Haiti's elite haunted by fear of revenge: Supporters of the embattled military regime dread a bloody repeat of 1791 when tormented slaves massacred their rich masters

THE American ambassador to Haiti denounced them as 'the morally repugnant elite' and now they call themselves defiantly - if just a shade nervously - 'the MREs'.

They are wealthy Haitians listed as supporting the military coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, whose bank accounts in the United States are frozen and American visas withdrawn. Sanctions have closed their factories and crippled their businesses.

At a dinner of small oysters from the south coast of Haiti followed by lobster fillet steaks, on the patio of a villa in Petionville overlooking Port-au-Prince, a group of MREs aired their grievances. Eloquent about the failings of American foreign policy, few felt responsible for the crisis.

'It's not that I care much about the dollars 6,200 ( pounds 4,130) they froze in my Miami bank account,' said a thick-set businessman who deals in building materials, 'but it is so unfair that my name is on the list. I did nothing to support the coup.' Others feared that if Fr Aristide returns, his supporters may take revenge on those identified by the US Embassy as supporters of the coup.

They have a lot to lose. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. In the shanty towns of Gite Soleil and Little Tokyo in Port-au-Prince, people sleep 10 to a room in shacks made out of corrugated iron and breeze blocks. Lanes are often blocked by dark grey pools of raw sewage.

The well-off - given local wage levels, it does not take great wealth to employ three or four servants - mostly live in and around Petionville, a large suburb of Port- au-Prince built along a steep road that zigzags into the mountains above the capital. The biggest hotels, the Montana and El Rancho, are here, as are the mansions of the richest families, protected by high walls and private guards.

Many MREs feel distaste for the Haitian army commander, General Raoul Cedras, and the Port-au-Prince police chief, Colonel Michel Francois. But their stake in the status quo is deep, and fear of retribution is pervasive. The best-remembered event in Haitan history took place in August 1791, when the slaves rose up and slaughtered 1,000 plantation owners and their families. Fears are deepened by racial differences. Wealthy Haitians are largely mulatto and known as 'Les Blancs' by most Haitians, who are black. At the dinner party in Petionville, a white businessman joked that a US immigration official had automatically listed him as black because of his Haitian passport.

If an American intervention force does land, it will wish to preserve the social status quo. American policy towards General Cedras for the past three years has been ambiguous. Washington dislikes Fr Aristide as a left-wing priest almost as much as it does the men who overthrew him. 'The factory owners now want the Americans to protect them,' an American woman who has lived long in Petionville said.

But the latest round of sanctions, the cancellation of visas and of all but a few foreign flights, has frightened the Haitian elite. A sign of their mounting paranoia is that the publication of the first list of MREs by the US embassy spawned two more supplementary lists. 'This is because everybody who was on the first list of coup supporters suspected some other Haitian of having denounced them,' explained a Haitian observer, 'so they all contacted the embassy to denounce whoever they thought had denounced them as an MRE. Hence the new lists.'

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the Haitian elite. Many are genuinely astonished that anybody, especially the US ambassador should hold them responsible for the coup, or for the terror spread by the death squads. They warn of Marxist priests around Fr Aristide.

'Do you know that some of the priests close to him were trained in Belgium?' asked a businessman in a hushed voice, as if a Belgian seminary were the Comintern.

No doubt there are Haitians who feel that a return to 1791 is exactly what is needed. A radical priest said he asked his cook about an amnesty for Gen Cedras. She replied: 'Not until we have fried them all in oil in a pan.' But the poor have suffered more from the embargo than the rich. They live on bananas and bread fruit. For the moment at least, their thoughts are less on vengeance than on survival.

Nowhere to run, page 15

Peter Pringle, page 15

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect