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7730: Michael Deibert article from Windows on Haiti (fwd)

From: A Wellington <souve64@hotmail.com>

Notes from the Last Testament
Michael Deibert
May 1, 2001

In downtown Port-au-Prince, two great landmarks serve as symbols of change 
in Haiti, one reflecting the country's progress, the other its ever-present 
turbulence. Champ de Mars, the huge pedestrian square immediately west of 
the white-marbled National Palace, where the Duvaliers and their violent 
protégés ruled Haiti for over thirty years, was once little more than a 
rubbishy wasteland, its proximity to the Casernes Dessalines military 
barracks only adding to the sense of danger and uncertainty the area evoked.

Ten years after Haiti's first democratic elections, the park has been 
transformed into an elegant piazza-style meeting place, complete with 
electric lamps, a band shell, overflowing greenery and splashing waterfalls. 
On any given day, the park is filled with city residents of all ages 
studying, debating politics or simply relaxing among its soothing 
perimeters. This in a city of some 2 million that experiences daily 
blackouts and water shortages, and where a raging crime wave often sees the 
streets emptied by eight in the evening.

Only a few miles away, on Grand Rue, near the desperately poor neighborhood 
of La Saline, sits St. Jean Bosco, the church where Haitian president 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide preached until September 11, 1988, the day a 
government-sponsored massacre there killed twelve people and gutted the 
sacristy with fire. The ruins of the cathedral now stand as a monument, a 
shrine, really, to the democracy movement in Haiti, gaining its holiness not 
from the sacrifice of its former pastor, but from the sacrifice of those who 
died within its walls.

On January 9th of this year, a news conference took place at St. Jean Bosco. 
Six weeks earlier, Aristide, now married and living in a large home in the 
suburb of Tabarre, had regained the presidency (a post he had first gained 
in 1991, only to be ousted by a violent military coup seven months later, 
exiled and returned to power only under threat of an imminent U.S. invasion) 
in a controversial election. In response to disputed senatorial elections 
this past May thought to be rigged to favor Fanmi Lavalas (the political 
confederation that Aristide belongs to), a coalition of opposition parties 
had boycotted the presidential contest and formed a federation of their own, 
announcing their formation of a parallel government (complete with a 
parallel president, ex-schoolteacher and human-rights lawyer Gerard 

Responding to an opposition declaration likening the setting up of their 
government to "loading a cannon," Paul Raymond, leader of the pro-Lavalas 
TKL (or Little Church) group, stood up at the remains of the church to 
denounce the opposition. "We are giving these people three days to rectify 
their positions," he said, naming politicians, journalists and priests 
opposing the Lavalas government, 'and after that, we'll eliminate them 
personally. Their blood will serve as the ink, their skulls as the inkwells 
and their skin as the parchment for writing Haiti's second declaration of 
independence," His words were familiar. They were the words with which the 
greatest hero of Haitian independence, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared his 
nation's sovereignty from France two centuries earlier.

One by one, and finally in droves, other Lavalas OP's (Organisations 
Populaires or Popular Organizations) stood up to condemn and distance 
themselves from the remarks, but within hours of the statement, foreign 
representatives in the capital were condemning the Lavalas party for 
sanctioning it and opposition politicians were clamoring that Raymond be 
arrested (much as Lavalas partisans are now demanding Gourgue's arrest). The 
deadline given for the cessation of opposition activities came and went 
without incident, and the foreign press moved on to other stories, such as 
Aristide's upcoming inauguration.

Radical organizations, headed by people such as Raymond, René Civil, and 
Ronald "Cadavre" Camille (perhaps best known for leading a violent, drunken 
confrontation with capital police this past summer), trace their origins 
back to the coup years of 1991-94, the years of Aristide's exile and a time 
that leapt ahead of nearly all others in terms of wanton and brutal 
bloodletting, even in the march of Haiti's violent history. Civil, for 
example, first came to prominence during the early days of the Raoul Cedras 
putsch regime, appearing on the radio denouncing the coup and announcing the 
formation of the JPP, the Popular Power Youth party, an organization whose 
slang name ("Jan li pase, li pase") was taken from a popular compas song and 
loosely translates into the anarchic sentiment "the way that it falls is the 
way that it falls."

The chimeres, as these organizations are known, are very much a part of the 
current political landscape, and their presence, as well as that of former 
Duvalierists in the new administration, has led to the appearance of 
anti-government enclaves, particularly in the countryside, where a former 
Aristide ally leads his peasant organization in a state of siege from 
affiliates of the President's party. But in Port-au-Prince and throughout 
the country, there are thousands of grassroots organizations that also serve 
to form Aristide's massive power base. They don't call press conferences, or 
issue threats on hallowed ground, or rampage through the streets at a given 
signal. And they are waiting for the world to listen.

Members of SOPUDEP (the Organization for the Socioeconomic Development of 
Petionville) meet in the dusty, crowded suburb of Delmas. In an open-air, 
borrowed pavilion, Dol Joseph Bozer, SOPUDEP's Secretary General, stood 
before a gathering of over a hundred people and stated the everyone present 
would give journalists, who contain so much power to shape perceptions of 
Haiti, "interviews in all frankness and with all our soul, even though it 
puts our lives at risk." As if to punctuate his words, the sounds of 
evangelical hymns from a nearby church drifted across the cement lot.

"I've got something that I want to tell the international press," a muscular 
man named Jean said in the middle of the road, the night darkening and 
children running through the dusty lanes calling to one another. "Why are 
all these countries giving so much attention to these little political 
groups (the opposition) that don't have any support? We had them already. 
They were in Parliament. They didn't do their work. We threw them out and we 
don't need them back...I don't want a job from Aristide. I want all Haitians 
to have the freedom to put their heads together to solve their problems."

Later, in a sparsely furnished room, a dozen activists sat in a semi-circle 
on folding chairs. A young woman composed a handwritten list detailing not 
only their names, but their positions in the organization: secretary 
general, representative for women's issues, representative for cultural 
issues, etc., stating that the only reason to be anonymous would be if they 
were doing something that should be hidden. They had, they said, been 
involved in the democratic struggle even before St. Jean Bosco.

"From 1957 to 1986 this country was being destroyed, and it was being 
destroyed by the macoute system, where they would steal and kill," explained 
Dol Joseph Bozer, referring to Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier's feared 
paramilitary enforcers. "But it is still that macoute system that is in 
place today, and they are the ones that are really still in power. They are 
the ones who have the money and the arms and all the intellectuals behind 

Bozer draws a fine delineation between Haiti's president and his supporters' 
alleged role in the country's current troubles.

"Lies always dominate over the truth in Haiti. What they're saying about 
Aristide now couldn't be less true. He's the one who took us out of the 
chains that we are in, he's the one who helped us to see when we couldn't 

"In 1991 Aristide was like a political baby, and he was mistaken about a 
number of people who were false prophets," asserts Yves Marie Lame, whose 
function was designated Porte Parole. "Aristide has always emphasized the 
importance of OP's, because it's those organizations that bring people 
together to struggle for a different country, to make a difference for their 
children. It's not the politicians in power who are going to do anything for 
the country, it's the people...That is the political base of the new 

But what of Paul Raymond and others speaking for Lavalas? And the 
characterization that the chimeres are a tool of Aristide's Lavalas to 
ensure support and terrorize the opposition?

"They say that Lavalas is a bunch of chimere, that they're not educated," 
declared Yves Marie, with air of someone finally being able to get something 
off their chest that they've wanted to say for a very long time. "But we're 
educated. I'm an engineer; this man's an engineer, so is he. You can take 
anybody on the street who doesn't have anything and pay them to say they're 
Lavalassian (one who follows Lavalas), but it doesn't mean that they 
represent us. A true Lavalassian is what you do, not what you say. A true 
Lavalassian is one who is a patriot and trying to do something for their 

"We don't have money, we almost have nothing," concludes Dol Joseph, leaning 
close and looking me directly in the eye. "But we just put the money we do 
have together and the capacity we have to work and think together to make 
things better in our community. It's the action, what we're doing, that's 
important, not what we're saying. We are clean and proper people."

Driving through Haiti's Central Plateau on Route Nationale 3, one passes 
startling mountain vistas and lakes, beautiful doe-eyed children walking to 
school in pink and blue uniforms and t-shirt clad toddlers carrying buckets 
of water on their heads. Fording a river, the road rises into a grove of 
lemon trees as the tap-tap "Justice" passes by. Upon entering Hinche, the 
region's capital, the difference in pace and mood from the capital is 
striking. People move slowly and smile easily.

In the nearby village of Papaye resides Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, and he has 
been brooding in anger and an acute sense of betrayal ever since 
self-proclaimed Lavalas partisans disrupted a meeting of the organization he 
leads, the Mouvman Peyizan Papaye (Papaye Peasant's Movement or MPP) on 
November 2nd. Gunfire erupted and six people, including Chavannes' younger 
brother, Dieugrand, were wounded. Many believe the attack was an attempt to 
kill the MPP leader, who has become one of the Lavalas government's fiercest 
critics, and virtually the only one with deep and widespread popular 
support, however regional. The allegations are all the more damaging given 
the fact the fact that Jean-Baptiste had, up until 1997, been one of 
Aristide's closest confidantes and supporters, standing side by side with 
him against the Duvalier dictatorship and the ensuing juntas (as well as 
being present during the murderous siege of St. Jean Bosco), in many ways a 
rural counterpart to Aristide's urban priest.

It was late at night by the time Jean-Baptiste was located, at the end of a 
rocky dirt road, in a guarded MPP compound set amid papaya fields lit by a 
high country moon. He seemed healthy and vigorous, and greeted his visitor 
with a hearty, very Latin American laugh, seemingly possessed of a great 
energy despite the late hour, and spoke at length on a small, gazebo-shaped 
meeting area towards the back of the complex, illuminated by a single 
light-bulb, with owls hooting and crickets humming an incessant rhythmic 

"I was born into a peasant family in the small community of Bassin Zim," 
Chavannes began, in a forceful, gravelly voice. " My father couldn't read or 
write but he made sure that his children went to school. He didn't want his 
children to suffer from this problem. My mother couldn't read or write 
either, but she's teaching herself now, at 77 years." Indeed she was. 
Visiting her small home in Hinche, this journalist saw a blackboard, chalk, 
and books sitting in a corner, ready for the day's lesson..

"In 1973, we formed two groups to advocate for change on behalf of the 
peasants, one in Papaye and one in Bassin Zim. In one year we had three new 
groups. Then we had nine new groups form the year after that"

But organizing in the Haiti of Duvalier was no easy task. "We realized that 
we had rights before we died on this earth that the landlords and the chefs 
de section (the Duvalier family's feared combination local sheriff/mayor/tax 
collector) did not respect. The campesinos were taxed on everything they 
grew and received nothing in return. No services, no schools, no food, no 
clothes. Nothing. The only thing we had were numbers, there were more of us 
than there were of them. When we realized this, more and more peasants 
wanted to join our groups. Little by little, we began creating cooperatives 
and lending credit, building on that base, until today we have a national 
organization, with 15,00 groups and over 200,00 members."

By the time Duvalier fils fled the country in 1986, he added, the entire 
country knew about the MPP's work in the Central Plateau. In 1987, the MPP 
held its first national congress in Papaye and invited Aristide, who was 
then the parish priest at St. Jean Bosco, to attend.

"On the day of the 11th of September massacre at St. Jean Bosco, I was with 
him," Jean-Baptiste continued, an edge, lingering somewhere between anger 
and sadness, creeping into his voice for the first time. "I saw the killing. 
We barely escaped and hid together, side by side, that night. When he was 
having his problems with the Catholic Church (Aristide's relationship with 
his nominal clerical bosses was never particularly warm, and in 1990 he was 
expelled from the Salesian order for exalting "violence and class 
struggle"), the MPP was defending him. We had marches and protests 
supporting him. And when he assented to become a candidate for president in 
1990, I was with him…I served on a presidential commission and would consult 
with the state about rural agriculture, advising and struggling with 
Aristide for our common goals. "

During the years of Aristide's exile, the MPP suffered terribly: property 
was seized and members of the movement were jailed, beaten and murdered. But 
after Aristide returned in 1994, the two found it difficult to resume their 
former friendship.

"There was tension between us," admits Jean-Baptiste. " He wanted (to extend 
his presidential term) for three more years. There were a lot of gran manje 
(big eaters, a derisive term used to refer to high living political types) 
in the palace and in the parliament. This began to be a factor between us. 
We began to have two separate projects."

"In 1995 (after Aristide abided by the Constitution which forbids 
consecutive presidential terms), Lavalas had to deicide on a candidate, and 
many people thought that I would be that person. OPL (Organization of 
Struggling People, an opposition organization blamed for much of the 
political deadlock of the Preval years, which Preval "resolved" by 
dissolving Parliament in 1998) also approached me about being their 
candidate for president. But I decided that no, I wasn't going to be that 
candidate, and I decided to support Preval.

'I was thinking that with Preval, things would get better. But, around 
'96-'97, it was hard for me to reconcile with myself what I saw Fanmi 
Lavalas becoming. There were all kinds of people, drug traffickers, many 
ex-military people. We couldn't have dealings with those kinds of people. I 
was certain that we had two different projects now."

And then, it seems, the struggle began in earnest.

"In March of 1997, in a park in Hinche, I denounced Aristide as a criminal. 
Since then, we've tried to dismantle and kill this heroic image that has 
been created of Aristide, so he is doing everything possible to eliminate 
us. At this point, we have two projects that are colliding"

>From there, things seemed to deteriorate even further, with the disputed May 
elections marking a new low in relations between the two, and a deepening of 
Chavannes' personal sense of outrage.

"We denounced the theft of the May elections," he continued. " There were 
armed groups that were sent from the National Palace in Port au Prince to 
the Central Plateau because Aristide wasn't about to win anything here. And 
instead he won everything - he stole everything. So these illegitimate 
officials, these Lavalas judges, started to steal from the people, and began 
imposing new taxes. For example, they raised the tax on selling pigs, which 
was five dollars and is now twenty-five dollars. The chef de section system 
returned to the countryside. The Lavalas judges have decided that the MPP 
doesn't have a right to organize and hold meetings. These are the practices 
of a dictatorship that, for us, ended a long time ago. This isn't just in 
the Central Plateau but all over the country." This past fall, the MPP began 
organizing formally to oppose the new government, culminating in a huge 
rally in September in Hinche, that was, by all accounts, the largest 
anti-Lavalas demonstration in the country's history

"We went to Hinche with over 8,000 people. The chimere Lavalas were all over 
the place, screaming at us, throwing things at us, but we were able to get 
to the park and deliver our message. This was historic because of the number 
of people who came out to support us. The opposition wasted $25,000 trying 
to organize and we did it on the pure strength of the MPP. It was a complete 
rejection of Lavalas and their elections. We were saying that there was no 
election and there is no authority."

Jean-Baptiste proceeded to give a chilling account of the events of November 

"We decided to hold a meeting to address this lack of democracy, this 
illegitimate authority. Over 1000 people attended, even though we had 
received threats not to hold it. We have been given a right by the 
constitution to assemble and to protest and we were not willing to accept 
anyone terminating that right. At the meeting, with the backing of the local 
mayors, there was an attack on the people with stones and firearms. They 
burned our cars. They even burned down the house of the guy who let us use 
the space. It was something that was unthinkable, but it happened...Now he 
wants to enforce his image through fear, so people shut their mouths and 
have the silence of the cemetery. So he can go on with all the stealing and 
all the trafficking he wants."

"After the massacre of November 2nd, where my brother almost died, Aristide 
lost even more support in the community. And so now everyone in the country 
knows what happened on that night. It's an example of what Aristide plans 
for the country as a whole"

How, I asked, could the movement that brought Aristide to power in 1991 have 
fragmented so brutally in a mere nine years?

"The movement of 1991 included many types of organizations: peasants, women 
groups, students…Their main goal was opposing the Duvalierists and we 
believed that Aristide represented this goal…(The coup and resulting junta 
under General Cedras and Port-au-Prince police colonel Michel Francois) 
tried to eliminate the movement that allowed Aristide to come to power. 
(But) what happened is that it wasn't Cedras but Aristide who almost 
eliminated the popular movements. Aristide has terrorized or bought out 
their leaders to form the chimere Lavalas.…Aristide always used to talk, now 
Aristide keeps his mouth shut and they do his talking for him."

And what does he see as the role of the MPP in the future of Haiti?

"Our fundamental objective is the construction of a green Haiti, a Haiti 
where there's food and life for everybody. We know it's a long process, 
which takes a lot of patience, a lot of struggle and fighting…But we're 
growing amidst this crisis. Every action they take against us only makes us 
stronger…We will send a message that we will proceed peacefully and 
lawfully, because we're fighting for democracy, not just for us, but for 

It was very late. Beyond the glow of the bulb hanging above him, the night 
was black. In the darkness, the fertile fields and hills of Papaye rolled 
historically on, impassive to the drama of men

"For me, Aristide is nothing but a political cadaver who will pass like 
garbage through the history of Haiti. He has only one chance, and that is to 
come out and say that there was no election in 2000, and agree to start the 
process over again. He should say, "I will win, but I'll win a fair 
election." I know that he's too sick with power to say that. I would tell 
him to enter the palace provisionally and organize clean and fair elections. 
But if not, he will bury himself face down in the history of the country and 

Late one afternoon, Edzer Pierre is sitting as the day ebbs away, drinking 
Barbancourt rum and a corrosive red alcoholic concoction bought from street 
vendors. A bearded artist and former activist, whose serious manner and 
deep, authoritative voice put one in mind of no one so much as the late 
reggae singer Peter Tosh, Edzer currently resides in a crowded, tumble down 
apartment-cum-studio in downtown Port-au-Prince, which he appeared to be 
sharing with several people, including a man who made about a million trips 
to the icebox set on the steps for more drinks, and a quiet, serious woman 
with a small son, Ti Johnny, whose smile and laugh could have electrified 
several city blocks if human goodwill could be transformed into current. One 
of Edzer's paintings, a deep green bull's head festooned with attached 
stones and an earring, gazed down from its easel. The sound of many radios 
and traffic and human voices trickled in through the porous wooden walls. 
All around, life. Despite his disengagement from the arena of political 
activism, Edzer remains immensely valuable as a source of information on the 
maturation of the Haitian political left as well as a sober analytic voice 
of the country's current turmoil.

"The conflict between Fanmi Lavalas and the opposition isn't a real 
conflict," he asserts. "It's comparable to two intellectuals sitting down 
and not being able to get along because one if coming on to the other's 
girlfriend. The conflicts between Aristide and (opposition leader) Gerard 
Pierre-Charles amount to ego and bullshit."

"During the 1980's there were student organizations working with popular 
organizations working with labor organizations, etc." Edzer explained. "Now 
there's a new generation of political activists now who have come onto the 
scene since the return of Aristide...without the level of political maturity 
that a lot of the older ones had developed over the years. A lot of the 
people who are acting now are acting neither with the same vision for global 
change nor the political autonomy that they were acting with in the 1980's. 
I mean, 3/4 of the people who are now making speeches on behalf of Lavalas 
had nothing to do with the political struggle that I was involved with. And 
that's one of the big problems that I have with Lavalas as it's functioning 
now. Why can't they control the people who speak in their name?"

In part, Edzer believes, some of the political problems Haiti was facing 
were problems that were common to any populist movement, bred with a certain 
poverty, desperation and sectarianism, having to come to terms with actually 
holding the reins of power and being forced to confront some of their more 
radical populist promises.

"One of the biggest problems we're facing right now is that of corruption in 
the state." Edzer is sitting outside now, on his front steps, smoking 
cigarettes. Night was falling, but the streets were still full of people. An 
orange aureole glow from cooking fires caressed people in silhouette as they 
walked by; men and women, the outline of the small head of a child. "You 
have an emergent ti bourgeoisie political class who decided to enter into 
the government to make it responsive to the population. But these people 
have come face to face with a contradiction. They become their own class, a 
political class, and then they begin to want to defend their interests and 
the interests of their class, such as their jobs and the privileges that 
those jobs provide. "

"I think that both sides in this conflict are involved in the chimere 
problem." Edzer continued, as if addressing the unspoken lingering question 
in the back of my mind. "For instance, in Ti Goave (a town in western Haiti 
plagued by pre-election violence), when the opposition wasn't pleased with 
the way the elections were going, they sent people out into the streets to 
burn tires. There's a huge population of people who will do anything for 
money. (They're) not a political force, they're a political tool…They're 
always looking for jobs, and any time there's going to be a political 
action, intermediaries are going to organize them to go do that action. But 
I don't believe that anybody gave René Civil a mandate to speak…There's no 
profound political project going on there, it just is what it is, which is a 
lot of posturing. Anybody can get on the radio and say the price of food has 
to come down, the price of gas has to come down. But the difference will be 
in what capacity that person has to analyze the situation and understand why 
the prices are high."

To Edzer, Jean Bertrand Aristide is seen as little more than a symptom of 
the wider forces of Haitian society

"I never believed that Aristide was 100% a leftist. He was the servant of 
the masses of Haitian people. He was following a revolutionary impulse of 
the people. I imagine, if I were in Aristide's place, the struggle would be 
between the needs of the poor in this country and the impositions and the 
restrictions (by the international community). The space that existed for 
radical critique and radical action doesn't exist anymore. A lot of people 
such as myself who were educated to believe in radical change, and who were 
educated to have an analysis of the situation that was more profound than 
just liberation theology, have no place in the current political situation, 
not just in Haiti but all over the world. Political struggle is a science."

Did he still believe in the dream of building a new society?

"Well, there's something that makes me very sad. Because the Haitian people 
missed two occasions that we will never be able to make up for again. First 
there was the 16th of December (that date of Aristide's first inauguration). 
That wasn't an election, it was a popular insurrection. What the population 
wanted was work, justice, and food. The second occasion was the coup d'etat. 
Aristide preached non-violence because the international community put 
pressure on him to preach non-violence. But the majority of young people 
were ready to burst the situation wide open. They were waiting for Aristide 
to give them the word, but it never came. And that's how the coup d'état 
passed. But the activists were ready."

"I don't have any regrets at all about all the struggles we've gone through 
over the years." Edzer sighed as he lit another in the night's litany of 
cigarettes. "Now, at the very least, I can sit on my steps and talk to a 

Michael Deibert is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His 
writing on Haiti and other topics, as well as his poetry and fiction, has 
appeared in The Village Voice, Salon and Poetalk, among other publications. 
He recently completed his first novel, based on his experiences while living 
in Haiti.

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