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

By Randall White,, Nov. 14, 2010

The popular neighborhoods of Haiti's Capitol participated in a massive marathon of a demonstration on November 1, calling for the return of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and to rally the support in the upcoming elections for Jean-Henry Céant to be the next President of Haiti. The Port au Prince march would be the first organized demonstration that would loudly and lively proclaim that the Jean-Henry Céant campaign would be making the call for the return of President Jean Bertrand Aristide central to the campaign platform.

Several key Fanmi Lavalas organizers were crucial to this massive outpouring of solidarity. Certainly one of the most visible of the organizers was the longtime Fanmi Lavalas leader Rene Civil, a trained social worker. He was riding in a white Nissan Patrol behind the march, and at times would zip around the streets swollen with demonstrators to get ahead of the manifestasyon to park at one side while his coworkers grabbed reams of campaign flyers to distribute to onlookers. Also inside was another Bel-Air Lavalas activist Mario, sporting an arm brace, a result of severe injury as a result of being trapped after the deadly January 12th Earthquake.

Usually, the Fanmi Lavalas manifestasyon organized by Rene Civil would include many older marchers and young children. Not this one, this was strictly an Olympic caliber event, not for the weak at heart. It was boisterous and raucous gathering on Fête Gédé adding to the energy.

Imagine if there was a ten mile Olympic competition where, instead of fielding a team of four to six runners for a race, your country would have to field thousands, with a couple of bands and about 100 motorcycles to liven things up for a political demonstration. Half the points would be for style — what if? Well, if there was such a competition Haiti would be the perennial favorite for the Gold and most of the team would be Lavalas.

It was difficult to tell exactly how many were marching at any one time because one large street wasn't enough to contain the demonstration. The more energetic marchers would split off of the main crowd picking up their pace to a jog and remerge with the main demonstration, queuing a bit further up in the procession. Sometimes these breakaway groupings and feeders could be as large as a thousand or more. The more energetic observers soon became participants and the manifestasyon would swell more, more and more.

Eventually, one of the Lavalasien campaign workers with a blue Ceant t-shirt abandoned getting in an out of the vehicle and relocated to the roof, tossing hundreds of Ceant posters to the lively crowds watching as the demonstration passed by. A certain news photographer found that vantage point to be optimal, as well. The precarious perch was maintained when the vehicle zoomed through the side streets with the roof posse linking arms an improvised and collaborative Live Haitian Safety Harness. Eventually the roof became populated with as many as ten revelers, a picture that is unlikely to end up in Nissan advertising anytime soon.

In the morning the marchers converged from the Cite Soleil, Martissant and La Saline neighborhoods at Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Route de Delmas. The typical route was taken, heading south past the historical parish of Father Aristide — Saint Jean Bosco — before turning left up through the poor neighborhoods on Rue St. Martin towards the lower neighborhoods of Bel-Air, an Aristide stronghold. After the march picked up feeder demos along the way it continued to wind back and forth through Bel-Air. Large groups would break off and head down the side streets to rejoin the main demonstration a few blocks later.

Another organizer directed his posse of young boys waving large flags, the main flag was that of the world-famous and locally respected marching band Raram No Limit that has thrown its talent into the Céant campaign. The Raram flag was waved to signal the winding route through the Neighborhoods.

Comprising about a dozen or more musicians — and sometimes an even larger chorus — Raram No Limit are the masters of the Rara genre. The band is sporting shiny new konet, yet to be painted. The one-tone konet are cousins of the legendary vuvuzelas of South Africa and Rara was derived from the Easter Celebration in Haiti. In Raram there are about six individual konet musicians who work together to construct all of the notes in a tune. During the day Raram would perform some of their most popular pro-Aristide numbers with a chorus of hundreds of marchers sometimes staying on one song for almost an hour.

After working around Bel-Air, St. Martin and Fort National — to collect as many marchers as they could — they headed back downhill on Rue Tiremasse into Downtown Port au Prince marching up, down and around the business district collecting the biggest advance grouping of young motorcyclists zooming around up the streets ahead of the main procession.

The picture of a meaningful, healthy and politically engaged Haitian popular movement is a picture rarely painted outside of Haiti. In fact, it it the greatest resource that Haiti has today, its people. Disrupting, diminishing and destroying this movement has been the primary objective of the power elite in Haiti and Washington D.C..

The youth of the country demand to be engaged in their future and organizing them to participate in the national political process was the apparent objective of this Monday Manifest. Also, contrary to the perceptions of most celebrity-news distracted populations outside of Haiti, the name that well-known and talented music personality wasn't even being mentioned — let alone, discussed in a earnest conversation — by anyone this crowd. This reporter spent over a week imbedded with the Céant campaign and didn't hear that name once until on the flight back to Miami.

The post-quake condition of the downtown is heart-breaking, seeing so many crushed buildings knowing full well that thousands died in this area. The marchers called out to the spirits to join them in bringing meaningful change to their country with the election of Céant and the return of President Aristide to continue his work.

At one point the march took a turn one block short of the — main rival — Jude Celestin's highly-polished and well-financed rally, to the dismay of those organizers. There were no "confrontations," but the Celestin supporters lost a little shine to the more energetic — and much larger — spontaneous Aristide/Ceant march which turned on a goude, headed back Uptown and across through the camps around Chan Mas, the site of the fallen National Palace. As the march left the Downtown, thousands of happy but less vigorous supporters dropped off at the halfway point and left the more demanding route to the very best and able. The march dwindled down — in size only — to a mere two thousand and headed southeast.

The tens of thousands in the camps of Chan Mas cheered on the "leaner and meaner" manifestasyon as it gathered its second wind of purpose and took on the challenge. The rest of the route would average an uphill trend through the most earthquake-affected areas. Heading west again strolling up along Avenue John Brown the march moved through the heaviest damage seen. Multistory buildings flattened like a stack of pancakes, historical treasures transformed into precarious hazards. Rubble clearing of the sites waits for the funds donated by the well-intentioned millions and held up by the powerful greedy. The marchers moved leisurely pace on the boulevard until they reached Rue Cretien and surged left up that hill in proper fashion

The Haitian Manifestasyon, unsurprisingly, is fixed by tradition and seemingly guided by a belief rationale that utilizes methodologies that are surprising to the inexperienced. One unique tactic is that to keep up the spirits of the marchers the marchers move faster uphill than downhill. Its a special thrill to see the marchers reach a rise in the grade of a road. In unison, their erect forms slant forward, they increase the space between each of them and double the pace into a unified jog until they reach the top. It creates an impressive illusion that the march is quickly expanding and ready to take on any challenge.

The "uphill grind" is transformed into an exhilarating performance that tempts the onlooker into being engaged with the same objective as the participants. The downhill grade is also transformed into cooling stroll for the victors, preparing them for the next uphill surge. The mass movement performance has a higher sense of purpose and unity.

Raram is still at the front and doesn't miss a beat in the uphill surge. They have been playing one of their hits for over a half hour. You can't simply walk along in this march, every step has a bounce, the hardcore nucleus haven't stopped dancing all day.

A Ceant sound truck waits at Avenue Poupelard urging the marchers onto the final legs before nightfall. After reaching the highest point of the march, the setting sun guides the marchers down into the dense neighborhoods of Solino. After working through one long stretch Civil's group decides to get ready to hit the road with Jean-Henry Céant the next day and leaves the Manifest — as it heads back up the next leg through Solino again — to regroup after a successful day.

Raram strikes up another pro-Aristide number and it doesn't appear that many of the hardcore supports are ready to abandon the manifestasyon. Solino eagerly swallows up the dancing energy and adds drinks and more participants on Fête Gédé on a warm Haitian night.

Before the Earthquake the Preval Administration was joining forces with the US agenda for Haiti. After the Quake, most were crying for all factions to work together in a new common purpose to help Haiti get back on its feet. Instead, the Preval strategy to overturn the Fanmi Lavas legacy continued as before the Earthquake — even taking on a more callous face — hoping that in their weakened and shaken state Fanmi Lavalas would finally give in.

Instead the popular movement went back to its roots and took nothing for granted. Friends moved in with friends and tightened their belts, even though they hoped and voted for a better, more compassionate government they were not surprised by more of the same old nonsense. Rene Civil and Fanmi Lavalas organized two successful election boycotts last year. The People of Haiti have decided to use that power and make their voices heard.

This article is Part 1 of a three-part series.

Part 2: Haiti: Céant campaign hits the road, calling for the return of Aristide. The Jean-Henry Céant presidential campaign moves west into the countryside Département des Nippes to officially call for the return of Aristide to Haiti and gather voters.

Part 3: Céant tackles Haiti's current issues with a surprising alliance between bitter rivals The campaign caravan took on the Central department where the Cholera Epidemic began.


Posted July 24, 2023