Aristide's Task: To Smooth Ups and Downs of Haiti from the Poor at the Port to the Rich in the Hills, Haitians Look to Their Restored Leader for Progress

Article excerpt

HAITI is a country of up and down. Mountains define this small island nation - geographically, sociologically, politically, and economically. The equation is simple: Some people are up, most are down.

This is true everywhere in Haiti, but it is played out most dramatically here in the nation's capital. The poor live near the port, where the houses and the air are close and hot. The rich live up the hill in a suburb called Petionville, where trees provide shade from the hot sun.

So when Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide urges reconciliation, as he did this week in his dramatic return after three years of exile, he is trying to bridge the country's largest social divide. It is not the coming together of the political right and left, but the more slippery slope where the rich reach down and the poor reach up. Roughly 1 percent of Haiti's elite control more than 44 percent of the country's wealth.

Near the port of Port-au-Prince, Wilfred Athenis stands in the city dump. Behind him, kneeling children and bent-over adults pick through a sea of paper, cardboard, and plastic, looking for the remains of United States military meals. The lucky ones will find a plastic pouch of half-eaten beef stew or chicken a la king. Yet Mr. Athenis remains optimistic.

"It's a big celebration for us," he says. "The country was in a terrible state without President Aristide. Already, since the Americans {came} the country has changed ... for the better."

Athenis, a former corporal in the Haitian Army, has not worked in three years. He lost his position after his contract ran out.

Yolande Polydor, who lives a few blocks from the water, hasn't had work in the last three years either. "I would like to work as a secretary," she says. But a year after completing 10 years of studies, she has found no work. "I want a change for all the sectors of society," she says.

On Oct. 17, Marie Lanouse D'Haiti and Jacques Corvington Blaise craned their necks for a glimpse of their president, who, speaking at a commemorative ceremony, called for reconciliation as he has repeatedly since September.

What does Aristide's Oct. 15 return to power mean? "It's a change," says Mr. Blaise, who before the coup worked as a bank clerk in Port-au-Prince, but has not worked since.

Is reconciliation really possible?

"If they want reconciliation, we want it too," Ms. …