By Randall White, haitiaction.net, Nov. 20, 2010
After a short night in Port au Prince, Rene Civil's advance vehicle was picking up members of Haiti's press again, this time to catch up with the Jean-Henry Céant presidential campaign caravan in the Central Department. For several Lavalas activists, with the campaign, it was the first time they would be in the Central town of Hinche since the US–sponsored Coup d'État of February 29, 2004. A new Céant poster was taped up inside the windshield prominently next to the Aristide poster that had been riding in that location for the last two days.
After a quick stop in the mountains for some very tasty and funky Haitian pork stew, rice & beans— washed down by the local energy drink, Toro — Civil's car sped to the Central town where Céant was already speaking. After climbing a minimally supporting and new staircase, our late arrival got some friendly ribbing by a — totally unexpected, by this reporter — well known figure to the Central Department, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste.
Soon, Civil was speaking again and the crowd shouted its overwhelming approval of the campaign promise to return President Jean Bertrand Aristide back to Haiti to continue his work. It wouldn't be until the next day that the story behind Chavannes' — and the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) — calling for the return of Aristide and joining in an alliance with former rivals in electing Jean-Henry Céant as President of Haiti would begin to emerge. It came as no surprise that the criminal negligence of the UN and the US response to the Cholera Epidemic was key to that alliance.
That night Céant, Civil and Chavannes went to the main radio station in Hinche and fielded many questions from the radio host and listening audience of Radio Leve Kanpe while the caravan waitied in the field nearby.
That prominent members of the Fanmi Lavalas political organization are participating in campaigns — in a political process that is closed to any Fanmi Lavalas candidates — is very controversial within that movement. It is not a matter of "opinion," that the political process within Haiti has been unfair to Fanmi Lavalas and that these elections are flawed and unfair as a result. Even before the Earthquake — on February 6, 2009 — US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, met with President Rene Preval. The next day all fourteen Fanmi Lavalas senate candidates were kicked out of the elections.
When President Clinton and Ban Ki Moon visited Haiti they had contacted Rene Civil and there was a meeting arranged for March 4th, the meeting was cancelled. When Clinton arrived Civil and a few hundred activists went out to meet the plane, the US Embassy Staff helped the delegation avoid any meeting with Fanmi Lavalas, the largest political organization. Civil was key to mobilizing for the boycott of the elections that was called by Fanmi Lavalas and less than 5% of the electorate participated in the elections, even though the US put $17million in running the primary.
In September, Aristide's spokesperson — Dr. Maryse Narcisse — provided an interview that expanded on the reasons that the Fanmi Lavalas political organization would not be supporting a candidate for the "selections."
Earlier this month, in responding to a politically irrelevant question about a certain music celebrity, President Jean Bertrand Aristide spoke from South Africa about the "neocolonial occupation" that refuses to allow Fanmi Lavalas to participate in free and fair democratic elections. Later in the interview, Aristide states a hope that the People of Haiti will decide for themselves how to appropriately respond to a flawed political environment.
While some outside of Haiti are conflating those simple remarks, many inside the country have decided that the best choice they have is to try and turn around a bad deal this year by uniting with former rivals to chip away at the recalcitrant power structures that have continuously tried to dismantle the advances achieved in Haiti's Constitution. After a hoped for win, they are confident that Aristide will be able to return and the environment that could end the deadly foreign occupation can prevail after a National Dialogue. The popular movement has seen great advances after electing Aristide in 1989. The US has done everything it could to turn back the clock…
"If we don't unite, the deception and violence will continue."
Hurricane Tomas blew by Haiti that day — November 5, 2010 — and heavy rains were expected that could have made several required river crossings difficult. The campaign chose to play it safe and stay in Hinche for the day to see how conditions would turn out, and delay the rallies by one day.
The US Marines had already landed in Port au Prince to provide the vanguard of a complete US military occupation if the storm caused any civil unrest as a result of it's impact. What exactly they were prepared to do will remain a military secret. After the Earthquake, the US proved to itself that it could completely occupy the entire country within 24 hours. That they were barely interested in disaster relief objectives was lost to most of the corporate media — or is that "… lost within the corporate media?"
It was now a good time for Céant to to tackle the latest crisis to face Haiti, the deadly Cholera Epidemic — started a few miles from Mireblais to the south by negligent UN forces from Nepal. Whether it was waste infected with virulent disease or not, it is dangerous criminal negligence that would allow raw sewage to overflow into any water source. That the Nepalese outpost of the UN occupation forces (MINUSTAH) was guilty of that crime is without dispute.
That the combined agencies of the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations would close ranks to deny any responsibility in the crises and fabricate a response — that stated to investigate the most likely source of the outbreak would distract from efforts to fight the disease — was an admission that political objectives superseded any pretense of being a public health watchdog. Their role was to be a pitbull for the New American Empire. It was more likely that "analysts" with the World Bank or IADB or other agencies had more of a hand in fabricating that "public health response" than the actual agencies that released it.
The outer bands of Hurricane Tomas provided the overcast conditions which produced an alluring soft light that filtered through the forest gardens surrounding the MPP compound. The journalists were called to hastily arranged press conference to make the most of the this day of respite. Jean-Henry Céant opened up on his reflections about the Cholera Epidemic. The political objectives of supposedly superior nations were exacerbating the conditions around an epidemic that could be controlled. The People of Haiti had little choice but to take back their own destiny and manage a more comprehensive response to the epidemic and the aftermath of the Earthquake of January 12, 2010.
The questions posed by the Haitian journalists were each given a thoughtful and expansive response. Céant was proving that he had communicative skills well beyond what his profession as a notary for President Aristide would indicate. In Haiti, a notary fills the role of an accountant and lawyer at the same time. They navigate the sometimes byzantine filing procedures in Haiti's business environment. Unless you're a member of the plutocracy, one has to learn how to strategically deal with numerous and divergent factions to stay buoyant in Haiti's treacherous economic landscape. As with any competitive marketplace, the System is a bubbling stew of political, economic, social and technological (PEST) forces. Sometimes the situation gets so surly that the old saying, "…the pot is bubbling, but there's no fire under it…" comes to mind.
If you're stuck in your little circle of self-justified rationalisms, it isn't long before your aspirations for moving forward become paralyzed into inaction. Céant has become adept at quickly settling minor disputes and developing a reasonable course of action. He doesn't lose sight of the bigger picture and the larger objective. For this election Céant has focused on bringing together divergent factions to build a strong Haitian leadership that can rebuild into being a more legitimate governance and shake off the interference of international predators.
After the Céant interview the reporters descended on Rene Civil and Chavannes to ask the probing questions about their surprising alliance. Shortly after Rene Preval's first election in 1995 the MPP and Fanmi Lavalas become bitter rivals — which is, to oversimplify the action of forces behind the head-on collision in Haiti's popular political movement. That in 2010 the leaders Rene Civil (JPP - Jeunesse Pouvoir Populaire), Paul Raymond (TKL - Ti Kommunautee Legliz Saint Jean Bosco) and Chavannes were all together in Hinche developing political strategy in a collaborative setting was — and still is — the Shakespearian "…stuff, as dreams are made on…" At the very least, it was more evidence that Jean-Henry Céant is determined to also establish his own mark in history as an accomplished statesman.
It would be presumptuous and premature to even insinuate that the struggles between Lavalas and MPP of the past could possibly have been forgiven — for the good of this alliance — and that the participants "buried the hatchet." Such a profound resolution could only come after some time and a real Truth & Reconciliation process that Aristide, himself, desires to participate in as part of a National Dialogue. For now, the former rivals have simply agreed to form an alliance to shake-off the deadly and debilitating effects of the US/UN occupation of their country. The solution for the popular movement will come entirely from the soil of Haiti that its' own people govern and a period of collective struggle.
Chavannes' region suffered little, physically, as a result of the Earthquake. As mentioned before the political gymnastics of the situation before the Earthquake kept on the same crippling agenda afterwards. Fanmi Lavalas would continue to be marginalized by the powerful and any prospect that the county could unify to rebuild was abandoned. But when disaster and death visited his own back door, Chavannes could see that the perceived former allies and apologists for the UN Dream would simply treat him as an interloper in his own country if he dared to unmask the hypocrisy and deception of their response to the Cholera Epidemic.
"They simply refuse to take responsibility for their negligence, the death and disease that they brought to the Artibonite Valley … Haitians have to work together to overcome the destruction of this deadly occupation … Instead of proactively trying to undo the harm they caused, they are expending all of their energy to cover-up their crime, while the poor that they claimed to help are left to die from a virulent disease." Chavannes had seen enough to join the Céant campaign and work with his former rivals to take on the responsibility of governance.
Rene Civil and Paul Raymond both responded to the many questions and the Haitian journalists took that content back to their respective outlets. Within Haiti the interviews have become common knowledge and key for political discourse. Outside of Haiti it is a completely different picture. While within the diaspora communities that regularly listen to Haiti broadcasts, the interviews at Hinche are also common knowledge, the coverage in the rest of the English-language media of anything to do with Céant's campaign have been silenced.
On November 17 a pro-democracy group — National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) — conducted a poll within an interesting and select grouping, "…the Displaced in Port-au-Price Tent Cities…" one would think that the sensationalist hungry corporate media would feast on such an enticing tidbit. Not a chance, so far the corporate media is churning out a supplied narrative that has a pre-determined list of figures — that aren't likely to get more an 5% of the vote in a fairly-run election of the current candidates. Céant's name isn't even mentioned as a contender. Do your own research, see what you can find.
The NOAH group was the only group — other than the HIP prediction on HaitiAction.net, of course — to reliably predict that Preval would easily take the majority of votes in the last presidential election after being backed, unofficially, by a majority of Fanmi Lavalas. In the face of US directed misinformation the survey group also predicted the successful boycott figures of 2009. While they were only taking a survey of a largely Preval/occupation cynical grouping, they are now predicting that Céant will be the frontrunner in a runoff election. If the outcome was left to the Victims in the camps, Céant would easily take the presidency with 75% of the vote.
It should be a major concern to many "solidarity" activists (who are taking a paternalistic "wait and see" posture while the popular movement in Haiti is politically engaged) that the US-backed disinformation machine is in high gear to be in a position to spoil any advance made by the popular movement in Haiti. One likely scenario is that agents provocateurs will be able to whip up some civil unrest around the Cholera Epidemic and disrupt the elections solely because they determined that Céant was the frontrunner and that victory would undo years of US foreign policy objectives.
For it's part, Hurricane Tomas provided the campaign a short breather, broadcast content and somewhat muddier roads for the next two days. That night, the poolside pagoda at the Hotel Maguana in Hinche got a little crowded…
About six men and women of the UN occupation police — that generally have a free run of the scenic hotel complex — had laid out a tablecloth and occupied the prime space of the poolside pagoda for a romantic dinner party. An impromptu gathering of the Céant campaign's burliest participants had procured a couple bottles of rum to help "relax around the pool" in the warm night. When the rain started, the closest shelter was the same poolside pagoda. For some reason, most of the men decided to shed their shirts and get loud in the close quarters, tackling all manner of provocative subjects — i.e. the UN's Cholera Epidemic, the beauty of Haiti's women, etc. — that well-lubricated burly men do on such occasions. It was "special."
The road into the mountains
The main rally of the day was to be in Belladere, near the boarder of the Dominican Republic, that afternoon but one of the most poignant moments came at the first stop. Near Ravine Roche the usual advance posse of local motorcyclists came out to cheer on the campaign but the group coming out to meet the Campaign grew bigger and bigger. A tap tap truck filled with supporters stopped the Caravan and pleaded with Céant's campaign manager to have him get out and join their march into town, Bob Fourcand let them know that it was the start of a very long day and a march would impact on the schedule. The group pulled one of the benches off of the truck and placed it across the road, they refused to budge as a Rara band played behind them.
While it can safely be said that most of this farming town are solidly behind Céant, they also know how to make their voices heard. They also let the presidential hopeful know that they expect their President to listen to them as well. Céant put on his best charm, got out of the SUV and triumphantly marched the last mile into town with the celebratory crowd. The march was as much a pro-Aristide demonstration as it was for Céant. "Céant will be our President and return Aristide to Haiti!" they sang.
Many here in this town supported Preval for one reason, they thought that Preval would return Aristide. Even though Preval had sidestepped making a commitment on the Retou (The Return of Aristide to Haiti), he was well aware that it was the realpolitik of his election. The marchers were letting Céant know that they weren't as willing to be deceived a second time. Their solidarity that day could, just as easily mobilize in the Capitol.
Just like the unplanned march, word had gotten out that the campaign would be traveling the route to Belladere and there were several unplanned stops along the way. Many communities had strung up poster strings and gathered near the highway as the caravan zoomed by. A few were able to get him to stop, get out and shake hands.
One of these stops was above Haiti's largest reservoir Lake Péligre. At this stop, a few miles down the road from the Zanmi Lasante medical compound, roadbuilding — with the massive influx of aid dollars — is in full swing. Unfortunately, the road provides a high speed escape for the inundation of NGO's and relief tourists so they don't have to spend much time reflecting on the glaring contradictions in their view. The predominant traffic on the roads, smooth or rough, are the peasants, walking from one place or another or guiding mules to carry the produce. One could stand in the middle of the road, at times for twenty minutes or more, and not see one motor vehicle from either direction. Those roads should last long beyond the years they are designed to last.
The national highway — Route National #3 — that sustained the least impact as a result of the Earthquake, is seeing the most development. [ The obvious satire and cynicism will be postponed, for now, to a future commentary article ] The simple fact is that building high volume pipelines that carry clean water to the same communities "served" by the roads would have cost a third of what is being spent on these smooth highways. Even before the Earthquake, improvement to the clean water and sewage infrastructure would have saved many lives. With a 20% increase to that infrastructure, it's likely that there would have been no Cholera Epidemic to sell the news.
There is enough fresh water falling on Haiti to provide free drinking water to everyone, the public health differential alone would make that one project economically feasible productive. What should be a subplot for another James Bond thriller, is actually the truth. Some very greedy plutocrats make a sinful amount of capital off of turning this life-giving resource into their own private commodity. As Barbara Rhine so vividly portrayed it — before the Earthquake — "Haiti is a Republican wet-dream…"
There were stops at several church communities, Catholic and Baptist, that afternoon. Thousands showed up in Belladere's town square and, once again, cheered and sang when Aristide's name was mentioned. The town's motorcycle posse stopped the lead cars after leaving the rally and insisted on washing them at the river crossing. Behind Civil's vehicle Fanmi Lavalas activist, Euvonie Auguste had commandeered this reporter's iPod and squeezed out every Racine hit that she could find, blaring through that car's stereo. For hours…
The caravan wound it's way up to a couple mountain stops. Most notably the summit town of Baptiste a town of about 17,000 at an elevation of 3400 feet. The largely peasant population walked from miles around to be at the rally with three marching bands. After descending that mountain it was time for another rally in, yet another, town square filled with thousands of mostly young supporters singing for Aristide and cheering for Civil and Céant.
The final day in the Central Department started with a morning pilgrimage to a sacred waterfall. The campaign headed south on Route National #3, and as it had many times before, taking on large and small towns as the crowd grew proportionately lager as the word spread on the teledyol.
Civil's vehicle descended on Port au Prince about 7PM on the 7th. After a short stop at La Carrita in Cite Soliel for some Tassot and Prestige, one of his associates came by in his empty kamyonet to reunite this reporter with his luggage and take him off to haggle over inflated hotel room prices.
After touring the Central Department the Céant campaign has filled each stop with progressively larger crowds. They have visited:
Nord Ouest: Grosmorne, Basin Bleu, Chansolme, St Louis, Port de Paix, Jean-Rabel, Mole St Nicolas, Bombardopolis, Anse Rouge
Pétion Ville, Kenskoff, Bois Jalousie, Thomassin
Grand'Anse: Abricot, Bonbon, Jérémie, Chambellan, Moron, Dame Marie, Anse D' Hailnauult, Roseaux , Corail, Beaumont
Sud: Pestel, Camp Perin, Maniche, Torbec, Chantal, Cayes, Tiburon, Les Anglais, Damassin, Port a Piment Roche a Bateau, Coteaux Port Salut, Cavillon, St Louis, Aquin, Cote de Fer
Eventually, this campaign will reach every corner and host rallies in every department. It is unlikely that any other campaign will be nearly as inclusive of this many communities.
This article is Part 3 of a three-part series.
Posted July 24, 2023