Aristide backers emerge from hiding U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 28, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- For Daniel Voltaire, they were three years lost, three years on the run.

He scampered like a hunted animal through sugar cane fields. He lived day and night in tin huts in tiny towns. He tried desperately to escape the terror of a life as an exile in his own country. But he could never outrun the fear.

"Fear is no good," he said. "It is so terrible to explain. Every day you know that the soldiers are coming to get you. That was a bad, bad experience."

For now, the nightmare is over.

Slowly, some 300,000 men and women are reappearing after being forced into hiding three years ago following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

This is a country with a bloody past, where political winners wreak vengeance on the losers. For many, survival means fleeing to the hills, moving on an informal underground railroad one step ahead of the security forces, giving up jobs and families to stay alive.

Now it is time to return.

The Parliament is due to meet today, and Father Aristide's senatorial supporters are scheduled to resurface publicly.

The mayor of Port-au-Prince, Evans Paul, is expected to come out of hiding soon.

But there are tens of thousands of others, couriers and guards and friends of Father Aristide, who have made difficult decisions in the past few days, and who have emerged from the shadows into a light cast by a U.S. military occupation.

Yesterday, some of them met in the courtyard of Father Aristide's private villa on the outskirts of the capital.

Around them, dozens of men cut weeds with machetes. Hundreds of women swept the dirt, while others inside scrubbed three years of grime from the marble floors. The laughter of children echoed in the hallways.

L U.S. soldiers guarded the gates and surrounding countryside.

The white stucco villa is still big and beautiful, even if the place is stripped of nearly everything. Even the toilets are gone.

Mr. Voltaire, a member of Father Aristide's private security detail, remembers the villa when it was abuzz with dignitaries and friends. And he remembers the day of the coup, when soldiers chased him in a car, shooting at him three times.

"I hid in the sugar cane fields," he said. "And then I went from town to town. For two years I lived in one place, and one day, some man said he was going to call the police because I never went outside. I told him I was a thief. It was better to be known as a thief than a Lavalas, an Aristide supporter."

Others told similar stories.

Sony Lefort, 42, a messenger for Father Aristide, pulled up his shirt and displayed a 12-inch scar. He was slashed six years ago when security forces fire-bombed the church at Saint-Jean Bosco while Father Aristide preached from the pulpit -- before he became president and the Vatican stripped him of his priestly duties.

"I held my intestines in with my hands," he said.

Mr. Lefort's stomach still hurts at night. He has lost hearing in his right ear as a result of a police beating. He is tired and frail, and barely speaks above a whisper.

"I am a victim of all of this," he said.

His three years underground were a constant struggle as he tried to stay a step ahead of authorities.

He was arrested three times and beaten. He lived in a half-dozen towns, never sleeping in the same bed for more than a few weeks at a time. He survived on the kindness of strangers and Father Aristide's supporters.

Now, all he owns are the clothes on his back and a meager supply of medicine in a blue plastic bag.

"I have three children I have seen only a few times in the past few years," he said. "I have a 7-month-old son I have seen once. I can't reach them. I can't give them money.

"I have lost so much," he said. "My children's future. My job. I feel like an animal."

So much has been lost. Family ties. Livelihoods. Freedom.

Edrice Larochelle, 40, a carpenter, carefully crafted the doors of Father Aristide's villa. They are all gone now. But he is still alive after fleeing to the northern part of the island.

He returned here two weeks ago when he received news that Father Aristide was soon to return.

"The soldiers could never find me," he said. "I was not an invisible man. I was a smart man. I never gave up hope."

Now, he walks around with a tape measure in his pocket. He is building new doors in anticipation of his president's return.

"I never gave up hope," he said. "I knew we had a leader who was useful."

Mr. Voltaire, 40, also remains a believer, even though he calls the past three years "lost and wasted."

His wife is in the United States. He can hardly remember what his 12-year-old daughter Sandy looks like. He has never seen his 2 1/2 -year-old, and he stammers before remembering her name, Crystall.

Mr. Voltaire is among the living again. On Sunday, he walked the familiar streets for the first time in three years. As he strolled through familiar neighborhoods, he heard a constant refrain.

"Every single person who saw me said, 'I thought you were dead, man,' " he said. "But I'm not."

There is no reason to run. No reason to hide. The season of fear is over.

"God bless President Clinton!" he shouted. "He has saved us."

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