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CRISIS IN THE CARIBBEAN : Requiem for a Regime at Officers' Funeral : Rites: Stark ceremony for 10 slain by Marines is a testimonial to how effectively the U.S. military has neutralized Haiti's dictatorship.

October 06, 1994|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A military dictator wept, a bugler played taps, and the sisters of dead soldiers wailed as Haiti's army commander in chief, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, led his soldiers Wednesday in a state funeral that also seemed a requiem for a dying regime.

As U.S. forces continued to isolate Cedras and his tattered command, the ceremony before 10 wooden coffins draped with Haitian flags was meant to glorify the military police officers shot dead 12 days ago at their Cap Haitien headquarters by U.S. Marines.

The men had already been buried once and exhumed; on Wednesday they were buried again in a fortified military compound, in the presence of Cedras' grim-faced, 58-member honor guard and a few hundred military supporters.

The unannounced ceremony was a testimonial to how effectively the U.S. military has neutralized Haiti's brutal dictatorship two weeks after landing. It was the first time in three years that such a public appearance by Cedras and his command was neither broadcast on state radio and television--now under the control of the U.S. forces--nor attended by thousands.

On the day after a leading member of the general's ruling troika fled into exile, U.S. officials said they expect that Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, who sat two chairs away from the commander in chief Wednesday, will step down even before Oct. 15, the date set for their departure from power under an agreement forged by former President Jimmy Carter last month.

Biamby, a fierce nationalist who spent six months in a U.S. immigration prison and four years in exile in Venezuela until the 1991 coup, was the only member of the high command who publicly vowed to fight the U.S. troops in the event they invaded rather than intervened. That anger was clearly etched on Biamby's face as he fidgeted and scowled through Wednesday's rites.

As Cedras buried his face in his hands and sniffed back tears, Biamby clenched his hands together in his lap and held his chin high while occasionally joining in hymns that asked divine forgiveness. Not once during the hourlong ceremony did Cedras and Biamby speak to one another.

Throughout the funeral, U.S. Military Police patrols rolled by outside the Military Hospital, where the 10 men were buried in a courtyard never before used as a cemetery. A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter circled overhead as the service began.

From a small, makeshift pulpit set up under a plastic tarp near the grave sites that one Haitian officer said will become a nationalist shrine, Father Eugene Thales called for repentance, and army Col. Carl Dorelien called for reconciliation.

Cedras said nothing. His eyes were wet, his face was drawn as he sat silent beside his fellow generals, listening above the wail of relatives to the army's personnel chief, Dorelien, declare: "By the blood these men have spilled they have given us a message. It is: 'Unity, reconciliation and love.' "

The hymns and the sermon read to a military audience with the Caribbean's worst record of brutality and human rights abuse carried the same tone.

"We are standing in front of God and daring to receive his judgment," the priest declared. "Are you ready to face death? Or are you ready to face life? In order to face life, you must first respect life."

"Forgive us Father," sang a handful of the soldiers as the priest led one Creole hymn. "When will we be able to stand? Every day, we are trying to live, to go one step at a time, not to be left behind. . . . Deliver us, God, from everlasting death on our Judgment Day."

The centerpiece of the ceremony was Dorelien's speech. He echoed Cedras' line that all 10 men were shot in cold blood as they played dominoes on the night of Sept. 24, when a Marine assault on the Cap Haitien police headquarters in northern Haiti destroyed the region's entire police and military structure.

But now, the colonel said, it is a time for reconciliation and peace.

"People in discord will only bring evil," he said. "This trauma we feel is proof that division will only defeat us. This is our crisis. We must resolve it ourselves. We want peace, and peace means justice and charity."

That, Dorelien concluded, "is our impossible mission."

So it seemed, judging by scenes elsewhere in the Haitian capital Wednesday.

While U.S. military intelligence officers and military police were intensifying efforts to dismantle the regime from the top--raiding homes of its key civilian agents, continuing to detain Cedras' top bodyguards and aides, and hunting hidden arms caches--the Haitians were dismantling the regime from the ground up.

Soon after the funeral ended, dozens of impoverished Haitians tore into the headquarters of a political party created from the remnants of former dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier's party. The looters, who identified themselves as supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, tore the building apart, even carting off the plumbing and wiring.

Several in the crowd said they were preparing the way for Aristide's return. But one looter, who identified himself as Bobby Beauvier, said he planned to sell what he could carry away.

There were signs that the regime was preparing for its own collapse.

The military's puppet president, Emile Jonassaint, ordered license plates on all government vehicles changed to civilian plates, apparently to help his government dissolve into the population.

Still, Cedras ended the funeral with a personal and symbolic show of strength: He stood tall as he moved from grave to grave, forcefully throwing dirt into each.

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