|Haiti Archives 1994-1996|
|27/01/96||Haiti Info v.4 #6 Jean-Bertrand Aristide Leaving, Problems Staying|
(Below is the table of contents and lead story from the most recent issue of Haiti Info, the newsletter of the Haitian Information Bureau. The lead story from each bi-weekly issue is posted in this conference. To receive the entire newsletter, you may subscribe by email, fax or mail. See the subscription information at the end of this entry).
* * * HAITI INFO * * *
News direct from the people and organizations of Haiti’s democratic and popular movement
27 January 1996, Vol. 4, #6
*** HAITI INFO now has photos in every issue ***
Stories: ARISTIDE LEAVING – PROBLEMS STAYING BUDGET STALLED “AID” & ITS EFFECTS: THE JOBS PROGRAMS NEWS FROM NORTH & NORTHWEST: Peasants Still Struggling for Land, Fair Prices WOMEN’S MINISTRY HOSTS MEETING World of Labor: STUDY REVEALS VICIOUS EXPLOITATION JOURNALISTS FIRED SEAMSTRESS FIGHTS BACK
ARISTIDE LEAVING – PROBLEMS STAYING
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan. 26 – A dozen days from the end of his term, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is preparing to leave the National Palace, but he will be leaving behind dozens of problem situations in a country where, over the past 16 months, most aspects of life have not improved and some have even gotten palpably worse.
For a few days, attention may have been drawn away from serious concerns by Aristide’s marriage to Haitian-American Attorney Mildred Trouillot, but the realities of every day are inescapable. The streets of the capital are piled high with garbage, many parts of the country have little or no electricity and this month the water company announced it does not have the capacity to serve Port-au-Prince’s needs. Economically, the gourde continues to slide downwards and prices are climbing, the new government has announced it will be “austere” and that up to seven ministries may be closed down, and the budget process is still at an impasse. [See other story.]
Problems in Cite Soleil
The deterioration of the social climate is especially obvious in Cite Soleil, whose population of 200,000 is always hit the hardest by insecurity, repression, unemployment and high prices.
On Jan. 16, and not for the first time, angry people were demonstrating at the gate of a Mevs property, demanding back salaries or work. Some in the crowd reportedly had guns. National Police arrived and there was shooting, and in the melee, seven people, including two police officers, were hurt and a young woman, Martha Jean-Charles, was killed. Angry people then damaged a police car and a U.N. vehicle.
The media of the capital gave varying and sharply contradictory versions. Some blamed the death and injuries on “L’Armee Rouge,” a supposed armed band, and others on the police. At least some reports appear to exaggerate the “armee,” and its loyalities have been pinned to everyone from residents, to drug dealers, to the bourgeoisie.
But if the exact details are not certain, it is obvious that the situation in Cite Soleil is extremely confusing and almostly certainly terrifying for the people who live there. Many different parties have guns: the scores of armed security guards in the heart of poor neighborhhood (working for the Mevs family, which controls a port as well as the closed Haitian-American Sugar Corporation or for Dr. Reginald Boulos’ Centres pour le Developpement et la Sante [CDS]) as well as other members of the population.
Many Problems with New Police
Although it is not clear who shot who in Cite Soleil, it is clear that the new police resort to deadly force very easily and, due to incidents across the country, more and more the population does not have confidence in it. Also, every time an incident occurs, it is innocent citizens who are hurt or killed.
Secondly, the new police are obviously not prepared for the situations they are facing here. In addition to these clashes, violent crime appears to be rising around the country, with robberies and shootings more and more commonplace.
Thirdly, the force has obvious internal problems. Last week the Senate declined to approve Fourel Celestin, a former Haitian army officer, as head of the force. He was put in place late last year by Aristide. This week various senators began attacking him more earnestly. Sen. Jean-Robert Sabalat yesterday accused him of organizing a plot to have him killed, and today Sen. Samuel Madistin demanded to see a list of all the promotions he has made during his tenure. In the meantime, he remains in charge of the force.
To complicate matters, Maj. Dany Toussaint, who headed the interim police force and then the judicial police force, just resigned. (He also announced he plans to sue the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation for linking him to “political” murders.) And today, at least one officer in the Port-au-Prince office is said to have resigned, while others announced a work stoppage.
And even if the machinations at work behind these actions are not currently clear, it should not be overlooked that all of these events and circumstances add up to create the objective conditions for the “necessity” of another force to maintain order.
Aristide Intervenes Personally
In an attempt to defuse the powder keg that Cite Soleil has become, and to reconcile the residents with the police, Aristide visited and held a kind of summit meeting on Jan. 19. There, police claimed that residents should not be armed, and residents said police beat them before asking questions.
“The National Police do not respect our rights,” said Jean- Charles’ older brother. “We endured three years with the de factos and FRAPH beating us… We fought for you to return. We do not think that… the new police should be coming after us like the army did. We youth will not tolerate that… We are the ones who asked for new police!”
Another man, Pierre Ellison, went further, demanding justice and expressing people’s frustration: “You said you were marrying the people. That did not really happen. You asked for national reconciliation. Those people do not want reconciliation… What I am asking, president, is, are you playing the American’s game? Just give the Americans the country, the same as in Puerto Rico?”
Rather than responding to the question, Aristide told the crowd: “I want the police and the people to be one” but he also noted “there is a third group involved in the affair that should be here but that is not here,” obviously referring to the security guards. He went no further.
Ticking Time Bomb
In the end, the demagogic appeal was unconvincing and can have little effect on a population which, after enduring three years of brutal repression, accepted to wait for Aristide and his government to make good on its promises and now is fed up.
Despite the beautiful words during brief visits, little has changed for the neighborhood, and people’s deception is starting to shine through. High prices, unemployment, misery, lack of housing, impunity and insecurity are rampant. Right before peoples eyes is a striking reminder of the unjust state of affairs. Two years after a devastating fire destroyed approximately 1,000 homes there, not a single one has been built, despite large checks ceremoniously dispatched to CDS and other organizations.
Cite Soleil is not the only site of unrest. In the North, peasants clashed with police and U.N. soldiers earlier this month [see page 4] and this week, the highway between Les Cayes and Jeremie was blocked by out-of-work sugar mill employees. Also this week, National Route 1 was blocked for over 24 hours again near Montrouis by people who said the president has not kept the promises he made during a visit there. Teachers in Les Cayes and elsewhere have been on strike over back salaries not received, and at least one teacher’s union is outraged that the government recently announced it will not keep its promise to give them a 180 percent raise this year. This week too, the heads of the recently elected communal councils met with the president to complain about their minimal budgets and low salaries.
On the justice front, nothing has changed. The Truth and Justice Commission is over a month late with its report. The news continues to carry reports of judges releasing criminals, and there is still no word on any prosecutions of any of the criminals of the coup d’etat era.
Aristide Finds Time to Marry
All of the problems do not seem to upset the president too much. He found time to get married in the presence of his “friends,” inviting U.S. General John Sheehan, head of U.S. Southern Command, and U.S. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake. He even asked Lake to speak, who unabashedly improvised some telling words, saying the U.S. is looking forward to “helping shape” the future of Haiti and to “working with President Rene Preval whom we admire very much.”
Notably absent were the Haitian people, to whom, in the past, Aristide has said he was “married.” Obviously feeling he and his bride had to justify themselves, Trouillot and Aristide swore fidelity not only to each other but also, demagogically, to “the people” and they chanted in unison, “That thing about ‘divorce’ with the Haitian people… There will be none of that!”
As he stands on the threshold of a new married life, however, there is more than a possible “divorce” in the future. The president is leaving behind a ticking time bomb.
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