Faced with a countrywide movement to oust him, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has affirmed his intention to serve out the remaining three years of his term. But he will have to use the crudest repression to make his will stick.
The situation turned ugly on Tuesday when planned demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and several other cities were violently disturbed by partisans of the president armed with rocks, sticks, bottles of urine, plastic packets of feces, bullwhips and 8-1/2 x 11 pictures of the president. In the capital, for example, around 6:00 a.m., Lavalassians, as the followers of the ruling party are called, occupied the United Nations Plaza by the seaside. By 10:00 a.m. when the opposition was to begin its march, about 2,000 partisans of Mr. Aristide were in the spot for which the original marchers had obtained a police permit. When some legitimate demonstrators began arriving, the Lavalassians attacked and pandemonium set in. The lashing with the whips was particularly brutal, because the whips, made of cowhide, have tiny bits of lead attached to their tips.
President Aristide took to the air to thank ?the people? who had ?manifested their will? in his behalf. ?I cannot tell them not to demonstrate,? he said, adding ?but I cannot stop the people from expressing themselves.? According to predictions, the Tuesday march of the opposition would have topped the approximately 60,000 that took to the streets of Cap Haitien, Haiti?s second largest city, on November 17. The regime decided that it couldn?t afford that gamble.
On Monday, government agents in official vehicles were seen in various shantytowns around the capital, especially at Cite Soleil. They were distributing money to insure a big turnout Tuesday morning. According to a Haiti-Observateur source in the banking system, earlier that Monday the government had taken 120 million gourdes (about $3 million at the current exchange rate) from the ONA Fund, as the employees? retirement fund is called.
Also the regime turned to Aristide?s Voodoo medium ?Sister Anne,? whose real name is Anne Auguste, to ?bless? and distribute the whips, which came neatly packaged in carton boxes. Another Voodoo medium, Alina Sixto, who hails from Stamford, Conn., was also on hand for the major operation against the opposition. One wonders whether those two naturalized Americans — (?Sister Anne,? has a home in Brooklyn) and Mrs. Sixto — aren?t in violation of U.S. laws for participating in violence overseas. The same could be said for Mr. Aristide?s Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, from Freeport, L.I. He always uses his American passport to travel back and forth between Port-au-Prince and New York. Moreover, Mr. Aristide depends on American bodyguards provided by the Steele Foundation of San Francisco for his personal security. It is, therefore, understandable that the Haitian authorities exploit the ambiguities of U.S. laws to claim that they have some support from America to carry out repression in Haiti.
The regime also permitted its thugs to desecrate the St. Pierre Catholic Church in the upscale suburb of Petion-Ville where a mass was being celebrated in memory of Brignol Lindor. Mr. Lindor, a respected journalist in Petit Goave, was hacked to death on December 3, 2001 by the savages of ?Sleep in the Woods,? a so-called popular organization closely tied to the regime. Early Tuesday intruders had placed photos of Mr. Aristide on all the pews and even posted some on walls of the church. They also hassled people coming into the church. Obviously Mr. Aristide, a defrocked Catholic priest, was thumbing his nose at an official declaration of the Bishops? Conference, the highest deliberative church authority in Haiti. After a conclave of several days, the bishops made several suggestions in a statement released Monday. They said the president could ?voluntarily resign for the greater good of the nation, magnanimously shorten his term by calling for general elections or undertake major reforms to enhance the credibility of the government and regain [the public?s] confidence.?
It is almost impossible for the regime to regain the public?s confidence. Following the crude attacks of Tuesday, leaders of political, business, labor, school and other professional organizations called for a spontaneous strike Wednesday to show their displeasure. A nationwide strike closed banks, schools and businesses Wednesday. Another nationwide strike, which was previously scheduled for December 10, is being reviewed more methodically.
Violence by the regime?s thugs has also made some victims elsewhere. In Gonaives, a bastion of the opposition, Amiot ?Cuban? Metayer of the ?Cannibal Army? carried out a raid Sunday on the Jubilee section of town, burning more than 20 houses and killing three people. Cuban, it should be recalled, had escaped from jail on August 2, following a jailbreak engineered by his followers in complicity with the government. Another fugitive from that jailbreak, Jean Pierre, better known as Jean Tatoune, has become a fierce rival of Cuban. But unlike Cuban, he has declared himself against Mr. Aristide. In a telephone interview, Tatoune confirmed that an aide of Cuban, who also acted as chauffeur, was killed in a skirmish last Saturday night. ?His own people shot him in error,? said Tatoune, who also revealed that another anti-Aristide group confiscated last week a truckload of weapons and about $25,000 destined to Cuban.
Oddly, Ira Kurzban, an American lawyer representing the Haitian government, said in a release last week that in its first ?major armed attack,? the opposition Convergence Democratique had seized several weapons from seven policemen who had abandoned their vehicle to escape being hurt. Former Congressman Ron Dellums of San Francisco, a lavishly paid lobbyist of the Haitian government, lamented that by its action, the Convergence was depriving poor Haitians of food and medicine. For the opposition group claims that it won?t participate in any election as long as Resolution 822 of the Organization of American States isn?t fully complied with by the Haitian government. As previously mentioned that resolution calls for the arrest and disarmament of the thugs. Amiot Metayer is specifically mentioned. Also reparations should be paid to the victims of the destruction of December 17, following a bogus coup d?etat and an impartial electoral board to oversee the upcoming elections should have been in place last November 4.
?Certainly there can?t be any elections with this regime, which must be ousted,? said Professor Leslie Manigat, a former president of Haiti, who himself was toppled in a military coup d?etat in 1988. Mr. Aristide disbanded the army in 1995 and now relies on his irregular thugs to carry out repression in conjunction with a politicized police. But popular will is definitely solidifying against the Lavalassians. Hopefully, a plan will be in place to forestall the destructive dechouquage (uprooting of lives and property) that accompanied the overthrow of Jean-Claude ?Baby Doc? Duvalier on February 7, 1986.