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Fear Lives Alongside Hope in Haiti : Caribbean: End of military rule and Cedras' departure for Panama haven't stopped the threat of violence. Aristide Cabinet returns to work.

October 13, 1994|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — American GIs pass nearby and overhead, but still Jean Brenus Lormeus is afraid to go home. He hides with his wife and two children in the sprawling Cite Soleil slum after repeated arrests and beatings by the Haitian military regime.

Even now, as that regime dies and just two days remain before exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns, Lormeus and many like him do not feel safe: The men with guns--the attaches and other military henchmen--remain on the loose and continue to threaten.

Lormeus is one of scores of people who worked in grass-roots organizations in support of the Aristide government, the very structure that the military dictatorship went about systematically destroying.

Their lingering fear dramatizes the volatile period of uncertainty that Haiti is undergoing, even as many Haitians express new hope growing with the demise of Haiti's murderous dictatorship.

Additional signs of the end of de facto military rule came as Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who was forced into retirement Monday, flew into exile. Cedras left Port-au-Prince airport early this morning for Panama aboard a chartered jet. He was joined by his wife, Yannick, and three children. Also on the plane was former Army Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby and his wife.

On Wednesday, the military's puppet president, Emile Jonassaint, formally resigned, and members of the Aristide Cabinet reported for work for the first time since the bloody 1991 coup that toppled Aristide. The moves were made possible after U.S. troops on Tuesday seized 13 public ministries, the Presidential Palace and the National Bank and evicted the occupants.

Each step is designed to clear the way for Aristide's return Saturday, the product of the U.S. military occupation of this impoverished country that began Sept. 19. But for the men and women who did Aristide's work in the countryside and in the urban squalor, doubts remain that the pattern of Haitian history will really change.

"The attaches are telling people that they have heard Aristide will come to take away their guns and uniforms, but they say before that happens they have plenty of time to kill all of Aristide's supporters," said Lormeus, who fled his home in the rural south last year after 22 days of beatings in a military jail.

Lormeus sought refuge in a friend's tiny home on Boston Street in Cite Soleil, a largely pro-Aristide shantytown in Port-au-Prince that has suffered the brunt of military-sponsored murder, torture and intimidation.

On Wednesday, the residents of Cite Soleil were decorating for Aristide's arrival. They were taking up collections to put fresh paint on the square, squat homes that crowd Boston Street and the other narrow roads of the slum. They swept away trash and hung Aristide posters, the possession of which until recently was illegal.

"We felt obliged to keep (the posters), because we always had the last hope that he would return," said Simone Joseph, 41, an unemployed mother of seven who slept in her own home on Sept. 20--the day after U.S. troops arrived--for the first time in three years.

In the wake of the coup, hundreds of people were killed and many more who worked in the grass-roots organizations were forced underground. As people who organized the poor into labor, peasant and political groups, they were the natural enemies of a brutal military consolidating its control of a nation.

While many here say that the attaches and other thugs have taken a lower profile since the U.S. occupation, they also agree that the danger is lurking, especially at night. On Boston Street, neighbors have begun to keep all-night vigils for security. Yet in a sign of faith, they talk freely to a reporter.

Just a few months ago, said resident Danny Frantz, "you talk in the morning, you dead at night."

The major obstacle to lasting peace, they say, is the failure by U.S. troops to fully disarm those on the military payroll.

The U.S. military has bought or confiscated 7,409 guns, grenades and other weapons since the occupation began, a spokesman for the mission said Wednesday. That might account for one weapon per member of the army, but it doesn't begin to consider the armed attaches , members of the pro-military Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, and others.

"Aristide will not be able to protect every human life," said Maurice Jean Gilbert, 32, who has not seen his daughter since fleeing a raid on his home three years ago. "You must take the guns away from the attaches . Even the American soldiers are having trouble doing that, and we will suffer for it."

Although much of the talk is emotional, it is not without a basis. On Sunday, a man driving a bus deliberately ran down a pro-Aristide march in southern Haiti, killing 24 people. It was the second such fatal incident in three days, and there are persistent reports of killings and other abuses in areas where U.S. troops have not been deployed.

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