The Patience of a People Abused

Haiti news

Nova Scotia PIRG

March 5, 2006

The Patience of a People Abused

We are driving in a sea of people walking on both sides of the road, everyone maneuvering and dodging, women balancing loads on their heads, all managing to barely avoid our SUV, but it happens so constantly, that one could consider it a kind of system. The skill level is breathtaking. Our driver and guide, Marc Orel, is complementing the other drivers´ and pedestrians´ moves with constant turns of the wheel. We are at the edge of our seats much of the time.

Haitians have to get along, sharing roads and facilities that leave so much to be desired, that our North American complaints about potholes seems fussy in the extreme. At least we have pavement in which to have potholes. In Haiti - within the capital Port-au-Prince even- you have many roads that have the quality of a riverbed, and steeply climbing the mountainside at that. The large majority of people are navigating through physical conditions in their day that we cannot quite fathom. What one can see of it in the streets, like the traffic –just getting from here to there - and the patience it requires, is a metaphor of the political struggle to get from rule by wealthy elites and their foreign masters to democratic standards.

The current situation, after the election of President Rene Preval, is an opportunity for that –once again. Haitians had a long ‘education´ in the multitude of experiences of political manipulation over the last decades. The poor majority is struggling with literacy, still, but they are experts in the real world of political power. That is why they so forcefully claimed their victory after electing Rene Preval -without violence, it is important to note! Having had control of the capital at the end of a long week of waiting for election results, they showed amazing restraint and unity in their determination to get what they bargained for. They had already determined their choice with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, twice before, but were cheated out of the fruits of their labour.

Given that backdrop, it is truly a great people that can behave so peacefully. A few hours of poolside R+R at the upscale Hotel Montana, the headquarters of the Provisional Election Commission ( CEP ), was all they took, as far as ‘loot´ goes. No hostages, no burning, no killing. Downright baffling, if one is steeped in the mainstream media´s violent and negative terms of reference for the supporters of constitutional democracy during the two years since Aristide´s forced removal.

Now the new democracy is in a position where Haiti´s elite, as represented by Group 184 and others in the opposition to Lavalas, Aristide´s party - and now also to Preval´s ‘Lespwa´ party - is sawing away at Preval´s legitimacy by complaining about both violence and a ‘negotiated´ presidency. As the Kingston, Jamaica, based writer John Maxwell so aptly put it: “They are giving him a basket to carry water!’

This is in concert with the Washington cabal, the masters of all the actions, covert and flagrantly obvious alike, which led to the late February 2004 violence, termed a ‘popular uprising´ by western media, in total ignorance of the facts. And again, the battle is on for the opinions of citizens of the western countries which have interfered in Haitian affairs for so long, primarily the United States, but now very importantly also Canada.

It is perhaps a treacherous relaxation of the tension in Haiti, but Haitian leaders like Samba Boukman and William Batiste, in the slums of Bel Air and Cite Soleil, are expressing goodwill for dialogue and reconciliation, but with a clear intent to see some form of justice. Most importantly an equal form of justice, from high up to the bottom of the ladder. The patience and will to have peace and a better country for all Haitians is in the air around the poor areas of Port-au-Prince.

As we careen through the sundrenched, dusty streets, the density of people and market vendors increases, and the stench of raw sewage is everywhere. Garbage is lying in heaps in random places, often in the street. Little rivers of grey coloured waste run down a gutter at the feet of the people sitting along the road, and the kids are playing all around in bare feet. The rough houses and shacks form infinitely complex mazes of entrance alleys, stairs and doorways, reaching deep into the blocks. The exhaust fumes belched from all manner of labouring trucks and cars fill the area, as in most parts of the city, but seemingly worse.

We are now in Bel Air, one of the poor sections of the city.

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