WORLD

Surveying the wreckage

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 24 1986
WORLD

Surveying the wreckage

Anthony Wilson-Smith February 24 1986

Surveying the wreckage

HAITI

Residents in the northern town of Grande Rivière du Nord, where Haiti’s new leader, Lt.-Gen. Henri Namphy, spent his first 21 years, remember him as a shy youngster with a stutter. Later, his friends say, the stocky 53-year-old Namphy, commander of the country’s armed forces since 1984, was best known for his fondness for Johnny Walker Black Label scotch. And in their first days of power, Namphy and the six-member National Council that has governed Haiti since the Feb. 7 flight into exile of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier have seemed to many like liberators. They undertook to hold free elections, released 26 political prisoners, dissolved the widely feared paramilitary force the Tontons Macoutes and reopened media outlets closed by Duvalier last month.

Still, some Haitians were skeptical. Organizers of a mass march through the town of Gonaïves last week distributed pamphlets charging that the country’s new government has “been infiltrated by men of the past, former ministers who wallowed in all the crimes of that regime.” In fact, some called for the removal of two members of the new junta—Alix Cineas, minister of public works under Duvalier, and Col. Prosper Avril, head of Duvalier’s now-disbanded presidential guard of about 80, who said last week that veterans of the 25,000-member Tonton Macoutes “will be accepted into the army if they fulfil the conditions of normal citizens.”

There was also a possibility that Duvalier, 34—cloistered last week in an elegant and well-guarded hotel in the Lac Annecy district of France—might try to return to the country of six million which he ruled for 14 years with an iron fist after the death of his tyrannical father in 1971. France admitted Duvalier initially for an eight-day period to allow him time to find a permanent country of exile. Though French government sources said they would not allow him to take up residence in one of three homes in the country, six other countries refused to accept him. When Liberia was reported ready to admit him, Duvalier’s French lawyer, Sauveur Vaisse, said that his client was “not interested in going there—he is only interested in staying in France or going back to Haiti.”

And at week’s end, the initial euphoria in Haiti had dissipated. In a country where a Canadian study shows that 78 per cent of all children suffer from malnutrition and’ half of all Haitians are unemployed, many seemed to doubt that they will escape from their rock-bottom poverty. Declared 28year-old street merchant Jean Louis, a father of four: “The revolution was the greatest day of my life. But still I must find a way to feed my family.” For many Haitians, that remains their greatest challenge.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH

ERIC HAMOVITCH