Haiti: February 29, a troubling anniversary …
February 29, 2005
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Haiti: February 29, a troubling anniversary …

AHP News - February 29, 2005 - English translation (Unofficial)
Editorial:

Today marks practically one year since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced to leave the National Palace under pressure from certain countries in the international community who claimed they were acting out of a desire to avoid a blood bath in Haiti.

This pressure was exerted upon Aristide at the precise moment when the rebels, if that is what they must be called, had joined together with former Haitian soldiers, members of the Gona*ves Resistance Front and other civilian attachés (auxiliaries to the police) linked to the anti-Aristide opposition, and were hesitating to march upon the capital after having terrorized the populations of several other cities in the country, particularly Gona*ves, Cap-Haitien and Hinche, where many people, including police officers, were killed and where many government offices such as the general Taxation Authority, the customs offices, the National Port Authority, national education offices and public health offices were sacked and burned down.

But the former political opposition to Aristide led by the group of 184, which includes private sector organizations, students and professors, peasant movement organizations, media outlets and human rights organizations had at that time objectives which it articulated or said it found to be just, that is to get rid, they said, of Aristide the tyrant, cause human rights to flourish, eradicate corruption, offer the country a new social contract that promotes national reconciliation and that ushers the country into a new era where there is no longer any political persecution, no more impunity and where the national wealth is distributed fairly.

One can hardly imagine more alluring promises. And yet...

If these promises did not seem to have struck a resonant chord among the great masses and a substantial part of the middle class, which remained attached to Aristide, other sectors were indeed tempted, especially a significant portion of the student community. And it is well known that when students take part in a campaign, that can have a major impact.

And in fact the campaign by the anti-Aristide opposition that was struggling until that point was to be revitalized thanks to an attack perpetrated by violent individuals on December 5, 2003 at the School of Social Sciences and at INAGHEI during which students received serious injuries and the rector of the State University suffered two broken legs.

Exactly who were these men who attacked the students and the rector? Who actually directed that commando operation and from where did they set forth?

It is possible that the full truth will be revealed one day.

In any case, on December 5, 2003, the guilty party was loudly trumpeted. It could be none other than the Aristide government, this scum, this mange, they said... the cause of all the country's troubles.

As developments were being perceived in this perspective, the student faction of the opposition was to be exploited to the maximum.

Thus on December 11, the opposition to Aristide held its largest demonstration, a march drawing several tens of thousands of people, with particularly strong participation by students from private and public schools, because everyone was furious, and understandably so. And this was the beginning of a series of events.

Rosemond Jean, a leader of the coalition of the former opposition revealed much later that $120 million had been raised through the various anti-Aristide campaigns, although he complained that he was himself treated like a poor cousin.

But... the strategies and the means that were utilized are of no great importance, the political movement of the Group of 184, which is composed of a large number of media organizations, was able to exert a major influence on public opinion and reinvigorate a political opposition that had been moribund, even though the pro-Aristide demonstrations were always far more imposing in their turnout than the demonstrations by the anti-Aristide opposition.

It must also be said that all means were considered acceptable in this campaign and by both sides: physical attacks, violence by firearms or blunt instruments, beating one's opponent to death... There were also stories of threats that were never verified, strange disappearances and equally strange re-appearances, or stories of syringes being used by the police... babies said to have been burned beyond recognition though they never even existed, everything was permissible even the use of urine and fecal matter or violent demonstrations on the very day of celebration of the bicentennial of independence.

This was followed by the official withdrawal from the scene of the political opposition to Aristide to allow the center stage to be occupied by the armed sectors: FRAPH, former soldiers and other gangs.

But surprise! On February 29, the opposition was caught short; it learned just as did the supporters of the government, that Aristide had been taken away by foreigners. It will not be they who will designate the future members of the government.

For the sake of putting up a good front, the President of the Court of Cassation is quickly named as president. And a prime minister who was not on the frontlines of the anti-Aristide campaign arrives straight from Boca Raton, Florida. This was an insult that still sticks in the throat of the group of 184.

And so today, one year later, what is the record?

An assessment was first prepared by the sectors that gave birth to the interim government or who are represented in it.

The Group of 184, through its second in command indicated that the situation has deteriorated under the current government in all areas, that this is the golden age of corruption and that "there is a general frustration throughout the country".

Another element of the former opposition to Aristide, a coalition of some 50 organizations including PADEM, MODEREH, MNP 28, and Ranf˛ are demanding the resignation of the interim government, contending that it is doing a poor job of governing, is responsible for the reign of impunity, the high cost of living, unemployment, corruption... A dozen other organizations from the movement of February 29 are also hard at work to find an alternative to Latortue.

The country's economic situation, particularly that of the masses is quite catastrophic, a view shared even by those who had high hopes for this government. Disenchantment is everywhere, especially within the ranks of the students, many of whom vowed never to be had again. Many Haitians have left the country out of disappointment.

In Mapou, in the Southeast, the victims of the terrible floods of last April are still living in tents. And the people of Gona*ves who lost 3,000 of their fellow residents in last September's lethal floods are still waiting for better living conditions and above all to be relocated as promised.

Nevertheless, one of the most sensational actions of the interim government has been to exonerate the business community from paying taxes and to award them other economic advantages. Among its other achievements is the creation of many commissions, like the one to address the question of the demobilized soldiers, or the one to celebrate the 2004 bicentennial in 2005, or the commissions to compensate the victims within the anti-Aristide GNB movement or to promote a national dialogue.

The members of these commissions are for the most part drawn, it is said, from among the leaders or members of the former opposition to Aristide or from the leadership of human rights groups that were active when they see an opportunity arise.

And for the first time in the country's history there has been quite a saga around the appointment of three new ministers and a junior minister, all of whom were named as they were on their way to be sworn in at the National Palace but who were to learn on the way there that their appointments had been withdrawn.

While the government labored to obtain the foreign aid promised to it under the CCI agreement, its poor relations with the Group of 184 were of no help to it in that effort.

Some elements of the former opposition to Aristide who are said to have been upset at their inability to control interim Prime Minister Latortue reportedly lobbied we know whom to try to bring about his departure.

This in turn reportedly resulted in a strident response by Latortue, who called on the men and women of the business community to stick to doing what they do best: business.

And things went further along these lines when last week Latortue said those who seek to force his resignation are frustrated people who were denied monopolies or who can no longer rob the country.

Such is the scene offered to us by those who are governing us. beyond this are the scandals that have characterized the first 12 months of the after-Aristide: the gas scandal, the rice scandal, the risk premiums...

In the mean time, the former soldiers who fought alongside the official opposition to Aristide continue to defy the government. They continue for the most part to occupy their positions across the country. And they still have their weapons, as the disarmament about which a great fuss is being made does not affect them. One of them, "Grenn Sonnen" went so far as to promise to pay three million gourdes to anyone assisting in the arrest of the interim Prime Minister. So much for the authority of the State.

On top of that is the repression against Aristide supporters, which has reached alarming proportions. The police force stands accused of having formed Zero Tolerance units to carry out summary executions.

Thus, many young people have been killed in the populist districts such as Bel-Air, Fort national, and Village de Dieu.

Some of the people who have been arrested, like Jimmy Charles, are discovered at the morgue, their bodies riddled with bullets. Some are simply presented as bandits killed in an exchange of gunfire with the police, even if the victims were unarmed.

Nor are journalists exempt from the repression. There are those who have been wounded or killed like Abdias Jean, or who have received death threats, and media organizations that have been physically or in other ways attacked, their crews taken for questioning or having had their equipment confiscated.

Human rights organizations and pressure groups that were very active just yesterday are now accused of direct or indirect complicity in human rights violations.

It is in fact the director of a human rights organization who is a member of one of the government commissions mentioned above who invented the famous concept "Operation Baghdad" to try, it is said, to justify the repression.

And MINUSTAH, this mission mandated by the UN Security Council to stabilize Haiti? Some of its soldiers are often accused of direct complicity with the police in covering up the so-called death operations of the police in the populist districts, while others are accused of tolerating those who kill on a daily basis, doing nothing to rescue people in danger, promising investigations whose findings are still awaited, or carrying out disarmament raids that have thus far targeted only the "favelas".

Such is the state of things one year after the forced departure of Aristide celebrated with fine champagne. There is nothing worthy of being celebrated, say many of those who were on the frontlines of the anti-Aristide GNB campaign. Instead, there is a profound sense of disillusionment and disenchantment, even though some pro-government sectors opposed to any criticism try to cover up the disgrace by continuing to say that even if he (Aristide) has not been in power for the past 12 months, it is still he who is responsible for what is happening to us today and what will happen to us tomorrow.

It is in this context of intolerance, hatred and the "all or nothing" mentality that preparations for elections are underway, elections to be organized by an electoral council whose members are largely drawn from the political parties who will take part in the elections... and in the probable absence of the Lavalas party, most of whose leaders and senior officials are either in prison on politically motivated charges or have been forced to go into exile.

Aristide has certainly committed errors, serious errors, errors above all for having wished to control all spaces of power, and he erred in underestimating, by relying on his great popularity, the capability of his political adversaries of all stripes to cause harm. He also erred in having refused to trust those who were sincere and honest while he allowed his hands and feet to be tied by opportunists who dishonestly exploited their positions and who have now melted away into the shadows, unseen and unrecognized, when they are not busily trying to destroy Lavalas.

But these errors are a long way from anything that could justify what happened on February 29, 2004, especially in the context of what is going on today.

After all our tragedies, all our disappointments, all our unfortunate ventures with no tomorrow, our duty today is to understand that the solutions that endure are those which respect the laws and the Constitution of Haiti and not the cosmetic solutions that can only be the source of new problems.

When will we allow ourselves to understand that we have no other choice if we wish to leave to our children a legacy of dignity.

On November 7, 2003, we wrote "If we believe that we are in the process of destroying others by charging blindly ahead in an all or nothing spirit, we are making a mistake, because we are actually in the process of digging our own grave, even if others will have to fall into it before we do".

Think about it!

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