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Photos:   Books & Arts/Ideas: *2003's most overrated and underrated ideas *Reason and faith, eternally bound Books & Arts/In Book Review: *Annals of homosexuality: From Greek to grim to gay *Photographs that cry out for meaning Special Reports:*"Haiti's 200 years voluminous catalogue of evil *Haiti: The world doesn't have any idea how bad this situation is getting *Haiti's 200 years of wasted hopes  Books & Arts/In Music Review*I preach to the streets Editorials/Columns:*   Important! Urgent!:*Kill all the Haitians, they are all drug dealers Vociferous dictator Aristide:*My victims Editorials/Op-Ed: Haiti: The sad bicentennial of a once fabulous sugar colony

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new.gif (2109 bytes)Odious photographs of notorious criminal Amiot Metayer's body after he was brutally murdered by his uncommonly chief bandit Jean-Bertrand Aristide; protests, murders, burning and much more (updated Dec. 30, 2003)
More News & Analysis for the month of December 2003 / wehaitians.com en français
Posted at 1:17 p.m., Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Haiti's bicentennial symbolized by unrest
By Amy Bracken, Reuters Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 31 (Reuters) - As Haiti prepares to celebrate its bicentennial on Thursday, many Haitians say demonstrating against their government is the most appropriate way to kick off their third century.

After 200 years of independence, Haiti is tormented by extreme poverty, popular dissatisfaction with the president and a mounting death toll from political violence.

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Haitian men watch a flock of birds in front of the presidential palace in Port-Au-Prince. Haiti is preparing to celebrate the 200th year of Independence(AFP/Thony Belizaire)

The unemployment rate is over 70 percent, the average income less than $1 a day and the average life expectancy 50 years.

Thousands are taking to the streets almost daily to call for the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And dozens have died in political violence since mid-September, many of them in the town of Gonaives, where Jean Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti's independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804.

Haiti has since been ruled by a long line of often-brutal dictators. Finally in 1990, Aristide, a wildly popular priest, became the first democratically elected president, winning by a landslide. But he was soon ousted in a military coup.

After his return from exile three years later, with the assistance of U.S. and U.N. forces, Aristide's popularity began to wane. His party handily won parliamentary elections in 2000 and he was re-elected later that year, but opposition leaders questioned the legitimacy of both elections.

Former supporters accused him of betraying allies and ignoring promises. International lenders wondered where their money had gone as critics at home and abroad suspected corruption.

And the more people showed open opposition to the president, the more police, party aides and gangsters responded with threats or physical abuse.


The movement to depose Aristide got a major boost on Dec. 5, when his supporters stormed a demonstration at the state university, beating at least 20 people. Since then, thousands of academics, doctors, lawyers and others have been protesting against the president almost daily.

Aristide's government has accused journalists of focusing on the protests while ignoring shows of support like one on Monday, when thousands of pro-government demonstrators marched peacefully in the capital.

Still, many say the social upheaval is an appropriate marker for the bicentennial.

Barbara Prezeau Stephenson, director of the Port-au-Prince arts and cultural center AfricAmerica, wanted the government's collaboration in a bicentennial arts project.

She attended a planning meeting in 2000 with the minister of Haitians living abroad and 50 Haitian artists, with ideas for dances, plays, street performances and war reenactments. They were told to present their ideas to a commission.

But a commission was never established and none of the artists' ideas has been realized, Stephenson said.

In Paris, the chief of cultural affairs at the Haitian Embassy worked to establish French-Haitian partnership projects, including a museum in Breste, a book festival, and a history project with the town of Nantes, once Europe's biggest slave port.

Then Aristide demanded restitution from France for money Haiti paid its former colonial masters in the mid-1800s as compensation for the loss of their colony. The French canceled the projects.

Maxon Guerrier, the mayor of Delmas and president of the national Cleanup Committee 2004, vowed that his committee would pay residents of heavily populated areas to clean up the trash in the streets for the bicentennial.

But on Dec. 26, there was so much trash at an intersection in a crowded Port-au-Prince neighborhood that traffic was gridlocked and vehicles immobilized by piles of rotting debris.


"L'Union Fait La Force," or "Strength through unity," are the words on the Haitian flag. Dessalines created the blue and red flag in 1803, when he tore the white stripe from the French flag, symbolizing the eradication of the white imperialists and unification of blacks and mulattoes.

In 2000, the Historical Society of Haiti decided the bicentennial should "fold together the past with present concerns with an eye to the future," said society president Michel Hector.

This, he said, is what Haitian citizens will be doing when they take to the streets on Jan. 1 to call for Aristide's departure.

"Haiti has returned to a former system of presidential despotism and of not respecting the rights of the citizens," he said. "One can say that, like in 1804, we are again mobilized to achieve a great undertaking," he said.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited

Haiti opposition group denies declaring ceasefire for bicentennial
By Agence France-Presse

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec. 31 (AFP) - The head of an armed opposition group battling Haiti's President Jean Bertrand Aristide claimed the government had fabricated a statement in which he allegedly called a truce.

Buteur Metayer told a private radio station in the capital that a "journalist had imitated my voice" and recorded the statement released to the press Monday declaring a ceasefire.

The truce was to have marked the impoverished state's 200th anniversary of its independence on January 1.

The recorded statement said the ceasefire would allow foreign dignitaries, including South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, to join Aristide in events in Metayer's stronghold of Gonaives, the town where independence from France was declared on January 1, 1804.

Metayer's followers had not questioned the authenticity of the recording when it was released Monday.

But his armed followers were disgruntled by talk of a truce, and one of Metayer's deputies warned of violent attacks on dignitaries scheduled to visit the town.

Metayer heads the Artibonite Revolutionary Resistance Front, once known as the Cannibal army, which is based in Gonaives. His brother Amiot Metayer, the former leader of the Cannibal army, was shot dead in September.

Metayer's followers have blamed the government for the death, and since September 23 there have been attacks and violent demonstrations in the town which have left 36 dead and 85 wounded. The government has said an armed opposition group killed

Metayer. Mbeki will be the main foreign guest at the commemorations. He is to go to Haiti after a state visit to the Bahamas. Mbeki's security officials recently went to Gonaive to prepare the sensitive visit.

Copyright © 2003 Agence France Presse

Posted at 9:35 p.m., Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Thousands march against government in Haiti's capital, two wounded
By Micheal Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 30 - Police hurled tear gas and fired shots in Haiti’s capital Tuesday to break up a protest by thousands of government opponents, wounding at least two.

Protesters called the march to press for the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the Caribbean country prepares to mark its 200th anniversary of independence on Thursday.

The crowd of about 3,000(photos) chanted "Down with Aristide" while they marched toward downtown Port-au-Prince. About three hours into the demonstration, they were blocked by police standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a main road.

Protesters ran as officers threw tear gas canisters. Later the crowd regrouped, only to be stopped by new volleys of police tear gas and warning shots.

Journalists saw one protester who was shot in his side and another who had a gunshot wound to his hand.

Afterward, a gunfight broke out between police and Aristide supporters as the partisans swung past in a truck, witnesses said. No one was reported injured.

Police told protest organizers they blocked the way because they couldn’t guarantee security down the road.

"The police are doing their job. This demonstration was a provocation," Aristide backer Daniel Delva said.

Government supporters say a series of anti-government protests are meant to spoil state-sponsored celebrations recalling Haitians’ independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804.

Tuesday’s protest came a day after thousands of Aristide supporters marched through the capital in a show of solidarity.

At least 41 people have been killed during anti-government demonstrations since mid-September.

Aristide’s opponents accuse him of doing little to pull the country out of poverty and disorder.

The president _ who was ousted in a 1991 coup and restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion _ says his government has made improvements despite obstacles at home and abroad.

Haiti has been in turmoil since Aristide’s party swept 2000 legislative elections that the opposition says were rigged.

Student protester Joel Bazelais, 25, listed the reasons why he joined Tuesday’s protest, saying : "no freedom, no security, no education, no work."

Protesters carried a banner reading "Victory." When police stood in their way, they chanted : "You thugs are allowed to demonstrate, why not us ?"

Government officials accuse the opposition of plotting violence to topple Aristide.

Protest organizers have called for peaceful marches and urged demonstrators to tuck in shirts to keep police from thinking they could be concealing weapons under loose-fitting clothing.

"The movement is continuing. Everybody will be on the streets until Aristide is forced out of power," opposition politician Evans Paul said.

Tuesday’s march was called by the Platform of Civil Society Associations and Opposition Parties, comprising business associations, labor and student unions, human rights groups and opposition parties.

Dominican president will not attend Haiti's bicentennial

Santo Domingo, Dec 30 (EFE).- Dominican President Hipolito Mejia will not travel to Haiti on Jan. 1, 2004, to take part in ceremonies marking the bicentennial of the nation’s independence, officials told EFE on Tuesday.

The Dominican government appointed a delegation headed by Foreign Minister Francisco Guerrero and historian and Environment Minister Frank Moya Pons to represent the country in the celebrations, a presidential spokesperson said.

Mejia told reporters Monday he would not travel to Haiti on Thursday "as a precaution."

According to the president, "there are no serious problems in Haiti, but given Dominican history and the (country’s) relationship with Haiti ... I prefer to be cautious and stay put."

During the festivities, the Haitian opposition plans to hold anti-government marches in Port-au-Prince and other cities in an effort to pressure President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down.

The Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti in 1844, after being occupied for 22 years.

Every year, thousands of Haitians cross the border into the Dominican Republic, trying to escape their country’s grinding poverty.

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Drakensberg set for Mbeki visit

Port-au-Prince, Dec. 30 - Haitians are not quite sure how to react to South Africa’s SAS Drakensberg, which is anchored in their harbour, as the last time they saw a foreign battleship was during the United States invasion of their island.

Supporters of Haiti’s opposition see the Drakensberg, the jewel in the South African naval crown, as a deadly machine.

Rumours are doing the rounds that fully-loaded, missile-carrying helicopters are sweeping low over the city and that foreign camouflaged soldiers have converged on the streets of Gonaives, ahead of President Thabo Mbeki’s visit on Thursday.

He is due to take part in Haiti’s independence day festivities.

The Drakensberg’s deployment to Haiti is to provide logistical support to Mbeki and his party during their visit. It is also there in case Mbeki needs a safe haven if domestic violence breaks out. Four ambulances at the ready

No chances have been taken and the Drakensberg itself has been cordoned off with security wire and two armed officers constantly guard Mbeki’s Mercedes.

Four ambulances and three trucks with logistical and medical equipment have already been offloaded.

Lieutenant-commander Prince Shabalala, the ship’s media officer, said : "We are here to help the people of Haiti celebrate their independence," adding that the ship’s crew had been given a warm welcome when they arrived.

Shabalala said Haiti’s security situation was assessed regularly and crew were allowed to disembark only in escorted groups.

The ship, which has a crew of 250, has 51 members of the police’s special task force as well as 18 members of the national intelligence agency aboard.

Apart from the air force’s Oryx helicopter, there also is a police one on board.

The Drakensberg is expected to leave harbour on Thursday and anchor offshore during Mbeki’s visit to the unstable Gonaives district. Mbeki will be flown to Gonaives by helicopter.

Some Haitian refugees face deportation
By Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer

NORTH MIAMI, Fla., Dec. 30 - Nearly a decade after leaving Haiti, Rigaud Rene ends each day with a prayer. He gives thanks for his wife and young son and their life in America — and hopes he can stay.

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Rigaud Rene, 41, right, is seen with his son, Rikinson, 1, and wife Sonie, Monday, Nov. 17, 2003, in their North Miami home. Rene, who faces deportation following a lengthy legal battle with immigration authorities, is one of about 3,000 Haitian migrants ensnared in what activists call a flaw in the 1998 Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act. (AP Photo/Yesikka Vivancos)

The U.S. government isn't answering his prayers. Rene, a former political activist on the island of his birth, faces deportation because he used forged documents to flee revengeful abuses and killings in Haiti.

"It's very desperate. They could pick him up today," said Clarel Cyriaque, a Miami lawyer handling Rene's case. For his part, Rene remains hopeful. "In God we trust," he said. "That's what the Americans say."

Aussi, pour les dernières nouvelles provenant d'Haiti en langue française: wehaitians.com en français

Rene, 41, is one of about 3,000 Haitian migrants ensnared in what activists call a flaw in a 1998 law to help provide permanent residency to illegal aliens from Haiti who lived in the United States before 1996.

The bill didn't include waivers for Haitian migrants known as "airplane refugees" who used forged documents to flee the impoverished island after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country's first freely elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 coup.

In Rene's case, immigration officials have maintained that the altered documents make him ineligible to live here legally because he committed fraud to enter the country.

But local activists contend that pro-Aristide Haitians arriving by air had to use altered documents to escape possible harm in Haiti because the U.S. Coast Guard was interdicting refugees who came by sea and returning them.

"All these people knew they were being looked for," said Steven Forester, a senior policy advocate for the Haitian Women of Miami, a nonprofit organization. "If you're being looked for by a regime that's chopping people's faces off, you don't get into a boat."

Those who worked on the 1998 Haitian bill said the "airplane refugees" were not supposed to be left out. Paul Virtue, who served as general counsel at the former INS in 1998-99, said he thought "it was an oversight that they were excluded."

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration, declined comment on Rene's case. But Dan Kane, a department spokesman, stressed that every case is judged on the individual merits of an applicant's arguments.

Rene said deportation would devastate his family, forcing him to take his 1 1/2-year-old American-born son to Haiti and leave behind his wife. He also will lose a job that helps him send money to support family members in Haiti.

Rene initially sought asylum when he first entered the United States in 1994 but was ordered deported for using a forged passport.

His appeal was pending when Congress passed the 1998 law. Rene sought a green card under the new law but his claim again was rejected. He appealed the decision but Aristide's return to power has weakened his argument in the past and his lawyer cautions that Rene could be deported at any moment.

Rene tried to get a green card through his wife, Sonie Octalus, who is a legal permanent resident, but the family failed to demonstrate deporting him would result in an "extreme hardship."

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek introduced legislation in October to expand the Haitian law to include those who arrived by air and to prevent the government from deporting anyone with a pending application. But Meek said it faces an uncertain future.

Meek said "the only real flicker of light" would come if the Bush administration embraces Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's recent suggestion of support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Thousands of Haitians have applied for green cards under the 1998 Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act. But the majority of the cases have yet to be adjudicated. A U.S. General Accounting Office report in October found that more than 11,000 of the 37,851 applications have been approved.

Rene was an active Aristide supporter when the Haitian priest ran for president in 1990. He led 300 Aristide supporters in his hometown of Le Borgne and passed out leaflets and photos supporting Aristide.

A month after the coup, Rene said he was visited by five members of the military. The men, who were carrying revolvers, threatened him and pushed him around, according to court documents. Rene went into hiding for two years.

He fled Haiti for the Bahamas by boat in early 1994 and then used forged documents to fly to Miami in May 1994, months before Aristide was returned to power.

Rene has built a new life in America, learning English, working as a deli clerk at a Miami Beach grocery store and taking night classes to earn a GED degree. He and his wife wonder how they'll support their families in Haiti if Rene is deported. Rene sends about $300 a month to support two other children, two sisters and his mother; His wife sends $500 a month to six sisters.

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates Haitians living in the U.S. send up to $800 million to Haiti every year. Forester, of Haitian Women of Miami, worries about the impact on families in Haiti who lose financial support when relatives are deported.

"If they really want to send a message not to flee, what they're doing by deporting these people is causing the very migration outflow that they say they're trying to prevent," he said.

___ On the Net: Homeland Security: http://www.dhs.gov/dhspublic

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 7:45 p.m., Monday, December 29, 2003
News and Analysis
One of troubled Haiti's self-declared 'Che' apparent unfortunate change of heart
By Yves A. Isidor, wehaitians.com executive editor
Butteur Metayer, one of Haiti's self-declared 'Che', unfortunately apparently now sees the Caribbean nation's faked bicentennial as a showcase for temporary peace as uncommonly vicious tyrant Jean-Bertrand Aristide continues to cap universities Rectors' knees with iron bars, causing them to be permanently paralyzed.

CAMBRIDGE, MA, Dec. 29 - When it comes to Haiti, a Caribbean nation that leads the Americas only in AIDS, malnutrition, infant mortality, corruption, economic penury and government thuggishness, you don't have to be an expect in Haitian political affairs to know you can't always buy the words, especially those of self-declared anti-de facto Haitian President-dictator, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and who only days before they declare themselves Haiti's 'Ches' kill an innumerable number of political opponents - all, in an effort to help him consolidate his dictatorship of the proletariat. 

Butteur Metayer, who violently switched political allegiance, calling for delinquent tyrant Aristide's brutal death, after his brother, Amiot Metayer, the all powerful chief of a popular organization, the Cannibal Army, who, with the help of police, or thugs, brutally murdered an exorbitant number of freedom fighters for Aristide, was himself savagely killed by the former priest of the shantytowns, on September 20th, today apparently had a few unexpected words for Haitians.

"I'm calling a 'trêve,' or a 'truce' and it has been in effect since Sunday, to allow President Aristide and foreign dignitaries," mostly from Africa and the rest of the Caribbean, "to peacefully visit Gonaives on January 1st for Haiti's bicentennial celebrations," Agence France-Presse reported the always-heavily armed Butteur Metayer to have apparently said today on Haitian radio stations, in the trash-filed capital of Port-au-Prince, after repeatedly warning Aristide and partners in crime, and for weeks so, that they all will be killed if they venture into Gonaives - where the once fabulous former French sugar colony proclaimed itself independent, on January 1st, 1804, after a thirteen-year slave revolt - on bicentennial day.

Unfortunately, this is how Butteur Metayer, who before had a change of heart but only to again turn against Aristide, apparently sees matters now.

"We have enough of him," many Haitians in the Boston's Diaspora immigrant community who have long placed their own stamps of disapproval on the egregious crimes of Aristide were quick to say today upon hearing the news.

"It is time for Butteur," they added as they remained confident that the days of dictator Aristide are numbered, "to completely disengage himself in the struggle for a democratic Haiti so he will not once again betray those who have fully given themselves to the democratic cause, cause many to be brutally murdered by chief bandit Aristide."

However, if the ceasefire apparently called by Butteur Metayer first presented a few more of the remaining Aristide dictatorial regime's die-hard supporters, who have so far failed to realize that misrule is no longer an acceptable norm, since it has for 200 years denied Haiti's its freedom, with the opportunity to also give rendez-vous in the dusty city of Gonaives as well, on January 1st., but now they are again contemplating the arrest, or death, of tyrant Aristide on that same very day.

"We want to reaffirm our determination to take Aristide out of the circulation in tight handcuffs if he dares penetrate Gonaives on January 1st," Wynter Etienne, another senior leader of the Cannibal Army, or anti-Aristide front, told radio stations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, "the bestial dictator is not fit to preside over the bicentennial ceremonies," a few hours after the news of the apparent 'trêve' first came out.    

Please see also Agence France-Presse's article (nouvelles en langue française), in French.

And a big, perhaps difficult question, too. In reference to the following news article, South African President Thabo Mbeki, an erratic stateman, as he is called by the Economist Magazine of December 20th, 2003, with a grand plan to revive Africa, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), has repeatedly failed to help deliver Zimbabwe from the brutal dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. What makes him think he can now be the savior of Haiti, by way of alternative, deliver the Caribbean nation from the rule of uncommonly vicious tyrant, Jean-Bertrand Aristide?

Mbeki tipped to steer peace negotiations in Haiti
By allAfrica

Johannesburg, Dec 29, 2003 (Business Day/All Africa Global Media via comtext) - PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki’s visit to Haiti to mark the bicentenary of the Haitian revolution against France could lead to SA’s mediation in peace talks to end years of internal conflict in the embattled Caribbean state.

It is understood that rebels in Haiti are in favour of Mbeki’s mediation and the French government supports the idea on the grounds that SA’s experience with peace talks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi could help Haitians reach a longlasting peace settlement.

The South African leader is expected to discuss peace initiatives in Haiti upon his return.

Mbeki wrote in the Sunday Times yesterday that although the Haitian revolution did not bring about lasting democracy, SA must draw lessons from that experience.

He said as the African slaves of Haiti succeeded in defeating three of the great European imperial powers Spain, Great Britain and France so could South Africans "defeat the challenge of poverty and underdevelopment that confronts Africans everywhere".

Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the world and continues to be afflicted by political instability.

Mbeki said its failure to maintain a stable democracy, which has plagued it since its independence, was an urgent task that the South African government felt had to be addressed.

SA’s intervention in Haiti was raised a few weeks ago during a visit there by advisers to Mbeki and Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to finalise logistics about Mbeki’s visit. However, SA’s intervention in the conflict means that South Africans will have to celebrate another round of New Year festivities without Mbeki because his international and diplomatic schedule has remained hectic.

Last year at the same time he travelled to Brazil and celebrated New Year with Brazilians at their inauguration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Accompanied by his wife, Zanele, and Dlamini-Zuma, Mbeki landed yesterday in the Bahamas for a state visit and to forge diplomatic relations.

He will then proceed to Haiti to participate in its New Year celebrations marking the bicentenary which established the first black republic in the world.

Presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said the president’s departure did not mean he cared less about his country.

"The public will appreciate the fact that the president’s visit to Brazil had brought about unimaginable economic benefits in 2003 and that it was instrumental in ensuring Brazil’s support for our Soccer World Cup bid," Khumalo said.

Foreign affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said the regional influence that the Bahamas held in the Caribbean, especially within the context of the Caribbean Community (Caricom), was strategic for SA.

Mamoepa said the Bahamas was focusing on the establishment of a single market in the region and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Mbeki’s visit, therefore, aimed to forge closer relations with the countries of the Caricom, he said.

Reprinted from allAfrica of December 29, 2003.

Haiti's lament
By Matthew Hay Brown, Sun-Sentinel Writer
The troubled Caribbean nation prepares to mark its bicentennial amid deadly clashes and a festering mistrust of its president, leading many to wonder: What's to celebrate?

Massive protests and bloody clashes are churning Haiti toward chaos as the Western Hemisphere’s second-oldest republic marks its bicentennial Thursday.

While preparations for the official celebrations continue, thousands have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The former slum priest, once broadly hailed as the long-hoped-for savior of this troubled Caribbean nation, now is seen by many as merely the latest in a bitter succession of dictators to rule the impoverished population.

"I’m tired of the misery," 20-year-old Pierre Donique said Friday at a demonstration in Port-au-Prince. "When Aristide goes I don’t know what will happen, but it has to be better then this."

More than 30 people have been killed and scores wounded since September in escalating clashes between protesters and government supporters that have spread beyond the capital to the provincial cities of Cap-Haitien, Gonaives and Jacmel.

As the sides harden, hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid remains frozen, deepening hunger and poverty in the hemisphere’s least-developed nation.

Two hundred years after becoming the second colony in the Americas to declare its independence, and the first black republic in the world, Haiti is again teetering toward anarchy.

"It’s a very dangerous moment," said Robert Fatton Jr., chairman of the politics department at the University of Virginia. "I think we are in for a long period of instability and uncertainty."

For the millions of poor who struggle to survive on a dollar a day, Haiti today offers a sun-scorched landscape of denuded mountain slopes and sprawling shantytowns, open sewers and spreading public dumps. Masses live without water or electricity in tin-roofed wooden shacks or cement-block cells.

The latest crisis stems from the disputed parliamentary elections of 2000. Aristide’s Lavalas Family party swept the polls, but opposition members and international observers say some of the races should have gone to a second round of voting.

Ten years after sending military forces to restore Aristide to power, the United States and other international donors have suspended about $500 million in aid, a sum roughly equivalent to Haiti’s annual national budget.

Aristide says he has tried to hold new elections, but an opposition that would be unlikely to win at the polls has refused to cooperate, hoping instead to undermine his government. Opponents say Aristide has failed to guarantee the security necessary to hold fair elections.

As the stalemate grinds on, the population of 7.5 million is slipping deeper into despair.

Unemployment hovers around 70 percent ; the vast majority of people scrape by on a dollar a day. Nearly half the population suffers from hunger, and infection rates of HIV and AIDS are the highest outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

It hardly seems the victory that Gen. Jean-Jacques Dessalines envisioned Jan. 1, 1804, when after more than a decade of bloody rebellion he declared Haiti’s independence from France.

"Citizens, it is not enough to have expelled from your country the barbarians who have bloodied it for two centuries," the former slave said. "We must at last live independent or die."

Going into the bicentennial, Aristide has cast Haiti’s woes as a continuation of its struggle against a conspiracy of rich nations versus poor that dates to colonial Saint-Domingue.

"Poverty today is the result of a 200-year-old plot," he told thousands during a speech last month to mark the anniversary of the pivotal Battle of Vertieres. "Whether it be slavery or embargo, it’s the same plot. You are victims. I am a victim."

In that spirit, Aristide has directed his government to prepare a $21.7 billion claim against France, a repayment of the 90-million-franc ransom that Paris demanded of its breakaway colony in exchange for diplomatic recognition, trade relations and a promise not to reinvade. The sum, which the fledgling nation borrowed from French banks at exorbitant interest rates, crippled development for decades.

The claim that Haiti’s problems lie in the past, celebrated in song on state radio, has found some support.

"We’re still suffering here because of slavery and the trouble the French gave us after we kicked them out," 25-year-old Kilmen George said after the Vertieres speech. "Aristide’s the only one brave enough to do something about it."

But critics say Aristide is trying to divert attention from his own failings. His government is accused of trafficking in drugs and paying armed thugs to stifle dissent, as during demonstrations this month outside the National Palace and at Haiti State University.

In Gonaives last week, government supporters allegedly opened fire on protesters, killing eight.

"Aristide wants to use the restitution issue to turn France into a scapegoat for his own ineptitude and corruption," sociologist Laennec Hurbon said.

The opposition has broadened beyond the elite of the Democratic Convergence coalition of opposition parties and the so-called Group of 184 civil-society institutions to the students of Haiti State University and several former political allies. Key defectors in recent weeks include three Cabinet ministers, two Lavalas senators and the ambassador to neighboring Dominican Republic.

The movement now ranges across traditional lines of color and class, and from peaceful protesters to armed thugs. But it is unclear whether they have the organization and support to present a viable alternative to Aristide.

"I think there is utter cynicism on the part of the vast majority of Haitians," Fatton said. "They thought that Aristide was the savior, but he’s not. But they are not prepared to join the opposition, because I think they look at the opposition as also irrelevant to their particular desires and needs.

"What is clear is that Aristide is facing the most serious crisis and challenge that he’s ever faced since he’s come back to power." 

Gang attacks, poverty and anti-Aristide movement threaten to overshadow a landmark independence celebration
By David Adams, Times Latin America Correspondent

CITE SOLEIL, Haiti - The charcoal his mother sold down by the wharf put Jean Ronald Registre through school. Later, a charismatic young priest inspired him to enter politics to fight for the poor.

But today Registre, 31, a City Council member in Cite Soleil, Haiti's most famous slum, can't set foot in the place he was elected to represent because he fears progovernment gangs. He blames the priest, who later left the church to become the nation's most powerful politician: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"He carried the torch and lit our way," Registre said of his former hero. "Everyone loved him. He was our god. But how deceived we were."

Registre is one of many ex-disciples of Aristide who bitterly criticize his management of a country it once seemed he was born to lead.

In recent weeks Haiti has been engulfed in political protests over Aristide's rule, threatening to overshadow celebrations Jan. 1 to mark the country's 200th anniversary of independence.

Most criticism used to come from the nation's small political elite. But a broad coalition has now emerged - politicians, university students, human rights activists, intellectuals and businessmen - all calling for his resignation.

Reliable public opinion surveys are hard to find in Haiti, but analysts say Aristide's support among the country's 98 percent black population has crumbled in recent years. Nowhere is that more dramatically evident than in the nation's desperately poor slums, where Aristide's messianic appeal was once unrivaled.

"Aristide is no longer popular in Cite Soleil," said Registre, who attended the Salesian Brothers high school, St. Jean Bosco, where Aristide was a young Roman Catholic priest. "He has made too many mistakes."

This month, as riot police battled small groups of opposition demonstrators in many parts of the city, Aristide's political party - the Lavalas (Cleansing Flood) Family - celebrated the 13th anniversary of his landslide election victory in 1990. It ended decades of dictatorship and military rule. Aristide was ousted less than a year later by a military coup, only to be restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion in 1994.

Despite losing three years of his presidency, he agreed to honor the end of his term in 1995. He was re-elected in 2000 for another five years.

Many former supporters say Aristide, now 50, is a changed man since he became president. Physically he is still the same slight figure, with an intense look made somewhat unnerving by a sleepy left eyelid. He jokes about his hair loss, which is leaving him bald on top.

Though the political situation might look chaotic, Aristide said at a news conference recently that there was no cause for alarm.

"We are still learning about democracy," he said.

Rejecting criticism of his government, he placed all the blame on a foreign "embargo," referring to a cutoff of $500-million in international aid because of a dispute over alleged fraud in the 2000 elections.

He accused foreign donors - principally the United States and France - of breaking their promises to help rebuild the country after the 1994 invasion.

"If you tell the driver to go 150 mph and you take the fuel out of the car, it's not fair," Aristide said.

Indeed, Haiti's economic indicators make grim reading. It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; 80 percent of its population earns less than $2 a day. Life expectancy has fallen from 55 to 49 years in the last decade.

Asked about his popularity in Cite Soleil, Aristide said he felt it was stronger than ever considering the state of the economy.

"Any president who lacked real popularity would be unable to govern (in Haiti's conditions)," he said.

Lavalas Family control over the last decade has brought some improvements to living conditions in Cite Soleil, a maze of muddy streets and alleyways that spills into the bay near downtown Port-au-Prince. The entrance to the slum has been paved and a water tower provides regular fresh drinking water, although it is still not piped to homes. The wharf has been improved; a new high school has opened, and a large park is under construction.

Even so, some things haven't changed. Half-naked children and adults still wash themselves with buckets of water outside lean-to homes made from wood and sheets of metal. Skinny dogs and pigs poke their noses through rotting garbage piled high along dirt streets lined by drainage ditches full of green, fetid water and sewage.

Yet residents say poverty is no longer their biggest complaint; their main fear is the daily violence and insecurity from local gangs, known as chimeres, (a fire-breathing monster in Greek mythology) who owe allegiance to the presidential palace.

Some gang leaders are accused by residents of organized crime, carjackings, kidnappings, rape and murder. A recent turf war involving five Cite Soleil gangs resulted in at least 20 deaths. During the fighting several homes and businesses were burned and the local hospital shut down.

"We are the victims, not the chimeres, not the president," said a woman whose house was burned, her eyes brimming with tears.

"It's always us, the normal people, us and our children, who are the victims."

The gang leaders retain close ties with senior police officers and staff at the presidential palace, according to interviews with two chimere bosses. One said he had been summoned to meet Aristide four times. He said the president urged the gangs to make peace.

But the gang leaders say they frequently receive phone calls from palace staff requesting their support at progovernment demonstrations. Occasionally the gangs also get instructions - and weapons - to attack and beat up opposition targets.

For example, when an opposition "Caravan of Hope" visited Cite Soleil in July, accompanied by foreign diplomats, gang leaders say they were told to ambush the convoy of vehicles and beat up the occupants. Several cars were stoned and burned, and 44 people injured.

But gang members in Cite Soleil say their loyalty to Aristide is fraying.

"They use us, but after a while you know too much. In Lavalas you never know who is going to kill you," said one Cite Soleil gang leader, who asked not to be identified. "They ask me to do anything to protect the palace. Aristide is us. We are his power," he added, displaying a police issue Taurus 9mm revolver.

The undermining of chimere loyalty to the palace began with the assassination in mid September of a former pro-Aristide gang leader, Amiot Metayer, 42, in the port city of Gonaives, about 90 miles north of the capital.

The circumstances of Metayer's death - his eyes were reportedly shot out and his heart removed - are shrouded in mystery.

Throughout the 1990s, Metayer was a fervent left-wing political organizer for Aristide's Lavalas movement. He headed an armed group in the Gonaives slum of Raboteau, known as the Cannibal Army.

He fell out with the government after he was arrested and convicted for his role in an attack by the chimeres on opposition political parties in December 2001. Metayer's supporters later broke him out of jail with a bulldozer, and he began speaking out about Aristide's alleged involvement in political crimes.

After Metayer's death the Cannibal Army declared itself in open revolt against the government. At least two gang leaders in Cite Soleil also started getting cold feet. The government has responded, analysts say, by using other gangs to crush dissent in Cite Soleil. In an apparent attempt to halt the killing, Aristide met with various gang leaders at his palace in late November. A truce followed.

Government officials deny they are responsible for gang violence, which they attribute to Haiti's lack of resources. Haiti has only 5,000 police for the entire country of 8-million, officials say, less than one-tenth the number of police in the New York area.

Aristide's meeting with the gang leaders was simply an attempt to bring peace to Cite Soleil, officials say. However, it remains unclear why the gang leaders were allowed access to the palace when police were officially seeking their arrest.

To be sure, Aristide still has many supporters.

"This is still a Lavalas base," said Noel Saint Dufait, standing outside City Hall. "We can still put people on the streets to show the bourgeois who is in charge."

Registre, the young City Council member, says his troubles began when he helped organize a public workshop on nonviolence and disarmament. Soon he began receiving threats, accusing him of betraying Lavalas.

"We speak a different language. They want to have those kids armed and working for them," Registre said. "The population has learned that the real devil in Cite Soleil is not the chimeres, but Aristide."

Though the peace agreement is holding firm, the situation is now spiraling out of control in other parts of the country.

In Gonaives, daily skirmishes have turned the streets of Raboteau, a seaside shanty-town of 45,000 residents, into a virtual war zone. As in Cite Soleil, the Cannibal Army was also used in the past by the Lavalas movement to put down opposition demonstrations.

But Metayer's death has thrown them into an odd alliance with local anti-Aristide groups they previously were sent to repress.

Gonaives is where Haiti declared its independence from France on Jan. 1, 1804, becoming the first black republic. A monument to the victorious general, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, dominates the main square where Aristide is due to preside over an official ceremony Thursday.

Fighting has prevented work crews from entering the square, which is only a few blocks from Raboteau, to complete the anniversary preparations. Rubble, smoldering tires and overturned plants lay strewn across the square in mid December.

Aristide is determined not to let the demonstrations interrupt the event, to which a host of heads of state have been invited, mostly from Africa and the Caribbean.

The day after Metayer's death, heavily armed police reinforcements arrived in town to retake control of Raboteau, witnesses say. A unit of the heavily armed Special Brigade, police irregulars dressed in black T-shirts, patrol in pickups and SUVs.

Local residents accuse the Special Brigades of indiscriminate shootings, as well as the execution of four young men on Dec. 2. In a separate meeting with reporters in a lookout post atop a wharf-side voodoo temple, leaders of the Cannibal Army vowed to disrupt Aristide's visit.

"If Aristide comes we are ready to die," said Metayer's brother, Butheur Metayer. "We are not children. We know what we have to do. We have guns, and bottles and stones, and the people are with us."

The battle for Gonaives is also being watched closely by opposition groups in the capital. A bloody clash with students at the national university Dec. 5 triggered new calls for the president to resign.

Pro-Aristide thugs broke into the faculty of University of Haiti's Human Sciences College and fought a pitched battle on the small campus, witnesses said. Police opened fire on students, wounding several. When the university rector, Pierre-Marie Paquiot, tried to intervene, he was set upon and his legs broken with iron bars by the attackers.

Though Aristide later condemned the incident, he suggested that the students were a small minority of malcontents. That only inflamed passions. Students have demonstrated almost every day since.

Meanwhile, progovernment demonstrators retain a stranglehold on streets around the palace, where the president's hard-core loyalists chant, "Aristide is king."

Despite the volatile situation in the slums of Port-au-Prince and Gonaives, the government appears to still hold the upper hand. But analysts fear the police and pro-Aristide groups may be driven to ever-greater acts of repression to stay in control.

Defections from Lavalas ranks are growing. This month, three Cabinet ministers also resigned. Registre says he just wants to be able to go back to Cite Soleil with his mother and younger brother.

He has no special plans to celebrate Jan. 1 other than helping his mother prepare pumpkin soup, a Haitian New Year's Day tradition.

"What is there to celebrate? We have no water, no electricity, and we can't afford to send our kids to school. All Aristide brought us is violence and more hunger."

- David Adams may be contacted at dadams7308@aol.com  

Reprinted from The St.Petersburg Times of December 29, 2003.

Police, or thugs, arrest provincial opposition spokesman in Haiti as tensions rise
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI, Dec. 29 - Police arrested a leading spokesman for the opposition in Haiti’s second largest city during a protest march calling for the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the private Radio Vision 2000 reported Monday.

Dozens shouted "Down with Aristide !" in northcoast Cap-Haitien on Sunday as police swooped in and arrested Eliscar Charles, allegedly for organizing an illegal demonstration.

Demonstration leaders claimed they had conformed to regulations that require them to notify the police 48 hours before staging the demonstration.

"This is another step in the government’s systematic repression of protest in Cap-Haitien and elsewhere in the country," said Frandley Denis Julien, leader of Citizens Initiative, a civil society group that belongs to the North District Front.

Charles, a member of the opposition People’s Struggle party, is co-leader of the North District Front, a coalition that includes civil society groups and several opposition parties.

Aristide partisans have accused the Front of attempting to destabilize the government, and the groups’s leaders have either been arrested or are in hiding.

Earlier this month, police arrested Front co-leader Jackson Noel and ten other people, charging them with shooting at a police vehicle. Witnesses said Noel’s eye was injured while he was being beaten by police. He was later transferred to the capital Port-au-Prince.

The same day, police stormed the opposition station Radio Maxima, smashed studio broadcasting equipment, and shut the station down. They found several weapons on the roof.

Police were not immediately available for comment on Monday.

Radio Maxima, whose owner Jean-Robert Lalane was shot and wounded in the shoulder when he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Nov. 25, had been the voice of the opposition in Cap-Haitien. Lalane, who has since gone into hiding, is a co-leader of the North District Front.

Haiti has been in turmoil since flawed May 2000 elections the opposition charges were rigged. Opposition political parties refuse to participate in legislative elections unless Aristide steps down.

Meanwhile, with at least 41 killed and scores wounded during anti-government demonstrations since mid-September, violence is on the rise across this Caribbean nation.

The Organization of American States and the United States have exhorted the government to respect the rights of assembly and deplored the excessive use of force by the police.

Posted at 8:45 p.m., Sunday, December 28, 2003
Tense Haiti awaits 200th aniversary
By Mike Williams, The Atlanta Journal Constitution Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti, the world's oldest black republic, celebrates its bicentennial Jan. 1 amid growing worries that continued political division and violence might once again send it spinning out of control.

At the center of the political storm in this troubled Caribbean nation is President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former Catholic priest who was hailed as the savior of Haiti's impoverished masses when he was elected president in 1990. Now he is vilified by his opponents and isolated from many international partners who might help his struggling nation.

While Aristide's government has planned elaborate celebrations leading up to the bicentennial, his opponents have mounted demonstrations calling for his resignation, leaving the capital suspended in an uneasy state of nervous expectation.

"People are afraid," said Robert August, head of an opposition political party. "The streets are controlled by thugs loyal to the government, and nobody wants to go out. We are in a social crisis."

Please see also:A Haiti proud son, and extremely so, not totalitarian dictator Aristide, not uncommonly vicious tyrant Aristide, not delinquent dictator Aristide / Haiti's 200 years enormous catalogue of evil / Letters and Press Releases, in French

Ousted in a 1991 coup less than a year after taking office, Aristide was returned to power in 1994 after former President Jimmy Carter and a team including former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and current Secretary of State Colin Powell negotiated the departure of the military leaders. Carter's efforts averted a likely U.S. military intervention.

Aristide won re-election in 2000. But his government has been hamstrung by a stalemate with opposition parties that claim Aristide supporters engaged in electoral fraud to win several parliamentary seats in the 2000 elections.

International donors have withheld $500 million in aid to Haiti, demanding new elections for the contested seats. In recent months a few new loans have been approved, but the money has not been released.

Meanwhile, Haiti has slid into dire circumstances, with widespread misery on a scale that outstrips even its poorest neighbors in this hemisphere. More than 80 percent of Haiti's 8 million people survive on less than $400 a year. The World Bank lists Haiti as the fourth most undernourished nation on the planet.

Haiti has the highest rate of HIV infection outside of Africa and ranks at the bottom in the availability of potable water and most other measures of development. The once lush landscape has been stripped of vegetation to make charcoal to fuel kitchen fires, leading to erosion of topsoil needed for agriculture.

Street crime is rampant, with drug trafficking now a major source of income for a criminal class that easily eludes a national police force of fewer than 5,000 officers.

'Heritage of liberty'

In the midst of such misery, many Haitians say they see little reason to celebrate their bicentennial.

"Our heritage of liberty and securing the rights of man is great," said Jean Alix Rene, an American-educated scholar who teaches at Haiti University. "But we haven't properly held on to the ideals of those who struggled for freedom in 1804. Today Haiti is far from those ideals."

Haiti has never enjoyed much political stability. After overthrowing their French masters, some of Haiti's earliest leaders wound up naming themselves kings or emperors, keeping the masses of former slaves in poverty on the plantations.

The new country made its neighbors -- the United States and colonies of France, Spain and Britain -- nervous, as its very existence called into question the institution of slavery, then still widespread in the hemisphere.

But Haiti was also torn internally between the former slaves and a tiny minority of light-skinned offspring of French masters and African slaves, who were called mulattoes. Considered free people during slavery times, the mulattoes sought to imitate the former French plantation masters by dominating Haiti's politics and economy.

The unfortunate hallmark of Haiti's political history became violence, political intrigue and government corruption. Of 22 heads of state between 1843 and 1915, only one finished his full term in office, with the rest assassinated or sent into exile on corruption charges.

The 20th century was marked by a U.S. intervention that lasted from 1915 until 1934, followed by the Duvaliers from 1957 until 1986.

Against this backdrop, Aristide emerged in the 1980s as a fearless beacon of hope for many Haitians. Earning his reputation with fiery sermons demanding social justice for the poor, he served as a Catholic priest in the capital's slums. He became a last-minute presidential candidate in a 1990 election, which the Atlanta-based Carter Center helped to monitor, and won by a landslide, sparking wild celebrations.

But his time in office -- broken up by the coup and Haiti's Constitution, which barred his running for re-election in 1996 -- hasn't produced any dramatic reversal for Haiti's poor masses. It has also been marked by continued political paralysis.

"I have never seen Haiti at such an impasse," said Ken Boodhoo, a professor of Caribbean studies at Florida International University in Miami. "The country is in a state of total collapse, and Aristide is using force and fear to stay in power, just like the dictators before him."

Aristide, a diminutive, soft-spoken man who speaks perfect English, denies the charges and says his attempts to rebuild Haiti's infrastructure have been torpedoed by the international community's withholding of aid.

"Pay attention to the silent voice of the huge majority of Haitians," he said in a recent conversation with foreign reporters. "You'll hear an eloquent voice tell you, 'We are not educated, but we are not dumb. We understand this strategy being used to stop a country from moving.' "

Aristide's opponents lack a charismatic leader and have been torn by their own internal divisions. In recent months, a coalition of business and civic leaders has emerged, calling for a new "social contract" that all political parties should agree on as a starting point to move the country out of its morass.

"The amount of suffering has brought a moment of national unity," said Andy Apaid, a factory owner who has led the coalition, which recently began calling for Aristide's resignation. "He is treating people with the same repressive ways and mistakes made in the past."

Aristide has recently taken up a call for France to pay restitution to Haiti. In its fledgling days as a nation, Haiti paid 60 million francs to France as compensation for the loss of its colony, an amount Aristide claims has grown, with interest, to $21 billion in U.S. dollars.

The French government has reacted coolly, but Aristide has filled the airwaves of Haitian state television with grand plans for spending the money on infrastructure and social development projects.

Violent demonstration

Despite the charges of his opponents, Aristide still has strong support among the poor, although exact numbers are impossible to determine.

"This country was kidnapped 200 years ago after independence by the light-skinned people, and they are still holding the black people down," said Vanel Louis Paul, 27, who turned out recently to show his support of Aristide to counter anti-government demonstrations. "Aristide is our first president elected freely by the people, so he will stay in power."

Protests against the government picked up steam after a gang shouting Aristide's praises trashed a downtown campus of Haiti University and beat more than 20 students and faculty in a Dec. 5 melee sparked by an anti-Aristide student protest.

Aristide claims his opponents are using the leadup to the Jan. 1 bicentennial celebration to embarrass his government, but vows he won't give in.

With tensions rising, all eyes seem fixed on Jan. 1, when the president traditionally travels to the western coastal city of Gonaives to speak on the spot where Haitian independence was declared in 1804.

A band of former Aristide supporters in Gonaives has now turned against him and has engaged in a three-month running battle with police that has left more than 25 people dead. Aristide, however, vows to visit the city on the country's anniversary.

"It's an historic issue," he said. "It's a must."

Reprinted from The Atlanta Journal Constitution of Sunday, December 28, 2003.

Misrule still denies Haiti its freedom
By Jacqui Goddard, The Observer Writer

200 years after winning independence from France, the first black republic remains in the chains of poverty.

It is a rutted, rocky track that leads across Haiti's northern peninsula to Môle-St-Nicolas, a historic coastal community where Christopher Columbus came ashore more than five centuries ago. Few vehicles come here, and the town - the oldest in the country - has a desolate air. The remote location, lack of electricity and absence of a road mean that contact with the outside world is limited.

Its 4,000 people scrape a living growing bananas, making charcoal and fishing the picturesque Caribbean bay, but most live in utter poverty. Instead of celebrating its place in history, the place Columbus dubbed 'Maravillosa' - meaning 'wonderful' - is now in ruins, epitomising Haiti's woes as the country prepares to mark the bicentennial on 1 January of its foundation as the world's first black republic.

'Some people here cannot even afford food for their families,' says Elissaint Saintange, 37, a shopkeeper who sells basic supplies and fuel to the few who can afford it. 'They have to beg every day from others.'

The decay of Môle-St-Nicolas provides a dramatic illustration of how social and economic opportunities have been lost in years of political rot.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, accused of brutally repressing dissent and rigging elections to keep his Lavalas party in power, leads a nation of 7.5 million people now desperate to shed Haiti's image as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Impatient for democracy, jobs, education and health care, anti-government protesters have been taking to the streets in recent days with increasing regularity, engaging in bloody battles with Aristide supporters and riot police as they use the 200th anniversary of independence from France as an occasion to call for his overthrow.

'Aristide has this biblical vision of leadership whereby he is the shepherd and his people are the flock who must follow where he leads them,' said Stephen Johnson, a specialist in Caribbean affairs at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. 'But in a democracy, it is the people who should be the shepherd. They are increasingly coming to realise that.'

The point at which Columbus stepped ashore on 6 December, 1492, is now strewn with old tin cans and rotting coconut husks. Weeds grow from the cracks in Môle-St-Nicolas's fortresses, built after independence in 1804, and plans to turn its beach into a paradise for cruise-ship passengers have been sunk by the government. Unable to realise its potential as a lucrative tourist haven, the town has become one of several points from which desperate Haitians launch perilous voyages to Florida. In the past 12 months, US Coast Guard vessels have intercepted 2,709 Haitians on rafts and in boats - almost 1,000 more than the number of Cubans picked up at sea fleeing the Castro regime. Many more are picked up by US military patrols and sent back to Haiti.

The region around Môle-St-Nicolas is awash with people who have tried, and failed, to reach Florida, 600 miles away.

Benel Louis, who lives in the town of Dame-Marie, was 26 when he first tried. He used to farm, but rain is sparse and he earned little money. So his father sold one of his plots to raise the 5,000 gourdes (£70) fare for him.

There were 173 people packed into one sailboat, some as young as a year old and most sitting on each other's laps, he recalls. With no shelter from the sun, and little food or water, people became ill. 'People died - about 20. The bodies were lying among us, on top of each other,' he says. 'We were so weak.'

After three days, the boat fell apart. 'People were falling into the water, there were many deaths,' says Louis. 'A US military plane threw inflatables out to help us, and those of us who were still alive started to swim.'

A US military patrol plucked survivors from the water and returned them to Haiti. Louis laughs when asked if he will try again. 'Of course,' he says. 'I will only stop trying when there are job opportunities in Haiti, when I can provide for my family.'

Local non-governmental organisations such as Graf, backed by the British development agency ActionAid, run projects to bring change to the country's poverty-stricken north and to give people reasons to stay. Food-for-work schemes have helped some communities to begin the recovery, while the introduction of soil conservation techniques has improved farming prospects in the region.

Merneus Orneus, 32, who has tried three times to reach the US, says : 'The President doesn't care about us. The people who try to make life better are not from the government, but the NGOs. We hear we have a government, but we see no sign of it.'

Reprinted from The Observer of December 28, 2003.

Posted at 7:09 p.m., Friday, December 26, 2003
Marches against Haiti's government increase as government prepares for bicentennial
By The Associated Press

Hundreds turned out for the latest protest against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government on Friday as the country prepared for its bicentennial celebrations.

Organized by university students the day after Christmas _ what is normally a quiet day in the Caribbean country _ the march drew both workers and unemployed. Most of Haiti’s 8 million are jobless.

Please see also: 2003's most overrated and underrated ideas / Haiti: 200 years of a voluminous catalogue of evil

"I’m tired of the misery," said Pierre Donique, 20, who is unemployed and sharing a small apartment with his 11 family members. "When Aristide goes I don’t know what will happen, but it has to be better than this."

The Caribbean nation has been in turmoil since Aristide’s Lavalas Family party swept 2000 elections, which some observers said were flawed. Since mid-September, at least 31 people have been killed during anti-government demonstrations and scored have been injured.

Aristide supporters allegedly opened fire Monday on anti-government protesters in the westcoast town of Gonaives, killing eight.

The rising tensions and protests have come as the government prepares for celebrations marking Haiti’s 200th anniversary of independence from slave-holding France on Jan. 1.

Government supporters say the steady protests are meant to spoil government-sanctioned festivities.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who comes from the world’s youngest black republic, was scheduled to attend the bicentennial. Haiti is the world oldest black republic.

Wladimir Gassant, a Haitian who graduated from the University of Miami, said he moved back to Haiti in 2001 with hopes of rebuilding the country alongside Aristide’s government.

"But Aristide fooled me and everybody," said Gassant, 32, a high school math teacher in Port-Au-Prince. "We have people starving while he buys sport utility vehicles for US$80,000 a piece."

Aristide, Haiti’s elected leader, was deposed in a 1991 military coup and restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion. He stepped down in 1996 due to a term limit and was re-elected in 2000.

He has refused opposition calls to step down, saying he will serve out his term until 2006.

Haiti conflict heats up, but U.S. turns refugees away
By Jim Lobe, OneWorld.net Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec 26 (IPS) -- With political tensions and violence in Haiti once again on the rise, a major U.S. refugee group is calling on the Bush administration to stop repatriating Haitians fleeing their homeland on the high seas or within U.S. territorial waters.

"The Bush administration has proven it will go farther than any other in trying to keep Haitian asylum seekers from arriving on our shores," said Wendy Young, a senior official at the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

"Given the escalating political instability and human rights abuses in Haiti, the United States has a legal and ethical obligation to allow full access to Haitian asylum seekers and to offer protection to those who have a well-founded fear of prosecution," she added.

The New York-based Commission, which warns that Haiti may soon be engulfed in a new civil war, reported that the U.S. Coast Guard recently intercepted 361 Haitians at sea and returned them to Haiti, and that last week another boatload of 70 Haitians received the same treatment.

Unlike the case of Chinese or Cubans attempting to reach the United States, Haitians are not provided a screening by U.S. officials to assess whether they have valid asylum claims before they are repatriated. Instead, once interdicted by the Coast Guard, Haitians must step forward on their own to express a fear of return in order to secure a screening--a difficult step for anyone on a crowded and usually barely seaworthy boat that has often drifted for days without adequate food or water. If they fail to do so, they are automatically returned to Haiti, as were all 70 of the passengers last week.

The Commission and other refugee advocacy groups have long deplored this practice, and particularly the fact that only Haitians are treated in this fashion.

But their concern has grown this year as political unrest and violence have sharply increased in Haiti itself.

Opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has spread throughout the country in recent weeks and is currently being led by an increasingly militant student movement that is demanding that the former priest, who was restored to power by Washington in 1994 after his ouster in a military coup d'etat three years before, step down.

As many as eight people--mostly students--were killed last Monday when Aristide supporters and police clashed with anti-government protesters in Gonaives in the latest of a series of violent incidents in the coastal town that was touched off by three months ago by the killing of a former pro-Aristide gang leader.

On December 5, pro-Aristide militants attacked anti-government demonstrators at the University in Port-au-Prince, leaving two dozen people injured, including the dean who was badly beaten by the assailants.

The attack provoked the resignation of three cabinet ministers and an ambassador, while two senators, including a veteran of Aristide's Lavalas party, Dany Toussaint, left the party. Since then, the capital has seen daily protests, the biggest involving tens of thousands of people. On Wednesday, hundreds of doctors and medical students were in the streets, calling on Aristide to step down.

The mobilization of the students is regarded as particularly ominous for the government because of the historic role students have played in political change in Haiti, which will celebrate its bicentennial as the world's first independent black republic January 1.

The current crisis is due in major part to a three-year-old impasse between Lavalas and the opposition over the 2000 elections to the Haitian Senate. Western countries, including the United States, have withheld both bilateral aid and critically needed assistance from international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, pending a resolution of opposition charges that the elections were unfair.

Efforts by the U.S. and the Organization of American States (OAS) to mediate a settlement have proven fruitless, while Aristide's offer to hold new elections has been scorned by the opposition. Meanwhile, the terms for both members of parliament and local officials across the country expire next month.

Starved of foreign assistance, the Haitian economy, already the hemisphere's poorest, has failed to make any headway, with the result that hopes that Aristide's restoration in 1994 would translate into rising standards of living and an end to corruption have been dashed.

In this atmosphere, human rights abuses and violence have increased throughout the country. Since October, Amnesty International has published several statements expressing concern and calling on all sides to refrain from violence and threats. The group noted earlier this month that "human rights abuses against demonstrators are becoming a pattern in Haiti" and accused police of not intervening to protect protestors from pro-government assailants.

The State Department has also spoken out against attacks on anti-Aristide demonstrators, accusing the government last week of "acting with armed gangs working to violently repress demonstrations." It has also issued travel advisories urging U.S. citizens to put off visit to Haiti due to the increasing unrest.

Aristide has himself denounced violence by all sides. At the same time, however, he has called for his supporters to "mobilize" against what he called the opposition's efforts to harm Haiti's image, while several party officials have urged their supporters to take up arms against anti-government forces.

Given the situation, the Women's Commission has charged that Washington is ignoring its responsibility to protect Haitian refugees who are trying to escape political violence and intimidation.

In a report released earlier this year, the Commission alleged some Haitians who have been sent back or deported by the Department of Homeland Security have been subject to additional abuses, usually at the hands of Lavalas forces or militias. Some, according to the Commission, have gone into hiding and have renewed their efforts to flee to the U.S.

Even Haitian asylum seekers who make it to land are subject to harsher treatment, particularly prolonged detention, than other nationalities. With only limited exceptions, Haitians who have requested political asylum, including women and children, have been held in detention until their cases are reviewed. All others are repatriated.

Before his re-election in November 2002, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appealed to his brother to make it easier for Haitian asylum-seekers to be released from detention if they have families who can support them, as Cuban refugees are permitted to do. Although the president at the time indicated he was sympathetic to their plight, no changes were made.

Most analysts believe the administration fears that any easing of U.S. treatment of arriving refugees will prompt a major exodus from Haiti to the U.S.

Copyright © 2003 OneWorld.net

Posted at 8:45 p.m., Wednesday, December 24, 2003
The faces of freedom fighters
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Protesters chant during a manifestation in Port au Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, December 24, 2003. Doctors and students of medicine protest against Aristide asking for his resignation. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been in turmoil since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept 2000 elections which some observers said were flawed. Since mid-September, at least 31 people have been killed during anti-government demonstrations. (AP Photo/Walter Astrada) More photos
Posted at 7:45 p.m., Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Haiti protests draw musicians, artists
By Peter Prengaman, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 23 - Some of Haiti's most famous musicians on Tuesday held a free concert calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation while artists painted rainbows over pro-government graffiti.

The coalition of more than 1,000 musicians, painters and writers organized the demonstration at the University of Haiti to show solidarity with students who were attacked by Aristide partisans earlier this month.

Roots band Boukman Eksperyans(photos), one of Haiti's most popular music exports, performed songs calling for revolution.

"Aristide is already fired, no one wants him," said Boukman's lead singer Barnaby Theodore Beaubrum, an Aristide critic. "We will continue the resistance until Aristide is no longer in power."

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been in turmoil since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept flawed 2000 elections. Since mid-September, at least 23 people have been killed during anti-government demonstrations.

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"When I was a student here 20 years ago I used to sing against the dictatorship," said Sweet Mickey singer Michel Martelly, referring to Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. "Twenty years later nothing's changed."

Aristide's government is facing growing unrest as it prepares for its bicentennial celebrating 200 years of independence Jan. 1 from a slave-holding France. Government supporters say the steady protests are meant to spoil government-sanctioned festivities.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who comes from the world's youngest black republic, was scheduled to attend the bicentennial but as of Monday, only one delegate from the Caribbean's regional bloc had said she was coming for the celebrations.

Lolita Applewhaite, deputy secretary general of the 15-member Caribbean Community, said she would attend but no others had confirmed — a significant blow to the world's oldest black republic.

In contrast, 13 of the 15 Caribbean leaders flew to Cuba last year for a special summit celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the communist island and other nations in the region.

Many have voiced concern over an allegation that the government has tried to repress anti-government demonstrations by using the police to break them up, or by allowing Aristide supporters to use strong-arm tactics against opponents.

On Dec. 5, at least two dozen people were injured in violence that broke out after police separated dozens of government supporters from about 100 students who called a protest to demand Aristide resign.

University Rector Pierre-Marie Pacquiot was beaten in both legs with an iron bar and at least four students were shot. The attack is under investigation.

Aristide was ousted in a 1991 coup and restored to power in a 1994 U.S. occupation. He stepped down in 1996 due to a term limit and was re-elected in 2000. He has refused opposition calls to step down, saying he will serve out his term until 2006. (pp-pd/fg)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 8:51 p.m., Monday, December 22, 2003
One dead in new Haiti protest against Aristide
By Reuters

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec. 22 (Reuters) - One person died after being shot in the head in Haiti on Monday when gunmen attacked thousands of marchers demanding the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a fourth week of protests(photos).

Following an appeal from Aristide for the impoverished Caribbean nation's police to start protecting demonstrators, police did not break up the rally by using tear gas and firing shots into the air but instead walked with the marchers. That did not deter gunmen who routinely attack anti-government demonstrations, and one person died when police returned fire on a truck that roared toward the rally, guns blazing at random from its windows.

Witnesses said the dead person was a bystander who was not taking part in the march. It was unclear whether the victim was hit by police or the attackers.

The gunmen fled the scene. Haiti, the western hemisphere's poorest country, has spiraled deeper into chaos and conflict as it approaches the 200th anniversary of its freedom from France on Jan. 1.

A former Roman Catholic priest, Aristide became Haiti's first democratically elected leader but was deposed in a bloody 1991 coup. He was restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion in 1994. Aristide was elected to a second term as president in 2000 but has been at odds with opposition parties over the tainted results of parliamentary elections that year.

Monday kicked off a fourth consecutive week of massive anti-Aristide demonstrations in the capital's streets. Most have involved violence between demonstrators and police or defenders of the president. University students, business owners and others have accused Aristide of corruption and human rights abuses.

The violent breakup of a student demonstration on Dec. 5 by defenders of the president, which left about 20 students and others injured, increased public outrage against Aristide.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited

Posted at 11:17 p.m., Thursday, December 18, 2003
Haitian environment minister resigns
By The Associated Press

Haiti’s environment minister resigned Thursday in the third defection from the Cabinet of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as a series of protests have unleashed increasing violence.

Environment Minister Webster Pierre said in a letter read on independent Radio Metropole that he was stepping down "to regain my freedom of speech." He also said he hopes "to reveal the mechanism of a system that entraps politicians and to propose a solution to the crisis."

Meanwhile, his sister Mimerose Beaubrun called radio stations saying a group of gunmen occupied the yard of her house. Beaubrun’s family said she and her husband Theodore, who are well-known musicians, were warned by neighbors as they approached the house and then fled.

Reason and faith, eternally bound / How to save the world? Treat it like a business / The sad bicentennial of a once fabulous sugar colony

The Beaubruns are lead singers of the Haitian roots music group Boukman Eksperyans, which has been critical of Aristide’s government. Theodore Beaubrun has joined protests demanding Aristide’s ouster and said he went into hiding after receiving threats this week.

"The situation is extremely serious," he told Radio Metropole. "There is no government. It’s anarchy. Street thugs rule."

Tensions between supporters and opponents of Aristide are on the rise in Haiti, with at least 22 killed and scores wounded during protests since mid-September.

Several prominent officials have resigned this month amid the violence, including the ministers of education and tourism.

Pierre’s resignation came after witnesses said police stormed a pro-opposition radio station, Radio Maxima, in northern Cap-Haitien on Wednesday, smashing equipment and shutting down the station in what they said was a search for weapons.

State-run television showed three guns, grenades and camouflage fatigues that police said they found on the roof of Radio Maxima. Eleven people were reportedly arrested, including station employees and others.

Police had a search warrant to enter Radio Maxima, which has encouraged people to join street protests against Aristide’s government.

Police also shot and killed a teenage boy Wednesday during clashes with anti-government protesters in the northern town of Trou du Nord, witnesses said. Demonstrators in Trou du Nord went on to torch several government buildings, including the telephone company and city hall, according to radio reports.

The government accuses protesters of trying to spoil state-sponsored celebrations Jan. 1 on the 200th anniversary of Haiti’s independence from France.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 8:18 p.m., Thursday, December 18, 2003
Haiti Police shut down radio station
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 18 - Police stormed and shut down a pro-opposition radio station, smashing studio equipment in what they said was a search for weapons, witnesses said Thursday.

Police later displayed guns and grenades they said were found Wednesday on the roof of Radio Maxima in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. State-run television reported 11 people were arrested, including station employees.

The raid came as police shot and killed a teenage boy Wednesday during clashes with anti-government protesters in the northern town of Trou du Nord, independent Radio Metropole reported.

Demonstrators in Trou du Nord went on to torch several government buildings, including the telephone company and city hall, according to radio reports.

State-run television showed items that police said they seized, including two assault rifles, a pistol, grenades and camouflage fatigues.

Police spokeswoman Daphne Orlando, in the capital of Port-au-Prince, said she didn't immediately have information about the raid.

Tensions between supporters and opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide are on the rise in Haiti. At least 22 people have died in protests since mid-September.

Radio Maxima's owner, Jean-Robert Lalane, survived an assassination attempt by an unknown gunman on Nov. 25, and the station has been threatened repeatedly by government partisans for its calls on Aristide to step down.

Aristide has said he opposes violence and favors a free press. But Haitian media groups accuse police of regularly harassing journalists.

This year, the France-based group Reporters Without Borders placed Haiti 100th in its press freedom ranking of 166 countries. Some 30 Haitian journalists have gone into self-imposed exile in the past two years after receiving threats.

Haiti's government and opposition have been locked in disagreement since flawed 2000 legislative elections that the opposition says were rigged.

Aristide's opponents have stepped up protests in recent weeks, and the government accuses them of trying to spoil state-sponsored celebrations Jan. 1 on the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence from France.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Haitian rally draws crowd
By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald Writer

In one of the biggest anti-Aristide protests in South Florida, 500 Haitians gather in downtown Miami, demanding the ouster of the Haitian president.

Miami physician Mireille Tribie Latortue once counted herself among Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's greatest supporters. She was one of those who worked on his behalf to become Haiti's first democratically elected president, and to return him to office after he was ousted.

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Mickaelle Bredy, of Miami, hits images of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the protest. (Sun-Sentinel staff photo/Anastasia Walsh Infanzon) More photos

But today, Latortue is among Aristide's critics, joining hundreds of Haitians and Haitian Americans on Wednesday in front of the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami to demand his resignation and denounce the ongoing violence against anti-government student demonstrators in Haiti.

''The same way we are standing here to angrily denounce the assassination of the Haitian people is the same way we were here years ago for democracy,'' said Latortue, 42, as she stood among about 500 anti-Aristide demonstrators, waving placards and chanting Aba Aristide, ``Down with Aristide.''

''I feel betrayed and hurt,'' she said. ``It's the most disgraceful, despicable, shameful situation that we are in.''

Though the event was billed as a solidarity rally on behalf of Haiti's university students, it quickly took on a life of its own, becoming one of the biggest anti-Aristide demonstrations in South Florida to date.

Many participants were first-time demonstrators who heard about the rally via e-mail.

While the turnout didn't come close to the numbers who have protested in Haiti in the past week, organizers pointed to the crowd's diversity as evidence of wide support. It included both black and white Haitians, activists and professionals, including cardiologists, principals, business owners and bankers.

The protest comes on the heels of ongoing tensions in Haiti between university students and pro-Aristide supporters. Last week, university students led one of the largest demonstrations Haiti has seen in a decade, with tens of thousands of citizens spilling into the streets of Port-au-Prince. At least two people were reported killed and several people injured during the protests.

The students have accused the Aristide government of corruption, human rights violations and neglect. Aristide has condemned the violence on both sides, his spokesman has said. Meanwhile, his supporters have accused the opposition of trying to spoil state-sponsored celebrations of Haiti's bicentennial planned for Jan. 1.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement urging the Haitian government to end its efforts to ``stifle legitimate dissent.''

That same day, Haitian police used tear gas and fired shots in the air to break up a student-led protest in Port-au-Prince after hundreds defied a police order to notify authorities of any demonstrations at least 48 hours in advance.

''Oppression, human rights abuses can only stay silent for so long. Today, people are waking up to the reality,'' said Doral resident Clifford Apaid, 27, whose father, Andy Apaid Jr., is leading a coalition of 184 civil groups in Haiti that oppose Aristide.

''Oppressors such as Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Fidel Castro in this day and age should not be able to prosper. They must be taken down,'' said Marc Bayard, a banker and president of a group of young Haitian-American professionals.

Said Marie Florence Bell, a Haitian American who helped organize the Haiti Will Live rally: ``Whether you are for or against the government, this is a very sad time for us.''

Posted at 8:10 p.m., Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Police lob tear gas to break up protests in Haiti, at least three wounded
By The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Dec. 17 - Police hurled tear gas canisters Wednesday to break up protests by opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and at least three demonstrators were shot and wounded.

Protesters said the three were all university students and accused Aristide supporters of firing into a crowd of several hundred students as they fled the tear gas.

Urge them all to resign their posts

Earlier, police lobbed tear gas as about 100 other demonstrators left the compound of the Convergence opposition alliance, forcing them to hurry back inside.

It was the fifth time in a week that police have prevented protests in Haiti, and some criticized police for allowing thousands of Aristide supporters to march unhindered a day earlier.

"Yesterday, government partisans were allowed to demonstrate. Today the government won’t allow us to do the same," said Hans Tippenhauer, an economist and prominent Aristide critic.

At least seven students were detained by police. Officers caught four hiding in a yard. Police pushed three others down into a pickup and sat on them as they drove away.

Students accustomed to tear gas brought water bottles to douse their heads, while others spread toothpaste under eyes and noses to reduce the irritation.

"The police are the accomplices of this bloody regime," opposition former Sen. Paul Denis said. "But the time is coming when the people will force Aristide out of power."

Protesters have defied a police requirement to notify them of demonstration routes 48 hours in advance.

The government has accused demonstrators of trying to spoil state-sponsored celebrations Jan. 1 on the Caribbean country’s bicentennial.

On Tuesday, Aristide called for a "peaceful, permanent mobilization" against those seeking to tarnish Haiti’s image.

The protests came a day after many Port-au-Prince businesses closed in a strike called by the opposition and a coalition of civil groups.

During the night unidentified men vandalized at least three gas stations that closed during the strike.

Witnesses said gunmen shot up one station, setting two pumps afire. With many fearing more violence, businesses and schools closed Wednesday in northern Cap-Haitien, the second largest city. Police arrested three opposition activists there, including Jackson Noel, who was charged with firing at a police vehicle.

Wednesday’s protests coincided with the second anniversary of an armed attack on the National Palace. Aristide called the Dec. 17, 2001, attack a coup attempt, but the Organization of American States later concluded there was no proof.

After the attack Aristide backers burned opposition homes and offices, including the Convergence headquarters, which was rebuilt with government funds.

Violence is again on the rise, with 21 killed and scores wounded during protests since mid-September.

Leaflets scattered in some areas Wednesday urged Haitians to "stand up," saying "down with bourgeois students" and "long live 2004 with Aristide."

Officials including the ministers of education and tourism have broken with Aristide and resigned in recent days.

Haiti’s ambassador in the neighboring Dominican Republic, Guy Alexandre, quit last week, saying in letter to Aristide that his partisans’ "aggression" against student protesters was "intolerance."

Unrest, resignations threaten Aristide
By Jane Regan, Sun-Sentinel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti • Thousands danced and sang in front of the National Palace on Tuesday to show their support for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on the anniversary of his first election in 1990, but a strike by big businesses, student and other protests, mounting criticism and a series of resignations are shaking his government’s grip on power.

In one week, the ministers of education and tourism, Haiti’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and the No. 2 man in the Ministry of Health resigned.

While Minister of Health Martine Deverson’s departure was quiet, both Minister of Education Marie Carmel Paul Austin and Dominican Republic Ambassador Guy Alexandre condemned the government as they stepped down, saying they deplored a violent attack by Aristide supporters on student protesters earlier this month.

More than 30 people were injured when government supporters attacked two faculties at the State University on Dec. 5.

Among those hurt was Dean Pierre-Marie Pacquiot, who is still hospitalized as a result of ruptured tendons he suffered when he was attacked by men proclaiming to be Aristide defenders. He was hit repeatedly with an iron bar.

Several Aristide supporters were also hurt when students and others retaliated.

In a Dec. 11 letter released to the press, Alexandre said the Aristide government was headed for a "suicidal confrontation" with its critics and that the Dec. 5 attack was "simply intolerable."

Asked about the resignations, Minister of Culture and Communication Lilas Desquiron told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel she blamed them on the "media campaign against the government." In recent weeks local and foreign media have reported extensively on the protests.

"All of the ministers are under a lot of pressure," Desquiron said. "There are some ministers who can handle it better than others."

The resignations were announced the same day the U.S. State Department said it "deplored the violent repression of political demonstrations" and accused the Haitian government of "working with armed gangs."

A series of local and foreign nongovernmental organizations also have issued harsh criticisms.

Several Canadian funding organizations also entered the political fray. In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace asked Ottawa to "call for the resignation of Aristide."

And the State University’s democratically elected council has also taken an increasingly strong stance on pro-government violence, including police brutality.

Tuesday, the council issued a news release reminding police they are supposed to be "neutral." According to their official code of conduct, police are not obligated to follow orders that are "illegal or seriously compromise the public interest," the note said. The council has also called for Aristide to step down.

Minister of Justice Calixte Delatour responded by saying he "sympathizes with all victims of violence" and that accusations against police and others were "being investigated."

While the radio newscasters were busy reading declarations, on Tuesday the capital’s dirty downtown streets were mostly quiet as banks, schools, supermarkets and big businesses observed a "dead day" strike to demand Aristide’s resignation.

The strike is part of what more than 40 business, union and other groups say is a "mobilization without end" to force Aristide from power.

While the usual traffic snarls and the packs of brightly dressed schoolchildren were missing, on stoops and sidewalks, the city’s "informal sector" shoe shines, used clothing and book sellers, women selling bread and vegetables, and itinerant mechanics went about their day.

"It’s a strike ? I didn’t know that," said Anaise Pierre, 34, as she shoveled out a 25-cent plateful of rice and beans for a grimy mechanic. She runs a curbside "restaurant" consisting of a pot of food and a couple of chairs.

"Strike, no strike. I have to be here to earn money so I can feed my kids. I don’t care about Aristide or any of the politicians, I just want to make it through today," she said.

Several thousand people, including government officials, public employees, farmers and even some Haitians visiting from the United States, also ignored the strike. They poured through the gates of ex-dictator Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier’s former ranch to hear the beleaguered president.

"I am speaking to you clearly, firmly, without violence, clearly and constitutionally, legally," he told the mass of supporters who crushed security guards as they tried to near the podium. "We need a peaceful mobilization to paralyze violence ... to protect the image of the country."

Aristide reiterated that he deplored violence, some of which is committed by people who wear Aristide T-shirts to tarnish his government.

Enose Séjour, 53, mother of two unemployed men, was among those who ran alongside the president’s convoy, shouting.

"[The] opposition thinks we do not know how to make choices," she said afterward, referring to opposition political parties’ calls for Aristide to resign.

Séjour, who works at the National Insurance office, clutched the photo of Aristide pinned to her chest. "He is on top of my heart, but he is really inside my heart, here," she said. "He is the only one who cares about poor people. My sons don’t have jobs yet, but I know they will soon. Aristide is the only one who can take care of us."

"The rich are trying to carry out a plot against Aristide. They pay people to march," said Hervey Coty, 40, a Haitian-American journalist from Brooklyn. He was dressed in a flowing purple dashiki.

University students, business groups, opposition political parties, unions and other organizations have called for a protest march today. A march on Thursday gathered tens of thousands and was repeatedly blocked by police who fired into the air and lobbed tear gas.

Jane Regan

Reprinted from Sun-Sentinel of December 17, 2003.

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DA slams Mbeki visit to Haiti

The Democratic Alliance has strongly criticised President Thabo Mbeki’s plans to visit Haiti for that nation’s bicentennial celebrations on January 1 next year. "If President Thabo Mbeki wants to go to Haiti for a private holiday, that is one thing.

"It is something altogether different if he wants to go there with all the trappings of state, at the expense of the taxpayer and the defence budget," DA acting leader Douglas Gibson said in a statement.

Plans for Mbeki’s visit were consolidated last week during a visit to the strife-torn island state by Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

It was announced at the time that South Africa had offered Haiti R10-million "as material support" for its celebrations.

It was also reported that the SA Navy replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg had left Simonstown for the island so it could serve as a safe haven for Mbeki and his party if the situation there got out of hand.

Gibson said Haiti was descending into chaos and civil disorder.

"It does not seem to us that there is much to celebrate in Haiti, but if the Haitians wish to celebrate the fact that they are the poorest and most backward country in the Americas, that is their affair.

"Surely it does not need to be dignified by the presence of President Mbeki with a whole entourage, and with the SAS Drakensberg standing by to rescue him and his party in the event of a serious threat to his safety.

"The R10-million being donated for the celebrations could be more profitably spent here in South Africa giving underprivileged children a decent meal for Christmas," he said.

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