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#1622: This Week in Haiti 17:41 12/29/99 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
December 29, 1999 - January 4, 2000
Vol. 17, No. 41
THE BEST OF TIMES, THE WORST OF TIMES:
TWO VIEWS OF HAITI AND THE WORLD
To listen to the North American mainstream media these days,
things have never been better. The economy is fantastic,
everybody is getting rich, there is no war to speak of, the
environment is getting better, crime is down, and just about
everybody is happy. Sometimes one can only rub one's eyes and
wonder: am I living on the same planet?
That was the surreal sensation one had when listening to the
traditional year-end address of President René Préval at the
National Palace on Dec. 22.
While paying lip service to Haiti's deepening crises, both
political and economic, he painted a rosy picture of Haiti's
future, and white-washed the past year.
"Despite all the jolts we have experienced even recently, one can
say that we are progressing generally in the direction we
desire," Préval declared of his reform efforts. "From the point
of view of our economic choices, the results are encouraging on
the macro-economic level and the growth rate is positive," at
which point, to avoid ridicule, he had to add "even if it remains
insufficiant to help us to reduce the most crying social
Well, of course, it is "insufficient." Under the neoliberal
system Préval is helping to install, "growth" on the "macro-
economic level" is only possible when workers are paid the
minimum for their labor, peasants the minimum for their crops,
and artisans the minimum for their crafts. State services and
payrolls are cut to the bone, subsidies for gas and foodstuffs
are slashed, and tariffs protecting farmers and small industries
are dropped. The result is even deeper unemployment, misery, and
hunger for the masses.
The bourgeoisie has never had it better, however. Everywhere in
Haiti, one sees gleaming new gas-stations, mini-marts with all
foreign food, and banks, frequented by well-dressed patrons with
new cell-phones and sport-utility vehicles. "If you want to get
rich, come to Haiti," a new cell-phone businessman recently told
a journalist. "This is where the goose that lays the golden eggs
lives. Just one thing: leave your politics at home."
Of course, the growing gap between rich and poor and widening
impoverishment produce protest, which one might agree has been
tolerated if one doesn't count the regular and brutal "excesses"
of the heavily-armed police unit known as the CIMO (Company for
Intervention for the Maintenance of Order). This along with the
"the reform of the public administration, the reform of the
judicial system, the normal resumption of the electoral process
to soon return to complete constitutional order, these are so
much proof of the quasi-definitive break with the anti-democratic
past of not so long ago," Préval asserted. A premature
assessment? Most certainly, when one observes that the state
bureaucracy is still laced with "grand mangeur" (big eater)
corruption. Justice is crawling, if not at a standstill. While
innocents and petty thieves languish for years behind bars
without trial, former soldiers and paramilitary thugs who carried
out torture and mass murder during the 1991-94 coup roam freely.
Upcoming elections are being held under anything but "normal"
conditions, with the U.S. controlling the production of
participation-reducing photo-identification electoral cards and
the electoral machinery packed with partisans of the Espace de
Concertation, Washington's "opposition" front in Haiti, very
similar to the 1990 UNO front in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, thousands
of demobilized but still armed soldiers, both military and
paramilitary, lie in wait for their chance to bring back the
"anti-democratic past" with which, it would be more accurate to
say, there has been a "quasi-tentative" break.
Auguring their eventual offensive is the country's continuing
wave of crime and violence, known as "insecurity." But borrowing
from Préval's sense of the unreal, the Haitian National Police
(PNH) also declared last week that their "Buckle Up Port-au-
Prince" anti-crime campaign has been a grand success, and that
zenglendo activity is down. "In the metropolitan region, there
has been a considerable reduction in the rate of insecurity,"
declared PNH spokesman Jean Dady Siméon. "Today, we give the
population a formal guarantee that they can walk around anytime
they want and the police will be in the streets 24 hours a day to
give them security."
Just a glance at a few items off the police blotter over two days
helps one gauge the value of Siméon's "guarantee." Around 7 p.m.
on Dec. 21, four men robbed at gunpoint Kénold Walchin, a Radio
Kiskeya collaborator, of all his belongings on Rue Pavée in
downtown Port-au-Prince. At noon the same day, three armed men
invaded the medical clinic of former Social Affairs Minister Dr.
Pierre Denis Amédée in Pétionville and made off with the day's
receipts of $400 and all the money and valuables of patients in
the waiting-room. Eladrès Jean François, 32, was shot to death in
the Avenue Fouchard area at around 5 a.m. on Dec. 22 as he was
opening a bakery. Then at around noon, two men dressed in black
like "Ninjas" opened fire in a crowded downtown market near Croix
de Bossales, wounding 7 people, 4 seriously. Later that evening,
in the Linthaud section of Cité Soleil, 50 houses were burned
down leaving about 270 families homeless, following a shoot-out
between a lottery stand owner and a dissatisfied customer. Also
that day, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) announced that it was
suspending its food aid to 250,000 children because of ambushes
of its vehicles. "The bandits are in front of Shodecosa [the food
depot] a few meters from the exit," explained a CRS employee.
"They are armed, and as soon as they see the trucks leaving, they
jump on board, brandishing their firearms at the truck drivers,
whom they ask to take them somewhere. Sometimes they take the
foodstuffs to a marketplace, and sometimes to a depot in town,
which obviously means they have already made arrangements with
the big merchants in town."
Clearly, insecurity is not under control, nor is the economy
"encouraging" for most Haitians. Street merchants along the
sidewalks of downtown Port-au-Prince said that this was their
worst Christmas sales season ever. "We sit by the roadside and
sell nothing," one merchant told Radio Haiti-Inter on Dec. 23.
"There is no business for us." Christmas sales have steadily
declined over the past 5 years. To offset the miserable mood, the
government distributed some toys to some children in a few
schools and in the General Hospital. The Minister of Social
Affairs also organized a mini-charity drive for gifts for some of
On the same day that Préval gave his address, a few dozen poor
people from around Haiti demonstrated in front of the Palace,
asking the government to help them during the holiday season.
"Préval told us to bring a letter to the Palace and he would give
us a little money so we could get through the Christmas holiday,"
said one demonstrator. "Since Monday the 20th until now we have
been marching here but we haven't gotten anything, and today we
came for a last time. Up until now, no authority has said a word
Meanwhile, the SOS Committee, a coalition of four taxi and bus
driver unions, threatened future actions and called for a
generalized protest against a new tax on vehicles and rising fuel
prices. In his address, Préval said that the State had subsidized
Haiti's gas price with 57 million gourdes ($3.2 million) last
month, softening the blow of higher fuel costs on the
international market. But he also implied the State would not
keep this up, saying "you can't spend what you don't have." It
would be more truthful if he said that he has other priorities,
like paying about $5 million per month in interest on Haiti's
foreign debt, rung up largely by the former dictator Jean-Claude
Duvalier and his neo-Duvalierist military successors.
Despite such priorities, Préval claims he is aiming for
"universal schooling". "We are working on a program so that
little by little we can have 1 million school-age children really
in school," he said. The irony is that over the past two years,
the Haitian government has flagrantly trampled a 1997 agreement
it made with Haiti's teacher unions, promising better conditions
and pay, and higher budget priority for education. "The situation
is very grave," said Josué Mérilien of the teacher's union UNNOH
last week. "The future of schools and of Haiti is very dismal,
and it will become more dismal if Haitians remain uninvolved.
Today we have leaders who are so irresponsible, so uncaring, so
immoral, which are making money and filling their pockets in
their state job, while forgetting their responsibility as people
who are in a position of power. Schools are becoming more broken
down, and the State is even more broken down that it was before."
Préval also claimed he will protect the environment.
Unfortunately, the situation is already catastrophic. This week,
experts warned that authorities are neglecting Morne L'Hôpital,
the mountain watershed that provides 75% of Port-au-Prince's
water. Shanty towns are creeping up the once virgin slopes and
raw sewage is beginning to pollute the water supply. The experts
warned that the pell-mell building on the steep slopes is
creating erosion and could result in a disaster like that last
week in Venezuela, where heavy rains and landslides killed
Meanwhile, UNICEF announced last week that the number of homeless
street children in Port-au-Prince has tripled in the past 10
years to about 7,000, or 4% of the capital's population. Another
250,000 to 300,000 children are "restavèks," or virtual household
Préval has also heralded an accord signed earlier this month with
the Dominican Republic on the repatriation of Haitians. But the
agreement has come under fierce criticism from sectors including
Father Pedro Ruquoy, who works with Haitians in the DR and the
New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights. "We are
asking for an immediate halt to the massive deportations and for
people to have the opportunity to appear in court, to present
their case in a normal fashion and for justices to see what
history and property a person has in this country," said Sonia
Pierre, a Haitian-Dominican activist in Santo Domingo. "As long
as there are massive deportations, nothing has been resolved."
On Christmas eve, the Dominican authorities expelled 200 Haitians
and Haitian-Dominicans. The Bahamas also deported over 100
Haitians on Dec. 21. Many arrived barefoot, having been arrested
at work and not even allowed to collect their belongings.
Overall, it has been a very difficult holiday season for the vast
majority of Haitians, and for the vast majority of the world's
population. So what is the state of Haiti and the world as we
cross the threshold into the 21st century? It all depends on
where you are sitting. For the rich, it is a time of "growth" and
new-found riches. For working people, it is a time of struggle to
end exploitation, aggression, and injustice.
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