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#3183: The Return of the Dark Days (fwd)


Sunday, April 9, 2000 |The Return of the Dark Days   By AMY WILENTZ
Los Angeles Times
NEW YORK--The dark days that were supposed to be gone forever seem to
have returned to Haiti with a vengeance  during these last few weeks.
President Rene Preval is all but locked away in his palace, and the
legislature has been disbanded. Plans to hold last month's postponed
legislative and municipal elections this month have again been
abandoned, postponed until who knows when. Effectively, there is no    
government.  The police force has been successfully undermined by   
various armed gangs in the service of various political parties.      
U.S. forces, who arrived in 1994 to reinstate Jean-Bertrand       
Aristide as president, have left, and the small U.N. mission, until    
last month about 200-strong, is underfinanced and
Effectively, there are no forces of order. An air of suspense         
hangs over the capital, Port-au-Prince. As chaos and death swirl around
his country,Aristide--former hotheaded spokesman for the poor and      
oppressed, former first freely elected president of Haiti and         
soon-to-be candidate for a second presidential term--keeps a       
remarkably judicious and silent tongue. Last week, in the most       
unabashed in a recent series of political killings, Jean Dominique, 
Haiti's most famous journalist, a tireless militant for democracy a man
who never kept silent, was assassinated in a hail of  bullets as he went
from his car at his radio station to do his morning show. The station's
security guard was also killed. With friends like this, who needs the
Tontons Macoutes?  Still, it takes a lot of nerve to kill someone like
Dominique. In terms of Dominique's fame within Haiti, and his
association with the cause of democracy, it's something like killing
Aristide. But there is one big difference. Aristide is black, and
Dominique was  what is called "wouj," or red, in Haitian Creole. Red
comes from the redder hair and skin color of mixed-race people like
Dominique, though the journalist was actually more on the white        
side of wouj. During the days leading up to Aristide's election,    
such differences counted for little. Aristide and Dominique stood     
side by side. After a coup by the army against Aristide in 1991,      
he and Dominique went into exile, again, side by side. But, recently, a
campaign was launched against the woujs in  power, and this may have
made Dominique more vulnerable and less valuable in the eyes of the
general population. Two casualties of the wouj attack were a
light-skinned police chief, who had to flee the country, and another who
left his post. But Dominique is the most visible victim in this sad
campaign,unappetizingly reminiscent of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier's 
attacks against the mulatto elite in the 1950s and 1960s. Back in  those
days, there were reasons, both political and psychological,for the
attacks on the elite. Lighter-skinned Haitians were seen as tools of
foreign domination and economic penetration. Often,with the approval of
foreign powers, especially the Americans,an unpopular mulatto president
would be installed to help achieve foreign objectives on the island.
Later, with an eye toward burgeoning nationalism, black presidents were
put into  power, but the mulatto elite was still favored by wealthy and
powerful outsiders. Historically, of course, the mulattoes were the
children of slaves and masters, and played a problematic and often     
duplicitous role in the battle for Haitian independence. Thus, a        
light-skinned Haitian, even today, is always possibly suspect          
and, therefore, always possibly an easy target as well. That's       
what happened to Dominique.                                            
It's a bad sign when the race card is played in Haitian  politics.
Traditionally, that card has been put on the table just  before the
advent of a dictator, and dictators have arrived on the scene with some
regularity in Haiti. Now Dominique is dead, unbelievable to those of us
who worked in Haiti during the past three decades, when his was the 
voice, if not always of reason, then of passionate engagement with the
ideal of freedom. His was also the voice of truth, not 
objectivity--Haitian journalists are too proud of their politics to   
pretend to this--but of sharp truths told with an acid tongue, a     
necessary corrective to the bland and misleading "blah-blah-blah" (as
Haitians say) of prevaricating politicians.                            
What is Haiti to become if it should ever emerge from this             
welter of blood? One thinks of the intelligent Dominique with
his         head shot open. In the most literal sense, the country
has      suffered a terrible brain drain. Not only have thousands of
capable people--doctors, lawyers, accountants, dentists, writers,
artists--left, but the best of the best who have remained and dedicated
themselves to their country's future, often at great  personal cost, are
being picked off, one by one, by thugs, criminals and the armed agents
of political
Dominique was the last of a breed, a staunch anti-Duvalierist with a
good education and no personal familiarity with weapons.He was erudite
and articulate not only in French, often scoffed  at in Haiti as the
language of the elite, but also in Creole. He was an old type: the
decent man of conscience, the believer in equality, the truth teller.
One cannot begin to say how sorely Haiti will miss him, and others like
him--though not just like him--who have been lost in the past few years'
awful bloodletting. *