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Haiti's election upheaval
Big protests against the coup regime

By Helen Scott | February 17, 2006 | Page 12

UNITED NATIONS (UN) peacekeeping troops opened fire on huge protests in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince this week as anger escalated over allegations of a rigged presidential vote.

The slowly emerging results from the February 7 election show René Préval--the candidate who symbolizes opposition to Haiti's coup regime, which took power two years ago by driving out former left-wing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide--with by far the most votes.

But Préval's percentage has shrunk from the nearly two-thirds reported early on to just under the 50 percent he needed to win the presidential election without a runoff. His supporters charge that the regime manipulated the vote totals to force a runoff, set for March 19.

Over the weekend, thousands of people from the capital's poor neighborhoods--the historic base of support for Aristide's Lavalas movement--took to the streets, demanding that Préval be named president immediately.

As Socialist Worker went to press, at least two people were killed and more wounded when "peacekeepers"--present on the streets of Haiti since Aristide's ouster--fired on one of the protests, according to press reports. Following the shooting, the demonstrations spread across Port-au-Prince, with streets blocked by smoldering barricades and a luxury hotel occupied.

Mainstream media reports claim that Cité Soleil and other pro-Lavalas areas of Port-au-Prince are ruled by armed "bandits." But the main source of violence are the peacekeepers--known as the United Nations Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) and led by Brazilian troops--who have kept the poor under a state of siege. Human rights groups have documented civilian massacres, rapes, intimidation and machine gun attacks on homes, schools and hospitals by MINUSTAH soldiers.

Haiti's "democratic elections" took place under a military occupation that has spent the last two years terrorizing the population and crushing democracy following the coup against Aristide. Yet despite their best efforts, the Haitian elite and its U.S. and UN champions were unable to quell the aspirations of the country's poor, who turned out to vote for René Préval as a symbol of opposition to the coup regime.

Clayonne Derogene, a single, unemployed mother from Bel Air, one of the capital's slums, explained how her anger at the U.S.-supported coup against Aristide in 2004 motivated her to rise at dawn and wait hours to participate in the election. "I couldn't miss the vote, I had to vote for Préval," Derogene said. "[T]he way they took Aristide away from us...Préval is like a retribution."

Too few polling stations and late openings meant long walks and lines, and some residents of the pro-Préval Cité Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince were excluded from voting at all.

Aristide watched from exile in South Africa. His still-popular party, Lavalas Family, didn't run in the elections because the coup regime failed to decriminalize the organization.

Lavalas continues to be persecuted. Hundreds of supporters of Lavalas remain in prison without charges or trials, including high-profile former minister Yvon Neptune, popular folk singer So An (Annette Auguste), and--until recently--popular activist priest Father Gerald Jean-Juste, who would have been the Lavalas candidate.

Jean-Juste, who has leukemia, told the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network last summer that "he was suffocating from the repression, the massacres, the arbitrary incarcerations, the humiliations of Bush's regime change and occupation in Haiti suffered by the people." Meanwhile, CIA-trained death squad murderers like Guy Phillippe, Jean "Tatoune" Baptiste and Louis Jodel Chamblain, run free.

Late last month, a New York Times article broke the U.S. media's wall of denial and confirmed what Haitians have long believed--the U.S. government (with France and Canada) conspired with right-wingers and the Haitian business elite to replace Aristide with a puppet regime, Gerard Latortue's "national unity" government, which consists, as left-wing writer Peter Hallward puts it, "exclusively of members of the traditional elite."

As Haiti Progres newspaper reported, "Despite their squabbles, the ruling groups continue to collaborate in cracking down on the Haitian people, who overwhelmingly reject the February 29th coup."

Préval was running for Lespwa (Haitian for 'hope'), but he was strongly associated with Aristide. If he faces a runoff against the second-place finisher, former conservative President Leslie Manigat, Préval is expected to win easily.

But even had he won outright in the first round, his position is unenviable. The press is already calling on him to "end the conflict" between rich and poor; and he has said he will encourage foreign investment, which means agreeing to the privatization and sweatshop plans typified by the International Cooperation Framework. Ominously, the National Endowment for Democracy declared Venezuela, Haiti, Ecuador and Bolivia its "priorities" for 2006.

Lespwa may represent hope for Haiti's poor, but the only way their aspirations will be met is regionwide opposition to imperialism and neoliberalism.

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