Americans in Haiti nervously wait out political crisis


PORT-AU-PRINCE -- As an attorney for the National Coalition of Haitian Refugees, it has been Anne Fuller's mission to help Haitians flee this violent, impoverished nation.

Now, it is she and her family who may feel forced to abandon Haiti.

"I'm nervous," Mrs. Fuller said. "Since [last week] I have hardly been out of the house."

She said she does not want to leave Haiti. But she would be prepared to do whatever necessary to protect her family.

Ann Weller, a Catholic nun, has worked in Haiti for three years and runs a guest house for church officials working in Haiti. She said that she only leaves the house to shop and she refuses to go downtown. However, she and her three nun co-workers have no plans to leave Haiti.

"We all talked, and we decided we are permanent fixtures here," she said. "We're not just in business here. We are family.

"If things get scary, then we will be needed much more."

There are 1,000 Americans living in Haiti and 7,000 people with dual nationality. Many of them have stayed close to home since last week, when Haiti's military leaders snubbed an agreement to restore democracy, and their supporters vowed to kill supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as well as foreigners who continue to push for Mr. Aristide's return.

Human rights workers and diplomats stationed in rural areas around the country have abandoned their posts. The United Nations human rights monitors have been sent to the neighboring Dominican Republic, while many private charity groups have called their representatives home.

However, Gordon Zook, a representative of the Mennonite Central Committee, said that most of its workers remain out in the countryside. "It's not that they feel safe, but they feel safer out there than they do in Port-au-Prince," he said. "Out there, they are known, and they have friends and neighbors."

Mr. Zook has been in Haiti since 1990, and he has learned how to make it through these violent times. "We are not going out at night, and we don't go to many of the open markets downtown."

"You journalists are safe," one American international development director said. "But it's not good for people like me to be out past dark.

"It's not really that safe in the daytime, either," he added.

Street toughs, associated with the police and military, have been held responsible for the assassination of two key Aristide supporters.

Antoine Izmery, a prominent businessman, was dragged out of a church and shot in the head last month. And a week ago, Justice Minister Guy Malary was shot in a hail of machine-gun fire while walking near that same church.

L Mrs. Fuller was at the mass where Antoine Izmery was killed.

"I was running out of the church when someone grabbed me and punched me," she said.

The U.N. pullout after noisy pro-military protests a week ago bothers some Americans.

"We were very disturbed by the U.N.'s departure. It was a very bad move," said Jonathan Bennett, Mrs. Fuller's husband and a free-lance journalist. "It was the wrong signal to send at the wrong moment. The attaches were emboldened by such an easy victory."

He added, "A lot of people [here] became aware that Washington and other capitals around the world are not taking a stand."

President Clinton responded to the threats against Americans by sending some 300 Marines to nearby Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to stand by for possible rescue duty.

Earlier this week, Ambassador Anthony C. Quainton visited to reassure the American community.

"There is an increased risk to Americans," said one U.S. Embassy official. "But there is no clear threat, except for being at the wrong place at the wrong time."

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