Outside Cities, Haiti's Militias Still Hold Power

COMMERCIAL flights started to fly into Haiti again yesterday. One of the three key junta leaders fled the country the day before. Exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide asserted to the United Nations that he would return by Oct. 15.

By these accounts, Haiti's march toward stability seems on track. But such signs of progress could be merely cosmetic if the more serious problem of dismantling a paramilitary network that claims to have tens of thousands of members is not confronted and an estimated 25,000 weapons are left unaccounted. And Haiti's entren-ched system of section chiefs, or 565 rural sheriffs scattered through the countryside, each with his own militia of deputies, remains to be revamped.

Dismantling the Front

A multibranch effort to disarm paramilitary forces, particularly members of the well-known Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, was an easy success. Today, FRAPH offices across the country have been reduced to an empty shell - cleared first of weapons by the US forces and then gutted by supporters of President Aristide.

``FRAPH has already fallen just by the sheer disappearance of its members,'' says Gutenberg Timmer, a mathematics professor who lives a block from Petit- Goave's FRAPH office. ``It's only a matter of time before they come and dismantle the whole bloody building, light sockets and all.''

Offices in Port-au-Prince and neighboring Carrefour have been reduced to rubble and then set on fire. Several key leaders, including close advisers to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras are in the hands of the US troops. Haiti's police chief, Lt. Col. Michel Francois, the alleged engineer of the 1991 coup that ousted Aristide and mastermind of much of the violence in Haiti, has fled to the Dominican Republic.

But a more complicated threat to stability awaits. For decades Haiti has run on a feudal system whereby the rural sheriff acts as judge, tax-collector, and law-enforcer. Each of the 565 rural sheriffs has an unofficial number of agents working for him, and they in turn employ others.

Each member of this spider web hierarchy makes his living off corruption, graft, and extortion, according to numerous human rights reports.

``They've put away some of the bad guys,'' said a foreigner in Haiti who monitors Haitian politics. ``It would be naive to think that hostile Aristide opponents' feelings will disappear when their offices or weapons do.''

US Special Forces' plans to expand their operations to between 24 and 27 of Haiti's cities should be completed by the end of next week. But US officials say that right now they have no plans to dismantle the security forces in communities smaller than that.

Cause for optimism

In the meantime, just the show of US troops acting out against FRAPH and acting for the Haitian people keeps many satisfied. Gasoline has dropped from an all-time high of $18 last week to $7 yesterday. The UN commercial embargo has lifted, with the resumption of commercial flights after a two-month embargo on all air traffic.

After 10 months without any electricity, Tuesday's fuel shipment to Petit-Goave and neighboring Grand-Goave and Miragoane will provide about four hours of electricity a day. Some parts of the capital now receive nearly 24 hours of electricity a day due to fuel supplied by the United States troops.

There is such a sense of optimism associated with the silence of gunfire that people are starting to venture out at night. Working street lights are an added benefit.

``It's the return of fresh bread,'' said one young man who has to leave for work before the sun comes up. ``It's been years since the bread vendors felt safe enough to go out at 5 a.m. with their steaming rolls instead of waiting for sunrise. It's small things like this that give me hope that bigger and better changes are around the corner.''

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