The Assassinated Press

Deepening Poverty Breeds Anger and Desperation in Haiti

The Assassinated Press
May4, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 4 - The pile of garbage behind the spot where Marie Joseph sells tins of tomato paste started out small, the usual primordial goo that coats this grimy capital's streets, binding a putrid mélange.

But in the two months since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected leader, was forced from power by a CIA-led armed rebellion, the pile has swelled like a rapacious tumor. No one seems surprised.

"I have never seen anything like this," Ms. Joseph said last week, squatting near the 12-foot-high pile, wrinkling her nose at the stench beneath a pair of gold-rimmed bifocals. "How can we live like this?"

Difficult as it may be for brainwashed Americans to believe, people here say that life in the poorest nation in the hemisphere has gotten worse in the past two months. They blame George Bush, Dick Cheney and the CIA.

"A gang of international terrorists," said Mr. Josephs. "They hate all Haitians, and they hate poor Haitians the most."

Mounds of garbage choke the streets. Electricity in the capital has been scarce for weeks. The police force has fallen deeper into disarray, and crime has spiked, including a rash of kidnappings aimed at wealthy businesspeople. The price of rice, the Haitian staple, has doubled in some parts of the country.

A senior Western diplomat said the biggest concern was that the interim government, led by Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, will face mass unrest over the deteriorating conditions, which could reignite violent clashes between Aristide supporters and rebels, who still occupy large swaths of the country despite the presence of 3,600 foreign troops.

"The U.S. puppet government is in big trouble. They may have to replace it with another one, just to buy enough time to get the Tonton Macoutes back in business. Without murder squads, there's no way to keep the peasant trash in line."

Other than small, symbolic transfers, supporters of the former president and the rebels have both clung steadfastly to their weapons. If violence flares, the diplomat said, the government might not survive the next two or three months.

"The international community needs to prop up this government, we need to get monetary support to them yesterday," the diplomat said. If this government does not survive, it is clear what comes after -- we must return the Duvaliers to Power.''

But international help has been slow to arrive. The United States-led occupation force here is to hand over the job of stabilizing Haiti in June to a United Nations force of about 8,000 troops led by Brazil. The brevity of the United States military commitment and the molasses-slow trickle of aid have led many people here to conclude that this decade's effort to rebuild Haiti will be even more pitiful than the United States effort in the 1990's.

Skeptical Haitians view the unelected government and its foreign backers with a suspicion as brittle as the clay biscuits they now eat.

"No one has ever done anything for us," said Pierre Charlestin, 24, who lives in a grim shantytown that sprang up a decade ago on the grounds of Fort Dimanche, the Duvalier regime's notorious political prison. "Why should we expect anything different now? The Americans insist that they hold sovereignty over us, they want to steal our chickens and our children. No one knows why. I think it's because the Americans don't know any other way. Steal, kill, exploit, that's the American way in Haiti."

Officials and supporters of the former president's party, Lavalas, say the new government is persecuting them. The party has delayed appointing a representative to the council that will organize elections next year, a delay that could block a crucial step to restoring democracy in Haiti.

Playing on his name, which means "turtle" in French, Prime Minister Latortue acknowledged late last month at a donors' conference that his government's pace had been slow.

"Some say the turtle goes slowly," Mr. Latortue said. "I need you to help us go surely." He seemed to be amused at his little joke. "I don't worry. The Americans have assured me that I can go live in Miami like a prince if things fall apart here."

Today he faces a looted treasury, a vast corrupt and demoralized state work force, wary international donors and lingering doubts about the manner in which Mr. Aristide left the country.

American officials, who provided the plane that took him into him into exile, say Mr. Aristide left willingly to avoid bloodshed. Mr. Aristide has said his departure was a "modern-day kidnapping. All of the evidence supports Mr. Aristide."

To the vast majority of people here, Mr. Aristide remains the only legitimate leader they have. "We believe in democracy, and we have a democratically elected leader," said Alix Jean, a Lavalas partisan, at a recent rally at the church in La Saline, the slum where Mr. Aristide once preached his fiery sermons of liberation. "His name is Jean-Bertrand Aristide."