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6256: FWD from Montreal Gazette - Aristide's supporters take to street (fwd)
Aristide's supporters take to street
Haiti's president is target of smear campaign, they say
Exactly 10 years after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first voted in as Haiti's
president, Haitian Montrealers took to the streets yesterday to denounce what
they say is a concerted effort to discredit the former priest, re-elected
Carrying placards that read "Aristide = Dignity to the People" and "Long Live
Haitian Democracy," the crowd of about 250 marched down Rene Levesque Blvd.
to CBC headquarters, one of a slew of media outlets they say have become
spokesmen for the Haitian opposition.
"If they find a dead dog on the street in Port-au-Prince, they say it's
Aristide's fault," said Frantz L. Jean, exiled along with Aristide after a
bloody coup d'etat ousted him from power seven months after the 1990
"They blame him for everything and will say anything to assassinate him
The French press in Montreal, as well as radio and television broadcasters,
have accused Aristide of intimidating voters, of embezzlement, and more
generally, of carrying on the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier and
his son, Baby Doc Duvalier, who was ousted in 1986, marchers said.
As Haiti maintains its position as the poorest country in the Western
hemisphere, critics contend Aristide spends most of his time holed up in his
sprawling mansion on the outskirts of the capital.
But Jean and others at the demonstration said journalists should go to
Port-Au-Prince and talk to the people themselves, not to politicians left
over from the Duvalier regime, who treat the people with disdain. They say no
one has offered any proof of wrongdoing by the man they say is the country's
first legitimate leader since it gained independence in 1804.
To the contrary, they said, there is ample proof of what Aristide and Rene
Preval - who succeeded Aristide after U.S. Marines restored the ex-priest to
power in 1994 - have done for their people.
"There have been more schools built since 1995 than in the rest of our
history combined," Jean Lebrun Dyer said. "Now the kids can eat, they go to
school and there are even school buses, called the Dignity Service, to take
them there. That's what the opposition doesn't want you to know."
Others cited improvements in infrastructure, disbanding the Tontons Macoutes
- Duvalier's secret police responsible for countless atrocities and
assassinations - and medical care for people who had never seen doctors
Jean's proof of Aristide's popularity was of another kind: "It's the first
time in history that a president deposed by a coup d'etat was obliged by his
people to come home and come back to power after three years in exile."
Officially, Aristide received 92 per cent of the vote Nov. 26. But the major
opposition parties boycotted the election, amid widespread violence,
including bombings of unproven origin that killed two children and injured at
least 17 people.
Each side blames the other for the bombings. But for Marie-Gisele Pierre, the
people's choice was clear.
"Everyone is behind Aristide. During the Duvalier years, he also lived in
misery. Now if he can get his people out of that misery, who is going to stop
him? If everyone gets together we can change things and develop our country.
We have the experience, the ability and the dignity. But he is the only one
who wants security and consideration for everyone."
Aristide's supporters face many obstacles, however. They spoke of threats of
assassination or another coup d'etat even before he is sworn in Feb. 7, and
an increasingly hostile international community.