Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier was married tonight and this capital city -- which hid its poverty behind a facade of papier-mache roses -- exploded in bright lights, fireworks, and a 101-cannon salute.
Duvalier, who arrived nearly an hour late for the wedding, said "I do" as his bride, Michelle Bennett, whom he has known since grade school, smiled at him nervously.
The couple marched out of the Notre Dame Basilica, which had been refurbished for the occasion, to the sounds of Mendelssohn's Wedding March and the applause of 2,000 guests. They walked beneath swords held aloft by an honor guard of 24 men at the steps of the cathedral.
A crowd of thousands of peasants, kept a safe distance from the cathedral, lined the streets watching the couple make a quick tour of the city before going to Duvalier's ranch for a reception for 4,000 people.
Duvalier, dubbed "Baby Doc." is 28. His bride is 27.
"We will make lots of children and live happily ever after" said Bennett, the mother of two boys by her former husband.
Monsignor Francois Wolff-Ligonde, archbishop of Port-au-Prince, announced earlier that he could preside at the wedding even though the bride was divorced, because her first marriage had been in the Episcopalian church.
Attending the wedding was Alejandro Orfila, secretary general of the Organization of American States, of which Haiti is a member. No foreign head of state attended, but the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, sent its foreign minister. The United States was represented by Ambassador William Jones.
Port-au-Prince, the scruffy capital of the Maryland-sized Caribbean nation, awoke to overcast skies and streets decked with the roses, colored pennants and lights.
Duvalier's taste for fast, expensive cars and private planes sets him a world apart from the Haitian man-in-the-street, whose average income is $80 per month. Thousands of Haitians have been fleeing the island in small boats -- searching for jobs on less crowded Caribbean islands and, ultimately, in the United States.
Because of its political sensitivity, the government has not said how much the wedding cost. But sources involved said it cost between $3 million and $5 million.
Three florists flew in flowers from Miami to fill the cathedral and Duvalier's sprawling ranch in Crox-di-Bouquet, which also underwent extensive renovation in the past several weeks, taking on extra plumbing and a garden pavilion.
Most shops closed early but hairdressers and dressmakers did a brisk business among women invited to the cathedral and the ranch party afterwards. The 2,000 guests were drawn mostly from the country's tiny wealthy class. But the government also set aside $300,000 for street bars and parties for the 5 million poor.
Haiti, a former French colony, has an illiteracy rate of 75 percent. The infant mortality rate is 15 in 100 and average life expectancy is 52.2 years.
Bennett's sons, aged 4 and 6, are grandsons of Alix Pasquet, who in 1959 tried to overthrow the elder Duvalier with the aid of two fellow Haitian Army officers and two onetime sheriffs' deputies from Dade County, Fla. All five were killed.
There is speculation that the marriage signals the eventual liberalization of Duvalier's autocratic rule which he has carried on in the tradition of his father. "Papa Doc," before he died in 1971, amended the constitution so that his son, then 19, would inherit the presidency-for-life.
Expectations of liberalization stem from a belief that the marriage means a lessening of the great influence which the president's mother, Simone Duvalier, has wielded.
Duvalier denied reports that his mother opposed his marriage, and she agreed to be matron of honor. She will keep her title of First Lady of the Republic, but a new title has been created for her daughter-in-law, madame president.
Some of the Haitian refugees who have been flooding into the United States demonstrated in Miami yesterday to protest the money being spent on the wedding.
"The expenses for this wedding are over $5 million," said the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, director of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami. "We know the American government is sending money to Duvalier and we want to point out what's happening to the American taxpayers' money."