Haitian Uprising Unites Onetime Enemies
By MICHAEL NORTON
Associated Press Writer
The rebel leader in the largest city under the militants’ control, for example, was part of a gang that was attacking Aristide opponents and setting fire to their homes just a year ago.
Today Wilfort Ferdinand, 27, is the rebel-appointed police chief of
At least 42 people, including several police officers, have been killed.
“We with weapons are few in numbers, but we have the support of the people and are therefore invincible!” boasted Ferdinand, brandishing an M-16 assault weapon.
His ragtag militia is getting some unexpected help from former soldiers of an army that Aristide disbanded in 1995, four years after soldiers ousted him and he was restored to power. At least 50 of the ex-soldiers, heavily armed and dressed in old fatigues, have been operating for a year outside
It is unclear how many are in
The military, which has staged some 30 coups, traditionally supported an elite that for decades subjugated the poor majority among
Aristide, who was restored to power by a
But he has lost support as violence has escalated in the wake of flawed legislative elections. International donors have frozen aid and increasingly miserable Haitians have watched a new and corrupt elite of “gran manje” or “fat cats” emerge.
“Aristide has enriched himself and his cronies while we are starving to death,” said student leader Philippe Dormessan. “All classes of society are united in saying he must go.”
Unarmed groups like his have helped man barricades and kept watch at night against any attempt at a counteroffensive by police and Aristide supporters.
The disparity in the ideologies of those leading and supporting the uprising is mirrored in an opposition coalition of political parties, civic, business and human rights groups that include one-time Aristide supporters, coup supporters and students who were barely in their teens when the 1991 coup was staged.
The coalition has distanced itself from the rebels, denouncing the violence.
Ferdinand and other gang members say Aristide armed them to terrorize political enemies, and accuse the government of ordering Metayer’s killing to prevent him publishing allegedly damaging information about the president. The government denies all involvement with the gang.
For some, choosing sides has become a matter of survival.
“I voted for Aristide,” said garage mechanic Jules Auguste. “And I regret it beyond words.”
Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press