By Isabelle Papillon - Haiti Liberte
For the second consecutive week, thousands of people of all ages and walks of life took to the streets of Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city, on Sep. 21 to protest against President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.
They denounced high-level corruption, the high cost of living, Martelly’s “hijacking” of the electoral council, and government attempts to evict peasants from plots of land on which they have lived and farmed for almost two centuries.
After rallying at the Samarie roundabout in the morning, thousands of people from Cité Lescot, La Fossette and other Cap-Haïtien neighborhoods marched through the city, rallying in front of the central government’s offices, known as the Delegation of the North, and at the Courthouse. In front of the Delegation’s offices, pro-Martelly partisans hiding inside the government building threw rocks at the protesters. The demonstrators threw rocks back at them. The Haitian National Police (PNH) and UN occupying troops (MINUSTAH) fired tear-gas canisters to disperse the protesters, with only partial success.
When they met the marchers, some people were seen to theatrically take off their pink bracelets, meant to signify allegiance with the government, and throw them on the ground.
"Martelly, Martelly, pèp Nò a pap jwe," the demonstrators shouted. (The people of the North do not
play around.) "We do not want imported rice, we want to work," they chanted. "We want to live in peace in our country."
To ease spiking food prices, last week Lamothe announced that the government would import 300,000 bags of rice.
Despite some brutality from the PNH and MINUSTAH, the demonstration ended without major incident.
However, during the afternoon after the march had ended, helmeted-policemen of the Security Unit to Guard the National Palace (USGPN) arrived in Cap Haïtien from Port-au-Prince and began shooting with leveled weapons in different parts of the city. In retaliation, the people threw stones and bottles.
The evening before the march, the city was also tense. Burning-tire barricades, a traditional form of protest, went up in several roads, especially near the neighborhoods of La Fossette, Cité Lescot, and Samarie. Police gunfire wounded at least three people. Thrown rocks and bottles injured one policeman.
On Sep. 17, four days before the demonstration, the government sent a delegation headed by Interior Minister Ronsard Saint-Cyr and the State Secretary for Communication, Guyler C. Delva to try to buy off those responsible for the mobilization in the North. The mission was a failure, like a similar on to the southern city of Les Cayes the week before as confirmed by the former Southern delegate Pierre Etienne France on a radio in the capital this week (see Haïti Liberté, Sep. 19, 2012).
Also on Sep. 21, in the southern city of Miragoâne, hundreds took to the streets to protest corruption in the Martelly/Lamothe administration and the high cost of living. Protesters said Martelly had lied to the Haitian people when he promised change and a break from the past. Instead, demonstrators said, he has resurrected the repressive policies of the Duvalier dictatorship, which was overthrown 25 years ago.
Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince, dozens of people picketed in front of the Prime Minister’s office to demand that food prices be lowered. Some chanted: "Down with Lamothe."
On Sep. 19, President Martelly accompanied UNESCO’s Special Envoy to Haiti, Michaëlle Jean, on a brief visit to Port-au-Prince. The unemployed who often gather to discuss their woes in public places quickly organized an impromptu protest to voice their anger about Haiti’s deteriorating economy as schools are about to open on Oct. 1. These fathers, mothers, and youth said they were discouraged and disappointed that the hope for change promised by Martelly is shrinking as time goes by. "We are hungry and need jobs, not words to put us to sleep while the gangrene of corruption spreads at the highest levels of power," said one demonstrator.
Protests nationwide are sharpening around these key issues: corruption, exclusion, the high cost of living, the rise of arbitrary power, the drift towards dictatorship, and the manipulation of Haiti’s judiciary, legislature, and other independent institutions. Martelly continues to maneuver in an effort to form a Permanent Electoral Council as opposed to a compromise Provisional Electoral Council proposed by most parliamentarians.
A major demonstration around these issues is being planned in Port-au-Prince for the 21st anniversary of the Sep. 30, 1991 coup d’état against then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a coup which many officials in the current government, including the President, either participated in or supported.
For the second time in a week, thousands rallied in Cap Haïtien to protest government corruption, expropriations, and the high cost of living, among a host of other demands.
Photo by Le Nouvelliste