We salute with all our heart all those who join us in this first congress: friends, comrades, brothers and sisters, party members, sympathizers, patriots and democrats, representatives of the political parties of diverse sectors of the civil society, diplomats of friendly countries and twenty-two representatives of foreign political organizations who have joined with us today to celebrate this most important event and to give the Haitian people one more testimony of their solidarity.

In the name of the national interim coordinating committee, we pay homage to the Haitian people on the occasion of this first congress of hope, which the OPL has created. It is an organization coming out of the people and which has created the necessary conditions for a better future for all Haitians.

We say honor and respect to all the militant comrades who fell in battle. Especially we do to two true men, members of the OPL leadership, who began this difficult work and are not here today to see how far it has come. We say “Salute!” to Jean Marie-Vincent–“Here!”– and Marc Romulus–“Here!” They are and always will be here in our hearts and spirit.

We salute in a special way the members of the leadership who are with us here, on the dais, and all of our militants in the country. Hand to hand, man by man we are building together, we have opened together the path of hope for the Haitian people. If OPL is what it is today, a responsible political force that knows what it wants and how to get it, it is thanks to its team spirit, to its unified leadership, always ready to do battle in the worst moments of the military régime and in the aftermath when democracy is flourishing in this Haitian land and the power of the people is beginning to flourish. It is this unity that is all our force. And if today the people are placing their confidence in us, it is because they identify us as a team. The OPL belongs to no one. We work together, always vitally linked to the democratic cause of the country, with the local organizations, with the people, with the peasant leagues and labor unions and popular organizations, and with our foreign compatriots who are with us.

It is the whole country that is involved and present in this political event. Seeing this we are sustained and inspired.

This first congress of the OPL has long been in preparation. Because of the coup detat, the repression, the elections, many organizational problems, it is only today that we are able to have this national meeting. For it, the local organizations have for months been holding mini-congresses at the level of the commune and department, working with many popular organizations, and men and women in the cities, communes, and rural sections where the OPL is represented.

It is this sovereign people, a voting and politically-engaged population, that is represented here. It is an important sector of the true Lavalas that is here, engaged with the OPL in its historic mission in which the people struggle to achieve much: to change the nature of the state, to rebuild the country, and to nurture justice in the society.

The historic content of our movement

When we say Lavalas what do we really mean? We wish to say clearly that Lavalas belongs to no one, it is the private property of absolutely no one; it has no age and has no other father than the people. It is a child of the people. Even if a candidate, a leader in a difficult moment claims paternity, it is the people who have borne Lavalas in their guts since time immemorial. Lavalas is a movement to put the peple on their feet, to end the suffering and exploitation in Haiti.

Lavalas is a name for a stage of Haitian history, a democratic and popular movement for liberty and change, a movement that seeks to realize the old dream of liberty, equality, and justice.

Its content has moved many patriots to join it. These numerous men and women under the banner of the OPL continue the fight and with dedication and ability continue the liberation and egalitarian struggle of 1791 and 1804.

We wish to join other patriots, unseen continuators of the fight, whether the peasants of Goman and Acaau, the men of 1843, Salnave, Anténor Firmin and the liberals, the Cacos of Charlemagne Péralte, the most honest and authentic elements of the reform movement of 1946 and in the course of the struggle against Duvalierism, for the youths and patriots who often took up arms or who fell in the horror of Fort Dimanche, such as Jacques Stephen Alexis, Gérald Brisson, and other such fighters.

The content of the fight with which Lavalas is identified has been fed in recent years by the force of social and political protest. It has come from the anti-Duvalier upsurge of 1986, which was a mobilization of the people against the Tontons Macoute, against the military, and against corruption and for a change in the state and a new, more just and humane society.

With such a legacy we insist on defending it against perversions of various kinds that appear in the movement which distort it and make it lose its credibility, so that its strongest adherents become disheartened or skeptical and its permanent enemies gain arguments for a continuation or restoration of their agendas.

We are also defending a legacy built by many generations of patriotic men and women of diverse progressive tendencies. We propose a model of society that belongs to the people and above all the Haitian youth which must build with us its own future, the future of the nation. We invite all the sectors of Lavalas to unite to restore and defend this common legacy.

The forum which is beginning here today is open to all those who wish to be with us looking ahead to the year 2004 and building a Haiti that can enter the twenty-first century with dignity, meeting the population’s essential needs in health, education, and living standards.

The OPL, fully accepting this historic mission, invites all patriots to unite in this grand endeavor of transformation of the political system and national construction. It invites the nation to take from this Congress of the Builders of Hope the common work of modernization and justice in a country that must produce more wealth and distribute it better to do away with hunger and misery forever.

The objectives of the congress

With this congress, we wish to give OPL the tools it needs to become a pillar of the democratic cause supportive of a wide variety of ideas. It is the whole nation that we wish to join together. What we would like to see is another congress, like the Arcahaie, to conquer the hunger and misery which are the greatest enemies of the country, so that we can build a nation for all, so that we with open eyes can realize the old dreams of our ancestors and build a country of truth.

To salute all the workers in this task of construction, we call clearly for unity to make Lavalas a strong party, to unite the nation, to create a country for all Haitians. This congress is a school of democracy between brothers and sisters whose three basic aims are:

  • To discuss and approve the by-laws of the OPL so that our work and operations are bound by rules and principles
  • To discuss the program of government which OPL proposes to the nation
  • To elect a national coordinating team according to the by-laws and experiences we have had during these recent years
We must achieve these three objectives. If we do, we know that all the problems we must confront in these next days will not be difficult, even problems of organization and lack of resources.

The current situation in the country

This congress is being launched at an extremely delicate moment not only for the country but for all democrats. It is like a person recovering from a grave illness, a patient who has just been operated on, a woman who has just given birth under bad conditions. It is like a newborn child. Any current of air, any drop of rain, any imprudent act, any wrong food, or any overstrong medicine can be fatal.

In effect, the country after thirty devastating years of Duvalierism and ten of constant socio-political struggle is beginning to rise, however shakily, from this grave test. At this point the strikes, the demonstrations, the burning of tires and blocking of roads are not solutions.

It should not be forgotten that the present moment is burdened by the vicissitudes and legacy of this difficult mutation, of the social and political struggles that Haitian society has been living through over this time.

The return in theory to constitutional order; the marriage, so problematical, of reconciliation and justice; the deployment of a public administration in complete disarray; the uncertainty surrounding constitutional continuity; the debate over the question of regaining the three years of Aristide’s presidential mandate; the question of the presidential succession; the context of the negotiations with the international institutions; the blocking of external credits and the conditionality for getting the aid– all these factors have combined to make even more difficult the challenge of lowering the cost of living and improving the conditions of life of the population. In view of the great weight of all these burdens, the past is always present among us. Not only at the material level, but also in the area of mentality, arbitrary practices, and corruption the devastating legacy of Macoutism is making its presence known.

Also, we must assume the economic and social costs of this long period of questioning of structures, institutions and individuals, of the absence of private investment, of the political economy and the public administration, with the consequences of the disintegration of structures and decapitalization resulting from the negative actions of the anti-change forces and the embargo.

As a result of all these obstacles, Haiti in 1996 and 1997 is extremely vulnerable both economically and socially. The accumulated misery is such that our country could descend into ungovernability, which would mean we would regress enormously and which would unquestionably threaten our national integrity. The solutions to the imperative problems of the moment require much wisdom and a fine sense of history. We must achieve stability. We must fight against hunger. We must look beyond the emergency and start the motor of development, promote public works and give jobs to the jobless. For this we must have a national pact with the middle class and bourgeoisie, with the support of the international community which helped us reclaim our democracy. Thus can we create the conditions so that the sons of the nation can receive it in peace and security.

Our position on certain fundamental questions

From this perspective the OPL wishes to affirm its position before the Haitian people and the nation on certain fundamental questions.

Our political organization, as we affirmed in our 1992 platform and in our actions since, is inspired by the ideals and values of humanity, justice, the welfare of all, and a representative and participatory democracy.

We firmly believe that the most efficient and lasting solution to our huge national problems is by way of regular elections, democratic alternation, a deep reform of the state mechanism and the consolidation of our institutions which should be reaffirmed, reformed, and modernized both to conform with the constitution and to satisfy the demands of the population for economic and social development.

On the basis of these convictions we supported the candidacy of Rene Preval and continue to offer our support to his presidency.

As recommended in the Lavalas platform, we supported for the post of prime minister Rosny Smarth, a member of our party’s executive committee, whom President Preval accepted in conformity with the constitution.

Since then, understanding the necessity for reflecting the realities of power within the ambit of Lavalas, we approved a policy of balance on the cabinet, in which our organization is in the minority, participating together with other associates in Lavalas in a spirit of sharing and a quest for cohesion and efficiency.

In the same spirit, we recognize that the efforts of the government team to deal with the problems of the moment conform with the law and take into account the legitimate demands of the population. So we reaffirm our full support to the prime minister and his government, convinced that our lawful state does not have to depend for its stability on the sterile agitation of those nostalgic for power.

We reaffirm equally our confidence in our majority in the parliament, in its ideological diversity. We honor its loyalty to the constitution and its spirit of respect for pluralism. We are sure that its members’ loyalty and sense of responsibility will turn it into a fundamental instrument for the institutionalization of democracy.

We encourage the members of parliament elected by the people to seek ways of convergence and co-existence which will assure greater efficiency and autonomy of this power.

The party system is a substantial element in the construction of democracy. The state should count on the participation of the parties. It should inspire them to fulfill their role of offering criticism and proposals, and turn them into civic actors and representatives of discrete interests. Our organization is ready to work with all the democratic parties to consolidate the process of institutionalization.

We propose to the entrepreneurs, the private sector, a dialogue on what is to be done economically and socially on the basis of the program which our congress presents to the nation. We believe it indispensable to reach a social pact for the development of our country.

The popular organizations and the other grassroots groups; the peasants, trade-unionists, professional associations, community unions all contribute to building the structure of civil society and play an important role in stimulating the mechanisms of civic participation and the economic and social construction of the country.

All those sectors and the country as a whole can only gain with stability, which is the sine qua non for the success of the democratic enterprise and the development which we have sought all these years.

We say that the stability of the country is indispensable so that the people can feel better, so that public security is strengthened, so that employment is extended over the whole country, so that the business class, the entrepreneurs, the merchants, and the foreign capitalists can invest their money, so that capital circulates and the governmental machine is not merely idling, which will happen if the economy does not get going. Stability requires that the citizenry obey the law, negotiate their disagreements and conflicts of interests, and then have the protests and calls for redress that normally appear among fellow citizens, sons of the same nation.

The unity of the democratic sectors should be established on a clear basis

The diversity and the divergences among the different branches of the Lavalas movement call for a better working out and finer definition of each of these branches so as to clarify with full transparency and without politicking the bases and conditions of an alliance around a program.

It is a new epoch of the process of change marked by firm steps forward; it should be clear to the people that Duvalierism is historically defeated and that militarism has been thrown into the dustbin of history.

Maintaining their vigilance, the people should understand that the time for informal alliances at any price against the enemy is over. The unity of the democratic sectors should be on the basis of a clear definition of principles which would let the electorate and the nation understand and be a part of all the decisions that affect them.

That OPL may be strong

To initiate this policy of clarification, we of the OPL and all those fellow citizens who want politics based on principles and faithful to an ethic must neutralize the discouragement and skepticism of numerous citizens. We must disprove with deeds all those who say of politics and politicians, Nothing changes. Everything remains the same. We must disarm on the terrain of ideas those who cite the perversions of Lavalas to say that those of Lavalas are no different from those of yesterday. We must unmask those who seek to confuse the people by saying that the want, the poverty, the acute problems which the country is suffering, the corruption and intimidation which is rising in certain sectors of Lavalas are the same as happened under the Duvaliers. We must do this to show a different image that ends all manipulation; we must correct the incorrect, and put ourselves on the right path.

The OPL struggles to make itself into the meeting point of all those who wish to change political practice in this country, to push Haiti down the road of development, and to improve the conditions of existence of all Haitians, particularly the poor.

The OPL’s priority objective is to reinforce its roots, to spread its organization over the whole country, to formalize and institutionalize the participation of all its members. The congress will let us take concrete steps in that direction.

The second imperative which we must fulfill is the systematic education of our adherents and the regular publication of our journal so as to create a strong bond between the members of the organization and to circulate our ideas.

In the third place we must disseminate to the people and nation OPL’s program of government, “The Consolidation of Democracy,” which the people participated in working out and which with ratification by this congress represents a comprehensive proposal for changing the country and bettering the conditions of life of the people.

This program, our discipline as adherents spiritually joined with the people, is an expression of conscience for the same cause. All these elements mean that our call for unity can bring together all Haitians. At the same time, the historic movement of Lavalas must purify itself. The people will newly have the hope by which OPL makes itself into a force of transformation for building the nation, so that Haiti may rise, so that the people may be united, so that the society our ancestors dreamed of may become a reality, a society in which we and our children can live the way we should.

We sound the tocsin of unity so that our country may rise.