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Lavalas in Cap Haitien Today
Activists risk everything to come out of hiding, tell their story and demand justice
By Judith Scherr
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti - Their president exiled, homes vandalized, school buses incinerated, local elected officials booted from office, more than 2,500 people took to the narrow streets of this northern city on Sunday. They donned tee-shirts with images of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide whom they continue to adore and told all who would listen that they demand international respect for their sovereignty and the return of their president and other officials they elected.
Aristide says on Feb. 29, he was whisked from office by a coup orchestrated by the U.S., France and Canada. The U.S. State Department claims it helped a willing Aristide leave a country under attack by rebels ready to take over the country by force.
Protesters, some of whom had come out of hiding to participate in the demonstration, carried the displaced president's pictures or sported umbrellas, bags and shirts imprinted with his image. Others crowded onto balconies and lined sidewalks to watch or wave and spread out five fingers signifying their demand that Aristide finish the full five years of his office. A similar demonstration reportedly of some 10,000 people took place in Port-au-Prince.
"The power of the people is the best," the crowd chanted, "That's the power we give to Aristide."
As they marched, the protesters also sang out their condemnation of the rebels and of George Bush whom they hold responsible for the loss of their leader and called for "justice for the people that the rebels killed. Disarm the rebels."
Demonstrators said the march was significant because, given the violence of the events of this year, people in the north have been very afraid to support their deposed leader in public.
The climate of increased aggression spiked in and around Cap-Haitien on Feb. 22 when an armed gang of rebels came to the area in a frenzy of burning, killing and looting, according to more than two dozen persons interviewed in the days before the march by a group of foreign journalists and human rights workers. Many of the armed attackers were members of the military that led the 1991 coup against Aristide, some of whom have been accused of or convicted of serious human rights violations.
Supporters of Lavalas - the political party Aristide help found to support the poor, peasants and working class - were targets of the violence, according to witnesses and victims.
On one block alone, Francois Chily's house was shot up, a carpenter suffered bullet wounds, as did his 88-year-old neighbor and at least one house was torched.
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|©2004 Haiti Information Project - Approximately 2500 Lavalas demonstrators courageously took to the streets of Cap Haitien in a peaceful protest for the first time since the ouster of President Aristide on February 29th. Given the tremendous level of repression and killings of Lavalas supporters it was a milestone event meant to test the response of the current de facto government and the Haitien police force under their control. - August 14 2004|
Chily is the father of Charles Chily, then chief in one of Cap-Haitien's police departments. On Feb. 22, after torching the airport, the courts, school buses and private homes, the rebels came looking for Charles. "Some people in the neighborhood said, "That's not Charles' house - it's his parents'," Francois said, speaking Haitian Creole through an interpreter. The bullet-riddled fa?ade of his home stands as testimony to the family's trauma. Francois and his wife went into hiding in the mountains for several weeks after the incident. Charles remains in hiding today. His parents say they miss him.
Francois doesn't know why his son was targeted. ""Maybe all this happened because he was in contact with the national palace (the seat of government)," he said. "Now I think we don't have any hope."
A couple of doors down, Aristide supporter Solido Gason recalls that day. "I got shot in the leg with a shot gun the same day as the (Chily) house was shot up," he said. "I think I was a target."
A few blocks away, Santoye Fritznel's mother tells another story. Santoye was 27 years old when he was killed by rebels on Feb. 23. He wasn't a Lavalas supporter, but his friend was, Maria Fritznel said. "We think the reason the rebels killed him was that he had a friend in Lavalas." The friend remains in hiding today.
The stories of death and destruction abound. Another police chief, this one from the Cap-Haitien district of Petit Anse was killed, as was his security guard, a home was burned causing the death of a 14-year-old girl, numerous Lavalas supporters were jailed without charges and remain so today, a radio-television station was torched, school buses were incinerated, the prison was attacked and all the prisoners freed, including those jailed under Aristide and convicted for serious human rights abuse.
"There's no justice, no one to go to," said, the mother of another victim, Elipha Jean Pierre, known as Zo.
|©2004 Haiti Information Project - A group of international observers from the San Francisco Bay Area accompany Jean Charles Moise, ousted Mayor of the northern town of Milot, who came out of hiding for this event.|
After Sunday's march, spirits were high. Jean-Charles Moise, the deposed mayor of the rural town of Milo, came out of hiding, where he'd been since Aristide was forced out. Having received numerous death threats, he made only a brief appearance at the protest. When the crowd saw him, they swarmed around him and chanted his name.
Later that day, Moise spoke with a reporter: "After today I feel free. I'm comfortable. Before this day I couldn't stay in a room to talk to you. It's not only me, but everyone hiding in the mountains: they are free."
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