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Day 17

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Haiti's Return to the Future The Repression of Dissent

The Repression of Dissent

by LUCSON PIERRE-CHARLES

The stance of the political parties throughout the crisis that led to the ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a constant reminder for the lack of democratic norms and traditions that has characterized Haiti over the last two centuries. Simply put, there has never been any genuine political opposition in the country. During the thirty years of the Duvaliers (Papa Doc and Baby Doc), the "opposition" was a loose entity with a common foe but without unity and viable structure. The fall of Baby Doc in 1986 provided an opportunity for the opposition to really ascertain itself but the immediate takeover by the army hindered all realistic hope. The objectives might have been clearly identifiable but the lack of real leadership and organization skills resulted in the mushrooming of a horde of "one man-party" which, to this day, is responsible for the chaos that is engulfing the empoverished nation. In order to tackle this shortcoming, the international branches of both the Republican and the Democratic parties in the United States (the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs) began to provide training assistance to some political parties through funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These trainings, while aiming at strengthening the role of the opposition in a democratic setting, have not accomplished much, as the current situation would perfectly demonstrate.

In 1990, a coalition of labor unions and grassroots organizations propelled Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power by a 67% of the votes. As a priest, Aristide had no party and without this coalition, his candidacy would not have been viable. Following his stunning victory, Aristide created the Lavalas (meaning flood) party; but by being too avid for power, he alienated most in the party who later deserted and created their own faction.

The dissolution of the army by Aristide, upon his return to power in 1994 by the Americans, gave him the upper hand and eventually contributed to his ascension as the most powerful man in the country–Aristide stepped down in 1996 and later reclaimed the presidency with more than 90% of the votes in the 2000 election. Hence, his removal from office became the opposition’s ultimate target and they were not willing to accept any compromise that would keep Aristide in office.

Aristide’s accession to power and his successor, Rene Preval was a devastated blow for the elite. It has weakened their absolute rule. The absence of the army has compelled them to elaborate a set of strategies in order to go back to the status quo, thereby join the opposition in the quest for Aristide’s removal. The emergence of such a common front against a seating president is unprecedented in Haiti’s history. It is only in Haiti would one witness the left ally with the right to topple the left and bring back the right to power. The coalition of the opposition regroup! ed for the most part the same political figures who opposed the Duvaliers, were brutalized by the army and helped bring Aristide to power in 1990. During Aristide’s second term, one leader of the opposition, Evans Paul, even refused to testify against a former army General, Prosper Avril–in a trial that reminisced the atrocities committed before Aristide’s accession to power and during his brief exile in the United States (1991-1994)–despite the fact that he was savagely beaten and his life miraculously saved under Avril’s military regime. He refused to testify by claiming that the goal was to get the nation rid off a tyrant and that he would take the opportunity to forgive Avril for the tortures he withstood. Prosper Avril was among the prisoners (close to 3,000) that were freed by Guy Phillipe following the events that led to the forced depar! ture of Aristide on February 29, 2004.

The elite, reluctant in the desire to share power with the fictitious opposition, created their own movement–the Group 184. This coalition claimed to represent all civic, social and grassroots organizations throughout the country (184 in total) but in fact, it regrouped about a dozen organizations not affiliated with the political parties but in line with the ideas and goals of Andy Apaid Jr., the leader. Initially and supposedly, the goal was to gather people’s opinions around the country with the "Convoy of hope" and create a social contract but as the situation worsened, it became evident that the group’s ultimate goal was Aristide departur! e. The opposition cheerfully joined Andy Apaid Jr. in his pursuit. In effect, by siding with Apaid Jr. and later the rebels, the opposition has committed a suicidal act that ultimately will derail the entire political establishment. Apaid Jr. and the rebels knew all along what the strategy was. It was not only to get rid off Aristide but also to bring back the army in order to finally rebuild the power structure that was somehow damaged during the Aristide and Preval years. Furthermore, the American assistance played a key role in maintaining the alliance. It is also worth noting that the Pentagon objected to disbanding the army in 1995 because it was regarded as a loss of revenues for the United States military-industrial complex. Hence, the reconstitution of the army–the ultimate watchdog of the power structure–is a victory for the Americans and the ruling oligarchy but also mark the end of the political establishment, as we know it.

The coalition of the opposition is disintegrating. They are already calling for elections this year and the creation of a new electoral council. They are requesting that the interim administration of Alexandre Boniface/Gerard Latortue provides the length of its mandate. During the recent visit of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue took the opportunity to reveal that general elections will be held in 2005 and that the new president will be sworn in no later than February 7, 2006. The important twist came when Mr. Latortue warned that Pro-Lavalas officials and members of the Aristide government–who are now part of the new opposition–could only participate in these elections if they renounce to violence. The current administration is undeniably using intimidation as a means to silence Aristide loyalists and repress all dissent. It has placed an interdiction of departure on all former Aristide government officials, including the Prime Minister Yvon Nepturne; the former minister of Interior has been arrested and many pro-Lavalas loyalists are in hiding or have been killed. The idea is to crush all popular dissent in order to prevent the emergence of any type of charismatic figures like Aristide.

As it is becoming clear, the Boniface/Latortue interim administration, with perfect cooperation with the United States Government and the European Union, is paving the way for the ultimate capture of the presidency by an oligarchy that has been waiting for such an opportunity since the fall of Baby Doc in 1986. Whenever the new regime comes into place, it will be typical of the same power structure that has governed the endangered nation for its 200 years history. It will be a return to the future. The opposition, by making alliance with Andy Apaid Jr. and the rebels, has dug their own graves and no one should feel sorry for them. A new opposition will eventually arise but only the people will dictate its course.

LUCSON PIERRE-CHARLES, a native of Haiti, now lives in Maryland. He can be reached at: lpierrecharles@yahoo.com