Haitians Await Signs of Return To Civilian Rule
Mixed emotions surround US troop arrival; plans, money for rebuilding in pipeline
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — WITH 4,800 United States troops already in Haiti and others on the way, the US commitment to rebuilding there is no longer in doubt. But details about the kind of democracy the US will foster and how it will be installed remain unclear.
Haitian reactions to the agreement signed by Haiti's de facto President Emile Jonassaint and the United States vary widely.
The sketchy seven-point accord, calling for Army leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras's resignation by Oct. 15, has some supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide furious that there is no fixed date for his return; other Aristide supporters are relieved to see a resolution to the three-year old crisis.
Some of General Cedras's backers are delighted to have staved off an aggressive intervention, while others repudiate the presence of foreign troops in their country.
``Would you be happy to be occupied by Russians?'' one man asks a group of foreign journalists. ``They [US troops] didn't change anything in Panama, they didn't change anything in Grenada, why would they change anything here?''
A Haitian student is critical for other reasons. ``I'm disgusted,'' he says. ``What Clinton did is wrong. You can't strike a deal with someone you don't recognize, and then give the men you are calling murderers protection.''
The fallout from perceived flaws in this agreement reaches beyond the island. On Sept. 19, United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti Dante Caputo resigned, criticizing the US for acting unilaterally.
An aide to Mr. Aristide in Washington spoke out against allowing the military rulers to maintain power until Oct. 15. Haiti's minister of interior and defense resigned Sept. 20, in a sign that the Haitian government may be fracturing.
And when the parliament gathered in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 19, they met only to denounce the accord signed by Mr. Jonassaint, not to discuss amnesty for the military as outlined in the agreement.
But widespread skepticism is moderated by a sense of relief that the nightly shooting in the capital has stopped and a full-scale US invasion was forestalled.
One Aristide detractor, showing a conciliatory side, said: ``[The accord] is the possibility for Haiti to get out of its limbo and on with its future.''
SEVERAL hours after daybreak on Sept. 19, Haiti's skyline was peppered with dozens of US military helicopters buzzing their way to Haitian soil. The stunning display of aerial deployment was followed by the sporadic unloading of naval ships that had moved in the night before under a nearly full moon.
For Aristide supporters watching the deployment on Sept. 19, the wave of enthusiasm corresponded to the mounting hum of helicopters approaching the dilapidated wharf. Hundreds of people scrambled up rotting wooden fences, clutched onto shaky poles, and grabbed for one another while trying to catch a glimpse of the troops and their equipment.
``Everybody is really happy,'' said Rafael Pierre Louis, as he stood on Main Street near the few avocado merchants who braved the streets on Haiti's first day of occupation. ``We've suffered for three years. Clinton is a real democrat.''
A brief melee was brought on by Aristide supporters, who, emboldened by the presence of the foreign military, started shouting pro-Aristide slogans. The police chased them with sticks, but the isolated incident was over in a matter of a few minutes.
Though just last week Mr. Clinton denounced Cedras as the author of human rights abuses in Haiti, foreign troops sat side-by-side with Haitian soldiers during the Sept. 19 motorcade escort to the general's home.
No one expects change to come quickly, or easily, but plans for reconstruction after the promised restoration of Aristide have been in the pipeline for months. Foreign donors have agreed to spend between $450 million to $550 million to support Haiti restoration projects in the first year. The US will provide the majority of the funds.
International donors agree that job creation and food production should top the list of restoration projects. The donors also agree that the main prerequisite is a stable government.
``Over the last three years we have been working directly with nongovernmental agencies delivering fuel, water, and drugs,'' says United Nations spokesman Iain Guest. ``We can continue doing that but we need political support - a stable government to work with.''
Hundreds of military technicians are being brought in to do just that. They will serve as advisers for everything from infrastructure rebuilding and road construction to the creation of a civilian police force and advising members of parliament.
One US soldier, who, as a volunteer with a church group, helped to build a house in Haiti two years ago, said: ``Instead of using a machete to build a house, I am now using an M-16 to try to build a city.''
Second Lt. Townley Hedrick said earnestly, ``I hope I'm as successful helping now as I was then.''