URGENT ACTION ALERT          Dec 16 2003

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URGENT ACTION ALERT URGENT ACTION ALERT URGENT

US-backed opposition forces spark violence in Haiti
Aim is to prevent elections and bicentennial celebration

see also: Black Commentator: Haitian Opposition and Corporate Media Press for Regime Change in Haiti by Kevin Pina

by Haiti Action Committee

Violence has erupted on the streets of Haiti in recent weeks that can only be understood by considering the role of the U.S. and other world powers. Eyewitness accounts differ sharply from stories in the corporate media.

Since the election of President Aristide in 2000, the United States government has enforced an economic aid embargo intended to starve the Haitian government. A signed loan from the Inter-American Development Bank has still not been distributed, and the World Bank and IMF have cut off all loans, making it even more difficult for the Haitian government to finance health, education and development projects.

The U.S. has spent tens of millions of dollars to bankroll the Convergence, a phony "opposition" group with virtually no popular support, which has called for the violent overthrow of the democratically elected government. Last December, the International Republican Institute - part of a Reagan administration program to "advance world democracy" - sponsored a five-day meeting of Haitian opposition groups in the Dominican Republic to develop strategies to destabilize Haiti.

Faced with President Aristide's strong support throughout Haiti, the U.S. is now working to prevent Haitian elections from taking place as scheduled in January 2004. Unable to dictate the results of free and fair elections, the U.S.-backed opposition is turning to other means, including an escalation of violent attacks against the supporters of President Aristide. This is accompanied by a media campaign designed to tarnish and discredit the Aristide government. We have seen this pattern of destabilization before - in Jamaica, in Chile, in Nicaragua and currently in Venezuela.

Since the end of November, opposition forces have intensified efforts to prevent the celebration of the bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution and to overthrow Haiti's young democracy. On Nov. 14, the right wing opposition tried to stage a major demonstration but found its forces outnumbered by a huge outpouring from popular organizations supporting the Aristide government.

Shifting tactics, the opposition focused on mobilizing conservative student groups at the State University. Offering money and travel visas for students to leave Haiti, opposition leaders triggered anti-Aristide demonstrations at the University.

On Dec. 5, a group of students and non-student members of the opposition took over a university building, threw rocks and chairs and shot at pro-Aristide supporters in the street. Inevitably, a brawl ensued. Reports in the U.S. corporate media, of course, blamed the violence on the Aristide government.

On Dec. 11, large numbers of anti-Aristide demonstrators, including former military leaders, opposition politicians and conservative student groups, took to the streets in Port au Prince. They repeated their calls for the return of the Haitian military and the ouster of the democratically elected Aristide government.

Later that day, pro-Aristide supporters massed in front of the palace in a demonstration of support for the government. They were shot at by people circulating in unmarked cars.

On Friday, determined to defend democracy and prevent another coup, over 50,000 people gathered in front of the palace in a powerful show of support for the Aristide government. None of these massive pro-Aristide demonstrations has been reported in the mainstream media.

What follows are excerpts from a first-hand account by Michelle Karshan, foreign press liaison for the government of Haiti. It is compiled from her own observations, press reports and her conversations with U.S. and Haitian journalists.

"Thursday night, popular organizations came out to stand vigilant in front of the National Palace, to guard the people's choice. Cars circulated Thursday night and Friday morning as pro-government masses were taking to the streets, shooting indiscriminately into the crowds. Approximately 10 people have been shot, and seven have died.

"Nevertheless, in sharp contrast to the violent demands of the opposition for the immediate overthrow of the government, the people took to the streets Friday to call for respect of the constitutional mandate of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"Tens of thousands - seen on National Television and reports by press who were present - of pro-government supporters marched through the streets of downtown Port au Prince Friday morning to mid-day. Amongst them were women, children, elderly, students who identified themselves as the Collective of University Students and parliamentary and local representatives from throughout the country.

"The majority responds to the minority. With both hands thrust in the air displaying all five fingers on each hand to represent the five-year presidential term and the people's will to see the president finish his term, people chanted, ‘Elections, YES! Coup d'etat, NO! Aristide for FIVE YEARS!'

"People said if the opposition thinks they are the majority, then why don't they go to elections to prove it. To date, the opposition has sabotaged all efforts to hold elections.

"The people expressed their commitment to democracy and its processes, saying that if after Aristide's term of five years is over, whoever runs for president and is democratically elected, then their term will be respected, no matter who it is, but that this president must be allowed to finish the five years of his term.

"Representatives of the Collective, a pro-government group of public and private university students, spoke to the press (aired on National Television) and said they also denounce the violent incident that took place at one of the universities last week but that they stand for education and that it is patriotic to go to school and as such they stand against the closing of the schools. Schools have been closed because of the demonstrations held by the opposition. They said yes to schooling, no to closing the universities!

"Some spoke of a class struggle between the rich and the poor. Many denounced the former army. Saying that children need schooling and that families need food and houses to live in, the people said they will not go backwards, only forwards in solidarity.

"People said that the opposition is trying to boycott and sabotage the upcoming 2004 bicentennial celebrations - plunging Haiti into violence and paralysis. People said the masses are for Jean-Bertrand Aristide and will continue to mobilize for 2004.

"Some people addressed the university students who were working with the opposition, asking them not to allow themselves to be manipulated by the opposition by gifts of visas or money. They also said they don't want ambassadors to visit universities any more, because they are luring people with offers of visas.

"Some people interviewed said that former military and FRAPH members had infiltrated the ‘student' march on Thursday, swelling the numbers in their march.

"Secretary of State for Communications Mario Dupuy said, ‘We will protect the rights of all citizens! All people should help the police to protect the radio stations.' He also said, ‘We will continue to mobilize and celebrate in peace our bicentennial of independence.'

"I spoke with three journalists who had visited the hospital on Friday interviewing people who had been shot by cars circulating - some said without license plates - and shooting indiscriminately at people. One woman was injured when she fled from a car that was speeding at people.

"One of those killed, Andre Jean-Marie, was the director of a respected literacy center in Petion-Ville. His tragic death is described by journalist Kevin Pina:

"'It is with great grief and sadness that I inform you of the assassination of my dear friend Andre Jean-Marie the evening of Dec. 11, 2003. He was killed in a drive-by shooting near the National Palace by unknown assailants who apparently followed his vehicle and waited for him to leave his car. Andre had gone to the palace for a literacy campaign meeting earlier that same evening but had returned to lend his presence to the thousands of supporters camped in front of the palace to defend their constitutional president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"'Andre was the coordinator of the government's literacy program in Petion-Ville, and his only crime was that he was committed to teaching the poor majority how to read and write. He was also a co-founder of the SOPUDEP school that serves the poorest children in Petion-Ville. I am affiliated with the school and can testify to the difference it has made to the community.

"'Andre is survived by his wife and two young sons. He is truly a hero in the struggle for democracy on behalf of Haiti's poor majority. He will always live in hearts and dreams for a better Haiti. God bless you and keep you safe, Andre Jean-Marie.'"

Michelle Karshan can be reached at (011509) 228-2058.