TABARRE, Haiti – A teenage looter banged away on a grand piano dragged into the courtyard. Presidential documents, baby rattles still in their wrappers and broken plates lay scattered around. Nabokov's "Lolita" (search) sat on a shelf in the library.
As Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) arrived in Africa seeking refuge Monday, it looked as if a tornado had blown through his private villa back home. Haitians upended furniture, smashed glass, picked over his books and tossed presidential correspondence from file cabinets.
"It's our own system," said one man, Junior Jean, 23. "As soon as a leader falls we loot his palace."
Indeed, the villa, an estate Aristide says was donated by a supporter, also was looted after his ouster in a 1991 coup.
People started ransacking the concrete white mansion Sunday after the president resigned under international and domestic pressure and flew out of the country.
On Monday, English-speaking security guards with machine guns flew away from the house in a helicopter that had been sitting on the lawn. After they left, dozens more looters moved in.
"I was walking by and I saw the gate open," said Fresnel Lucien, 18.
"I was hoping to get this fantasy book called 'The Red Dragon' because I heard Aristide had it. But all I got was these books," he said, pointing to a book written by Aristide and translated into Portuguese.
The three-story house was littered with broken glass and overturned furniture.
While dozens of people carried off loot, a teenager in T-shirt and ragged pants tried out the keyboard of a grand piano that looters had lugged out of the house but then abandoned by the pool. An armoire stood nearby.
Boxes of Christmas decorations and children's toys still in their packaging littered the ground. School pictures of Aristide's nephews addressed to "Uncle Titid," as Aristide was known, fluttered about.
In the living room, faux leather couches were overturned and plant pots were shattered. Most of the food in the kitchen cupboards was gone. Upstairs in the bedrooms of Aristide's two daughters, futons, clothes, books and pictures of the girls were strewn about.
An oval library on the third floor appeared to have been used by Aristide as an office. Certificates of recognition, including one from the Hollywood Rotary Club (search), circled the walls.
As military helicopters roared overhead, looters fought over books filling the room's shelves. Along with political science books were a couple of soft pornography paperbacks, fitness books, "What Uncle Sam Really Wants," "1,001 Great Jokes" and "Lolita."
People pulled documents from file cabinets that included notes about meetings with U.S. ambassadors and copies of Aristide's communications with the U.S. government.
In one letter, dated Jan. 30, 1996, Aristide asks then-U.S. Ambassador William Lacy Swing for the return of documents on the paramilitary group FRAPH, which killed hundreds of Aristide supporters during a 1991-94 military dictatorship that had ousted the elected Aristide.
Nineteen boxes of papers on FRAPH, which many Haitians allege had CIA links, were taken away by U.S. officials after the 1994 U.S. military intervention that restored Aristide to office. Washington returned the documents in 2001, with some parts deleted, including people's names.
An Aristide letter from July 13, 1995, set out conditions for FBI agents to conduct investigations in Haiti, including a requirement that anyone U.S. agents wanted to question had the right to have a lawyer present.
Aristide apparently asked at some point for the FBI to handle the investigations of all violent crimes in Haiti. In a July 27, 1995, letter, Swing wrote to the Haitian leader, "The FBI cannot `extend' its efforts ... to all victims of violent crime in Haiti."
Also found on the floor were handwritten notes from American school children telling Aristide they were doing a school project on Haiti and were assigned to write him.
A family photo album was thrown into the corner. In it were pictures of Aristide with Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jesse Jackson. There were also pictures of Aristide at his birthday party and on vacation with his wife, Mildred.