The Digital Journalist
Haiti Slips into Darkness
March 2004

by William B. Plowman

A heavy mist had rolled in when we reached the roadblock at the tiny mountain-top village of Puilboreau. We were following the anti-Aristide rebels. The burning tires and twisted wreckage of old cars thrown across the road was a familiar sight on our trip up from Port au Prince into the Central Plateau. No one here seemed in command or control of anything.

Figures moved in and out of the haze of smoke and rain. A boy, covered in grease and oil, moved a barrel. We inched our vehicle through the barricade and parked. People moved aimlessly and seemed dazed. A teenage boy, armed with a metal rod, patrolled the grounds. He wore a red motorcycle helmet and women's heeled shoes. An old man carrying an umbrella in one hand and a mango in the other jumped in and out of a burning tire.

Demonstrators, Port au Prince

Photo by William B. Plowman
Pushing north towards Cap Haitian we came upon another roadblock. The headlights pointing at us drawing eerie silhouettes of pistols and automatic rifles. A 30-year-old policeman names Macis Lacombe obliged us to spend the night in the parking lot of his station. No one slept.

The station was now manned only by Lacombe and another. Most had fled.

Lacombe admitted to drinking "a bottle and a half of rum" to steel his resolve.  Lacombe pulled out 100 American dollars from his wallet. He would use his cache to fly out to Port au Prince should things turn dire.

More roadblocks, everyone on edge. Somewhere south of Puilboreau a man in a black wool cap and sunglasses, carrying a shotgun with a sidearm sticking out of his pants. He agreed, after some tense negotiation, to escort us through to Gonaives, the rebel stronghold. We followed as he sped off on the back of a motorcycle, the stock of his shotgun resting on his thigh.

In Gonaives, the residents were out demonstrating in force. Drunk on rum, heavily armed with guns and machetes, they ran through town. We followed them to the southernmost point and made our exit to Port au Prince.

I returned to Gonaives two days later. Food distribution deteriorated into looting when a few, then many, smashed windows and stormed the building. People poured in. Some climbed to the roof and dropped into the patio. Within minutes armed gangs arrived firing into the air and stealing from looters as they attempted to make off with boxes of cooking oil and flour. Pick-ups filled with boxes sped off and returned for more. And within an hour the building was emptied.

Looters in Gonaives

Photo by William B. Plowman
It was only a matter of time before the rebels would march on Port au Prince.

United States Marines and French soldiers now patrol the streets as part of a multi-national peace keeping force. Gunfire still peppers the streets and every morning the victims of political violence lay dead on the roadside.

© William B. Plowman

William B. Plowman is a freelance photojournalist and is represented by Reflex News photo agency.