Chief is gone, but the soldiers stay

October 11, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- They are the ones left behind.

L They are privates and colonels, traffic cops and inspectors.

Yesterday, on the front steps of a colonial-style headquarters, surrounded by tens of thousands of jeering pro-democracy demonstrators, they watched as Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras gave up leadership of the Haitian military for a life in exile.

"This looks like every day in the whole world," said Col. Francois Raphael.

Sure.

It's not every day in Haiti when a teen-ager shows up in front of the most feared building in the country, hoisting a packed suitcase for General Cedras.

It's not every day when American soldiers bearing M-16s and hard glares provide a wall between the crowd and the home military.

And it's not every day when a Haitian leader is brought so publicly to his knees, bowing to the inevitable and giving up power as the crowd hoots with delight.

But from his vantage point on the front steps of the headquarters, Colonel Raphael,a 20-year military man with three glistening gold stars on his shoulders, said that all would remain calm in Haiti.

"The army is a dynamic institution," he said. "It is always moving. Even though the general won't be here."

Welcome to Haiti's brave new military world.

Effectively disarmed and beaten by the peaceful invasion of the Americans, the Haitian army must now regroup under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval.

The 7,000-member army is expected to be slashed to 1,500. There are also plans to train the police, transforming what is essentially a uniformed gang into a professional force.

"We need a soldier who can serve the Haitian people and rebuild this country in freedom and peace and mutual respect," General Duperval said.

But it will take a lot of time and training to rebuild a security force that is almost universally despised by the public.

"We can learn a lot of things from this cooperation with the Americans," General Duperval said.

The Haitian military is still trying to master the basics, such as how to act in a smooth transition of power.

On a day of stifling heat, humidity and history, a military band played, soldiers snapped salutes and police officers tried to remain attentive even though few could hear General Cedras' address.

"It is exceptional," said Col. J. R. Gabriel, as he adjusted the podium and scanned the crowd.

But quickly putting together a made-for-international television ceremony is simple. Now comes the tough part: serving under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"If Aristide comes back, I am not in fear," said a police sergeant who would identify himself only by his badge number, 11.

"I know I have to be a soldier," the man in the faded blue uniform said. "If Aristide wants to serve with me, fine. If he doesn't, I'll just go home."

The sergeant said that the ceremony had left him drained.

"It was logical," he said. "It was also sad."

Haitian soldiers were jeered and the crowd sang derisively when General Cedras spoke. But the U.S. soldiers were cheered.

"Today they are clapping their hands for the U.S. Army," said a police officer who would identify himself only as badge No. 34. "Tomorrow the crowd will run after them. It is in the Haitian mentality."

Revenge is also a fact of daily political life in Haiti.

None of the soldiers or police interviewed yesterday expressed concerns in the wake of General Cedras' departure.

As he looked out to the crowd, Colonel Raphael said, "I have no fear."

Asked if he was upset that General Cedras was leaving, while he was staying, he said: "I have to stay in this country. I have to help. The army is an institution for me where I know I can work. If they want me, fine. If they don't, I'll get another profession."

It's not as if the Haitian military is well-paid or even well-respected.

Thirty Haitian Marines marched from the ceremony to a public taxi. They all managed to fit into a van designed to hold 15.

And a half-hour after he stepped down, the Haitian military carved a path through the crowd for General Cedras' car the old-fashioned way: with gunfire.

The Haitian general departed. But the same old soldiers stayed behind.

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