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17620: Lemieux: News24.com (South Africa): 'The poorest but the bravest' (fwd)

From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

'The poorest but the bravest'
01/01/2004 18:32  - (SA)

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
pledged to help impoverished Haitians reach the fruits of
their independence as supporters knocked down a fence at
the National Palace and crowded toward the podium on
Thursday in a celebration marking Haiti's 200th anniversary
of independence from France.

Despite the chants of "Aristide is king!" from the crowd of
about 10 000, Haitians marked a bittersweet bicentennial as
their country struggles with worsening economic troubles
and political divisions.

"1804 was the stinging bee. 2004 is sure to be the honey,"
Aristide told the crowd.

Aristide listed 21 goals he hopes will be accomplished by
2015, from stabilising the rate of HIV infection to
reducing poverty. Aristide's term expires in 2006, and
didn't say whether he expects to still be in office in

Aristide said he is working with the opposition to bring
new legislative elections, but opponents called for a
boycott of Thursday's state-organised events, including
another speech by Aristide planned in western Gonaives,
where Haitians declared their independence on January 1,

Thousands who crowded toward the National Palace steps
waved Haitian flags, jumped on the lawn and shouted out the
name of their embattled leader. Riot police blocked the

"This is a sacred day for us. It's the most sacred day of
all," said Louis Larieux, a 40-year-old among those who
knocked down the metal fence. "We may be the poorest nation
in the Americas, but we're the bravest."

More than a dozen foreign delegations, civil rights
activists and actors were attending the celebrations, but
many world leaders stayed away and some entertainers were
boycotting state events.

"We celebrate the Haitian revolution because it dealt a
deadly blow to the slave traders who had scoured the coasts
of West and East Africa for slaves and ruined the lives of
millions of Africans," South African President Thabo Mbeki
told the crowd, saying a "historic struggle" remains for
people to overcome poverty and conflict on both sides of
the Atlantic.

Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie called the
bicentennial "a matter of great pride and symbolism

Haiti's government was spending $15m on events including
state galas and the dedication of a monument to Haiti's

Haiti was born after the world's only successful slave
rebellion. Toussaint Louverture's army of former slaves
crushed Napoleon's troops, making Haiti the first black
republic and the first country in the Western Hemisphere to
abolish slavery, which still flourished in parts of the
United States.

Meanwhile, Haiti remains the Western Hemisphere's poorest
country, and violent anti-government protests have killed
at least 41 people since September.

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