PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov 13 (Reuters) – Beating on traditional
voodoo drums, hundreds of students from the State University of Haiti
marched on parliament on Wednesday, protesting what they called government
interference in the education system.
“Democracy yes! Dictatorship no!” the students chanted as they waved
signs reading: “Long Live Autonomy.”
Many students said they were marching because they saw the university
as a bulwark against the ambitions of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the
former Roman Catholic priest who in February 2001 began his second term as
leader of the impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million people.
“We are here to protest against the growing threat of dictatorship in
our country as represented by the actions of the Aristide government at the
university,” philosophy student Guimy Telot said.
Trouble began at the school last July when Education Minister Myrtho
Celestin Saurel dismissed Vice Chancellor Pierre Marie Paquiot and delayed
student and faculty elections after a hunger strike by students loyal to
The move was met with outrage by many students, who charged the
government was attempting to take control of the school and that their
education was being controlled by a small number of well-connected
Paquiot, whose term had expired before his dismissal, has been
replaced by an interim vice chancellor, Charles Tadye, in preparation for
new university elections to be held later this month.
A subsequent sit-in in July in front of the offices of the education
minister was attacked by government activists hurling stones from the
windows of the ministry and then from the street, witnesses said.
Aristide has been locked in a two-year dispute with the Democratic
Convergence opposition coalition over May 2000 legislative elections his
opponents contend were biased in favor of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party.
The deadlock has delayed over $500 million in international aid.
The country has also witnessed a marked increase in political violence
over the past year, including an attack by unidentified commandos on the
National Palace, the murder of a local journalist by a pro-government mob
and anti-government riots in the capital and elsewhere.