Christmas in Haiti


Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP)- The US-installed regime of Gerard Latortue has begun making compensation payments to Haiti’s former brutal military in an apparent move to reward them for their role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In a gesture rife with symbolism, the first payments were made to former soldiers who had participated in a takeover of President Aristide’s residence this past December 15. UN forces were said to have convinced the former soldiers to leave without a single shot being fired. Afterwards, the UN trucked them to a local police academy where they were housed in preparation for Tuesday’s ceremony. Thirty-three former soldiers who participated in the takeover of Aristide’s compound received the first in a series of checks that are said by the Latortue regime to total about $5000 per soldier. About 6000 former soldiers are said to be eligible for similar compensation.

The leader of the takeover of Aristide’s residence, Remissainthes Ravix, remains at large despite the announcement of a warrant for his arrest by the current regime following threats he made to kill Latortue and the Chief of Police, Leon Charles. Remissainthes has recently been heard giving in-studio interviews on various radio stations throughout the capital even as the authorities claim he is the subject of a nationwide manhunt.

While human rights groups expressed concern over the vetting process for compensation fearing former soldiers who may have committed crimes might be rewarded, reaction and condemnation from supporters of the exiled president was swift. A member of a Lavalas organization who spoke on condition of anonymity remarked angrily, “First the UN lets them takeover towns in the north allowing them to kill and arrest members of Lavalas. Secondly, they allow the killers to enter the capital and begin a campaign of terror against us with impunity. Finally, the international community rewards their killing by integrating them into the police and now, adding injustice to our misery, they openly pay them off for committing human rights violations against us. Is this what they mean by reconciliation? Is this what they mean when they say they are creating a climate for us to participate in the next elections?”

Amid charges of UN complicity, the so-called rebels who ousted Aristide still control several towns in northern Haiti and refuse to lay down their weapons. Representatives of Aristide’s Lavalas political party have condemned the UN for allowing the former military to conduct murderous raids into the poor neighborhoods of the capital where support for Aristide remains strong. The disbanded army is also accused of killings, rapes and torture under the 1991-1994 military regime of General Raoul Cedras.

Violence in the capital of Port au Prince escalated dramatically since Sept. 30, when the UN refused to intervene as the Haitian police fired on unarmed demonstrators calling for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide remains in exile in the Republic of South Africa.

Christmas in Haiti 2004

Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP) – The benevolence of Santa Claus and the love and wisdom of a prince of peace are not likely to be associated with the Gerard Latortue cabal’s place in Haitian history. When the US-installed regime took power following the coup against Haiti’s democratically elected government earlier this year; they made the grandiose claim of seeking to heal the country’s wounds through reconciliation. Since then, Haiti has been plagued by a petty and vengeful leadership who, along with a vindictive elite-controlled media, have led a campaign of political persecution against President Aristide’s Lavalas political party. This spiteful stance only fueled more violence by unleashing the former military and the Haitian police to prey upon supporters of the exiled president who in turn retaliated in what many here justify as a simple act of self-defense. For mere mortals, turning the other cheek is always difficult when faced with certain death.

Reconciliation is nowhere to be found during this holiday season in Haiti. Under the current Haitian regime the word has become synonymous with human rights violations, the summary dismissal of thousands of government employees abandoned without a means to a livelihood and innumerable political prisoners wasting away in jails throughout Haiti. The presence of a United Nations peacekeeping force is no more generous as it seems to have done little other than add legitimacy to a cynical and deadly exercise in pacification undertaken in the name of restoring democracy.

While Haiti’s wealthy elite returned from Christmas shopping sprees in Miami and New York, the holiday held little joy for the majority of poor families barely surviving. For some, like fired employees from the mayor’s office in Petion-Ville, it meant tempting retribution by peacefully demonstrating on Christmas Eve for back pay owed them so they might have a little something to bring home to their families for the holiday. Despite their strident spirit, it became clear their demands fell on deaf ears as couriers passed through the hungry crowd laden with sumptuous holiday gift baskets intended for the appointed and unelected mayors on behalf of their wealthy patrons.

For others, like the families of political prisoners, it meant a long march through the streets of Port au Prince on Christmas Day demanding to be reunited with their loved ones. The smaller children with sore feet were glad for the break they got from walking as they stopped to demonstrate in front of the UN headquarters. The large contingency of heavily armed SWAT team and special units of the Haitian police seemed out of place as the children broke into a spontaneous rendition of Silent Night. The UN peacekeepers mostly seemed disinterested and bored but most likely anxious to return to their homes and barracks to sit down to their Christmas dinner and call their own families back at home via expensive satellite phones.

All told, for most in Haiti the only gift they could afford this year

was to scrape together enough pennies for a humble Christmas dinner to honor and remember their loved ones. A ritual of breaking bread and communion in misery that recalled members of their families who are locked away in prison, living in exile or killed in the political violence of this past year.

Reverence and grief combined to mark the Christmas celebration in the poor neighborhoods of Cite Soleil and Bel Air. Under the watchful eyes of the UN peacekeepers and the Haitian police most people were reluctant to give their names or allow photographs. The laughter of malnourished children and the smells from thousands of pots of stew, made from whatever was available, mingled with the constant buzz of flies and the omnipresent odors of open sewage and garbage. As families prepared to sit down to their modest holiday meals many tables were decorated with photographs and remembrances of absent loved ones. There were fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers; cousins were there too. Most tables also included at least one small picture of a smiling President Aristide who is still revered among Haiti’s poor majority despite all the attempts to beat and starve it out of them.

In the midst of this uncertainty save for their poverty, this Christmas in Haiti saw a brief moment of peace for Haiti’s poor masses. The survivors of the holocaust, the imprisoned, the dead and the exiled all sat down together in spirit to pay tribute to the memory of the birth of a small child who would grow to be a man known for his acts of reconciliation, sacrifice and forgiveness. Haiti’s poor majority can only hope the example is not lost forever upon those who supported the coup, the UN or the regime of Gerard Latortue.

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