Feb 16, 2004
During February, two large cities and a dozen small villages in Haiti were taken over by opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide – some briefly, some still remain in their control. Police stations were set on fire and some police were reported killed. These incidents followed police attacks on unarmed demonstrators and mysterious fires set against the homes of opponents of the president.
In December and January, there had already been large demonstrations against Aristide, in Port-au-Prince, the capital. When tear gas grenades weren't enough to send away the demonstrators – many of them young students, the police pulled out their weapons and opened fire with live ammunition. At least 30 students were wounded and a 13-year old was killed. The minister of education resigned to protest the brutality.
At the funeral of the 13-year-old, which became a large demonstration demanding that Aristide resign, the police again threatened the thousands attending the young boy's funeral.
This small island nation in the Caribbean, with a population of about seven million, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The majority exist on less than a dollar a day. From 1957 through 1986, Haiti was ruled by the brutal dictatorship of the Duvalier family. When growing social upsurge from the poorest layers of the population threatened to overthrow the Duvalier regime, the military stepped in and pushed him out of power. In the elections that followed, Aristide won by a big majority. Another military coup then pushed Aristide out of power. But with growing social unrest against the military regime, the Clinton administration sent in troops and restored Aristide to power.
But things have gone badly in Haiti, despite the popularity which brought Aristide to power. Aristide not only used all the methods that politicians use to enrich his followers, he himself, the former priest, is now called "the baron of Tabarre," for the disgusting way in which he has enriched himself.
And not only did Aristide act like the Duvalier family he once opposed, he sent out his own armed gangs, often recruited from among the poorest people. These gangs then turned around and terrorized the very poor neighborhoods in which Aristide first gained his support.
And so this president who was elected by an enthusiastic 70% of the vote is now facing crowds of students and increasingly the poor demanding that he step down two years before his term ends.
Aristide took office promising that Haitians would have peace and better economic conditions. Instead, the working class neighborhoods see no electricity, no garbage collection, and a never-ending increase in the cost of necessities. In the last 10 years, the purchasing power for Haitians has fallen so drastically that starvation is threatening them.
Two well-financed groups, the Convergence, consisting of other politicians, including former supporters of Duvalier and by the Group of 184, a bosses' group, have been attempting to ride to power based on the population's growing anger with Aristide. The two main leaders of the Group of 184 are rich bosses long fought by those who work for them. Some bosses actually tried to bribe their work force to go to the anti-Aristide demonstrations. These workers were offered about $6.00 plus a half-bag of rice for going to the demonstrations, which is an enormous amount in such a poor place.
The working class of Haiti have not been a very large part of these demonstrations up till now. And it is not clear who exactly is fighting the police in the cities of the north nor how long their opposition to the government will last.
Some students support better working and living conditions for the whole country; but others simply demand that Aristide step down, allowing their anger to be used by the Convergence or the Group of 184. But the workers are not on the same side as the bosses and politicians. And the students will have to choose their side.
If the working class of Haiti makes its own demands in this opposition to Aristide, then perhaps we will see a new road in the battle for a better life for working people, along with Haitian students and youths.