Haiti: Céant campaign hits the road, calling for the return of Aristide

By Randall White, haitiaction.net, Nov. 16, 2010

Tout moun ladan l" states the campaign slogan, "Everybody inside." While most outside of Haiti believe that the slogan is merely a "wishful thinking" campaign promise — that presidential frontrunner Jean-Henry Céant will work to find a housing solution for victims of the deadly January 12th Earthquake — the inspiring speeches of the candidate make clear that the slogan is far more encompassing and visionary. He wants all Haitians inside Haiti to come together and forge political change for a better future, that includes breing together political foes to participate in a national dialogue. Of course the slogan emerged from the anxiety of the nation at seeing so many displaced from their communities and homes, but the presidential hopeful believes that the solution to this and many other challenges facing Haiti today can only be resolved when all factions come together and unify under a common purpose.

One prominent citizen of Haiti, in particular, that Céant desires to have as part of the critical national dialogue is former President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was kidnapped at the direction of the US Embassy on February 28, 2004 and is waiting in exile in South Africa to return to his homeland. The promise by Céant to return Aristide to Haiti is a key difference, for prominent members of Fanmi Lavalas — the political organization that represents the majority of Haitians — between the Céant campaign of 2010 and the Rene Preval campaign of 2005. While some important members of Fanmi Lavalas may have been overly optimistic about Préval's taciturn response to Aristide's return, Preval realized that without their support he would have not had any hope of being president.

It appears to most that Preval intentionally deceived the masses to win the election. On the other hand Jean-Henry Céant has made the return of Aristide central to the campaign platform and the people are responding to a more powerful message.

This first leg of the ambitious campaign tour was the first official announcement of that promise. That the campaign caravan included three prominent Fanmi Lavalas leaders to promote Céant was not lost on the crowd that would greet the campaign at every stop. Eventually the news of Céant's promise spread like a tropical storm across the country and the crowds at each stop increased and became even more enthusiastic about supporting Céant.

Fanmi Lavalas' firebrand, Rene Civil had the advance vehicle filled with four journalists to cover the news. Besides the Céant signs on both doors and the picture under the wiper, Civil started the morning by borrowing some tape and affixing President Aristide's picture prominently to the windshield — an act that could be quite hazardous during the Préval years, a commitment to Aristtide that caused Civil to spend time in Haiti's prisons as a political prisoner for two spells during the Coup regime years and into Preval's term.

The white Nissan Patrol headed west on Route National #2. Just outside of Port au Prince the housing crisis comes right in your face as you travel west in Carrefour. The narrow median strip of the main Highway is thickly populated with the tarp shelters of the "internally displaced." The hazardous perch is a testament to the hard determination of the population to stay as close to their communities as possible. There is plenty of open space nearby, but the private landowners hold out until they can profiteer off of the misery. The UN has pushed this agenda of the powerful and force the victims to abandon their communities and relocate to remote encampments that dismantle the collective power of the victims to be part of the solution.

First Stop: Grand Saline

Civil's vehicle was about an hour ahead of the main caravan and pulled into the rally area at Grand Saline. A few hundred of the locals waited in the shade for things to get going. A respectable stage and sound system were at the ready. Behind the stage was the foundation remains of a church, destroyed in the Earthquake.

Soon the musicians of Raram showed up and cranked up the expectations and energy of an appreciative crowd. Just the day before, Raram was part of the Port au Prince Manifestasyon marathon. This group lives for a good rally, and certainly knew how to crank up a crowd with their politically-charged hits. Soon, there was a dance party in effect and the rest of the caravan began to arrive.

By the time the presidential candidate arrived the political rally was in full swing and the happy crowd mugged his car with cheers. The crowd calmed down slightly and the speeches began. The Céant campaign has formed an alliance in almost every district to work together with a local candidate even if they aren't running under the banner of Renmen Ayiti — "Love Haiti" — the new political party of Jean-Henry Céant.

Soon, Rene Civil was warming up the crowd. He's a respected speaker and most have heard his voice over the last few years, leading Lavalas press conference with his strident voice. A loud cheer went up from most of the crowd upon hearing from Civil that Jean-Henry Céant would be continually calling for the return of his longtime friend President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Civil challenged the youth of Haiti to get engaged in the political process with their activism.

The call to return President Jean Bertrand Aristide

You wouldn't know it from the corporate media, but the call to end years of exile for Aristide has never stopped. Last year while this reporter was covering the two successful election boycotts — called by Fanmi Lavalas to protest their exclusion from the elections — last year, he was continually stopped by many who asked if he would do something to return Aristide to Haiti. You wouldn't know it from the reports of the relief and medical workers inundating Haiti, but every day since the Earthquake they get the same requests.

To the People of Haiti, Aristide is a symbol that their voices can be heard and their collective action can be effective. The US Embassy has maneuvered behind the scenes, continuously, interfering with every effort to bring him back. That is the "genteel" way of summarizing the US position. Before the Earthquake the Préval Administration was lock-step with Washington DC. One would think that after January 12 there would be a call for national unity and the political opportunism of the previous years could be abandoned as an act of national patriotism in a time of severe crisis. If anything, pushing the anti-Lavalas agenda of the past, became even more cold-hearted and impulsive in its application.

A few local candidates delivered well-received messages then a loud cheer went up after the introduction of Céant. Jean-Henry Céant certainly looks presidential, with an easy smile and the ability to connect with his audience. He is capable of holding the interest of the largest crowd with both a short or long message. He seems to be just as effective when he has to start off a rally — when the lead part of the caravan gets sidetracked with lagging journalists. Or, Céant can be gracious and follow the most long-winded insipid MC, just to — then — enliven the overly-patient crowds.

The rally wrapped up in about 45 minutes and it was on to Léogâne…

Second Stop: Léogâne "you were thirsty"

The banner over the stage carried the messianic message "Léogane te swaf ou" — Léogâne, you were thirsty. A larger crowd and a brass marching band had everything in full swing as the caravan pulled up to the precarious stage. The crowd was primed up and largely supportive of the Lavalas figures and Jean Henry Céant without prompting. Others remained in the back of the crowd nearer to the highway but were soon caught up with the enthusiasm.

Many had "heard" the rumor that there would be a call for Aristide's return, but they had to hear it for themselves. The presence of the longtime Lavalas militants, Paul Raymond, Evonie and Rene Civil raised the simple campaign promise to another level of believability. Most wanted Aritide back and many were regretful that they had but so much hope that Aristide's former Prime minister Préval would deliver. After Céant spoke, all could see that the promise was more that a wish.

A new conviction to purpose and dedication was forged over the rally and a new dynamic for the caravan emerged, it now had a motorcycle escort. Young folks in Haiti have a real passion for smaller 125-250cc motorbikes. The caravan left Léogâne with about 30 motorcycles weaving through the caravan when it was traveling at about 40mph, however this was a high-speed caravan and when possible it exceeded 60mph leaving the motorcycle posse behind until the inevitable obstruction or rough road slowed things down.

Many of the motorcyclists called ahead to their friends and motorcyclists from the next town zoomed back to the caravan from the front quickly swelling the number of younger participants. Many stayed with the caravan from town to town all the way into Miragoâne that evening. The motorcycle entourage grew to be almost 100 motorcycles and with their enthusiasm, they helped whip up the excitement at every stop.

The campaign plans on visiting every one of the 10 departments, often the campaign will go off the beaten path and hit remote villages. The majority of Haiti's population lives in the countryside and are surprisingly well connected to the information. Radio broadcast is the most widely followed media outlet, so information can spread quicker with Radio's decreased production broadcast overhead.

Last stop for the Day: Miragoâne

The campaign rested for the evening in the port city of Miragoâne which was the first city after crossing the border into the Nippes department on the coast. After a quick refresher at the hotel, it was over to the town square. When the campaign caravan arrived there were three different marching bands circling the town square packed with a crowd of a few thousand.

Once again the crowd started cheering at the news — delivered by Rene Civil — that Jean-Henry Céant was committed to returning Aristide to Haiti. Several dignitaries took an inordinate amount of time trying to get the animated crowd behind each of their causes, but it was clear that everyone came to hear Céant and he delivered. It had been a long day on the road with five speeches and after the successful rally it was back to the hotel.

Quiet before the Hurricane

The Morning of November 3rd Hurricane Tomas was still on the other side of the southern peninsula and the waves were hardly over two feet. Even though the National Hurricane Center in Miami had been forecasting a likelihood that Hurricane Tomas could rage right over this region, there were no public announcements or civil defense vehicles in sight. Most of the houses on the coast are below 10 feet above sea level and many are within 100 yards of the coastline.

Just the same, it was a good day to campaign. Civil's advance vehicle arrived in a village clearing in Petite Riviere de Nippes about an hour ahead of the main caravan. The first rally would play to a small but important crowd. Madam Melercia Louis who lived nearby was excited to be able to hear from a presidential candidate in this village and Céant would likely be the only candidate anyone had seen.

A mule and some chickens foraged in the banana plot and several supporters waited in the shade for the candidate's arrival. The word quickly got out and a number of the residents put on their better clothes and showed up in time to shake hands with Céant and Senate hopeful Serge Gaspard.

About two miles down the road, the caravan stopped for another small rally under a thatched roof structure before heading to the larger town of Gran Rivieres du Nippes. For the town, it was a grand affair with two marching bands. When the PA system failed, the brass band kept the energy up until all was sorted out, then played the national anthem.

The speeches were complete and the caravan headed out to make the river crossing west of the town. Just across the river would be a small rally. A Vodousaint congregation would greet the caravan at the river with flags and a small band. Civil and Paul Raymond danced out to the riverside with the band to greet their friends. After a short rally it was on to the town of Anse-a-veau.

The rally took a little time to get started in the town square, once one Rara band made a grand entrance and settled down a new band would start up and try to out-do the previous in the square below the picturesque St. Anne's Chapel. Finally the third Rara band took its time getting into the square with a great deal of dancing.

Once again the crowd livened up at the mention of the return of Aristide and the speeches were made under the crowded pagoda. There were a couple stops along the way before the final major stop in Petit Trou de Nippes.

It was a highly animated crowd that awaited the campaign. Once again, it was a three band affair and Céant, even though fairly tired, was only too happy to let the good times remind everyone that if they could unify into a common cause, politics could actually be a lot more fun than outsiders want it to be. There's something here for everyone and Céant wants everyone inside.

There was some momentary drama when a group of — senate candidate — Privert Jocelerme supporters tried to "halfway crash" the rally. While it was clear that they supported Céant, they wanted to heckle Serge Gaspard who the Céant campaign is supporting. Jocelerme is running under the Inite banner, the party that current President Rene Preval started.

Jean-Henry Céant immediately took the microphone and reminded the hecklers that it was the Inite agenda in deceiving the country that exasperated the current crisis. He was solidly behind his friend Gaspard and took a straw poll of the crowd who cheered Gaspard as their choice. The hecklers stayed on the edge and pointedly cheered when Céant took the microphone.

The sun was beginning to set as the caravan left the town and headed over the mountains. Believe it or not, they actually stopped out in the darkness in a couple sites were small groups were waiting in the darkness to greet Céant. After the mountain crossing it was back to Port au Prince where they arrived shortly after midnight.

This article is Part 2 of a three-part series.

Part 1: Thousands demonstrate for Aristide and Jean-Henry Céant in Haiti's popular neighborhoods

Part 3: Céant tackles Haiti's current issues with a surprising alliance between bitter rivals


Posted July 24, 2023