Dying at sea beats Haiti, say people Many hope Clinton will change things

January 20, 1993|By Ginger Thompson | Ginger Thompson,Staff Writer

MONTROUIS, Haiti -- Marie Carmel Moises, a 22-year-old mother of two, sat for hours yesterday in a dusty two-room clinic cradling her weak 4-year-old niece. And when the other women talked excitedly about their desires to find a boat and flee the country in search of decent lives, she simply nodded.

Then, her sweaty face turned serious and she bowed her head. vTC A friend who had died at sea came to mind.

"It was just last week," she said. "The boat sank with him on it."

"It scared me," she added. "But there is nothing for people here. At least he went off and tried to do something better for his family."

News of the U.S. Coast Guard's barricade around Haiti and President-elect Bill Clinton's decision to continue to keep U.S. doors closed to all Haitian refugees for the time being sent a shudder through this slum of white-washed houses.

But in weighing their options between staying in Haiti or venturing out to sea, many people in this port city 50 miles north of Port-au-Prince say the choice is still no different.

"They'd rather take their chance on the ocean and die there than stay here and die," says Jean Claude Edee, who lives here without much to do.

Haiti seems to represent certain death to so many people here -- if not physically, then spiritually. Meanwhile looking out to sea, they see a glimmer of hope that they will somehow be able to reach the United States and be allowed to live with friends or relatives there.

The people in Montrouis and Leogone, another port to the south, say they have seen family members or friends shot or beaten to death by the army. Children die from lack of food and medicine.

For others Haiti brings on a spiritual death. Most of them have no jobs, no activities to fill their lives, no dreams to pursue. So they feel it is better to die at the sea, trying to escape to a better life.

"Haitian people just look to the sky waiting for something to fall down into their hands," says Elisee Andre, 33. "When that doesn't happen, they look out to the sea."

If ever there was a planned mass exodus from Haiti -- at one time estimated at around 100,000 people -- it was called off after Mr. Clinton's decision and rumors that the United Nations will force Haiti's military to return authority over the nation to the Rev. Jean-Bertand Aristide, its first freely-elected president.

"The people have quieted down for now," says Louie do Alexandre, a 22-year-old man who had been returned recently to Haiti by officials in Cuba, where his boat landed. "But if we don't have democracy in a month, then we will leave again. There is nothing else that will stop us from trying to escape."

Instead of protesting against the group that seized power from Father Aristide 16 months ago, many people send silent messages of discontent.

In Monday's elections for 10 of 27 Senate seats -- in which only the de facto government's candidates participated -- turnout was practically nil.

Officials annulled a Senate race in the capital yesterday because vote tallies and ballot boxes were dumped in the streets, but they said vote counting would proceed in the other races despite the voter boycott.

The boycott was a rare message. Sneaking out to sea is as much a message to the people in charge here now.

"Putting fences in the sea will not keep people in Haiti," says Stenio Caris, a businessman who sells rice and beans in Gonaives. "People will keep trying to go out. When they get stopped by the Coast Guard, they will tell their stories.

"Maybe one day, the politicians in the U.S. will hear those stories," he adds. "Then they will force the Haitian military to give power back to the Haitian people."

All those interviewed say that negotiations between the United Nations and Haiti's present rulers will not lead to the return of Father Aristide. The only thing Haiti's military government understands, they say, is force.

"The Haitian army is a repressive force, capable of killing a lot of people," says the Rev. Antoine Adrien, a spokesman for Father Aristide in Port-au-Prince. "But they are not capable of resistance or self defense."

"If the U.S. Army comes here and throws a couple of bullets or grenades," says Mr. Edee, "the bad people will go away and the good people will have better lives."

Until then, Mr. Edee and others at Montrouis have no choice but to seek better lives outside of Haiti.

Robyn Dandy, who is helping to give out medicine at the clinic here, says that two years ago he dreamed of becoming a minister and preaching the gospel. That dream has faded, he says, because the messages he would preach could get him killed.

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