by Kevin Pina
HIP – Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s largest political party and grassroots movement, laid Catholic liberation theology priest Father Gerard Jean-Juste to rest this past Thursday. A large banner waved overhead declaring “[Father] Jery you left us but the struggle continues” as thousands of mourners streamed out carrying Jean-Juste’s casket, sparking an impromptu pro-Lavalas demonstration. Chants of “The struggle continues, return Aristide” and “No elections without Lavalas” rang through the streets as a reminder that Lavalas is preparing to wage a second round of boycotts against the upcoming Senate elections scheduled for Sunday.
The procession and demonstration were suddenly interrupted by gunfire that could be heard from around the corner. Witnesses report that Brazilian soldiers with the U.N. military mission opened fire after attempting to arrest one of the mourners. The U.N. has since denied the shooting and claims that the victim had been killed by either a rock thrown by the crowd or a blunt instrument. Eyewitnesses on the scene have countered that the U.N. is trying to cover up the affair as it promises to heighten tensions before Sunday’s elections.
The U.N. and the Obama administration continue to endorse and finance a second round of controversial Senate elections in Haiti. The first round was held last April 19 and was marked by a low voter turnout following a successful boycott campaign waged by Fanmi Lavalas.
The Fanmi Lavalas party was excluded from participation in the first round after President Rene Preval’s handpicked Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) demanded original signatures on all of their documents. With former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, their party’s national leader, in exile, Lavalas was unable to comply with what some in their ranks have referred to as “a humiliating last minute request.”
The powerful community organizations that form the base of the Lavalas movement then announced “Operation Closed Door,” urging voters to stay away from the polls. Independent observers put participation at between 3-4 percent, while the CEP announced it had been as high as 11 percent. Lavalas recently announced a boycott of the second round, called “Operation Closed Door 2,” and leaflets were distributed throughout the capital on Thursday urging voters to “stay away from the polls, end the exclusion [of Haiti’s largest political party].”
Members of the Lavalas Mobilization Commission, organizers of the boycott, are reportedly in hiding after CEP President Gerard Frantz Verret demanded last Thursday that the Ministry of Justice take “public action in motion against all those who undertake to invite the people to abstain from voting and against those who intend to endanger lives and property.” Public action in motion or “action publique” is a remnant of the Napoleonic Code in Haitian law and, like the term “associating with criminals,” is widely seen as a blanket charge to justify prolonged detention of political opposition in Haiti.
A second successful boycott of Sunday’s elections by Lavalas would serve to further damage the credibility of the Preval administration. The international community is reported to have invested over $12.9 million in an electoral process that many in Haiti say has provided little towards solving the country’s political insolvency and mounting desperation.
Haiti Information Project (HIP), winner of the Project Censored 2008 Real News Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism, is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti. Email HIP at HIP@teledyol.net. To learn more, visit www.haitiaction.net.