By: Yves Pierre-Louis & Kim Ives - Haiti Liberte
Demonstrations erupted across Haiti this past week as deep-seated anger against the government of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe is now surging into the streets on a daily basis. Marches, picket lines, a mock tribunal, and a general strike were among the different actions which took place in six out of Haiti’s 10 geographic departments, a new high-water mark for anti-government protests.
Peasants, small merchants, store owners, slum dwellers, teachers, unions, laid off state enterprise employees, and the unemployed were among the different sectors protesting against government indifference, corruption, insecurity, the high cost of living, environmental degradation, and, above all, Martelly’s broken promises.
On Sep. 12, in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, thousands took to the streets, called out by 20 popular organizations and outspoken opposition Senator Moïse Jean-Charles. The demonstrators marched through the city, stopping in front of different government offices along the way. They accused Martelly of implementing a policy of "mètdam, pike devan" (bluff and headlong programs) based on lies, concocting illegal taxes and shell-game programs to benefit his friends and family, the Haitian oligarchy, and imperialist powers. Marchers accused the president of being in cahoots with several big landowners, called "grandon" in Haiti. Particularly around the northern town of Milot, where Sen. Jean-Charles hails from and was once mayor, the government and "grandon" are trying to evict peasants from land they have occupied for decades.
"Down with Martelly!" cried the marchers. "Down with corruption! Down with expulsions! Down with the high cost of living!"
The people of the north are "especially angry about Martelly’s appointment of Gaby Silencieux as Deputy Commissioner for the Limbé District in the Northern Department," reported Dady Chéry on her blog Haiti Chéry. "Mr. Silencieux is wanted by police for murder and arson."
The day after Cap’s massive march against Martelly, a huge rally was held in the large square in front of Cap Haïtien’s Cathedral. It was organized by grassroots organizations such as Siklòn (Hurricane), Louvri jè (Open Your Eyes), Van an vante (The Blowing Wind), and Bare yo (Stop Them). The demonstrators held a popular tribunal, with Limbé activist Eluscar Charles as the chief judge, to try Martelly for corruption and nepotism. After hearing the testimony of many, the tribunal found President Martelly, his wife Sophia, his son Olivier, Prime Minister Lamothe, and Minister for Relations with Parliament Ralph Théano guilty of corruption.
The same day, Sep. 13, in the southern city of Les Cayes, local businesspeople and former Martelly supporters including ex-senator Gabriel Fortuné, called a general strike which organizers say was up to 90% respected despite the government's attempt to buy off key sectors. Small business people spearheaded the strike to denounce soaring insecurity in Les Cayes, and the Justice Ministry’s transfer or dismissal of several judges. But other sectors joined in to protest the high cost of living, corruption, and Martelly’s broken promises. Throughout the day, the doors of shops, private banks, and gas stations remained closed. Public markets and public transportation, always the key indicators of a strike’s success, operated at a very low level. Only government offices remained open, but very few government employees went to work that day. The strike was noteworthy for the support it received from Martelly’s frustrated ex-supporters. Some expressed regret at having burned down almost all local government offices in Les Cayes in December 2010 in protests that helped bring Martelly to power.
The day before the strike, the State Secretary for Communications, Joseph Guyler C. Delva, was sent to Les Cayes with 400,000 gourdes ($10,000 US) to bribe certain local leaders in an effort to undermine the strike, according to former Martelly government departmental delegate to the South, Gabriel Fortuné. The ex-senator strongly denounced the government’s clumsy attempt to break the strike with Delva’s mission.
Meanwhile, the South’s current senator, Pierre Francky Exius, said the Delva had come with 500,000 gourdes ($12,5000 US) in his briefcase to sabotage the general strike.
On the night before the strike, Delva debated Fortuné over the airwaves of Les Cayes’ Radio-Tele Caramel. Raucous demonstrators, many of them former Martelly supporters, gathered outside the station and accused Delva of being a “defender of the devil,” and the Martelly government’s “ propaganda chief.” The station’s director called the police, who had to escort Delva out of the station for his safety.
In Port-au-Prince, demonstrations began early last week. On Sep. 10, 2012, the National Union of Haiti’s University Teachers (UNNOH), led by Professor Josué Mérilien, marched through the streets of the capital to demand change in Haiti’s education system, as well as improvement in working conditions and a decent salary for teachers.
On Sep. 11, as they do every Tuesday, the Movement for Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for Haitians (MOLEGHAF) demonstrated outside the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) to demand job creation, a change in the living conditions of marginalized populations, and a lower cost of living. (MOLEGHAF leaders Oxygène David and Charles Dukens were finally freed on Aug. 30 after being arrested on Jun. 19 at their weekly demonstration in front of the MAST. They were held for over two months in the fetid National Penitentiary without charges.)
On Sep. 12, two demonstrations were held simultaneously in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne. In the capital, the Platform of Victimized Employees of Public Enterprises (PEVEP) brought out hundreds of fathers and mothers with their children to a march through the capital’s streets to demand better living conditions, a lower cost of living, and 36 months of paid compensation for damages caused by their illegal and arbitrary dismissal from public enterprises such as the state telecommunications company (Teleco), Retirement Insurance Administration (ONA), the National Port Authority (APN) and Metropolitan Service for Collection of Solid Waste (SMCRS). More than 10,000 workers from these state companies were laid off between 2004 and 2006 following the coup d'état / kidnapping against President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The dismissals were the result of neoliberal policies forced on Haiti by the United States and international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Haitian police dispersed PEVEP’s rally in front of the National Palace with tear-gas, despite the presence of children. Haiti’s national police director Godson Orélus told Haïti Liberté that the organization had not informed the police of the action as required by law. “If I hear that there is an unannounced demonstration in front of the Palace, automatically I will break it up because it is illegal,” Orélus said. “It is not a political matter. It is a matter of order and public security.”
In Léogâne, hundreds of residents of the communities of Bino and L'Esthère demonstrated to demand that local and national authorities act to solve the problem of the Rouyonne River regularly flooding that town and surrounding areas. The protesters criticized the slow pace and poor quality of dredging currently being done by the National Center for Equipment (CNE). For hours, demonstrators blocked National Route # 2 until police intervened. They arrested six protestors, who were released a few hours later.
Back in Port-au-Prince, on Sep. 13, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office to protest the high cost of living and unemployment. They denounced the government's bogus programs – “Aba grangou” (Down with Hunger), “Ti manman cheri” (Dear Little Mother), and “Katye pam poze” (My Neighborhood Is Peaceful) among others – as having had no effect in poor neighborhoods. The demonstrators, armed with pots and spoons, have launched an “operation against hunger,” said the movement’s national coordinator Lesly Charles. The demonstrators came from different neighborhoods and slums of the capital and were mostly unemployed youth.
The same day, Sep. 13, several hundred people demonstrated to demand government intervention to stop the degradation of the environment on the Plaine de Cul-de-Sac, which becomes very dangerous in the rainy season. Residents of the Port-au-Prince suburb call their neighborhood the "Submarine." Rallied by several local organizations and individuals in the area, the protesters went to the Agriculture Ministry in Damien. There they called on Agriculture Minister Jacques Thomas to undertake the work of dredging and cleaning debris from the Grey River (Rivière Grise), which causes devastation when it overflows.
The demonstrators also chided President Martelly for not fulfilling his campaign pledges to improve local living conditions and restore health to the area’s ecosystem. Henry Coupet, the protester’s spokesman, read a petition to the minister for reporters. He said that the mobilization would continue until their demands were acknowledged and translated into concrete actions. Last month, Tropical Storm Isaac caused serious flood damage in the Plaine de Cul-de-Sac.
Several other municipalities around Haiti have sounded the alarm about their environment, agriculture, or roads. In response, President Martelly is now trying to insert a piddling 10 million gourdes ($250,000 US) in the national budget for community work projects.
Over the weekend, demonstrations against the Martelly government continued both in the capital and in the provinces. On Sep. 14, PEVEP’s supporters were again in the Port-au-Prince’s streets again to demand their compensation and better living conditions for the Haitian people generally.
On Sep. 16 in Gonaïves, dozens of protesters took part in a demonstration organized by the Movement of Revolutionary Youth in the Upper Artibonite against the politics of exclusion and discrimination which are resulting in ever-growing corruption, nepotism, inflation, insecurity, hunger, and environmental degradation.
Two other events have helped heighten popular anger. On Sep. 8, close Martelly ally Sen. Edwin
“Edo” Zenny confronted judge Bob Simonis in a Jacmel radio station and spit in his face. “You must respect a mulatto,” Simonis and other witnesses claim Zenny said. “I am white, and you, you are black.” This bitter and widely publicized confrontation has not bred trust for the Martelly/Lamothe government, which draws its cadre heavily from Haiti’s elite, many of whom are mulatto.
There is also widespread consternation that a foreign NGO, Hollywood actor Sean Penn’s J/P HRO, is in charge of finally tearing down the crumbled ruins of Haiti’s emblematic National Palace, which was destroyed in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
“Sean Penn tearing down the National Palace is a reflection of Haiti’s vanishing sovereignty,” complained Daly Valet, editor of Haiti’s Le Matin newspaper, to the Miami Herald. “The Haitian people have lost control over their destiny. If the international community and their NGOs have succeeded in one thing in Haiti, it is making Haiti anything but a real country with a respectable state.”
Thousands marched through the streets of Cap Haïtien on Sep. 12 to protest Haitian government corruption and rallied in front of the Cathedral the next day.
Photo: Wedlyne Jacques/Alterpresse