From Thu Jan 8 15:15:07 2004
Date: Thu, 8 Jan 2004 13:40:56 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 17774: This Week in Haiti 21:43 01/07/2004 (fwd)

Despite opposition boycott and terror campaign, Haitians joyously celebrate their bicentennial

Haiti Progres, Vol. 21 no. 43, 7—18 January 2004

Many tens of thousands of Haitians filled the streets around the National Palace in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 1, 2004 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence.

A smaller celebration of about 7,000 took place later the same day in Gonaïves, the city where Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s first head of state, declared independence for the world’s first black republic.

Despite threats of violence from the Washington-backed opposition and back-room pressure to dissuade them, many foreign delegations attended the bicentennial ceremonies. South African President Thabo Mbeki and his wife along with Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie shared center stage with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, First Lady Mildred Trouillot Aristide, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, and his wife.

The vice president of Surinam, and the foreign ministers of the Dominican Republic and of Benin, among others, also headed high- level delegations.

France and the United States only dispatched their local ambassadors, although Washington’s Luigi Einaudi and Ottawa’s David Lee attended representing the Organization of American States, of which they are respectively Assistant Secretary General and Special Representative to Haiti.

Festivities began the evening of December 31, when tens of thousands filled the streets in all corners of the capital to watch fireworks, listen to bands, and gather in large jubilant crowds. Thousands milled in the capital’s central square, the Champ de Mars, to admire the normally white National Palace and the trees around it which were illuminated blue and red, the Haitian flag’s colors.

Thousands more danced to rara street bands in the suburb of Tabarre, not far from Aristide’s home. Another street party rocked the Caridad quarter of the capital, which, like many other neighborhoods, was festooned with tiny flags and had newly painted murals of Haiti’s revolutionary war heroes lining the avenue.

In Bon Repos, just north of the capital, several hundred people gathered around a makeshift roadside stage to listen to speeches by local leaders and music by local bands. As midnight struck, the mountainsides around capital erupted in dozens of firework displays.

Stores and restaurants throughout he city were open practically all night.

Ceremonies in front of the Palace began the next morning at about 8 a.m. when the presidential couple hoisted the Haitian bicolor. In their excitement, crowds collapsed the fence surrounding the Palace grounds as well as a wooden viewing platform constructed for the occasion.

May the determination of these former slaves to forge a nation in a world hostile to their very existence inspire us to always continue to struggle for human dignity that is the sacred right of all people, Aristide declared in his speech, which outlined 21 accomplishments as well as projects waiting for the 21 billion. He was referring to the $21.7 billion in restitution which Haiti has formally demanded from former colonizer France.

The ceremony featured marching bands, flag displays, the sounding of conch shells (used by Haitian maroons), and the release of doves of peace.

Later that afternoon, Aristide flew to Gonaïves where he delivered a similar address underscoring that he intends to serve out his full five year term, which ends in 2006. The opposition wants him to step down to be replaced by a 27-member Council of Wise Men, which would be completely unconstitutional.

Haitians overwhelmingly reject the opposition and their proposal. Like those in the capital and Gonaïves, crowds along the highway between the two cities greeted passing vehicles with an open hand, to symbolize that Aristide should serve out his full term.

In an attempt to disrupt the celebrations, the opposition held a march of several hundred in the capital on Thursday afternoon which deliberately veered off the agreed march route. When the police blocked their advance with tear-gas, the opposition demonstrators threw up barricades and went on a rampage through commercial and residential districts, smashing car windshields and storefronts, burning vehicles, throwing rocks and firing shots. The home of a pro-government student leader, Marjorie Michel, was also attacked.

A similar terror assault was carried out in Gonaïves after ceremonies were successfully concluded. In the Dekawo neighborhood, opposition hooligans hid behind the houses lining the southern exit route from the city to pelt the departing buses of celebrants with rocks. One car had its back windows shot out.

That evening at the National Palace, government officials, diplomats and invited guests viewed a musical and theatrical extravaganza, featuring a host of artists including U.S. actor Danny Glover, the Cuban-Haitian vocal group Desandan, and Haitian singers Joe Trouillot, Carole Demesmin and Erna Letemps. Afterwards, Aristide awarded Mbeki with the Award of Pétion and Bolivar.