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As Préval becomes president

Haiti’s crises persist

Published May 26, 2006 6:32 PM

René Préval was finally inaugurated as Haiti’s president May 14, after being elected in February. The first step, getting the sash of office, took a little longer than expected because the electricity went out. Port-au-Prince had been suffering from outages all week.

Just before he spoke as the new president of Haiti, 800 prisoners, mostly political prisoners, held a protest in the National Penitentiary, within walking distance of the National Palace where Préval was inaugurated. Reporters heard firing during the night and morning. Prisoners said that 12 of them had been killed. The Haitian National Police admitted 11 prisoners had been seriously injured and a number of cops had been hurt, but not seriously.

Préval’s speech was short. He emphasized peace and dialog. Speaking in Creole, he said: “Peace has already begun to establish itself. Peace is the key to open all the doors. To attract investment, to create jobs. Jobs combat unemployment. To bring more tourism to the country. To bring more schools, more hospitals.”

The Haitian radio station Metropole broadcast interviews with people listening to Préval’s speech May 15, without asking people to identify themselves. The BBC’s Worldwide Monitoring Service distributed a report in English on this broadcast a few days later.

The announcer began, “After the speech made by President Rene Préval, some people in the crowd that gathered in front of the National Palace say that Préval’s speech was not very convincing, while others appreciate the straightforwardness that he expressed.”

The first person interviewed commented, “He told us not to destroy the country and to stand united for the country’s progress.”

The second said: “I am a Lavalas [the party of U.S.-deposed Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide] partisan. I sincerely did not see anything serious in what he said. He did not give us hope. I did not see anything that would cause us to be hopeful.”

The journalist asked interviewees, “What were you expecting him to say?”

The first person interviewed responded: “I was expecting him to speak to the people. It is the people who elected him. He should have talked to the people about what he is going to do for them and what he can do for them. But Préval did not say anything worthwhile.”

A third person responded to a question about solidarity: “Solidarity? With whom? If the people are not part of anything then there cannot be solidarity. He did not put the people first.”

Another person said: “Actually, I am really pleased with what he said, especially concerning the military tanks of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [Minustah]. He wants the military tanks to be replaced by bulldozers for the country’s development.”

Radio Metropole ended its broadcast with a long quote from a Lavalas organizer, who said in part: “If Préval is in power today it is because of Aristide. There are three questions that we asked him. First, we told him that in order for us to support him he would have to assure the immediate return of Aristide. Second, he would have to assure the release of all the political prisoners. And third, he would need to lower the high cost of living and make education available for all of us.”

About 40 percent of school-age Haitians are in school. The rest can’t afford the fees and supplies needed to go. Sixty percent of all Haitians, especially those in rural areas where most Haitians still live, try to survive on less than $1 a day.

The economy of Haiti depends on foreign aid and remittances. The government is so broke that it will have problems meeting its June payroll. It doesn’t even have the money to finish the elections for the National Assembly.

Venezuela is offering solidarity. Through Petrocaribe, Venezuela is planning to supply Haiti’s oil needs, about 11,000 barrels. The Venzuelan government said it will donate as much asphalt as Haiti can use for a year.

The first shipment of 100,000 barrels of oil products arrived in Port-au-Prince’s harbor May 15, the day after Préval’s inauguration.

The new Haitian government has inherited major problems, both political and economic. Political prisoners that the departing de facto regime threw in jail without charges are still there waiting to be released.

The medical aid that Cuba provides and the oil from Venezuela are sorely needed by the Haitian people. The White House will no doubt try to put pressure on President Préval to break ties with these two anti-imperialist governments.