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6952: This Week in Haiti 18:47 2/7/01 (fwd)

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                      February 7 - 13, 2001
                          Vol. 18, No. 47


On the eve of President-elect Jean-Bertrand Aristide?s Feb. 7
swearing in, Haiti surpassed even its own standards for
mysterious and confounding dualities.

Huge festive crowds gathered in the brightly lit square in front
of the gleaming white National Palace on the evening before the
inauguration. Ice-cream vendors wheeled their carts among hand-
holding couples strolling among gushing water fountains, as
compas rhythms floated on the air of the soft Caribbean night.

Meanwhile, radio and television air waves breathlessly reported
that the country was in the midst of a deep political crisis. The
Democratic Convergence (CD), an alliance of 15 opposition
parties, announced that it was forming on Feb. 7 a two year
?provisional government? headed by Gérard Gourgue, 75, a former
presidential candidate in Nov. 1987 elections which were bloodily
aborted by the Haitian military.

?We refuse to see a totalitarian hegemonic regime installed,
founded on violence and constructed on anarchy, assassinations,
crime, and generalized, daily, constant violence,? said Paul
Denis, a CD spokesman, in a Feb. 6 press conference announcing
Gourgue?s nomination. The CD contends that Aristide has
illegitimately come to power through rigged and flawed elections
last year.

But these days it is hard to find a Haitian in the teeming
streets of Port-au-Prince who agrees with, or even recognizes,
the CD. ?The opposition represents absolutely nothing and nobody
other than the so-called international community,? said Emosthène
Philogène, a middle-aged former custodian as he watched a pro-
Lavalas march of about 800 pass his house in the Belair section
of the capital on Feb. 6. In Haiti, the ?international community?
is generally understood to mean the U.S. and its allies. ?If it
weren?t for foreigners who support them and the media which keeps
covering them, they wouldn?t exist. As far as the people are
concerned, they don?t exist and neither does their so-called

The justice of this assessment was brought home by a CD
demonstration on the morning of Feb. 5. About 100 people behind a
banner marked ?No to the Lavalas? marched about one mile from the
CD headquarters to the Palace. As they moved down the street
yelling ?Down with Lavalas? and spray-painting walls with slogans
like ?Goodbye Aristide,? the CD demonstrators were met by looks
of quizzical scorn from people who continued about their
business. The protestors gained no numbers as they marched.

As the CD demonstrators approached the Palace, about three
hundred people who had been watching the construction of
inauguration stands spontaneously formed a counter demonstration
to meet them. For ten raucous minutes, the two demonstrations,
separated by only 30 feet of pavement and a handful of policemen,
bellowed at each other as journalists darted back and forth in
between them. Eventually, the CD demonstrators retreated, much to
the glee of the Lavalas crowd. ?You see, there was no violence,
no fighting,? exulted Bernard Secours, 26, a college student at
the state l?Ecole Normale. ?They can demonstrate, but so can we,
and the people massively overpower them.?

On Feb. 3, Aristide met with CD leaders at the Vatican?s embassy
to kick off two days of negotiations. The next day at the El
Rancho hotel in Petionville, the CD presented negotiators from
Aristide?s Lavalas Family party (FL) with a 17-point proposal
under which Aristide?s term would be clipped from five years to
two, the CD would name the Prime Minister (the real executive
power under Haiti?s constitution) who would rule by decree, and
all elected municipal governments would be replaced by ?municipal
commissions? jointly appointed by the FL, CD, and ?civil
society,? a euphemism for the bourgeoisie?s civic and religious
groups. The whole arrangement was to be overseen, like the talks,
by ambassadors from the ?international community,? the United
Nations, and the Organization of American States.

Many Haitians were dismayed that the Lavalas accepted to dialogue
with the CD in the days leading up to the inauguration. ?The
negotiations are a threat to the will of the people,? said Gladys
Philpot, a Lavalas activist in New York who returned to Haiti
like many from the diaspora for the inauguration. ?The people
voted for their government. That can?t be overturned in some
back-room talks.?

But it never came to that. The negotiations broke down at 3:30
a.m. on Feb. 6. Lavalas negotiators called for them to resume at
9 a.m., but the opposition refused. CD leader Evans Paul
predicted that the Haitian people would respond to the
opposition?s call to ?rise up? on Feb. 7 and thwart Aristide?s

In a Feb. 6 interview with Radio Kiskeya, Gourgue seemed only
slightly more in touch with reality. ?No confrontation is going
to take place,? he said, implying that his would be a patient
approach. . His ?parallel installation? would be ?a setting in
place which will depend on a certain process.?

Still, his goal is to overthrow Aristide, who was elected with
92% of the vote last Nov. 26. ?We will enter the National
Palace,? Gourgue assured his listeners. ?The adversary himself
faces so many problems and difficulties that practically he will
be obliged to remove himself. He has taken power in very negative
conditions, so there is a time factor which will come into play.?

But lack of popular support is clearly not one of the ?negative
conditions.? Popular organizations, neighborhood groups, and
individuals deployed themselves in the days before the
inauguration to sweep streets, clean gutters, and paint lamp-
posts, street curbs, and walls with fresh coats of red and blue
paint. Popular organizations also set up ?security barricades? of
burning tires on certain roads around the capital in a mostly
symbolic gesture to curb would-be trouble-makers. But, mostly,
the streets around the capital were remarkably calm.

In last minute preparations on inauguration eve, workers laid a
new forest green carpet in the Parliament, varnished a new
podium, and installed new sinks and computers. Similar teams
applied themselves with hammers, ladders, and brooms to the
National Cathedral and Palace.

Certainly, the new Republican administration of George W. Bush in
Washington will take Gourgue?s ?time factor? into account if it
launches a campaign of low-intensity warfare against the Aristide
government as Bush senior did in 1991. That campaign culminated
in the Sep. 30, 1991 coup d?état against Aristide, which sent him
into a three-year exile.

Although Taiwan, Cuba, and several other Latin American and
Caribbean nations are sending high level delegations, Hipolito
Mejia, the president of the neighboring Dominican Republic, is
expected to be the only head of state attending Aristide?s
inauguration as of Feb. 6. Furthermore, Mejia faced strong
objections from the Dominican military establishment. All this
indicates the extent of the U.S. and European Union?s campaign to
isolate and vilify Aristide and the Lavalas movement. But it is
clear on inauguration eve, that the campaign has not worked in
Haiti and, if anything, has strengthened the people?s attachment
to Aristide and resolve to fight for Haiti?s sovereignty.

Editor's Note: At the last minute, we learned that Dominican
President Mejia is not attending Aristide's inauguration due to
"security reasons." We will have a full report next week.

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