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Haiti Rebirth of a Nation

Images from an invasion that wasn't, a celebration that was

REPORTER Laurent Belsie and I arrived in Haiti shortly after United States troops landed in September. The soldiers, I suspect, had an easier time of it. Because of the US embargo on direct flights to Haiti, we had to fly into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic next door and make our way overland by bus to the border.

There, we fought off ``entrepreneurs'' who wanted to look after our luggage, and caught a tour-company minibus (five hours late) to Port-au-Prince. After bribing Haitian military at various checkpoints, we arrived at the capital.

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Neither of us knew what to expect, having never traveled to this Caribbean island. What struck me at once were the contrasts: the beauty of a tropical paradise and the squalor of the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere; the spontaneity and exuberance of the populace, and jails so vile that prisoners were barely fed and never let out of their cells.

Haitians watched intently as Humvees, all-terrain US military vehicles, patrolled the streets. They observed the kindness of the soldiers, and applauded as they repaired the worst of the city streets. They celebrated the return of political exiles.

On Oct. 15, the day President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was to return, Haitians filled the streets. Eleven military helicopters landed on the lawn of the presidential palace, one of them bearing their elected leader. Before Mr. Aristide's arrival, the streets were empty at night. Within 24 hours of his return, evenings were filled with a carnival air.

There is much still to do in Haiti: Centuries of political and economic pillaging have taken a toll. Yet I left after a month with the impression that something fundamental had changed, an irreversible something that will remain long after the last US soldier has gone home.

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