[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
5866: ONETIME COMRADES IN LETHAL BATTLE TO LEAD HAITI (fwd)
ONETIME COMRADES IN LETHAL BATTLE TO LEAD HAITI
Once they walked together, blood brothers in a poor people's struggle. Once
they marched for miles barefooted - the boyish, bug-eyed priest and the
ebony-skinned upholder of Haiti's peasants - to defend those who walked the
streets without shoes.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Chavannes Jean-Baptiste have long stood as
Haiti's twin symbols of democracy. But as the country braces for an election
certain to restore Aristide to power, his longtime partner has accused him
of plunging Haiti into new lawlessness.
Jean-Baptiste, leader of Haiti's largest peasant movement, has denounced
Aristide, the country's former and first-ever elected president, as a
dictator-in-waiting. Also, he has accused Aristide of allowing, if not
masterminding, an assassination attempt this month that narrowly missed
Jean-Baptiste and seriously wounded his brother.
"For me, always, Aristide was a saint, a warrior, a fighter for the rights
of people," Jean-Baptiste said this week, speaking by phone from Haiti,
where he is in hiding. "Today, he uses the name of the people to defend his
interests, with thugs, with drug dealers. He has become a demon to me."
Jean-Baptiste's statements, the fiercest since he split with Aristide in
1997, come as Haitians condemn the attack on Jean-Baptiste and hundreds of
others in the rural town of Hinche. The outrage echoed throughout Boston,
home to the third-largest community of Haitians in the United States, and
once home to the headquarters of Jean-Baptiste's movement, the MPP.
The Nov. 2 attack left Jean-Baptiste's brother, Dieugrand, in critical
condition, five others wounded, and the home of another opposition leader
burned to the ground. It marked the latest in a wave of violence related to
the elections to be held Nov. 26.
Aristide, who will probably be restored to power, has not commented on the
Last week, Haiti's prime minister, a member of Aristide's ruling Lavalas
party, declared the attack illegal. Also, in a statement last week, one of
two Aristide-backed mayors in the region denied responsibility for the
But a report by Amnesty International said the armed gangs that opened fire
apparently acted on behalf of the local mayors. With no pressure to arrest
suspects, Amnesty International said, the government's criticism of the
attack rings hollow.
Over a scratchy phone line, Jean-Baptiste said that if someone years ago had
predicted a major rift between him and Aristide, he never would have
believed it. Now, he says, he no longer recognizes the people's priest he
once trusted with his life, and the nation's future.
His words reflect a deep divide among Haitians about the evolution of the
man many still call "Titid": from a priest in tattered polyester to a power
broker in Italian suits, a man critics say controls the country from a
On the verge of recapturing the presidency, Aristide now stands pitted
against a man who commands the loyalty of thousands of peasants in a
decades-old grass-roots movement.
"The reality is that today, we live under a dictatorship," Jean-Baptiste
said. "It's Aristide who decides who should be magistrate, who should be
senator, who should be deputy, according to his friendships with certain
"But people have a lot of trouble swallowing this, when mayors raise taxes
and there are no services," he continued. "No water, no electricity, no
medical care. There is nothing."
The attempt on his life, Jean-Baptiste said, was the exception in a series
of murders that include the April killing of Jean Dominique, a human rights
activist and journalist.
"They are trying to shut the mouth of the Haitian people, to create the fear
of the cemetery so the election of Aristide can pass without challenge,"
In the minds of Haitians at home and abroad, the rift between the two
leaders holds the worst possible omen for a nation trying to cobble
democracy on a foundation of foreign invasions and home-grown tyrants.
The rift so disturbed Pierre Imbert, head of the Haitian-Multi Service
Center in Boston, that he approached Jean-Baptiste last year and pleaded for
him to meet with Aristide. The plea was rejected, but Imbert continues to
"I think Haitians are stymied that these people are so far apart," said
Imbert, who also chairs a loan fund for agrarian projects in Haiti. "When
people fought against military dictatorships, that was one thing. But this
is a fragmentation inside the family of democracy into clans, and everyone
is fortifying their positions."
Imbert cautioned against a rush to judgment about the attack. But he also
said that Aristide's ruling party has fueled suspicions by not actively
investigating the incident.
Alix Cantave, the former head of the Haitian Studies Association, said he,
too, did not know who exactly was to blame. Yet in a nation clawing to
escape its tyrannical past, the recent violence seemed dangerously familiar.