During the jubilant street celebrations in front of the presidential palace marking the downfall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, one man, 24-year-old Charles Jude, seemed oblivious of the commotion swirling around him. "I am not happy because I cannot work," he said. "I cannot do anything. I am hungry."
Sixty miles to the north in Gonaives, a city virtually devoid of any meaningful industry, Orel Toyo, 29, paused in his revelry to reflect on some harsh realities: "I'll never work in Haiti," he said. "I'll have to go to Miami. All my family is poor. There's nothing in Haiti for me."
And further north, in Cap-Haitien, a once-thriving port city now on the economic skids, 23-year-old France Pierre did not attend the victory celebrations 70 miles away because he couldn't afford the $2 bus fare. "I don't do anything," he said. "There's no work. I need work because every day I am hungry."
Those are the voices of Haiti's young people, bespeaking a legacy of poverty and despair that confronts the fledgling government following Duvalier's departure. Those are the youths who were at the forefront of the mass popular protests that helped force Duvalier from power, and who now have burdened Duvalier's successors with the heightened popular expectation of an immediate change.
But from all indications -- and given the extent of the misery here -- their lot is unlikely to improve in the near future. Duvalier is gone, but the problems wrought by his rule are likely to persist.
"It's a complete disaster -- there's nothing a new government can do," said the Rev. Marcel Bussels, an outspoken Catholic priest in Cap-Haitien. "I'm still a realist. There's nothing that can be done tomorrow."
"The more educated you are, the less expectation you have because you have to deal with the economic realities of Haiti," said Claude Levy, executive director of the Association of Haitien Industries. "But tell that to someone from Gonaives, who spent three or four years fighting Duvalier. Tell him he has to wait at least another four years before you can do anything for him."
Added one knowledgeable foreign diplomat, who is sympathetic to Haiti's plight: "The main problem in this country is the hunger; that's the most important thing for the government. Now that Duvalier is gone, the people expect miracles -- and the government can't work miracles."
The statistics -- what few there are here -- are mind-boggling. About 50 percent of the people in the capital are either unemployed or virtually unemployed, meaning they sell cigarettes and chewing gum on street corners as their only source of income. There is no unemployment compensation here, no welfare, no "safety net." When a Haitian does not work, he does not eat.
For those lucky enough to have jobs, the minimum wage is $3 a day in the capital and far less in the provinces. The average yearly income is about $370. According to official estimates from foreign economists, each salary here supports an average of six persons.
More than a hundred of every 1,000 babies born here die before reaching the age of 2. The average life expectancy is barely 50 years. Tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death. Only about 10 percent of the populace is literate.
But the statistics cannot adequately prepare a first-time visitor -- even a frequent Third World traveler -- for the dimensions of the poverty of Haiti. It is unlike the teeming slums outside Cairo and more wretched than the favelas overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Here, the face of poverty can be seen each morning, when thousand of men, women and children climb into deep gutters on the side of the main highways to wash themselves in the filthy running sewer water.
In the slum known as Brooklyn off the main road to the airport, dusty, naked children play in piles of garbage and manure, in open fields where stray goats and humans alike leave their waste. Most of the children have the bloated bellies of malnutrition.
But this is also a country of enormous contrasts, where any of the well-to-do elite of mostly diplomats, French expatriates, government ministers and foreign journalists might drink the finest French wine in the affluent neighborhood of Petionville in the hills overlooking the squalor and eat oysters air-freighted in from Paris at one of the French restaurants in the capital.
Problems like the Brooklyn ghetto and the income disparity here cannot be solved by government decrees or official communiques. But that is the hope of many here and across this impoverished island: that, with Duvalier gone, all the misery here can somehow be righted.
"During 29 years [of Duvalier dictatorship] it has stayed like this," said Exumond, 23, who grew up in the garbage piles and waste of Brooklyn. "Everybody knows there is a need here. Now people are waiting -- waiting for a true change."
Added France Pierre, one of the unemployed young men in Cap-Hatien, "There is no industry here, there are no factories . . . but we are waiting for the new government to change things."
But the new government begins with some formidable obstacles, not the least of which is a severe cash shortage. The central bank's coffers are virtually empty, its reserves allegedly spirited out of the country into Duvalier's Swiss bank account.
The government also inherits an economic system that was founded on protected monopolies, most of them controlled by relatives and friends of Duvalier and his wife, Michele Bennett.
The political climate scared away American investors over the past two decades, and Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier's policy of centralizing the economy in Port-au-Prince -- as a way of increasing his control and blunting a potential threat from the provinces -- has left many once-thriving cities such as Cap-Haitien and Gonaives virtually moribund.
The economic nose dive occurred after the 1950s, as the Duvalier reign took hold, at a time when Haiti stood poised -- much like South Korea -- to use its cheap labor to become an international investment mecca. As one foreign economist here said, "Haiti's economy in the 1960s was a textbook example of gross mismanagement."
Haiti's economy grew only about 0.1 percent over the entire decade of the 1960s. It picked up slightly in the 1970s and then plummeted to a zero or negative growth rate at the beginning of the 1980s. "In many respects," the foreign economist said, "the Haitian economy is not a developing economy, but one that has been in decline."
The agricultural sector, the staple of this economy like most Third World economies, has also dropped off. The major problem is deforestation, with many poor families in the country chopping down the trees to make charcoal that is sold in bags along the side of the road. Now, much of the earth is parched and barren and Haiti faces the prospect of not being able to feed itself.
The only sector of the economy that has shown any promise is the assembly sector -- American firms taking advantage of the low wages here to send component parts to Haiti, where they are manufactured into baseballs and electronic gadgets and then shipped back to the United States for sale. American labor unions have criticized the practice as exploitation, but it nonetheless provides the largest source of permanent employment on the island.
To reverse the economic tailspin, Haitian officials and business leaders are counting on massive American private investment, buttressed by an emergency infusion of U.S. aid.
One of the unknown factors involved in Haiti's economic future is the large exile community. Many of the country's best managers and technicians have left, for Miami, New York and elsewhere, and whether they will return here -- or at least invest their capital here -- remains an open question.
To attract foreigners and exiles to invest in Haiti, many here are involved in what already appears to be a wholesale repackaging of Haiti's image, from a dictatorship using tactics of terror and repression to what Haitians are calling -- perhaps prematurely -- "the model democracy."
"There's no doubt about the possibilities that are here -- the work force is here," said Clifford Brandt, a well-to-do businessman. On the day of Duvalier's departure, Brandt said he received a telegram from a lawyer friend in Miami who offered his assistance in helping new and expanding businesses to Haiti.
"One of the main problems we had in promoting Haiti in the past was the image," Levy said. Now, he added, "I think it's going to become a showcase of democracy, of free enterprise, of black pride."