Fear is their captor / Soldiers keep townspeople quiet— and outsiders at bay

USA Today
May 23, 1994, Monday, Final Edition
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 5A
LENGTH: 503 words
DATELINE: GONAIVES, Haiti

Fear reigns in this stronghold of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and it doesn’t take long for a visitor to notice.

Neither the soldier nor the paramilitary “attache” at the checkpoint have time for small talk. They have just one question and are determined to repeat it until they get the answer they want.

“What is your mission here?”

The answer – just to look around and see the effect of the international embargo on Haiti – isn’t good enough.

To the junta running Haiti, the less contact people in places like Gonaives have with the outside world, the easier it seems to control and terrorize.

In this coastal town about 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince, people living in slums, most of them followers of Aristide, know when to talk and when not.

They are hesitant to even drift outside, staying inside their small, tattered shacks like prisoners.

Delivery of humanitarian aid from groups like CARE and UNICEF – often the chief means of survival for the people of Gonaives – is routinely thwarted by the authorities.

“The police are always around. They will not allow us to talk with white people,” says Emmanule Adeclara, 25.

Civilian observers meet frustration in efforts to investigate reports of a massacre here of 78 people by police, military and gunmen loyal to the junta – and to follow up on similar reports in other parts of Haiti. Uncooperative authorities, checkpoints, roadblocks and, occasionally, arrests hinder their mission.

“It (the massacre) spread like a fire,” says Adeclara. “The police were shooting everywhere. People were just attacked.”

Nearby where the reported massacre occurred, fear among residents here is even higher.

“Something happened and I don’t know anything about it,” insists Antonite Federlis, an elderly woman. In fact, she says she knows nothing at all about the killings.

“Please, don’t bring them here,” Federlis says, meaning the police.

Earlier this month, the joint United Nations-Organization of American States mission here said the military has maintained “a virtual state of siege” in parts of northern Haiti – an area that begins in this city – since April 7.

More than 200 slayings have reportedly occurred this year, in a new wave of repression against Aristide backers.

But this time the terror has reportedly expanded to include:

— Systematic rapes, usually wives or relatives of men on the run. Last Thursday, the United Nations accused the junta of using rape as a political weapon. The junta did not respond.

— Kidnapping of activists’ children.

— Remote prisons to hold and torture backers of Aristide.

— Mutilation of bodies before dumping them in public places.

The bodies are often deliberately left where, by morning, dogs and pigs will have begun gnawing on the corpses.

“Things that were unheard of even under the worst days of the Duvalier regime are occurring on a daily basis,” says Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Western Hemisphere panel, after a trip to Haiti this spring.