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#232: This Week in Haiti 17:18 7/21/99 (fwd)

"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)
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                        July 21 - 27, 1999
                          Vol. 17, No. 18


by Haiti123

Science, it is said, allows one to understand the essence of
things hidden beneath appearances. Therefore, the following
analysis, which was circulated in Internet discussion groups last
month, is essentially a scientific presentation. It dissects the
underlying roles, strategies, and interests of the different
class forces confronting each other in Haiti today. The author,
who prefers to remain anonymous, can be reached at the e-mail
address: Haiti123@aol.com.


A great deal has been said and written about the disruption of
the rally on May 28th. The event has been described as a rally
planned by "civil society" against insecurity and violence. Who
could be against that? As with everything else in Haiti,
appearances do not tell the whole story. To understand what led
to the confrontation in the first place and the various
reactions, we need to look at the current political situation and
the events leading up to the 28th.

Of prime importance in all of this is the current total lack of a
viable electoral opposition to Lavalas and to the Fanmi Lavalas
[the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide] to
represent conservative interests in the upcoming legislative
elections, or most critically, to face Aristide in the
presidential elections of 2000. It is clear that, despite their
tireless efforts, IRI [the International Republican Institute],
NDI [National Democratic Institute] and USAID [U.S. Agency for
International Development] have failed to pull together a
coalition formed of Haiti's right wing parties with any prayer
for electoral success. These parties (KONAKOM, FNCD, PANPRA,
ALAH, RDNP, to name just a few) are so numerous and so small as
to be popularly referred to as "particles" in Haiti. The leaders
of these one-man-show parties have a hard time sticking together
and an even harder time bringing any popular following. As
Haitians say, "none of them can gather 10 people under a

Given this failure, coupled with the virtual collapse of OPL
[Organization of People in Struggle], a new strategy, which
involves creating an opposition out of "civil society" has
emerged. "Civil Society" has become all the rage in USAID
circles. When Hilary Clinton came to Haiti in September 1998, she
met this much touted civil society, and it became clear that the
primary criteria for membership, according to the US Embassy, was
that one is a recipient of USAID funds. The meeting included the
union "leaders," who are funded by USAID, and groups like the
Amical of Jurists, a long time recipient of US government funds.
Not present were any representatives of peasant organizations, a
sector that includes 70% of the population. Nor were there
members of urban popular organizations, or neighborhood
associations, all of whom make up a large part of the very
vibrant and vocal "civil society" which has played a major role
in Haitian politics and society since the fall of Duvalier in

The second key element of the strategy is to engage the economic
elites directly as democratic actors in the political arena. The
elites themselves have always played the dominant role in Haitian
politics, usually behind the scenes, financing and controlling
darker-skinned political stand-ins, and utilizing the Haitian
military when necessary, while remaining themselves behind the
scenes -- a modus operandi not unlike the Mafia in the United
States. Since the restoration of democracy in 1994, the elites,
widely reviled as the financiers of the coup, have been playing a
particularly low-profile role. However, this new ideology calls
upon business leaders and economic elites to take their rightful
place in the political arena and to play the role elites in the
United States play of financing campaigns, playing a dominant
role in the media, creating parties to represent their interests,
and running for political office themselves if necessary.

The discourse of this "new movement" is that the economic elites
must now emerge from the sidelines to save the country from the
anarchy that Lavalas has created and bring "back" responsible
leadership. This ideology is summed up in the slogan quite
current in Haiti right now "le pouvoir aux plus capable" (power
for those who are most capable). Oliver Nadal, the President of
the Haitian Chamber of Commerce said, "It is time Haiti was
governed by those with university diplomas." In a country where 1
in 5 people reach secondary school, let alone university, this is
a very small pool to draw from. In fact, those with university
diplomas have governed both politically and economically for the
past 200 years, and they have brought Haiti to where it is today.

A third highly important factor is the reality of a high level of
crime, both organized and street level, in Haiti today. For the
first time in Haiti's history, criminal acts have directly
affected the bourgeoisie. Recent months have seen a rise in car-
jackings, robberies of people leaving banks, and murders in broad
daylight. This has created a climate of tension and anxiety among
all social classes in Haiti, but it is particularly profound
among the elite which has up until now been immune.

In April, a leader in BelAir was shot. A police ID was dropped by
one of the assailants. The neighborhood erupted in outrage, and a
week of demonstrations and civil unrest protesting insecurity and
police violence followed. The population views the police as
inactive in the face of rising crime at best and deeply
implicated in crime at worst. On April 28, a crowd estimated at
50,000 accompanied the funeral procession. The largely peaceful
marchers called for security and for the replacement of the
leadership of the police. One week later the right wing, USAID-
financed radio station, Vision 2000, announced that the most
prominent popular leader of La Saline had been killed. Again
popular anger was dramatic - store windows were smashed, and the
downtown area was once again brought to a standstill. This only
abated when the leader himself went on the air to assure the
residents of La Saline that the report was fabricated and that he
was fine.

Each time these demonstrations unfolded businesses in downtown
Port-au-Prince closed, with the owners fleeing up the hill to
Petionville. The financial impact in terms of lost business must
have been substantial.

The Rally is Called

This was the backdrop for what was billed as a "grand
rassemblement" on May 28th. A coalition led by the Haitian
Chamber of Commerce and supported by the USAID-manufactured civil
society called for a demonstration against "insecurity and
anarchy." During the week leading up to the very well financed
rally, the media was saturated with calls to participate in
language that was clearly class-coded. At least 4 different radio
ads played non-stop on all of Haiti's radio stations, with Vision
2000 becoming almost the media sponsor of the event by offering
practically 24-hour coverage. The spots made it clear that the
"insecurity" they were denouncing was not only the crime of
zenglendo [common criminals] but specifically the popular
demonstrations in response to the insecurity. Twenty thousand
T-shirts were produced, bank and industrial employees were
heavily "encouraged" to attend by their employers. Shipping line
owners arranged for transportation of their employees to the site
of the demonstration, and all businesses were asked to close
their doors at 12 noon.

Popular Reaction

One of the first organizations to denounce the demonstration was
the Foundation 30 September, a group of victims of the coup
d'etat which has been holding weekly vigils in front of the
National Palace for the last few years. They called the sponsors
of the rally hypocrites for calling for peace, while they have
never called for justice. Other popular organizations were quick
to follow pointing out that the Chamber of Commerce, the main
sponsor of the event, organized several "general strikes" against
the embargo during the coup period, while never commenting on the
daily murders of the people by the military. The President of the
Chamber of Commere and chief spokesman for the movement, Olivier
Nadal, came in for particularly harsh criticism. Samuel Madistin,
the OPL Senator for the Artibonite Valley, called for Nadal's
arrest for the 1990 massacre of peasants in Montrouis. In 1990 a
group of peasants who had taken over a piece of unused land owned
by Nadal were killed by Nadal's security. Since that time
peasants in the area have brought numerous complaints to the
Commissar of Saint Marc. As in so many other cases, no formal
charges have yet been brought.

Other groups went further in condemning many of the organizers of
the event as the financiers of the 1991 coup d'etat. In fact,
Nadal's name was on a United States government list of people
whose assets were frozen in 1994 by the U.S. for being supporters
of the coup, and the prominent businessman, Antoine Izmery,
shortly before he was assassinated, named Nadal, as one of the
members of the economic elite who financed the coup. The Truth
Commission report, which was completed on February 6, 1996,
included a confidential list of financiers of the coup. It was
passed on to the Preval government by outgoing President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but to date no action has been taken by
the government.

Members of popular organizations expressed outrage that the
financiers of the coup, who have never spoken a word on behalf of
the 5,000 people murdered during the coup, were now styling
themselves as the saviors of democracy and defenders of peace.
Others spoke of another kind of insecurity rampant in Haiti --
the insecurity of hunger. They suggested that if the elites in
fact wished peace and security in the country, they should stop
engaging in monopolistic food pricing, should pay taxes, and
should invest in health care and education and creating jobs.

Fanmi Lavalas issued a statement that neither condemned nor
supported the rally. It called for peace not only of mind, but in
the stomach. It condemned insecurity and impunity and called for
justice for the victims of the coup d'etat of September 30, 1991.

Popular sentiment was further antagonized by a visit of Olivier
Nadal and Jean Robert Wawa (the Vice President of the Chamber of
Commerce) to BelAir on the eve of the rally. Protected by a large
contingent of the Haitian National Police, the two engaged in a
"dialogue" with the population. Amidst the poverty and squalor of
BelAir, where an unemployment rate of 70% reigns, the two
lectured the population on democracy. Nadal said in stilted
Creole that he could not understand why the people felt the need
to turn to violence as a form of expression.

The Confrontation

All of this set the stage for the confrontation on May 28th. At
the scene of the demonstration it became clear that, rhetoric
about peace and non-violence aside, this was in essence an
anti-Aristide rally. At one point a person screamed into the
microphone that "Aristide is an assassin." It is difficult to say
exactly how many supporters of the demonstration were actually
present. The planned start time was for 12 noon. By 1:00 nothing
had yet happened and there was a small group assembled by the
kiosk. By that time another group of counter demonstrators had
gathered and was chanting "Aba Nadal" (Down with Nadal). They
were answered with some very ugly anti-Aristide comments from
some of the participants. A rumor circulated among the bourgeois
participants that 15,000 people were on their way up from [the
shantytown] Cite Soleil. At that point most of the rally
attendees left, causing a traffic jam of 4-wheel drive vehicles
along the Champ des Mars. Then rocks and plastic juice bottles
began to fly. A melee ensued. Some time later the organizers of
the rally felt they had regained control and could begin. They
called all of those supporting the rally to come forward, and the
police attempted to form a cordon around them. However the
speakers faced a crowd that was in majority hostile. Finally, the
police, who remained otherwise passive, intervened and closed the
rally down.

The Aftermath

The reactions to this event -- like so many things in Haiti --
were split down class lines. The organizers of the event and most
middle class and wealthy Haitians were horrified and outraged by
the spectacle. Spokesmen spent a great deal of time on the air
denouncing this assault on democracy. They said the disruption of
the rally was exactly the type of insecurity they were organizing
against and proved their cause was just. They also felt betrayed
by the police who had made a lot of noise in the days leading up
to the rally about guaranteeing the security of the participants.

Among ordinary Haitians there was a barely disguised glee and
sense of satisfaction. For once the poor gave the elites what
they felt they had coming to them.

There was also speculation that the organizers of the event had
planned for an outcome such as this, knowing the population,
already riled up by events in BelAir and La Saline, would protest
the event. This would then leave them the high moral ground as
victims, while the popular organizations, supporters for the most
part of Aristide, would be cast in the indefensible position of
opposing "peace and security."

Beyond the heat of the event and the accusations flying on both
sides, it is important to point out that no one was seriously
injured by the rock and plastic bottle throwers. A journalist was
however beaten by the police at the end of the event. And to the
horror of the entire country that same evening, May 28th, eleven
people were massacred in Carrefour Feuilles, a popular
neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. An investigation by the Haitian
government has already concluded that the police executed the
victims. Several officers have been arrested including the Chief
of Police for Port-au-Prince who fled to the Dominican Republic
to board a plane bound for the U.S. before being apprehended and
placed in jail in Haiti.

These events certainly confirm the reality of popular complaints
of pervasive police violence and give legitimacy to the call for
the replacement of the leadership of the police.


Perhaps more than anything else, the confrontation of May 28th
exposed two very deep fault lines in Haitian society today: the
continued impunity for the crimes of the 30 years of Duvalier
dictatorship and the coup d'etat, and the gaping divide between
rich and poor in Haiti. Some have commented that the organizers
of this event, by speaking out and putting themselves forward as
leaders, have awakened the sleeping anger of the people. (Yo leve
pep la nan nich li).

Strategies for consolidating democracy that do not address issues
of justice and economic justice can only lead to further

All articles copyrighted Haiti Progres, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progres.