Support for the return of Aristide divided along lines of wealth and power

October 25, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- To "Madame X," who grows orchids in Le Boule, a community of wealth and power high above the capital, a return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would be an ill omen of increased bloodshed and revenge by the poor.

But as 19-year-old "Filibert" sees it, Father Aristide is the best hope for bringing Haitians together in a climate of peace that would allow him and hundreds other street kids and political activists to come out of hiding from security forces.

If Father Aristide does not return it would be the poor, he said, who would be the victims of revenge.

The two Haitians, one ensconced in wealth and the other trapped in poverty, illustrate the deep social divide that has led to international intervention to breach an impasse over democracy. They share a wish for peace but are worlds apart on how to attain it.

Father Aristide has become the focus of international efforts to bring democracy to Haiti two years after he was toppled in a military coup.

Father Aristide was accused of moves against the army and of presiding over a wave of revenge directed by the poor against supporters of the Duvalier dictatorship, which fell in 1986.

"Why should I be happy about Aristide's return when he is coming back to burn people," said Madam X. "Haiti needs a change from the past but not with a crazy man. Aristide is like Hitler. You will see if he comes back."

Like others who spoke out on Haiti's current standoff with the international community, Madam X did not want her real name used at a time of repression by security forces and when the United States has begun freezing the assets of those blocking Father Aristide's return.

A neighbor whose family is involved in a lucrative sugar enterprise echoed her sentiments.

She said she did not trust Father Aristide or those around him. "During mass he always talked about killing the bourgeois," she said.

The fear is the same throughout much of this community where the well-to-do maintain a princely existence, isolated from the political violence of the capital, in luxurious homes with expensive art, fine china and antique silver.

They interpret Father Aristide's call for empowerment and uplifting of the poor to mean they would lose their wealth, to be taken by force.

Filibert recalls Father Aristide as the one person willing to help when he left his home at age 11, believing he was a burden to a mother who could not afford food or school fees.

Filibert said he now survives on the charity of visitors and a secret network of support for orphans Father Aristide has organized from exile.

Filibert also expressed concern that if Father Aristide did not return next Saturday, anti-democratic forces would launch a new wave of repression.

"If he does not return on the 30th we will lose all hope and they [security forces] will kill the rest of us," he said.

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