PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- One evening back at the Caraibe Hotel, Yolande Solages Kirk, the manager, is slumped in her chair behind the reception desk. Like most of Haiti's rich elite she is a mulatto, but now she is paler than usual. Her eyes have a sunken, empty look. She is close to catatonic.
She runs one of the smallest hotels in the capital. It was the house in which she was born and grew up. She had married a hotelier, who saw the property's potential, and turned the home into a little gem of colonial comfort and exotic beauty, its pool surrounded by almond, mahogany and palm trees, an artificial waterfall cascading into it through colorful blossom bushes.
There she sits, among such beautiful surroundings, looking suddenly devastated.
"So many soldiers. So much green. Green everywhere. Green uniforms, green vehicles, green helicopters. Weapons, I have never seen so many weapons," she says.
She jumps out of her chair, and strikes a combat stance, her arms extended as if holding a rifle, her knees slightly bent. She jabs her arms forward aggressively, as a soldier might in attack.
Turns out she had just finished lunch at her sister's house, when the U.S. Army raided the place, looking for guns. Her brother-in-law, businessman Gerry Mourra, who runs the local tomato paste plant, and one of his sons were arrested.
In another raid, her cousins -- Romeo Haloun, bodyguard to Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and his brother, Ramses -- were also picked up. Romeo Haloun ran the "Black Ninjas," the Cedras security force that earned its name because of the black masks its members wore.
The next day, Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, commander of the 20,000 U.S. troops here, told a news briefing: "We have detained four of Haiti's top thugs/attaches/ninja chiefs and many of their accomplices."
To this day, Ms. Kirk does not know where her relatives are, except that they are in a U.S. detention center. Asked for a location at a news briefing, a U.S. official only said, "In Haiti."
'So this is democracy'
Wednesday is invaded at 6 a.m. by the sound of troops moving by the hotel. It's another of the many arms raids that have become routine around Port-au-Prince.
Two hours later there's shouting, arguing, cursing in the street. A crowd of two dozen Haitians surrounds Ms. Kirk and her elderly mother, threatening to come and deal with them, accusing her of being in bed" with General Cedras.
It is an ugly incident. The crowd eventually disperses. Ms. Kirk is indignant. Shaking with a combination of fury and fear, she says: "So this is democracy. This is what we get from your intervention. I hope you will report that to Washington."
It's easy to see why there is among the elite so much fear of a wave of "street justice" once President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns, when jubilation could so easily turn into revenge, when "La Pere Brun," the Haitian term for putting a gasoline-filled tire round someone's neck and setting it alight, could make an awful reappearance.
After paramilitary thugs broke up a showpiece pro-democracy march last Friday, killing five people, U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry promised to "blanket" the hot spots here with U.S. troops to prevent further violence.
Two journalists are making their routine rounds of the city, literally looking for trouble, when they come across a heavy armored unit, parked along the roadside, just south of Port-au-Prince.
There are 24 M-551A1 Sheridan tanks of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., dozens of support infantry, fuel trucks and ambulances.
So here is Mr. Perry's "blanket," about to descend on the city as dusk is about to fall. The troops are reluctant to discuss their operation, but they leave the firm impression that they are awaiting orders to move.
The orders come a couple of hours later. Their point of reference for deployment in the city is the United States Information Service building. The orders are precise: Be there precisely six minutes after the order to move is given.
On schedule, they roar past the information building, shaking its foundations. Inside, a half-dozen U.S. senators are holding a news conference being carried live on CNN. The questions and answers are drowned out by the passing armor. The world -- and the senators -- can hear just how busy the Army is here.
After roaring past the building, the tanks return to their base at the military airport here.
MA No "blanket." Just a costly bit of military public relations.
'Dead meat' anyway
This is a bizarre place, and, fittingly enough, this military intervention has offered more than its share of bizarre happenings.
Imagine how Stanley Schrager, the U.S. Embassy spokesman here and perhaps the best-known American in town, felt Tuesday when he arranged for the podium he normally uses at the daily news conference to be transported to the Place de Champs du Mars, the city's central square, for the convenience of Emanuel "To-To" Constant.
Mr. Constant, the leader of this country's most brutal terrorist organization, had publicly threatened to have Mr. Schrager assassinated, a threat serious enough to persuade the embassy to provide their spokesman with a bulletproof car. He was hardly the person to whom you would expect Mr. Schrager to make any gesture.
But there was Mr. Schrager, formally dressed in jacket and tie on a day when you could fry eggs on the sidewalk, providing Mr. Constant with his podium, with its built-in loudspeaker system.
Mr. Constant, leader of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a feared organization of paramilitary thugs, was about to renounce violence, and Mr. Schrager, a shrewd publicist, wanted to make sure Haitians got the message.
Thus, his offer of the podium and his satisfaction at hearing, loud and clear, the man who had threatened to kill him say: "No more violence."
U.S. officials forced the conversion from thug to democrat on Mr. Constant by telling him simply he would be "dead meat" if he didn't renounce his old, bad ways. They also felt that he might be "dead meat" anyway, a potential victim of assassination by one of his own thugs, furious at his public humiliation.
The rich life
The life of a journalist here dovetails nicely with the societal extremes that make Haiti a place of such contrasts between rich and poor.
By day, the journalist spends his or her time downtown, in the dust, dirt and depression of the poorest country in the hemisphere.
By night he heads up the hill from Port-au-Prince to Petionville, where life is a lot sweeter for the rich and privileged.
Here the restaurants offer French cuisine, which would be competitive in Paris. Onion soup or avocado vinaigrette for starters, perhaps a brochette of lobster with garlic butter or grilled red snapper to follow, a glass of wine to wash it all down.
You may have difficulty getting Alaskan smoked salmon or a piece of Camembert cheese because of the embargo, but it's hardly noticeable.
Then next morning, it's back down to the slums, where a half-cup of rice and a handful of black beans are regarded as a good meal.