We never thought the conditions in Haiti could be this awful, Marines say U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 22, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

CAP HAITIEN, Haiti -- The Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Platoon, never dreamed it would be this awful.

They were never told of the pigs lying in the gutters or the human waste washing onto the streets. But most of all, from their vantage behind a barbed-wire barricade on 24th Street in the heart of a dirty, depressed little city, nothing could have prepared these Marines for the faces of the Haitians.

"I look at them, and I see a lot of grief," said Cpl. Keith Guay, 21, of Fall River, Mass. "You can see it right in the eyes. They have a question mark in their eyes of what we can do for them.

"We have our hand out over the wire," he said. "And they have their hand out. And we're trying to grab."

Yesterday, on the day after a peaceful landing, the Marines dealt with the culture shock of a city without running water, without much electricity and without much hope.

"The people wish we could stay here forever," said Corporal Guay, looking across the barricade at dozens of Haitians who again had gathered to watch the Marines stand guard at the downtown port.

"I wish we could do more for these people," he said. "But we can't."

Nearby, part of the platoon was asleep in the abandoned city tourist office. Amphibious vehicles were still landing. A convoy of armored personnel vehicles was prepared for a parade through the city.

The Marines, dirty, sweaty and tired, dug in, their flak vests sticking to their bodies in the 90-degree heat.

"It's amazing what you can do with Noxzema and showering out of a canteen," said Lance Cpl. Mark Divelbiss, 21, of Pittsburgh.

Initially, he said, he was skeptical about the Marine mission. But not any more. Several among the first wave to hit shore saw joyous crowds. But they also saw a Haitian policeman beat a woman with a club.

"We're going to protect these people," he said. "And it seems like the only people we're protecting them from is the Haitian military."

Warily, Marines and local police are keeping a peace. But unlike in Port-au-Prince, where the Army's 10th Mountain Light Infantry watched as Haitian police beat a civilian to death, Marines here were ordered to break up confrontations.

So far, there have been only sporadic incidents of violence here.

"If someone is going to commit a crime, we can use action," said 1st Lt. Shane Tomko, 30, of Quincy, Ill. "All it takes is that one hit in the head to kill someone."

Lieutenant Tomko toured the city yesterday with a liaison team from the local military and police. He saw burros in the street. Naked children. A hospital in need of even the most basic medical supplies.

"I pray it turns out for the best," he said. "People deserve that much. I don't care if they are Haitian or Louisianian. If we can assist, we have served."

Lieutenant Tomko said he notices something unsettling here: fear of the local police.

"When one man carrying a stick can move the crowd like a bunch of scared rabbits, that's fear," he said. "Think of Baltimore. One policeman swinging a stick against a crowd would not work. Here, it's different."

The Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Platoon, have a mounting disdain for the local police and military, whose barracks lie six blocks from the port.

"The thing I don't understand is how their military can't back up their president," Corporal Guay said.

"We don't see ourselves as on the side of the police," Corporal Divelbiss said. "We're not here to help the police. We're here to help the country. It seems like the police are hiding behind their guns."

And the Marines are doing the tough work of restoring order.

On the main street through the worst part of town, the Marines were on garbage detail, shoveling a pile of human waste to the side as thousands watched. Even that ugly task had to be carried out with two armored vehicles in the area.

But there were magical sights and sounds. Women dressed in straw hats, blouses and neat blue skirts sat singing in a church, their voices echoing through a nearby square.

Marines drove through the city, pumping their fists and waving to the crowds. But for Golf Company, 2nd Platoon, the scene was somewhat more bleak. A tiny block. A gathering crowd. Anxious faces.

"A lot of people in America take things for granted," said Lance Cpl. Joel Delia, 21, of Syracuse, N.Y. "Just let one rich American live here for a week and, I guarantee you, that person's attitude would change. We never thought it could be this bad."

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