Article Dated 12/10/2002

PORT-AU-PRINCE – ”If things don’t improve here, I’ll try to leave a thousand times if
I have to. Things are so difficult here. We left Saint Louis du Nord (in northwestern
Haiti) Sunday and were towed to Cayman Island Tuesday by the American Coast

Those are the words of Claude, a refugee who was repatriated Oct. 27 by a U.S.
Coast Guard patrol.

Like Claude, millions of other Haitians also dream of leaving or are forced to flee in
order to survive.

With sailboats easily available – usually stolen or purchased with contributions from
the passengers – it is easy to depart but not necessarily to land.

These desperate sailors seek refuge in some neighbouring country, usually aiming
for the Florida coast, the Bahamas, or the Turks and Caicos or Providential Islands,
in that order.

From Jan. 2 to Oct. 26, 2002, the National Migration Office recorded more than
19,778 cases of forced repatriations by U.S., Bahamian, Cuban, and Dominican

In the midst of this exodus it is ironic that the Conference of Catholic Bishops used
the metaphor of a ship at sea when they analysed the current political situation here
in a report released Tuesday.

”We see that people are outraged, exasperated by a crisis which has gone on far too
long. The pitch of their anger is only degrees away from the point of taking up arms.
We can see the spectre of civil war and fratricide looming on the horizon,” wrote the

It is like ”watching a boat while you know that its shipwreck is imminent”, they added,
suggesting three short-term scenarios for this impoverished nation: President Jean
Bertrand Aristide would resign and early general elections could be held; the
president’s mandate will be cut short and early elections held, or attempts will be
made to restore government credibility.

The political crisis seems to have peaked in the last few weeks. An attempt by the
Organization of American States to meditate an agreement for new legislative and
local elections ended in failure, and the entire spectrum of the political opposition and
many quarters of Haitian society continue to call for Aristide’s resignation.

Last Wednesday, a general strike shut businesses in the capital and some cities in
the northern provinces. Organisers were protesting violence by police and pro-
Aristide supporters during anti-government demonstrations Tuesday.

Continuing the ship metaphor, the bishops appealed to all Haitians to ask
themselves if they have done enough to prevent the looming catastrophe.

”Then there are those passengers who, with some satisfaction, are eager to point out
how inept the crew is, and hope, with all their might, that its best attempts fail. Also
on board are the extremist opportunists, who, all together, deliberately choose the
path of violence and terror to either keep the troubled crew on the job or to remove
them from the tiller.”

”They continue to act this way in spite of the forecast of inestimable losses in human
life and property, and the terrible repercussions for the boat as a whole, which is
already imperilled.”

The political crisis, which had already begun under the government of Aristide’s
predecessor, Rene Preval (1995-2000), flared up again in May 2000 when electoral
irregularities resulted in a freeze in international aid.

Corruption within the government and poor spending policies deepened the already-
existing budgetary deficit.

Ill-considered government policies, impunity, and incessant human rights violations
pushed Aristide’s own socialist and community allies to turn against him. Today,
some belong to an alliance with opposition right and extreme-right wing groups.

While the political system deteriorates, the economy worsens. The price of a car
repair, used as a measure of inflation, went up 7.5 percent in one month. The price
of cooking oil increased by 10.56 percent, and the costs of some basic foodstuffs
rose by as much as 50 percent in October.

”Eating rice in what used to be called the ‘Pearl of the Antilles’ is now a luxury,”
according to economist Claude Beauboeuf.

”Strangely, none of the economic experts has yet to comment on the effect of rising
prices on the buying power of the average Haitian,” he adds. ”The existence of those
who buy within the regular food distribution system has been transformed into a
veritable nightmare.”

”Haiti is now out-of-phase with all international and regional macroeconomic

According to the bishops, ”everything needs to be rethought with no aspect excluded
to preserve the greatest good of the nation”.

”The day will come when those who hold power get the rudder back on track. We
hope that that will occur under the best of conditions, through the constitutional
turning over of power and not through violence.”

Copyright © 2002  The Black World Today.
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