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GIANT CROWDS HAIL PRÉVAL AND DEMAND ARISTIDE'S RETURN
GIANT CROWDS HAIL PRÉVAL AND DEMAND ARISTIDE'S RETURN
In three ceremonies where he performed a political balancing act that
will likely continue for at least the next few months until he is
forced to choose sides in Haiti's on-going class war, René Garcia
Préval, a 63-year-old agronomist, was sworn in as Haiti's president
on May 14, 2006.
Constitutionally, Préval should have been inaugurated 96 days
earlier, on February 7. But, due to election delays, that was the day
he trounced a field of 34 candidates by garnering 51% of the vote
(see Haiti Progres, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2/22/06).
Despite the outgoing de facto regime's abysmal organization,
ridiculously stringent but ultimately ineffective measures aimed at
crowd control, and a deadly early morning riot at the National
Penitentiary, the ceremonies at the Parliament, Cathedral and
Presidential Palace took place amid relative calm and more on
schedule than the presidential inaugurations of 1991, 1996 and 2001.
If one excludes the four illegal chiefs of state who briefly came to
power via coups d'état against constitutional governments over the
past 15 years - Raoul Cédras in 1991, Joseph Nerette in 1991, Emile
Jonassaint in 1994, and Boniface Alexandre in 2004 - Préval is
Haiti's 56th president, having served as the 54th from 1996 to 2001.
He is one of the very few Haitian presidents to have come to and left
from power peacefully via elections. Unfortunately, like Philippe
Sudré Dartiguenave (1915), Louis Bornó (1922), Louis EugPne Roy
(1930), and Sténio Vincent (1930), Préval has for the second time
been elected to preside over a country that is militarily occupied
and controlled by foreign powers. Because he takes the presidency
under a Constitutionally forbidden foreign occupation whose
conductors - Washington, Paris and Ottawa - still forbid exiled
former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from returning to his
homeland, Préval will face a difficult challenge to adhere to his
swearing-in oath "to faithfully observe the Constitution and laws of
the Republic, to respect and have respected the Haitian people's
rights, to work for the Nation's grandeur, and to maintain national
independence and territorial integrity." Presently, these laws,
rights, grandeur, independence and integrity are all compromised, if
not entirely trampled.
But already in the ceremonies, Préval displayed a deft assertiveness
that augurs what kind of tactics he may use in the tricky weeks
ahead. For example, in a surprise move at the Legislative Palace,
Préval refused to accept the Presidential sash from de facto
president Boniface Alexandre, as tradition dictates. Instead, while
Préval studiously kept his back turned on the scene, a befuddled
Alexandre was directed to turn over his presidential sash to Joseph
Lambert, the Senate president who conducted the swearing-in ceremony
before the National Assembly (i.e. convocation of both houses) of
Haiti's 48th Parliament. Then a separate Presidential sash was
produced from the wings, and Lambert, who is from Préval's Espwa
(Espoir) coalition, placed it on the new president. Again, during the
VIP reception in the Parliament's Senate lounge immediately following
the swearing-in, Préval refused to have his photo taken standing
between Alexandre and outgoing de facto Prime Minister Gérard
Latortue, preferring to stand to their side.
In fact, it is remarkable that there were not more thinly-veiled
conflicts because the de facto regime organized the transition
ceremonies in practically no coordination with Préval's organization.
A roll call before the ceremony revealed that 25 out of 30 senators
and 87 out of 99 deputies were present. A number of Haitian artists
such as Boulo Valcourt, Gracia Delva (Mas Konpa), Don Kato (Brothers
Posse), Ti Pay (Rev), King Kino (Phantoms) and Jacques Sauveur-Jean
were also on hand, along with famed North American actor Danny Glover
and California progressive radio host Margaret Prescod.
Political invitees spanned the political spectrum, ranging from
anti-coup popular resistance leaders like Sanba Boukman from Belair
and John Joel and René Momplaisir from Cité Sole to right-wing
dinosaurs like former dictator and prison fugitive Prosper Avril.
Préval's former wife Geri Benoît Préval and various former ministers
from Préval's first administration, like Fritz Longchamps (Foreign
Affairs), François Severin (Agriculture), and Jacques Edouard Alexis
(Prime Minister), were also in attendance.
"Mister President," said Lambert in his address to the room, "let us
salute democracy's victory which saw the national destiny emerge
through the overwhelming popular consensus of Feb. 7, 2006... This
victory obliges you to construct a present and a future that will
permit the people's material and spiritual blossoming. You have just
won elections marked by turbulence but they also mark an undeniable
return to constitutional order."
"Past experience must not condemn us to relive these same events,"
Lambert continued "and we should turn the page and aim for other
objectives which will allow us to build a climate of peace for this
But the chances of simply "turning the page" seemed remote as the
chants of hundreds of anti-coup demonstrators calling for justice for
the massacres and violence of the coup could be heard inside the
sweltering parliament before and during the swearing-in ceremony,
which began with Préval's arrival 40 minutes after the 11 a.m.
scheduled start-time. "Tie up Latortue" and "Whether they like it or
not, Aristide is returning," the protestors cried. Like the thousands
of demonstrators who later massed outside the Cathedral and the
Palace, many wore yellow and green Espwa T-shirts emblazoned with
Préval's smiling face, but held up pictures, cards, and posters of
U.S. Special Forces kidnaped President Aristide from his home on
February 29, 2004. He today is exiled in South Africa. Since his
abduction, Haiti has been militarily occupied first by U.S., French
and Canadian troops, and then by U.N. troops beginning in June 2004.
"We voted for Préval on February 7, 2006, so that Aristide could
return," said Claude, a 26-year-old unemployed laborer from
Martissant. "We have come here to support Préval. But we say to
Préval he must get tough so that Aristide can return to the country."
Some of the demonstrators denounced the riot at the Penitentiary that
morning as a ploy by the de facto regime to sabotage Préval's
inauguration. "Michaelle Lucius [a police chief] managed to create a
problem at the National Penitentiary so that prisoners would try to
escape so that he could take the actions he took," said Michel, a
30-year-old tailor from Cité Soleil. "We call for the arrest of
Michael Lucius." Prison guards reportedly opened fire on the
protesting prisoners. The Haiti Information Project's Kevin Pina said
prisoners told him 10 inmates were killed. Pina and journalist Reed
Lindsay report seeing the prisoners on the Penitentiary's roof
holding up two apparently dead bodies, covered in blood. The Haitian
government and United Nations say that no prisoners died, but that
several were injured when beaten with clubs.
Although no other head of state attended the inauguration,
vice-presidents from Venezuela and Brazil led delegations, as well as
Canada's governor general, the Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, niece of
renowned Haitian poet René Dépestre. France and the Dominican
Republic sent their foreign ministers, and Chili its defense minister.
Despite the less than overwhelming diplomatic presence, the de
facto's protocol department performed disastrously. Confused
diplomats were left hunting for their names on chairs in the
Parliament, and more than one case of seat-swapping occurred.
At the Parliament, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother and
emissary of U.S. President George W. Bush, was seated only two chairs
away from José Vicente Rangel, Venezuela's vice president, resulting
in interesting body language. The two, both keenly aware of the
other's presence, never shook hands or addressed each other, although
they did so with most of the other diplomats. The coldness increased
hours later when they were seated, with one empty seat between them,
next to the podium at the Palace. Rangel was seated closer to Préval.
Following the post-ceremony reception at the Parliament, Préval
emerged after all the other VIPs and made an impromptu excursion
across the street where he waved to the hundreds of demonstrators.
They responded with impassioned cheers. As dozens of security
personnel from the Special Unit of the Presidential Guard (USGPN),
the Haitian National Police (PNH) and UN pushed and shoved frenzied
journalists who swarmed around him, a smiling Préval walked back to
his motorcade and was whisked off to the Te Deum at the Cathedral,
which like the Parliament and Palace had been repainted and repaired
by work crews only in the final days before the weekend.
In his address at the Cathedral, Monseigneur Louis Kébreau, the
bishop of Hinche, called on Préval to make "a national effort to
forge history in a new manner to benefit the sons and daughters of
"Things must change deeply in this country," Kébreau said, echoing
Pope John Paul II's words to Jean-Claude Duvalier when he visited
Haiti in 1983, "so as to bring about a cultural, economic and social
renaissance and resurrection in Haiti." Kébreau added that "at this
juncture of Haiti's history, we need to march together and to live by
our motto - union makes strength - to save the country" and that "we
must all together shed our fatalism and give Haiti new foundations."
Kébreau closed by asking Préval and all Haitians to work together "to
get the country out of dishonor and to save the land of our
Although the police and U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH)
had established a ban on all vehicles in the vicinity of the
Parliament, Cathedral and Palace, the street leading from the
Cathedral to the Palace was choked with masses of people. In front of
the palace, hundreds of U.N. troops - grouped in national contingents
from China, Nigeria, Senegal, Pakistan, Benin, Pakistan, Brazil, etc.
- held back a boisterous sweating sea of humanity. A man on stilts
dressed in red and blue walked back and forth through the throng.
The musical animation that blasted through the giant banks of
speakers set up on the Palace lawn had a timidly anti-coup theme
which pleased the crowd assembled outside the gates. Many sang along
with the songs. An emcee at one point saluted the people of Cité
Soleil for their "resistance."
Ironically, however, most of the people in the stands were the
government officials and politicians which backed 2004 coup and
kidnaping of Aristide. Many in the throngs in front of the Palace,
which eventually pushed their way through lines of the Haitian police
and UN troops up to the Palace fence, resented that the people who
voted Préval in were outside the gates while the coup-backers were
inside. "Those who used to kill us, who used to try to prevent Préval
from becoming president, are inside," Marline Joinville, 20, told
"The bourgeoisie wants to hijack the president," another
demonstrator, Lesly Cherubin, told Reuters. "They are all over him,
while, we, who elected him, can't even see him."
After his arrival at the Palace, Préval made a chaotic review of
different police units which had been standing under the grueling sun
on the Palace lawn most of the afternoon. The review became a
free-for-all as journalists and photographers chased after the
president, bolting down the ranks of policemen standing at attention
while security personnel tried to block them.
Around 2 p.m., Préval finally took the podium at the Palace to carry
out his first official act, a speech to the nation and the world.
"Peace is the key " to Haiti's progress and development, he said
again and again. "We must make peace, we must talk to each other."
"Without justice in Haiti, there will be no peace," quipped one
demonstrator listening in the crowds outside the Palace gates.
Préval thanked outgoing MINUSTAH chief, Chilean diplomat Juan Gabriel
ValdPs, saying "your task was not easy, but you can be happy because
the results are there."
He said that the MINUSTAH would continue in Haiti, but that they
needed to change their mission to economic development rather than
"We must replace armored cars with bulldozers," Préval said.
Finally, Préval reiterated his desire to foster reconciliation
between Haiti's polarized classes, the privileged elite and the
suffering masses. "Collaboration between the different sectors of
national life has already begun and must be consolidated with
humility," he said.
Almost immediately after speaking, Préval executed an elegant
diplomatic snub. He personally came to Venezuelan vice-president
Rangel, who had been sitting one seat away from Jeb Bush, and led him
away without even acknowledging Bush. The governor, stone-faced,
quickly left for the airport.
Meanwhile, Préval took Rangel to a conference room on the
second-floor of the Palace and called an impromptu press conference.
"Today, we are signing with Venezuela the Petrocaribe accord," Préval
announced. "At 7 a.m. this morning, already 100,000 barrels of oil
arrived in Port-au-Prince. We know what kind of relations there have
been between Haiti and Venezuela. In Jacmel, [Francisco de] Miranda
created the Venezuelan flag and received aid from Haiti from
President [Alexandre] Pétion. And the alliance was so strong that
today at the foot of the stairs to [Venezuela's] National Palace one
finds two busts: one of Pétion and the other of [Simon] Bolivar."
Préval then let Rangel speak. "Here you have the second official act
of your government," Rangel said. "With this act, Venezuela pays an
historic debt to Haiti. An eternal debt, which is also the root of
liberty and the root of the Venezuelan nation. It is a debt not only
to President Pétion but also to the thousands and thousands of
Haitians who fought alongside Miranda for the liberty of not only
Venezuela but of all Latin America."
Rangel continued by saying that in Venezuela today, "we do not
cultivate rhetoric. We do what is practical and concrete. We believe
that solidarity means concrete acts."
He explained that, of the 100,000 barrels that arrived, 60,000 were
diesel fuel and the other 40,000 gasoline. "The daily consumption of
fuel in Haiti was 11,000 barrels a day. Venezuela will bring 7,000
barrels a day to Haiti under the PetroCaribe accord," Rangel said.
"The other 4,000 barrels needed to complete the 11,000 daily barrels
of total Haitian consumption will also be furnished by Venezuela
under the San Jose accord," a separate treaty offered to Haiti by
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on April 24 when Préval visited
Rangel also announced that Venezuela would give "a donation of 120
tons of asphalt per month for 12 months for infrastructure projects
which will be carried out by the UN's Brazilian contingent, under an
accord signed between President Chavez and President Lula of Brazil."
The Venezuelan vice-president said that a team of experts would
inspect and attempt to put back into service 130 electrical
generators around Haiti. He alluded that there would be projects
concerning agriculture, livestock, and culture.
Rangel closed by saying that "this cooperation has no political
emblem. We don't intend at all to influence the direction of your
government. It is an completely transparent cooperation. We hope they
don't say tomorrow morning that we are trying to guide Haiti towards
the axis of evil. We want the Haitian people to be engaged completely
with the Venezuelan people and this for the good of all Haitians.
President Chavez is presently in London and called me this morning.
He is very interested in this event and sends his best wishes
concerning this solemn act today."Préval and Rangel then signed both
the PetroCaribe and the San Jose accords and embraced.
After all the ceremonies, a strange and surreal reception of about
400 people was held in the Palace Garden at which both putschists and
their victims mingled. In addition to Lavalas leaders like Milot's
former mayor Moïse Jean-Charles, Cité Soleil's John Joel and René
Momplaisir, and Sept. 30th Foundation's Pierre Lovinsky, one found
pro-coup politicians like Fusion's Serge Gilles, the OPL's Paul
Denis, LAAA's Youri Latortue, the Alliance's Evans Paul, and the
Group of 184 No. 2 and third placed presidential candidate, Charles
Henri Baker. Some of the other personalities noted there, in no
particular order, were Prosper Avril, assembly industrialist Gregory
Mevs, Aristide's former information minister and now a women's
empowerment activist Marie-Laurence Lassegue, Aristide's former
Bahamas consul Joe Etienne, Boston Fanmi Lavalas delegate Yves
Alcindor, Joe Beasley of Jesse Jackson's PUSH, and most of the
winning and losing candidates from the 2006 presidential elections.
The "party" had a strained feel as anti-coup and pro-coup groups eyed
each other suspiciously as they dined on traditional chicken, griot,
and rice and beans.
As the reception was closing, outgoing Prime Minister Gérard Latortue
came up and warmly shook the hand World Bank economist Eriq Pierre,
who many suspect to be Préval's leading choice for Prime Minister.
Latortue and Pierre chuckled briefly about their common service for
the international financial institutions. The encounter symbolized
the crossroads and question Haiti now faces: will the Préval regime
offer a break from the past, or be a simple continuation of it?
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