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17379: This Week in Haiti 21:36 11/19/2003 (fwd)

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
newsweekly. For the complete edition with other news in French
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                      November 19 - 25, 2003
                         Vol. 21, No. 36


Twice in the past week the Haitian bourgeoisie sought to
demonstrate their political strength. But twice their shows of
force turned to farce.

On Friday, Nov. 14, the so-called Group of 184 (G184), a "civil
society" front concocted by Haitian businessmen and the
Republican branch of Washington's National Endowment for
Democracy, planned a rally in the capital's central square, the
Champ de Mars, to roll out their "new social contract" and plan
for how to end Haiti's political troubles. The group's proposal
in the past has been that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide step
down and the government be turned over to a group of "wise men"
(composed in large measure of G184 members) to hold elections.

The G184 is led by André Apaid, Jr., whose family owns and
operates one of Haiti's largest assembly industry conglomerates
(see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 21, No. 35, 11/12/2003).

The initiative benefitted from vast media promotion since the
bourgeoisie controls Haiti's most powerful radio stations.
Spokesmen for the Washington-backed Democratic Convergence
opposition front also boosted the demonstration.

"It's a good thing for the Group of 184, in particular Mr. Apaid,
to take this initiative," said Evans Paul, a Convergence leader
whose front has periodically jostled with the G184 for leadership
of Haiti's reactionary grouplets. "He consulted many sectors,
including the Convergence. For this, we stand on principle: we
support any form of peaceful demonstration aimed at ridding the
country of the Lavalas dictatorship."

The capital's business community also did their part. Large
businesses and factories closed at 11 a.m. on the day of the
demonstration and asked their employees to attend the rally which
was supposed to start at noon.

"We said among ourselves that we might go out," said a woman
worker from one assembly factory, "but not to support the 184. To
support the government."

Indeed, on the morning of Nov. 14, large numbers of people began
milling about the Champ de Mars, but most of them were members of
pro-Lavalas popular organizations.
Some said that they had come above all to hear the G184's
explanation of the "new social contract."

With the strains of rara music in the air, the crowd of Lavalas
partisans grew larger, repeating the refrain "If Aristide leaves,
who will replace him?"

At about 11 a.m., men in T-shirts emblazoned with "Group of 184"
started to appear near the Champ de Mars' Place of Artists, in
front of the Rex Theatre. Soon many G184 demonstrators were
waiting inside the theater with opposition leaders such as Paul
Denis of the OPL, Victor Benoît of Konakom, Osner Févry and Marie
Denis Claude of their respective branches of the PDCH, Himmler
Rébu of the GREH, Frandley Denis Julien of Citizens Initiative of
Cap, Turneb Delpé of the PNDPH, and Jean Claude Bajeux of the
Ecumenical Human Rights Center.

Tellingly, most of the signs held up by G184 demonstrators were
written in English. As if prearranged, CNN and other
international television network crews, rarely seen these days in
Haiti, showed up.

At its peak, there were just under 1000 opposition demonstrators
faced with many thousands of pro-Lavalas ones. As tensions grew,
the police succeeded in separating demonstrators and counter-
demonstrators. But words flew between the two groups, soon
followed by rocks. Policemen fired shots in the air and used
teargas to disperse the skirmishes. Shortly thereafter, Apaid
called off his rally.

"President Aristide, you bear the responsibility for the calamity
taking place in the country and for all that is happening on the
Champ de Mars," Apaid charged after the aborted demonstration.
"You are not reconciling society, and we say that is grave. The
Haitian people must draw their conclusions."

The police arrested about 20 people, including David Apaid,
André's nephew, and Charles Baker, vice president of the
Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH). According to the
police, the accused were in two trucks and a trailer with illegal
firearms, T-shirts marked "Service of Order" (it is unlawful to
pose as a policeman), and other material including shields,
plastic handcuffs, and 9 millimeter pistol clips. Most of the
accused spent the weekend in jail before being released.

On Nov. 15, Apaid held a press conference at the El Rancho Hotel
to call a nationwide general strike for Monday, Nov. 17. "The
formal and informal sectors must take part in this strike while
the foreign press is still in the country so that it can realize
that the nation is not playing around," Apaid said.

Alas, his call was again shunned by the Haitian public. In the
capital, much of the bourgeoisie closed its stores, banks, and
factories, although many supermarkets stayed open. But for the
informal sector's massive open-air and sidewalk markets where
most of Haiti's commerce is transacted, it was business as usual.
Buses and taxis were in full operation, and most students tried
to attend classes, even though some private and religious schools

The strike had practically no effect at all outside of the
capital. In Cap Haïtien, only private banks closed their doors,
and only one, Unibank, saw its branches close in Mirebalais and
Hinche. In Port-de-Paix, Cayes, Gonaïves, and other cities,
everything was open and rolling.

As if to underline the opposition's defeats, tens of thousands of
Haitians turned out in Cap Haïtien on Nov. 18 for the official
ceremonies commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Haitian
revolution's decisive battle at Vertières. The ceremonies were
boycotted by diplomats from the U.S. and European Union in
protest of what they charge was the Haitian government's
complacency or collusion in thwarting the G184's Friday

"The refusal of state authorities to let a peaceful demonstration
take place has cast a shadow on the bicentennial celebrations,"
said the new U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James
Foley on Nov. 17.

"The misery [of Haiti] today is the result of a 200 year
conspiracy," declared Aristide in a fiery 30 minute speech after
placing flowers on the renovated memorial to the heros of
Vertières. "This conspiracy, this embargo, are genocidal."

The giant crowd responded with approval to Aristide's calls for
defiance in the face of pressure from overseas powers and their
local agents. "We are not going to return to slavery nor to
liberty without limits, however we will live in liberty or we
will die," Aristide said, then repeating the watchwords of the
Haitian revolution. "Liberty or death, liberty or death, liberty
or death."

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