Haiti: opposition protests “emergency law”

On the night of April 15-16 the Haitian Senate approved an 18-month extension of the state of emergency that President René Préval decreed after a Jan. 12 earthquake killed some 230,000 people and devastated the capital area. The “emergency law,” which had been approved by the Chamber of Deputies one week earlier, would take effect once Préval had it published in the official government gazette, Le Moniteur.

Thirteen senators voted for the new law, while two opposed it and one abstained; 11 senators boycotted the April 15-16 session, charging that the vote’s outcome was already decided. Sen. Hector Amacacis, who supported the law, said that before the vote a meeting was held at a Western embassy “to push the members of Parliament” to approve the law. “The foreigners put all their weight into the balance to get the law adopted,” he said.

In addition to extending the state of emergency, the new law formally establishes an Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH) to oversee projects funded by the nearly $10 billion pledged by various countries at an international donors meeting on March 31 in New York. Of the CIRH’s 16 members, nine are foreigners and just seven come from Haiti. The commission’s co-presidents are current Haitian prime minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former US president Bill Clinton (1993-2001), now the United Nations special envoy for Haiti.

The law also significantly expands the powers of the Haitian government’s executive branch, authorizing the president to approve contracts without bids, to requisition private land to build camps for people displaced by the earthquake, and to evacuate the displaced from their current camps. (AlterPresse, Haiti, April 16 Radio Métropole, Haiti, April 17)

On May 5 Préval, whose five-year term ends on Feb. 7, 2011, sent Parliament a proposal to modify article 232 of the 2008 electoral law so that if new elections can’t be held before the end of November, he would remain in office until as late as May 14, 2011. Other elected officials would also have their terms extended. Préval, the UN and the US have been pushing for national elections in the fall that would combine this year’s presidential election with legislative elections that were scheduled for Feb. 28 but were postponed because of the earthquake. (Due to delays in the presidential elections scheduled for 2005, Préval didn’t take office until May 14, 2006.) (Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, May 5)

Préval’s moves ceding Haitian sovereignty to foreign officials and increasing his own power have provided an opening for the political opposition. On April 12, three days before the emergency law came before the Senate, a number of opposition parties–including the Lavalas Family (FL) party of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide (1991-1996 and 2001-2004), the Union party, the Union of Democratic Haitian Citizens for Development and Education (UCCADE), and the Alternative coalition—announced the formation of a new coalition, Tèt Kole (literally “heads close together”). Two of the coalition’s most prominent spokespersons are longtime opponents. René Civil is the leader of the militantly pro-Aristide Popular Power Youth (JPP), while former radio commentator and Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul (“K-Plim”), a leader of the Democratic Unity Committee (KID), worked to drive Aristide from office in 2004. (Agence Haïtienne de Presse (AHP), April 12; Radio Métropole, April 12)

The coalition has held a series of demonstrations against the emergency law. On April 27 protesters banged on pots and pans in Cap Haïtien to demand Préval’s departure, while more than 200 members of different organizations marched in the streets of Miragoane the same day. Some 500 protesters marched again in Miragoane on April 30. Several thousand reportedly marched in Jacmel on May 1 in a protest sponsored by the Regional Coordinating Committee of Organizations of the Southeast (CROS). Lavalas members marched in Cap Haïtien on May 1, but another group of protesters claiming to represent a different branch of Lavalas reportedly attacked them with stones and bottles. There have also been protests in Léogane, Hinche, Cayes, Saint Marc, Gonaïve and Port-au-Prince. (Radio Métropole, April 27, April 30, May 1)

Most of the Tèt Kole parties apparently plan to run in the elections this fall. In contrast, an April 19 statement from the leftist Batay Ouvriye (“Workers’ Struggle,” BO) dismissed the elections as a “maneuver…to mask the dictatorship of the ruling classes.” The group has called for building a grassroots movement to fight for a new political and social system. (“Nou ale,” BO statement, April 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 9.

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