CITE SOLEIL, HAITI -- Many Haitians who live on the fetid marsh that rims Port-au-Prince do not put much stock in voting, but they decided to give it a chance last Nov. 29 when Haiti was expecting its first free, honest election in more than three decades.
But when the independent electoral board stopped the balloting that Sunday amid a wave of terrorist killing in the center city, many Cite Soleil slum dwellers shrugged, went home and gave up on the idea of democratic elections, community leaders now say.
The leaders predict many despairing voters from Port-au-Prince's biggest, ugliest slum will stay home on the next Election Day, scheduled for Jan. 17.
The Cite Soleil residents most likely to turn out in the second round, residents say, are those habituated during three decades of Duvalier dictatorship to rubber-stamp referendums, when poor people made a few pennies by selling their votes and went to the polls to stay on the right side of the man in power.
"People here won't vote for hope again. If they find a leader who will give them a little money, they'll vote for money," said Wilner Membrun, president of the main Roman Catholic community organization in a Cite Soleil district named Brooklyn.
Long lines had curled around Cite Soleil polling stations at dawn Nov. 29. Only five miles away in the center of Port-au-Prince, gunmen left over from the 29-year dictatorship were shooting voters, stalking journalists and burning polling places. But Cite Soleil remained quiet throughout.
"The people still don't understand what happened," said Lanaud Derazin, who was in charge of one polling station here. Derazin, 21, said he saw many voters rip up their registration cards in disgust when the voting was halted. Although close to town, Cite Soleil remained virtually cut off for nearly two weeks because antielections terrorists crippled the Catholic and Protestant church radios -- from which the slum normally hears about the world beyond it.
The ruling National Government Council, headed by the armed forces commander-in-chief, Gen. Henri Namphy, is putting together an election for Jan. 17 after allowing the first one to collapse and dissolving the broadly popular electoral board that organized it. Most of the groups represented have refused to serve on a reconstituted board.
The Army's preparations, including the swearing-in Dec. 12 of what now essentially is a hand-picked board, closely match those they made for the 1957 vote in which Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier rose to power, according to those interviewed.
Back then, the military had full charge of the elections process. Now, Cite Soleil residents say, it feels like Haiti is reverting again to those old times. Four leading presidential candidates from the Nov. 29 vote are boycotting this election.
As many as 200,000 of Port-au-Prince's 1.2 million residents live in Cite Soleil. Until the February 1986 departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Cite Soleil was named for his mother, Simone. It started in the 1960s as cheap housing built by the elder Duvalier for the Ton-Tons Macoutes, as his squads of personal militiamen were called.
In 1967, Duvalier moved to rid the waterfront of what he viewed as unsightly clutter. The shanties were burned and the squatters fled to the salt swamps that are now Cite Soleil, City of the Sun.
This weekend, dozens of Cite Soleil laborers were still shoveling gravel, trying to harden the acres of black slime where their shacks gradually sink, year after year. Roman Catholic missionaries pay the shovelers, mostly with food, for what is one of the best jobs going in the neighborhood.
The slum's center is a foul mudflat which is both crossroads and collective toilet. Few residents know where tomorrow's meal will come from. Yesterday's garbage stands in heaps that buzz with flies and block the roadways. Only a small minority of the community can read or write. "A little butt-end of life" is the name the people give to their existence.
When Namphy's transition government came in, there were no new jobs, no new sewers, no new ideas. The Belgian Salesian missionaries continued to build schools and provide cinder blocks for housing.
"We stay alive by the Catholic Church. We don't get anything from the government. The affairs of the government don't exist for us," said community leader Membrun, speaking in Haiti's Creole language through an interpreter.
About the only group in Cite Soleil to revive political activity in the past 22 months were former small-time Ton-Tons Macoutes and a new generation of young street toughs who admired them. After "Baby Doc" fled, the well-known Macoutes were driven from the community and a few were murdered by slum dwellers who considered themselves victimized during the dictatorship.
But rank-and-file militiamen and other Duvalierists stayed quiet for a time, then gradually reemerged as leaders of some of the loose block committees that bind the slum together in an unseen network.
"The way Haiti is now, we need a strong man to lead us again. For Haitians the strongest man is always right. And today the Government Council and the Macoutes forces are the strongest," said one such block committee head, Reynold Mendoza, 29. He was interviewed on Soleil 5 Street, where he was patrolling his turf.
During the campaign two presidential candidates were assassinated, including Yves Volel, shot Oct. 13 by police at the door of the main Port-au-Prince police station. After that, most progressive candidates were afraid to travel, even to nearby Cite Soleil. Of the four leading candidates, only one, Marc Bazin, ever put in an appearance here. None of them offered sandwiches or cash for votes.
Social workers and clergy who work in the slum say its isolation and apathy will favor Namphy's plans in the short run. Here the general will encounter sluggish participation but also little resistance to a tightly controlled election, unlike many center-city poor communities where the voters' discontent remains explosive.
The Rev. Luc Lanoo, a Belgian priest who has worked here for years, sees the future this way: "Right now everyone's looking to eat. But the day Cite Soleil takes to the streets . . . look out."