministry of Information, stresses the importance of the exile problem. ``The one thing that unites people here, be they in the new government, the upper echelons of business, and some of the political parties, is their fear of the exiles' return,'' said Mr. Meyer.
Meyer frankly stated that many influential Haitians feared the competition for political and economic power which the exiles' return would bring them.
``The exiles who will want to come back will, most of them, not be able to find jobs in Haiti. In order to live here, most of them will have to fight for employment in the government, and thus for political power,'' he says.
``Many people are afraid that the exiles will mess everything up here,'' he adds.
Meyer says that if the exiles are not allowed to return quickly, the government's image could be hurt both abroad and at home among the exiles' friends and relatives.
Another issue of concern, reflected in the Gona"ives street slogans and in Claude's statements, is the timing of the elections. There has been a surge in popular sentiment for having elections as soon as possible, especially in urban areas. This is partly due to distrust of the interim government.
Paradoxically, many politically militant leaders, notably in the church, fear quick elections.
They say that the people could be easily manipulated by groups representing upper class or masked Duvalierist interests. They say that at least six months to a year is necessary in order to spread more political education and organize a legal opposition.
Many analysts here say that the United States is a crucial factor here, and that it already has its candidate: Mario Bazin. Mr. Bazin, minister of finance in 1982, attempted and failed to make economic reforms and to control corruption in the Duvalier regime. He then resigned, and is now with the World Bank.