CROIX DES BOUQUETS, HAITI — CROIX DES BOUQUETS, Haiti -- On the first day of the toughest embargo yet against Haiti, people around the country braced themselves and began discussing how they would survive.
People on the streets appeared calm in this area just south of Port-au-Prince, but in schools and churches community leaders met and worried out loud about dwindling supplies of food and medicine.
Threats against foreigners seem to have subsided as the country concentrated on dealing with the blockade, which made its first intercept yesterday afternoon. But a team of 600 Marines remain at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ready to rescue an estimated 1,000 Americans and some 7,000 Haitian-Americans.
Army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras thwarted the Oct. 30 return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by not resigning last week. But Father Aristide's return, sought by the United Nations, is not universally welcomed at home.
Nicole Dieudonne, for one, knows that the Roman Catholic priest was overwhelmingly chosen as the nation's first freely elected leader, but she does not care if he ever comes back.
Nor does she want to see General Cedras and the other right-wing military leaders who forced him out of office maintain their illegal grip on power.
Taking sides can be fatal here, she says. All she really wants is an end to the starvation that has for years crippled Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest nation.
"We are not fighting with anybody," she says, sitting in the middle of a mess hall that would normally be filled with some 600 children. "This is between Aristide and the army. The whole country should not perish for Cedras and Aristide."
Mrs. Dieudonne heads a food program that feeds some 1,200 children each day in the Croix des Bouquets area. Yesterday the kitchen doors were locked shut because Father Aristide called for Haitians to observe three days of mourning for slain Justice Minister Guy Malary.
Programs in danger
She says the programs are in danger because widespread violence and robbery by bands of renegade army soldiers has made the delivery of food and medicine tricky and perilous.
"It's a sin," she said. "If we keep the program open when Aristide wants mourning, then his supporters might come and burn down our kitchen.
"And then if we try to bring food to the children from Port-au-Prince, the army may steal it or burn it in protest."
The U.N. embargo will not help the situation, she and other representatives of charitable groups say. The embargo, which was voted on last week after the military reneged on plans to resign in favor of Father Aristide, is meant to starve Haiti's army of fuel and weapons to force the exiled president's return.
However, it may be Haiti's poor who are most isolated by the blockade. Without fuel, there will be no way to deliver goods from the capital to rural areas. Already stranded in Port-au-Prince are several thousand tons of food meant to feed close to 1 million poor Haitians.
"Many of my kids don't have any other meal except the one we give to them," Mrs. Dieudonne says.
"The embargo is going to kill more people than the military ever could," interrupted the Rev. Esaie Dieudonne, pastor at the Bethel Church and Mrs. Dieudonne's brother-in-law. "People will starve because there will be no food. Or they will not have medicine and they will die of disease."
Speaking of the U.S. and Canadian warships that surround Haiti to enforce the blockade, Mr. Dieudonne added, "Why would the United States send ships to kill people. They say they want to help us."
Grocery stores remain well-stocked. But goods there are priced well out of reach of average Haitians who earn about $1 per day.
Mrs. Dieudonne said the price of four ounces of milk jumped in one day, as the embargo took effect, from two cents to 20 cents. Baby cereal went from 40 cents to $1.
Haiti staggered through nearly two years of a partially effective regional embargo put in place just after the Sept. 30, 1991, coup that overthrew Father Aristide. But when a nearly total international boycott was imposed in June, General Cedras caved in and signed a U.N.-brokered peace accord that included his resignation by last Friday.
The reimposition of the June embargo is the strongest international effort, since it calls for a naval quarantine.
The first intercept of the blockade occurred about 2 p.m. yesterday, when the U.S. frigate Klakring stopped a Belize-flagged ship, the San Antonia, carrying cement from Colombia.
Cement is not an embargoed item but the ship's captain told searchers that he had decided to skip Haiti anyway and deliver his cargo elsewhere.
Warships off coast
The six U.S. Navy warships in the flotilla were stationed three miles off Haiti's coast, well within sight of police and military authorities. "We think visibility is important," U.S. embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager told reporters.
U.S. Navy officials are calling the embargo effort "Operation Support Democracy." Capt. William Fidyk, who commands the embargo fleet, said up to six boardings a day are expected.
Most of the sailors who will board ships are experienced in enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq or in Caribbean anti-drug duties, carry .45-caliber revolvers and wear bulletproof vests.
IN THE SENATE
The Senate rejected last night a Republican-led attempt to prohibit U.S. troops from serving under foreign commanders without advance congressional approval, but some lawmakers remained determined to curtail President Clinton's military authority. The White House was negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole on amendments that called for congressional authorization for the use of the military in Haiti and Bosnia- Herzegovina. Page 18A