By KIM IVES
Thousands of demonstrators marched through Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on July 15 to mark the 56th birthday of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The demonstration, which was called by and adhered to by two rival factions of the Lavalas Family party (FL), was considered a great display of unity by its organizers.
At 9 a.m. the crowds gathered at the gate in front of Aristide’s still gutted home in Tabarre. It was decorated with flowers and large photographs of the party’s leader, who remains in exile in South Africa over five years after the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état against him.
The multitude then moved, like a great river, towards the capital.
Lavalas leaders said that the demonstration was a birthday present for Aristide. "Long live the return of President Aristide!" read some of the posters in the march. " Down with the MINUSTAH [UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti, the military occupation force]! Release of all political prisoners! Reinstatement of all fired State employees! Down with the neo-liberal plan!"
Demonstrators also bitterly denounced President René Préval for betraying their expectations that he would help return Aristide to Haiti and fight neoliberal austerity and privatization. Tens of thousands of Lavalas partisans voted for Préval in 2006, helping him win the presidency.
"Our political organization will defeat all those who are working for its demise," declared Dr. Maryse Narcisse, one of the members of the FL’s Executive Committee at the close of the demonstration at the Place of the Constitution on the Champ de Mars, the capital’s central square.
Narcisse also criticized Préval for seeking to amend Haiti’s 1987 Constitution while at the same time violating its laws. "Lavalas remains true to its dream of a better Haiti, where all citizens can have access to education, health, housing, and employment," she concluded. "Realization of this dream goes hand in hand with the return of President Aristide to Haiti."
Also participating in the demonstration was the singer and activist Annette Auguste, known as So An. She was also named to the FL’s Executive Committee but presently does not sit with its other three members, Narcisse, Lionel Etienne and Jacques Mathelier. Her faction of the party has proposed some reforms which has caused controversy within the party.
"I am a dedicated Lavalassian," So An told Haiti Liberté. " President Aristide Lavalas is not more Lavalas than me. President Aristide might turn his back on me, but I will never turn my back on him." She declared her full support for Aristide’s return and said that the July 15 demonstration was a living testimony to the FL’s strength, power, and vitality.
"This event is great proof that the Lavalas would have won the [April 19 and June 21] senatorial elections boycotted by the national majority," she said. " That is why Lavalas was excluded from those elections. The objectively manifest goal is to destroy the Lavalas."
At the Place of the Constitution, Lavalas activists like René Civil and Lavarice Gaudin criticized the government of Préval and his prime minister Michele Pierre-Louis for pursuing policies condemned by Haiti’s masses. They demanded the immediate and unconditional return of Aristide to Haiti.
Meanwhile, the Lavalas base organizations which made July 15 a success have called another major mobilization for Tuesday, July 28, the 94th anniversary of the first U.S. Marine occupation of Haiti in 1915.
The popular organizations have planned the demonstrations with some of Haiti’s student organizers, marking the first time that the demands of the Lavalas mass movement and those of the student protests, which have raged at the State University in recent months, will be united.
The demands for July 28th are: 1) MINUSTAH’s departure; 2) Aristide’s return; 3) Apply the Parliament’s vote for a 200 gourde a day [$5.05] minimum wage; 4) Reform at the State University; 5) Justice for Roudy, the man shot dead by MINUSTAH soldiers at the Port-au-Prince Cathedral on June 18; 6) Liberation of all political prisoners, above all Ronald Dauphin; 7) Down with the neoliberal plan.
Among the groups calling the July 28 demonstration are the Cité Soleil Action Coalition of the Lavalas Family Base (ABA SATAN), the Assembly of Organizations for Change (ROC), the Network of Multiplying National Organs of the Lavalas Family (RONMFL), the Network of Organizations of the West Zone (ROZO), the National Organization for the Equitable Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ONAPROEDEF), Alternative for Haiti’s National Liberation(ALEH), the Force of Principled Organizations for a National Alternative (FOKAN), Movement to Bury Repression (MARE), Group of Popular Initiative, the student group KOMAP/FRAE, and the International Support Haiti Network (ISHN).
"L’union fait la force" (Unity makes strength) says the motto on Haiti’s flag. Organizers of the July 28 march hope that the merging of the Lavalas mass movement with the anti-imperialist student movement will lift Haiti’s struggle for justice, democracy and sovereignty to a new level.