Mass Demonstrations Continue In Haiti

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Thousands of Haitians are still living in tents after the earthquake of 2010
Thousands of Haitians are still living in tents after the earthquake of 2010

MASS demonstrations continued in Haiti on Xmas eve demanding the resignation of President Michel Martelly and that elections be held.

The Haitian parliament’s mandate runs out on January 12, which will leave Martelly ruling by decree.

There has been a nationwide uprising against the regime of Martelly and his Prime Minister Lamothe over the last month with massive demonstrations in several major cities, including Port-au-Prince, Léogane, Petit Goâve, Cap-Haïtien, Fort-Liberté, Ouanaminthe, and Aux Cayes.

This has resulted in the resignation of Lamothe at midnight on December 13.

Health Minister Florence Duperval Guillaume was named as Haiti’s interim Prime Minister on the following Sunday.

Guillaume will hold the post for a maximum of 30 days before a permanent choice is presented to Parliament by President Michel Martelly, said Enex Jean-Charles, secretary general of Haiti’s council of ministers.

Martelly was supposed to call elections in 2011. But several opposition senators have used parliamentary procedures to prevent a vote authorising the elections while orchestrating protests to call for the president to resign.

‘Many demonstrators are also calling for the remaining 6,600 soldiers of The United Nations Stabilisation Mission In Haiti (MINUSTAH) to immediately leave Haiti.

An independent commission formed to resolve the crisis had recommended that Lamothe resign, which he did only after days of violent protests.

According to reports from the Haiti Liberté newspaper:

‘Ironically, the “trusted” commission is made up of disgraced and discredited political figures, including Gérard Gourgue, the former “president” of a “parallel government” the opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide concocted in 2001; Evans Paul, the archetypal scheming Haitian politician who was a leader in the 2004 coup; and Réginald Boulos, a leading political strongman championing the interests of Haiti’s tiny bourgeoisie.

‘With typical humour, the Haitian people immediately dubbed Martelly’s proposal the “Baygon Commission,” referring to a popular insecticide in Haiti for killing cockroaches.

‘In early November, Martelly’s Communications Minister, Rudy Hériveaux, a former leader in Aristide’s Lavalas Family party (FL), issued an editorial in which he wrote: “Carried away in a kind of destructive frenzy, these cockroaches are agitated into a disgusting folkloric display in the streets to try to attack the government.” He was referring to the tens of thousands now demonstrating and to the Haitian opposition generally.

‘Such venomous comments and meaningless manoeuvres by government officials have only stoked the flames of “Operation Burkina Faso”, as the movement is called, inspired by the October uprising that unseated President Blaise Compaoré in Ouagadougou. “Here are the cockroaches,” thousands of demonstrators now chant.

‘Following the giant demonstration on November 25, equally large demonstrations swept the capital on November 28 and November 29, two dates with historic symbolism.

‘On November 28, 1980, the Duvalier dictatorship brutally cracked down on its political opponents and the press following the election in the US of right-wing President Ronald Reagan.

‘In the reign of terror that followed, many anti-Duvalierist journalists, politicians, and activists were murdered, imprisoned, tortured, or exiled.

‘Then on November 28, 1985 in Gonaïves, Duvalier’s soldiers and Tonton Macoutes gunned down three students: Mackenson Michel, Daniel Israel, and Jean Robert Cius.

‘Outrage at these killings sparked the nationwide uprising that led to the fall of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier on February 7, 1986.

‘On November 29, 1987, a neo-Duvalierist military junta, composed of Generals Henry Namphy, and Williams Régala, backed by paramilitary chieftains like Claude Raymond, carried out an election day massacre, killing dozens of would-be voters, most bloodily and infamously at the Argentine School on Ruelle Vaillant in the capital.

‘November 29, 1803 is also the day at Fort Dauphin in Haiti’s North that Haiti’s founding fathers first proclaimed independence, declaring at the time that “we have secured our rights, and we swear to yield to no power on earth.”

‘Inspired by their ancestors, on November 29, 2013, thousands of demonstrators had tried to march on the US Embassy in Tabarre, an action which was characterised as “Dessalines visits Uncle Sam.”

But Haitian police brutally dispersed the protest with tear-gas before it reached the embassy.

‘The same thing happened this year. Haitian police met the chanting multitude with tear-gas, batons, and gunfire at the Fleuriot intersection, just a stone’s throw from the home were Aristide remains under virtual house arrest.

‘Meanwhile, in the northeastern cities of Fort Liberté and Ouanaminthe near the border with the Dominican Republic, police wounded about 15 people with tear-gas and gunfire during a week of demonstrations.

‘There were four deaths reported, including a three-month-old infant and a 16-year-old boy. The people of the Northeast department are protesting against blackouts, while they claim that more than 12 megawatts of electricity remains unused at the Caracol Industrial Park, home to assembly factories. The residents of Fort-Liberté and Ouanaminthe want their electrical grids connected to Caracol’s power plant.

‘In Ouanaminthe, demonstrations are demanding the dismissal of customs officials who harass with overcharges and block small merchants crossing over the border’s Massacre River into Dajabon. The demonstrations prevented 10 containers from getting to the Caracol Industrial Park. A contingent of 30 heavily armed policemen from the Brigade of Motorised Intervention (BIM) was dispatched to shepherd the containers in.

‘Earlier this month the townspeople of Cabaret, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince, blocked National Highway #1 to demand electricity, drinking water, and a police outpost. Schools, banks, and markets were closed by the protest.

‘An official vehicle, determined to pass through the blockade, apparently fired on the crowd, reportedly killing two: a man known only as “Macintosh” and a woman who sold soda known as “Mabi.

‘As mayhem ensued, the police anti-riot unit, the Company for Intervention and Maintenance of Order (CIMO) arrived to suppress the crowd with tear-gas and water cannons.

‘ “Water is life, electricity is development,” the crowd chanted. “We don’t want to continue to drink dirty water. If the police fire on us, the situation will deteriorate. Down with Martelly!”

‘Christel Thélusma, spokesman for the local organization MADIBA, condemned the government’s repression of peaceful demonstrations for basic needs.

‘ “We do not want street lights, we want electricity in our homes so that our children can study their lessons,’ he said.

‘ “We will not yield to the pressures of the police. Our demands are fair and justified.

‘ “Martelly and Lamothe steal funds intended for development of the country, while we have no electricity, we have no drinking water.

‘ “MINUSTAH’s cholera is killing us. This is our third demonstration, yet the authorities have never come to talk with the people.”

‘Opposition leaders have called for “Operation Burkina Faso” to continue.

‘In the days ahead, the US and Martelly will keep trying to coopt, divide, undermine, and threaten the Haitian opposition, as well as the larger social movement behind it, in an effort to keep Martelly and MINUSTAH in place.

‘The challenge remains for Martelly’s opposition to stay united and for the mass movement to sustain its mobilisation until it has the same momentum as those which drove dictators from power in 1986 and 1990.’

l A new report ‘Haiti: Investing in people to fight poverty’ by the National Observatory on Poverty and Social Exclusion (ONPES) and the World Bank suggests the need for more inclusive growth and policies to increase access to basic services.

‘It is clear that the Metropolitan area received more attention in recent years, but we also note that more and more actions are directed to the provinces. If these actions are sustained and integrated into a comprehensive policy to foster development of rural areas, we will undoubtedly have a lower poverty rate,’ said Shirley Augustine Coordinator ONPES.

‘However, poverty remains high and access and quality of basic services remain a major concern, particularly in rural areas. More than 6 million Haitians – almost 60 per cent of the population – live on two dollars a day and the richest 20 per cent of households hold 64 per cent of total income in the country.

‘Incomes have stagnated in rural areas where 80 per cent of the poor are concentrated and about 200,000 children aged 6 to 14 are currently out of school.

‘High cost of access to services is still an obstacle. On average, families spend 10 per cent of their budget on education and 3 per cent on health care.’