Gonaives, Haiti, March 20 ? Gérard Latortue, Haiti’s new prime minister, appeared publicly with rebel leaders in this crumbling
port city on Saturday, seeking to close the chapter on months of violent upheaval that forced the recent departure of President
The trip was Mr. Latortue’s first outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince, since he was appointed to lead an interim government last
week, and the event resonated with symbolism. The armed rebellion that shoved Mr. Aristide into exile on Feb. 29 sprung from
here. So did the slave revolts that shuffled off Napoleon’s rule in 1804, and the rebellion that led to the fall of the dictator
Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986.
“From today on we will be celebrating our 200th anniversary of independence,” Mr. Latortue, who is from Gonaïves, told a crowd
of thousands who packed the town’s sun-baked central plaza. “We think there will be a lot of change in Gonaïves and in Haiti.”
Mr. Latortue and his cabinet, which he installed this week, are trying to send a clear message of stability after several months of
bloody revolt and three years of a corrupt Aristide administration that have left the public sector in tatters and exhausted the
With Haiti’s national police department barely functioning, rebels have assumed de facto control in several cities, including
Gonaïves where, in early February, they quickly dispersed an anemic police contingent and destroyed the police station.
An American-led multinational task force of about 2,800 troops, based in Port-au-Prince, has begun to deploy detachments in
Haiti’s hinterlands. But rebel leaders said in interviews on Saturday that they plan to keep their weapons until the national police
department was strong enough to protect the citizens.
Mr. Latortue and his retinue, dressed casually in open-necked shirts and slacks, arrived here in two United States Army Black
Hawk helicopters and a Chinook transport helicopter flown by American troops. He was greeted by a rebel army commander in a
suit and tie who presented him a carved wooden key to the city.
Mr. Latortue, who has vowed to lead a nonpartisan government until elections can be held, hailed the rebels as “freedom
fighters” and said he felt overjoyed to be among residents of Gonaïves. “I feel at home,” he said. “I see them, I know them.”
Then the government officials and their bodyguards, and rebel commanders and their bodyguards, jumped in a convoy of S.U.V.’s
and sped through dusty streets jammed with pedestrians, bicycles and bleating mopeds.
The tableau reconstituted itself on a concrete stage in the city’s plaza where the government’s representatives and rebel
commanders stood shoulder to shoulder. Among the rebels was Jean-Pierre Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, who was freed
in a jail break in August while serving a life sentence for his participation in a massacre of Aristide supporters in 1994.
Wynter Étienne, a rebel chief who has been the self-declared mayor here since the revolt began, told the crowd that the guerrillas
“have done a great thing by providing security to the population.”
Gonaïves suffered an untold number of suspected political murders during the last Aristide administration; many have been
blamed on chimères, thugs who punished Mr. Aristide’s opponents.
As the crowd chanted for chimères to be arrested, the minister of justice and public security, Bernard Gousse, said, “I want all
criminals to be judged.” Government officials have not specified how they plan to treat rebels who are arrested.
Mr. Latortue also promised a series of public works projects for this impoverished and decrepit city.
In a lunchtime ceremony, the rebels handed over 13 military assault rifles yet reiterated their vow to keep most of their weapons
until the government could provide a robust police force throughout Haiti. Many rebel soldiers here are members of the former
Cannibal Army, a gang once loyal to Mr. Aristide.
About 140 troops of the French Foreign Legion arrived in Gonaïves on Friday and have conducted several showy but noninvasive
Guy Philippe, 36, the personable, media-smart rebel leader whom American officials suspect of being a drug trafficker, said in an
interview before Mr. Latortue’s arrival that he would put his forces under the prime minister’s orders.
“For us, it’s officially the end of hostilities with Mr. Aristide’s guys,” Mr. Philippe said as he waited for the helicopters to arrive.
He said he had no political ambitions and that he would be devoting himself to development projects with a nongovernmental