Originally: Fearful of further violence, organizers halt a peaceful rally in the capital for the second time in four days. Some fear that civil war looms.
February 16, 2004
Port-au-Prince, Haiti ? Impassioned government loyalists hurled rocks from atop the national television station onto
opposition demonstrators Sunday as they tried to march into the center of Haiti’s capital, sparking fights and police gunfire in
another display of the deep divisions some here said signal a looming civil war.
Sunday’s march from the hilltop suburb of Petionville into the poor and hostile neighborhoods of central Port-au-Prince was a
nervous and frequently halted procession.
Members of gangs backing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide sporadically rushed from the sidewalks, scattering frightened
demonstrators until the event’s organizers, fearful of further violence, called off the march.
It was the second time since a bloody uprising by anti-Aristide rebels began Feb. 5 in the city of Gonaives that the president’s
mainstream political opponents had tried to take their grievances to the streets, only to be attacked.
A rally planned Thursday was crushed before it started when pro-Aristide gang members erected barricades throughout
Port-au-Prince, set fire to the obstructions and stoned the few people who dared try to march.
In contrast to Thursday’s confrontations, when police stood idly by, on Sunday officers in riot gear chased down and detained
several gang members who menaced the procession until it reached the TV station.
Police had tried to steer the marchers away from the site, a stronghold of Aristide’s Lavalas Party, but ardent students within the
crowd insisted on following their planned route. Police gave up defending them once the gang members, or so-called chimeres ?
Creole for “monsters” ? began throwing rocks and chanting, “Aristide for life!”
“We are calling off the march because we, as the organizers, do not want to be accused of allowing it to become violent,” Evans
Paul, a leader of the Group of 184 civil society movement, announced to journalists.
Resentment of Aristide and his party has been mounting since reputedly fraudulent elections in 2000, which encouraged
international donors to cut aid, worsening Haiti’s economic crisis. Opponents want Aristide to step down and make way for a new
After meeting Friday with other Western Hemisphere leaders to discuss the Haitian crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
issued a vague appeal to Aristide to “reach out to the opposition, to make sure that thugs are not allowed to break up peaceful
Police made an effort to protect the marchers along the route, but pro-Aristide groups had set up burning barricades at Place
Jeremie, the intended end point in the heart of the capital. Many in the opposition crowd feared walking into a trap if they
continued, and heeded organizers’ advice to go home.
The march began with just a few people, but as it moved along the 5-mile route it picked up hundreds of supporters who lined the
streets, listening to radios or conferring via cellular phone to check on security before joining in. By the time it reached the TV
station, more than 1,000 people were chanting denunciations of Aristide and hoisting placards calling on the nation’s patron saint
to “Save Haiti.”
Others, however, thought it was too risky to participate.
“I won’t go out today. There are too few police, and the chimeres can easily attack us,” said Maud Stocker, a grocery store
owner who stood timidly on the fringes of Place Boyer, watching other opposition supporters gather. “I’ve gone on every other
demonstration, but now there is so much tension in the air. The country is going toward anarchy.”
Sunday’s relatively small turnout for Aristide’s opponents suggested that the president and his supporters had been successful in
cowing his critics by making violence the price of airing their opinions.
That reality appears to be driving new divisions among opposition supporters. Most are still committed to remaining peaceful,
even if that means staying silent, but others, mostly students, say it’s time to fight.
“I started out a pacifist, but now I want to go to Gonaives,” said Berny Leveque, a 29-year-old communications student.
“Peaceful marches have gotten us nowhere, because Aristide knows only force. Violence provokes violence. You have to do
Andre Apaid, a Group of 184 leader, insisted that the Democratic Platform ? an umbrella group uniting all mainstream opposition
forces ? remains opposed to violence and has dissociated itself from the armed rebels in Gonaives, whose uprising has led to
about 50 deaths.
Most of Aristide’s political opponents have reacted to the suppressed marches with frustration and a sense of helplessness.
“The Platform wants to be peaceful, but we will never get rid of Aristide by marching. He has distributed weapons to his partisans,
and we are headed for civil war,” said Carmelle Jean-Marie, a 43-year-old economist who works in Cuba. “I don’t have a gun. I
don’t even know how to use one.”
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