A ribbon of misery winds through nation U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 25, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

ON THE ROAD TO PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The journey begins in Cap-Haitien at a last-chance, makeshift gas station where pigs chew scraps of garbage and barefoot women pour seven two-gallon jugs of watered-down fuel into a beat-up 1981 Datsun station wagon with 54,960 miles on the odometer and no back seat.

It weaves through three mountain ranges and a desertlike area, dips along a bay so beautiful that the sun shimmers like fire off the blue water, passes marketplaces with more flies than people and towns where fear hangs heavy in the humid air, and ends, two flat tires, one blown clutch, one snapped accelerator cable, eight hours and 180 miles later in a place that looks a chunk of the South Bronx -- with an ocean view.

This is the trip down National Road 100, a ribbon of misery and heartbreak that cuts from the north coast city of Cap-Haitien to the capital, Port-au-Prince.

This is what you see:

Gulleys of dirty water used for drinking and bathing.

Thatched huts.

People. Tens of thousands of them. Sitting on rocks and dirt. Washing clothes. Chewing raw sugar cane for lunch. But mostly, you see them walking, the women balancing baskets of meager supplies on their heads, the men hauling carts.

There are few cars that make the journey along a road that by stretches goes from paved to dirt to rock and is littered with potholes the size of Volkswagens. U.S. intelligence officials say the trip can take from five hours to five days depending on the weather. Bus rides can take longer. Trucks are converted to buses packed with a few hundred people and piles of flour and rice.

Animals are everywhere. Cows are tethered to posts, burros carry peasant women and pigs are a definite traffic hazard.

And there is something else that can be sensed and heard along the road: a yearning on the part of the people for the U.S. military to fan out from the two major cities and deliver food, as well as hope, to the countryside.

"When is your Army coming here?" asks Etienne Jobert, 24, as he rides a 40-year-old bicycle with one pedal up a mountain.

"It is too late," he says. "The Americans should have come earlier.

"You know that everyone loves Americans," he says. "Everyone is happy. But the policemen here don't want anything to change, and that is the problem. Yet everything must change."

The problems are enormous, and they can be seen in snapshots along the road.

Cidi Islam, squats in a soapy puddle at the base of a mountain stream, doing her daily laundry in a village named Bidoret. She appears to be a woman of about 35, but because she lost her birth papers, she doesn't know how old she is. She has two

children, Magdalene, 17, and David, 15, and they live together with six others in a two-room hut with a metal roof, a rock floor and five lumpy mattresses.

Outside, under a metal roof, water is boiling on the family stove: a pile of wood.

'Life is bad'

"The life here is very bad," Mrs. Islam says.

Her daughter agrees.

"I don't want to feel like my mother does," Magdalene says. "I'd like to have a good life, a better life."

In Gmojimo, high up in a lush, green mountain range, men and women sit on the roadway and grind coffee beans with rocks. The few cars that enter make sure to avoid crushing the beans.

"There is no food here," says Azama Ilfrin, a 36-year-old woman with a weathered face and hands dripping with sweat and coffee beans.

"Flour costs too much. We are getting what we can. We are eating what we can. But we are hungry."

Nearby, John-John Prezema, a 24-year-old tailor, sits on the porch of his house and stitches a shirt. He works the levers of a sewing machine with his bare feet and carefully sews each seam.

"There is no money here," he says. "I do what I can. Maybe in October I will go back to Port-Au-Prince to sell the shirts. Maybe there will be money then."

Word of invasion spreads

Like nearly everyone else along the road, Mr. Prezema says he heard of the invasion by word of mouth. "Maybe the Americans can make a difference," he says. "We are only one people under God. God can make everything change."

There are 10 police checkpoints on the road from Cap-Haitien to Port-au-Prince, all internal security posts looking about the same -- tires or garbage cans to block the road and a dozen or so bored military men and police officers, sitting under trees, playing cards or talking.

Gonaives is the major city on the route. It is different. The policemen here ask for identification. And there are police on the streets.

It is difficult to get many people to talk of life here.

"There is violence," says one man who declines to give his name.

"The police control everything," another man says.

Matching the fear is the harshness of the land that lies just south of town. The mountains have given way to a range of cactus trees.

Jobs are scarce

On one lonely stretch of road, Charles Rannell, 28, is walking back to Gonaives, an empty water can in his hand, sweat pouring off his face.

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