A year ago, Louissant Nesly was afraid to so much as glance in the direction of his local police station, for fear of drawing a beating by the uniformed thugs who controlled Haiti. Now he is in training here to be a policeman himself.
"I know what bad policing is like," said Nesly, 30, explaining why he is one of 435 Haitians at Guantanamo who volunteered for training. The U.S. Justice Department, which is running the operation, says it hopes to train a total of 800 people.
Nesly fled Haiti last month on a makeshift boat, hoping to start a new life in the United States. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter intercepted him, and he was brought to a holding camp here sheltering about 14,000 Haitians, with the intention that they would be allowed to return to Haiti after U.S. pressure drove out the military leaders who had ousted Haiti's elected president in 1991.
Faced with an imminent U.S. invasion, Haiti's generals agreed to step aside by Oct. 15 in favor of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is in exile in Washington. And a growing number of Haitians here, buoyed by the presence of U.S. troops in Haiti to keep order during the transition, are choosing to abandon the hot, dusty tent city for their homeland.
Like Nesly, many will return as police officers. Gay Jean-Michelet, 34, said his best friend was killed by plainclothes police thugs. That inspired him to enter the police training program.
"The police in Haiti are not trained in civility," he said. "But the Americans must understand that we want real work. We are not toys. We want to be real policemen."
However, the vast majority of Haitians are not prepared to return to Haiti in any capacity, at least not until Aristide returns to the country as scheduled next month, and the military coup leaders are stripped of power.
"I'm staying here until I'm certain the country is secure," said Francoise Gabrielle, 36, who still bears the scars under her left eye of an encounter with police that caused her to flee Haiti in a sailboat in July.
Despite the U.S. pledge to disarm the security forces that have terrorized Haiti since the coup three years ago, the majority of refugees interned here on Cuba's southeast coast have not decided whether to stay or go.
Here they are covered by canvas and fed three times a day, and they spend long hours fighting boredom and depression. At home, especially if they lived in the countryside and beyond the reach of U.S. soldiers, they could be fighting for their lives.
"Those who go now are taking a chance," said Mettelus Dumerci, 37. "What happens after Aristide leaves office in a few months?"
Aristide's term officially ends in February, 1996.
Many of those who have volunteered for the 180-mile ride home aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter say they found life here even worse than in Haiti.
"The state I'm in, I have to go," said Duradis Presler, 25. "The food, the smelly latrines--I'm going crazy."
The Clinton Administration hopes that all the Haitians interned here choose to return, for whatever reason. It has vowed that neither the Haitians nor the 30,000 Cubans quartered in a nearby tent city will enter the United States from Guantanamo.
But camp officials, both U.S. military chiefs and Haitians elected by their fellow refugees, admit that many are prepared to endure the harsh life of boredom here in hopes of a policy change by the Administration.
Remy Avril, 36, an elected member of the Camp No. 6 Council, says his goal is to reach the United States.
"When all those who want to go back are there, then a small group of us will remain," he said. "By being a leader here, we are showing the Americans we would make good citizens."
If there is to be a waiting game, American officials here hope that they will win it.
"We let the camp leaders watch the news on TV," said Army Col. Dan Watkins, who oversees the Haitian camp. "And when they see Aristide back in Haiti, that may change their minds."
So far there have been no reports of reprisals in Haiti against those who have chosen to return. But for many in the camps, that's not good enough.
"I'll stay here for the rest of my life," said Francois Colas, 33. "That's a long time, but I don't want to get killed."