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A Feb. 7 of morosity and disillusion

Reconciliation and Neoliberalism in the Place of Joy and Dechoukaj

From Haiti Info,
Vol. 3, no. 11, 11 February 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb. 8 - Despite the government's big publicity efforts (calls to clean the streets, photos, radio announcments, free tee-shirts) to make yesterday's symbolic holiday a big popular celebration, the mood was apathetic and disillusioned in comparison to the popular celebrations of 1986 and 1991.

Nine years ago, after 29 years of back-and-forth struggle and a year of upheaval, protests, repression, and agitation from popular groups, churches and the media, the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country in a U.S. airplane.

The Haitian people celebrated and also proceeded to dechoukaj or uproot symbols of the old repressive Duvalierist order - corrupt state offices, members of the Tonton Macoute militia, homes of famous torturers. Then, babouket la tombe, the horse's bit fell down, and the demands of the population resonated across the country: justice, de-Macoutization and transparence of the state (an end to corruption), land reform, schools, national economic development, job creation and a higher minimum wage.

After five years of political instability, where the upper class and the imperialists illustrated their incapacity to resolve the crisis in spite of the systematic and brutal repression against the masses, they pushed for elections in order to calm the progress of the popular movement, hoping to install one of their puppets. Unfortunately for them, the Haitian people spoiled their cynical game once again by voting for the man who, at that specific time, with his anti-imperialist and anti-Macoute discourse, represented their aspirations and struggle for democracy.

Aristide came to power as a new challenge that the Haitian masses threw in the face of the U.S. government and its local agents. In that context, in spite of faults and weaknesses pointed out by some, the Feb. 7 of 1991 was a day of massive celebration. The entire country was spotless - mud streets swept clean of dust, walls washed and rewashed and covered with beautiful, colorful murals with such slogans as Haiti Freed!, No Macoutes, Change!, Justice-Liberty-Organization-Work-Respect, and pictures of Tonton Macoutes and soldiers running away or being killed.

This year was totally different: the streets were not cleaned, nor were there many fresh murals or paintings. The cities were quiet - an unexpected day off - as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the occupation troops, foreign dignitaries and politicians gathered at the palace for an attempt at a gala celebration with thousands of schoolchildren sporting new baseball caps which said Feb. 7, We'll Look Forward. Perhaps that was a reference not to look backwards to the demands which have so far gone unanswered and are relegated to the history books.

The president gave a 70-minute speech stressing peace (complete with white doves), justice at the same time as reconciliation, the one billion dollars that will work for the country and the light of democracy shining throughout Latin America. He punctuated his speech with questions to the students and the crowd, lethargic in responding, and a few phrases in English and Spanish. The spirit of 1986 and 1991, and indeed, the spirit of the former St. Jean Bosco priest, were not present.

Aristide did mention land reform, the need for security, free school and housing, but those promises ring hollow and sound demagogic, since he already committed to a much more powerful crowd in Paris last month. [See page 4.] He noticeably did not go into the three promises he made on Feb. 7 four years ago - justice, transparency, participation: three words that leave a bad taste in the mouths of his Paris tutors.

What can we learn from this Feb. 7? Obviously there is something broken in the connection between Aristide and the people. They are beginning to realize, four months after his return, that, despite what he might say in his speeches, Aristide has turned his back on the people's demands.