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#4005: This Week in Haiti 18:11 5/31/00 (fwd)
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
May 31 - June 6, 2000
Vol. 18, No. 11
WHAT’S BEHIND THE ARRESTS IN HAITI?
“Haitian police have arrested dozens of opposition politicians
and many others have gone into hiding” reads the lead on a May
25 Reuters dispatch. The Associated Press calls it a “new wave
of harassment and violence.” U.S. Ambassador Daniel Whitman
says it is “a climate of intimidation.” In short, the picture
being beamed to the U.S. public is that the Haitian government
is bullying opposition politicians and cracking down on
democracy. In fact, the opposite is true.
The Haitian government is acting to preserve democracy by
reining in politicians who, unhappy with the outcome of the May
21 elections, have brazenly threatened to organize a nationwide
insurrection. If only those politicians had a following.
Most of them lost miserably in the polling for legislative and
municipal posts. The Lavalas Family (FL), the party of former
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, captured 14 of the 27 Senate
seats and 16 of the 83 Deputy seats in the first-round. They
also swept most of the mayoral races and seats in local
Opposition politicians, like Evans Paul of the Space for
Concord (EC), have charged “massive fraud,” but election
observers, both national and international, disagree. “We
cannot say there was a situation of massive fraud,” said the
head of the National Council of Electoral Observers (CNO),
Léopold Berlanger, who can hardly be characterized as a Haitian
government lackey. Berlanger directs the staunchly anti-Lavalas
Radio Vision 2000 and has, over the past 14 years, enjoyed
Washington’s financial and political backing. Whatever his
personal feelings, he had to admit that the CNO’s “majority
consensus” was that the election’s scattered irregularities did
not effect “the result of the vote in general.”
Foreign observer delegations concurred. Orlando Marville, who
headed the 200 observers under the auspices of the Organization
of American States (OAS), called the vote “acceptable” and the
Mission of Francophone States also gave its seal of approval.
Such blessings have driven the opposition to extremes, verbally
and otherwise. Gérard Pierre-Charles of the Organization of
People in Struggle (OPL) declared that the May 21 polling was
“worse than that of Nov. 29" 1987, when death-squads machine-
gunned and macheted to death dozens of would-be voters. Why?
Because according to Pierre-Charles, “armed men of the FL
ambushed voters, making them run away... The presidents of the
BEDs (Departmental Election Office) and BECs (Communal Election
Office) were forced by the armed men to continue the voting
operations.” Forcing the vote to continue? Doesn’t sound like
much of a massacre, even if we accept the OPL’s far-fetched
Furthermore, no observers witnessed anything of the kind, for
which Victor Benoit of the EC had a ready explanation. The FL
“didn’t disrupt things in the downtown of the big towns,” he
said, “they let everything proceed normally.” But they did
create havoc in the countryside, according to Benoit, where
“you didn’t see any international observers” so all the trouble
took place “without the knowledge of the international
community.” Benoit called the polling an “electoral rape.”
In fact, there were some problems in the countryside, and the
police made arrests. For example, the police arrested a FL
Senate candidate Marcellin Casseus in the Central Plateau town
of Maissade along with another FL representative for carrying
weapons, which were banned during the electoral period, even if
licensed. Another FL candidate was arrested in the northwestern
coastal town of Anse Rouge.
But most of the trouble for authorities came from the parties
now decrying trouble. In the southeastern town of Thiotte, the
police had to round up 10 members of the OPL, including a mayor
running for reelection and some local assemblymen, on weapons
violations. In the western town of Petit Goâve, the police
arrested five members of the EC, including Limongy Jean, who
was running for deputy there. The men were charged with
inciting violence, which, from all accounts, they were
definitely trying to do.
The biggest stink has been made over the three-day detainment
of former senator Paul Denis, a prominent OPL leader. The
police claim they found illegal automatic weapons – an Uzi and
an M-16 knockoff (T-65) – at his home in Cayes. Denis claims
the weapons were planted. He is now free but is scheduled to be
brought up on charges soon.
Opposition groups claim that 34 of their members have been
arrested nationwide, a number which is likely inflated. For
example, Evans Paul claimed that EC poll observers were all
arrested in the Artibonite town of L’Estère. “That’s not true
at all,” responded Charles Suffrat of the popular organization
KOZEPEP, which is based in the Artibonite Valley. “They didn’t
arrest any EC poll observers at all, and I don’t see why those
guys are trying to create confusion.”
This is not the first time Paul has made unsubstantiated
charges. Last month, he trumpeted that seven people died in the
fire which burned down the EC headquarters, but then quietly
let the matter drop when he could produce no names or bodies.
Meanwhile, in the Artibonite town of Verettes, hoodlums,
suspected to be from the opposition, burned down seven voting
offices filled with election materials. One election worker was
Indeed, police response has been sluggish in the eyes of some.
“We call on the government and the police leadership to take
all the necessary dispositions to apprehend all the scoundrels
who are posing as political leaders and using the pretext of
being militants to make meetings left and right to organize a
coup d’état, to destabilize the country, and to create
disorder,” said Yvon Bonhomme of the popular organization
Operation to Save Haiti (OSA).
“The police should disarm all the former senators who have
never returned the heavy weapons which they were given and the
former soldiers who have never been disarmed,” said René Civil
of the Popular Power Youth (JPP). “We call for a full-scale
operation so these people are disarmed and judged.”
The government has rejected the opposition’s attempt to portray
election security measures in a sinister light. “I don’t think
that we can speak of a wave of repression against people in the
opposition,” said Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis,
pointing out that members of both the opposition and the FL had
been arrested. “We have to give the process care and attention
so that the sore losers don’t create problems.”
“There is nobody who is above the law, there is nobody with
immunity,” said Justice Minister Camille Leblanc. “Whether you
are an elected official, or a candidate, or a functionary, if
you break the law, the police will apprehend you. Some people
thought that since they were candidates, they had immunity.
That does not exist.”
On May 30, Leblanc said that the government would soon publish
a summary of how many people were arrested, how many tried, and
how many released.
Meanwhile, the opposition’s new front, the “Convergence”, is
already showing signs of divergence. The OPL and the Assembly
of National Progressive Democrats (RDNP) have both declared
that they will boycott the second round of elections scheduled
for Jun. 25. However, OPL candidates in the Grand Anse
department, where elections have been postponed to a still
undetermined date in June, have proposed holding an
“extraordinary assembly” on whether to respect the national
leadership’s boycott call.
For its part, the EC has asked electoral authorities for an
“evaluation” before it decides on its next move. Perhaps it
should reflect on how it waged its campaign.
“The political parties which say they are in the opposition
always counted on a coup d’état or foreign sponsorship instead
of making a democratic opposition where they could criticize
the government about its policies and present the population
with an alternative national development program,” opined a
Haitian National Television commentator. “It seems it was this
parasitic attitude of relying on others which caused the
opposition’s problems. Over these past years, the leaders of
the opposition have always been going to Washington to meet
with Republican Party members, asking for help to defeat the
power in place. But who is voting for Haitian candidates in a
democratic election in Haiti? Haitians or foreigners?”
>From last week’s column, the Assembly of Patriotic Citizens
(RCP) member killed in a political street-fight was not, as we
reported, the mayoral candidate, who is Jean Yves Jason. It was
another party member, Jean Michel Oliphène. We also incorrectly
stated that the contest on the Ile de la Gonâve was aborted for
a later date. In fact, the Electoral Council has not announced
which contests, if any, will be reheld.
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