Originally: Haiti: What Next?

I have always recognized Haiti’s paramount role in the political liberation
of the hemisphere. The overthrow of the French in that country marked a
turning point in the history of African enslavement in the hemisphere; Simon
Bolivar learnt his craft there, before proceeding with the liberation of most
of the South American continent.

For one glorious moment in time, it seemed that the downtrodden had risen to
take on their rightful roles as free men. But the powerful nations
surrounding Haiti would never let that happen.

Today, we are faced with a phenomenon that in itself grew out of that Haiti,
as it turned upon itself and found not only its artistic and cultural
flowering of the past, but also the darker side, bred of the brutality of
slavery under the French.

This is not recognised by some of our leaders, who mistakenly believe that
the president of that country is a messiah come to lead his country out of
the wilderness. Their vision is clouded by sentiments sprung from what that
country has done for us, rather than from the reality of present-day Haiti.

Haiti, under Aristide I was a democracy. Haiti under Aristide II is anything
but a democracy and we cannot be facetious about it, or the lot of the common
Haitian will never change. The present government is the result of an
election, which was manipulated in a way that none of us would accept as
normal in our own country. It became a farce after a day when ordinary
Haitians had gone out in their millions to vote. In spite of the difficulties
surrounding an election in such a poor country, unaccustomed to proper
elections, the population went out in earnest to make their voices heard.

Most recently, Aristide has promised the Organisation of American States
Secretary General, Dr Gaviria and former Dominican Prime Minister Dame
Eugenia Charles that he would re-run the eight senate seats contested (I
believe the number was nine) and all would be well again.

His spokesperson in the Senate indicated that the population was being
squeezed as a result of an international blockade of aid to Haiti.
Interestingly, Aristide was informed that this would happen if he did not
observe the propriety of having a run-off in a number of elections where,
after the vote count, his minions had changed the numbers first and then
miscalculated the numbers so as to gain a 50 per cent plus one majority for
his chosen.

In all probability, Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, would have won that
election, if there had been no fraud and no deliberate miscalculation of the
vote. The fact is that the Opposition was not much of an opposition, even
though they were numerous. Indeed, they form more of a serious opposition now
as the so-called Convergence than they did during the elections, when they
were little more than a large number of splintered parties.

Why should anyone believe that Aristide or, for that matter his spokesperson
Yvon Neptune, is any more serious now about a fair rerun of that part of the
election? What about other elements of the election clearly fraudulently won,
like the Mairie of Petionville? Are we prepared to let that slide?

And how will he obtain an independent electoral council. Will it be like the
last one where one member ran to the president to brief him on each and every
word said in the council or elsewhere in the society for that matter?

That is not all. The United States had poured millions into the country to
improve the justice system. Not much improvement or even change resulted from
this input, which was generally inept. Prisoners still languished in prisons
waiting for their case to be heard for year after year.

In the midst of this, the poor village priest, who had risen to save the
masses, had amassed a fortune for himself and lived on his estate near the
airport. He was surrounded by security and he received visitors in his
anteroom, which was decorated by photos of Presidents Clinton, Carlos Andres
Perez of Venezuela and Preval, his own lackey.

The room was also adorned by a splendid collection of Haiti’s best painters.
It was a lavish setting. Yet no one dared to ask how the poor priest now
owned all of this. No one even suspected that Pere Arisitide had got into bed
with a large United States telephone company to increase his wealth. The poor
priest had been converted to a money-grabber.

There was indeed one man who questioned this. His name was Jean Dominique. He
is no more. Jean Dominique was an unapologetic leftist, who genuinely cared
for Haiti’s masses. Like everyone else of his political leaning, as well as a
great deal of the Haitian middle class, he supported Aristide.

Indeed, he was forced into exile by the military soon after they had deposed
Aristide. He was a superb journalist. His command of French, Creole and
English were exemplary and he could influence a crowd almost as easily as the
charismatic Aristide could. His radio programmes kept alive some hope that
there would be justice for Haiti’s poor. He was, for a long time, in constant
touch with Aristide. Then things changed.

I met Jean Dominique less than a month before he was gunned down outside the
gate of his radio station. That was over a year ago. His murderer has not yet
been identified, even though the assassination took place in broad daylight.
He spoke openly about his dislike of the French and his love for Haiti.

He also spoke about Aristide and the last occasion on which the former
president had visited his radio station. On that occasion, Jean Dominique had
questioned him about several millions of dollars that had been subverted for
someone’s personal use. Aristide had replied in one of his usual parables,
saying that he was only the driver of the truck and that sometimes things
happened on the back of the truck without the driver knowing. Aristide never
returned to Jean Dominique’s.

Orlando Marville is a retired diplomat and an expert on African affairs.