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17588: (Hermantin) Sun-Sentinel-Time stands still in a revolutionary village in Haiti (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Time stands still in a revolutionary village in Haiti

By Jane Regan
Special Correspondent
Posted December 30 2003

CAZALE · In this small village, settled 200 years ago by Polish legionnaires
who deserted Napoleon's army, there are no signs of the country's upcoming

Despite its importance in revolutionary history, Cazale is more or less the
same dusty, dirt-poor town it has always been. On the eve of Haiti's
bicentennial, to be feted in events led by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
on Thursday, people are far from celebratory.

Cazale is only four miles off the national highway, past hills stripped bare
of their trees and ripped open by the shovels of men mining sand and clay.
But to reach it, visitors must travel a rutted and rocky dirt road whose
four miles take 30 minutes to negotiate.

Here, 25,000 people live and farm much as they did 200 years ago. Men and
boys work the earth with small hand sickles or machetes; women wash dirty
clothes in the river. Rain irrigates the crops. Many houses are concrete
with tin roofs, but there are still plenty built of mud and thatch, and not
everyone has electricity.

Cazale was also the town where young progressives took a stand against the
Duvalier dictatorship, which ruled Haiti from 1957 to the 1986. Twenty-three
people were massacred in 1969, but, aside from a small monument, the town
appears forgotten.

"Cazale is an example of what I call a `Haitian illness,'" said Jean-Claude
Bajeux, who was minister of culture during part of Aristide's first term,

"We have collective amnesia. We don't preserve things or honor our history."

Yet Cazale is one of Haiti's treasures, whose generations fought and died
for liberty.

"We are Polish!" said Milot Belneau as he planted beans at the foot of his
banana trees. Belneau, 70, and his cousin Dolis Olver, about the same age,
are notably lighter-skinned than average Haitians.

They are thought to have descended from some of the 5,200 Polish soldiers
sent to Haiti in 1802.

Two Polish half-brigades came as part of an army Napoleon charged with
reconquering the colony, which had revolted in 1793.

He wanted Haiti back and he wanted the Haitians back in chains.

The Poles hoped that by helping Napoleon, they would get some help in
re-establishing their own country, whose territory had been gobbled up by
Austria, Russia and Prussia. But most died of yellow fever and other
illnesses or were wiped out by the slave army's guerilla warfare tactics.

Historians think a couple of hundred went over to the Haitian side, perhaps
to save their skins, perhaps because they identified with the slaves'
struggle for nationhood.

"Our name comes from Belnowski," Belneau said. "We didn't know we were
Polish. People from the capital came and told us before Pope John Paul II's
visit in 1983.

They took us to the airport to meet him. I look like him so much, the local
priest calls me `Paul Two!'" he said.

Bajeux had hoped the bicentennial would offer the Aristide government a
chance to preserve places such as Cazale. "Instead, it's just a lot of
improvisation," he said.

So on the eve of the bicentennial, Cazale is just another poor village where
people appear to have lost hope.

"We elected a government for five years, but the government didn't keep any
of its promises. We won't celebrate the bicentennial with Aristide. We have
nothing to celebrate," Belneau said. "I don't even want to hear about it."

Virgilie Charles, 60, was once a believer in Aristide and his Lavalas
movement. She acknowledges a few things have improved.

Perhaps because the wife of former President René Préval, Aristide's
successor from 1996-2000, is a Cazale native, the village has some
electricity, some telephone lines, a footbridge over the river and a new

Geri Benoit Préval also helped set up a small factory that makes paper from
banana leaves. But, Charles points out, only 11 people work there.

The courthouse is closed. The judge left a couple of months ago. The village
has no police.

"Our country has no work. Our country has nothing," she said. Haiti, long
the hemisphere's poorest country, has become poorer in recent years as the
population has grown, the economy has faltered and foreign aid has slowed.

Donors and lenders have cut back or cut off aid over the past three years in
an attempt to pressure the Aristide government to address political and
human rights problems.

Charles heard officials were planning big celebrations in the capital, but
that doesn't interest her.

"The only time politicians need you is for elections. That's when they know
you. That's when you are somebody," she said.

Benoit, whose father still lives in Cazale and who also lost relatives in
the 1969 massacre, admits that things have been slow to improve.

Plans she and villagers mapped out in 2002 still have not been realized,
partly because aid has been blocked, she said.

On Dec. 30, Benoit was scrambling to organize an event for Jan. 3, although
villagers weren't aware of it.

"We want to hold a ceremony to thank the Polish people who helped us get our
independence," Benoit said.

Haiti's Papal Nuncio Luigi Bonazzi and the Uruguayan Nuncio, Janusz Bolonek,
who is Polish, will visit.

Bolonek will represent Pope John Paul II at the bicentennial celebrations,
Benoit said. But Belneau, who happens to be Benoit's uncle, doesn't seem to
hold out much hope for promises or words.

"We are very, very bitter," said the 70-year-old, his worn pants hanging off
his hips.

He bent down, jabbing his machete into the black earth, and dropped in a
bean, just as his slave and Polish ancestors probably did 200 years ago.
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