Calm Returns to Capital of Haiti; More Officers Ousted
Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, ruling Haiti side by side with army Sgt. Joseph Hebreux, succeeded in restoring calm to the capital Thursday as the purge of old-line military officers by their own enlisted men continued.
Five days after a “sergeants’ revolt” unseated and exiled Gen. Henri Namphy, a picture began to emerge of Avril, who was acclaimed president Sunday by the noncommissioned officers, as taking cautious control but still under the watchful eyes of the enlisted men.
“Prosper Avril and Sgt. Hebreux share an office, and there is collaboration between them, but Avril can’t even answer the phone unless Hebreux is with him,” said Evans Paul, leader of the left-of-center Confederation for Democratic Unity, who met with the two men Wednesday at the presidential palace.
U.S. Ambassador Brunson McKinley also met Wednesday with Avril and Hebreux, but the embassy would not comment on the nature of their talk.
Hebreux, a 27-year-old army medical corpsman, was one of the leaders of the weekend coup that toppled the Namphy government and began what soldiers have described as a “cleansing” of the armed forces by retirement, dismissal or transfer of most senior officers.
Fellow noncoms said Hebreux was chosen to represent them in the palace because they consider him to be the smartest among them. A sketchy biography in the Port-au-Prince newspaper Le Matin said that Hebreux had attended college for two years, an unusual achievement for an enlisted man in the Haitian army.
Although activity at the palace and the armed forces headquarters across the street continued to reflect a certain frenetic aimlessness, it was evident that with most of the hated senior officers gone, normal lines of military command are being restored. Young lieutenants and captains appeared to predominate, with noncoms and privates seemingly cheerful about taking orders.
A staff sergeant at the headquarters said the aim of the enlisted men was not to replace all their officers but only to get rid of those who have been known for cruelty and corruption.
Local radio stations reported that enlisted men deposed about half a dozen more officers Thursday, after the dismissal of more than 30 Tuesday and Wednesday. The noncoms have been particularly harsh with commanders suspected of being in league with terrorists of the Tontons Macoutes, the still-active enforcers of the late Duvalier dictatorship.
“Sgt. Hebreux played a decisive role in the coup, so he must work in close collaboration with Gen. Avril,” said the staff sergeant, who declined to give his name. “But Avril is the president, and in our country he’s the supreme authority. Everyone must obey his orders.”
In one clear example of Avril’s intention to exercise power and restore law and order to what has been a chaotic situation, his minister of interior and defense, Col. Carl Dorsainville, issued a blanket warning against “vandalism and pillage,” in which both soldiers and civilians have been engaged. He said violators will be arrested and punished.
“Our impression,” a U.S. Embassy official said, “is that the situation is getting better. Today is less tense than yesterday, and yesterday was less tense than the day before.”
In another sign of a return to normalcy, a minor rebellion against the new government by some members of a small army unit in the port town of St.-Marc, north of the capital, reportedly was put down without further bloodshed after a young boy was killed Wednesday in a civilian-military clash.