The Lavalas movement of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti simply will not quit. Despite pronouncements by the United Nations that the movement was dead nearly six months ago, over ten thousand supporters demonstrated in Port au Prince this last February 29, 2008. The date was auspicious in that it took place on the first Feb. 29 since Aristide’s ouster in 2004, commemorating a date that occurred only during a leap year four years ago.
The United Nations played a heavy-hand in attempting to discourage Haitians from commemorating the event in the weeks leading up to it. In early February, Brazilian forces conducted several high profile raids that led to the mass incarceration of males between the ages of 15 and 30 in several neighborhoods of the capital where support for Lavalas and Aristide still remain strong. One week before the demonstration, Brazilian troops detained former political prisoner and grassroots activist Yvon Antoine. Known as by his nickname ‘Zap Zap’, Antoine had been previously arrested on March 2, 2004 without a warrant and held for two and a half years. When he finally got his day in court, there was not a single witness or a single piece of evidence against him, and he was acquitted of all charges. According to witnesses, UN forces detained him again on Feb. 21, 2008 in Bel Air because he flashed a photo of Aristide as their troops passed by on a routine patrol. He was held for questioning for seven hours without charge and eventually released.
The day before the Feb. 29 demonstrations, where more than 10,000 people marched through the streets of the capital for Aristide’s return, several hundred gathered at the ousted president’s former resident in the neighborhood of Tabarre for a prayer vigil. Once there, they offered a tour to journalists highlighting the gains the majority of the poor gained under Aristide’s administration. Members of peasant and religious groups stated in Tabarre that Aristide’s government was the first that truly represented their interests. They added that they hoped that current president Rene Preval would not forget it was their ranks that elected him in 2006.
A major contingent participating in the demonstration of Feb. 29 was the September 30 Foundation, a group representing a leading human rights activist who disappeared seven months earlier. Unknown assailants kidnapped Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine on August 12, 2007 after he met with a human rights delegation from the US. In an exclusive interview with HIP during a protest on July 15, 2006 and before his abduction, Mr. Pierre-Antoine stated, "We have shown them again today that we are not going away. We have always been here and we will be here long after they have left Haiti because we are Haitians and this movement represents the majority of the Haitian people. Those who were killed in the terror that forced our president into exile are honored today. Those of us who survived the terror are not ghosts and we will not be silenced." The Preval government has provided scant information about the investigation into his disappearance leading to speculation of complicity in some quarters of the capital. Preval has since stated through intermediaries that the Haitian police are doing everything possible to resolve the case.
Reactions to the Feb. 29 demonstration for Aristide and Lavalas by the international press were varied. The Associated Press and the Miami Herald held to an apparently agreed upon figure of 5000 protestors despite photos and reports of a march nearly double in size. The Miami Herald and its reporter Jacqueline Charles went further. Charles, a well-known antagonist of Aristide and his Lavalas movement, went out of her way to portray the demonstration as a fringe event pitting the demands of protestors against the goals of current president Rene Preval. Charles quoted anti-Aristide luminaries such as Robert McGuire the director of the Haiti Program at Trinity College in Washington. In reaction to the demonstrations McGuire stated, “The only way Aristide can succeed in making a comeback is if Préval fails. It's in the interest of everybody in Haiti that Préval succeeds because no one wants to descend into hell again.''
Interesting to note is that organizers of the demonstration on Feb. 29, 2008 have a deep-seeded fear of Charles and McGuire. One of the leaders of the protest specifically refused to give their name when responding; “Ms. Charles has proved over time where her interests lie. While thousands of supporters of Lavalas were murdered, imprisoned or forced into exile she remained silent. Mr. McGuire tries to hide behind his history of once supporting the poor majority in Haiti while we know of his collusion with Bush to justify the second coup against Aristide. It is false for him to say that for Aristide to return Preval must fail. He represents the most backward voice of US foreign policy towards our true sovereignty.”
Posted July 24, 2023