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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(Miami Herald, 26 Nov 03)
Political violence rules Cité Soleil
By Anne Fuller
I was a monitor for Haiti's 1990 elections, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide won
two-thirds of the popular vote. It happened that my election eve was spent
watching the vote tallying in a classroom in Cité Soleil, the vast
shantytown built out onto landfill near Port-au-Prince.
I remember buying rolls and butter and soft drinks for the poll workers,
who sat by candlelight counting and recounting each paper ballot cast for
president, for legislators and local officials. Meticulous they were, and
Aristide and those on his ticket won all but about five of the 190 votes
counted in that station.
Cité Soleil was wild about the young priest who had preached in the nearby
St. Jean Bosco Church and nearly lost his life there when thugs attacked it
in 1988. The issue for monitors was whether, in an area where support for
Aristide was so strong, the popular and charismatic priest would be allowed
to win. It felt like a historic moment.
In 2003, Aristide still looms large over Cité Soleil, but the love has
turned to bitterness. For years now, young gangsters have been the
president's core supporters there. Flattered by his attention, they have
made something of a living in politics and crime, while holding Cité Soleil
in fear. But early this month, the leading gangs turned sharply against the
What has happened?
Cité Soleil suffered for its love of Aristide during three years of
military rule from 1991 to 1994. Bodies turned up regularly in its streets,
particularly after the paramilitary organization called FRAPH formed. It
was a scary place. I would carry a box of condoms during visits to pass for
a family-planning worker.
FRAPH's membership swelled as many people began to lose hope that the
military could be ousted; whether out of venial inclination,
self-preservation or direct pressure, many joined the paramilitary group
that resembled Duvalier's old Tonton Macoutes. In Cité Soleil, FRAPH's
coordinator was a local politico named Fritz Joseph.
Joseph was in charge when an arson fire around Christmas 1993 destroyed
hundreds of small homes and killed at least a dozen people. Lawyers with
the Aristide government are still working on a lawsuit against FRAPH for
the fire and have called for the U.S. government to extradite FRAPH chief
Emmanuel Constant to Haiti. But Joseph does not need to be extradited;
Aristide appointed him mayor of Cité Soleil in 2002.
How could Aristide have named a former FRAPH chief to be mayor? I still
puzzle over this, but I think that most of the answer lies in an essential
continuity between the FRAPH paramilitary force under military rule and the
gangs that back Aristide today. These groups have never had much ideology,
so for one to support the army and the other the man who dissolved it means
little. What really matters is allegiance and access to power and scarce
Today, Joseph is finally being denounced, but it's by the gang members he
helped nurture. They say that he was behind the Oct. 31 killing of an
influential 23-year-old thug and former Aristide loyalist nicknamed
''Colobri.'' A new leading Aristide loyalist has already emerged: Emmanuel
''Dread'' Wilmé. He is only 22, but, as most of his predecessors, he likes
to call himself a political militant who faithfully serves the president.
How long will he survive?
As for Cité Soleil, there is more violence here today than during the
military rule. It is poor, and its residents lack many things. But what
they need most is peace and security. Thousands of people have fled, with
regret, missing what they say were the lower rents and better grocery
prices. Large swathes of Cité Soleil today are barren and burned out, where
small homes have been destroyed, mostly in gang wars, and the streets are
Anne Fuller recently left the OAS Special Mission to Strengthen Democracy
in Haiti, where she was a human-rights specialist.