Scale of American 'invasion'stuns the Haitian generals

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The Independent Online
JUST a few days earlier, Sergeant Amos Brown of the US Army might have had to slit Decamps Delmon's throat. But on Thursday, Private Delmon of the Haitian armed forces smiled broadly as Sgt Brown, a diminutive black man, defied the weight of his flak-jacket and full-camouflage combat gear to dance with a young Haitian girl.

The spontaneous party, at which passing musicians sang 'We're glad to see the Americans', in French-Creole, took place outside the terminal building of Port-au-Prince airport, now a US base. Sgt Brown joked in Creole with a crowd of several hundred gathered beside the barbed wire. Here, the Americans were welcome. But that was not the case everywhere - and the welcome may not be indefinite.

Sgt Brown was born in Haiti and left for the US as a teenager. His parents, brothers and sisters live here, but the initial secrecy of his mission meant that he could not tell them he was coming. His presence now seemed certain to filter back to them rapidly via tele-diol (tele-mouth), the local version of bush telegraph.

The little airport would have been the first objective of US assault troops at H-hour, 0001 last Monday, when Sgt Brown's orders were to shoot anyone who was shooting, or in a position to shoot, at him or his buddies. Had 29-year-old Private Delmon not run for his life at the sight of midnight parachutes and the clatter of helicopters, he would undoubtedly have been one of the first Haitians to die.

Now, as a result of US envoy Jimmy Carter's last-minute deal that reversed the invasion forces, Private Delmon shook Sgt Brown's hand and said: 'He is my brother. I'm glad he's here.'

'I would have done what I had to do,' said the Haitian-American infantryman. 'That's the name of the game. But now my job is sort of public relations. I just want the people to realise we are not the enemy.'

On Friday, an even bigger crowd cheered the Americans, this time turning the party into a demonstration in favour of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The crowd carried a huge multi-coloured papier-mache cock, the so-called Kok Kalite (Quality Fighting Cock) that is Mr Aristide's symbol.

The Americans' presence, with about 12,000 servicemen and women in place yesterday, has become something of a circus for Haitians.

The little airport has become the favourite destination for a day out, with thousands filing along the perimeter fence, gazing in curiosity at the well-equipped troops, many of them black, and their Bradley fighting vehicles still sand-coloured from Desert Storm.

Around the Americans' other main base at the harbour, unemployed Haitians - only 20 per cent of Haitians have regular jobs - gaze at the US troops as though they are from another planet. The troops were too late to save one man yesterday, though, who was critically injured by a policeman who attacked him with a machete. And they were not visible outside the military headquarters when police fired tear-gas at demonstrators who were demanding the resignation of one of the leaders of the coup against Fr Aristide, General Raoul Cedras. Four men were taken to police headquarters.

The clatter of helicopters, from Blackhawk assault craft to big Chinook transport choppers, shakes Port-au-Prince's wooden gingerbread houses, and the drone of C5 and C130 transport planes has become a constant backdrop, drowning out the noise of the capital's packed and gaily painted tap-tap cabs during the day and continuing into the night.

The Americans may have come in the easy way, but they have come in massively. The generals who succumbed to Mr Carter's persuasions are said to be stunned by the extent of the intervention.

Essentially, the US forces have taken over the physical running of the country. 'A quantum change,' was how the US embassy spokesman, Stanley Schrager, put it.

More than 500 US military policemen have begun to direct traffic in the bustling capital, partly to ensure that convoys of US vehicles get through and do not get lost. These MPs have also moved men into Haitian police precinct buildings in an attempt to change the traditional habit of bullying to the point of brutality. US Special Forces units also began spreading around the countryside yesterday, and into the towns of Cap-Hatien, Gonaves and Jacmel, aiming to give residents a sense of security in face of the corrupt and ruthless local police chiefs in more than 500 police 'sections'.

The proximity of the Americans has given the exiled President Aristide's supporters unheard-of confidence. Lt-Col Serge Bourdeau, Haiti's air force chief (that puts him in charge of 100 men and a bunch of rusting Cessna light touring aircraft) told journalists that, since the arrival of the Americans, he was being sworn at and told to quit by demonstrators every time he drove from his own headquarters.

Though many welcome the Americans, some simply accept them, and others are not at all pleased. Aubelin Joliceur, a 73-year-old journalist, writer and former information minister, has founded a newspaper called Le Resistant to fight the American 'occupation'. A jaunty cane-wielding prototype for Graham Greene's character Petitpierre in The Comedians, Mr Joliceur predicted General Cedras would run for president in the November 1995 elections, on an anti-American ticket, with his fellow coup leader General Philippe Biamby.

Some observers here believe that such a move may have been quietly agreed between the generals and the former US Chief of Staff, General Colin Powell, during the dramatic US mission here last weekend. 'Don't forget, Aristide was always against the Americans before the coup,' said Mr Joliceur. 'This is Carter's revenge. Aristide may never come back. He's afraid of being killed.'

After arriving in Haiti yesterday the US Defense Secretary, William Perry, said Fr Aristide now planned to return to the country as soon as possible after 15 October, setting back the 15 October outside limit announced by Fr Aristide earlier for his reappearance.

(Photograph omitted)

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