The whole country, minus a few pockets of Aristide loyalists in the slums,(1) had turned against the President. The general feeling in the country was: ?Titid, you?d better leave before you wreck what?s left of the country.? In places like Thomazeau, where there had not been a political protest in 100 years, hundreds, perhaps thousands of ordinary people were out in force calling on the president to resign. But Aristide, believing that adulation from the people was his everlasting due, would not listen. The more people turned out to protest against him, the more he insisted it was a ?tizuit,? a tiny minority that was ?plotting? against him. And to prove his point, he unleashed the fury of his partisans against the whole nation.
In broad daylight and in full view of the international press, the chimères would be somewhat restrained. They pelted demonstrators with rocks, with bottles filled with piss; they used whips and slingshots to drive the protesters off the streets. But at night and in the slums, blunt deadly force was used aplenty to keep the teeming masses from swelling the ranks of the opposition. There is a rule of thumb about demonstrations: only the most advanced engage in street protests. When you see 10 or 50 thousand in the streets, you can count on ten times that many, equally dissatisfied, but sitting at home.
The mass protests began in earnest after Lavalas? Dec. 5 bloody attack on the University. The battle was joined. All across the country and across class barriers, ordinary people the middle-class, the countryside, a section from the bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, the urban poor were sending a clear message to the government: enough is enough. The nation in order to survive and to develop its potential had to close the book on the past, on the old ways of running the business of the country. This was a profoundly democratic national endeavor that went beyond the fetters of electoral politics: vote every four or five years, and learn to put up with the crap in between.
Some vested interests, not just Aristide, saw this movement as a threat. Somewhere along the way, the dominant families reached a consensus among themselves that the use of force was the best way to deal with Aristide. (It is one of Aristide?s personal traits that he will use force against a weaker adversary, but only ruse against those who can confront or retaliate against him.) But beyond Aristide himself, the bourgeoisie had an overriding interest in limiting the scope of the revolt, in preventing a popular democratic revolt from taking root.
The antagonism between Lavalas and the Haitian bourgeoisie was a fertile ground in terms of reseeding or rekindling the flame of grassroots mobilization. The Gonaives armed uprising may or may not have been a spontaneous outgrowth from the democratic revolt in Port-au-Prince. The two movements hold similar and different configurations, however. Gonaives was more ?lumpen,? prone to violence, and involved a breakaway Lavalas militia. But it is significant that the Gonaives armed uprising held its ground for several weeks, as the proverbial fish in the water. The population of Gonaives had joined the rebellion against Aristide. The domino effect that followed signaled the deliquescence of the state. The police, local Lavalas officials, were fleeing all over the place, ahead of a possible attack. Undermined by the Lavalas virus, the decrepit state was falling apart.
It may be that Buteur Metayer was his own man, with or without support from Port-au-Prince. But Guy Philippe and his exile gang were clearly pawns in a larger strategic game. Their cohesion, crisp uniforms, sophisticated weapons, and easy access across the border, spoke of a well-groomed and well-funded force, with logistical support and political connections with the Dominican Republic, the CIA and the dominant families in Port-au-Prince. Their impact would be both military and psychological.
The attack on Cap-Haitien was a well-orchestrated operation. Although their numbers were roughly equal to the local police force (not to mention the hundreds of armed Lavalas militias busily terrorizing the unarmed population), they took control of the city with a minimum of resistance. It was an operation that could be duplicated anywhere in the country, except in Port-au-Prince where Aristide had himself surrounded by several hundred well-paid and heavily armed special forces, and some 2,000 armed militias. In addition, the Port-au-Prince slums were Lavalas strongholds that could unleash hundreds of hungry and angry people into action.
The rebels? handlers knew quite well they could not overtake Port-au-Prince militarily, but whereas the number of actual ?rebels? was limited (they were never more than two or three hundred), their psychological impact was ten times greater. It is that psychological impact, and Aristide?s own delusions and weaknesses that explain his ultimate flight in the middle of the night. Guy Philippe?s photogenic personality might have played well for the cameras, but it was Jodel Chamblain?s solid reputation as a mass murderer that eventually spooked Aristide and pushed him over the edge.
Was there a coup? Yes, there was clearly one in the making, aside from the democratic opposition. But the chicken flew the coop before the actual blow was delivered. Aristide thought he could sweet-talk Bush into shielding him from a coup that the US had more than a hand in fomenting. But somebody in the Bush administration finally helped him to see the light (told him the blunt truth). Titid finally saw what time it was, and he knew it was time to leave. He signed his resignation letter before getting on that plane.
His resignation, by the way, had nothing to do with ?avoiding a bloodbath.? If that were his intention, Aristide would have left a taped message inviting the nation, inviting his partisans in particular, to a truce. Though he claimed he was willing to die for his country, Aristide had too many assets to live for. In the end, he chose to save his hide, with the option of coming back to make more trouble in the future.
That time has already come. Aristide has confided to the Guadeloupe writer Claude Ribbe that he?s ?not cut for a life in exile,? and that he wants to return to his old job. After all, he claims, ?My letter of resignation was not a formal one.? Once again, Aristide didn?t mean what he said. The proverbial ?Ti Malis? had made his departure conditional. ?If it takes my resignation to avoid a bloodbath,? he wrote, ?I accept to leave, with the hope there will be life instead of death.? There is a naïve belief in the Creole language that as long as you say ?if,? you did not actually commit yourself. You achieve the same effect by grounding your big toe in the dirt when you swear something. This is the subtext of Aristide?s resignation letter: I did not really resign, I said ?if.? And the magic ?if? is already working its power.
Still, one thing is true: Aristide is out for good. The wheel of history has already passed him by. Yet he can make plenty of trouble from abroad. Unless there is a sustained effort to address the needs of the sufferers in Haiti, the chaos he has started will continue. There are two things that will close the chapter for good on Aristide. One is full disclosure on his corruption. The U.S. will have a complete file on that chapter once they debrief whoever among the Steele Foundation mercenaries was keeping tab on Aristide for the CIA. The second is a mammoth demonstration, or demonstrations, across the country, to signify to the thief of Tabarre that he?s out for good.
Anyone of these two measures will do. But taken together they would strike a powerful blow on the side of democracy and accountability. Will the U.S. release its file on Aristide?s corruption, or will they, as in the case of the FRAPH documents, find it more expedient to cover their own tracks with the option of blackmailing Aristide for more information for their own dirty files? Time will tell.
For now, the crisis is far from over. It is in people?s lives, in the barren countryside, in the collapse of the state. A change of government from A to B, from Aristide to Boniface, from Neptune to Latortue, will mean very little. The grandiose deployment of international forces is but a band-aid unless they take on the dangerous job of disarming the ?rebels? and Lavalas armed gangs in a real way. Will a U.N. intervention three months from now make a difference? Nothing is less certain. The best hope of addressing the crisis lies in the resurrection of the December 5 democratic movement.
(1) Aristide?s supporters in the slums of the capital. For all practical purposes, Lavalas in power operated as an anti-institution virus that hastened the moribund stage of the Haitian state. As a rule, Aristide circumvented the institutions of the state and replaced them with ad-hoc groups under his control. This subversion of the state and its institutions appealed to the youth in the capital?s slums, those who truly have nothing to lose the so-called Kokorat. We hear the voice of these kokorat in an article by a foreign correspondent who spoke to several street children, 10 to 12 years old, who sleep in the Port-au-Prince cemetery. Armed with toy guns, those children were manning some of the barricades meant to keep Guy Philippe?s ?rebels? from the capital. During the weeks of turmoil leading to Aristide?s departure, they were flush with money, which they spent on food, sneakers, etc. Lavalas? populism and destructive tendencies appeals to them, because there is no other ideology accessible to them. Lavalas buys them off, corrupts them, uses them for all kinds of extra-legal activities, and ultimately betrays them.