Haitians Unfazed by US Threat, Government State-of-Siege Decree
Army, paramilitary groups told to `evaporate' if Haiti is invaded
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — NOW that the United Nations Security Council has voted in favor of military intervention to restore democracy in Haiti, pressure on Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras is at an all-time high.
Although the UN resolution does not include a deadline for removing Haiti's commander in chief - who led the 1991 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide - the message is clear: General Cedras and his Army-backed government may have to give up power sooner than expected.
But the government, in a characteristically combative move, responded to the UN action by decreeing a state of siege 14 hours after the UN announcement.
``The reason for the state of siege is clear,'' says a close adviser to the government of ousted President Aristide.
``Cedras is trying to show he's as strong as a monkey's tail,'' he said, alluding to a remark made by former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, a week before he was forced to flee the country. Like Duvalier, who wanted the world to believe he had his country under control, Cedras has been seen frequently in public, something he has not been known to do recently.
Last week he ate dinner in a popular restaurant with his family; visited Kenscoff, a quaint mountain town outside the capital; and he also attended a three-and-a-half-hour church service with his family hours before the UN's July 31 decision.
Under the state of siege, the government can invoke martial law, giving it the right to impose a curfew, search and arrest without a warrant, disperse groups, and shut down the media. It legalizes activity that has been taking place since Aristide was ousted after only seven months of rule.
But so far, no specific action has occurred to carry out the declaration. Life for most Haitians continues as normal. After learning about the UN vote, people here carried on with traditional Sunday activities: playing soccer, strolling around the neighborhood, and making meals of pumpkin soup. Upon learning of the state of siege, many shrugged their shoulders and went out as usual to look for a way to feed themselves and their families.
PRESIDENT Emile Jonassaint's declaration of the state of siege came at the end of a fiery speech delivered at 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 1. Speaking in Creole and French, President Jonassaint said, ``May this hour we are about to live be the finest, since it will allow us to pass on to our children and grandchildren the pledge of 1804: liberty or death.
``We will fight [an invasion] with all our might and means,'' he announced on the state-owned television and radio stations. ``Let no one in this world be mistaken enough to doubt our courage, our determination to want, by all means, to preserve what matters the most.''
Jonassaint's executive order should have been signed by the president and prime minister, with parliamentary approval, but when he took office on May 11, Jonassaint assumed both jobs. Parliament was not called for approval.
Haiti's elected National Assembly has been inoperable since the beginning of this year, when many senators and deputies refused to participate in legislative activities because of fear for their safety. On Aug. 1, members of the Senate were in chambers discussing the UN resolution.
Though the threats of a military invasion and state of siege loom over them, Haitians, for the most part, seem unconcerned.
``I'm not scared, but I want to be prepared,'' said a young girl who is more interested in her evangelical work than in Haitian politics. ``I want to make sure that I know where everyone is and we have some food in the house just in case something happens.''
``I don't believe they'll do anything yet,'' said a historian who specializes in the US 1915 intervention.
``Traditionally when you hear state of siege, you think of arrests. They are not ready for massive repression yet, but believe me, if the military thinks they are going down, they will take with them as many people as they can,'' he said.
No one, however, expects the under-equipped and ill-trained military to resist foreign intervention, if and when foreign troops actually set foot on Haitian soil. One well-placed source said that in case of an invasion, Haitian soldiers are under instructions to remove their uniforms and return home in civilian clothing.
Members of the paramilitary organization, the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, have been told to ``evaporate'' and take their revenge on the foreign soldiers by traditional means of sticks, machetes, and voodoo powder.
The UN resolution approves a two-stage operation. The first includes a multinational force of up to 15,000 members, led by the United States.
The deployment of up to 6,000 UN-member troops would follow to help establish political stability and train a new Army and police force.
On Aug. 1, the US signed a long-awaited accord with Haiti's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, that would allow US military helicopters to begin patrolling the Haiti-Dominican border and provide for a multinational team of 88 observers under the control of the US Atlantic Command. The agreement is intended to stanch the leaky border by which embargoed fuel has been entering Haiti.
Currently, the United States has 2,400 troops and 14 warships cruising off the northern part of the island.