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Changes of Heart…and Mind

February 2004

If you’ve seen any recent news reports from Haiti. You know that mass demonstrations against the Aristide government have become a regular occurrence. You also know that armed supporters of the government have often attacked those demonstrations.

As I said in the previous post, Grassroots International got involved in Haiti to help those Aristide supporters trying to do underground work against the military leaders who overthrew Aristide in the early 1990s. During that period, we did our part in the creation of an almost messianic aura around Aristide. Our support went to grassroots organizations and activists committed to building democracy, but that work necessarily projected Aristide as the democratic alternative for Haiti.

Now most of those same organizations and activists are calling for his resignation. One organization, the Haitian Human Rights Platform, has steadfastly guarded its political neutrality, but has consistently been outspoken in its criticism of the government for its failure to protect basic human rights in Haiti.

Supporters of the government call such opposition a reflection of the political ambitions of individuals, or political naivete about the leaders of Haiti’s opposition political parties. They insist that, whatever Aristide’s shortcomings, he is preferable to the terrible alternatives waiting in the wings.

The problems that our partners have with Aristide government are not a reaction to his response to the recent demonstrations. Their opposition arises from a long series of grievances dating almost from the time that a US invasion of Haiti returned the President to power. The leaders of two of GRI’s partner organizations, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) and Camille Chalmers of The Haitian Platform for Alternative Development Policy (PAPDA) played key roles in the Aristide government put back in place by the US military. They are now among the government’s most outspoken opponents.

This past weekend, Aristide took a series of “confidence building measures” designed to defuse the situation. At least so far, our Haitian partners have shown no confidence in these measures, and they have renewed their call for Aristide’s resignation. Fearful that the United States may be planning another military intervention in their country, PAPDA has also taken a strong position against any such intervention.

The Aristide government still has its supporters in the United States, including many committed, long-term Haiti solidarity activists in the United States. Influential and progressive members of Congress also maintain close ties to the government. This creates a challenging environment for an organization like Grassroots with close ties to that solidarity community and even closer ties to Haitian activists who have long since given up on Aristide.

Information is important. Several sites are doing a good job of collecting recent press coverage of Haiti. One is the Haiti Democracy Project

More, next time, about how we have dealt with these challenges…

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