From Wed Jan 7 13:15:09 2004
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2004 11:41:55 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17615: Blanchet: The Bicentennial According to Radio Metropole (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <>

The Bicentennial According to Radio Metropole

Thursday 1 January 2004

The Bicentennial was celebrated in turmoil.

At least ten people were wounded by gunfire.

The 200th Anniversary of Haiti’s Independence was commemorated, this Thursday January 1, 2004, in an atmosphere of chaos in Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves. Anti-Aristide demonstrations repressed by the police, shooting almost everywhere in the capital and the City of Independence, many wounded by gunfire, such was the backdrop during this historic day.

At the National Palace, in the presence of thousands of supporters, President Aristide, after hoisting the flag with his wife at his side and following a cultural ceremony, renewed his determination to end his 5-year mandate on February 7 2006. Mr. Aristide, who cannot succeed himself, expressed the desire of his party, Fanmi Lavalas, to stay in power until 2015. With this in mind, he presented a 21 point program to be financed with the $21 billion demanded of France as restitution for the debt of independence [paid by Haiti to France in the 19th and 20th century.] He also invited the opposition and Civil Society to participate in legislative elections this year.

Before that, the only foreign head of state present, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, had expressed his concerns regarding the current crisis and praised the Haitian Revolution, which showed the Black World the road to freedom on January 1, 1804. For his part, the PM of the Bahamas, Perry Christie, representing Caricom, expressed his pride in being in Haiti in spite of migration issues confronting the two countries. Maxime Waters, congresswoman from California representing the Black Caucus, stressed her friendship with Haiti.

As the head of state began to speak, thousands of demonstrators of the opposition—an event without precedent on January 1—took to the streets of Port-au-Prince at the behest of the Democratic Platform to ask for his resignation. Starting in Petion-Ville, they went down the Delmas road while voicing their determination to fight the Lavalas regime. As the demonstrators progressed, the crowd kept growing and the police decided to react. At the corner of ruelle Nazon and Delmas road, national palace officers opened fire on the demonstrators. Moments later, agents of CIMO [Haiti’s equivalent to a swat unit] intervened to block the way of the demonstrators.

Ruelle Nazon then became a battle field. In response to the firing and tear gassing by the police, the demonstrators erected imposing barricades with stones and tires set aflame. The same scenario was repeated in Lalue, Bois-Verna, and Turgeau. In these neighborhoods, the GOH’s followers were firing in all directions and engaging in a man hunt. At least 10 people were wounded, 3 of them by gunfire.

In this atmosphere of chaos, President Aristide made a flash visit to Gonaïves where he made a brief speech in the presence of more than a thousand supporters who had come from neighboring areas. In the City of Independence, no cultural, patriotic or cultural event was organized. The President’s speech was delivered against a backdrop of sustained firing in the presence of President Mbeki who was visibly shaken according to Haitian and foreign reporters present at the scene.

The podium on which President Aristide was to speak had been smeared the night before with fecal matter.

Journalists report that the presidential cortege came under fire from elements affiliated with the Anti-Aristide Front [of Gonaïves] who then fought it out with Haitian officers backed by the South-African military. Finally, President Aristide was able to return to the capital by helicopter. Following his departure, the police arrested many people but was unable to stop an anti-government demonstration.

During the day, many prisoners escaped from the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. In Gros-Morne, in the Artibonite, prisoners also escaped following the intervention of anti- government demonstrators who ransacked a police station. A demonstration calling for Aristide’s ouster also took place in Jacmel.

The Democratic Platform, which is comprised of students, Civil Society Organizations and opposition parties, will present its alternative to Lavalas tomorrow, the National Day honoring Haiti’s Heroes.

For France 2, the Bicentennial Celebration turned into a tragedy. For other journalists, it was the Bicentennial of shame. For many observers, the situation is critical and the risk of armed confrontation is greater than ever.