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Gary Younge
'Aristide is gone - his ghosts, the chimères, are still with us'

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled on Sunday. Many did not emerge from their homes until Thursday, borrowing rice and maize from neighbours to keep going as gunfire exploded all around them.

"We didn't know if it was the chimères [French word for ghosts, the pro-Aristide gangs], the police or the rebels," says Jean, 35, whose surname is withheld for his safety.

"But only hooligans, looters and the gangs were out on the streets. Honest people stayed home."

When they surfaced, it was to discover that the price of the two staples, bread and rice, had doubled, because the shops had been ransacked. Even basic goods were scarce, and money was even tighter than usual.

Jean, who has been unemployed for the past four years, relies on his wife's roadside stall to support him and his four-year-old daughter. But since his wife has not been able to leave the house, and there was nobody around to sell to even before Mr Aristide left, they have had no income for four days.

Such is the precarious nature of life in Haiti's capital, where at least 75% earn their living by day labour and the tap-taps (local buses) fill their tanks just a quarter full to get by until they have enough in fares to put more in.

When violence clears the streets - as it has done this last week - there nothing to do but wait and hope.

"In Haiti, if you don't work then you don't eat," says Colette Lespinasse, coordinator of a support group for Haitian refugees and migrants. "And people have not been able to work because of the security situation."

If surviving the week has been difficult, making sense of the outcome has been bewildering. Those who supported the president kept their heads down; those who opposed him were out on the street. But both are a relatively small minority compared with those who are just eager for stability, and an end to the grinding poverty.

Fortunice Villière, who lives with 12 relatives in a four-room house in the suburb of Petionville, spoke for many when he said: "I put my trust in [Aristide], and he disappointed me."

While some people were happy to see him go, their relief was short-lived, and many Haitians are still afraid.

Marie Hélène, a 36-year-old social worker, will not give her real name because of that fear. She fled with her two small children from her village near the capital last week, after she received an anonymous phone call saying that her husband's name was on a list of people to be executed by the chimères.

Four days later, at the home of a friend in the suburb of Bon Repos, where she took refuge, another call before dawn Sunday saying that Mr Aristide was preparing to resign brought her a brief moment of glee.

But the fear returned almost immediately as the chimères went on a shooting rampage on the streets.

"When Aristide was here, we were afraid. Now he is gone, but we are still afraid. Aristide is gone but the chimères are all still here," she said sitting on her friend's porch.

Marie Hélène is glad that US marines now patrol the streets of the capital, but says they came too late: they arrived early on Monday, but remained quartered at the airport until Wednesday. "They should have arrived before this guy left. They could have prevented all the destruction."

There has been no cheering as the marines fanned out across the city, nor much hostility either. "I feel much safer now the marines are here," said Frantz Labissière, 44. "I wouldn't be here if the marines weren't here."

But not everyone was happy. When the troops went into the slums of Bel Air on Thursday, they were met by a demonstration of thousands of pro-Aristide supporters holding up their hands to signal five more years for the ousted president.

As the convoy passed an angry knot of people in the centre of town, one youth shouted out: "You took our president, now you're taking our country!" Other passersby held up photos of Mr Aristide. But most simply stopped and stared.

American tanks on the lawn of the presidential palace and the prime minister's residence have become the city's main attractions, where hawkers of sweets and cold drinks gather. "They might do some good, but they are not here to protect the people of St Martin," said Jean.

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