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a65: Dec. 17: Miami Herald article (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(Miami Herald, 19 Dec 01)
Haiti opposition leaders in hiding after palace attack
Aristide foes: Coup was a ruse
BY NANCY SAN MARTIN
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Opposition leaders remained in hiding Tuesday after
supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide responded to a reported
attempt a day earlier with a rampage against government opponents.
The palace was pockmarked with bullet holes, and television broadcasts
showed scenes of destruction inside the building that resulted from the
hours long gunfight early Monday morning. The capital, however, was
surprisingly free of tension Tuesday as shops reopened and the customary
chaotic traffic returned to the streets.
The few opposition leaders available to speak with reporters insisted the
attack on the palace was an elaborate charade designed to establish a
pretext to crack down on Aristide's opponents.
``There is something very strange about this announcement of a coup
so strange that nobody understands it,'' said Suzy Castor, wife of
opposition leader Gerard Pierre Charles. Their home in Petionville was
among those attacked. ``Everybody is asking themselves, `What coup?' ''
Castor said her husband had been out of the country at a gathering of
leaders and was due back in Port-au-Prince Monday. But flights were
canceled and he has not be able to return, she said.
She is convinced the attack by Aristide supporters was calculated. ``They
came specifically looking for this house. They were armed and they had
walkie-talkies that they were using to listen to orders.''
At least eight homes and buildings were torched and ransacked in
Port-au-Prince. A handful more were stormed by mobs across the country. A
full tally of damage has not yet been confirmed, but there is a common
thread among those structures that were targets: Most were linked with
Aristide's political opponents.
``The so-called coup d'etat was a masquerade,'' opposition leader Evans
Paul told The Associated Press. The former Port-au-Prince mayor's party
headquarters were destroyed Monday -- for the third time in 10 years --
Aristide was not at the palace early Monday morning, when authorities say
33 heavily armed men shot and killed two police officers and took over
wing of the building for seven hours before they fled. Two passersby were
shot by fleeing attackers.
Aristide, in what he called a ``message of peace'' following the
said Monday: ``We have thwarted the coup, but it's not all over.''
Paul, who was Aristide's campaign manager in 1990 but now is a leader in
the opposition coalition, pointed to what he called the ``absurdity'' of
men attacking the palace, which is guarded by hundreds of police
He also said it is widely known that Aristide rarely spends the night
Authorities said one of the attackers was killed in a gun battle at the
palace in central Port-au-Prince and a wounded gunman was captured at a
roadblock near the border with the Dominican Republic. The rest escaped.
Castor said the attack on her home occurred around 9:30 a.m. and lasted
about three hours, despite the presence of police who had been called to
the scene. The family had left because word had spread that they were in
A group of about 100, including boys, attacked the two-story property
tossing Molotov cocktails over a high steel fence. Some had guns. Others
Inside, windows were shattered. Two vehicles blew up in flames. When it
over, everything was gone, including TV sets, clothes, even beds. Plants
were chopped in half. Books were reduced to smoldering ashes.
Aristide and the political opposition, the Democratic Convergence, have
been locked in a yearlong dispute based on accusations of electoral
The dispute has undermined the legitimacy of Aristide's government in the
view of some international organizations and prevented foreign aid from
reaching the country.
Castor and others cited the absence of any sign of heightened security on
the streets of the capital as evidence that the events of Monday were
staged and that the government felt itself under no genuine threat of