Haiti Archives 1995-1996
14/12/95 HAITI-POLITICS: Anger of Poor Under Control – For Now By Ives Marie Chanel

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 14 (IPS) – Just 10 kms north from the capital of Haiti lies the country’s slum – Cite’ Soleil (Sun City) – home to close to half-a-million citizens who live in the most squalid and abject poverty.

Sun City, which takes an hour to reach through the almost 24 hour traffic jam on the roads, is considered the stronghold of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and provides an insight into the outlook of voters who are due to elect a new president Sunday.

On any day you will see a group of curious youths gathered at the entrance to Sun City watching the manoeuvres of several dozen soldiers belonging to the United Nations Mission to Haiti. Haitian policemen sent to control a few dozen aggressive demonstrators looking for work in a neighbouring electric power station may also be drilling.

There is a sign up in front of the power plant, whose turbines are presently undergoing repair, saying ‘’No work available’’ printed in large letters. This has not proved sufficient, however, to convince these poor people, most of whom are illiterate, that they should look elsewhere for a job, in a country where more than 70 percent of the active population is unemployed.

Last Saturday police fired shots into the air to remind demonstrators not to allow their protest to get out of hand, but this has not disturbed the slum-dwellers, who over the last ten years have become all too used to clashes with authority.

In November, three persons were killed after an argument between a bus-driver and a policemen. Youths stormed and sacked the local police station, putting to flight the police on duty.

After last Saturday’s incident, newspaper published reports of the existence of armed groups in Sun City,and existence of a ‘’Red Army.’’ They also speak of the existence of a ‘’Khadaffy Base’’, named after the Libyan chief of state.

But members of popular organisations accused of possessing arms and munitions deny the charge. One of them, known simply as ‘’Africa’’, a young man of 31, is wearing his hair in the Rastafarian style.

Africa, who says he did time in prison under the Duvalier regime, is a specialist in ‘’Roots’’ music, and has his own group. He advocates a return to sources, admires Aristide and attacks the ‘’bourgeoisie’’, who, he says, are enriching themselves at the expense of the misery of the inhabitants of Sun City.

‘’We must not throw out the baby with the bath. The ‘Red Army’ is formed of former members of the army and the paramilitary ‘’Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH).’’ he says.

At Belekou, a sector of Sun City, some 20 youths – all members of various popular organisations – greeted a group of reporters for a news conference but then asked the journalists to leave the room. The leaders of the group said they needed to decide among themselves whether to answer questions.

Ten minutes later they agreed to make one sole revelation concerning an incident in which they had decided to burn a vehicle belonging to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in the zone.

‘’We had asked questions of the NGO concerning the improvement of the living conditions of the population. We never heard anything back so we decided to burn thir vehicle, which cost more than 40,000 dollars.

‘’We also did it to attract the attention of President Aristide, so that the government would at least look into our situation,’’ said another of the youths.

Some members of popular organisations admit privately outside of group meetings that some of them do own a few calibre 12 hunting rifles and .38 revolvers

‘’Some of us have weapons, but the propaganda about the quantity of arms we are supposed to have at our disposal is false. The real armed groups are those financed and recruited by the industrialists in the zone,’’ says one.

These young people say they are very frustrated. The candidates they supported, some of whom have since become mayors of cities and towns after the June 25 elections have not kept their promises, the conditions under which these youths have to live are growing worse and worse, they say.

‘’Our movement is trying to make the government understand the meaning of the elections …’’ says Vesnel Francois, a popular leader who was tortured during army uprising.

Francois, who lived for a year in the United states with political refugee status, says he is struck by the lack of any relations whatsoever between the popular groups and the government.

‘’All we do is live from hand to mouth, from day to day. We are living on garbage, in the mud, and if we have to be shot at by the police when we demonstrate, we will not stand for it. We are obliged to tolerate what has happened to us under Aristide because we voted for him, but no one else will get the benefit of our tolerance,’’ he says.

These young people told reporters they sent a delegation last week to meet former prime minister, Rene Preval, a candidate for the Lavalas Political Platform (PPL), and considered by public opinion as the heir-apparent of President Aristide.

According to them, it was a question of organising a visit of the Lavalas candidate to Sun City Friday two days before the presidential election.

But Preval wanted too many guarantees regarding security which could not be met and the visit will not take place.

The youths of Sun City do not know whether the president has met any members from popular organisations as part of the dialogue Aristide says he has started.

They say they are ready to take part in such a dialogue. All they want is for someone to listen to them. They very much want their living conditions to change. (END/IPS/imc/mk95)

Origin: Rome/HAITI-POLITICS/ ----

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