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'New' Haiti Has Many of Its Old Problems : Caribbean: The hated military is gone. Democracy has been restored. But hunger and joblessness endure.


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — It was perfectly normal, a little boy eating peanut butter. Except this was Haitian normality, and the boy was standing on a dune of filth and sucking the gooey food from a torn package of American garbage.

The child, perhaps 10 or 12, is one of several dozen Haitians who go every morning to a field of despair called "the big garbage dump near the port" to find the day's sustenance in what the American troops here have thrown away.

Every day about noon, the people gather in the mounds of refuse to wait for the U.S. Army truck to arrive and unload the discards of the 16,000 American troops who remain from the force that arrived here more than five weeks ago.

Some are barefooted children only two feet tall. There are women carrying babies and one-legged old men struggling on crutches made of splintered broomsticks, trying to survive by scraping up the leftovers and left-behinds.

It is neither a benign nor patient group. The people push and shove and battle pigs and dogs grazing among the bulldozers. When the American truck and its accompanying guard show up, the scrabbling becomes a grim war.

On a day this week when the humidity made for a particularly choking stench, the mob attacked the American truck with such energy that the four soldiers had to fire tear gas to keep them from destroying the vehicle.

"I hear this goes on every time we show up," said Spec. Frank Leinberger, a 10th Mountain Division soldier from Las Vegas. "I guess this is normal."

It is, and reflects both a new and an old normality. The mass of American troops here, the destruction of the murderous and corrupt military regime and the prospect of a democratic political system and more efficient economic program have changed Haiti seriously and make it unlikely there can be a return to the old ways.

Because of the troops, people who cowered in their homes at night in fear of the Haitian army and its death squads now crowd the sidewalks and streets after dark. A new government is forming, and massive foreign aid is promised. For the wealthy, the amenities of good restaurants and newly imported luxury cars are making life more pleasant than ever before.

For thousands of people, there is a tangible sense of hope. They are out every day, waiting at potential construction sites for jobs or in front of shuttered assembly plants that are expected to open any day now.

"There is going to be work. I know it," said Pinchot Pierre, who was standing at the gate of an industrial park where plants produced baby clothes before an international embargo closed the businesses. "The Americans are here, and they will give us the money to start working again. It's going to be different."

One crucial difference is that fuel is cheaper, but only compared to the extraordinary cost that resulted from the international sanctions that cut off most petroleum. Gasoline that was selling for $17 a gallon is now about $2--but this is double what people paid until the embargo went into effect a year ago.

There are traffic jams as of old, but of such intensity that longtime residents say they've never seen anything like them.

Another sign of the old normality made new--and in some cases worse--by the Americans was the use of traffic police here Tuesday for the first time in more than a year. Driving patterns set by the free market--big cars and trucks get the right of way--were broken up by Haitian and American military police trying to set a new order.

Drivers who for months had negotiated intersections and jammed streets without any help were now held by the police in lines that stretched for miles.

Still, as one U.S. diplomat put it: "This is better. I'll trade a traffic jam for an embargo any day. Traffic jams may be a return to what you call the old normality, but what is going to be normal here will be better, no doubt about it."

Yet the old normality continues to intrude. There are promises of 75,000 immediate new jobs, but that will not seriously change the old norms of 85% unemployment and a population that for the most part has never worked for wages.

So while the country enjoys relative law and order under the American presence, and business people expect to prosper under a U.S.-approved economic system, Haitians still scavenge for survival among the oily, torn wrappers of U.S. Army ration packages.

For those who live a measure above the scavengers, daily life also remains the same. Prices for food and basic consumer goods haven't come down by any significant measure. As fruit seller Mannick Jean said: "I expect they will fall soon, now that President Aristide is back. Everything is going to get cheaper (now that) Aristide has come back."

"I know this is better," said an American who has directed humanitarian programs here for several years, "and I certainly don't want to return to the military days or even before the (anti-Aristide coup in 1991), but it scares me when you ask if we are creating a new normality.

"What scares me? That people will think the end of the military and even a new and better political and economic system will be enough. If that is true, then what was normal before--the people you saw at the dump--will be normal now."

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