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Date: Mon, 30 Mar 98 22:49:51 CST
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-HAITI: Peasant Farmers Seek Better Land
Article: 31288
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.1133.19980402001607@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 514.0 **/
** Topic: DEVELOPMENT-HAITI: Peasant Farmers Seek Better Land **
** Written 2:49 PM Mar 27, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Peasant farmers seek better land

From IPS, 24 March 1998

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti Mar 24 (IPS) - Subsistence farmers in the north of Haiti have stepped up an offensive to takeover land held by huge estateholders whose claims to the property are regarded by peasants as illegal.

The small farmers, backed by grassroots organisations and even some government officials, contend that the vast landholdings in dispute should not be the property of one family or indiovidual as, technically, these lands belong to the governmwent.

The dispute over the land in this region has been going on since 1988 when several small farmers died when the army moved in to try and forcibly remove them the Bernard estate, located 14 kms south of Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city.

The peasant squatters, however, held their ground and, after repeated attempts , the army gave up and the farmers parcelled out the land amongst themselves and began using it without further interference.

After this incident, the Milot Peasant Movement (MPM) was formed with Moise Jean-Charles at its head. Jean-Charles would later become Milot's mayor after the return of former President Aristide in 1995.

In the latest move by farmers against the big land monopolies, a crowd of about 100 peasants stormed a plantation at Bonga, 8 kms northwest of Milot 11 days ago. They burned 176 acres of sugar cane, destroyed a sugar refinery and distillery, and made off with several kegs of alcoholic beverage intended for export.

The sugar refinery, which was still under construction, was owned by a group of Canadian investors and a Haitian entrepreneur who have refused to comment publicly on their losses.

Authorities held Jean-Charles responsible for the incident and issued a warrant for his arrest. Officers from the Intervention and Maintenance of Order Company (CIMO) and another elite Haitian National Police (HNP) unit were dispatched to the area last week.

They are also at the scene at Limonade, a village 12 kms southeast of Cap-Haitien, where similar incidents occurred last week. Farmers occupying land threw rocks and exchanged gunfire the police. At the weekend, police also raided the community radio station Voice of the Milot Peasant established by Mayor Jean- Charles, who has become an extreme opponent of privatization and the presence of the UN Mission to Haiti.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INARA) Bernard Etheart, has denounced the militants and declared their actiobn would have no impact on agrarian reform measures begun last year in central Haiti. A decree issued in October 1996 authorized INARA to take control of all lands whose ownership is in dispute.

Etheart announced Monday plans for a nationwide meeting of small farmers on the subject of agrarian reform in the Artibonite valley at the end of March, which coincides with the 11th anniversary of the Haitian constitution.

Etheart, expects some 1,100 small farmers representing the 565 communal sections of the country to attend. The delegates will participate in 41 workshops which will address the principles of agrarian reform.

The INARA Director General believes his institute has not yet been able to achieve its goals because of the enormous drain on resources these land rights conflicts incur.