News from AHP/ Radio Solidarité for
May 17 and 18, 2010
English summary translation (Unofficial)
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Speaking at official ceremonies May 18 honoring the 207th anniversary of the creation of the Haitian flag at Arcahaie, President René Préval’s remarks were greeted with applause and pro-government slogans. Elsewhere, the anti-government mobilization increased as several thousand people took part in another day of demonstrations calling for the departure of President René Préval, the repeal of the law extending the State of Emergency, and issuance of a diplomatic passport to enable the immediate return of former President Aristide. In addition to Port-au-Prince, anti-government protests were held in a number of cities across the country including Jacmel, Cap-Haïtien, Miragoâne, Les Cayes, Port de Paix and Gonaïves.
Report from AHP: The demonstrations in the run-up to May 18th:
Port-au-Prince, May 17 2010 – (AHP) – Three to four thousand demonstrators from several different political groupings with a majority supporting Fanmi Lavalas gathered very early Monday outside the National Palace. Protesters streamed in from various parts of the capital including, Portail Saint-Joseph, Pétion-Ville, La Saline, Bel Air, Place Jérémie and other popular districts of the capital shouting anti-government slogans. They demanded the departure of President René Préval, repeal of the recently adopted amendment to Article 232 of the constitution, the ouster of the current electoral council and amendments to the electoral law, repeal of the law extending the State of Emergency submitted by the executive and adopted by both houses of Parliament, and amendments to the electoral law, and a diplomatic passport for former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide that would allow him to return to Haiti.
The representative of the Fanmni Lavalas Political Organization, Maryse Narcisse called for a return to application of the Haitian Constitution, which she said has been greatly disrespected by the current government. The organization of early, free and democratic elections by a truly independent electoral council is the only way forward for the country if it is to return to respect for its constitution, said Ms. Narcisse.
As recently as Saturday, May 15th, President René Préval repeated that he would only leave office on February 7, 2011 (the date specified in the constitution for the inauguration of a new president) if elections are held before that date. If elections are not held he said he would end his term on May 14, 2011, the anniversary of the date on which he took the oath of office in 2006 after the de facto interim government of Gérard Latortue had been late in organizing general elections.
The Haitian Parliament had recently passed a law submitted by the Préval administration allowing Mr. Préval the option of remaining in office until May 14, 2011 by amending Article 232 of the constitution.
Another senior Fanmi Lavalas official pointed out that his political organization had taken no action against President Préval for four years despite the fact that Mr. Préval had abusively banned Fanmi Lavalas from taking part in two elections.
“But after the latest violations of the constitution, we realize that Mr. Préval has neither the capacity nor the legitimacy to manage the country’s affairs and engage in dialogue with the international community”, he said.
A former OPL Deputy (with the Alternative Platform), Harry Marsan, said that the authorities have done everything to drive the population into the streets.
” The crowds are growing a little bit larger each day and the demonstrations will intensify until by the day until the government steps down and is replaced by a new team capable of leading the country in the right direction”, said Mr. Marsan.
Another leader of the Alternative Platform, Evans Paul, rejected allegations that there were strange bedfellow alliances that went against the interests of the participants in this series of demonstrations. He was referring to the political understanding reached with Fanmi Lavalas and some other former political rivals.
“Where do they see this alliance as being against our interests? We all stem from a common populist current”, said Evans Paul, adding that there have been misunderstandings, clarifications and in some cases apologies.
Members of Fanmi Lavalas and the May 18 Collective held a sit-in this Monday, May 17 at the historic site of the battle of Vertières (Cap-Haïtien), as a prelude to the demonstration announced for May 18th , on the 207th anniversary of the creation of the Haitian flag.
Monday’s demonstrations took place under the watchful presence of the Haitian police and UN troops. There were some reports of several people taken into custody by the police in Port-au-Prince.
Report of the events of May 18th:
Anti-government demonstrations or events were held in most large cities in Haiti on May 18, including Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Cap-Haïtien, Miragoâne, Les Cayes, Port de Paix and Gonaïves, with demands similar to those made in Monday’s demonstrations. Several thousand Fanmi Lavalas supporters formed the largest presence in the protests. The demonstrators again called for the resignation of President Préval, for the formation of a new Provisional Electoral Council, the repeal of the State of Emergency and the recent amendment of Article 232 of the constitution and for a diplomatic passport to be provided to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to enable him to return to Haiti. In Jacmel, an estimated several thousand protesters made similar demands and former Préval administration Minister of Agriculture Gerald Mathurin said he was giving President Préval until June to step down. A number of protesters also sharply criticized the 1st Senator from the Southeast, Dr. Wencelas Lambert, for videotaping the demonstration.
Explaining the call for early elections, Fanmi Lavalas representative Maryse Narcisse said President Préval failed the country when he organized the past elections and that early elections are the only way forward. In her view, a decent standard of elections is indeed possible if the demands are met. Other political leaders at other demonstrations also asserted that President Préval and the current electoral council must not preside over the next elections.
In Cap-Haïtien, an estimated 1,000 protesters held an anti-government demonstration. A considerably smaller group demonstrated support for the government.
In Miragoane, a commemorative mass was held at which the priest urged that the country’s image be improved, and the flag restored to its former glory. Several hundred demonstrators called for the departure of the president and the repeal of the State of Emergency along with other demands.
In Port de Paix, political groups in opposition to the Prév government held a press conference denouncing government policies and calling for the president to resign. They said he is unable to manage the affairs of the country or organize elections.
At official ceremonies in Arcahaie, President Préval was met with applause and pro-government slogans. said he plans to leave office on February 7, 2011 and asked everyone involved in the elections to work hard to have elections completed by then. That would enable him to leave office with peace at heart. Recalling the founding of the nation and the creation of the flag in 1803 leading to independence in 1804, he said that the tragedy of January 12 will lead to the re-founding of the nation. Before January 12th, he said, the areas of lawlessness and kidnapping had been reduced, agricultural production had increased despite hardship, and Haitians and non-Haitians were stepping up to invest in Haiti. January 12th crushed all of this progress, he said, and it is understandable that Haiti continues to face great difficulties. The president compared the earthquake’s effects to other catastrophes, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II (where only half as many people were killed as in Haiti) to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, where people are living in the streets to this day, and continuing problems from Italy’s 2009 earthquake. January 12th, he asserted, was the greatest catastrophe the world had ever seen, in the poorest country in the Americas. He announced plans for national programs in health, with hospitals and health centers, and education, from primary school to university. Details will be announced at a later date, he said. Road construction projects were also moving ahead, including Fermathe, Petit Trou de Nippes, as well as from Gonaïves, Cap-Haïtien and St Marc. Electric power generation was also moving forward with help from Brazil, particularly in the Central Plateau.
Préval supporter Charles Suffra, leader of KOZEPEP, at the Arcahaie ceremony criticized those who want the government to step down, observing that (non-elected) transitional governments (as would inevitably result if the president were to step down before elections are held) have always been bad for the country. He cited as examples as the violence by the transitional government starting in 986, the killings and terror of FRAPH after the coup of 1991, and the zenglendos and kidnappings under the transitional government after President Aristide was forced out of office in 2004.
Parades and events commemorating Haiti’s Flag Day were held in several US cities, notably in Boston, where hundreds remembered the countless victims of the earthquake, and some called for changes in U.S. policy toward Haiti. Haiti’s Minister for Haitians Living Abroad, Edwin Paraison, took part in the event along with local and state officials, calling for unity in Haiti and among Haitians outside the country. Some 200 Haitians attended an event in Washington, D.C., with Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph and Patrick Gaspard, Director of Political Affairs for the Obama administration.
*** UNNOH painted a dark picture of the situation of Haiti’s teachers. The teachers’ union’s general coordinator, Prof Josue Merilien criticized the indifference of the authorities regarding the hard times experienced by the nation’s teachers and called for a revolution in the teaching profession. “There are no social considerations for teachers”, he said. They are treated worse than in other countries, he said. Education needs to be seen as a right for everyone and not a privilege. In related news, the chancellor of the State University of Haiti, Jean Vernet Henry, urged a revision of the reconstruction plan to upgrade the priority given to the university system. Political and economic leaders also need to review their positions on education, said the chancellor. Three large campuses are planned: in Port-au-Prince, the South and the North, to encourage students to remain in Haiti rather than studying abroad, which costs some $60 million every year. Greater resources are needed for teacher training, he said, and the university system needs to be viewed as a public asset, accessible to all. Both public and private education need to remain vital institutions, he added. More than 2,000 lives were lost on January 12 in the university community, said Mr. Vernet and the Faculties are in poor condition. The best way to pay tribute to the disappeared, he said, is to be willing to undertake action to rebuild the teaching profession and the university system. The university is not the property of the rectors or the bigwigs, but of the people.
* The Confederation of Public Sector workers concluded a three day workshop on the reconstruction of Haiti under the theme of “What Country, What State?”, with the objective of offering civil society participants an opportunity to reflect on the issues and develop ideas for a plan that would truly reflect what the people want. The confederation’s secretary general, Duckens Raphael, deplored the absence of substance on social themes in the plans put forward at the major international conferences. Reconstruction concerns the citizens of Haiti, he observed, and yet there has been no real debate. Instead, he said, the prime minister and a few others went to the UN and everyone is then handed a document to read. There is hardly even a mention of Haiti’s universities in the official plan, he said. The confederation intends that ideas developed at the workshop will be presented to the government and other international actors.
** An article in the French newspaper Le Figaro’s blog by guest writer Arnaud Poisonnier warns that Haiti’s microf-inance sector is in crisis. The 70 main micro-finance institutions operating in Haiti working with 800,000 Haitians, supporting close to two million people, have suffered serious human and operational losses, according to the micro-finance expert, with the levels of recipients who have not received credit in more than 30 days as high as 60 to 70% in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, and close to 100% in Léogane. he fears that much of the informal sector will soon run out of cash and access to credit. According to Mr. Poissonnier, the micro-finance institutions, with some minor exceptions, such as a program by the IDB, have thus far been largely ignored by the international financial institutions in the reconstruction assistance plans. The article is available in French at: http://blog.lefigaro.fr/babyloan/2010/05/la-micro-finance-en-haiti-au-bord-du-gouffre.html.