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17635: Lemieux: South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Manigat is still passionate about his country (fwd)
From: JD Lemieux <firstname.lastname@example.org>
`Before realizing our hopes, it may be very costly for
By Alva James-Johnson
January 3, 2004
Former Haitian President Leslie Manigat is still passionate
about his country. It doesn't matter that he was ousted
from office in 1988, four months into his term, or that 16
years later Haiti is still in political chaos.
At 73, Manigat sits at the edge of his seat as he dissects
the intricacies of Haitian politics. His voice gradually
crescendos, and his hand waves like a wand as he accents
every significant point. His hair graying, he still clings
to the belief that Haiti can be a great nation under the
right conditions. But the blood that has been shed in
recent weeks suggests the country will have to pay a high
price for democracy.
"Before realizing our hopes, it may be very costly for
Haiti," he said. "We have come to the point now, where
people are on the verge of explosion."
Manigat, a resident of Port-au-Prince, made his comments
earlier this week, sitting in a modest Miami Gardens home,
where he and his wife, Mirlande, are staying with friends.
He arrived in South Florida two weeks ago for local
speaking engagements for Haiti's bicentennial.
Today he will deliver a speech titled, "Haiti in the
Twenty-First Century: Vision for the Future," 6:30 p.m. to
10 p.m. at the African-American Research Library and
Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. He
will also hold a signing for his latest book in a
three-volume series written in French that analyzes Haiti's
Manigat, a political science scholar educated in France, is
regarded by many Haitian intellectuals as one of the
country's most educated and progressive presidents. But he
has failed to capture the popular support of the masses,
most of whom live in poverty and identify more with
movements like the one that led to the election of
The leader of an opposition party that has been
demonstrating against the Aristide regime, Manigat blames
his disconnection with the people on the country's high
poverty rate and lack of political education among the
"In such a context, it's possible to manipulate people, to
inflame them more than the people trying to speak reason
and political persuasion," he said. "They're more
emotionally taken by people who speak radically and [as
demagogues]. That's the problem I had from the beginning,
and I'm trying to work on that."
Prior to his 1988 election, Manigat spent 23 years in exile
fighting the government of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. He
worked at universities in Washington, the West Indies and
1987 election turmoil
In 1979, he and other exiles in Caracas formed a political
party, called the Rally of the National Progressive
Democrats, in response to the plight of boat refugees who
were desperately fleeing the country.
"We wanted to change the life of the people through a
program of social justice that would address poverty," he
It wasn't until 1986, after the downfall of Jean Claude
"Baby Doc" Duvalier, that Manigat returned to the country.
A year later, voters approved a constitution calling for
civilian-led presidential and National Assembly elections.
In November 1987, an election was aborted when 34 voters
were killed at the polls and ballots were confiscated. In
February of the next year, another election was held and
most voters stayed away from the polls. But Manigat was
elected with the backing of the military.
"It is the truth that I was elected in a minority context,
because many parties had decided to boycott the elections,"
he said. But the country was yearning for change, he said,
and he thought he could move it toward democratization and
modernization. He said he took a calculated risk by
accepting the backing of military leaders, with the hopes
of putting an end to the military's unchecked political
power once he was in control.
"One of the main problems of the country from the very
beginning is the army," he said. "It's the army that won
national independence … through a war of liberation. From
1804 to the American occupation in 1915, there was only one
civilian in power. All others were generals."
But Manigat's efforts didn't sit well with military
leaders. Four months after his election, he was spending a
Sunday afternoon in the presidential residence when he got
word that troops had stormed the National Palace. By
midnight, he and 20 other people were still in the
presidential residence when the military arrived with guns
and tanks and began shooting at the building.
"We have always been a non-violent party and non-violent
government, so we erected a white flag at the top of the
building to say we are not engaged in armed resistance
against the army," he said.
Barred from office
A military general told them to come out with their hands
in the air. "If we had resisted one shot, we would have
been wiped out," he said. "We were aligned along the wall,
as if they were going to kill us."
But their lives were spared, and the military took them
directly to the national airport, where they were flown to
the Dominican Republic. Before boarding the plane, Manigat
turned to the television cameras and said: Good luck to my
After being welcomed by the Dominican government and
staying in a hotel, he left three days later for Europe,
where he stayed until August, when he was recruited to be a
guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Institute
for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Later, he lived in Europe
and taught at Sorbonne University of Paris and the
Institute of International Relations in Geneva.
In 1990, he and his wife returned to Port-au-Prince to
allow Manigat to run for president. But members of the
country's electoral council refused to allow him in the
election because he had already been president once.
Aristide was elected in December 1990 and the voters were
"fooled to think that social revenge would fix the
country's problems," Manigat said.
Now that people's illusions have been shattered, his party
has been promoting the slogan: "To prepare and succeed post
He said many people have asked him to run for office in the
next presidential election, and he will do it if the
conditions are right.
"I'm not a fanatic for power, but if I'm given the chance
to save my country, I'm ready," he said. "The country needs
people who are completely honest, dedicated, caring for the
suffering majority and open to the world. If we cannot
[develop the means] to start something in that direction,
for me it's not worth it."
Alva James-Johnson can be reached at ajjohnson.com or
Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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