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A Yank Called Macaroni Symbolizes U.S. in Haiti : Caribbean: Staff Sgt. Sam Makanani and his Special Forces colleagues have not only vanquished the military but helped restore essential services.

October 26, 1994|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JACMEL, Haiti — The music is Caribbean rap, the dance a fast shuffle, the words a hymn to the man the Haitian kids in this shabby southern seaside town call Sgt. Macaroni, the man who gets the bad guys.

"Macaroni doesn't mess around," the kids sing, "Macaroni's a good guy. Macaroni got them good."

Actually, Macaroni is U.S. Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Sam Makanani, a 35-year-old career soldier from Hawaii who has come to personify the American troops who have freed Jacmel from the repressive Haitian military, returned democratic government and fixed the city's electrical plant.

One of about 50 Special Forces troops who arrived in this city of about 60,000 people on Sept. 23, Makanani has made a name for himself by his aggressiveness in running down remnants of the former military regime and working to restore a democratic, civilian government.

Except for the massive presence of U.S. troops in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and a smaller group in the northern city of Cap Haitien, small Special Forces units are the sole representatives of the American army in most of Haiti.

Billing themselves as "the Peace Corps with guns," these units, some as small as 12 members, patrol towns, search for suspected agents of the former Haitian army, seek out hidden arms and try to establish as peaceful and normal an atmosphere as can exist in a country known worldwide for political violence.

All the troops are long-serving Army veterans, all speak at least one foreign language, most appear energized to the point of hyperactivity and all are confident that they can, in a phrase originated when the Special Forces were formed by order of President John F. Kennedy, "win the hearts and minds" of the local population.

The Special Forces don't use that phrase anymore, at least not in Haiti, preferring instead to say, in the words of local American commander Maj. Tony Schwaln, "We can break things and kill people, or we can fix their power plant."

Repairing Jacmel's generator and giving the city electricity for the first time in more than a year seem to have won the town over. "There are fewer than 50 of us in a town of 60,000," Schwaln said. "If they didn't love us, we'd be dead."

Schwaln, a 31-year-old former tank commander from Macon, Ga., said that Makanani, or "Sgt. Sam," as he called him, " is Special Forces. He is just great. He's got a tremendous sense of humor, a tremendous feel for people."

Makanani, who favors wraparound sunglasses, a spike crew cut and a wide smile, is the stuff of local legend because of his role in capturing the area's most notorious military thug, Cpl. Hugh Seraphin, who had dubbed himself Achade, a Creole slang word meaning "criminal, 10 times over."

"He really took him out," said a Jacmel resident of the Sept. 23 capture of Achade, who had been known for several years as the army's primary killer in the area.

"He (Achade) had been standing on the balcony of his home telling people that 'I'm here; I'm the real chief. I'm going to kill all the Americans. I'm Acha- vingt (or "criminal 20 times over"),' " the resident said.

"Then Makanani pulled up in his Humvee, kicked down the door, had Achade on the floor, his wrists handcuffed, blindfolded and gagged.

"All the kids in town were watching," the resident said, when Makanani, his M-16 assault rifle shoved into the back of the prone Haitian, looked at his commanding officer and said with a smile Achade couldn't see, "Hey, major, can I shoot him, can I shoot him?"

Schwaln said no, but later said of the Haitian soldier, "Yeah, now he's Acha-zero."

All of the Special Forces troops here seem to have an affinity for the children who virtually swamp them when they appear in the streets. Makanani draws ever larger crowds because he often carries a guitar.

"The Haitians like the theme from 'Chico and the Man,' " the sergeant said. "They also like it when I learn a Haitian song."

He reeled off the words to a profane Creole ditty that praises restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and defames ousted army Commander in Chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

There is a particularly devoted group of young boys who hang around the abandoned marina club used by the Americans as their headquarters and barracks. One, 12-year-old Pierre Massin, has been "adopted" by the troops, who have purchased his school uniform and his books for him and have put up his tuition.

Pierre responded by writing the song that Makanani "got them good."

The sense of relief and gratitude is nearly palpable in Jacmel, a town used by the Haitian military and their civilian business associates as a center for smuggling.

Christian Duplan, 27, assistant director of a trade school here, said the Americans have made life safe.

Certainly the streets are cleaner. The old military regime had prevented refuse pickups by the residents because civilian groups were banned, so any attempt to organize cleanups by citizens organizations was broken up.

According to Schwaln, the people are cooperating with the Americans. Even the few Haitian army troops left behind "do what we tell them to do."

"You know, to my knowledge, there has not been one act of political violence," he said.

"We're proud of what we've done here. When we turned on the lights we were nearly as happy as the Haitians."

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