|Caricom countries never friendly to Haiti |
Neidi Lee-Sing Rojas Sunday, February 29 2004
Captain Ulrick Thibaud, attached to the Salvation Army’s San Fernando branch, a Haitian who grew up in Petit Goave, is calling on Caricom to lend a helping hand to Haiti in light of the social unrest and turmoil currently taking place there. Thibaud believes that other than extended help to the country, the only other solution for peace to reign is for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down. Thibaud has been working with the Salvation Army for 11 years now, but has been stationed in Trinidad for the past three years. He lives in TT with his wife Claudette and three children. He longs to visit his 88-year-old father, two sisters and a brother back at home, but it’s been difficult to get a flight to Haiti. It’s been more than a week since his interview with Sunday Newsday, and he is still unable to get a flight. “We are very, very concerned. The only solution now is for Aristide to step down, let another government run the country and let peace reign,” he said.
About three weeks ago, officials were forced to close the airport in the country’s second largest city, Cap-Haitien, and flights had to be cancelled. Getting to Petit Goave may also prove a difficult task, since the town, Grand Goave, which is just before Petit Goave, has been cut off, he said. Their only means of contact, so far, has been by telephone and he is hoping his family will be safe. He is not sure when the situation will be settled enough for him to visit, but is keeping his hopes high. Rebels from opposition militias have virtually taken the country over, killing about 70 and several more people seriously injured, as they continue to battle with the Haitian government. Tensions exploded into open revolt this month after gunmen, who once backed President Aristide, took control of the city of Gonaives, where Haiti’s slaves declared independence from France in 1804. Aristide became Haiti’s elected leader in 1991, but now faces accusations of corruption and political violence.
Ousted in a military coup soon after he was elected, he was restored to power in a US invasion in 1994 and re-elected in 2000. Despite the continued unrest, Aristide has refused to step down. Thibaud, who is concerned about the human suffering taking place in his country, feels Aristide should step down. He said as a former priest, Aristide should step down in order to alleviate the human sufferings being experienced as a result of the unrest. “As human beings, the same way one would feel hearing about and seeing human suffering, is the same way I feel about what is happening in my country. “When it comes to human life, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Trinidad, Bahamas or Haiti, once people are suffering, if you have a heart, you can never be comforted by this,” he said. Giving a brief history of what he remembered about the political situation in Haiti, he said for a long time the military officials were asking Aristide to pay them their salaries because when he dismantled the army, they were not paid. As a result, they becamevery angry since they were men who also had families to feed and take care of.
He recalled when the rebels took over the police stations and burnt them down. “Now, Aristide has lost control over the situation and is calling on international forces to help him deal with the problem. This is against Haiti’s constitution,” said Thibaud. He feels that any sovereign country should not allow international forces to come and rule over its people, but let the rebels and the Haitian government work out their own solutions. However, he admitted that Haiti needed the international community for financial assistance and warned social organisations that if they are going to help the country financially, not to give money to the government. Referring to the previous history between Caricom and Haiti, he lamented that the community organisation never got involved enough to intervene in the country’s past turmoils and wants to know why everyone is making a fuss about the situation now.
“Caricom never said one word to do something in the past. They are trying to do something now and I don’t think its against their will, but Caricom countries have never been friendly to Haiti,” he said. “Haiti is alone in its battle. When things get bad, everybody trying to do something but when things good you do not hear about help for Haiti.” Thibaud said this is one reason why he is against armed international forces going into Haiti. “Haiti is a sovereign country, let them handle their battle by themselves,” he said. He felt that if Haiti cannot come to its own political solution, things will worsen. “Aristide should step down and give the country a chance to go forward and if the international community and if Caricom wants to help, they should pressure Aristide to step down, that’s the only solution to this problem,” said Thibaud. The social worker said based on information he has been receiving, there are a lot of dead bodies on the streets and no one wants to bury them. He said there could be serious health implications if this continues to escalate.
Remembering life in Haiti
Petit Goave, the place where Thibaud grew up, is approximately 60 miles from the capital city, Port-au-Prince. He said as a child, he remembered a time when the people of Haiti had a much better life in comparison to what there is now. Thibaud grew up during the time of Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier’s (Baby Doc) dictatorship and Aristide’s rule. He said even though the former leaders were dictators, there was still life in every part of the country. “People were able to get clean water to drink, the streets were clean enough and people had fun in the streets but now, people cannot even go to their place of work freely, because they are afraid,” he said. Thibaud said this was why he felt Aristide should do better, because he was a priest, who preached to the people, a message of love and was a “messiah” for the poor people sending messages of good tidings, but now, he has turned into a dictator.
“He doesn’t care about the people, he’s making big money but the people are suffering,” he said. Thibaud said the majority of the people in Haiti — about 70 percent of the population — depend on agriculture as a source of income and live on their produce. He was very defensive about statements that the people of Haiti live on less than US$1 per day. “What do they know about life in Haiti to measure us by statistics?” he asked. “They should not depend on statistics alone to judge and condemn us.” Thibaud said if someone has access to agricultural produce, they get a lot of money for these food items and feed themselves as well.
Haitian Priest: UN and Caricom should pressure Aristide to make a peace resolution
Roman Catholic Haitian priest attached to the Holy Ghost Fathers at St Mary’s College, Port-of-Spain, Father Enel Almeurs, is also calling on the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the United Nations (UN), to put pressure on Aristide, in order to make a peaceful resolution and put an end to the social unrest in Haiti, pointing out that Caricom had a duty to help neighbouring Caribbean countries. “Its first responsibility is to see how the population, as a member of Caricom, lives in their present condition and help the people of Haiti, not the personality (Aristide), but the country, the people of the country. They have to look beyond Aristide,” he said. “I welcome Caricom but Caricom must understand their need to help Haiti and its people.”
Almeurs is the priest who helped four Haitian stowaways, who went on a hunger strike at the State prison about a month ago. One Haitian, 21-year-old, Wolf Moises, had attempted suicide. The others were 34-year-old Baptiste Jean, 33-year-old Smith Augusite and Anouse Deben, 28. Almeurs is very concerned about the escalating violence in Haiti, especially since his family lives there. His mother Elizabeth lives in another town but his father Dieuseul and 16 siblings live in Port-au-Prince. “I am very concerned about the situation because I heard that the rebels will be closing in on Port-au-Prince very soon,” he said. Almeurs, who has only been in Trinidad for seven months now, said he wakes in the middle of the night with nightmares, worried about his family and the poor children whom he helped back home. “What is happening in Haiti depresses everyone. It is very hard for me, when I watch television and internet, the images.... I am not happy, I am very concerned about my country. I had hoped the government will do something to resolve the situation but it is getting worse and worse,” he said. For him, Haiti is his “joy, his pain and his nightmares.” “When I think about my country, the arts, literature, music, those things make me happy. “But my pain is what has happened today in Haiti, the uprising, the guns, the rebels and the government which is not doing well for the welfare of his population. “This is a constant nightmare for me,” he said. Speaking English with a heavy French accent last week, he said: “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to think about my country and I see the children and the poor who are not happy.”
Together with the majority of Haitians, he supports the constitution, which mandates a belief in total sovereignty, that no outside forces should try to help their country. “I am not for any country sending troops to Haiti — our constitution defends this fact. “When we got our independence, we became very jealous for our independence. “Our independence says, that in this land, never will the enemy come and take us back to slavery,” he said. Almeurs pointed that one of the first mistakes Aristide made, was when he accepted the US-backed troops to put him back in power. “Our constitution considers this a crime because he betrayed the country,” he said. Should Aristide step down? “If this will help tide the bloodbath in Haiti, I support that as a solution. Caricom, unfortunately, let its mind walk only on one way. Caricom never took time to understand the real problem of our country,” he said.
Almeurs grew up in a town called Irois Jeremie, which has a population of about 30,000 people. As a child, he said he did not know abject poverty as some say Haitians experience. He recalled always having food to eat, since agriculture is a way of life for them. “Haiti is a poor country, but we are not all poor. Families stick together and help each other and we live on a lot of agriculture, bananas, provisions and fish and my town was a coastal area, so it was not too bad for me or any other child for that matter,” he said. The main thrust of unhappiness for Haitians is President Aristide, whom Almeurs said, is not working for the people. “Some people love him too much and treat him like he is a baby, like a child, whom they have to protect, but others are disappointed and we all hurting because our President is not working for the people and he doesn’t even have control of the rebels,” he said.
Political History of Haiti
Ten years ago, the United States sent 20,000 troops to end a military dictatorship that had ousted Aristide in 1991, a year after he became Haiti’s first freely elected leader. But Washington has made clear it won’t commit a large number of troops this time. Aristide, hugely popular when he was elected, especially among the destitute in the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, has since lost a lot of support. Opponents accuse the former priest of failing to help those in need, condoning corruption and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs. Aristide denies the charges. Flawed legislative elections in 2000 led international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.
The President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was democratically elected on December 16, 1990 by 67 percent of Haitian voters. He took office on February 7, 1991. The validity of the election was upheld by the United Nations, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean community. It was hoped that the election would put an end to a long period encompassing the dictatorship of Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier followed by five years of political instability under five different regimes, and mark the beginning of an era of democracy and economic and social progress. However, on September 30, 1991, President Aristide was overthrown in a coup d’etat, headed by Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, and forced into exile.