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17621: Lemieux: LA Times: Reality puts damper on Haiti's bicentennial party (fwd)
From: JD Lemieux <email@example.com>
Friday, January 02, 2004, 12:00 A.M. Pacific
Reality puts damper on Haiti's bicentennial party
By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians marked their country's
bicentennial of independence yesterday with passionate
displays of pride, violence and vitriol to commemorate the
bloody slave revolt that created the world's first black
Tens of thousands filled the streets of this deeply
troubled capital in rival expressions of joy over the
200-year-old feat of abolishing slavery and anger at the
persistent restraints on their liberty and living standards
At a morning ceremony on the lawn of the National Palace,
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed to a crowd of about
15,000 supporters to lift his nation out of the abject
poverty and despair prevailing a decade after a U.S.
invasion restored him to power.
Three hours later, throngs of government opponents crashed
through police roadblocks in a march that quickly escalated
into a melee. Police dispersed one group of about 5,000 by
firing into the crowd, wounding six people and angering
participants in what had begun as a peaceful protest.
Throughout the afternoon, the anti-Aristide crowd swelled
to about 20,000, setting fire to piles of tires, choking
the crumbling streets with thick black smoke and pelting
police with rocks and bottles.
Bursts of police gunfire and screaming sirens put an abrupt
end to the air of celebration that had prevailed earlier.
Most of the unrest played out in the capital as Aristide
flew to the volatile city of Gonaives to deliver a speech
at the site of Haiti's Jan. 1, 1804, proclamation of
Repeatedly delayed by reports of unrest in the city, the
visit was curtailed after gunshots rang out from among
crowds of demonstrators. State-controlled television failed
to carry the address, instead repeating footage from a
music and dance performance the previous evening.
Throughout the capital, billboards and banners cast
Aristide as the historical equal of Haiti's father of
independence, slave-revolt leader Toussaint Louverture.
"Two men, two centuries, the same vision," read a huge
placard with the president's beaming countenance on one
side and a drawing of Louverture on the other.
Aristide's government spent $15 million on the celebration,
including 200 place settings of china commemorating the
anniversary. But neither the paving of the road to Gonaives
nor the Monument 2004 construction on the palace lawn were
completed in time for the ceremonies.
The mounting unrest and marred celebrations highlighted the
deep divide running through this poorest country of the
Western Hemisphere. Lawyers and jurists have refused to
operate courts in protest of government interference.
Students and teachers have been boycotting classes for
Malnutrition afflicts two-thirds of the population, 80
percent are unemployed, and life expectancy has fallen to a
hemispheric low of 49 years. On Monday, the national
parliament will cease to function because deputies'
mandates expire then and the government and rival political
forces have failed to organize new elections.
"Look at this city! There is no work. There is no food. The
people are starving. The streets are filthy and stinking.
This is not my country!" fumed Franz Gilbert, a 54-year-old
mechanic taking part in the march with his wife and adult
The show of solidarity against Aristide drew students,
homemakers, professional people and artists as well as the
moneyed elite and disenfranchised who have long made up the
The protest, expected to replay itself today, appeared to
be the largest outpouring of frustration in years.
"This is the first time I see all kinds of Haitians taking
part: the rich, the poor, the black, the light-skinned. We
need a change in this country," said Maria, a 24-year-old
computer programmer who feared giving more than her first
name. Like others who skipped the palace pageantry, she
said she saw nothing to celebrate. "We do not have real
liberty. In many ways we are still slaves."
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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