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7091: This Week in Haiti 18:48 2/14/01 (fwd)
From: "K. M. Ives" <email@example.com>
"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 *
February 14 - 20, 2001
Vol. 18, No. 48
ARISTIDE PICKS PREMIER FOR AN "OPEN DOOR GOVERNMENT"
"I am the president of all Haitians," said Jean-Bertrand Aristide
in his inaugural speech on Feb. 7, "and I will be the president
of all, without exception."
The line was as much an invitation as a warning to the Democratic
Convergence (CD), a front of 15 small opposition parties which
named school principal and former presidential candidate Gerard
Gourgue "president" of their otherwise nonexistent "parallel
government" on Feb. 6 (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 18, No. 47, Feb.
While Aristide was being sworn in at the Parliament on Feb. 7,
Gourgue delivered an "address to the nation" from CD headquarters
in which he reinstated the Haitian Army (disbanded by Aristide in
1995) and invited exiles to return to Haiti (implicitly the likes
of Haitian death-squad leader Emmanuel "Toto" Constant and 1991
coup leader Michel François).
When asked by a reporter how he intended to issue his directives,
Gourgue responded straight-faced that he would use such means as
"the Internet," prompting Radio Haiti to dub him Haiti's first
"virtual president." Haiti has about 600 people for every phone
line (not to mention computers), the most dismal ratio in the
Western Hemisphere, which would make Gourgue's governance
cumbersome, to say the least.
But nobody really takes the CD's antics seriously, except their
foreign backers, whose backing is considerable. "This past year,
our [U.S.] government overtly provided to the International
Republican Institute $3,000,000 in funds not simply to help
opposition parties in Haiti but to 'develop' opposition parties,"
pointed out Haiti's general counsel Ira Kurzban in a Jan. 26
speech at the University of Miami. "In light of the outrage in
the United States following the revelations that the Chinese
government may have attempted to provide contributions to U.S.
candidates, it is nothing short of bizarre that our government
would spend money in a foreign country to create an opposition to
the government we are supposed to be supporting. This, of course,
does not include covert funds spent in Haiti to accomplish the
So, as comic as it appears, Gourgue's "virtual presidency" cannot
be dismissed as a joke, and many have begun to call for an end to
the comedy. "The parallel government is subversive, an infraction
of the Constitution, and an infraction of the Penal Code,"
pointed out Ben Dupuy, secretary general of the National Popular
Party (PPN), in a Feb. 8 interview on Haitian National
Television. Dupuy recalled that Gourgue, a law professor, had
been dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's teacher. "Under Duvalier,
would Mr. Gourgue have allowed himself to say that he is
president?" he asked. "Today he feels he can do it. I think it is
time for the government to take legal action."
"The government representative, as the guarantor of public order,
should intervene whenever an individual or a group of individuals
threatens public order," echoed Yvon Chéry, a former independent
parliamentary candidate for the city of Cayes. On Feb. 12, he
called for Gourgue's arrest.
Even Adama Dieng, the UN's long-time human rights expert on
Haiti, dropped his usual reserve to denounce the "parallel
In private, some Lavalas officials argue that the CD poses no
threat and that moving against them would only provide grist for
Washington and the mainstream media to further demonize Aristide.
"There are many people who say it's not the right moment, that
they'll say we're establishing a dictatorship," Dupuy remarked,
recalling the Creole proverb equivalent of damned if you do,
damned if you don't. "But say good morning to the Devil or not,
he is still going to eat you. If you don't apply the law, the
people will become so frustrated that they will take the law into
their own hands. Then they will accuse you of 'mob rule,' as they
like to say."
Despite such calls for action, President Aristide has continued
to be only conciliatory during his first week in office. On Feb.
9, he picked close advisor Jean Marie Cherestal to be prime
minister of what he dubbed an "open door government" in his
Born like Aristide in the southern town of Port Salut, Cherestal,
54, is an economist who studied not only in Haiti but also Canada,
Costa Rica, Panama, and Chili. He has acted previously as Aristide's
Planning Minister, later as Finance Minister, and most recently as
representative to the Lomé Convention.
"The political context is particularly difficult," Cherestal
said. "I am very conscious of the complexity of the situation and
of the burden that has fallen on my shoulders." Nonetheless
Cherestal continues to remain upbeat about the possibility that
the opposition will lay down their arms and work with his
government. "Perhaps the opposition has a position today but all
political positions are supposed to be able to change," he said.
"It must be called upon to change its position, and I very
sincerely believe that we will sit down and find a path out of
this situation together because the Convergence has no interest
for the country to be in this ruinous condition."
But there is no sign that the opposition shares Cherestal's
optimism. "We are sure that any dialogue with the Lavalas is just
dialogue to put us kneeling at Aristide's feet," said Chavannes
Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papaye
(MPP), a Central Plateau based component of the CD. "We don't
believe a word that comes out of Aristide's mouth, nor any other
word that the Lavalas says to try to put the people to sleep.
Everybody knows it's just lies."
Playwright/economist Hervé Denis, another former Lavalas ally but
now CD confederate, called Aristide's and Cherestal's calls for
negotiations "a farce." Victor Benoit, leader of the CD's Konakom
party, called Aristide's nomination of Cherestal as PM "a
continuation of a policy of fait accompli."
On top of the CD's intransigence, Aristide was stung by the no-
show of Dominican President Hipolito Mejia to the inauguration.
Under pressure from the Dominican army, Mejia announced the night
before that he was not coming for "security reasons." Most
suspect, however, that the Dominican generals vetoed Mejia's
visit because they dislike Aristide for his unseating of their
Haitian counterparts and his leftist reputation. Dominican
Foreign Minister Hugo Tolentino Dipp arrived late at the
inauguration by jeep via Jimani in Mejia's place.
Also troubling was the absence of the eight members of the U.S.
Congressional Black Caucus who had been scheduled to attend. The
delegation was to have been led by Congressman John Conyers (D-
MI). A spokesman from Congressman Charles Rangel's office told
Haïti Progrès that his absence was due to scheduling conflicts.
Only former Congressman Joe Kennedy (D-MA) showed up. Aristide
recognized Kennedy in his speech.
Said Musa, the Prime Minister of Belize also attended the
inauguration, as did the vice presidents of Nicaragua and
Despite international trepidation, the Haitian people turned out
to the inauguration en masse. About 75,000 massed in the streets
and trees outside the Palace fence, while 3,500 invited guests
overflowed stands inside. Before Aristide appeared on stage, the
Carnaval float of Gwo Lobo moved slowly through the dense throng
surging under a blistering sun. "We don't stick our noses into
foreigners' business," Gwo Lobo sang in a refrain which will
surely be a favorite during Carnaval at the end of this month.
"They should not stick their nose into our business."
All articles copyrighted Haïti Progrès, Inc. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Progrès.