Originally: The Mobilization Reaches Port-au-Prince
The popular mobilization against the Haitian regime that began in some provincial cities has reached Port-au-Prince, the capital, the final stage of previous movements against established power. Considering that a rally scheduled for today has wide support from business, labor, human rights groups, political parties, and the public at large, the potential for government-condoned violence against the participants is real. That has prompted warnings from several quarters, including the American ambassador.
Yesterday, there was a demonstration by university students, members of several labor unions, human rights groups, and the victims of fraud by state-sponsored money cooperatives that stole more than $200 million. They demanded an accounting from the officials. Even before they took to the streets, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Haiti Progres, a pro-government weekly, stated Wednesday, “This [Thursday?s demonstration] will be a sort of priming and a test for the real provocation expected the following day.”
Meanwhile, Andy Apaid, the coordinator of Group 184, issued an invitation to the press on October 12 to attend yesterday?s rally at at the sprawling Champ de Mars near the National Palace. The idea, said Mr. Apaid, “has generated enthusiasm and support from hundreds of organizations around the country.”
Sensing trouble from governmentsponsored thugs who have disrupted previous anti-government demonstrations, Mr. Apaid called for “a strong presence” of the international community and the press to “deter violent intentions and reassure peaceful citizens, creating an environment conducive to true non-violent social mobilization.”
The Port-au-Prince authorities can be protective or violent against organizers of demonstrations. As previously reported, since the peaceful march on November 17, 2002, in Cap Haitien that drew more than 50,000 people, the Haitian regime has disrupted similar events in Cap Haitien, St. Marc, Petit Goave, and Gonaives.
When demonstrators attempted a march earlier this year in the capital, pro-government thugs armed with bullwhips, stones, and sticks, under the command of President Aristide?s voodoo medium “Sister Anne” (Annette Auguste), violently dispersed the demonstrators and occupied their place. Only last week a group of women demonstrating in front of the justice department were attacked by hooligans that were transported to the spot in a state vehicle with strobe light no less.
As if to warn about an impending attack, the secretary of state for communication, Mario Dupuy, said on Wednesday that “the members of the popular organizations will be present [at the demonstration].”
He added, “The Constitution gives any citizen the right to participate in the activities of his/her country.”
A campaign intended to instill fear among prominent citizens has been unleashed by the government. Owners of major press outlets have received threatening telephone calls for their enthusiastic support of yesterday?s event. The kidnapping on Wednesday at 5 p.m. of Mrs. Reginald Boulos is linked to that campaign, because her husband is board chairman of Radio Vision 2000, one of the most prominent radio stations in Haiti. Besides being board chairman, Mr. Boulos?s family is a major stockholder in Vision 2000 and is also instrumental in the rebirth of Le Matin, a venerable daily that ceased publishing a year ago. Mrs. Boulos, born Mona Hage, is the mother of four, including a daughter who attends a U.S. college.
“The kidnapping of Mrs. Boulos is directly linked to the stand taken by her husband?s radio station,” said Senator Dejean Belizaire, the former president of Haiti?s Senate and the National Assembly, who now lives in exile here. He told me, “This is part of Mr. Aristide?s strategy to muzzle all organs not under his control. It is a grave issue that?s not acceptable.”
The Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project issued an appeal on Wednesday calling on federally-elected officials to come to the “support of freedom of expression by issuing an unambiguous statement designed to give the Lavalas regime and its armed thugs pause as they contemplate the consequences of their ongoing harassment of the planners of the event, and the violent assault upon participants that will quite likely be staged on the day itself.” Haiti Democracy Project has dispatched an observation team to Haiti that arrived yesterday morning.
The American ambassador in Port-au-Prince, James Foley, issued a statement Wednesday calling on “all Haitians to respect the fundamental democratic right to free expression and peaceful assembly.”
In the statement, in French, he specifically addressed the “authorities of state to honor the promise President Aristide made to allow and protect the freedom of political expression.” In that light, the ambassador asserted that “the international community will closely monitor the upcoming demonstrations, particularly that of November 14 at the Champ de Mars.” Mr. Foley also said, “These demonstrations will offer the police and those who have threatened and dispersed demonstrations of the opposition in the past a good opportunity to show the world that they have the same commitment to freedom that the heroes of Haiti?s independence had 200 years ago.”
We are heading toward a showdown of major proportions.
That brings to mind other events of similar magnitude.
On February 7, 1986, in an explosion of joy and revenge, thousands of citizens invaded the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities when Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled.
On December 17, 1990, an unstoppable human avalanche swept through Port-au-Prince as the partisans of a citizen-priest called Jean-Bertrand Aristide was proclaimed president even before the ballots of the election the previous day were tallied.
Then, on October 15, 1994, when the exiled Mr. Aristide was flown back to Port-au-Prince in an American jet, accompanied by American and international dignitaries, he was acclaimed by thousands of citizens to whom he promised, “security and peace, morning, noon and night, freely.” He had basked in the glory of the masses back then. But now he travels by helicopter, protected by foreign mercenaries.
What will be his reaction to the people now when they tell him it?s time to go?