U.S. aims to keep return of Aristide safe, peaceful U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

October 15, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to Haiti today to find this excited but tense country a place of joy and fear.

There will be dancing in the streets as the priest known affectionately as "Titid" brings democracy back, but there will also be an unprecedented display of military firepower as U.S. troops try to keep violence at bay.

"Our presence will be seen and felt everywhere," said Col. Barry Willey, spokesman for the U.S.-led intervention force yesterday. "We cannot guarantee there will be no accidents, but my personal belief is that if the enemies of democracy test us they will regret it."

That was the clear message as U.S. heavy armor was deployed yesterday around the major institutions and road junctions in this capital in its strongest show of force since arrival four weeks ago.

The twin dangers are that joy will turn to vengeance or that remnants of the defeated dictatorship will try to disrupt the Aristide triumph with bloodshed.

Caught in the middle

U.S. troops could find themselves caught in the middle, but all the indications yesterday were that they were taking pre-emptive action before the exciting, but potentially explosive, return of the president who was ousted in a military coup three years ago.

Security today will be extremely tight, with Father Aristide's exposure to the crowds limited to a brief airport arrival ceremony and a public speech at the palace.

Ten helicopters will carry the returning president and the major U.S. delegates, including Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, from the airport to the palace grounds.

Father Aristide will have his own U.S.-trained bodyguards. The executive protection service will surround Mr. Christopher and other U.S. delegates. Special operations troops, uniformly wearing wrap-around sun shades and sporting no insignia or rank on their battledress, will give extra cover.

But the bulk of the security in town will be left up to the troops of the 10th Mountain Division, the 82nd Airborne and the Military xTC Police. What few Haitian troops and police are left in uniform also will be on hand.

While the show of force is meant to deter violence, it is not meant to cramp the carnival style of Father Aristide's return.

Bands throughout this teeming city could be heard practicing their oomp-pap-pahs and cha-cha-chas for what is expected to be the biggest party here in years.

Jean Robert Louis, 20, a professional musician, is ready to blow his lungs out today playing the tuba with the 30 other members of the Rallye des Artistes band as they parade around the presidential palace.

"Since I am going to be happy, I am going to be transformed," he said, after a celebration practice yesterday. "I am going to be transformed in many ways. It is going to be a victory for me. What I didn't expect to see for a long time is finally going to happen."

Wichly Valentin, a trumpeter with the band, said: "We will prove to the international community that we want the country of change."

While the jubilation gained force in the poorer areas of town, where Father Aristide is seen as a political savior, there was little elation in the rich suburbs.

There, a sense of foreboding settled on a worried elite, who see both their wealth and well-being threatened by the return of the populist priest. There, memories of the "necklacing" -- the placing of a gasoline-filled tire around the neck -- of Aristide opponents during the seven months he was in power are still all too fresh.

'Can't force democracy'

"He told these people they could come into my house, take my house, take my car and kill me. That's what Aristide told them," said a lawyer. "You will see. If the U.S. doesn't react to the crowds, I tell you this country will be destroyed in half an hour after Aristide's return.

"You can't force democracy. You can't impose reconciliation."

In an effort to bolster popular understanding of the occasion, U.S. military psychology operations units will be out today broadcasting appeals for restraint.

One place to fathom the many moods of Haiti yesterday was the Sacre Coeur Church, where a memorial Mass was held for Guy Malary, the minister of justice, who was slain outside the church on Oct. 14, 1993.

It was a service of sadness and hope, a call for reconciliation balanced by a demand for justice.

"Even though we talk of reconciliation, we need justice," said the Rev. Gerard Jean Juste, a strong supporter of Father Aristide. "What time is this?" he asked the congregation, which included Prime Minister Robert Malval. "What time is this? Justice time."

Inside the church, Cilienne Argand, 27, widow of Joseph Argand, one of two bodyguards killed with Mr. Malary, collapsed screaming. Mr. Malary's sister, Kitty Malary, sent a message from Boston: "I am asking my brothers and sisters to stop crying because they are about to find justice."

Outside the church, Sen. Julio La Rosiliere, an independent Haitian politician, said: "Aristide needs to work for reconciliation. I know my Haitian people. They are a sentimental people. When you smile at the Haitian, he will smile at you. And the important enemies of Aristide will smile with Aristide tomorrow."

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