Haiti: Lavalas marches, students protest

Former US president Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Haiti on March 9 along with a large group of private investors for a 24-hour visit they said was aimed at increasing international aid for the country. Supporters of the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004) held demonstrations to call for Clinton’s help in arranging for Aristide, who has lived in South Africa since being removed from office in February 2004, to return to Haiti.

The demonstrators were at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the north of Port-au-Prince when Clinton and Ban arrived; FL supporters also gathered in front of the presidential palace in the center of the capital as the visitors met with President René Préval. Tens of thousands of people took part in the actions, according to the pro-FL Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP) press agency.

LF supporters said they wanted to show their appreciation to Clinton for restoring Aristide to power after he was overthrown in a 1991 coup; Clinton ordered a US military intervention in 1994 and returned Aristide to office. Clinton, whose wife Hillary Clinton is now US secretary of state, told the demonstrators: “Your future can be better than your past.” René Civil, one of the organizers of the demonstrations, took this to mean that “Aristide’s return is the future,” but admitted that Clinton hadn’t responded directly. (AlterPresse, March 9; Radio Métropole, Haiti, March 11; AHP, March 9, 10)

A final date for Aristide’s return to Haiti has not yet been determined, South African foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told South Africa’s National Assembly on March 13. “The South African government continues to provide accommodation and services to former president Jean Bertrand Aristide equivalent to those provided to a South African cabinet minister until conditions in Haiti permit the return of the former president and his family,” she said. “The monthly costs related to his accommodation, transport, office support staff and security are similar to the cost associated to a South African cabinet minister.” Aristide has been made an honorary research fellow at the University of South Africa, and in 2007 he received a doctorate in African languages. (South African Press Association-SAPA, March 13)

In February students at the Superior Teachers College (ENS) in Port-au-Prince, the country’s only teachers college, started protesting curriculum changes; protesters said administrators had eliminated math and science classes to focus on school management. On Feb. 26 about 100 students from the ENS occupied the offices of the rector of the State University of Haiti (UEH) to push their demands for restoring basic science to the curriculum. Professors were also reportedly involved in the occupation. On March 4 a confrontation broke out between police and protesters, with students hurling rocks at police vehicles and smashing windshields. The local tax office, the Carrefour branch of the General Directorate of Taxes (DIG), was unable to operate because its computer network is connected to the rector’s office. (Haiti Support Group News Briefs, Feb. 17 from AP; AlterPresse, March 4; Radio Métropole, March 5)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 22

See our last post on Haiti.