Date: Fri, 17 Jan 97 08:57:47 CST
From: Haiti Commission <>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 14:43 1/15/97
Article: 4053

Resurrection of the popular movement

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti,, Vol.14 no.43, 15–21 January 1997

Black smoke billowed from a tangle of burning tires and an automobile carcass behind the young man from Cite Soleil. The government acts as if it doesn't hear us, he shouted. Local popular organizations had thrown up several barricades in Route 1, the main artery to the north which skirts the giant Port-au-Prince slum, thereby blocking all traffic on the morning of Monday, Jan. 13. They are a bunch of opportunist thieves [‘gran manje,’ literally ‘big eaters’], he said. They are filling their pockets and only care about themselves. They used us young men from Cite Soley as a stepping stone to get to where they are. We have always been the victims of all the [repressive] governments, always fighting for the Lavalas, but now they are going to lie and call us Macoutes... We are through with them, and we demand that [President Rene] Preval change his prime minister now.

The young man was expressing the sentiments of a movement which is growing like fire on a thatched roof. Throughout Haiti, popular organizations are re-emerging as Haiti's principal motor of social change, just as they were in the 4 years between the downfall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in February 1986 and the election of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide in December 1990. In a matter of weeks, and after less than a year in power, the Preval government is faced with a nation-wide mobilization demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth and a new political direction. We want a new prime minister who can offer something better to the youth of the country, so everybody can go to school, find jobs, and have a break from the climate of terror and violence, explained the young man on the Cite Soleil barricade. We want a change in the country,

The same morning in Lascahobas, on Haiti's central plateau, close to 700 people also demonstrated and blocked the road through town, demanding Smarth's removal.

Meanwhile, a protest was occurring in front of Port-au-Prince Police headquarters, where cops were holding 2 popular organization militants—Claude Rene of the Collective for Mobilization against the IMF and World Bank and Philippe Poitvien of the United Front of Popular Organizations (FIPOP)—who had been picked up early that morning on charges of intending to set burning tire barricades. The two were held only for a few hours but claim that police beat them. Poitvien says he was struck about the head with gun-butts.

The events of Jan. 13 were spurred by a day of confrontations on Jan. 9 when demonstrations and road-blocks occurred in Gonaives, Pont Sonde, Villard, L'Estere, and Tabarre. In several cases, police clashed with demonstrators but nowhere more dramatically than in Port-au-Prince. About 100 were demonstrating peacefully in front of the National Palace when the U.S.-trained Rapid Reaction Force of the Haitian National Police (PNH) arrived on the scene. Dressed in black riot gear, the cops fired tear-gas and concussion grenades into the crowd. One grenade blew off the hand and damaged the ear of Dieuseul Civil, 23, a member of the Collective, who was taken to the General Hospital. Police claim that the grenade exploded when Civil attempted to hurl it back at the officers. But other witnesses and the Collective say that the grenade hit Civil's hand when fired by police. Four other people were also wounded.

The harsh reaction of the police shocked the country. President Preval tried to smooth over popular indignation by sending his chief of cabinet Francois Severin to visit Civil in the hospital. The government has no shame, said Claude Rene in a Jan. 10 press conference about the incident. Preval sent Severin to the hospital to offer Dieuseul Civil $2000. Rene said that Civil refused the money and sent Severin on his way. Not everybody can be bought, not everybody is for sale, Preval should remember that, Rene said.

Despite calls from parliamentarians for investigation of police handling of the incident and punishment of the responsibl officers, Police Chief Pierre Denize shrugged off the incident: I think that using tear-gas grenades to disperse a crowd is a standard procedure... I don't think it is a case of using force.

But even Enrique Ter-Horst, the head of the United Nations Support Mission to Haiti (MANUH), as the U.N. occupation force is called, regretted that there was not more delicacy. Maybe the police intervened a little too quickly, Ter-Horst said. They could have perhaps tried to talk to the demonstrators, but, in any case, nobody was wounded by bullets and the people who were wounded, it was their own fault.

In short, the Haitian police, in repressing peaceful protests, are backed up by the U.N. occupation troops. We accompany the PNH in the fulfillment of its duty, recited Ter-Horst.

The U.N. troops—mostly Canadian—are in turn backed up by about 300 U.S. troops, called inoffensively the U.S. Support Group, who pass most of their time doing repairs to roads and schools for public relations, or what the military calls Psychological Operations or Psy-Ops. The most recent beneficiary of the Pentagon's munificence was the long-decrepit Isidor Boisrond school in Port-au-Prince, which was inaugurated in a ceremony on Jan. 8. Haitian government officials politely clapped as U.S. soldiers handed some school materials to a few students assembled for the occasion, and Marie Gisele Auguste of the Education Ministry effusively thanked the U.S. soldiers for their devotion and know-how in repairing the school.

This is one of 13 schools which the U.S. Support Group in Haiti has completely renovated since 1995, proudly stated U.S. Ambassador to Haiti William Swing at the ceremony. The total cost of the entire project for renovating the schools is more than $10 million. Here, one has to stop and wonder if there are not at least 300 out of Haiti's 7 million people with sufficient devotion and know-how to also repair those 13 schools if given $10 million, thereby slightly alleviating the unemployment problem so often decried by demonstrators. Instead, to keep the U.S. Support Group busy, the U.S. government, with its Haitian counterpart, is looking into a renovation program for 36 other schools, Swing said. Looks like the Pentagon wants to keep troops in Haiti for quite a while.

But the good news is that the Isidor Boisrond school now has room for 2000 students. The bad news is that, due to the neutron bomb of neo-liberalism, only 900 students can afford to attend. That figure is likely to shrink just like the percentage of the Haitian budget devoted to education in modernized Haiti: 24% in 1994-95 and 18% in 1995-96. The Smarth government has proposed 12% for education in the 1996-97 budget, which the Parliament must now approve.

To illustrate the irony of fixing school buildings while starving education, on Jan. 9, the day after the ceremony, teachers unions and student groups launched a successful 5-day nationwide strike to demand payment of back salaries, teaching materials, better training, and better work conditions. Some teachers have not been paid in over a year. Perhaps $10 million could have been better spent on funding education than building rooms that will remain empty.

Such considerations are not really the concern of the U.S. Support Group, however, nor of Haitian Finance Minister Fred Joseph. For example, last week, parliamentarians reviewing his proposed budget scrutinized the reduction or elimination of various public service programs. One very symbolic line item, reparations for victims of the 3-year coup d'etat, is supposed to get 20% of the Justice Ministry's budget, but that is in jeopardy. One deputy proposed paying the victims with money allocated to pay the country's debt. That would create enormous problems, protested Joseph, because the credibility of the government, the credibility of the state, relies on its respect of its commitments to its partners, to the givers with whom it has contracted the debt.

Thus, it is no surprise that the government warmly welcomed a delegation of officials from the European Union, World Bank, and Inter-American Development Bank, who arrived on Jan. 13 for a 2- week visit to micro-manage Haiti's macro-economic policy. The team will review in detail the government's austerity budget.

Because the Preval/Smarth government is more concerned about its credibility with the international community than with the Haitian people, it is experiencing a crisis which now is spilling out into the streets of Haiti.

But in the days before the opening of the 46th Legislature on Jan. 13, parliamentarians from or close to the Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), who had begun to take a distance from Smarth, are closing ranks around the besieged Prime Minister in the face of the growing mobilization of the popular organizations and the Haitian people. The country has to have stability to resolve its problems, opined Deputy Alix Fils-Aime, who is usually pro- government but had suggested last month that Smarth's days were numbered. We will correct what needs correcting and change what needs changing, but we are not going to change anything under pressure from any person or from any sector.

Deputy Harry Marsant ad-libbed: The problem is not in the person of Rosny Smarth, someone doesn't have to leave for there to be change, it's a problem of changing mentality and conception. He then found the best defense: My question is, in the first place, who could do better?

Deputy Ernst Pedro Casseus, who is from OPL's sister party MOP, found that the best defense was a good, if oblique, offense. It was worse before and they didn't take to the street, he said. So if they take to the street now it means that there is someone leading them, and I say that the person leading them is against change.

The U.S. and European governments and U.N. officials have also been rallying around the Haitian government, regularly voicing their satisfaction with Preval's neo-liberal direction. Haiti's foreign friends (the U.S., Canada, France, and Venezuela) and Ter-Horst also took part in a meeting at the National Palace on Jan. 11 with Preval and his cabinet to evaluate the PNH. We are satisfied with the progres achieved up until now while realizing the road which we must travel in the months ahead, Ambassador Swing said after the meeting.

Indications are that in the days and months ahead the police will resort to repression in proportion to the austerity being imposed. About 160 popular organizations, ranging from large national organizations to small neighborhood committees, have called a general strike for Jan. 16 and are prepared for the back-lash. We are just making our demands known, said the young man on the Cite Soleil barricade. We are not burning people or breaking things. We are burning tires, making strikes, making demonstrations, and making hunger strikes because we don't have food to eat... We have problems with the government in place because it doesn't function as it should.