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Hatred of Aristide, Fear of Poor Unite Haiti Elite : Society: The handful of light-skinned, rich families that control the economy expect to outmaneuver U.S.

October 03, 1994|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Her face was twisted with rage, her voice cracked with fury, her body cramped with hate. "They should be killed, all of them, killed. We will kill them. I will kill them."

The murderous wail was aimed at Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the supporters who followed Haiti's first democratically elected president into exile when he was overthrown three years ago by the country's army.

"They are everything that is wrong here," she shrieked as she contemplated their return. "They are the mob. They want to destroy us. I have my guns. I will use them to protect my property."

This was not the rant of some uncontrollable eccentric nor the boast of a barroom denizen.

No, the venom spewed from the mouth of a demurely dressed, wealthy Haitian woman, a double graduate of one of the best U.S. Ivy League colleges and a member of one of Haiti's oddest factions--what U.S. diplomats call the Morally Repugnant Elite, or MREs for short.

They are by definition rich, sometimes exceedingly so. Most are light-skinned or white. Many have been educated in the best American and European universities. Several carry U.S. passports. Almost all have a pathological hatred for Aristide.

Romeo Halloun is the son of a Lebanese immigrant who made a small fortune in the import-export business, a fortune converted into a mountain of money when the family turned to smuggling during the various embargoes imposed to force Aristide's return.

Even though he is a U.S. citizen, Halloun joined the corps of anti-Aristide fanatics, organizing a night-riding patrol that terrorized ordinary Haitians and tried to intimidate foreigners. He was detained Sunday by U.S. forces.

"Aristide represents all I hate," he once told a reporter as he gambled away thousands of dollars at the El Rancho casino, a favorite haunt of young MREs.

"I'm not afraid to kill to protect what I and my family have."

Halloun is a follower of Bob LeCord, a former U.S. serviceman and disciple of the brutal Duvalier dynasty that ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986.

Last October, LeCord led a band of armed thugs who prevented a U.S. Army cargo ship from landing in Port-au-Prince as part of an abortive effort to return Aristide. He was arrested Friday by U.S. troops for carrying illegal weapons.

The loathing is so intense that a few still will not accept that Aristide is coming back, despite the more than 20,000 U.S. troops sent here to ensure that the president is restored.

"I know he isn't coming back," one woman said. "Whoever gets off that plane on Oct. 15 (the date most people have set for Aristide's return) won't be Aristide. It might be someone altered by cosmetic surgery, it might be a robot, but it won't be Aristide."

The thinking behind such a statement from an otherwise rational person is based on a conviction that U.S. officials hate Aristide as much as she does. So it can't be the real Aristide that returns, the thinking goes, only some clone that Washington will control.

For the less irrational, Aristide's return is acknowledged as a probable fact--but not an acceptable one.

"I'm not going to shoot him," the husband of the excitable, demurely dressed woman said as he entertained a reporter by the pool of his relatively modest home in the hills above Petionville, a wealthy suburb of the capital. "But I have lots of friends who will, and I won't do anything to stop them."

The power behind the MREs lies with a handful of light-skinned, rich families who have a monopolistic hold on Haiti's economy and have inherited the racial attitudes and fear of the poor from the French colonialists and the mixed-raced Haitians who took control after the nation's 1804 revolution.

"You know why I'm against Aristide?" asked a U.S.-trained economist and businessman who has made a sizable profit in league with the military regime. "His democracy is the democracy of the mob, the ignorant and dirty mob," he said, as his guest gazed at a mansion being constructed on an adjoining multi-acre lot owned by the economist.

"They aren't ready for democracy. Aristide has told them they have a right to what I have, that they have the right to eat off my plate."

For the most part, these families keep their hatred of the populist priest to themselves, preferring to express it through manipulation of lesser allies such as Halloun or through financial and political aid and advice to the military.

All of these families backed the 1991 military revolt against Aristide, according to U.S. diplomats at the time--then-U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams actually named the families the MREs--and provided the money and expertise that thwarted the international sanctions.

Paradoxically, some of the most elite of the MREs, the Mevs, Brandt, Madsen and D'Adesky families, are now in business with the supposedly hated American invaders, renting and selling land and services to the U.S. forces.

One Haitian political expert, who supports Aristide's return as an exercise in democracy even though he dislikes the man and his radical policies, believes at least some of these families are subtly engineering a plan that will frustrate the Americans and leave the families in eventual control.

"The idea is to appear resigned, if not enthusiastic, about Aristide coming back," he said, "but to encourage the looting and lawlessness so that the Americans will eventually give up and go away and leave Aristide helpless. Then they will have won."

Even with Aristide's return at least a week or more away, the MREs say they are seeing the meaning of his restoration in the streets now.

"Looting, you see the looting," said a businessman who says he is not an MRE but associates with them. "That is what Aristide means and what Aristide will bring. Your (the U.S. media's) job is to convince him to stop the looting."

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