Haiti Archives 1995-1996
26/09/95 THIS WEEK IN HAITI September 20 – 26, 1995 Vol. 13, No. 26

“This Week in Haiti” is the English section of HAITI PROGRES newsweekly. For information on other news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax) 718-434-5551

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HAITI REFUSES TO VOTE

Thwarting Washington’s expensive effort at staging a “demonstration election,” the Haitian people this week almost totally refused to participate in the third vote for municipal and parliamentary posts. According to journalists and independent observers, the turn out for Sep. 17's vote was around five percent of the registered voters. As expected, the Organization of American States (OAS), the US Embassy and the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) all put their seal of approval on the US-financed vote. Desperate to claim that “democracy has been restored,” election officials said that anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of the people voted.

Sixty seats in the Chamber of Deputies, eight in the Senate, and some 120 local council posts were up for grabs in Sep. 17's vote. The Lavalas Political Platform took ten Senate and 26 Chamber seats in previous US- and UN-organized elections on June 25 and Aug. 13. But following June 25's Lavalas Platform landslide victory, and using the poor organization of the elections and Lavalas’ state patronage of the voting mechanisms as excuses, most of Haiti’s small, pro-putschist political parties launched a boycott. They called for non-participation and told their candidates to pull-out.

President Aristide endorsed the elections, saying that the pro- putschist parties wanted a “selection” not an election. “Elections mean one major step to democracy. We did it,” he told journalists shortly after the vote. “Because we mean what we say in terms of building a state of law, we need a minority as we need a majority, we need the leaders of the opposition as we need those who support our government, we need the rich as we need the poor,” he added.

But the refusal of the Haitian people to vote marked a major defeat for Aristide, and, perhaps, a turning point in his popularity. Speaking in the Central Plateau town of Hinche three days before the election, Aristide called on Haitians to vote massively. “We will vote,” he chanted with the crowd, saying Haitians had a duty to go to the ballot box. As they had done just before the June 25 election, Lavalas was trying to use Aristide’s personal popularity to legitimize the elections and challenge the boycotting putschist parties. But the stay-away represented one of the first times that Haitians did not follow Aristide since the US military returned him to the palace last October. He had previously and successfully urged people not to attack their former killers and to vote for the Lavalas Platform. Now, though, it appears that “pep la” — the people — are rapidly losing confidence in the political calculations of the little priest.

US/UN MILITARY FORCES SEE “POPULAR” THREAT

Should the government of President Aristide not adopt “prudent economic policies” like the World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), big trouble could be on the way, warned a senior US military officer in a leaked “threat estimate” memo. US Maj. John Shissler, the Chief Military Information Officer for the UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH), said that the Haitian people’s demands for justice, wage increases, and low prices, and their opposition to privatization, could lead to a confrontation with nearly 7,000 US/UN troops occupying Haiti. “Haitians may perceive unwanted and excessive international influence addressing the above issues and may take out their frustrations on UNMIH in the form of demonstrations and/or protests which could turn violent,” it said. The memo warned that if the government of President Aristide allows “populist” economic policies like wage increases and price controls to prevail, the security situation will deteriorate. “(This) will have the effect of scaring off potential investors and damaging the economy, which will further exacerbate the (security) situation,” Shissler wrote. “Additionally, populist economic policies have the potential to alienate the economic elite, which in turn could lead to a more serious security problem,” he said.

The memo, like so much before it, shows that from the perspective of many in the US military and US government the threat to “stability” in Haiti comes from the legitimate demands of the Haitian people, not from army and Macoute killers or pro- putschist sectors. Like the case of Capt. Rockwood, the memo confirms that the US military is primarily interested in supporting and protecting the pro-coup Haitian bourgeoisie and controlling and suppressing the Haitian people. In fact, the memo argues that for “security” reasons, the “economic elite” and former army officers should be politically satisfied, while the demands of the Haitian people for a decent living should not. “President Aristide’s policy of reconciliation has encouraged the economic elite, the natural source of support for opposition groups, to engage in deal making with the Government. As a result, the economic elite’s interest in stability and continued profits are being met, and therefore they do not have any incentive, at this time, to adopt the risky strategy of opposing the government,” said the memo, adding that the policy of reconciliation should be encouraged.

While supporting Aristide’s policy of reconciliation, the US military is clearly worried about the political weakness of Lavalas when it comes to neo-liberalism. “UNMIH statistics indicate that there has been a steady increase in demonstrations with economic themes over the past six months. While they have been relatively small, and generally peaceful in nature, the trend is negative,” it noted. The memo added, “Lavalas activists in Parliament will demand implementation of populist policies such as increased wages, a halt to privatization and price controls.” This “weakness” may lead to a security “problem,” it says.

On the justice front, as well as the economic, the “reconciliation”/impunity deal between the US, Aristide, and the pro-putschist sectors has to be maintained, the memo argues. “Addressing the crimes of the de facto government has the potential to be perceived as retribution thus further alienating elements on the right and some members of the economic elite,” it says.

DEMANDS FOR JUSTICE MORE AND MORE PRESSING

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept. 14 (Haiti Info) – Popular and church organizations commemorated the double anniversary of the St. Jean Bosco massacre (Sept. 11, 1988) and the murder of Antoine Izmery (Sept. 11, 1993) with television and radio interviews, marches, meetings and masses. Over and over again, youth, priests and victims demanded justice for the Sept. 11 abuses and all such heinous crimes. Leaders of the Lavalas movement and the government also mourned the date.

Most of the events were organized by the groups of the “lakou Sen Jan Bosko,” or “the St. Jean Bosco yard:” the ti legliz groups, Solidarite Ant Jen (SAJ), Konbit Veye Yo, and other groups that sprung up around the fiery, anti-imperialist sermons, speeches and activism of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They culminated with a march from St. Jean Bosco to Sacre Coeur (where Izmery was killed), attended by perhaps a thousand members of church, popular and other groups, as well as union members from some of the state enterprises slated to be privatized.

Marchers carried signs with slogans like: “Privatization = Unemployment,” “Down with Smarck Michel,” “Government: If you are not a liar, judge the criminals!” They stopped by the Port-au- Prince tribunal and filed a complaint against those who carried out the St. Jean Bosco massacre. The groups also organized several evenings of prayers and reflection, a debate on privatization, and an evening of music and animation.

In a final declaration, the six groups explained the current situation of confusion due to the application of neoliberal measures by the Aristide government, impunity, the US-run military occupation, opportunism of former members of democratic movement groups, and demobilization of the movement. They also criticized Aristide for his lack of clarity and demanded he speak up.

The groups ended calling for a mobilization so Haiti could “find its sovereign rights and not fall into a hand-me-down democracy,” and called for a movement against the “IMF death plan.” They also demanded justice, saying, “The soup of reconciliation is starting to have a bitter taste and we can’t keep it in our stomachs any longer,” called for a mobilization to denounce high cost of living, unemployment and cried out: “Long live a free and independent Haiti!”

Other organizations, like Assemblee Populaire Nationale and the Kolektif Mobilizasyon kont FMI ak Neyoliberalis also denounced the massacre, the lack of justice, government neo-liberal policies, and participated in the activities. The Jean-Marie Vincent Foundation issued a statement denouncing neo-liberalism as an “economic crime against the masses,” calling for justice and disarmament and said that the state should give “more consideration to the poor people than to the putschists converted into so-called Lavalassiens.”

The other commemorations were muted compared with the popular organizations’ fiery demands and the march’s posters. Father Antoine Adrien, one of those saying mass when Izmery was killed, and other priests said a memorial mass at Sacre Coeur, attended by about 300 people, including some government and foreign officials.

The government decreed a day of mourning and inaugurated two bronze monuments: near St. Jean Bosco, a woman “with arms raised to the sky demanding justice,” and in front of Sacre Coeur, busts of Antoine and his brother George Izmery (murdered in front of his store on May 26, 1992), with the inscription: “Murdered for Democracy.” President Jean-Bertrand Aristide inaugurated them shortly after midnight, early Sept. 11, explaining: “We chose… the middle of the night because we are still in the night of injustice.”

The government is feeling the people’s pressure, especially Aristide, as is evident in his midnight statement and repeated calls for justice during his visit to Hinche today. What is hard to judge is the will to turn such words into action. The experience of one year of the Aristide government doe not authorize any optimism on the matter.

[This article is reprinted from Haiti Info, Vol.3, No. 24, published bi-weekly by the Haitian Information Bureau.]

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