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View of Military Repression From Inside a Prison Cell

THEY stayed in a cell for months or years. Little food. No exercise. Some of the prisoners, jailed for supposedly aiding terrorists, say they never had a court hearing.

The prison here at Les Cayes provides dramatic evidence of human-rights violations under Haiti's military dictatorship. But in a larger sense, it is also a telling example of how many of this nation's institutions simply do not work.

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Last week, United States Army Special Operations soldiers uncovered the prison located in a compound, which is under the leadership of Haiti's southern military regional commander, Lt. Col. Evens Gedeon. The conditions were appalling.

More than 30 men had been crammed into a cell no larger than 15-feet square. The inmates were so malnourished that US doctors, who arrived with the troops, had to increase their food intake slowly, in case a normal day's ration would be a shock.

When US troops removed one invalid from the prison, he had lain so long in one position that some of his skin had rotted off.

The invalid and one other prisoner were taken to a local hospital. But when US troops tried to sort out who was responsible for feeding the remaining prisoners, a curious circle developed.

Local Army officials said they were only responsible for guarding the perimeter of the prison, not for what happened inside. The Haitian Red Cross claimed it had no funds. Agar Garcia, commissioner of the local civil court, admitted the feeding of the prisoners was his responsibility but pointed the finger at the national Ministry of Justice. ``They never sent us any money, and we have never seen any provisions,'' he says.

So US Capt. Robert Bevelacqua, in command of the local Special Operations force here, ordered Mr. Garcia and the local Red Cross to solve the problem. The next day, however, local authorities did nothing. US troops bought $20 worth of rice and cooking oil - enough to feed all the prisoners for a week.

When General Potter heard local authorities were still not cooperating, he gave them an ultimatum: If Garcia and another unelected local official did not feed the prisoners within 24 hours, the officials would be flown to Port-au-Prince and tried for crimes against humanity. Local Haitian authorities began feeding prisoners the next day.

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``The entire infrastructure - everything - is broken'' in this country, says a US State Department official in Haiti.

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