IN THE AFTERMATH OF Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's flight into exile, a jubilant mob attacked and destroyed the tomb of Duvalier's father, Franc,ois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, whose call to "black pride" had been a Haitian rallying cry three decades earlier. From a neighboring tomb, the decomposed remains of Gracia Jacques, the long-deceased chief of the hated presidential guard, were dragged into the street and set on fire.
A stucco statue of Papa Doc holding hands with his infant son was crushed into slivers on the street housing the U.S. Embassy. Official portraits of Duvalier junior, dubbed Baby Doc, and his wife, Michelle Bennett, were ripped from lampposts along the capital's tree-lined boulevards. On the street corners vendors did a good business selling brightly colored red-and-blue "Haiti Libre'" T-shirts.
"It's like a festival of independence for Haiti!," shouted one of the celebrants in front of the presidential palace. Another carried a placard that read, in Cre'ole: "Now I have my freedom!"
This spontaneous reaction to the demise of two generations of Duvalier rule was not unexpected after 29 years of official repression and brutality, of mass arrests and mass exiles, of disappearances and murders. But to understand the often violent, sometimes gruesome direction the outburst took, it helps to understand the convulsions that were tearing at Haitian society and setting the stage for a full-scale, if unorganized, popular revolution.
Haiti has always been characterized as two societies, a wealthy, mostly light-skinned elite who rip the resources of the country from a miserably impoverished and illiterate 90 percent dark-skinned majority. The dual society is perhaps most evident along the tree-lined area of Port-au-Prince called Petion-ville, home of many wealthy mulattos and foreign diplomats. Here they dine in the exclusive restaurants in the hills, overlooking squalor. Many of these people spent days after Duvalier fled cowering inside their spacious homes, afraid to drive their conspicuous BMWs and Mercedes that had once crowded the city's streets.
But such a description, of a dual society, belies the more complex and colorful layers -- economic, social and racial -- that had come to compose the tapestry of modern Haiti.
Haiti is in transition from a traditional peasant agrarian economy into a modern industrial state. In Haiti, though, modernization has come too slowly, stifled by the island's archaic, paternalistic one-man rule. "For 29 years these people ruled, and the only thing they had on their minds was to steal," said Clifford Brandt, a businessman.
Over the last decade, Haitian peasants, unable to make a living off the overused and devastated land, unable to find markets for their coffee and mango crops, began fleeing to the cities -- mostly to the capital, Port-au-Prince, but also to depressed towns like Gonai ves and Cap Haitien, where they ended up like the young man who rode his bicycle around the town square all day because "there is nothing else to do." Others left in tiny boats for America's shores.
Those who left for the cities became a new class of urban poor, as miserable as any in the world. They could be seen in teeming slums like the Brooklyn neighborhood on the road to the airport, bathing themselves in the filthy sewer water emitted by nearby American-owned factories. They could be seen selling pencils, post cards and chewing gum on street corners.
Those who went to America were luckier. Some became the voice of opposition from the safe haven of exile. Others prospered in New York and Miami, and some later returned to Haiti to open boutiques and shops along the Rue de la Commerce. They became Haiti's emerging class in the middle, the small-business class that was the underpinning -- and later the demise -- of the Duvalier regime.
According to one Western economist in Port-au-Prince, businessmen generally backed Duvalier despite his excesses as long as he could ensure stability. But when the street protests that erupted last Thanksgiving were met with stepped-up repression, the businessmen decided it was time for a change.
In February the downtown shops began closing their shutters. Many said they were acting out of fear, others indicated they were following an organized boycott. But even when Duvalier brought out his notorious security force, the Ton-Tons Macoutes, to force the stores open, the protest turned into a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Shutters were opened while the security men were on the block, then closed the minute they moved on.
There was also a racial element to the business class disaffection with Duvalier, namely their anger at the power and privilege accorded his wife, the first lady of the Republic, Michelle Bennett, a member of the light-skinned mulatto elite. She was given official functions, including a seat on the cabinet.
In earlier years Papa Doc had risen to power with the support of the black masses whom he stirred with his exhortations on "ne'gritude," or black pride, and promises to unravel an economic and political system that reserved power for the tiny light-skinned, mixed-race elite. But those promises were soon forgotten, and Jean-Claude's marriage into the Bennett family in 1980 was final confirmation that nothing had changed in Haiti concerning who had the power and the money.
Michelle Bennett's father, a coffee grower, was near bankruptcy when his daughter married Jean-Claude Duvalier. Using his new palace connections to skirt taxes and red tape, the First Father-in-law cornered Haiti's coffee market and became one of the wealthiest men on the island.
Much of the wrath in the wake of the Duvaliers' departure was directed at the symbols of accumulated mulatto wealth. An auto dealership owned by Bennett's father was looted and burned. So was the downtown office of Haiti Air, also controlled by him. In one of the most telling symbols of the changement in Haiti, the capital city's airport, Franc,ois Duvalier International, was quickly renamed Port-au-Prince Airport.
The question now is whether Haiti, after such a convulsion of hatred, can pull together to rebuild. The hated mixed-race elite must be convinced to stay and reinvest in the struggling economy. The new black business class must be made to feel secure, or else it too may head for the more fertile climate of Miami. And potential American investors must be convinced that the island is calm after the turmoil, and unlikely to revert to the cycle of political instability and military coups that scars Haiti's sad history.