Innocent driver's death stirs fear in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The murder this month of Justice Minister Guy Malary, an outspoken, widely-respected Haitian leader, shocked the world. But more than anything else, the murders of people like Antoine Tireus fuel the fear that grips this country.

And fear is the instrument of those who oppose the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.


Mr. Tireus, a 45-year-old father of five, was Mr. Malary's driver. He had worked for the Justice Department for 18 years and performed his duties no matter what political party was in power in the tumultuous politics of this destitute country.

Nearly two weeks ago, as Mr. Tireus and his newest boss were driving near a church, they were killed in a hail of machine-gun fire. Gangs of armed "attaches" have assassinated more than 100 people over the last three months, thwarting international efforts to restore Father Aristide to power.


Father Aristide, this nation's first democratically elected leader, was ousted in a bloody coup two years ago and lives in exile in the United States. Through their violent attacks, the attaches are warning Father Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, that he should stay put.

By killing innocent people like Mr. Tireus, the thugs are forcing the masses of Aristide supporters to stay quiet. Yesterday, nine bodies reportedly were found in Port-au-Prince; last week, in the capital's most wretched slum, the arms and head of a woman were found.

"People say that they killed Antoine and all he did was his job," said Lemoine Volcy, a friend of Mr. Tireus. "Now it seems it doesn't matter if you take a side or not. They will kill you just because they want to show that they have all the power."

"Guy Malary was important for this country," said a family friend who identified himself only as Jean Claude. "But Antoine was important for this family. He was their only support. He worked hard so that they could have good lives. Now they have nothing."

Inside a cathedral in the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince, Mr. Tireus' family gathered yesterday to mourn his death.

"My father, my father," screamed his 18-year-old daughter Nancy Tireus. "I will never touch him again."

Shoving through the crowd gathered around his coffin, she begged, "Just let me hold his hand."

At the beginning of the emotional ceremony, some 150 friends of the Tireus family, dressed in white or cream colored clothes, marched through the center aisle. Afterward, Mr. Tireus' relatives, all dressed in black, followed his gray plastic coffin to the altar.


Screams fill church

Their screams filled the cavernous church. But they hushed when the priest told them that crying would not help. They must pray, he said.

"We have a tough fight ahead," he said. "Many people are dying for no reason. But we have to lift our shoulders and prepare to fight."

"We want justice," demanded two young men in the back of the church. "Why doesn't God send justice?"

During an interview, Ms. Tireus worried that she and her five siblings would have no way to support themselves. With her father, she said, died her dreams.

"He told me I was going to be a doctor, and he worked hard every day so that I could go to school," she said. "He was my only treasure."


Over the last two months, she had spoken often with her father about the increasingly tense political climate and even insisted that he quit his job.

"I told him I would work and we would find another way to survive," she said. "But he would not agree."

"He told me, he was not a political man so he was not going to get hurt," Jean Claude said.

"But I knew he was in danger," Ms. Tireus interrupted. "Everyday when he left for work, I would ask God to send him home again."

That kind of fear has crippled Haiti. People on the streets refuse to openly speak their minds and they will not leave their homes after dark.

The nation's Parliament has not been able to meet because of threats against pro-Aristide legislators. Many of them have fled to the United States. Others are in hiding.


'Never walk out'

"Why should I go there?" said Sen. Rony Modestin, a pro-Aristide legislator. "I might walk into the Parliament building, but I would never walk out.

Mr. Modestin represents a party which holds 10 seats in the nation's 17-member Senate. A quorum of 11 is required to pass any legislation. "I am sure that none of my colleagues will go," he said. "They do not feel safe."

And the fear works, for the continued absence of legislators makes it even more unlikely that Father Aristide will return by Saturday, the United Nations deadline.

Under a new agreement, being discussed by Premier Robert Malval, the pro-Aristide interim leader, and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the Haiti's army chief, legislators would have to convene and pass two laws. One of the laws would separate the powers of the police and military and the other would provide amnesty to military leaders for crimes committed since the 1991 coup.

Pro-Aristide forces have refused to pass the amnesty law until they adopt the police-military law and General Cedras gives up his control of the de facto government.


Mr. Cedras has refused to resign until the amnesty law is passed. Under the proposed compromise, the two laws would be adopted simultaneously and then Mr. Cedras would resign.

"But we cannot meet and we cannot vote," Mr. Modestin said. "We are not even safe walking on the street."

To ensure their safety, Mr. Modestin said pro-Aristide legislators would only agree to meet if military leaders, including General Cedras, attend their sessions. "I will only feel safe if they are there," he said.

So, the politicians and their constituents share a common anxiety, and a large measure of hopelessness.

"Everyday I wake up and nothing is better for me," Ms. Tireus said. "People get killed by robbers or they get killed because of the political crisis. Our they just die because they have no more dreams."

Even President Aristide, seen by many as the only hope for a peaceful Haiti, cannot make her feel secure. "Can he be with me to protect me all the time? I don't even think he will be able to protect himself."