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#5319: Aristide as president again: Chamberlain comments (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

Inevitably, the history of any country gets mangled, compressed and
distorted by the simple passage of time.  So it is in this Reuter report.

Aristide did _not_ "dislodge the Duvalier dictatorship in a popular
uprising."  He was not a nationwide figure as the revolt spread throughout
the provinces from November 1986 until the Duvaliers fled in February 1987.
 That was the fruit of years of activity by the Ti Legliz community
movement within the Catholic Church and of the remarkable Radio Soleil run
by progressive Haitians and foreign priests (the radio has long returned to
the control of the conservative church hierarchy).

Aristide was a Port-au-Prince figure, where his electrifying sermons in his
church at Saint Jean Bosco inspired the inhabitants of the surrounding
slums.  He was hardly known in the provinces, where the work of
"revolution" had already been done by the time his sermons began being
noticed in PauP.  For various reasons, Port-au-Prince was the one place in
the country which did _not_ rise up against the Duvaliers.

When they left, PauP celebrated like everyone else, and it was _then_ that
Aristide came into his own with his sermons and he and they became a real
factor in the national situation as all sides competed for post-Duvalier
power.  In 1988, St Jean Bosco was attacked by regime thugs during a
service by Aristide.  He escaped but 13 people were massacred and the
church burned (the shell of it remains today, as a sort of shrine).  A
profoundly psychologically-traumatised Aristide retreated to the
headquarters of his order, the Salesians, in Pétionville.  He was then
expelled from the Salesians on the instructions of the right-wing papal
nuncio of the time, Paolo Romeo, for supposed "incitement to hatred,
violence and class struggle" and retired to run his orphanage of Fanmi
Selavi, in rue Camille Léon in the Turgeau district of PauP.

In 1990, he was put forward as presidential candidate by Evans Paul, the
leader of the FNCD centre-left coalition, who dumped schoolteacher Victor
Benoit, who had been named the FNCD candidate two weeks earlier.  Aristide
was elected president and then dumped  Evans Paul.  As Papa Doc Duvalier is
supposed to have said: "Gratitude is weakness" (La reconnaissance est une
lacheté) and "The revolution eats its children" (La révolution mange ses
fils).  Or was he quoting from the French revolution?

Now Aristide's going to be president again.  Good luck to him in what could
still be a very beneficial period of governance.  Unfortunately he has
already needlessly and largely destroyed the trust many foreign countries
had in him.  But his great achievement so far has been the dissolution (de
facto, not yet legally) of the army.  May he not create another under a
different name.  May he use his intelligence and remarkable support to
serve and not betray the Haitian poor, may he not establish (or allow to be
established) a new secret police force.  And may he not blame all his
problems on foreigners and others as an easy way out of confronting all the
tough issues.  Foreigners may sometimes be responsible, but it's a waste of
precious time and words to blame them.  Though of course, it does very
conveniently divert attention and gain a ruler time.

Like anyone in his position in a small poor country, he's going to have a
big job getting honest opinions from the surfeit of flatterers and thugs
that always surround charismatic figures, or from a parliament filled with
inexperienced or self-serving members or from the "opposition," which he
and his supporters have so firmly decided to dismiss, whatever honeyed
words he and his spokespeople utter about "reconciliation."

        Greg Chamberlain