Sunday, August 3, 2008

Haiti Journal #6

Haiti's Winds of Democracy Begin to Prevail Under Preval

As the hurricane season begins in this troubled island nation, the Haitian people dodged a different
kind of storm yesterday. In a stunning victory for Haiti's embattled but tenacious democracy,
shortly after 6:00 pm last night (July 30, 2008) a group of nearly 300 renegade soldiers dressed in
the camoflauge fatigues of Haiti's long disbanded military surrendered to government authorities
after a day of tense negotiations at the Grand Prison in Cap Haitien, the largest city on Haiti's
northern coast.

Sparking grave concern among the Haitian population, members of the old Haitian military, deposed by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1994, re-emerged in Cap Haitien, Mirbale and Wanamet
demanding reinstatement and fourteen years of alleged lost wages. Representatives of Haitian
President Rene Preval refused to negotiate with the disgruntled former soldiers, instead giving
them two options: surrender peacefully or be forcefully removed by the combined forces of the
Haitian National Police and MINUSTAH.

The rebel soldiers, apparently relying on President Preval's reputation for cautious deliberation,
appeared to be caught off guard by the government's decisive, uncompromising response to the
potential crisis. Facing a superior military force and convinced that Preval was prepared to use it,
they gave up. "They chose to live," summarized local Lavalas activist Lisius (Maco) Orel, an

One group of soldiers was loaded on to a yellow school bus for further questioning. Photographs we
were able to take on board showed a ragged, dejected group, reportedly ranging in age from 18 to 80.

Tensions mounted and we were warned to move away from the bus as the angry crowd of pro-government residents surrounded it. The bus left the scene without incident, however, as government troops behaved professionally and the crowd remained calm.

Prominent Cap Haitien journalist Alinx Albert Obas, director of the media outlet Radio Tele Etensil,
left negotiations long enough to grant us an interview. Obas facilitated our access to the prisoners
briefly before their departure. The prisoners looked tired and downcast; some covered their faces
from the camera, while others sat quietly or spoke on their cell phones. The National Police oversaw
the operation, as the U.N. tanks rolled past, unnecessarily at the ready in front of the Grand
Prison, where some burning of uniforms took place before a self-constrained crowd.

Former military chief Morne Michel, representing Baby Doc in Haiti, coordinated the re-emergence of
the deposed army which, not coincidentally, marked the anniversary on July 30, 2008 of the
establishment by Duvalier of the infamous Tonton Makout. Many of those wearing the old uniforms were recognized as having participated in the 2004 coup d' tat. They demanded 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, arguing that they have been deprived of lost wages since 1994 when the despised military was disbanded in order to fund social programs for the poor.

Paul Antoine Bien Aime spoke for Preval and the Internal Ministry and listened to all demands.
Former Colonel Jeudi also participated because he oversees payroll. Even though Obas spoke to us
prior to public announcement, he was very assured that neither the requested money nor the re-
instatement would be granted; and he was proven correct. Finally, at about 6 p.m., they were given
thirty minutes to decide whether or not to surrender. By 6:10, they chose to relinquish their claim,
as well as their old uniforms. They were provided adequate clothing and made their way out of the
prison and on to the waiting bus. Though somber, none appeared to have endured any physical

In a tense mix of cautious relief and frustration, some local residents agreed to speak to us about
their reactions. Recognizing some reporters to be U.S. citizens, one elderly gentleman named Brunot
Dorvil, first spoke out loudly against the United States. His message was, "Let my country go!" When
asked his opinion of President Bush, he shook his head in disapproval, but added that it is not just
one president that has caused trouble for Haiti, for two hundred years the U.S. has caused trouble.

Another man voiced the skeptical view that the event was merely a chance for the unpopular MINUSTA to create the false impression that its presence in Haiti is justified.

August Maxi, a 33 year-old auto body painter spoke out with a message of support for ousted
President Aristide: "Preval is not our real leader. Aristide is the only leader the people can hear."

Several people agreed with another man who complained that this is the second time the old army has tried to make a come back, and that the people don't have a feeling of safety. "We never know when they may come back." Just like the hurricanes.

Leisa Faulkner is an award-winning photographer and the founder of Children's Hope, a humanitarian
organization that serves the children of Haiti. She is currently pursuing graduate degrees in
development sociology and Third World political economy at UC Berkeley. Prof. Paul Burke teaches
Sociology and Labor Studies at Sacramento State University and serves as Chair of the Coalition for
Democracy in Haiti. His research focuses on U.S. foreign policy in Central America and the

Special thanks to our dear friend Lisius Orel for translating all interviews. Orel is a courageous
Lavalas activist and the co-founder of MABO (Movement Action to Benefit the Oppressed), a community service organization and orphanage in Port au Prince.

Children's Hope
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682

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