Deep-seated anger over widespread unemployment, abject poverty and the extravagant life style of second-generation dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier have spilled over in brazen displays of popular opposition in recent days in this country where public protests once were virtually unknown.
After nearly three decades of repression by the Duvalier family, crowds led mostly by young males in their teens or twenties have taken to the streets even at the risk of retaliation by the state's security apparatus. In the tiny village of St. Marc, center of some of the most persistent protests, Haitians interviewed over the weekend were unusually outspoken in their criticism of Duvalier's rule.
"We are suffering," a 29-year-old man said. "There is nothing here. Nothing but unemployment. You are dead if you stay here."
He added, echoing a feeling voiced by many in St. Marc: "We will continue until he falls."
Another young man, with a beard, spoke in broken French: "Everybody is against the regime . . . . Everybody feels the same. All over the country, everyone feels the same."
These young men insisted on remaining anonymous. Their candor still was tempered by fear of the dreaded Volunteers for National Security, popularly known as the Ton-Tons Macoutes, or "bogeymen," in the Creole spoken by the vast majority of the population.
Here in the capital, where the level of unrest has become an important indicator of Duvalier's hold on power, the situation appeared to have calmed since Friday. The president made a symbolic show of force by riding through the downtown streets today in a heavily armed motorcade, and the government-run radio reported that cheering crowds received him.
But the interviews in St. Marc illustrated a widespread belief that Duvalier's days in power are numbered -- in months, if not weeks -- and a popular determination to continue the protests until he does fall. There was a widely voiced sentiment that the United States should play a role in forcing the president from power and in setting up a democratic form of government.
"We want an election," said a man who identified himself only as Charles, 26. "The Americans will come, and we will have stability."
The young men in St. Marc were highly personal in their sharp and often unprintable verbal attacks on Duvalier. Yesterday, about 100 protesters danced through town to a samba beat, carrying a wooden coffin marked on one side with the president's initials and calling him "The Fat Pig."
"He's a thief!" a 19-year-old young man, who called himself Jean-Francois, shouted. "He's a thief, building himself up higher while the people get worse and worse off."
Other criticisms, mostly by blacks, of Duvalier's mixed-race wife, Michele, suggested that there was at least some racial dimension to the conflict.
People seemed divided on what kind of government might replace Duvalier, who has ruled this country since 1971, when he inherited the title "president-for-life" after the death of his father Francois Duvalier.
A military coup, maybe, suggested one.
"We need a true president, elected by the people, who will be able to talk to the United States government and get the U.S. to help us," said Ernest Pierre, 29.
The pro-American tone of these protests was most evident in St. Marc on Saturday, when street demonstrators hoisted a huge American flag during a march from the center of town.
Haiti was allocated about $52 million in U.S. aid, including humanitarian assistance, for the current fiscal year, but the State Department acted last week to cut back that amount, citing Duvalier's failure to make progress on human rights concerns.
"The U.S. aid all goes into the pockets of the officials," said Jean-Francois, to a nodding chorus of agreement from the crowd pressed around. "The officials take all the money for themselves, or it goes off to a bank in Switzerland. The poor don't get anything."
He added: "We only want the rights of men, like everyone wants."
A 69-year-old man in a straw hat said quietly, "We don't have enough to eat here." Staff writer Joanne Omang added from Washington:
The State Department announced that it was seeking authorization to send flights into Cap-Haitien to pick up Americans who want to leave. Spokesman Charles E. Redman said the move was not an evacuation but a response to requests from "a small number" of American families living in Haiti.
In a related development, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has taken the lead in Congress on Haitian matters, said that Duvalier was "beyond redemption" and called for an international arms and aid boycott against Haiti to force Duvalier's ouster. "His departure is necessary at this point if Haiti is to develop itself," Fauntroy said.