THE resignation and anticipated departure of military chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras marks a milestone for the Haitian people and the international community.
But after an emotional ceremony in which General Cedras was barely audible above the crowd's taunting, the importance of his departure was reduced to just another step leading to the truly momentous occasion: the return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Oct. 15.
The transfer of power from Cedras to Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval, an interim step, leaves President Aristide with the crucial choice of a new armed forces commander who will support his government and turn the demoralized military into a professional force. Aristide's last choice was Cedras, who led the September 1991 coup against him.
The Haitian soldiers and officers left behind are feeling confused, isolated, and resentful - unsure of their future in the face of United States plans to disman-tle and retrain security forces.
Some low-ranking officers complain that they are not being kept abreast of the situation. They found out about US troops coming and Cedras's departure, they say, from the radio.
``Ever since the Americans arrived, no one has ever talked to us about what they are doing here,'' says one Haitian soldier.
Many soldiers have deserted their posts. According to one officer, things are so disorganized that no one knows who is where. Cedras signed many transfers before he departed, but they have been impossible to track.
``Everyone is apprehensive about their jobs,'' one lieutenant says. ``They are all wondering what will happen to them. Some are really sad because they thought Cedras was a decent guy.'' Still others, he says, are relieved. They are tired of being classified as a band of thugs and are thirsty for the training offered to them by US troops.
``It was just a minority at the top who agreed with the coup,'' says an agronomist with ties to the Army. ``They forced the others to follow. The majority of the soldiers are really happy about the change, because they think it may finally provide some stability for themselves and their country.''
PRESIDENT Aristide has been through military musical chairs once before. In his February 1991 inaugural address, he retired a dozen officers, hoping new leaders would reform the military. He promoted Cedras to do so.
This time Aristide has the technical support of the international community as well as the physical support of about 19,000 US soldiers to make sure that the Haitian Army remains outside the political arena.
``The change [in command] is part of the transition,'' says Colin Granderson, head of the United Nations Civilian Mission, which has monitored human rights violations here. ``But it's just a start. We have to change the culture. The Army has to support and help the citizens, not prey on them as it has for so long.''
General Duperval's leadership will probably be short-lived. With only two other generals left, President Aristide is expected to promote Col. Mondesir Balbrun to general, and he is considered a strong candidate to replace Duperval. Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby was replaced by Brig. Gen. Max Mayard.
The last vestige of the de facto government, provisional President Emile Jonassaint, remains in place. He is expected to resign soon, though no mention has been made of his leaving the country. A nationwide address announced for Oct. 10 by local stations did not occur.
Cedras is entitled to collect a military pension of 7,000 gourdes a month or roughly $470. He says he will return to Haiti after Aristide's term is finished in February 1996. Meanwhile, Cedras is expected to pass through Panama on his way to exile in Spain, where he has a house.