May 13, 2002
Translated from the March 22 issue of La Voix des Travailleurs (The Voice of the Workers), the paper of the Organization of Revolutionary Workers in Haiti, with whom we are in political solidarity
Three weeks after a meeting between the leaders of the gangs and President Aristide in the national palace, the situation in Cité Soleil has hardly changed. Certainly there are fewer gun shots heard throughout the day, there are fewer dead and wounded by bullets, but the population is far from breathing safely. Hoodlums still extort “insurance” money widely.
A worker family which lives right next to the hang-out of a group of bandits can testify to the situation. In the course of a day, the members of the gang go canvassing. They look over the neighborhood, they seek people and houses as targets, that is to say houses where there might be a television or radio. Toward two in the morning, the family hears them divide the booty. They recount their enterprises carried out during the night, recalling how many women they raped and how many people they killed. Sometimes the discussions become fights
Seized by fear, the population hides in their homes, pretending that they understand nothing. Some people seek refuge elsewhere in other neighborhoods, others put in a safe place the little that they have, a television, a radio, a chair, a bed or a table. There are those who sleep on the ground itself from fear that they will be attacked in their beds. Everything that can make the home nicer, make it a bit agreeable to live in, is sent to friends, a family in another neighborhood.
Besides the drug traffic and all types of plundering, electric current is one of the principal sources of revenue of these criminals. As everyone knows, it’s difficult for those who have an average income to have an electric meter in Haiti, much less for workers’ families whose daily wage is 36 gourdes ($1.33).
In the popular neighborhoods, most often it’s the gangs which distribute electric outlets, and then demand high prices from the inhabitants. Each time that these bandits want to extract some more money, they organize power blackouts. Sometimes they remove the electric wires and collect funds to buy new wires, but in reality, they only put back the wire they themselves removed.
The little merchants are in desperate straits in the small stores which serve the area. Before, thieves used to take them by surprise. Now they are forced to give money to different gangs who come during the day – just to prevent their merchandise from being taken. So the merchants flee, going from market to market just to find out that the situation is the same.
Fear conquers the people. They speak little or not at all when they refer to this situation. We could believe we’re in the worst moments of Duvalier when the Tonton Macoutes (gangsters attached to the government) called the shots. But no. We’re under the reign of the Lavalassiens, the reign of Aristide, who says he’s the defender of the weakest people.
While the population of Cité Soleil continues to be the favorite target of the different gangs operating in this shanty town, Aristide has received their respective leaders in the national palace. The aim was to obtain the end of hostilities between the bandit gangs.
This meeting which was widely broadcast by the state televison raised the indignation of much of the population of Cité Soleil, who thought that the hoodlums, far from being pampered and honored by the president in the national palace, should be locked up.
They don’t understand why these men who kill, who rob and who rape women are received with fanfare in the national palace by the chief of state. Responding to these criticisms, Aristide made a long plea to justify his position, arguing that “the national palace is the house of the people, it’s proper to receive not only the rich, but also the poor.” He castigated “the behavior of those who always have the tendency to marginalize the poor while holding them apart form the state.”
We can’t expect anything else from this demagogue – he has shown who he considers to be the “people, the poor,” a handful of strongmen whom he can call upon to mobilize inside the poor neighborhoods for his purposes.
In fact, it isn’t a secret to anyone that these criminal groups operate with the connivance of Lafanmi Lavalas (Aristide’s party). When they aren’t at the national palace, they are received in the private residence of the president at Tabarre. They carry out the dirty jobs of the regime and profit also from the arms which are in their possession to extort, rape, and rob the population.
In the course of this meeting, Aristide proposed that they make a truce, and invited them to turn their arms over to the police. At the moment we can’t say if this appeal of the president will be heard and carried out. In any event, the gangs aren’t worried about it, and might even turn over some arms to the police, for they have the power’s guarantee that they can get them back at an appropriate moment.
The police announced through their spokesman, Jean Dardy Siméon, that soon they’ll start a big disarmament campaign throughout the country. Questioned on the weapons which officials like deputies, senators, and magistrates have, and the heavily armed bands who assure their safety as they move around, Mr. Siméon replied that “no one is above the law.”
The task of disarmament shouldn’t be difficult for the police and the government who are hand-in-glove with the armed gangs in the country. Didn’t we see agents of the CIMO (Intervention Campaign and Maintenance of Order) distribute arms in Cité Soleil December 17, 2001 to individuals to resist what they called a “coup d’etat?” How many times haven’t the leaders of the gangs been received either at Tabarre or in the national palace by Aristide himself? The leaders of these gangs – aren’t they the heads of those same organizations which strong arm for the regime, carrying out its dirty tasks?
If the heads of the police today, perhaps through fear of being overwhelmed, want to take back some of the arms which the bandits, their allies, have gotten hold of, it’s rather to protect the safety of the cops.
But the population mustn’t be duped or trust the verbiage of the police or the government on their intention to assure the safety of the population. The police have no intention of doing it. The working population can count only on itself for its protection!