|See photos from Caravan for Justice|
Hard hit Municipalities:
The Attempt to Destroy Lavalas
Although international attention has largely focused on the removal of President Aristide little attention has been given to turnover in local government offices. Immediately following the coup on February 29th more than 400 mayors and the employees of their municipalities were forced from their posts following a campaign of repression and political terror. Most were forced to go into hiding or flee the country five months before their mandates were scheduled to expire on July 17th, 2004. All but two of the mayors were elected officials representing the majority Lavalas political party founded by Aristide. They have all been replaced by un-elected appointees of the government of Gerard Latortue who is also un-elected and was anointed in a process largely controlled and supervised by the Bush administration.
Each of the local municipalities also employed hundreds of people who were purged through a violent campaign of intimidation in a climate described as a ,"witch hunt," by many international observers. Many public services such as trash collection and road maintenance are no longer provided to the communities and up to 20,000 people countrywide have forced out of their jobs and can no longer support their families.
Jean Charles Moise, the popularly elected mayor of Milo in the north of Haiti, has been in hiding since French troops raided his home on August 9th. Moise is tremendously popular with peasant communities for his role in enforcing land reform laws outlined in the Haitian constitution. He was the first and only mayor to enforce Article 74, which states that when the national government is unable or unwilling to implement land reform the local municipalities have the authority to do so. On August 14th a delegation of human rights observers and journalists met with Mayor Moise and accompanied him to a demonstration in Cap Haitian where many of his supporters were able to see him for the first time since he was forced into hiding. Demonstrators swarmed around Mayor Moise and lifted him into the air. He was only able to stay at the demonstration for a few minutes given security concerns, but his presence clearly emboldened the crowd. Although the presence of international observers provided temporary respite from the political repression, many participants in the march including Mayor Moise remain in hiding today.
|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.|
The delegation also met with Sulley Guerrier, former mayor of Petionville, who was also forced into hiding immediately following the removal of Aristide. While Sulley was in hiding his house was shot at and ransacked. Mayor Guerrier governed according to the principles of the Lavalas party, employing the poor within his administration and supporting community education and health programs. Eight hundred people worked in the mayor's municipality and have been effectively unemployed since March.
These are only two examples of a much larger tragedy that has swept Haiti after the forced ouster of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29th. Numerous communities are disempowered by the absence of elected officials and the dissolution of vital community services.
Lavalas in Cap Haitien Today: