I suddenly woke up. I had just started to fall asleep. It is 2 o’clock in the morning. On the telephone, Irvelt informs me that, according to the news from Haiti, a lot of gunshots are heard from the National Palace. He says that he will call again.
Having stayed up late to prepare my luggage, I had planned to go early to the airport to avoid problems due to the Christmas season. But the telephone rings again already. It has not stopped ringing since. I am called from everywhere by members of this huge and supporting population living outside the country, always interested in news from Haiti. As the hours went by, the news kept coming, diverse, contradictory, and catastrophic: “The Palace is occupied by armed men, some of whom are speaking in Spanish… Aristide is in a safe place… The Police and the population have surrounded the Palace.”
The attackers disappeared without leaving any trace. Guy Philippe, a former police commissioner, is the alleged leader of the coup attempt. The facilities of OPL-Convergence and KONAKOM are invaded by Aristide supporters, the well known “grassroots organizations,” groups of individuals paid for each job, having among them 12 to 16 year old children, and led by heavily armed individuals. Those facilities are looted and set afire. I get in touch with Party members who reassure me, saying that they are in a safe place. From Port-au-Prince, Suzy informs me that in Pétion-Ville, the radio station Signal FM is surrounded and attacked, as is my residence. The Police is arriving, she says with a sigh of relief. Well, no, the attacks continue under the eyes of the police officers. A breach is opened in the outside walls. The house is set afire with Molotov cocktails, as well as two vehicles parked in the yard.
The home of Professor Victor Benoît, located in a remote suburb, is also burned as well as the home of Reverend Luc Messadieu, in Gonaïves, where two bodyguards are burned alive, and Reverend Dieudonné watches his home, school and church go up in smoke. Similar cases are reported in Cap Haitian, Petit-Goâve, and Jérémie. In all those cases, national or local Convergence leaders are targeted. The facts seem to indicate that, in the cases of Benoît, Messadieu and myself (I had not made any public announcement about my trip abroad,) there had been a premeditated attempt of political assassination. The regime did not accuse us of being responsible or having conspired with the attackers to launch this so-called coup. That would have prompted us to seek refuge. Those who had thus planned that Machiavellian plot wanted to be sure that we would stay home quietly, which would have made their task easier. The plan was then to create a climate allowing them to blame uncontrollable supporters, an anonymous and faceless mob, for this “unfortunate incident,” and spread confusion about the responsibility for those “spontaneous” acts.
In total, about twenty leaders fall victim in Port-au-Prince and the provinces, their residence is looted and, in several cases, burned. The same situation occurs at the French Institute of Haiti, as well as at CRESFED, the Center for Research and Economic and Social Training for Development. Suzy and I had worked hard to build that Center, stone after stone, since we returned to Haiti, with the generous support of many Haitian and foreign friends; we had seen it as a concrete contribution to the training of youth and intellectual production, and offered it as a legacy to this country, where no other similar institution existed, a country where some individuals receive, collect, and steal without giving anything to the community.
Amidst those barbaric acts, confirmed by several sources, there is doubt about whether the coup attempt itself was genuine. The alleged leader of that operation and former police commissioner, speaking from Santo Domingo, denied that the event had taken place… No evidence is produced by the authorities. During an interview with a Dominican newspaper, I state that the whole thing looks like a self-inflicted coup staged to cover the incendiary and murderous acts of vandalism against the opposition. In Haiti, they call it Aristidian theater. I spend a terrible day in a hotel room of Miami, glued to the telephone, with a lot of questions on my mind, and that goes on until late into the night. Not a surprise for me, since I had always known that we were dealing with a man who was capable of doing anything. A word from Suzy reassures me: “We are all alive, there has been no loss of human life. We have lost everything, but we will start to rebuild again.”
I had arrived to this hotel a few days earlier, invited to a congress about political parties in Latin America, where about fifty statesmen, diplomats, and specialists participated: among them, former President of Ecuador Rodrigo Borja, former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez, President Elect of Honduras Roberto Maduro, OAS Secretary-General César Gaviria, and US Ambassador at the OAS Roger Noriega. That meeting was of great value to us, Haitians, from the standpoint of knowledge and skills. It was an opportunity to meet my friend, Professor Leslie Manigat, whom it is not easy to see in Port-au-Prince. I also felt the academician’s nostalgia that I experience every time I participate in debates at that level. Hours of reflexion and enlightenment devoted to an analysis of the current challenges faced by democracies and governments in light of the growing importance of medias and civil societies, and spent reviewing the complexity of election issues, the most recent forms of attacks against democracy, and the means available to strengthen the system. It was an opportunity to explain the different aspects of the Haitian crisis triggered by the fraudulent elections of 2000, and inform about the difficulties encountered in the negotiations mediated by the OAS between the Convergence and the Lavalas regime. It was also a forum to expose that regime, engaged in violence and deceit, increasingly marred by absolutism, and therefore representing a threat to democracy. Those revelations were received with so much interest that I was brought to realize the extent of the task needed to inform the international community about the situation in Haiti. It was then hard for me to guess that, a few days later, Mr. Aristide would make me one of the main victims of his quest for absolute power, in a display of the methods used by his regime.
When Ambassador Luigi Einaudi called me to express his outrage and his sympathy, I explained to him that those acts were consistent with the totalitarian control sought by Lavalas. The next day, I received a telephone call from Secretary-General Gaviria expressing his sympathy toward the Convergence and me. He listened carefully to my point of view. He recalled my cautious optimism, a few days earlier, about the recent mission of Einaudi in Port-au-Prince, as well as the hope I still formulated then about a political agreement. I mentioned to him that the decision of the Lavalas regime to launch those acts of war and banditry against the Convergence, which has been recognized by the OAS as a partner in the negotiations, meant that the regime had stopped the negotiations. I told him that the OAS then needed to implement the provisions of the Inter-American Democratic Chart, and he answered that several member countries were already considering this possibility.
On that December 18, I was celebrating my birthday. An old Haitian friend living in Mexico called me early in the morning to wish me strength and say “happy birthday” in spite of the circumstances. As we evoked memories of our efforts as activists, our families, the years spent in exile and friends who had died in the struggle, we embraced and cried together. His anger triggered mine, which had so far been kept in check by the incoming news…
I started to digest the information, analyzing it piece by piece. I felt overwhelmed by thoughts and memories. Why all those barbaric attacks against the Convergence and why were they targeting one of the main advocates of dialogue and political understanding? My personal commitment to the popular and national cause was not questioned by anyone. And it has been a consistent commitment, an activism that had motivated me all along, since I was 16 years old and became involved in the popular movement as a young intellectual. Living an always difficult existence, without resentment and with integrity, meditating and forever questioning, I always felt the call to be with the Haitian people in its quest for justice and a better life. Caught in the momentum of the popular and democratic movement of 1990, I had supported Aristide because that young priest, an advocate of the ideas of Liberation Theology, had the hopeful backing of the masses and the youth. I later distanced myself from him, along with the most trustworthy leaders of the Lavalas movement regrouped within the OPL, the organization that we had created with the purpose of establishing democracy. Since that time, I have publicly rejected Aristide’s methods and participated in a peaceful opposition to his regime.
Why did I become the man to destroy for taking that position? Why, since I am neither trying to be Prime Minister nor running for the presidency, did they hit me with a triple stab in the back, by attacking my home, the office of the party that I am leading, as well as the cultural and scientific Center that I cofounded as a professional workplace? Was that desire for revenge due to the dissident path of the OPL? Was is due to the fact that this party had been one of the building blocks of the Convergence which, by its size, perseverance, and above all because of the credibility of its leadership, projects the example of unity as a beam of light into the darkness of the night? Isn’t that extreme manipulation consisting of targeting those popular leaders for a simulated “déchoucage” (popular uprooting) the most cynical way to punish the spoilers for standing against the electoral frauds of year 2000, when their parties, OPL, Espace de Concertation, and MOCHRENA were about to win a majority in Parliament?
On this day of high emotions, amid the countless calls of sympathy, troublesome thoughts and theories came to my mind. Since the early hours of the morning, I had refrained from considering such a series of questions and answers, by mentally putting on a “hard shell” to cope with the suffering. It hit me hard to lose all that material, accumulated as an investment of noble production of the mind, in this intellectual, social and political work. It was difficult for me to comprehend that destruction of community’s property.
The OPL facility that, along with a whole team of activists, we had built in modern architectural style, with a known social and national commitment, with an unprecedented level of cohesion in Haiti, without soilure, and without the involvement of the “grands mangeurs” (corrupted government officials). A political effort generated by the heroic and humanist work of the revolutionary Marxist youth of the 60s, and inspired by the Christian fervor of those who really believed in the Liberation Theology of the 1970s and 1980s; fed by grassroots energy, natural leaders of that popular and democratic movement which emerged before and after 1986. An effort bearing the most healthful seeds of the past, those most resistant to the weeds and vermin of the present; an effort characterized by the most courageous traces of the resistance and the most promising grain of the future, at a time when the regime is trying to corrupt everything. Those acts of State terrorism, engineered by insatiable embezzlers, reflected in the most cynical way their will to break the backbone or eliminate activists who opposed them, leaders who, by their teaching, had motivated citizens of different political affiliations to say “no” to electoral frauds, human rights violations, and political crime.
The destructive violence also hit CRESFED and its library, a facility for documentation and reference about the 20th century in Haiti, that had been started in the late 50s when Suzy and I began to gather books and walk together on a common path. In fact, she had come to Mexico to research books and other documents for her thesis on the American occupation, reviving the context of the independence centennial, while I was researching economic history, among the promises and the ruins of the 19th century, trying to understand the causes of underdevelopment and stunted capitalism in Haiti, and document them in a book on Haitian economy. Then, we did not stop reading, gathering, and preciously saving every document, every file, and every book. While living these two lives, this double intellectual path, we particularly noticed, in our heart and our mind, the natural history of our struggle against tyranny as a people, as evidenced by many episodes written in little known publications. I was affected by the loss of such a wealth of spiritual property.
I was disturbed by the violation of my home, the intrusion of looters in my family residence. For more than 40 years, that sanctuary, a facility used to preserve and communicate our spiritual heritage, has been a place where true values of human evolution and authentic Haitianism were exalted and preciously kept during a long exile and embraced by all our children, who have chosen to he Haitians. I was consumed by the desire to go back to my country. I wanted to see with my own eyes and evaluate the extent of that ignoble act.
I decided to meet the challenge ; to refuse to yield an inch to authoritarianism; to reclaim that precarious democratic space for which we had fought so hard. I decided to board the first available plane to go back.
I landed in Port-au-Prince on December 22, in the morning. Being the first passenger to get off the plane, as I entered the terminal, passed the immigration and customs checkpoints, and was welcomed at the airport, I noticed the surprise in those eyes looking at me, the smiles, the raised thumbs, the clenched fists. The man that the tyrant was treating as Public Enemy No. 1 was not allowing himself to be excluded. He was returning to his country and to his burned home and library, among the scorched documents, looking for words of truth to write on the walls and books, and to tell the story, expose the infamy, and fight without pause. He had already returned from 26 years spent in exile during the Duvalier dictatorship. He was still determined to pursue this effort for the continued education indispensable to build democracy.
Suzy greeted me with joy and emotion, as did the OPL brothers who were there to welcome me: former Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, former Senate President Edgard Leblanc, and former Senator Paul Denis. Escorted by other Haitian and foreign friends, we arrived at No. 27, Charlemagne Péralte Street in Pétion-Ville. It was a great surprise for me to see that a part of my house was still there. I felt the pain of those who had lost everything. Particularly my friend, Victor Benoît, a tenured activist, a career teacher who had lost his entire home and library.
A large part of my home had been destroyed by the arsonists, who burned many books and documents, particularly on religions, Africa, a whole collection of classics about Marxism, and my books about Cuba. These books, about 500, had helped me write “Genèse de la Révolution Cubaine” (Genesis of the Cuban Revolution) whose manuscript in French disappeared into the flames as well as some of my books, leaving me without a single copy. The ransacking of my house had caused the disappearance of my collection of paintings, souvenirs, furniture, clothing, CDs, video and audio cassettes, as well as home appliances. In the piles of scorched books and documents, torn pieces of furniture, broken family objects, in the middle of that setting of desolation were left, here and there, fragments of memories, pages of history, yellowed pictures covered with mud, and footprints of the bandits. The smell of burn and soot mixed with the dark colors of smoked walls and ashes. The spectacle caused an outrage that strengthened the determination to neutralize and overcome such barbarism, and restore family values and respect for others. And that determination was embodied by a woman, my lifetime companion, a community activist, a mother and grandmother who, from the very next day following that horror, had decided to start rebuilding our home.
At the party’s headquarter, the physical destruction was total. Everything had been burned or stolen. Everything, absolutely everything, except for the spirit of the founders, martyrs or heroes Marc Romulus, Jean-Marie Vincent, Yvon Toussaint, and Hérard Pauyo, and so many strong minds that the satanic verses could not drive away. The rage and fire had also consumed the neighboring house, which had been used earlier for a private lottery business. The OPL-Convergence building in ruins, besides the KONAKOM and the next building, stood with all the symbolism as a place of resistance, where all kinds of progress had been made and all kinds of threats received. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose regime is in jeopardy because of its lack of legitimacy, bears a deadly grudge against the Convergence, a unifying group which offers an alternate government personified by Mr. Gérard Gourgue, Esq., elected president by a General Assembly in January 2002. That event was attended with high democratic expectations by activists from the 9 departments and from abroad, since it allowed a rebirth of the civil society by facilitating the emergence of new actors and the participation of all citizens; a place where journalists could hear the voice of refusal and see the colors of a dream, where representatives of the international community, by their presence, provided support to our struggle for the right to live, to participate in our country’s decisions, and to demand an alternative. Hadn’t the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), who has jurisdiction over the continent, recently visited the Board of Directors of the Convergence?
I looked at the ruins with a sadness that I could hardly contain. I was, at the same time, happy to greet the activists who, along with the workers, were rebuilding that site of Hope, that wall of resistance knocked down by a government bulldozer sent to destroy this historical place. I felt that, beyond the criminal acts of December 17, the anarcho-populist project of Jean-Bertrand Aristide had become more obvious, as well as the failure of Lavalas for 11 years, and that in the eyes of many patriots, the survival and the very existence of the Nation were in danger. Therefore, the task of stopping the forces of political gangsterism and anti-democracy appears as a patriotic duty.
I realized how much I carry in my soul the will to resist oppression, the struggle, the setbacks and the hope of three generations, that utopia of a new Haiti which, in fact, spreads over the last century. I also understood why so many people, to whom I want to just say “thank you,” had called me to express their sympathy and solidarity, why I was visited by so many people of all walks of life and all political affiliation, and why some had sent to me, sometimes anonymously, a bed, an oven, a refrigerator, a computer, some chairs, dishes, clothing items, an envelope or just a few words saying: be strong, keep it up!
It should thus be expected, from those who run and benefit from the Lavalas regime, that they want to wipe us off the face of the Earth. We have always been and will continue to be builders, to cultivate a sense of creative optimism, teamwork, conscious participation in organizing, equitable sharing of the fruits of our common effort, and human solidarity. We belong to the race of builders. We will continue to struggle to build a country where human rights are respected, where those who violate those rights and liberties, whatever their rank, and who trample on the law and the Constitution, are punished; a country where crime and impunity are banned; where those violent, illegal, and barbaric acts are never repeated, for having caused so much harm the Nation and to Haitian families; a country where education for all and creative work blossom, to guarantee food and dignity to everyone.
Pétion-Ville, Haiti, March 8, 2002.
Haïti-Nation change de peau!