AMERICA/HAITI - Situation still unsettled in Haiti after departure of President Aristide. Local eyewitness reports

Monday, 1 March 2004

Port au Prince (Fides Service)- “Growing rumours began to circulate around midnight between Saturday and Sunday” Carlo Maria Zorzi representative of AVSI (Associazione di Volontariato per lo Sviluppo Internazionale) in Haiti told Fides. “Aristide decided at about 4 in the morning on February 29 and gave his resignation at 6am - on the grounds that it was necessary to avoid a blood bath - before being escorted by US Marines to the airport. Aristide, accompanied by his wife and an entourage of 41 persons, landed at a military airport in Santo Domingo and then boarded a flight for Morocco which refused to give him political asylum. The plane made a stop at Antigua to re-fuel and only later that evening it was announced that Panama had offered the President temporary asylum”.
Here is the story from Zorzi: “Aristide’s departure was a mystery because his exit was not planned. Mysterious also is the President ad interim, as laid down by the Constitution President of the Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre. It is said that he has accepted but has not yet been sworn in. What is certain that it was all hush, hush, no speech, no official statement from the national palace. This created a dangerous power vacuum. The Prime Minister gave a press conference on Sunday morning at 10 to announce Aristide’s resignation and he was accompanied by Boniface Alexandre who called for calm. Supporters of Aristide were not happy and they began sacking and looting. According to official reports 4 people were found dead in Port au Prince at the end of the day and the rioters had sacked the Ministry of Agriculture, the Faculty of Agriculture, looted banks, destroyed newspaper offices, broadcasting centres, factories, businesses, shops and torched many private homes.
Chaos, anarchy, disorder reigned all day in a capital once again in the hands of armed gangs. Three Police Inspectors signed a statement calling policemen to put on their uniform complete with identity tag, return to the police stations and resume their service to defend the people and restore order. Eventually with great difficulty the police managed to impose a 6pm to 6am curfew.
As I write two US Hercules have landed at Port au Prince airport and tomorrow we expect to see the deployment of the first American contingent. France has promised to send 1,500 troops. Brazilian troops have arrived to defend the Brazilian embassy in Haiti and all Latin American residents in the country. The rebels say they will enter Port au Prince tonight or at the latest tomorrow morning. They should have no more reasons to fight since their objective to oust the President has been reached. Clashes are feared between the armed gangs and the UN Marines deployed to dissuade any fighting in the coming days. Perhaps this marks the beginning of Haiti’s return to normality, but not without difficulty, although the sound of shooting is heard even now under the curfew. The fact that we are here without heroism but with realism, which the situation demands, finds its deepest meaning in our determination and constant effort to help the most vulnerable people with projects of emergency aid and development. We continue to prepare to put them into practice as soon as the situation guarantees a minimum of security necessary for us to operate. It should not be long now”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 1/3/2004, righe 50 parole 692)