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“Le journal qui offre une alternative”
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
May 17 – 23, 2006
Vol. 24, No. 10
GIANT CROWDS HAIL PR�VAL AND DEMAND ARISTIDE’S RETURN
In three ceremonies where he performed a political balancing act that
will likely continue for at least the next few months until he is forced
to choose sides in Haiti’s on-going class war, Ren� Garcia Pr�val, a
63-year-old agronomist, was sworn in as Haiti’s president on May 14,
Constitutionally, Pr�val should have been inaugurated 96 days earlier,
on February 7. But, due to election delays, that was the day he trounced
a field of 34 candidates by garnering 51% of the vote (see Haiti
Progres, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2/22/06).
Despite the outgoing de facto regime’s abysmal organization,
ridiculously stringent but ultimately ineffective measures aimed at
crowd control, and a deadly early morning riot at the National
Penitentiary, the ceremonies at the Parliament, Cathedral and
Presidential Palace took place amid relative calm and more on schedule
than the presidential inaugurations of 1991, 1996 and 2001.
If one excludes the four illegal chiefs of state who briefly came to
power via coups d’�tat against constitutional governments over the past
15 years – Raoul C�dras in 1991, Joseph Nerette in 1991, Emile
Jonassaint in 1994, and Boniface Alexandre in 2004 – Pr�val is Haiti’s
56th president, having served as the 54th from 1996 to 2001. He is one
of the very few Haitian presidents to have come to and left from power
peacefully via elections. Unfortunately, like Philippe Sudr�
Dartiguenave (1915), Louis Born� (1922), Louis EugPne Roy (1930), and
St�nio Vincent (1930), Pr�val has for the second time been elected to
preside over a country that is militarily occupied and controlled by
foreign powers. Because he takes the presidency under a Constitutionally
forbidden foreign occupation whose conductors – Washington, Paris and
Ottawa – still forbid exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide
from returning to his homeland, Pr�val will face a difficult challenge
to adhere to his swearing-in oath “to faithfully observe the
Constitution and laws of the Republic, to respect and have respected the
Haitian people’s rights, to work for the Nation’s grandeur, and to
maintain national independence and territorial integrity.” Presently,
these laws, rights, grandeur, independence and integrity are all
compromised, if not entirely trampled.
But already in the ceremonies, Pr�val displayed a deft assertiveness
that augurs what kind of tactics he may use in the tricky weeks ahead.
For example, in a surprise move at the Legislative Palace, Pr�val
refused to accept the Presidential sash from de facto president Boniface
Alexandre, as tradition dictates. Instead, while Pr�val studiously kept
his back turned on the scene, a befuddled Alexandre was directed to turn
over his presidential sash to Joseph Lambert, the Senate president who
conducted the swearing-in ceremony before the National Assembly (i.e.
convocation of both houses) of Haiti’s 48th Parliament. Then a separate
Presidential sash was produced from the wings, and Lambert, who is from
Pr�val’s Espwa (Espoir) coalition, placed it on the new president.
Again, during the VIP reception in the Parliament’s Senate lounge
immediately following the swearing-in, Pr�val refused to have his photo
taken standing between Alexandre and outgoing de facto Prime Minister
G�rard Latortue, preferring to stand to their side.
In fact, it is remarkable that there were not more thinly-veiled
conflicts because the de facto regime organized the transition
ceremonies in practically no coordination with Pr�val’s organization.
A roll call before the ceremony revealed that 25 out of 30 senators and
87 out of 99 deputies were present. A number of Haitian artists such as
Boulo Valcourt, Gracia Delva (Mas Konpa), Don Kato (Brothers Posse), Ti
Pay (Rev), King Kino (Phantoms) and Jacques Sauveur-Jean were also on
hand, along with famed North American actor Danny Glover and California
progressive radio host Margaret Prescod.
Political invitees spanned the political spectrum, ranging from
anti-coup popular resistance leaders like Sanba Boukman from Belair and
John Joel and Ren� Momplaisir from Cit� Sole to right-wing dinosaurs
like former dictator and prison fugitive Prosper Avril. Pr�val’s former
wife Geri Beno�t Pr�val and various former ministers from Pr�val’s first
administration, like Fritz Longchamps (Foreign Affairs), Fran�ois
Severin (Agriculture), and Jacques Edouard Alexis (Prime Minister), were
also in attendance.
“Mister President,” said Lambert in his address to the room, “let us
salute democracy’s victory which saw the national destiny emerge through
the overwhelming popular consensus of Feb. 7, 2006… This victory
obliges you to construct a present and a future that will permit the
people’s material and spiritual blossoming. You have just won elections
marked by turbulence but they also mark an undeniable return to
“Past experience must not condemn us to relive these same events,”
Lambert continued “and we should turn the page and aim for other
objectives which will allow us to build a climate of peace for this
But the chances of simply “turning the page” seemed remote as the chants
of hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators calling for justice for the
massacres and violence of the coup could be heard inside the sweltering
parliament before and during the swearing-in ceremony, which began with
Pr�val’s arrival 40 minutes after the 11 a.m. scheduled start-time. “Tie
up Latortue” and “Whether they like it or not, Aristide is returning,”
the protestors cried. Like the thousands of demonstrators who later
massed outside the Cathedral and the Palace, many wore yellow and green
Espwa T-shirts emblazoned with Pr�val’s smiling face, but held up
pictures, cards, and posters of Aristide.
U.S. Special Forces kidnaped President Aristide from his home on
February 29, 2004. He today is exiled in South Africa. Since his
abduction, Haiti has been militarily occupied first by U.S., French and
Canadian troops, and then by U.N. troops beginning in June 2004.
“We voted for Pr�val on February 7, 2006, so that Aristide could
return,” said Claude, a 26-year-old unemployed laborer from Martissant.
“We have come here to support Pr�val. But we say to Pr�val he must get
tough so that Aristide can return to the country.”
Some of the demonstrators denounced the riot at the Penitentiary that
morning as a ploy by the de facto regime to sabotage Pr�val’s
inauguration. “Michaelle Lucius [a police chief] managed to create a
problem at the National Penitentiary so that prisoners would try to
escape so that he could take the actions he took,” said Michel, a
30-year-old tailor from Cit� Soleil. “We call for the arrest of Michael
Lucius.” Prison guards reportedly opened fire on the protesting
prisoners. The Haiti Information Project’s Kevin Pina said prisoners
told him 10 inmates were killed. Pina and journalist Reed Lindsay report
seeing the prisoners on the Penitentiary’s roof holding up two
apparently dead bodies, covered in blood. The Haitian government and
United Nations say that no prisoners died, but that several were injured
when beaten with clubs.
Although no other head of state attended the inauguration,
vice-presidents from Venezuela and Brazil led delegations, as well as
Canada’s governor general, the Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, niece of
renowned Haitian poet Ren� D�pestre. France and the Dominican Republic
sent their foreign ministers, and Chili its defense minister.
Despite the less than overwhelming diplomatic presence, the de facto’s
protocol department performed disastrously. Confused diplomats were left
hunting for their names on chairs in the Parliament, and more than one
case of seat-swapping occurred.
At the Parliament, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother and emissary
of U.S. President George W. Bush, was seated only two chairs away from
Jos� Vicente Rangel, Venezuela’s vice president, resulting in
interesting body language. The two, both keenly aware of the other’s
presence, never shook hands or addressed each other, although they did
so with most of the other diplomats. The coldness increased hours later
when they were seated, with one empty seat between them, next to the
podium at the Palace. Rangel was seated closer to Pr�val.
Following the post-ceremony reception at the Parliament, Pr�val emerged
after all the other VIPs and made an impromptu excursion across the
street where he waved to the hundreds of demonstrators. They responded
with impassioned cheers. As dozens of security personnel from the
Special Unit of the Presidential Guard (USGPN), the Haitian National
Police (PNH) and UN pushed and shoved frenzied journalists who swarmed
around him, a smiling Pr�val walked back to his motorcade and was
whisked off to the Te Deum at the Cathedral, which like the Parliament
and Palace had been repainted and repaired by work crews only in the
final days before the weekend.
In his address at the Cathedral, Monseigneur Louis K�breau, the bishop
of Hinche, called on Pr�val to make “a national effort to forge history
in a new manner to benefit the sons and daughters of the country.”
“Things must change deeply in this country,” K�breau said, echoing Pope
John Paul II’s words to Jean-Claude Duvalier when he visited Haiti in
1983, “so as to bring about a cultural, economic and social renaissance
and resurrection in Haiti.” K�breau added that “at this juncture of
Haiti’s history, we need to march together and to live by our motto –
union makes strength – to save the country” and that “we must all
together shed our fatalism and give Haiti new foundations.”
K�breau closed by asking Pr�val and all Haitians to work together “to
get the country out of dishonor and to save the land of our ancestors.”
Although the police and U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) had
established a ban on all vehicles in the vicinity of the Parliament,
Cathedral and Palace, the street leading from the Cathedral to the
Palace was choked with masses of people. In front of the palace,
hundreds of U.N. troops – grouped in national contingents from China,
Nigeria, Senegal, Pakistan, Benin, Pakistan, Brazil, etc. – held back a
boisterous sweating sea of humanity. A man on stilts dressed in red and
blue walked back and forth through the throng.
The musical animation that blasted through the giant banks of speakers
set up on the Palace lawn had a timidly anti-coup theme which pleased
the crowd assembled outside the gates. Many sang along with the songs.
An emcee at one point saluted the people of Cit� Soleil for their
Ironically, however, most of the people in the stands were the
government officials and politicians which backed 2004 coup and
kidnaping of Aristide. Many in the throngs in front of the Palace, which
eventually pushed their way through lines of the Haitian police and UN
troops up to the Palace fence, resented that the people who voted Pr�val
in were outside the gates while the coup-backers were inside. “Those who
used to kill us, who used to try to prevent Pr�val from becoming
president, are inside,” Marline Joinville, 20, told Reuters.
“The bourgeoisie wants to hijack the president,” another demonstrator,
Lesly Cherubin, told Reuters. “They are all over him, while, we, who
elected him, can’t even see him.”
After his arrival at the Palace, Pr�val made a chaotic review of
different police units which had been standing under the grueling sun on
the Palace lawn most of the afternoon. The review became a free-for-all
as journalists and photographers chased after the president, bolting
down the ranks of policemen standing at attention while security
personnel tried to block them.
Around 2 p.m., Pr�val finally took the podium at the Palace to carry out
his first official act, a speech to the nation and the world. “Peace is
the key ” to Haiti’s progress and development, he said again and again.
“We must make peace, we must talk to each other.”
“Without justice in Haiti, there will be no peace,” quipped one
demonstrator listening in the crowds outside the Palace gates.
Pr�val thanked outgoing MINUSTAH chief, Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel
ValdPs, saying “your task was not easy, but you can be happy because the
results are there.”
He said that the MINUSTAH would continue in Haiti, but that they needed
to change their mission to economic development rather than
“We must replace armored cars with bulldozers,” Pr�val said.
Finally, Pr�val reiterated his desire to foster reconciliation between
Haiti’s polarized classes, the privileged elite and the suffering
masses. “Collaboration between the different sectors of national life
has already begun and must be consolidated with humility,” he said.
Almost immediately after speaking, Pr�val executed an elegant diplomatic
snub. He personally came to Venezuelan vice-president Rangel, who had
been sitting one seat away from Jeb Bush, and led him away without even
acknowledging Bush. The governor, stone-faced, quickly left for the
Meanwhile, Pr�val took Rangel to a conference room on the second-floor
of the Palace and called an impromptu press conference. “Today, we are
signing with Venezuela the Petrocaribe accord,” Pr�val announced. “At 7
a.m. this morning, already 100,000 barrels of oil arrived in
Port-au-Prince. We know what kind of relations there have been between
Haiti and Venezuela. In Jacmel, [Francisco de] Miranda created the
Venezuelan flag and received aid from Haiti from President [Alexandre]
P�tion. And the alliance was so strong that today at the foot of the
stairs to [Venezuela’s] National Palace one finds two busts: one of
P�tion and the other of [Simon] Bolivar.”
Pr�val then let Rangel speak. “Here you have the second official act of
your government,” Rangel said. “With this act, Venezuela pays an
historic debt to Haiti. An eternal debt, which is also the root of
liberty and the root of the Venezuelan nation. It is a debt not only to
President P�tion but also to the thousands and thousands of Haitians who
fought alongside Miranda for the liberty of not only Venezuela but of
all Latin America.”
Rangel continued by saying that in Venezuela today, “we do not cultivate
rhetoric. We do what is practical and concrete. We believe that
solidarity means concrete acts.”
He explained that, of the 100,000 barrels that arrived, 60,000 were
diesel fuel and the other 40,000 gasoline. “The daily consumption of
fuel in Haiti was 11,000 barrels a day. Venezuela will bring 7,000
barrels a day to Haiti under the PetroCaribe accord,” Rangel said. “The
other 4,000 barrels needed to complete the 11,000 daily barrels of total
Haitian consumption will also be furnished by Venezuela under the San
Jose accord,” a separate treaty offered to Haiti by Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez on April 24 when Pr�val visited Caracas.
Rangel also announced that Venezuela would give “a donation of 120 tons
of asphalt per month for 12 months for infrastructure projects which
will be carried out by the UN’s Brazilian contingent, under an accord
signed between President Chavez and President Lula of Brazil.”
The Venezuelan vice-president said that a team of experts would inspect
and attempt to put back into service 130 electrical generators around
Haiti. He alluded that there would be projects concerning agriculture,
livestock, and culture.
Rangel closed by saying that “this cooperation has no political emblem.
We don’t intend at all to influence the direction of your government. It
is an completely transparent cooperation. We hope they don’t say
tomorrow morning that we are trying to guide Haiti towards the axis of
evil. We want the Haitian people to be engaged completely with the
Venezuelan people and this for the good of all Haitians. President
Chavez is presently in London and called me this morning. He is very
interested in this event and sends his best wishes concerning this
solemn act today.”Pr�val and Rangel then signed both the PetroCaribe and
the San Jose accords and embraced.
After all the ceremonies, a strange and surreal reception of about 400
people was held in the Palace Garden at which both putschists and their
victims mingled. In addition to Lavalas leaders like Milot’s former
mayor MoVse Jean-Charles, Cit� Soleil’s John Joel and Ren� Momplaisir,
and Sept. 30th Foundation’s Pierre Lovinsky, one found pro-coup
politicians like Fusion’s Serge Gilles, the OPL’s Paul Denis, LAAA’s
Youri Latortue, the Alliance’s Evans Paul, and the Group of 184 No. 2
and third placed presidential candidate, Charles Henri Baker. Some of
the other personalities noted there, in no particular order, were
Prosper Avril, assembly industrialist Gregory Mevs, Aristide’s former
information minister and now a women’s empowerment activist
Marie-Laurence Lassegue, Aristide’s former Bahamas consul Joe Etienne,
Boston Fanmi Lavalas delegate Yves Alcindor, Joe Beasley of Jesse
Jackson’s PUSH, and most of the winning and losing candidates from the
2006 presidential elections.
The “party” had a strained feel as anti-coup and pro-coup groups eyed
each other suspiciously as they dined on traditional chicken, griot, and
rice and beans.
As the reception was closing, outgoing Prime Minister G�rard Latortue
came up and warmly shook the hand World Bank economist Eriq Pierre, who
many suspect to be Pr�val’s leading choice for Prime Minister. Latortue
and Pierre chuckled briefly about their common service for the
international financial institutions. The encounter symbolized the
crossroads and question Haiti now faces: will the Pr�val regime offer a
break from the past, or be a simple continuation of it?
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