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7738: This Week in Haiti 19:7 5/2/2001 (fwd)
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
May 2 - 8, 2001
Vol. 19, No. 7
MAY DAY IN HAITI: PEASANTS AND WORKERS MARCH
On International Workers Day, about five hundred peasants marched
through the rice-producing Artibonite Valley to demand that the
Haitian government undertake a true agrarian reform, provide
peasants with irrigation and fertilizer, prosecute those
implicated in several peasant massacres, and sweep Duvalierists
and putschists out of the cabinet and other high posts.
The spirited march from the town of Pont Sondé to the state-run
Organization for the Development of the Artibonite Valley (ODVA)
was organized by about a dozen Artibonite-based popular
organizations affiliated with the National Popular Party (PPN).
“The PPN calls on Haitian peasants and workers everywhere, above
all in the Artibonite Valley, to light the flame of resistance
and mobilization against the [neoliberal] death plan which would
tie Haiti to the leg of the table of some big foreign countries,”
declared PPN leader Jules André in a speech to the demonstrators.
“The meeting of bigshots in Quebec, Canada last week is a big
scheme of the U.S. to continue to dominate all the people of the
continent and to continue to use all kinds of threats and
pressure against countries which resist following the formula of
their death plan.”
The PPN also organized a May 1 march in Cap Haïtien from Morne
Rouge to Bwa Kayiman, the site of the 1791 slave voudou ceremony
which sparked the Haitian revolution. The party also arranged
Mayday meetings in other towns around Haiti, where films were
shown and debates held.
Meanwhile in the capital, the Organization of Revolutionary
Workers (OTR) together with the Union of International Communists
(UCI) led a march of several dozen assembly factory workers to
demand a minimum monthly wage of 2000 gourdes (about US$77).
About two hundred workers marched through downtown Port-au-Prince
in response to the call of Haiti’s traditional unions – including
the Confederation of Haitian Workers (CTH), the Autonomous
Confederation of Haitian Workers (CATH), and the Federation of
Unionized Workers (FOS) – in what organizer’s called “a social
not a political march.”
To protest the country’s lack of electricity, another union,
FOSREF, distributed large black boxes, painted with the slogan
“Down with Blackouts,” around the city and in front of National
Meanwhile, former employees and drivers from the Service Plus bus
line took to the streets on May 1 to denounce corruption in that
The Haitian government organized an “Agricultural Fair” from
April 28 to May 1 on the Champs de Mars, Port-au-Prince’s main
square. The fair displayed and promoted the different products of
Haitian agriculture. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide traveled to
Jacmel on May Day, where he extolled that city’s artisanal
DESPITE DECLARATIONS, NEGOTIATIONS STILL GOING NOWHERE
In the days leading up to the arrival of a new delegation of
international “mediators,” the Lavalas Family party (FL) of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the opposition coalition,
Democratic Convergence (CD), postured and parried, each taxing
the other as obstructionist.
Infighting also broke out this week between government
ministries, while the homogeneous Parliament has all but ceased
to function, hobbled by inertia and turf wars.
Washington and Ottawa used the Apr. 20-22 “Summit of the
Americas” to step up pressure on Aristide by sending a new team
of diplomats from the Organization of American States (OAS) and
CARICOM to broker a deal between the FL and the CD. The
opposition front, with foreign backing, continues to challenge
the legitimacy of elections last year which brought Aristide and
his party to power (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 19, No. 6, 4/25/01).
Early last week, the CD sent a letter to the FL inviting Aristide
to meet with them on Apr. 27 at the El Rancho Hotel in
Pétionville. At the last minute, the FL agreed to send Sen. Yvon
Neptune, their highest ranking spokesman. But this gesture
outraged the CD, which claimed that it would only meet with
Then Aristide invited the CD to come meet with him at the
National Palace on May 3, an invitation which some CD leaders
refused, saying that the negotiations had to be at a “neutral”
location. The FL claims that other “opposition leaders” have
accepted the invitation. But mostly, both sides are saying that
the other is dealing in “bad faith.” The mediating diplomats, led
by the OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria, were due to arrive in
Haiti this week.
Despite the apparent stalemate, a settlement is likely sometime
soon. Politically, the FL and the CD increasingly resemble each
other, having no strategic differences. Both have integrated
Duvalierists and putschists into their ranks, and both argue that
Haiti must adhere to the neoliberal policies prescribed by the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Ironically both the FL and several CD parties issue from the 1990
Lavalas movement, which had as principles the notion that “makout
pa ladann” (Macoutes are excluded) and that Haiti should pursue a
nationalist alternative development. The FL’s abandonment of this
program has generated great dismay among popular organizations
and progressive parties like the National Popular Party (PPN).
Last week also saw more signs of inter-Lavalas feuding when
Interior Minister Henri Claude Ménard protested the arrest of
Dongo Joseph, the mayor of the Central Plateau city of Hinche, by
police acting on the orders of Justice Minister Gary Lissade.
Human rights groups have accused Dongo Joseph of involvement in
intimidation and violence against political opponents, most
recently when he allegedly attacked a local justice of the peace
in March. Ménard dispatched a special commission composed of
Territorial Collectivities director Harry Voltaire, Pétionville
mayor Sully Guerrier, and lawyers Richard Désulmé and Jackson
Pujeot to Hinche to “investigate” the arrest. After the
Commission’s arrival and eight days in jail, Dongo Joseph was
released on Apr. 26. The unprecedented inter-ministerial tiff has
raised questions of how much control Prime Minister Jean Marie
Chérestal exerts over his cabinet.
Meanwhile, in the town of Gressier, just south of Port-au-Prince,
mayors Anile Jean François and Jude Celestin accused the third
mayor of their “cartel”, Jacques Bertho Pierre, of selling state
land without their knowledge or authorization. Similar wars
within other mayoral offices are happening around Haiti. It is
nothing new but was not expected in almost exclusively FL local
The Parliament is also almost purely FL, but it too is crippled.
As in previous parliaments, lawmakers simply are not showing up
to do their job. Lacking a quorum, the Senate has not been able
to hold session for two weeks. “It is clear that there is no
Senate,” Senate head Yvon Neptune said on Apr. 26. “But then
again, any action that needs to be taken against a senator, it is
the assembled Senate which must take it.” In other words, they’re
all absent, but there is nothing I can do about it, and they’re
not going to punish each other.
Amid growing disenchantment with the FL’s direction, a new party
emerged last week. The Socialist Identity and Liberty Collective
(CSIL) was formed by such political figures as economist Camille
Chalmers, former Agriculture minister Gérald Mathurin, and
Magalie Marcelin of the women’s group “Kay Fanm.” “We don’t see
our interests being defended in the debates on today’s political
scene,” said CSIL spokesman Jean Claude Cherubin. “We feel there
is the necessity for another type of language on the political
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