Amid Haiti's chaos and poverty, visitors glimpse unusual resolve
Port-au-Prince, Haiti — EXPECTING elections to offer the brightest future any generation has ever had here, a newlywed professional couple talked seriously last week about starting a family. On Sunday, the young couple spent the first Haitian election day they'd ever seen keeping their heads below window level, dodging bullets.
This was a week of thwarted hopes for Haitians.
For foreigners - media and election observers - the week was a taste of the bizarre that is never far from the surface of chaotic Haitian life.
A young American photographer remembers with emotion a passing automobile spraying gunfire into a crowd waiting to vote. As she hit the pavement for safety, the photographer's belongings scattered in the street.
She remembers that amid the gunfire a Haitian peasant woman tried to help gather up the belongings. And then, more surprising to the photographer, the woman joined hundreds of fellow voters back on the polling line, only to be attacked again.
These startling personal impressions of the week are the telling footnotes to headlines that remind the world that the blue-green Caribbean is not all a vacation playground.
Violence squelched the first elections in 30 years here.
The military government failed to protect the polls on Sunday and, reportedly, even attacked voters. Blaming the independent electoral council for the election failure, the military dissolved the group.
But three council members have refused to disband. They say that any elections organized by the military government would be illegal under the Constitution.
Sunday's images and the week of political paralysis that followed are signposts indicating an even rockier road ahead for those who still have hope of bringing the era of terror associated with 30 years of the Duvalier family dictatorship to a close.
Most of the news media people had left Haiti for hotter stories by Tuesday.
The Holiday Inn press center was abandoned. There were no more half-hour lines to file stories on specially installed telephone and telex equipment, which was ironically more sophisticated than anything the nation's beleaguered electoral council had ever enjoyed. Most election offices never even had telephones.
As the pre-election body count increased, so had the foreign press corps. The international attention seemed to mean nothing to killers bent on creating a fear that would derail the presidential elections.
But even media veterans of trouble spots all over the world were comparing the violence here to Beirut or Central America, a United States official observed.
Thugs shooting and wielding machetes aimed to kill journalists as well as voters.
Journalists lost a Dominican colleague at the voter massacre in the Argentine School, just blocks from the press center. Lobby doors at the press center were banged open time and again while journalists dived from the street as they fled the pop-pop of automatic gunfire.
Journalists were so jittery that a noise or sudden movement - no one remembers which - triggered a stampede in the packed press center restaurant.
The shattering glass and overturning tables sounded like a bomb blast from outside. It was similar to the stampedes of panic that Haitians have been experiencing in the tense atmosphere on the downtown streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital, for weeks.
Middle American civic duty met Haitian reality as John Laun, a city attorney from Kiel, Wis. (population just over 3,000), spent his Thanksgiving weekend preparing to help monitor Sunday's ill-fated elections.
Here to provide a presence that might discourage polling violence or fraud, Mr. Laun, like nearly 100 other foreign election observers, could not safely leave his hotel lobby on election day. When commercial airlines abandoned scheduled flights here, many American observers were stranded until the United States Embassy chartered a flight for them Tuesday.
The French ambassador took donated medicine to the financially strapped public hospital caring for Sunday's victims of violence.
The ambassador was surprised to find among them an eight-month-old baby with bullet wounds. Lumped into the sheer magnitude of Sunday's carnage, the little one's surprising survival had escaped media notice.
In the Carrefour-Feuilles neighborhood where well-organized vigilance brigades bravely stood up to drive-by shootings last week, young men were reportedly fleeing the area this week because of Army arrests there.
Yneck Stimphil sneaked around his block in Carrefour-Feuilles blowing a whistle to warn neighbors of coming intruders last week.
But this week, he said, members of his vigilance brigade are chaining themselves inside their houses or hiding in the hills. Army vehicles roar up the hill at dusk each day to make arrest sweeps, Mr. Stimphil said.
In Martial, on the outskirts of the capital, where concrete-block slums give way to dirt floors and thatched roofs, Elmonde Gustave, a shy adolescent atop a tiny donkey, stopped at the edge of a sugar cane field this week to talk.
He says he misses Radio Soleil, the Roman Catholic Church's radio station, which along with three other popular stations was forced off the air by attacks on their transmitters.
``I listen to the news every day, except when I go with the cows,'' Elmonde says.
Radio Soleil had been his neighborhood's main source of information, outside word-of-mouth.