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Date: Wed, 29 Dec 1999 20:49:38 -0600 (CST)
From: Haiti Progres <editor@haiti-progres.com>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 17:41 12/29/99
Article: 85719
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.17411.19991230092110@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

The best of times, the worst of times: Two views of Haiti and the world

In Haiti Progress, This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 17, no. 41, 29 December - 4 January 2000

To listen to the North American mainstream media these days, things have never been better. The economy is fantastic, everybody is getting rich, there is no war to speak of, the environment is getting better, crime is down, and just about everybody is happy. Sometimes one can only rub one's eyes and wonder: am I living on the same planet?

That was the surreal sensation one had when listening to the traditional year-end address of President René Préval at the National Palace on Dec. 22.

While paying lip service to Haiti's deepening crises, both political and economic, he painted a rosy picture of Haiti's future, and white-washed the past year.

Despite all the jolts we have experienced even recently, one can say that we are progressing generally in the direction we desire, Préval declared of his reform efforts. From the point of view of our economic choices, the results are encouraging on the macro-economic level and the growth rate is positive, at which point, to avoid ridicule, he had to add even if it remains insufficiant to help us to reduce the most crying social inequalities.

Well, of course, it is insufficient. Under the neoliberal system Préval is helping to install, growth on the macro- economic level is only possible when workers are paid the minimum for their labor, peasants the minimum for their crops, and artisans the minimum for their crafts. State services and payrolls are cut to the bone, subsidies for gas and foodstuffs are slashed, and tariffs protecting farmers and small industries are dropped. The result is even deeper unemployment, misery, and hunger for the masses.

The bourgeoisie has never had it better, however. Everywhere in Haiti, one sees gleaming new gas-stations, mini-marts with all foreign food, and banks, frequented by well-dressed patrons with new cell-phones and sport-utility vehicles. If you want to get rich, come to Haiti, a new cell-phone businessman recently told a journalist. This is where the goose that lays the golden eggs lives. Just one thing: leave your politics at home.

Of course, the growing gap between rich and poor and widening impoverishment produce protest, which one might agree has been tolerated if one doesn't count the regular and brutal excesses of the heavily-armed police unit known as the CIMO (Company for Intervention for the Maintenance of Order). This along with the the reform of the public administration, the reform of the judicial system, the normal resumption of the electoral process to soon return to complete constitutional order, these are so much proof of the quasi-definitive break with the anti-democratic past of not so long ago, Préval asserted. A premature assessment? Most certainly, when one observes that the state bureaucracy is still laced with grand mangeur (big eater) corruption. Justice is crawling, if not at a standstill. While innocents and petty thieves languish for years behind bars without trial, former soldiers and paramilitary thugs who carried out torture and mass murder during the 1991-94 coup roam freely. Upcoming elections are being held under anything but normal conditions, with the U.S. controlling the production of participation-reducing photo-identification electoral cards and the electoral machinery packed with partisans of the Espace de Concertation, Washington's opposition front in Haiti, very similar to the 1990 UNO front in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, thousands of demobilized but still armed soldiers, both military and paramilitary, lie in wait for their chance to bring back the anti-democratic past with which, it would be more accurate to say, there has been a quasi-tentative break.

Auguring their eventual offensive is the country's continuing wave of crime and violence, known as insecurity. But borrowing from Préval's sense of the unreal, the Haitian National Police (PNH) also declared last week that their Buckle Up Port-au- Prince anti-crime campaign has been a grand success, and that zenglendo activity is down. In the metropolitan region, there has been a considerable reduction in the rate of insecurity, declared PNH spokesman Jean Dady Siméon. Today, we give the population a formal guarantee that they can walk around anytime they want and the police will be in the streets 24 hours a day to give them security.

Just a glance at a few items off the police blotter over two days helps one gauge the value of Siméon's guarantee. Around 7 p.m. on Dec. 21, four men robbed at gunpoint Kénold Walchin, a Radio Kiskeya collaborator, of all his belongings on Rue Pavée in downtown Port-au-Prince. At noon the same day, three armed men invaded the medical clinic of former Social Affairs Minister Dr. Pierre Denis Amédée in Pétionville and made off with the day's receipts of $400 and all the money and valuables of patients in the waiting-room. Eladrès Jean François, 32, was shot to death in the Avenue Fouchard area at around 5 a.m. on Dec. 22 as he was opening a bakery. Then at around noon, two men dressed in black like Ninjas opened fire in a crowded downtown market near Croix de Bossales, wounding 7 people, 4 seriously. Later that evening, in the Linthaud section of Cité Soleil, 50 houses were burned down leaving about 270 families homeless, following a shoot-out between a lottery stand owner and a dissatisfied customer. Also that day, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) announced that it was suspending its food aid to 250,000 children because of ambushes of its vehicles. The bandits are in front of Shodecosa [the food depot] a few meters from the exit, explained a CRS employee. They are armed, and as soon as they see the trucks leaving, they jump on board, brandishing their firearms at the truck drivers, whom they ask to take them somewhere. Sometimes they take the foodstuffs to a marketplace, and sometimes to a depot in town, which obviously means they have already made arrangements with the big merchants in town.

Clearly, insecurity is not under control, nor is the economy encouraging for most Haitians. Street merchants along the sidewalks of downtown Port-au-Prince said that this was their worst Christmas sales season ever. We sit by the roadside and sell nothing, one merchant told Radio Haiti-Inter on Dec. 23. There is no business for us. Christmas sales have steadily declined over the past 5 years. To offset the miserable mood, the government distributed some toys to some children in a few schools and in the General Hospital. The Minister of Social Affairs also organized a mini-charity drive for gifts for some of Haiti's orphans.

On the same day that Préval gave his address, a few dozen poor people from around Haiti demonstrated in front of the Palace, asking the government to help them during the holiday season. Préval told us to bring a letter to the Palace and he would give us a little money so we could get through the Christmas holiday, said one demonstrator. Since Monday the 20th until now we have been marching here but we haven't gotten anything, and today we came for a last time. Up until now, no authority has said a word to us.

Meanwhile, the SOS Committee, a coalition of four taxi and bus driver unions, threatened future actions and called for a generalized protest against a new tax on vehicles and rising fuel prices. In his address, Préval said that the State had subsidized Haiti's gas price with 57 million gourdes ($3.2 million) last month, softening the blow of higher fuel costs on the international market. But he also implied the State would not keep this up, saying you can't spend what you don't have. It would be more truthful if he said that he has other priorities, like paying about $5 million per month in interest on Haiti's foreign debt, rung up largely by the former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and his neo-Duvalierist military successors.

Despite such priorities, Préval claims he is aiming for universal schooling. We are working on a program so that little by little we can have 1 million school-age children really in school, he said. The irony is that over the past two years, the Haitian government has flagrantly trampled a 1997 agreement it made with Haiti's teacher unions, promising better conditions and pay, and higher budget priority for education. The situation is very grave, said Josué Mérilien of the teacher's union UNNOH last week. The future of schools and of Haiti is very dismal, and it will become more dismal if Haitians remain uninvolved. Today we have leaders who are so irresponsible, so uncaring, so immoral, which are making money and filling their pockets in their state job, while forgetting their responsibility as people who are in a position of power. Schools are becoming more broken down, and the State is even more broken down that it was before.

Préval also claimed he will protect the environment. Unfortunately, the situation is already catastrophic. This week, experts warned that authorities are neglecting Morne L'Hôpital, the mountain watershed that provides 75% of Port-au-Prince's water. Shanty towns are creeping up the once virgin slopes and raw sewage is beginning to pollute the water supply. The experts warned that the pell-mell building on the steep slopes is creating erosion and could result in a disaster like that last week in Venezuela, where heavy rains and landslides killed thousands.

Meanwhile, UNICEF announced last week that the number of homeless street children in Port-au-Prince has tripled in the past 10 years to about 7,000, or 4% of the capital's population. Another 250,000 to 300,000 children are restavèks, or virtual household slaves.

Préval has also heralded an accord signed earlier this month with the Dominican Republic on the repatriation of Haitians. But the agreement has come under fierce criticism from sectors including Father Pedro Ruquoy, who works with Haitians in the DR and the New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights. We are asking for an immediate halt to the massive deportations and for people to have the opportunity to appear in court, to present their case in a normal fashion and for justices to see what history and property a person has in this country, said Sonia Pierre, a Haitian-Dominican activist in Santo Domingo. As long as there are massive deportations, nothing has been resolved.

On Christmas eve, the Dominican authorities expelled 200 Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans. The Bahamas also deported over 100 Haitians on Dec. 21. Many arrived barefoot, having been arrested at work and not even allowed to collect their belongings.

Overall, it has been a very difficult holiday season for the vast majority of Haitians, and for the vast majority of the world's population. So what is the state of Haiti and the world as we cross the threshold into the 21st century? It all depends on where you are sitting. For the rich, it is a time of growth and new-found riches. For working people, it is a time of struggle to end exploitation, aggression, and injustice.