Gulf of opinion separates rich, poor CRISIS IN THE CARIBBEAN

September 19, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PETIONVILLE, Haiti -- When Yolande Solages Kirk made her regular drive to Mass yesterday, there was little to suggest that ,, by the next Sunday that church bells ring, the U.S. military would be here, either as invaders or interveners.

Here among bougainvillea and hibiscus, the almond and avocado trees of this tony enclave above and beyond Port-au-Prince, Haiti's pitifully poor capital, the elite parishioners in their Sunday best walked smartly into the Carmelite convent chapel to hear what their priest had to say about what is happening here.

On their way to the church, Mrs. Kirk and her neighbor and friend, Marie Lynn, passed the Hotel Creole, where on Saturday night former President Jimmy Carter dined with the military junta in the final effort to avoid bloodshed by persuading them to step down.

"Carter is very loved in Haiti," said Mrs. Kirk. "He doesn't think like other Americans. He pays attention to other countries. He is trying always to calm things down."

Here, the imminent return of the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected president who was ousted three years ago by the army, will bring no celebration and no dancing in the streets. This is home to the rich elite who have benefited directly or indirectly from the Duvalier family dictatorship that preceded Father Aristide's election and the military junta that followed it.

Here, there are suspicions that the French Embassy was involved in rigging the elections and that the Americans were duped into declaring them fair and free.

Here, there are accusations that Father Aristide terrorized opponents, destroyed the economy and derailed a system that worked -- at least for these people.

"He called all business people rubber," said Mrs. Kirk. "He told the hungry that if they saw someone eating they had a constitutional right to demand the food."

Mrs. Kirk, who runs a small hotel that has been mostly empty since the United Nations imposed an embargo on Haiti last year, said: "The business people come down every day. They open their businesses because it is habit. But there is almost no business."

In the sweltering car yesterday -- the air conditioning was off to reduce the consumption of precious gasoline -- the conversation was about the small-arms fire that woke everyone during the night. It was dismissed simply as a political effort to disturb the peace by one side or the other.

Inside the church, the priest wondered aloud whether there was such a thing as good ambition. Certainly, he told the parishioners, there was. But there also was bad ambition, and that was behind the current crisis.

"Why this invasion?" he asked. "It's because of negative ambition."

He finished with a prayer for peace, and Ms. Lynn said afterward: "It's the ambition that makes everyone like that. There's only one who's right. The one who is above."

'We have only fear'

At the other end of town, in the squalid and sweltering Cite du Soleil, Haiti's most notorious slum, Mosicar Samidy walks through the dingiest of back alleys to the home she shares with two other adults and seven children. It has two rooms, a living room and bedroom, each 6 feet by 6 feet. The floor is bare concrete. The sky shines bright blue through the rusted corrugated iron roof. A rickety blue stool is the only piece of furniture.

The entire group is lying on the floor or leaning against the walls. In a corner is a pot of beans, a smaller one of salsa and a can of salt.

It is dark, unbearably humid, indescribably filthy. Mosicar Samidy, 24, has no job, no income and two children, a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old.

"I have many problems," she said. "I have little to eat. I don't have even a dollar. For me, it is important to have change, for an end to the embargo. We have suffered a lot from the embargo. Things have become very expensive."

Her friend, Jean Pierre Louis, 22, who also lives in a slum, said: "It is necessary Aristide comes back. We need change. Things don't work."

If an invasion occurred, they would stay in their homes.

"We have no security," said Mr. Louis. "We have only fear. If we had money we'd move to the provinces, but we don't."

In another part of Cite du Soleil, another young woman whispered that "an invasion would be good." Afraid of being heard, she continued in a whisper, "It would help because we have such a deplorable situation."

That situation is most dramatically glimpsed in the gasoline black market, aptly dubbed "Kuwait City." Here, gasoline is available at the day's price of $14 a gallon, up from $1.80 before the embargo.

Willy Montau, 29, a gas seller, intervenes in a conversation between a reporter and Eddy Jackson, 24, a market laborer. Mr. Jackson is about to explain why he opposed an invasion but would like the country to change.

"That's a difficult issue for him to talk about," said Mr. Montau. "If he answered that, the men with guns will come for him."

This does not stop him from expressing his opposition to an invasion.

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