US Troops in Southern Haiti Town Face Showdown with Local Military after Precarious Dealings with a Haitian Colonel, US Special Forces Work out a Deal, but Then an American Soldier Is Shot at Midnight
Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
AS United States troops fan out across the country, Haiti is greeting them with a mix of open smiles and clenched fists.
After days of open embrace by the population of Les Cayes, a seaport near the tip of Haiti's southern peninsula, a US soldier was shot around midnight Sunday, by one of two men who approached him. It was the first action against US soldiers in Haiti since the incident in Cap-Haitien on Sept. 24, where gunmen threatened to fire and US troops responded, killing 10 Haitians.
Sunday's shooting here illustrates the roller-coaster ride that Haiti represents for US troops. Unlike more peaceful deployments in other southern cities such as Jacmel and Petit-Goave, Les Cayes has been an on-again-off-again tinderbox since US troops arrived on Sept. 27.
Tensions began a few hours before their arrival. Haitian Lt. Col. Evens Gedeon told his subordinates he wanted to defend his barracks against US troops. (The United States, not wanting to surprise Haitian officials, has been alerting them when and where its teams are going.) "He was very afraid that they would disarm his soldiers," says Haitian Lt. Eddy Desrosiers.
By 10 a.m., Lieutenant Desrosiers and Maj. Joseph Miracle Ira had persuaded the colonel not to take hostile action. Two hours later, 37 men of the US Army 3rd Special Forces Group landed in Les Cayes and drove immediately to the barracks.
"It was very tense," recalls US Capt. Robert Bevelacqua of his first meeting with Colonel Gedeon. "He didn't want to look me in the eye."
The US troops set up in the Haitian military compound. Ge-deon, who was commander of Haiti's southern military district, drove to Port-au-Prince to confer with senior officials of the Haitian Armed Forces (FAHD).
About two hours later, tensions increased further. A US soldier alerted Captain Bevelacqua that behind the military barracks was a prison full of malnourished Haitians.
The captain, finding gross human-rights violations at the prison, met with the Haitian colonel's subordinates that night to talk about the situation. "They never monitored it," the captain says. "I told them they had 24 hours to fix it."
Bevelacqua went to sleep. Gedeon returned from Port-au-Prince. The next morning, US Brig. Gen. Richard Potter arrived with the FADH inspector general and three FADH colonels to view the prison. When General Potter saw the conditions, Bevelacqua recalls, he turned angrily to the Haitian officials and told them: "We cannot allow human beings to be treated like that." Gedeon, who did not attend the meeting, paced back and forth outside. …