A flood of discontent rises around Aristide
Key groups oppose Haitian leader
BY MARIKA LYNCH
When university students took to the streets in Port-au-Prince
this week, their chants described the nation's political situation this
way: ``Aristide has
fallen; he's just stuck in a tree branch.''
The chant demonstrates a changing dynamic that threatens the
foundations of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government, according
analysts. An opposition once limited to a frail coalition of political parties has broadened to include other key groups that bring a new vigor to the political
This week alone, a group of writers, a union, the nation's most
prominent business organization, the bar association and a coalition of
church and human
rights groups all pointedly condemned the government for what one group called creating a ``climate of terror.''
Opponents blame Aristide's administration for letting his supporters
paralyze Port-au-Prince with burning barricades a week ago, and letting
gangs intimidate opposition members, among other things.
For some longtime Haiti-watchers, the protests have a familiar ring.
''The reports from Haiti bear a strong resemblance to the events
that preceded the downfall of the Duvalier regime in 1986,'' said Steve
works for Creative Associates International Inc., a Washington consulting firm with a Haiti office. ``[Aristide] has alienated key sectors in Haitian
''The thought that he'll be bum-rushed out of there is increasing,''
said James Morrell, of the Haiti Democracy Project. ``The support is really,
dwindling. He's got armed thugs on the streets. It's a question of money with [Aristide], and how much money to keep paying them.''
HARD TO READ
Analysts say trying to gauge if or when Aristide steps down is a high-risk gamble.
As protests erupted around the country Thursday , Aristide was emphatic about finishing his term. The opposition is but a small minority, he said.
The president called for peace and warned the Haitian people
about the dangers of another coup. Aristide has blamed the unrest on the
umbrella group Democratic Convergence and on former military officers who he says are hungry for power. Yet the effects of the last days are resounding
from the northern port town of Gonaves to Washington, D.C.
''Haiti is unraveling. We're meeting to look at what our options are, which are pretty bleak,'' a high-level Bush administration official said.
Part of the problem is that there is no clear successor in the
post-Aristide era. The opposition Democratic Convergence is a cluster of
divergent parties usually grouped around a personality. And even though Aristide is losing popularity, he still commands loyalty, as evidenced by Friday's
The demonstration coincided with the 15th anniversary of the
deaths of 15 voters in Haiti's first democratic election after the fall
of the 29-year Duvalier
family dictatorship. On Nov. 29, 1987, after months of violence, 100 voters were queuing up to cast ballots at Argentine Bellegarde High School, when
army and paramilitary attackers went from classroom to classroom, shooting at and hacking voters with machetes. The elections were later suspended.
''Aristide or death!'' 2,000 Aristide partisans chanted Friday,
marching to the National Palace. ''If Aristide isn't there, who will replace
him?'' In the
meantime, more than 1,000 antigovernment demonstrators marched in St. Marc, about 50 miles northwest of the capital.
The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince has said that calling parliamentary
elections -- to rectify the 2000 elections, which observers said were riddled
fraud -- is the only solution. But the Bush administration official said Haiti is ``turning into a noncountry.''
Given the lack of a clear post-Aristide leader, some U.S. officials
wonder quietly whether Haiti should be declared a ''failed state'' and
be handed over to
the United Nations or the Organization of American States for temporary administration.
The most recent round of protests in Haiti began Nov. 17, when
a civic group in Cap-Hatien organized a march. With more than 10,000 people,
it was the
largest demonstration against Aristide and his Lavalas party ever.
Other protests followed around the country.
In a show of force, Aristide supporters burned barricades Nov. 22 in Port-au-Prince, paralyzing the city.
But many groups have lent their voice in anti-government chants.
University students began to speak out after the government took a larger
running the institution, and high school students took to the streets. Four were shot by police in the western town of Petit-Gove during one march last
week, angering many.
The student movement is a bellwether for Haitian politics and
shouldn't be underestimated, said Tony Maingot, a Haiti expert and professor
International University. In 1985, the shooting of three high school students during a demonstration sparked protests that helped oust Jean-Claude
''The history of Haiti is when the high school students get involved,
they don't stop,'' Maingot said. ``There is a tenacity like piranhas.''