MORNINGS in Port au-Prince, just before dawn, as the last, scattered gunshots faded in the distance and the outlines of the city began to take shape in the dirty air — tiny houses, painted aqua and salmon; the huge and ghostly National Palace, gleaming white; gray and rust-colored slums, canopied in smoke — my colleagues and I would go off in search of bodies. This was during the days leading up to Sunday, November 29, 1987, the day of the election that was to bring democracy to Haiti. Each morning, we would meet in the darkness in front of the Holiday Inn, near the glass doors of a newly opened press center, through which we could just make out banks of telephones and telexes and stacks of cheerful red-and-blue election press kits. During those last days, foreign correspondents and international observers and election experts poured into the country, and the afternoons were filled with solemn press conferences, but the real story unfolded at night. It was a loud and violent conversation, meant to be overheard: one followed its progress by charting the gunshots echoing over the city, then read the results by cruising the streets at daybreak to count the corpses.
On the Tuesday before the election, we set out in the white early morning, skirting the Champ de Mars park, and passing beneath hundreds of little blue-and-red flags that hung limply from the telephone wires, celebrating Haiti’s new democracy, and under banners stretched across the main streets exhorting Haitians to vote. Following the brown smoke billowing in the distance, we drove slowly through the waking capital, and soon, as we circled the perimeter of the great bidonville (“tin-can city”) of La Saline, already covered over in brown cooking smoke and blurry in the rising heat, we found the first remnant of the night’s conversation. Not far from rows of brightly colored camionnettes, called “tap taps,” just in from the countryside, where shirtless, sweating men were unloading baskets of mangoes and bunches of green bananas and great dirty bags of charcoal to feed the tens of thousands of cooking fires in the vast slum, we came upon a clump of chattering people — a sight that in Haiti that week invariably meant a body.
Pushing through the crowd, we, discovered a tall, lean young man, several hours dead, laid out carefully on Haiti’s Route Nationale 1. His body had been prepared for its role: a rope had been twisted about his neck, and above the frayed noose a metal necklace had been pulled tight around his chin, but most of it had disappeared into the gaping maroon slashes around his mouth and throat. Distinct, deep machete cuts in a V-shaped pattern above and below the mouth, they seemed almost an attempt to construct for the victim, after death, a parody second mouth. A partly smoked cigarette had been placed between his lips, a charred wooden match balanced jauntily on his chin. Within easy reach next to his stomach, which, left exposed, was already dense with flies in the rising heat, were a handful of rice, a can of tomato sauce, and a slab of cheese, all displayed on a scrap of brown cardboard. “That’s so he can eat,” an old man said, laughing, bringing on the laughter of the crowd. “And the cigarette, that’s to keep him happy.” There was no blood on his shirt, the old man said, because when they spotted him near the La Saline marketplace early that morning, as gunshots echoed in the distance, this tall young man had been wearing a dress — the all-purpose Haitian disguise — and carrying a can of gasoline. He was a Tonton Macoute, they said, a member of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s militia — one of the thousands who had gone into hiding after the fall of the dictator, nearly two years earlier, and who now, during the months of growing violence, had begun to reappear in the neighborhood. He had come to spread terror by bringing to the people of La Saline what they dreaded most: a fire that in seconds would roar through the dense labyrinth of dry scrap-wood hovels, leaving scores of people dead and thousands homeless.
But the brigades de vigilance — neighborhood committees that had formed themselves in these last days of terror — had been watching. And when the Macoute appeared in that dark and now deserted marketplace, wearing his dress and carrying his can of gasoline, the brigade slum boys let out a shout and gave chase, pursuing him down the tiny alleyways, over the ditches filled with pale-green waste, until at last they caught him, dragging him to the ground beneath the black mountains of the vast charcoal yard. There, in front of the angry, shouting crowd, the slum boys stunned him with their machetes, then lynched him. They prepared the body and left it on the road for Guédé, the voodoo lord of the Crossroads to the Underworld, to attend to in his own good time — for Guédé, despite his great power, often appears as a poor wandering beggar, a famished traveler who would be sure to look kindly on the sumptuous meal of rice and sauce and cheese that had been left beside the young man’s lifeless hand.
Fire was the chosen means of night terror in that election week. A few hours before dawn the previous day, a mob of men armed with heavy clubs had stormed into the Marché Salomon, a huge, lofty building, with concrete arches and a sheet-metal roof, that since the late nineteenth century had housed one of the city’s main public markets. Shouting and screaming in the darkness, the men had used their clubs to beat the people sleeping there — mostly market women from the country, who were guarding their precious merchandise, and the usual complement of beggars. The men had chased them off, then carefully, methodically poured out their gasoline and torched the building. The enormous blaze roared until dawn, reddening the night sky and covering the capital in a pall of smoke that reeked of burned bananas and charred meat. At dawn, one could see amid the smoking rubble scores of beggars and market women staggering about, moaning and wailing as they picked through the tons of blackened, stinking food. I watched a frail old man probe around, then straighten up and let out a shout: he held up a piece of charred meat in triumph before stuffing it into his mouth as his colleagues raced toward him through the rubble.
A woman with a red kerchief on her head pulled something from the black waste and rose up straight, showing me what had once been her prized hen. By now, others had gathered around me, hoping that this white man with his notebook might be moved by their litany of losses and somehow make it right.
“I lost some beans and some bananas.”
“I lost three chickens.”
“I lost some beef.”
A little white-whiskered man, in bluejeans and a white shirt, cut short the voices. “Yesterday, many people went to bed hungry, but today we’ll have food,” he said. He held up a burned piece of beef and gestured, grinning, toward the black landscape. “There’s food in Haiti now, because things are starting to boil.”
IN an earlier predawn darkness, on February 7, 1986, Jean-Claude Duvalier took the wheel of his BMW and, with his elegant mulatto wife, Michèle Bennett, coolly smoking a cigarette at his side, drove to Franí§ois Duvalier International Airport, boarded an American military jet, and fled to an opulent exile in the South of France — there to rejoin an expatriated fortune estimated at more than two hundred and fifty million dollars (equivalent to more than Haiti’s annual budget).
For fifteen years, he had ruled the land, and his father fourteen before him. It was Dr. Franí§ois Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, who had painstakingly created the intricate dictatorial system that came to be called Duvalierism, and installed himself at its apex, as President for life. The engine of Duvalierism was the Tontons Macoutes, a “volunteer” militia that was part mass political party, part paramilitary force, part extortion ring, and part storm troop. In their tens of thousands — no one knew the exact number — the Macoutes, wearing dark glasses, red neckerchiefs, and blue denim, covered the land, searching out any potential threat, be it a student with contacts among the exiled opposition, a merchant reluctant to surrender a kickback, or, most threatening of all, a restive Army officer pondering a coup.
In 1971, Papa Doc died in office; by one count, he had survived eight invasions and attempted coups and at last departed the Palace only, as he had vowed, “to the salute of cannon.” His power at the end had been such that, having obliterated all opposition, he could install as his successor a slow-witted nineteen-year-old distinguished only by his great bulk and his glassy stare — and bequeath to him, by sheer force of will and the fear evoked by his name, a reign that endured a year longer than his own.
But after a decade of Jean-Claude’s rule in this impoverished land — the poorest in the hemisphere and one of the poorest on earth, where nine people in ten live on less than a hundred and eighty dollars a year, where four in five cannot read, and where the life expectancy barely exceeds fifty years — the economy had begun to spiral even further downward. And in the fifteenth year of Jean-Claude’s rule the young dictator came under attack.
The explosion took place in November, 1985. In the desolate port city of Gonaí¯ves, during a peaceful demonstration against food shortages, Duvalier’s security forces killed four schoolchildren, and those deaths — four murdered Haitians out of the tens of thousands killed over the past three decades — unleashed something uncontrollable. Overnight, the four children were transformed into martyrs. Around the country, young Haitians were suddenly marching, students refusing to attend classes; Catholic priests were publicly urging them on, with Radio Soleil, the Church station, serving as the revolt’s nervous system. Duvalier’s Macoutes responded by shooting demonstrators, and the regime moved to imprison some prominent people, and to close Radio Soleil. But American officials, who under Jean-Claude had become the dominant foreign presence in the country, reminded the President that their aid during this difficult time would depend, as always, on his “human rights” comportment. And the Army officers, sensing the weakness of the regime and the ambivalence of the Americans, seemed to be holding back, biding their time. The young dictator, unsure of himself, wavered; he was not the man his father was, had never shown the same mastery of the techniques of massive, unremitting terror. And he had allowed the Duvalierist political base — built on black-power nationalism and anti-Americanism—to weaken and fragment. Over the years, the rich and pampered Jean-Claude had become, to the disgust of many of Papa Doc’s old noiriste henchmen, an ally of the mulattoes, and had grown increasingly dependent on the Americans and their aid. He enjoyed the money and the parties, the perquisites of power, but when the moment came he had little stomach for the fight — for fully unleashing the repressive apparatus his father had carefully constructed.
When the people began to march, he hesitated, reshuffled advisers, fired ministers; the Americans applied pressure, and soon many of those he had jailed were released, and Radio Soleil was reopened. The Tontons Macoutes were eager to crush the revolt, and strained against the leash, but they were mostly held back. Then, while Haitians filled the streets, and opposition roadblocks began to spring up, the Americans gave a final push: in a critical damning gesture at the end of January, 1986, Reagan Administration officials announced they would refuse to certify to Congress that the Duvalier regime was improving in its respect for human rights — a decision that would cut off American aid.
The ominous meaning of the gesture was clear. “We told them,” an American diplomat said later, “we weren’t going to certify unless they did things — start political parties, release prisoners, keep Radio Soleil open — they really couldn’t do and still keep power.” Soon afterward, the American Ambassador spelled matters out in a chat with the Haitian Foreign Minister: The United States preferred President Duvalier’s early departure, provided he left the country in the hands of the military. (“Duvalier saw the handwriting on the wall,” an American diplomat put it later. “But the U.S.. helped translate it for him.”) On February 6th, the Ambassador was summoned to the Palace, where the exhausted dictator inquired whether an American plane could be found for him and his family. The envoy, thinking of the difficult “transition” ahead, had a request of his own: Could the President do something to “neutralize” his Macoutes, to prevent a spree of killing after his departure? Duvalier promised to put them under the control of the Army; then, at the urging of his Foreign Minister, he dictated the names of six men he would leave in his place to rule the exploding country. (“He left the way he wanted to leave,” the diplomat said. “Otherwise he might not have left at all. He still had repressive mechanisms at his disposal.”) A few hours later, Duvalier was gone.
It fell to General Henri Namphy, a stocky, bullnecked, moon-faced mulatto, who had been the armed forces’ chief of staff under Duvalier and now became the senior member of the hastily formed junta, to take control during the parenthèse that would follow — the “parenthesis” of disorder, political jockeying, and sporadic violence that traditionally bridged the fall of one Haitian ruler and the rise of the next. Such crises had punctuated the story of independent Haiti, a span of a hundred and eighty-two years during which thirty-five men had come to power and ruled the land, then left it in their various ways — one executed, one a suicide, two assassinated, one blown up along with the National Palace, six dead in office, eighteen violently overthrown. “A revolution in Haiti,” ex-President Francois Légitime (overthrown in 1889) explained to readers of the London Herald in 1911, “does not have the same meaning as it would have here. It is our only way of changing administrations. Here you have an election; down there they have a revolution.” On February 7, 1986, the latest parenthèse began in jubilation. The street in front of the National Palace overflowed with thousands of delirious Haitians — Haitians dancing, singing, swigging rum, honking their horns, abandoning themselves to a tumultuous national celebration. Amid it all stood General Namphy, a gruff officer who had served virtually his entire career under the Duvaliers but who, despite his position as chief of staff, had held little real power — for it was a tenet of Duvalierism to keep the Army fragmented, divided, and thus able to recognize as its one real master only the dictator himself. It was over this ill-trained, ill-led force of seven thousand men that General Namphy now uncertainly ruled, and through it proposed; to rule the six million citizens of the newly christened Haiti Libérée.
Soon after the dictator’s flight, Haitians heard General Namphy announce that his regime would insure a “firm, just, and good transition to democracy,” heard him vow (in his ferocious, shouting speechmaking style, the only way Namphy could overcome a lifelong stutter) that his transitional government would help “build a new Haiti, based on reason, social justice, tolerances and freedom.” They heard the American Secretary of State, proclaim that the United States remained “committed to the development of democratic government and respect for fundamental human rights in…Haiti,” and they saw the Americans follow through by first restoring the crucial foreign aid and then more than doubling it.
Yet no sooner had Namphy taken power than assertions and demands and accusations began sprouting everywhere like weeds, spreading across the aqua and salmon walls of Port-au-Prince in a lush growth of misshapen letters and misspelled words. The graffiti was dominated by one idea, which instantly became the presiding ideological concept of post-Duvalier Haiti’s bamboche démocratique, or “democratic spree” — an inescapable, insistent demand to déchoukay .
Déchoukay is a Creole word meaning to uproot, and during the next two years uprooting would loom as the guiding principle of the Haitian opposition. These calls to uproot, to rip out, soon became the ground over which the various factions of the opposition battled one another, thereby exposing the central paradox of the ‘parenthèses‘: the measure of a leader’s credibility, and thus his mass popularity, had quickly become his vow to “uproot” the existing system — the very system that still controlled Haiti’s governmental apparatus and that alone, could give that leader power.
Having déchoukayed Jean-Claude Duvalier, his hated wife, and all their despised, decadent hangers-on, the Haitian people pushed further: not only the omnipresent Duvalierist slogans, the photographs, and the streets named for the Duvaliers but also the Macoutes, the high officials, the mid level bureaucrats, the collaborators — all traces of the regime that for thirty years had dominated the country, had co-opted, obliterated or exiled its national culture, and had insinuated itself into every interstice of national life — were to be instantly destroyed.
Perhaps the most memorable image of Operation Déchoukaj was the uprooting of the Macoutes: angry crowds of poor Haitians surrounding an unlucky militiaman — usually a frightened, pleading man, by now in civilian clothes, having hurriedly discarded his blue denim uniform — and beating him to death with sticks, or stoning him to death, or covering him with gasoline and burning him alive, and leaving his remains lying in the sun to be further abused, or else parading them triumphantly through the neighborhood.
Those who opposed the uprooting would be uprooted in their turn. For had not the people uprooted Duvalier? Had they not accomplished what had come to be called la révolution sans armes? Operation Déchoukaj,it was said again and again, more and more insistently, during the first months of the parenthèse, had only just begun.
Letting the violence take its course was the officers’ attempt to satisfy the overwhelming political emotion of that time: the people’s desire for revenge. “I stood and marvelled at the justice of the people,” Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an influential priest and proponent of the “unarmed revolution,” told me passionately.
But how, I asked, could he, a priest, a moral leader of the Haitian people, call such acts “justice”?
“Our consciences should be clear,” Father Aristide said heatedly. “These Macoutes were Satan, Satan incarnate.” And there was still great great danger, six weeks after the flight of Duvalier,” he said. “The people must continue to show how strong they are, how strong they can be! They know about the Duvalierist presence in the Cabinet, the presence of Duvalier in the public administration, in the Army, even in the Church. It is not enough that those people say they’ve changed their mentalité. They are Duvalierists! And the people will remove them, one by one, as they did Duvalier.”
What mattered was not just that General Namphy and the others in the junta — with the sole exception of Gerard Gourgue, a lawyer and human rights activist — had served Duvalier in the past. Or even that, after a dictatorship of three decades, everyone with any authority in the government, in the public administration, and in the Army was, at least by the loosest definition, a Duvalierist. What mattered was that the people thought they had made a revolution, and demanded justice as their fair reward. But justice was the one thing that the officers could not give them, for in their view what had brought down Duvalier was their coup d’état, and it was a coup based on a compromise: Duvalier would leave quietly if his “associates” were protected; the Macoutes would let the Army assume power quietly if their leaders were protected, if their rank and file were permitted to fade away without pursuit or prosecution.
So this became “the compromise with power that weighs on the country to this day,” as a Haitian political scientist and politician named Leslie F. Manigat put it. For not only did the officers stand aside while the “justice of the people” was administered to those “little Macoutes” who, of the thousands of Macoutes in flight, were unlucky enough to get caught; they also looked the other way while a number of notorious officials made their escapes. Mme. Max Adolphe, the leader of the Macoutes and a onetime commandant of the infamous Fort Dimanche prison, disappeared, rumored to have escaped the country disguised as a nun or, in another account, secreted in a crate of mangoes. (Her pleasant split-level on the Pétionville road, with its signature stone shark grimacing open-mouthed in the swimming pool, was thoroughly déchoukayed.) Albert Pierre, Jean-Claude’s former secret-police chief, popularly known as Ti Boulé (Little Flame), because of his preferred method of torture, was allowed in late February to leave the country and take refuge in Brazil — an official move by the government which elicited general indignation, with even justice Minister Gourgue calling it “shocking and offensive to the nation.”
Shortly afterward, Gourgue resigned from the first junta, becoming for a time the most popular political leader in the country and, having forced Namphy to reconstitute his tottering regime, earning the General’s undying enmity. Within a few weeks of Duvalier’s departure, demonstrators had begun to shout, “Down with Namphy!,” and within two months the slogans of the gathering opposition had taken shape: the interim government was “Duvalierism Without Duvalier,” which meant “The Revolution Has Not Yet Finished.”
THROUGHOUT the exhilarating first months of the parenthèse, each day seemed to bring a new demonstration or strike, the announcement of a new political party or mass organization or human-rights group, the christening of a new newspaper or magazine. Each flight from New York or Paris or Miami brought a celebrated dissident returning with a bit of Duvalierist history — a family massacred, colleagues executed, months spent in Duvalier’s torture chambers — and a score to settle with the Duvalierists. The counter-elite, so long exiled, had returned to fight for power.
For three decades, the Haitian political world had been fallow and moribund; with a few exceptions, those politicians and intellectuals who had not been killed had long since fled. “Under Duvalier, if you had any talent or ambition and wanted to stay in Haiti, you had two alternatives,” a Frenchwoman long resident in Port-au-Prince told me. “You could let yourself become totally corrupted or you could be killed. That was it.” A large part of the intelligentsia chose exile. Although pressure from the Carter Administration had brought a brief but hesitant political opening (slammed shut within days of Reagan’s election), by 1986 one in every six Haitians was living abroad, including he overwhelming majority of professionals: more Haitian economists and technicians were working in Africa than in Haiti, and many more Haitian professors were teaching outside their country than within it.
One such professor was Leslie Manigat, who had built a distinguished academic career studying the workings of the Haitian political crises. That career had begun as early as 1953, when Manigat, a twenty-three year-old Sorbonne student, dissected the first Haitian parenthèse in his thesis, “The Liquidation of Saint-Domingue as a French Colony”; it continued after the young scholar returned to Haiti to take up a position in the Foreign Ministry. Then, in 1957, his career really took off, for in that year, at long last — after six years of corrupt rule by Paul Magloire, a high-living black officer in the pocket of Haiti’s mulatto elite — Dr. Franí§ois Duvalier had emerged from hiding and, after a chaotic nine-month parenthèse in which five governments rose and fell, was elected, with the Army’s help, President of the Republic. Dr. Duvalier was a black nationalist, a noiriste — a “soft-spoken country doctor” who “knew the people.” And Manigat, brilliant, energetic, ambitious, and singled out as one of Papa Doc’s young favorites in those exciting times, shortly became the Foreign Ministry’s Director of Political Affairs, and, at the same time, the founder of Haiti’s National School of Advanced International Studies.
But after just a few years of Duvalier’s increasingly bloody “political revolution” the inevitable falling out came (over Professor Manigat’s support of a student strike), and there followed in 1961 the weeks spent in a “forced visit to the Duvalierist prisons” (as the professor jokingly described it later), then asylum with his family in the Argentine Embassy, and finally, a safe-conduct having been grudgingly granted, years of celebrated exile. Across three continents, the honors followed one upon another, at the University of Paris; at the University of the West Indies, in Trinidad; and then at Simón Bolívar University, in Caracas.
Through it all, he continued to publish prolifically — an outpouring of books and monographs and articles. But the key texts orbited around a fixed point, and returned to one overriding goal: to analyze minutely virtually every major conjoncture (as he called these periods of crisis) in Haitian history. And in almost all of these fascinating, exhaustive studies he deftly inserted, like an interconnecting thread, one version or another of a favorite Manigat dictum: that the political crisis might be considered “a moment of nudity, propitious for applying the stethoscope to the social body.”
Now, for this latest “moment of nudity,” Professor Manigat could at last be present. As the leader of the seven-year-old Rally of National Progressive Democrats, he had become one of dozens of Haitian Presidential candidates walking a tightrope between the anti-government popular movement, which claimed to voice the sentiments of “the people,” and the widely hated but still all-powerful officers.
He had expected a triumphant welcome, and there was no lack of cheering supporters at the airport. But the press was strangely absent. It was only later that he discovered what had happened; for it was April 26th, the anniversary of one of Papa Doc’s bloodiest days of terror twenty-three years before. Outside Fort Dimanche, the opposition had held a large demonstration, and Namphy’s men had fired into the crowd, leaving six dead and a hundred wounded.
So it was into a world of confrontation, heightened rhetoric, and frenzied political activity that Manigat returned. After the shootings, the country erupted again, and various popular leaders demanded that the Namphy government relinquish power. General Namphy had announced no plans for elections, had brought no Macoutes to trial (indeed, it was widely believed that scores of them had been integrated into his Army), and had done little to bring about the kind of wholesale reform that the people were loudly demanding. On the contrary, the Army — its command structure wholly unaltered from what it had been in the last days of Duvalier’s rule — seemed quite willing to shoot Haitians down in the streets.
In what had been a political and intellectual desert, the floodgates had opened, and suddenly politics had become a growth industry. Overnight, a small, dead country had been transformed, in the words of the Haitian sociologist Laí«nnec Hurbon, into “an immense social and political laboratory.”
“The crucial, urgent task here is to build political institutions — real, lasting political institutions,” Rosny Desroches, a schoolmaster who had been named the interim government’s Minister of Education, told me. “I’m talking about the parties and the unions that will stabilize our political life. When you don’t have political parties, for example, that a President can lead after he leaves office, he wants to stay President forever.”
As Desroches spoke, parties and committees and groups were indeed being created, but in fantastic profusion. Acronyms — the MIDH, the KID, the LHID, the PAIN — were flourishing, as any Haitian of note or weight seemed to be starting a political party or a mass organization or a political committee or a magazine. It was all an exciting venture in the rhetoric of politics, politics as full-dress theatre, operatic politics, politics by declamation: an honored — if, by definition, sporadic — Haitian tradition. But the work of coalition-building, of the subjugation of personal ambition so necessary to a party, was mostly absent. With one important exception, the political parties were built largely around single personalities. When it finally came time to hold an election, thirty-five candidates applied to run for President.
The overriding role of personal ambition and the resulting factionalization were nothing new in the world of the Haitian parenthèse. “The most striking feature of the Haitian system is the intensity of political activity,” Professor Manigat had written in 1964, observing Franí§ois Duvalier’s Haiti from exile in Washington. “Everything is political and may become involved in the struggle for power…. The reputation earned by an engineer in his special field is regarded as a political trump. The prestige that a professor gains among his students may represent a political threat to the government…. Such is the encroachment of politics on all aspects of life that if a man does not go into politics, politics itself comes to him.”
In the months after Jean-Claude Duvalier’s fall, amid an unruly urban mass population, a frightened and insecure elite, and a disaffected and isolated peasantry, Haiti Liberée’s political spectrum began to take shape. At one end was the government, run by the Army and managed largely by the same corrupt administration that had served Duvalier, with a few respected civilians brought in to fill Cabinet posts.
Exerting a strong influence on the government were the harder-line Duvalierists (powerful businessmen who had benefited from the regime; retired officers; influential former Duvalier ministers), who sought to crush any move toward political reform by working through their connections within the Army and the government, by paying for strikes and demonstrations to pressure the regime publicly, and by employing the now underground Macoutes to attack and disrupt the opposition — all the while remaining in the background themselves.
At the other end of the spectrum were the mass organizations, what Professor Manigat called “the counter-power in the streets”: hundreds of loosely organized groups that, depending on the occasion, could mount a demonstration in a matter of hours or minutes, and were headed by “popular leaders,” many of whom had been in exile during the Duvalier years. It was impossible to estimate the “permanent” membership of these organizations; they thrived on the growing distrust of the Namphy government and the disdain most people felt for the “traditional” politicians. By mounting strikes and demonstrations, these groups pushed for the resignation of certain “Macoute” members of the government — carrying on the process of uprooting Duvalierism which Father Aristide called “peeling the onion, layer by layer.”
Caught in between were the various “traditional” politicians — les candidats, as they became somewhat derisively known — all of whom wanted desperately to be President and thus found themselves forced to scurry back and forth, denouncing the government during times of crisis, in order to curry favor with the “popular movements,” but striving always to avoid alienating the Army officers who still controlled the transition.
In June, General Namphy, warning that the country was “on the edge of anarchy,” at last announced an electoral calendar, thereby pleasing the Americans and the candidates but leaving most of the popular groups, who believed a fair election, was impossible under Namphy, unappeased. When it came time for the first event — the election of a constituent assembly the following fall — fewer than one in twenty Haitians stepped forward to vote.
Instead, the people turned their attention to a menacing image: that of several of Papa Doc’s old henchmen smiling at a press conference as they announced the establishment of a neo-Duvalierist party.
Protesting Haitians poured into the streets in the largest demonstrations yet, and two weeks later the new party was forced to disband.
Meanwhile, in the red-carpeted hall of the Palais Législatif, sixty-one forgotten delegates had begun to debate a new constitution. Almost before anyone noticed, they had produced an extraordinary document: a constitution that, in its litany of absurd and brilliant and, finally, Machiavellian provisions, must have surprised the people of Haiti as much as it surprised the government, which had thought that everything was under firm control and now found itself presented with a populist and wildly popular document that stripped the officers of the one power that was the only power in the Haiti of the parenthèse — the power to conduct elections. On March 29, 1987, the constitution went to the voters, and this time more than a million Haitians turned out, and more than ninety-nine per cent voted yes.
Two key provisions led to this astonishing vote. The first created an independent Provisional Electoral Council, which would write the Electoral Law and oversee the coming elections — that is, count the votes. The second stipulated that for ten years no “architects of the dictatorship” could be candidates for public office. In a country where almost all power had depended, in the end, on the government, the Duvalierists — who, rich and prosperous, now saw themselves with so many enemies and so much to lose — were to be stripped of power entirely. The constitution had become a mechanism to de-Duvalierize and de-Macoutize the country; it had become a version of Father Aristide’s unarmed revolution — a version made solely of paper. The opposition, in the guise of the constitution, had taken over the official process.
In June, the Namphy government made a clumsy move to steal the key electoral power back, by claiming that it alone had the authority to supervise the elections. Once again, people poured into the streets, and this time Namphy’s troops shot them by the score. After a week of protests, the General backed down. But the opposition, hoping to build on its victory, now issued the call “Raché manyok“: “Pull up the manioc!” or, in the full phrase, “Pull up the manioc and leave the field clean!” — in other words, overthrow the government.
It was a critical miscalculation. In the days that followed, more demonstrators died in the streets; but though the Army had been there to push out Duvalier, there was no one to push out the Army. The Americans, after warning pointedly against any “perversion of the democratic process,” nonetheless reaffirmed their support for the Namphy government. When the smoke cleared, General Namphy remained in place, but he was now deeply antagonistic toward the Provisional Electoral Council and its vaunted “independence.” Like the Duvalierists, he viewed the Council as a vehicle for failed revolutionaries to put themselves in power.
In August, a leader of a minor party, campaigning in the countryside, was hacked to death by angry peasants; someone had denounced him as a Communist, a word that in Haiti for thirty years had been a synonym for “devil.” In October, a well-known Presidential candidate, an exile recently returned from Manhattan, stood before the Port-au-Prince police station, his lawyer’s gown draped over one arm, and began a speech demanding the release of a prisoner within. Suddenly, two men burst through the crowd of reporters, and one of them placed a pistol at the candidate’s temple and fired. No charges were filed.
On November 2nd, the Provisional Electoral Council announced a list of twenty-three “acceptable” Presidential candidates — thereby in effect disallowing the twelve others, on the ground that they had, “by excess of zeal,” been architects of the dictatorship. But, having circumvented the Army, the Council was left with only the constitution to protect it; and, as a Haitian proverb has it, “constitutions are made of paper, bayonets are made of iron.”
Hours after the Council’s decision was announced, a group of armed men blocked off the Rue Pavée, a main street within a few hundred feet of the police station and the Army headquarters, and set about ransacking and then burning the Council building. The men seemed in no particular hurry; indeed, they seemed determined to be thorough — some witnesses said they used a flamethrower. Neither the police nor the soldiers lifted a hand.
Thus as Haiti, for the first time in thirty years, moved toward elections, it became increasingly apparent that power had assumed two distinct forms: the heretofore mute power of numbers, who saw in the elections a chance for change; and the power of those with guns and influence, who saw in them a direct threat.
NOW, six days before the election, I left the smoking ruin of the Marché Salomon and drove to Jean-Claude Bajeux’s Ecumenical Center for Human Rights, on the bougainvillea-lined Rue de Marguerites. Bajeux was a key figure in the Front National de Concertation, or National Togetherness Front, a moderate-left party that was really not a party at all but an ad-hoc coalition joining KONAKOM — a loosely organized congeries of unions, peasant groups, mass organizations, and Church groups that had emerged from the Congress of Democratic Movements earlier that year — to the small Socialist Party and several other party-like organizations. It was, in short, a popular front, and its foot soldiers were the lay workers and the priests of the Ti Legliz, the Liberation Church. Since the Front, unlike traditional Haitian political parties, was formed from the bottom up, it seemed to many Haitians the organization most likely to be able to marshal countrywide, grass-roots support, and also, crucially, to have its people present at all or most of the thousands of isolated polling places.
“We don’t know what will happen from moment to moment,” Bajeux told me, leaning forward in his chair, his hands tightly clasped — a tall, thin, light-skinned man with a round bald spot that looked almost like a tonsure, making him resemble the friar he had been in another life. “We don’t know if the Army will back the terrorists or will move to neutralize them. They know them, of course—know who did this, know their cars. But so far the Army is like this.” He crossed his arms. “The soldiers want to prove that the Electoral Council is unable to conduct organized elections. In the streets, the people say the Army is doing this; I am less categorical — I say the Army is letting the Macoutes do it. If the Army doesn’t act, if it doesn’t arrest some people, it means they want the disorder, they don’t want the elections to go forward.” Bajeux paused. “It’s time for the Americans to act. It’s time for the Embassy to” — he clenched both hands, thumbs down, turned them “tighten the screws.”
And if they didn’t? lf the Americans didn’t put pressure on the Army?
“If the Army doesn’t arrest anyone before this evening, they” — the Macoutes — “will burn other things, kill other people, maybe some of us.”
At that moment, as if on some absurdly well-timed cue, shots rang out in the street outside — two or three single shots, then a burst of automatic fire — followed by screaming and yelling, then the screech of tires. Bajeux’s eyes widened slightly, and he looked at me: the shots seemed to come from just outside the door. But almost at once he gently dropped his hands in a movement of resignation and rose slowly to his feet. He led his secretary and another guest to a little room in the back of the office, then turned and sat down. “Now we wait,” he said softly.
It was in 1964, when he was a young member of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, that Bajeux had run afoul of Papa Doc. The dictator had summarily expelled the entire Jesuit order; he was then in full raging Kulturkampf against the Catholic Church — terrorizing the largely French and Canadian clergy and defying the Vatican, which excommunicated him. (His victory in this struggle was one of Papa Doc’s proudest accomplishments — and also constituted his poisoned legacy, for the nationalized Church made use of its enhanced prestige to encourage the revolt that overthrew his son.) Father Bajeux signed a letter to his bishop protesting the expulsion of the Jesuits; the bishop turned it over to the dictator, and the young priest was expelled to the Dominican Republic, where he began ministering to Haitian exiles. His mother and brothers and sisters continued to live in Port-au-Prince, in a pretty, pale-orange gingerbread house on the Rue Berne.
In Haiti, that summer of 1964 was a climax of the period’s turmoil and terror. In August, thirteen young exiles invaded in the south. Swarms of Tontons Macoutes and soldiers hunted them down; two were taken alive and sent to the capital, where they were tied to stakes in the National Cemetery and — before huge crowds of children — executed in a televised ceremony.
Earlier that summer — about the time Father Bajeux was opening his mission in Santo Domingo — another exile had led a hit-and-run operation over the Dominican border. “There was some confusion, because the radio talked about both events, and my name came out,” Bajeux recalled. “In Port-au-Prince, some people told my mother she was in danger. She went to see the secretary to the papal nuncio, who told her that everyone in Haiti was threatened, so he didn’t see why she should be specially threatened. She went to the French Ambassador, who told her the same thing, and said, `Really, I can guarantee that nothing will happen to you; there is nothing to fear.’ That was at eleven in the morning. At eleven that night, they all disappeared — my mother, two sisters, and two brothers. And the house stayed open — the doors open, all the lights on — for a month.’ ”
It was more than two decades — time spent working and teaching in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Puerto Rico — before Bajeux stepped off a plane in Port-au-Prince, a few days after Jean-Claude Duvalier boarded his, and returned to his mother’s house.
“It was still there, but ruined, destroyed,” Bajeux said. “You see, after the house had stayed open a month, some Macoutes came and occupied it. And it was only twenty-two years after, when I arrived in February, that I put them out. I came into the house and I did like this” — he clapped sharply three times — “and they said, `We were waiting for you. We knew you were going to arrive.’ And the Macoutes handed me their papers, one of which said, `This house was given to us by Mme. Max Adolphe.’ I heard later how at police headquarters my family were beaten up, raped. Other prisoners saw them at Fort Dimanche, but after that…”
Now, twenty-three years later, the Macoutes were still here, and there was shooting outside his door. In the street, I found scores of people still running in panic, but the gunmen had sped off; a Haitian friend of mine who had been waiting at Bajeux’s gate told me that there were three or four of them in a small white car, plus a young man on a brown-and-white motorcycle. They had stopped in front of the gate and jumped from the car — one man brandishing an Uzi, the others drawing pistols — and fired into the air. Then they had raced down the street and turned the corner.
As my friend and I drove toward that corner, we could see a commotion on the Avenue Jean Paul II: perhaps thirty or forty tough-looking, muscular young men, in T-shirts and slacks, all with clubs or rocks or machetes in hand, were surging down the busy street, bellowing furiously, swinging their clubs, thrashing people who hadn’t run away fast enough. Some of the gang were throwing rocks through store windows and smashing windshields on parked cars, and, as we approached, driving slowly, a young black man raised a jagged chunk of concrete high above his head and, screaming wildly, was on the point of heaving it through the windshield until he saw I was white, whereupon he shouted for me to back up, to stay away or take the consequences.
The gang moved rapidly on, sweeping down the thoroughfare in a few minutes of shouting and tumult, and then melted away, leaving behind a deserted street littered with smashed cars and broken glass from the storefronts — one of which belonged to the Movement to Install Democracy in Haiti, the party of Marc Bazin, a longtime World Bank official and a leading Presidential candidate. Bazin, an articulate economist, had led a highly publicized crusade against corruption during a brief stint as Jean-Claude Duvalier’s Finance Minister, in 1982 (the dictator had fired him after five months), and was popularly thought to be “the American candidate,” or, sometimes, “the Haitian Kennedy,” for his good looks and dynamic style. But the car-borne terrorists seemed no more impressed by World Bank conservatives than by leftist intellectuals; they had taken care to spray his headquarters with gunfire.
In the distance I heard shouting and the sound of tires, and within minutes the streets leading to the wealthy suburb of Pétionville were jammed with people trying to escape what had suddenly become a “hot day” in town (a reverse and more frenzied version of the procession of Mercedeses, BMWs, and Peugeots that early each morning dropped the kids off at school and brought the fathers to their government offices). Farther downtown, merchants were pulling down their shop grates. On one main corner of the Avenue John Brown, on the way up to Pétionville, I found a tire and some other rubble burning — a hastily built barricade — and was told by several bystanders that a man wielding a rifle had appeared suddenly, chased people away, thrown the barricade together, then disappeared; and, they added, almost as an afterthought, the man had been wearing a dress.
ON the Route de Delmas, in the middle of the ugly commercial clutter that was the main legacy of Jean-Claude’s vaunted Decade of Development, I found the new headquarters of the Electoral Council, where, behind sandbags and credentials checks and a mandatory search at a metal gate, there was an air of embattled chaos. “We have no security whatsoever,” René Belance, the public-relations director, told me. “Before, we had two policemen, but now the government has pulled them. When we ask for security, they don’t answer. Last night, we were attacked again. Did you see? There are sixteen bullet holes downstairs.”
Through a window I could see two young men shoveling gravel into canvas sacks — more sandbags to protect the building. Behind Belance, volunteers were perched on a stepladder, working to install a new drop ceiling in what until a few weeks before had been a factory. Council officials, mostly young men neatly dressed in sports shirts, hurried back and forth among the various offices — one each for the nine Council members, plus special rooms marked “Computers,” “Public Relations,” “Press.” In the center of the main room, journalists milled about, waiting for yellow press passes. The foreign reporters were treated with an efficiency — a deference, even — unusual for Haiti but befitting what the Council recognized as their central role: with the increased pace of the killings and burnings, the foreign press and observers had become a lifeline for the isolated Council, carrying its message (who could resist the appeal of “free and fair elections” in Haiti?) to the outside world.
In a small office, Louis Roy, a white-haired, distinguished-looking mulatto physician of seventy-one, was telling a group of journalists, “It is those who don’t want the elections to come off who have the force, who have the ammunition, who have the money to buy people and send them into the street, as they did this morning.” During the early years of Franí§ois Duvalier, Roy had served as the head of Haiti’s Red Cross, bravely protesting the dictator’s illegal arrests until one day someone tossed a bomb into his front yard, almost killing his young son. Roy spent the remainder of the Duvalier years in Montreal, and returned in the spring of 1986 to play a key part in writing the constitution. “It is not only a question of scaring people so they don’t vote,” he was saying. “It is that we may not be able to send all the material to the polls. For example, today we had fifty-six students-volunteers who were supposed to pick up the ballots from the printer. But because of the situation they didn’t show up.”
In a mountainous country with very few roads and the great majority of the people scattered in inaccessible villages, many of which can be reached only on foot or by donkey, six thousand polling places had to be supplied with ballots enough to offer three million eligible voters a chance to vote for one of the twenty-three Presidential candidates. And, since four out of five of those voters were illiterate, it was essential that ballots printed with clear photographs of the candidates were delivered to all the polling places. Desperate, the Council had tried to rent helicopters from private companies in the United States but failed. “No helicopter owner wants to rent his helicopter in this situation,” Roy said.
Outside, volunteers were loading cartons of ballots onto trucks. As I was examining one cargo, I was warned off by a young man. “It is not the time for that sort of curiosity,” he told me dryly. And why should they not be suspicious — paranoid, even? The Council was isolated, unarmed, unprotected, and, as Sunday drew nearer, the government’s attitude became increasingly clear: the people wanted the Army out of the election, and out of the election the Army would be; the election was the Council’s business — let it try to carry the thing off by itself, with only the help and protection of its foreign friends, if it could. All around the Council headquarters were inspiring signs of its foreign support. New computers to count the votes — on which earnest young volunteers were furiously practicing — had been donated by the French. Gray plastic ballot boxes — eighteen thousand of them — had been donated by the Canadians, who had also given gas lanterns to light the polling places in the many towns and villages without electricity. Registration forms had come from the Venezuelans.
And, of course, there was money. About a million dollars, Roy said, had come from the Japanese. But the money to pay for the printing and the pens and paper, the banners and posters, as well as the picture books showing how to vote in easy cartoon lessons, and the television and radio commercials and cassette tapes that explained the procedures in careful Creole, and for the many other things needed to stage an election in a land that hadn’t seen one in three decades — including now the sandbags and heavy steel sheets nailed in place over Roy’s windows, which, as he proudly pointed out, had already been dented by a burst of gunfire — the bulk of all this money had come from the Americans. Those same Americans who had supplied the military plane that carried off Jean-Claude Duvalier, who had doubled their foreign aid to help Haiti through the difficult “transition” that followed, had now become the main backers of Haiti’s democratic election, having donated something on the order of eight million dollars. Small wonder that Jean-Claude Bajeux was waiting impatiently for the Embassy to “tighten the screws”; the election — like the tottering Haitian economy — was largely an American-financed production.
WE have spoken with the government about the lack of security,” an American diplomat said on Tuesday. “And, remember, an Army or police unit did show up at Bazin’s headquarters yesterday.” The diplomat, precise and expressionless in his light-blue cotton suit, was giving a “not for attribution” briefing to a roomful of reporters assembled at AID headquarters, a sprawling, pale-orange building on the Boulevard Harry Truman, not far from the city’s harbor. Almost all pronouncements from American officials in Haiti were not for attribution. “Our actions have such a magnified effect here, mainly because of the weight Haitians give them,” a senior envoy had explained to me. “You don’t need to do or say much, so you have to be very, very careful. A little muscle twitch over here gets magnified many, many times.”
As for the identity of “the terrorists,” the diplomat was now saying cautiously, “I assume we are talking about people associated with some of the rejected candidates.” That seemed reasonable, I thought, remembering the second of the bodies I had seen that morning, a plump, shoeless corpse that had been left like a bouquet in front of the Institution Secondaire Gérard Gourgue. In all likelihood, the victim was thoroughly uninterested in politics and had simply made the mistake of venturing out on the streets at night during a difficult time, when people “associated with some of the rejected candidates” stumbled across him, shot him in the stomach, heaved him into the back of their jeep, and dumped him in front of the candidate’s door—just far enough from a “Gí‰RARD GOURGUE PRESIDENT DE TOUS LES HAITIENS” poster to make their message clear without overdoing the sarcasm.
“Essentially, the kind of violence we’ve seen shows the strength of terrorist-type actions,” the American diplomat was saying. “That is, a few people can cause a great deal of disruption.” Then, in response to a question about Army involvement, he said, “No, I have seen no concrete evidence of it.”
The person in the best position to have such evidence, of course, would have been the victim. As it was, Army jeeps passed by the corpse two or three times while I was present, though the soldiers did not bother to stop, contenting themselves with exaggeratedly fierce looks directed at the assembled bystanders and photographers. It seemed likely that the man would lie there in the sun all day, or longer, in what one bystander referred to as “the old Papa Doc way — leave them lying there to teach people a lesson.” No Haitian, certainly, would move to touch him. (“Are you just going to leave him lying there?” I heard an exasperated American reporter demand of a teacher in the Gourgue school. He had to repeat the question several times before the gaping young man managed to stammer back, “Well, yes, yes, I will” — staring at the American as if he were crazy.)
But if the Army wasn’t involved, the American diplomat was asked at the briefing, then why didn’t the Army — that is, the government, of which, after all, the United States was the main foreign supporter — do something to stop what seemed a clear effort to disrupt these elections, of which the United States was also the main foreign supporter?
“Well,” the diplomat said, after a pause, “remember that all this is rooted in the antipathy that exists between the Namphy government and the Council. The people made it clear that the election was the affair of the Council. So the government is saying, ‘O.K., don’t ask for help from us when you have a problem.’ ”
Americans at the Embassy had been making this point for some time — that the confrontation was rooted in the behavior of both sides. And the point was certainly well taken. But it was also true that only one side had the guns, and thus the Army’s continued “neutrality” could only lead to one result: the Duvalierists’ scuttling the election. This brought to mind what another American spokesman, during the early, rocky days of the Namphy regime, had told me: “Look, Namphy is not a politician; none of these guys are. They’re Army men, they don’t like politics, don’t understand it, don’t trust it. They are trying to hold the country together.” It had seemed a reasonable view then, a few weeks after the departure of Jean-Claude, but as the parenthèse continued it had seemed increasingly threadbare. Namphy not a politician? The statement depended, of course, on how you defined politics, and it gradually became clear to me that under the Americans’ definition Duvalier would not have been a politician, either; nor, for that matter, would most of the Haitians now running for President.
From the beginning, the Americans had trusted in General Namphy and the Army. As an Embassy official told me shortly after Duvalier’s fall, “there are only two nationwide institutions in this country that could have taken power: the Army and the Church. And the Church doesn’t want it.” Having seen to Duvalier’s departure with what they viewed as admirable efficiency, the Americans were faced with the question of what to do with this poor, mysterious country. And what other choice was there but to rely on the Army to “broker the transition”?
The diplomat had begun to grow impatient with the barrage of questions about why the United States did not “apply pressure.” Still, it was clear — to take the most sympathetic interpretation of General Namphy’s motives — that there were already pressures on him, and that they were mounting. From the two hundred or so Haitians who within months of Duvalier’s all had announced their intention to run for President, four had now been designated-by some subterranean process affected by telediol, the fabled Haitian rumor mill, and then affirmed by the radio stations and the newspapers (and to the intense irritation of Leslie Manigat and several others) — the “major” candidates.
One of the four, Sylvio Claude, was an untutored, rabble-rousing Baptist preacher, who had been repeatedly jailed and beaten during Jean-Claude’s reign. (“Here Is the Martyr!” was his election slogan.) He was wildly popular in the Port-au-Prince slums, and therefore totally unacceptable to the Haitian élite and the Army that supported it (and, for that matter, to the Americans; the diplomat shook his head when Claude’s name was raised). Another was Marc Bazin, who during his few months as Duvalier’s Finance Minister had sniffed out and attacked corruption — an accomplishment for which he was remembered much more warmly by the Americans than by the Haitian officers and their wealthy friends. A third, Louis Déjoie II, fondly nicknamed Ti Loulou, was the scion of an old mulatto-elite family, and a direct descendant of both a founder of the country and a key nineteenth-century President. Ti Loulou was the son of Senator Louis Déjoie, the very man whom Franí§ois Duvalier, with the electoral help of this selfsame Army (including Second Lieutenant Henri Namphy), had defeated in the hard-fought election of 1957 — whereupon the Senator, never admitting defeat, had gone into bitter exile,where he and his followers (including his son) had passed the years plotting to overthrow the dictator. Finally, there was Gérard Gourgue, the human-rights advocate who had been badly beaten by Macoutes under Jean-Claude, and whom Namphy, according to diplomats who knew him well, hated “pathologically.” Many Haitians believed that Gourgue, powered by the Front’s nationwide network of priests and lay workers, had a very good chance of winning the election.
And then there was the election itself; no doubt — as the diplomat now conceded — there would be “irregularities.”
For General Namphy, however, the irregularities were unlikely to present the major problem. More worrying by far were the thousands of volunteers all around the country who would be running the election — all of them supporters of the constitution and therefore by definition anti-Duvalierist and at least partly anti-Army. In previous Presidential elections, it had been the Army doing the counting. Now the Army had been frozen out. But if the Army wasn’t counting the votes it still had the guns, and the power to keep order and protect the process — or not. Of course, keeping order might well involve shooting at Duvalierists, Macoutes — whatever — some of whom happened to have strong connections in the Army; indeed, some of whom, since the fall of Duvalier, happened to be in the Army (particularly in the Dessalines Battalion: its powerful commander, Colonel Jean-Claude Paul, was known to have welcomed a number of Macoutes into the battalion and to have extended his protection to others who had remained in hiding). For General Namphy — as his right-hand man in the junta, General Williams Régala, had stressed to me — preserving the “institutional integrity” of the Army was paramount, because only the Army could “hold the country together when all the civil institutions collapsed.”
Could General Namphy really be expected to risk that “institutional integrity” — risk soldiers shooting at soldiers or, worse, risk seeing his commands ignored, his own position undermined? And for what? For the Electoral Council? For Gérard Gourgue?
The American diplomat could see this line of reasoning, but he, like the other American officials I had spoken to, appeared not to accept it. Indeed, the Americans couldn’t afford to accept it. They had to believe in Namphy, the largehearted non-politician General Namphy. Namphy was theirs, they told themselves (refusing to recognize that, in reality, they were his). The General clearly didn’t care about power, the Americans insisted; he was a simple man, who liked nothing better than to drink and play cards with his buddies. He wanted out, and he could read the balance sheet: when it came down to it, after all, the country couldn’t function without the Americans. (Without American aid, an Embassy man had told me patiently, “the Haitian government collapses — poof!”) If it weren’t for the Americans, Namphy wouldn’t be there. And for the Americans everything hinged on “democratization,” as Namphy was well aware. What could the General do? As always, he had to hold the situation together.
Now, toward the close of his briefing, the American diplomat was asked what would happen if Namphy couldn’t hold things together. “You mean, if anything happens to … derail … the democratic process, shall we say?” he said slowly, and paused. Then he responded firmly, “An immediate cutoff of all U.S. aid. That’s in the law.” As for Bajeux’s hope — that the Embassy would “tighten the screws” — the Embassy appeared to think the screws were tight enough.
Give the General time. It was a complicated place, Haiti; its problems were never-ending. (The Haitian proverb “Deye mon, gen mon” —”Beyond the mountains, more mountains”—had been helpfully emblazoned on the Embassy’s press kits.) In any event, was it not evident, at least, that the General and the Americans understood one another? “The judgment that we have is that violence is not on a high enough level to disrupt the elections,” the American diplomat went on. “Now, if there were daytime violence generalized over the country, I think that could pose a real threat. Daytime violence would be a more troubling thing.”
AS we drove downtown from the briefing under a brilliant midday sun, we heard the squeal of tires, two or three rapid machine-gun bursts, screams, then the roar of a panicked, stampeding crowd. By the time we reached the Rue Pavée, almost within sight of the burned Council headquarters, people had begun to poke their heads out from doorways and from behind boxes, where they had dived for cover. On one of the galleried sidewalks lay a young man of perhaps twenty-five, his arms spread out amid a pile of cassettes; he had been dead only seconds, but he looked as if he’d been frozen there forever, precisely posed, in gray pin-striped pants, white T-shirt, and fancy green-white-and-red knit shoes.
He had been sitting on the sidewalk selling smuggled cassettes, like the hundreds of other contraband merchants clogging the downtown area, when a Pajero jeep — the classic Macoute vehicle — screeched by, an Uzi firing out the window. There was no reason, no warning, no sense, and, before he could move, a bullet had ripped open his stomach and another had pierced his right eye, and he was likely dead before he hit the ground, scattering his cassettes in all directions.
Now a crowd of jostling photographers, mostly white, quickly encircled him — supplying the Télé Nationale news clip for that night. (“Terreur générale en centre-ville,” the anchor intoned, but the viewer saw only the swarm of white photographers, their safari vests bristling with extra lenses, and here and there a glimpse of one of the dead man’s fancy shoes.) Down the block, moans were rising: two others had been badly wounded.
“I am revolted by this act,” Marc Bazin said on that same newscast. Interviewed outdoors, he squinted behind his steel-rimmed glasses; even in a short-sleeved blue guayabera, without his World Bank executive’s elegant suit, he remained the self-assured statesman, big-shouldered, deep-voiced. “The terrorists’ strategy is negative — to burn, to spread terror, chaos, to prevent a better life for Haitians,” he said. “But the elections are the will of the people, and I think they will come off.” Bazin had told me earlier in the day-on which, among other things, his headquarters had been machine-gunned again, and his main rival had had bestowed upon him a corpse outside his door — that he would do no more campaigning for the rest of the week.
On the broadcast, after a public service advertisement showing a woman carefully choosing, then casting, a ballot, with a voice-over offering step by-step instructions in Creole (courtesy of the Electoral Council, whose staff was’ no doubt now watching the news, holed up for the night in its sandbagged, bunkerlike headquarters), came a Louis Déjoie commercial: To the strains of a sprightly “Déjoie, Déjoie” ditty the candidate — a bigbellied, light-skinned Ti Loulou — dances his way through an assortment of wretchedly poor neighborhoods, the crowds mobbing him, kissing him, poking him, and, most endearingly, putting their hands all over his bald head. He seems to love it, the dancing, gyrating candidate; his smile dazzles as he pulls a plump market woman into his arms and waltzes her about.
On Sunday, I had waited for the Déjoie campaign amid a large crowd gathered in a parking lot in Croix des Bouquets, not far from the capital. Suddenly, all was chaos: people began running, and then a singing, swaying parade of dancing drummers and bamboo-flute players split the crowd as the procession arrived, at its head the candidate’s large white jeep, his bald pate and fat torso poking through the sunroof, his big arms waving. Amid the crush of people, everyone was now dancing and singing (“Déjoie, Déjoie!”), and rum bottles were being passed. The singing went on and on, as the candidate climbed heavily to the roof of his jeep, waited for the microphone to be passed hand to hand over the swaying crowd, sang and danced along for a few verses, and at last began to speak.
Like most political speeches, this one was long on slogans and short on policies, but it was delivered in the brilliant, colorful Creole for which Déjoie was famous, and it kept the crowd laughing. He pledged to represent the peasants, for his party stood for “the politics of the earth,” and he told his cheering audience that the thirty years of krazé-zo — literally, “breaking bones,” or repression — was over.
Near the end of the speech, he attacked two of his rivals, arguing that Bazin and Hubert de Ronceray, because they had served Duvalier (de Ronceray as Minister of Labor and Social Affairs), should have been excluded as Duvalierists. Déjoie’s attack delighted the crowd, but it jolted me; for this argument tended to undermine the legitimacy of the electoral process itself — and as such upheld a key tenet of the Duvalierists, who pointed to the presence of the two former ministers as proof of the Council’s political bias.
IN the late afternoon of the Tuesday before the election, I began my round of visits to those important but less vocal candidates — those whose influence was felt mainly after dark. With two Haitian friends, I began the ascent up John Brown, retracing the route of the panicked motorists. As the road climbs higher and higher above the swarming city, the air grows cooler, the skins grow lighter, and the ranks of the great houses begin. Here cluster the main players of Haiti’s traditional political game — those who took lead roles in this conjoncture, as their fathers had in those before.
Just off the Canapé Vert, for example, lies a neat white two-story house of glass and concrete: the home of Clovis Désinor, a lifelong associate of Francois Duvalier, who served Papa Doc faithfully as political strategist, speechwriter, Minister of Finance, Minister of Commerce, and who, until the Old Man shocked Haitians by bequeathing power to his famously dense teen-age son, had been judged by many to be Duvalier’s rightful heir. Early in 1985, the mysterious and widely feared Désinor, a stooped-over seventy-year old black man, broke publicly with Jean-Claude, and he was believed by many to be the strongest Duvalierist Presidential candidate. But now the Council had banned him from the elections — after he had been out of government, a private citizen, for seventeen years.
No, M. Désinor would not speak to me, a somewhat exasperated young man told me at the gate. No, it made no difference that he had spoken to me once before. (That had been during the weeks after Jean-Claude fell, when Désinor, winking and craftily grinning, had warned of the “tendency toward disorder” growing in Haiti, “a disorder that serves no one,” he said. “Order is the spinal cord of any nation, and Haiti’s spinal cord has been broken. We will see what happens.”) But now, the young man went on, M. Désinor was not speaking to the press, and particularly not to the American press. Not while his case was in court. Didn’t I know he was appealing the Council decision? Didn’t I know he was going to sue Mike Wallace, after that setup on “60 Minutes”? (Desinor had unwisely let Wallace interview him in English, a language he didn’t know well, and had found himself goaded into declaring, with perfect telegenic ferocity, that he was a Duvalierist, and that he was “proud of it.” He meant, of course, a true Duvalierist, the sort that had not held power since the death of Papa Doc. But how could stupid Americans be expected to understand such distinctions? Désinor now blamed Wallace for helping the Council ban him.)
By the time we entered the lovely upper-class neighborhood of Debussy, it was growing dark, and one of my Haitian friends insisted that I let him out of the car. Traffic had fallen off, and the few pedestrians on the street were hurrying home; in half an hour, the streets would be deserted. It was not a time for visits — especially not there.
A scant half mile from chez Désinor, behind a high wall, stood the large, rambling white-and-aqua house of General Claude Raymond, a godson of Papa Doc. As a young officer in the heady, bloody days of the “Duvalier Revolution,” during the early nineteen-sixties, Raymond had commanded the Presidential Guard and been a leading figure in the Tontons Macoutes; upon Papa Doc’s death, he had served as the armed ‘forces’ chief of staff, keeping a watchful eye during the critical early years of Jean-Claude’s regime — before the young dictator, having found new allies, abruptly sent him off to Spain as Ambassador in 1973. But General Raymond, now retired, had many supporters, who saw in him a link to the Old Man, to true Duvalierism. And though his Presidential candidacy had also been disallowed, these friends had not abandoned him.
During those violent weeks, many would notice that the General’s house had become the scene of curious nocturnal gatherings. Just before nightfall, its large garden would gradually fill with men, who passed the time lounging about among a half-dozen four-wheel-drive vehicles parked in the driveway. Near midnight, it was said, the cars moved out onto the deserted streets.
Tonight, five days before the election, the parking area behind General Raymond’s gate was crowded with jeeps and cars and, leaning against a pillar, one small chocolate-and-white motorcycle. “That’s it!” my Haitian friend said. “That’s the one from yesterday morning.” He had been waiting outside Bajeux’s office when the gunmen came: four in a small white car, and one on a brown-and-white motorcycle.
Just inside the gate, perhaps forty young men, neatly dressed in slacks and sports shirts, were sitting on the steps or leaning against the cars, almost all of them black, muscular, and very tough-looking. They were murmuring to one another in low voices, but when I passed through the gate, holding my press card in front of me, there was a silence, and not a friendly one; it persisted as a bearded young man rose and ambled toward me. No, he said, the General was not there. No, he could assure me he wasn’t. The General was very busy, you see. No, no, waiting for him was out of the question.
Under the silent stares of the General’s assembled supporters — they did not share the Council’s fondness for the foreign press — I walked back to the car and drove slowly down the deserted street. “You interrupted them,” my friend said, pulling himself up so his head could once more be seen through the window. “They were cleaning their guns.”
NOT long before the shooting began that night, the weatherbeaten black face of Clovis Désinor appeared on the television screen, and the old Duvalierist proceeded to address his Haitians in a frightening, mesmerizing speech. The style — the dark, raspy voice and rhythmically nodding head; the hypnotic chanting repetition of cryptic, powerful phrases; the exaggerated raising and lowering of the voice; the frequent dramatic climaxes — was pure Papa Doc, as were the words, evoking conspiracy, betrayal, foreign manipulation.
“Haí¯tiennes! Haí¯tiens!” Désinor began, with a fearsome look. “Nothing is hidden that will not be uncovered.” And throughout his speech he repeated this dark and obscure accusation like a mantra. He spoke of the “excess and abuse of power cynically practiced by the members of the Electoral Council,” noted that “these collaborationists … have invited or accepted foreigners,” including “the financial aid of the United States,” to hold the elections, and declared flatly that the Council “plotted the ruin of our sovereignty; for … the Council members will rig the votes in order to fulfill the desires of their … investors.”
Toward the end of the long and rambling discourse, Désinor spoke of God. “God alone … our compass” had advised “Clovis Désinor, His creature” to tell his followers to stay away from the polls Sunday: “Abstention totale! Don’t cover yourselves with shame and ridicule by participating in these criminal operations of the Electoral. Council, who betray us … by conniving with these foreigners.” Then, leaning forward into the camera, the man who had loyally served as the sturdy right hand of Papa Doc solemnly concluded, “Nonviolence remains de rigueur.”
AROUND midnight, as we sat on the veranda of the Grand Hotel Oloffson, we heard the shooting begin. But tonight the bursts of fire had acquired an odd accompaniment. After each shot, a great metallic clanging rose up, underlaid by a low, mournful howling-hundreds, then thousands of human voices forming a steady bass under the chaotic high-pitched smashing of metal against metal. The whole city seemed to be in an uproar. Listening intently to the din, which had been joined by the barking of scores of hungry dogs, we managed to isolate one of its sources — the “hot” slum neighborhood of Carrefour Feuilles.
We crept quietly through the dark garden and peered out into the street. Under the single street light, several boys had begun to construct a barricade, dragging hunks of concrete from a building site across the street, lugging part of a rusted car chassis, rolling into place old stumps and pieces of wood, and piling up an arsenal of stones.
There was a burst of gunfire nearby, and immediately a great clanging rose up; fifty yards down the block we could make out the darkened profile of a tall, emaciated figure smashing a metal rod against a light pole and howling into the air. The noise died away, and the figure emerged from the half shadows and began to stride back and forth — shoulders thrown back, posture almost absurdly erect, metal rod thrust under one arm-and then to chant, rhythmically, in a haunting, otherworldly tone: “Toi! Toi! Toi! Lève-toi! ” Over and over he chanted in his eerie voice, striding back and forth, pausing only to smash his metal rod against the pole after every burst of gunfire: “Toi! Toi! Toi! Toi qui dors! Lève-toi! ” — “You! You! You! You who sleep! Rise up!” It was the bat tènèb , the “tenebrous beating” by which the Haitian masses, powerless but for their numbers, had traditionally called to one another to wake, to rise up and defend their homes. As I watched this bizarre figure moving in and out of the shadows, I realized he was wearing, over a dirty T-shirt, an old and ragged flowered dress.
Now a great furor arose in the middle distance: the squeal of tires, then gunshots, a crescendo of panicked voices, screams, and the sound of a charging crowd. The steady roar continued. After the nights in which bursts of gunfire had kept the darkened streets deserted, the city now had come to life — a strange and violent life played out under the street lights.
My companions and I got in our car, and, making sure those manning the first barricade had seen us and knew we were “press” (knew that we were blans, white foreigners), we drove slowly through the gate and into this night world. We moved carefully, the car idling along at walking speed, interior light left on to expose our white faces and yellow press passes. In this way, shouting “Journalistes! Journalistes! ” all the while, we inched cautiously from the first barricade to a second, and on to a third, each time hoping that the grim-faced young men at the next barrier would be reassured to see us pass by their colleagues, and hold off throwing their stones or charging with their machetes until we came close enough for them to see our faces.
Most streets were barricaded — with oil drums and scrap lumber, with cinder blocks, with wrecked cars. At most of the barricades, four or five young men stood by, some with machetes and clubs, some with stones, ready to surround and smash the car if the shouted commands to stop, to wait, weren’t heeded. Once, when we turned a corner, screams, clanging machetes, and a hail of stones forced us to retreat.
Beyond the barricades, the streets were awake but strangely silent; families sat stone-faced on their steps or in their doorways, seeming — with their machetes and clubs, their metal rods, their faces garishly lit by the sulfurous lights — like ghoulish parodies of urban propriety. On one street, five or six boys played, between two barricades, a vigorous but silent game of soccer with an unraveling ball of twine.
As we passed into a large intersection, we heard music, and saw across the way a group of young people frenziedly dancing the merengue. To the pulsating music blasting from a small cassette player, a young woman and three men were thrusting their blue-jeaned hips, shaking their machetes overhead, and bending, whenever they heard shots, to smash them against the curbside in a great scraping of sparks. As we approached, one dancing young man, sweat running down his neck, proffered his rum bottle and gestured, finger to his lips, that he would not speak; then, machete under one arm, he took my notebook and slowly wrote, in painstaking French, “We were obliged to do this, because the government is not on the side of the people. They burned the market. They hurt us. Despite everything, we will vote Sunday.” Finally, at the entrance to a little square not far from the National Cemetery, our car was stopped, surrounded, and engulfed by a screaming, stampeding mob. Hands yanked open the doors and pulled us from the car, then hustled us forward into the square, which was packed with people, all of them motioning for us to move forward.
At the end of a long aisle of grinning people was a grotesquely battered hulk of metal that had been a car; on its caved-in roof lay the mutilated remains of what moments before had been a man. Our handlers pushed us forward to see the body, which was tightly ringed by smiling faces. The man had been stripped and pummeled by many hands; there were long slashes about the trunk, where part of his intestines had tumbled out, and on the youngish face a series of deep cuts, several in the peculiar parody-mouth pattern I had noticed that morning; but the climax had been a tremendous machete blow directly to the crown of the balding head which had released, in one great sweep from base of skull to forehead, a three-inch ruffle of brains. His arms were extended outward, and his hands had been hacked off. An elderly man, his face pressed close to the body, caught my stare, smiled, and shrugged, as if to say, “I didn’t take them!” Then, as my eyes moved to a bloody machete he cradled, he said aloud, “We must look for more game tonight!”
Around the smashed car, the people were pushing in upon the body, eager to talk:
“We are flattered to see you,” a young man in a T-shirt, makeshift club in hand, kept saying, to nods from those beside him.
“You must understand that we are able now to watch over our neighborhood,” another young man said, in halting French. “You must understand that we are civilized.” The car had come on fast, he said, careering into the square (we had heard the tires). As the people had closed in around it, the driver — “the Macoute” — had waved a revolver but had had no chance to use it before the mob dragged him from the car. How did they know he was a Macoute?
Angry protestations. Hadn’t he had a gun?
Yes, I said, but perhaps he had panicked on seeing the crowd, and tried to defend himself?
Well, in any case, he was “unknown in the neighborhood.”
“You must understand that we are civilized,” the young man said again, to approving nods. “We waited for the car to come.”
“We were forced to do this,” an old man said. “The government forced us to do this.”
“We’d had enough,” a woman said fiercely.
Others repeated with her, “We’d had enough!”
“We joined together to protect ourselves,” a man said, and then, leaning forward, explained, with patient emphasis, “When I am hit, it causes pain. I learn to hit back.”
Then why not go to the—source—perhaps to Désinor’s house, or Claude Raymond’s?
“No, no!”—vehemently. I had got it all wrong. “We don’t involve ourselves in political things.”
All at once, the crowd was running, stampeding across the square, and we were pressed against our car. More shooting in the distance, more shouting, then a siren, whining its way closer.
Cautiously, we drove back through the neighborhood, from one barricade to another, past the silent people on their steps, past the young men with machetes standing like statues on their corners, past the little group dancing the merengue, and the silent footballers still playing, a wrecked car serving as barricade and goal. When we neared the hotel gate, we found the tall, thin man still there, striding back and forth in his ragged dress, chanting into the darkness. As we passed around the barricade, he halted and said softly, in a raspy, high-pitched voice, “We have done good work tonight — at last.”
BY the time we crept out again, just after dawn, he had vanished, as had most of the barricades in the now deserted streets. In the murky gray light of the square, only the smashed car remained, seeming very small now. The corpse had disappeared.
Driving through the waking city, we found the night’s other victims. On the Grande Rue, a clump of chattering passersby marked a mutilated corpse: a well-known Macoute from the quartier, the excited people said, Luc Altidor, known as Café Amè—Bitter Coffee. Last night, he had appeared after midnight, gasoline can in one hand, revolver in the other. But his neighbors had been ready. A snickering young man gestured to where the corpse, naked now but for a shredded T-shirt, had been castrated, then pointed across the street, where a crowd of laughing people were parading above their heads in triumph the missing bits of flesh.
In the huge, swampy shantytown of Cité Soleil, crowds surrounded two partly dismembered corpses, which lay next to an almost unrecognizable jeep. “They were working for Namphy,” a young man told me, pointing to one of the bodies. “He was getting a bag of rice and fifty dollars every month. We made him talk before we killed him.” But as I looked at the jeep — a thirty-thousand-dollar vehicle pounded to rubble by a mob of frenzied people, few of whom saw a hundred dollars in a good year — I noticed a distinctive marking and, leaning closer, saw printed there “Corvington Courier & Escort Security Service.” Wasn’t it possible that these private security guards had driven uncomprehending into this rabid, frightened crowd, and panicked when their uniforms didn’t show the people that they were making a terrible mistake? The question remained open for several days (then members of the Cité Soleil neighborhood brigade appeared on Télé Nationale to apologize for their unfortunate error), but to the celebrants in that early morning it was a victory. As we made our way slowly through the narrow streets, a smiling market woman shouted at the blans, “Tell America Cité Soleil is doing its work!”
“During this crisis, the people have shown a great maturity,” Marc Bazin intoned gravely at a press conference that morning. “In their vast majority, the Haitian people have made their peace with Jean-Claude Duvalier and his family. And those who want to block this election will fail — because the people want the election and there is no way to stop it.” What about the government, the Army?
“The government has an air of powerlessness,” Bazin said carefully, after a significant pause, “but we don’t know if it’s incompetence, impotence, even indifference.”
Shortly before, in the heart of the commercial cacophony of the Route de Delmas, we had passed a burned vehicle that proved to be an Army jeep. Three intruders had come in it early that morning. They wore civilian clothes, but one brandished an Army I.D. card. They fled before the neighborhood committees, taking refuge in a “Macoute house,” from which they managed, with guns, to hold off the crowd until, according to several people, “twenty or so soldiers came in a truck” and rescued them.
Which proved — what? Only that some officers were definitely helping the Macoutes. But if the Army as an institution was ostentatiously keeping its nose out of things, as the American diplomat had suggested, then perhaps — perhaps — the elections could come off.
At the new Council headquarters, where the young people were still practicing on their computers, Louis Roy told me, “The Army is waiting. It will let the Duvalierists and the neighborhood committees fight it out, let the terrorism continue. It’s all a show for the Americans, to convince them that only the Army is able to keep order in the country.”
When I passed the mangled Macoute on my way back along the Grande Rue, the remains, now less feet and hands, were surrounded by a swarm of photographers. By early afternoon, when I was heading for the bustling Iron Market downtown (into which, moments before, four men had casually strolled, only to draw automatic weapons and fire into the crowd), the corpse had been dragged to the middle of the busy boulevard and set afire, to the cheers of a small crowd. Half an hour later, as I headed to the Hí´pital Général (at least four people had been badly wounded in that shooting), the corpse was still burning. And an hour later, as I walked down the steps of the capital’s main morgue (one of the Iron Market victims had died, but reporters, who wanted to see if there had been more dead, were barred entrance to the morgue), an ambulance pulled up and two overworked attendants carefully extracted .a stretcher with the carbonized, scattered, almost unidentifiable last remains of Café Amè, the neighborhood Macoute.
THAT evening’s television had the usual strange jumble of news shows and interview programs: a talk with a Presidential candidate; film of the Iron Market shootings; increasingly urgent appeals from the Council (“We need trucks to transport the ballots into the provinces, people to drive and to provide security”).
Then came a bizarre interview with another Presidential candidate, the usually mild-mannered law professor Grégoire Eugène, who took the occasion to lash out at the Council, claiming that it was infested with leftists controlled by Gourgue; that it favored the Front National and therefore was incapable of running a fair election; that “peasants or fellows with only basic education” would be easily tricked into voting however those running the polls wanted them to. And, he hinted, the neighborhood brigades de vigilance were in fact controlled by the Council — or, at least, run by those on the left who also ran the Council.
The argument itself was just another version of the classic Duvalierist attack, denouncing the elections as what one frustrated candidate called, in a felicitous phrase, a coup d’état des urnes — a ballot-box coup d’état. It was strange to be hearing it from Eugène, who was a founder of the Social Christian Party and a longtime Duvalier opponent. But it was clear now that, although he was desperate to become President (“Grégoire,” an American diplomat told me with a sigh, “Grégoire’s for rent”), he had little following. He was, then, just the respectable but malleable sort the officers might have preferred had they been in ‘a position to choose a <président marionnette=””>président marionette. And what Eugène was sketching out, I realized as he concluded his scathing attack, was the perfect rationale for a real coup d’état.</président>
After this interview, the programming was interrupted, and a long typed announcement scrolled slowly up the screen: “The situation has been aggravated by the appearance of groups of peasants known as comités de vigilance which … only serve to sow confusion and to render the task of the forces of order more difficult. … In these conditions, the Minister believes it is his duty to remind [Haitians] that the maintenance of order and public security is the direct and exclusive responsibility of the armed forces of Haiti. … Major General Williams Régala.” The Army had at last weighed in.
In the dark, deserted streets of the capital, the troops were moving out. From a small covered carport in front of the Holiday Inn, we watched truck-loads of soldiers pass by, rounding the front of the spotlit National Palace, circling the Champ de Mars. Around midnight, shooting began, and we tried-to follow its progress, but tonight there was no clanging of machetes, no low moaning, no chanting, and we didn’t dare to venture out.
At dawn, it did not take long to see that everything had changed. On a little street in Carrefour Feuilles we found our first body: a heavyset man lying face down in a mud puddle, his arms outstretched, the blood on his shirt still bright red: In his back were four entry wounds, closely grouped, and only his own digging footprints marked the mud: he had apparently been shot with an automatic weapon as he tried to run away, probably from a car or a jeep, and probably less than an hour before. This time, there were no onlookers eager to talk. People hurried by, the women balancing buckets of water on their heads, the men carrying their bundles, reluctant even to look at the man face down in the mud. Who was he? Did you know him? Not even a word in reply now; just uneasy glances and a mumbled “Pa konnin“‘ — “Don’t know.”
At the corner of Dessalines and the Rue Chareron, amid a group of silent people, we found a young man lying — also shot in the back, also very recently. A woman approached, crying, and shrieked when she saw the body. It was her son; she was quickly pulled away. An old man told me quietly that soldiers in an Army truck had shot him. No one else would say a word. Two blocks down, another small, silent crowd surrounded the body of a skinny old man: he was curled up on his side, blood staining his white shirt, a red wool cap still on his head. He, too, had died very recently, in this early-morning sweep meant to insure that Haitians on their way to work would not miss the message. When I asked who had done this, I got no answer until, finally, a man burst out, “It was the soldiers! They were alone in the streets.”
On the Avenue Martin Luther King, not far from the airport, a neatly dressed man in his early thirties lay with a neat tattoo of bullet holes etched up his spine and neck. The crowd of murmuring people surrounding him suddenly broke apart and ran in a panic, and I turned to find an Army truck approaching. But the soldiers passed by, with only a few mildly interested glances at the corpse and a few stern looks at the fleeing crowd.
Back in Carrefour Feuilles, a handful of people stood near some porch steps, at the top of which was posed a slumped and ghoulish figure: a cadaver, his black face painted as if with some dirty theatrical whiteface, glinting metal nails protruding from his nostrils. Here, instead of just driving off, the killers obviously hadn’t been able to resist having a bit of fun. So there sat the white-faced corpse as the residents of Carrefour Feuilles hurried by, trying not to look. Had this, too, been the work of the soldiers, intent on driving home to the people that “the maintenance of order and public security is the direct and exclusive responsibility of the armed forces”?
That Thursday, for the first time all week, there was no daytime terror in the capital. As darkness fell, cautious, determined young men pushed open the gates of the Council building, looked carefully about, then signalled, and big trucks rumbled slowly out into the street, carrying cartons of ballots to cities and villages around the country. Around midnight, the shooting began.
Friday morning, though, there were no bodies. The Army had indeed put down the brigades — but to what purpose? The soldiers would not countenance the challenge of the neighborhood committees, but would they let the election come off? In Cité Soleil, just after dawn, kerchiefed women were lined up before the tank truck that sold water to the slum dwellers, each in turn paying her ten cents and then walking off slowly, effortlessly, majestically, the big sloshing bucket balanced on her head. The women were stocking up for the weekend, not knowing what would happen.
Wandering down the black-earth streets of the vast slum, stepping over the sewage ditches, threading our way through the labyrinthine passageways that separated the sheet-metal hovels, we asked the people crouching in the doorways about the voting. But the soldiers had been there the night before, walking down these streets, emptying their automatic weapons into the air or into the dirt, and the people were frightened.
In the stinking quarter called Cité Carton (Cardboard City), a man told me shyly that he would vote for Sylvio Claude, and another brightened and agreed: Sylvio, the poor black man, the tap-tap driver who had lived through Duvalier’s torture — “They beat him, put him in prison.” In the swampy section called Brooklyn, a skinny, shirtless young man who was feeding old automobile parts into a caldron of molten metal, making pots to be sold at the market, wiped the sweat off his brow, dug a paper out of his pocket, and thrust it at me: “He, he will be our next President!” It was the poster of Sylvio (“Here Is the Martyr!”), the squat, square-jawed man in the thick spectacles and ill-fitting cheap suit who had declared to me two days before that only he, Sylvio Claude, was a “candidat authentique,” “authentic” meaning, in the peculiar color code of Haitian politics, not just “man of the people” but black — the true black of the masses.
That afternoon, Ernst Mirville, the Council president, conceded, to a room packed with journalists, “The Council has had many difficulties, and many of the technical problems derived from the political ones.” The latter, he said, could be easily summarized: “The government and the Council do not see things the same way. The Council is a completely new institution — I conceive of it as a revolutionary institution in Haitian politics.”
AT dawn the next day, the day before the election, some colleagues and I waited quietly in our car at a crossroads north of the capital until, rumbling out of the ground fog like a great sea monster, a big tractor-trailer emerged on the road before us. From its cab the driver waved nervously, for he was carrying dangerous cargo: cartons of ballots marked for the Artibonite Valley, one of the “hottest” areas of the country. Several Council trucks had been attacked during the last few days. We fell in behind him as he cautiously headed north, passing through Cabaret, through paddy fields in the Artibonite, past a series of gasoline-drum-and-sapling roadblocks — unmanned at this hour, as we had hoped.
At the election bureau in Gonaí¯ves, a crowd was waiting; amid much shouting and running about, a score or so of young men hurriedly unloaded the big truck, transferring some of the cartons to a smaller one for the trip into the Artibonite. Soon we were on the dirt road to Verrettes; the sun was up, and we were enveloped in a moving cloud of dust that entirely covered three straw-hatted Haitians who sat with their legs dangling from the truck’s open back. Here and there, peasants working in the fields straightened, machetes in hand, to watch the truck pass; they knew what it carried. When we stopped, however, they would not speak. One wrinkled old man, almost toothless, his bare feet buried in wet mud, mumbled in response to every question, general and specific, the classic words of the Haitian peasant confronted with an outsider, who, well intentioned or not, can only bring him trouble: “M’fè pa politik” — “I’m not interested in politics.”
In Verrettes, young men, watched over by a local priest, rapidly unloaded the cartons, handing them over one by one to a small cinder-block building, where they were neatly stacked. The town seemed very tense: people watched the proceedings from their houses, and a young soldier in olive green, a carbine slung over his shoulder, stood silently by, looking uncomfortable.
Would there be trouble tomorrow?
“Everything will pass in orderly fashion” was all he would say, over and over. A middle-aged man wearing wire rimmed glasses, who was directing the unloading, would say only, “We are determined to do the elections efficiently — and without the Army.” He would not give his name.
As we left, we passed an Army jeep cruising slowly ahead of its trail of dust. A few miles away, in the village of Borel, a small blue pickup rumbled past crammed with eight soldiers, all looking warily out, their guns at the ready. Along the road, people stood like statues before tiny mud houses, or leaned over the peculiar green fences (formed of a strange succulent that grew heavily over a wooden frame) that separated their bare yards from the dirt road. All watched tensely as the soldiers passed.
We pulled to a stop near a group of villagers and were surrounded by people anxious to talk. There had been a massacre here, they said excitedly. On Monday, some Macoutes had burned down the local election bureau. Wednesday evening, some soldiers from the Verrettes barracks — they had first taken off their uniform shirts so they couldn’t be identified — drove into Borel shooting; they killed a horse and strafed the local church. Later, when the truck they had requisitioned came back, the furious villagers seized it and burned it. Thursday morning, the soldiers returned, accompanied this time by several armed civilians. Without a word, they opened fire on the villagers, killing a fifty-six-year old man and two youths, aged seventeen and fifteen, and some live-stock, and then burned two houses.
“We can’t vote, because there is no polling place now,” a teen-ager in a Michael Jackson T-shirt said. “All the people want to vote, but we don’t think the Army will let us.”
We heard the rumble of an approaching vehicle, and the villagers moved away from our car. It was the blue pickup again, moving even more slowly this time. Now two young women were standing among the soldiers in the back, both leaning forward and scanning the scene, occasionally pointing to this or that house. We followed at a distance.
After a mile of halting progress, the truck came to an abrupt stop, and suddenly, in a wholly unexpected burst of movement, the soldiers leaped out, their rifles held high against their chests, fingers on the triggers, and, fanning out, charged a little mud house as if they were assaulting a bunker.
We had pulled up about fifty yards back and got out of the car; now we stood in the middle of the road, transfixed. All at once, the soldiers became conscious of us. They froze in their charge, then turned to face us. Everything seemed to stop: the slender young men in olive green stared at us over their semiautomatic rifles, their faces impassive, and we stared back, pens poised over notebooks, cameras clutched at chest level. No one moved. Finally, very deliberately, the lead soldier moved his rifle in a wide arc, back and forth, at the level of our chests — once, twice, three times. That was all it would take. It would be that easy. They stared for one beat more, then turned, climbed silently back into the truck, joining the two staring female informants, and drove off. We were left flat-footed in the road, fifty yards from the still unmolested house. No one had come out. Whoever had been about to be beaten or killed would have at least a few more minutes to enjoy life in Borel.
As night fell, we returned to Gonaí¯ves, the old City of Independence, where we found Victor Benoit, the Front’s Senate candidate from Borel, in a small apartment off the main square. He had hidden behind his house when the soldiers came, he said, then fled into the hills, where “the peasants protected me.” Then he had traveled secretly, floating down the Artibonite in a banana boat. Now, he told us, the Council had just issued a communique, cancelling the voting in Verrettes and several other towns nearby. “They haven’t been able to organize, the polling places have been burned,” he said, and he went on, “Here, where the democratic sector is strong, and the Macoute structure remains strong as well, there is a struggle between two worlds: the old Macoute world and the democratic world that is fighting to be born.”
AT midnight, the war began. All night long, the machine-gun fire was incessant; it seemed to come from all around us, sometimes from very close. At times we heard great explosions, what sounded like grenades; then rifle shots; then more automatic fire. On the road, only the occasional jeep, its headlights dark, moved slowly past. Gonaí¯ves seemed to be in the grip of a great battle. At dawn on Election Day, we drove out cautiously. The streets were mostly deserted. It was in Raboteau, the enormous slum from which the entire popular movement that overthrew Duvalier had emerged, that the night travellers had concentrated their attention: they had strafed houses, burned and smashed the few cars on the streets, set fires here and there.
In front of the squat cinder-block building where we had left the ballots the day before, a noisy crowd had already gathered. It was growing light; one could see where the election bureau’s facade had been freshly raked with bullets. But soon the polls would be open, and the people, despite it all, had come to vote.
A few blocks away, we stopped and turned on the radio for the news from the capital. Radio Haiti Inter was utterly silent. So was Radio Soleil. We moved rapidly through the dial. Silence. (Hours earlier, armed men had smashed Radio Haiti Inter with grenades, had machine-gunned Radio Antilles, had blown up Radio Soleil’s transmitter.) Only one station, finally, Radio Métropole, seemed to be broadcasting, and it played only music marches.
In the distance, suddenly, there was shooting, then screams.
We found the corner in front of the election bureau, which not five minutes before had been crowded with hundreds of jostling people, absolutely deserted. In the middle of the empty street, a white motor scooter lay on its side, one of its wheels still turning. In the intersection, a fire was burning: four or five of the cartons we had seen delivered the day before had been stacked up, with handfuls of ballots stuffed around them as kindling, and set afire. Through the flames, among the crumpled, charred ballots, I could make out the faces of Marc Bazin and Gérard Gourgue. The fire burned fitfully. Apart from its gentle rustling, there was silence.
I moved to the building and, stepping over the threshold, had time to glimpse the stacked cartons, each with a single ballot taped to its side, and to think, They missed so many, before the shots began. A black sedan, seemingly dropped out of the sky, came hurtling around the corner, guns firing from windows on both sides. I fell down inside the small open vestibule, heard bullets hit the facade, the shots echo. Focussing my eyes on the floor tiles against my nose, I heard the screeching tires fade, and the revved-up engine; then nothing.
As I came out on the porch, locking eyes with my colleagues, who were just emerging from behind a parked car across the street, all of us brushing ourselves off, the black sedan was there again, just as suddenly, just as loudly. I fell face forward on the stoop and heard the bullets strike against the building just above me, felt them strike, and felt a shower of plaster dust gently falling on my back and neck.
Again, the car was gone. I got up, ran across the street, and joined my friends, who were crouched behind some pillars. After a few moments, we moved tentatively out into the street, and instantly there were shots, this time single shots, from somewhere overhead: a sniper or snipers in the window of one of the buildings nearby.
It had all been very well prepared. It was clear that no one, not even nosy white journalists, would get near the Gonaí¯ves voting bureau on this Election Day.
We made a last pass through Raboteau and found people standing warily in their doorways, or huddled together on their porches. There was no more defiance. “Haitians will not vote today!” one man shouted. All the speculation, the musings about whether the elections would come off, the Embassy briefings and the candidate interviews and the rest, suddenly seemed absurd; it had all come down to who had the guns and who did not, who was willing to use them and who was not. (Passing the mustard-yellow barracks, we saw the soldiers sitting, standing, milling about. They seemed tense, solemn, as they watched us drive by.) As we headed into one of the slum’s main streets, a woman shouted to her friends, “Here come the Americans to save us!” and there was bitter laughter.
At the town of L’Estère, in the Artibonite, we saw peasants waiting in a long line that snaked past the Church of the Immaculate Conception: women in kerchiefs, men in straw hats — perhaps a hundred of them — all waiting to reach a small shed opposite the church. As we walked toward it, there was shooting, and we flinched, and the crowd laughed and pointed at us in delight. Up on the road, the soldiers were striding by, firing. But here the people would not be frightened.
Inside the shed, five people sat calmly behind old wooden school desks on which stacks of white paper were arranged — more than a score for the Presidential candidates alone. Next to the stacks stood three of the gray plastic ballot boxes donated by the Canadians. As I watched, a young man at the head of the line stepped forward, paused, looked around, then said shyly, in a soft voice, “Sylvio.” A woman behind the desk picked a paper from one of the stacks and handed it to him. He folded it slowly and put it in one of the boxes, then waited while the poll workers ceremoniously plucked a ballot from each of the remaining stacks and handed them to him, so he could tear them up and throw them in the wastebasket. The woman took his hand and dipped his little finger in a small, rusted can full of red ink. As he left, smiling at his red finger, the next man came forward. I watched for several minutes. Sylvio seemed to be doing rather well.
The voting in L’Estère had begun at 6 A.M., and already seventy-four people had cast their ballots. (A man was marking crosshatches carefully on a scrap of paper.) But hadn’t they heard — as we just had, on the one radio station still functioning — that the election had been cancelled? It didn’t matter. In L’Estère, the voting would go on.
The trip back to the capital — a lovely and familiar drive, between sea and palm trees, on a beautiful day — was taken at breakneck speed and filled with strange and frightening interruptions: roadblocks manned by grimfaced soldiers, who plainly didn’t know what to do with us; a pickup truck carrying a bloody, badly wounded brigade de vigilance member (shot by soldiers the night before) and his weeping brother; makeshift roadblocks thrown up by armed and angry men whose loyalties, and purposes, were obscure.
South of Saint-Marc, at Freycinau, we were stopped by a crowd of furious peasants armed with machetes. They were manning one roadblock (a newly felled tree) and were backed up by a second — a tractor-trailer truck jackknifed across the road, which, we realized with a sickening feeling, was the very truck we had escorted north the morning before.
The shouting peasants surrounded our car, smashing it with their machetes, and pulled us out; we raised our hands with our press passes and shouted, “Journalistes! Journalistes!,” but they were inflamed, frightened, crazy. “Communistes! Communistes!” I heard several yell. (Hadn’t someone yelled that the past summer, at the political leader as he tried to speak, just before the peasants swarmed over him and hacked him to pieces?) As they were raising their machetes and feinting forward, I caught the eye of an old peasant in a red shirt, who was raising his machete a few feet from me — he didn’t seem interested in the press pass I held out in front of my chest like a pitiful shield — and all at once I pictured the handless man lying on the car roof and thought, My God, just like this? In this place? Then: And what a story that would make — imagining the photographers jostling about. (I learned only later that a CBS crew had come up behind us in their car and had kept their camera running as it lay on the dashboard, and that the confrontation would appear on the news that night.)
We were still standing paralyzed, press passes against machetes, praying that no one would strike first, when a four-wheel-drive appeared from the other direction. The driver, a well-heeled Haitian, shouted to the peasants, demanded to know what they were doing, told them we weren’t Communists, and persuaded them to let us go. The disgruntled peasants demanded money, and took a few dollars and a camera or two before letting us proceed slowly around the big truck.
AT dawn on that election morning, Port-au-Prince had been blanketed in gray smoke. On the grounds of the National Palace, the troops of the Presidential Guard were drawn up in their morning muster, receiving orders from their commander. On their patrols this fateful day, Colonel Charles Louis told them carefully, they were “not to interfere” and, above all, “not to fire on ‘the cars’ in the street, no matter what you see” — an order that, according to the Guardsman who later described this scene, “everyone understood to mean not to interfere with the attacks.”
A few blocks away, armed men were invading the Sacré Coeur, smashing the altar and beating the priests and several worshippers with machetes and rifle butts. Outside the home of General Claude Raymond, a mysterious Sunday-morning traffic jam had formed, as a contingent of four-wheel-drives struggled to make its way through the General’s narrow gate. A young European woman, driving down the street in her own jeep, became caught up in the jumble; an angry driver cursed and, as she passed the gate, shot her in the back.
Not long afterward, near one of the busiest corners of the city, where the Avenue John Brown, sloping up toward Pétionville, meets the Avenue Martin Luther King, a great crowd of men surged forward, moving down the main streets and transforming a pleasant, fairly prosperous neighborhood into a bloody anarchy that hadn’t been seen since the heyday of Papa Doc.
Most of the men were armed with machetes and clubs, though some had guns, and they were smashing cars and beating people who fled before them. In the midst of this roiling mob moved a gray Daihatsu Charade and a blue Suzuki jeep, which circled methodically as the men inside fired weapons from the windows. The cars were “like the center point … of the Macoutes’ activities there,” said Geoffrey Smith, an Australian freelance photographer who, with a Haitian friend, had found himself in the neighborhood. “The gray Charade was just circling around, firing and circling, as if it were a radio-controlled toy.”
On a corner, a small white car had been run up on a sidewalk, its windshield shattered, its driver, slashed with a machete, lying dead beside it, his wife shot and wounded. Not far from the corner of John Brown and Martin Luther King, three pedestrians, presumably on their way to vote, were shot where they stood. Suddenly, an Army truck loaded with soldiers turned on to the Avenue John Brown. And there, not far from the Ruelle Vaillant — a cul-de-sac at the end of which lay the í‰cole Argentine de Bellegardes, a little gingerbread school that today had become a polling place crowded with voters — the Army truck pulled up next to the gray Charade, and the car’s occupants chatted for a moment with the soldiers. (Whether these were Presidential Guardsmen, punctiliously following their orders “not to interfere,” or troops of the Dessalines Battalion is not known.) Whereupon the soldiers drove off and the mob of Macoutes, with their machetes and clubs and guns, moved down the Ruelle Vaillant.
What happened next was sketched out, as so often that, week, by the outline of the corpses. As the first victims were shot, on the road leading to the school, the people waiting to vote —w ho, sheltered in the school’s closed-in courtyard, had been oblivious of the chaos on the street outside — began to run away in terror. Finding no exit, they poured into four tiny, open-air classrooms to the right, pushing and clawing, burrowing under the benches, crouching behind cartons, pulling over them any furniture or boxes that came to hand.
And so the Macoutes, advancing steadily on the terrified, unarmed people, could kill at leisure. When the men with machine guns had emptied their weapons, their machete-wielding colleagues moved in, hacking off limbs, decapitating at least one woman, turning the small courtyard for a few nightmarish moments into a howling slaughterhouse.
Then the men were gone and strangely, were almost immediately followed by two fire trucks, bristling with soldiers, and three ambulances. Geoffrey Smith was one of the first to reach the school. The Army’s subsequent arrival was “very quick, too quick,” Smith told me. “They didn’t want witnesses, you see.”
The plan seemed to be to remove most of the bodies immediately, leaving just a few, “to make people believe only this happened” — that is, to lessen the scale of the massacre. The bodies would be whisked away and would disappear into a secret grave. The Ruelle Vaillant would be a massacre but, at least for the world press, a small one — four or five people, perhaps.
Smith and others, however, chanced to be nearby. Moving from room to room, they saw about twenty people, shot to pieces. In one classroom, in particular, Smith said, “the people had huddled around the wall, and in two other classrooms there were people underneath the benches. They’d heard shooting in the street, they’d run in here thinking it was safe. But because they were all literally around the wall, it was just a simple matter of spraying them with gunfire. The two women who had been running the elections were the persons with their faces shot half off, lying there with the pamphlets and everything all over the floor. In the room with the most people, about-ten, there was one woman screaming in the corner, and another woman over near the far wall was just … shaking around. And as the soldiers moved from room to room they found more people still alive, who were pretty well buried under the school desks and the bodies, still lying there in the pools of blood.
“There was such an ambience of palpable evil and cold, cold fear. I mean, the poor people who’d somehow survived were there screaming simply out of a state of absolute shock. I’m talking about people who were stood in front of a wall and were sprayed with bullets, and were then lying in a mass of bodies. That fear pervaded the whole area—an extremely strong ambience, as if an evil plague had swept through, like a wind or something.”
By this time, with the camera crews and photographers arriving, the ambulances, packed to capacity with corpses and a few survivors, drove off, and the soldiers left. As the journalists stood amid the remaining bodies, a green Volvo station wagon pulled up, and four men got out and started shooting. The journalists fled toward the school, retracing the bloody path taken by the voters less than half an hour before, then struggled in terror to scale the walls behind the school. The Macoutes moved forward, firing steadily. Smith was shot in the leg. Three members of an ABC News crew were wounded. A Dominican cameraman, just getting out of his car, raised his hands in bewildered surrender and was shot at point-blank range, collapsing and then (as one fleeing witness, looking back over his shoulder, glimpsed him) “literally swimming, hand over hand, in a lake of blood, groaning, ‘Help me, help me.’ ” He died later in the hospital. A photographer, Jean-Bernard Diederich, who was scrambling over a high wall, looked back and saw a man taking aim. “I couldn’t see his face,” he said, “but it was definitely a soldier.” Several witnesses later claimed to have recognized the olivegreen-clad troops of the Dessalines Battalion.
BY midmorning, Port-au-Prince, with its almost one million inhabitants, had taken on the uniquely sinister aspect of a great metropolis that stands unaccountably deserted under a shadowless light. Only in front of the cathedral was there a human presence: a young man lying in a little pool of blood, staring up at the bright sun. Arms splayed, shirt torn, this peaceful, sun-warmed corpse had seemingly become the capital’s sole resident.
His living compatriots, having been transported with awful abruptness back to a time that many of them remembered all too well, cowered indoors. Hiding as well were the members of the Electoral Council, including its president, Ernst Mirville, who, shortly after the Ruelle Vaillant massacre, had telephoned Radio Métropole from an undisclosed location to announce that the elections had been postponed “to a later date.”
For Haitians, the limits to wholesale brutality—the unflinching daylight massacre of innocents—that had been drawn since the fall of Duvalier had in a few minutes been swept away. The streets of the capital empty at midday, the sirens wailing, the corpses of men, women, and children lying in pools of blood, all the taut aftermath of a convulsion of unbridled violence — “All this brings back Duvalier, the father, I mean,” a well-to-do woman told me over the telephone. “People who were here then are flipping out now. Those who can are trying to get out. You see,” she said, after a pause, “you think it was a massacre, but this was just a normal day under Duvalier.”
So the people stayed inside, where, in the afternoon, they could see an angry General Namphy appear on T él é Nationale to launch, hours after the massacre, a stinging attack-on the Electoral Council. His face ominous behind his tortoiseshell glasses, his deep voice almost shouting as he struggled to master his stutter, the General denounced the Council for “inviting foreign powers to meddle in the internal affairs of the country.” He had decided “to put an end” to the Council but vowed his “determination to conduct to the end … the democratic process which must culminate in the installation on February 7, 1988, of a President freely elected by the Haitian people.” Those final words—”librement elu par le peuple haí¯tien!“—the General barked out, emphasizing each syllable, while he stared into the camera with a baleful grimace, as if daring his viewers to challenge him.
That evening, before the shooting began, a tired representative of the “foreign powers” to which the General had referred appeared at the Holiday Inn before the assembled journalists, who assailed him with angry questions. Jeffrey Lite, the American Embassy spokesman, looked wan and pale as he announced that the United States had “terminated all military assistance to Haiti.” This amounted to $1.2 million, most of it already spent. An additional hundred and six million dollars, which, together with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund money tied to it, floated the Haitian economy, “was being reviewed.” (That night, Washington announced the cutoff of the bulk of that — about sixty-two million dollars, or all but “humanitarian aid,” which was mostly food shipments.)
To the cascade of questions Lite had little new to say. The United States had supported the “rapid, orderly, and peaceful transition to democracy in Haiti.” And while it had been “apparent that the government and the Council were at loggerheads for many months — still, ‘we thought…” His voice trailed off.
Could it be that the Embassy, with all its sources, had had no warning of the attacks?
“Today,” Lite said slowly. Then he paused, closing his eyes briefly. “Today was a surprise.”
And now not only had the whole jerry-built transition so carefully shepherded by the Embassy collapsed in a spectacular mess but the Americans found themselves forced to do what they had dreaded doing, even as a last resort: they were forced to cut off their aid. “We’ve fired that bullet now,” an American diplomat told me, with a sigh, several days later. “Now that chamber — the biggest chamber — is empty.” The Americans, having carried out their threat, had nothing else to threaten. And General Namphy had nothing else to lose.
Namphy would now pick his own council. That meant that the Army would be running elections and would control their result, which in turn meant that the “popular” candidates — not only Gourgue but probably Claude, Déjoie, and Bazin as well-seeing in such an arrangement nothing for themselves except the destruction of their popular credibility, would decline to run.
Sunday night, truckloads of soldiers moved out into the city. On that and subsequent nights, the shooting was heavy. In Carrefour Feuilles and the other slums where the brigades de vigilance had been strongest, the soldiers moved in in force, emptying their clips and rounding up any young men they found. There were persistent rumors — never confirmed — of secret executions, even massacres, in Fort Dimanche. And why not? After all, it had happened many times before.
DURING the weeks that led up to a second election, on January 17th, the process of exclusion accelerated. Sylvio Claude was accused of urging an American invasion — a lethal charge in Haiti. (In reality, he had asked for an international force to observe any future vote.) Télé Nationale played and replayed film reports of ballot-stuffing — the heart of a campaign to discredit the November 29th election and, thereby, all four major candidates. The four candidates, for their part, made it clear that they wouldn’t participate in Namphy’s election. (“We don’t oppose elections,” Bajeux told me. “We oppose elections with this government. The country is now being run by a herd of murderers.”) Defiantly, they issued a call for a general strike against the government. But the people did not halt their business in a great show of revulsion against Namphy and the election violence; they did not respond to the four candidates who claimed to represent them. No doubt, as Bazin told me, “they were scared to death.” But there was something more. “After the uprising failed last summer,” a young Liberation priest told me, “the people saw the elections as the only way to uproot the Macoutes. It was like a religion.” And now, in a few moments of horror, the Macoutes had proved that religion false, powerless. And they had lost their faith. “The people are psychologically and economically exhausted,” Michel Soukar, a leading figure in the Front, conceded. “We don’t think the people have the means to get rid of the Namphy government unless they have help on the international level — as they did to get Duvalier out.”
Seeking “help on the international level” — to isolate the Namphy regime, and force it out before it could hold its own elections — quickly became the strategy of the four candidates, thus, paradoxically, lending some truth to the government propaganda. Déjoie flew to the United States, met in Washington with Administration and congressional figures, and delivered a rousing address to a crowded meeting hall on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where several hundred Haitians of the diaspora, incongruous in heavy coats and scarves, delighted in his colorful Creole and bold rhetoric. Of the coming election he said, “Any candidate [who wins] would be chosen by the Army, and he wouldn’t be able to govern, I’ll tell you that. We will not accept this government! We will continue our fight!” It was like the old days, when his father, in the same city, had said the same things about Duvalier.
THERE is no alternative — it’s as simple as that,” an American diplomat said, when asked why the Embassy was ignoring Déjoie’s call for further sanctions, why it was letting the Namphy electoral process run its course.
“Actually,” a second diplomat put in, leaning back in his chair, “from Duvalier’s departure on, that fact has defined the situation here: there is no alternative.”
The first diplomat paused and took a spoonful of grapefruit. The three of us were sitting in the pleasant, leafy garden of the first diplomat’s house, not very far from the Ruelle Vaillant. “The Embassy has been pushing to get the four big candidates together for a long time,” he said. “Finally, in mid-December we received the four candidates at the Embassy. We said, ‘Look, we’d like to do something for you. But you have to prove you’re leaders in order for us to back you — leaders as well as vote-getters. You have to show that the ninety per cent of Haitians who supposedly follow you will really hearken to your call.”‘
“And they couldn’t do that,” the second man said. “At least one strike would have had to stick, but the strikes were failures, jokes. These guys have voters, not followers.”
The first diplomat leaned forward. “Look, in the end, politics is compromise, cooperation, coalition-building — and, to be frank, Haitians have never shown a talent for any of those,” he said. “What is it they say? `There’s a bit of Macoute in every Haitian.’ ” He took a sip of coffee. “So now, of course, all you hear them saying is `It’s the Americans’ fault.’ The centrist politicians say, `We know you Americans could make it stop, you could make Namphy behave and the Macoutes disappear, if only you’d apply pressure.’ ” I thought of Bajeux. “And the radicals say, `This whole slaughter here is your fault, because, in fact, they did it with your support.’ And the hard-liners — within the government, in the Army, wherever — they say, `Why the hell aren’t you Americans supporting us? I mean, we’re fighting Communists here!’ ”
“Of course, in the end I don’t think Mr. Castro is very interested in Haiti,” the second diplomat said. “This country is like a very old patient in a hospital, and he’s on the machine, but even though the doctors see no sign of recovery, they don’t pull the plug — they try to do what they can. So we tried to do that, and maybe we should have done it differently. But that might not have worked, either. Intervention is a very complicated thing, and it usually doesn’t work out the way you think.”
ON December 30th, Professor Leslie Manigat appeared on television. He made, everyone agreed afterward, an extraordinary speech — elegant in language, brilliant in argument. Manigat noted that the Army “constitutes, in any case, an institution without which — still less against which — no workable political solution can be found.” He mocked the strategy of the so-called four major candidates — noting that though each claimed to control sixty to seventy per cent of the vote, making their collective support at least two hundred and forty per cent of the Haitian electorate, they had been unable to bring off a general strike a week after the massacre. Then this man who had been so long in exile, so long a fighter for Haitian democracy, announced that his party — “the party of the opening” (“le parti de l’ouverture“), punning on the name of the country’s founder, Toussaint Louverture, had decided to take part in the Army’s elections.
During the first weeks of January, the discussion came to center on whom the officers would choose. Would it be Grégoire Eugène, a mild and seemingly malleable man? Or Hubert de Ronceray, who had served many years as Jean-Claude Duvalier’s Minister of Labor and Social Welfare before jumping ship to become an “opposition leader” several months before the dictator fell? Or Leslie Manigat, the prestigious intellectual?
On January 17th, the voting was very light throughout Port-au-Prince; in many places, the polls seemed to be empty or nearly so all day. Outside one small polling place, I heard music and, glancing inside, saw a radio sitting on a desk with its stacks of ballots, next to which two soldiers were dancing the merengue, holding their automatic rifles above their heads as they thrust their hips. North of the city, my colleagues and I found near-empty polling places as well, though in Saint-Marc we watched a group of young men — few of them looked old enough to vote — push forward to cast their ballots in a little school. Several objected angrily when the poll worker tried to mark their fingers with red dye. Curious, we followed them as they piled into a pickup truck and drove to a pretty house a mile or so away and disappeared inside. When they reemerged, they were all wiping their hands: they had washed off the red. They piled into the truck to vote again.
They were voting for Manigat — a fact that was not hard to discern, for, as at most places that day, the ballots were distributed outside the polls by young men who stood in a group and competed for the attention of the prospective voter. When he had marked his ballot, the voter handed it to a poll worker, who thereupon scrutinized it, often announcing the choice, and placed it in the ballot box.
That morning, in a polling place across from the National Palace, a soldier had told me his colonel had given an order: “Manigat is the man of the Army. Vote for Manigat.” The next day, a bitter Grégoire Eugène said to me, “I had known two days before that the elections would be a joke. I gave fifty thousand of my ballots to a candidate for mayor for him to have distributed around Port-au-Prince. Then I learned he had Manigat’s ballots distributed instead. I called him and was told, ‘As an old soldier, I had to follow orders.’ We assumed he was referring to the head of the Army.”
Most Haitians seemed to agree with Eugène that the elections were “a joke”; but what, exactly, made them so? That there had obviously been cheating? True, but it was impossible to tell how much. That a number of evidently popular candidates had boycotted the vote? Yes, but they had done so of their own accord. That so few people had voted? Yes, but those people, too, had acted voluntarily, and, in any event, the government later claimed that thirty-five per cent of the Haitians had voted, insisting that in the provinces, especially in places one could not reach in a day without a helicopter, the turnout had been very high indeed. And, of course, it could have been true: there was no way to tell, just as there was no real way to be sure, in a country without polls, with few roads, and with an illiterate population, that the four “major candidates” still controlled more than ninety per cent of the vote.
And so, behind the closed doors of Namphy’s Council headquarters — journalists had been hustled out at gun point—the counting went on, and on. And finally the Council members announced that they had completed their work and had determined that in this difficult, dangerous election, held under such perilous conditions, one man had somehow managed to secure a majority — miraculously, a bare 50.27 per cent, thus making a runoff unnecessary. The victor was an intellectual, an academic of international reputation, the scion of a distinguished family, a man all Haitians could be proud of—and on whom other countries, in time, might well look kindly.
Thus, on February 7, 1988, the second anniversary of the glorious fall of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, in the sullen, exhausted country, its foreign-aid lifelines severed, its economy collapsing, its people angry, Leslie F. Manigat, the master of the conjoncture, came to power.
(This is the first part of a three-part article.)