Commemorating the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1806, thousands of Haitians marched in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, and in Cap-Haitien on Oct. 17, demanding Michel Martelly resign as president. They were also protesting the dire hunger crisis and the lack of jobs. The political forces and the demonstrations’ demands resembled those at the Sept. 30 protests.
Dessalines, a hero of the Haitian revolution and the country’s first leader, was assassinated by elements of the new ruling class who vehemently opposed his nationalizations and the democratic distribution of land formerly owned by the French slave-owners.
Protesters say the U.S.-backed Martelly and his family are corrupt, and that they waste the nation’s resources on travel, parties and other luxuries. They do this while people are hungry and can’t afford school fees for their kids.
“People are living in misery,” they shouted. “Corruption and hunger are rising across the country, Martelly must go!” chanted protesters, along with, “The people want jobs and want to live in dignity.” (Press TV, Oct. 18)
The demonstration in the northern city of Cap-Haitien was called by the Collective to Liberate Haiti. There, marchers banged on empty plates with spoons, to show that they could not feed their families. As the protesters dispersed, police attacked with tear gas and live fire; no casualties were reported in the media.
The protest in Port-au-Prince was called by the Patriotic Force for Respecting the Constitution, which is close to Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party. Starting from Bel Air, a working-class community in the center of the capital, the march wound its way through the poor neighborhoods of La Saline, Cité Soleil and Delmas, where support for Fanmi Lavalas and Aristide is strong.
The demonstration reached Jean-Jacques-Dessalines Square. As marchers approached the Champs de Mars, the site of Haiti’s ruined presidential office [it was devastated in the 2010 earthquake], it was met by a strong force of Haitian SWAT teams and the United Nation’s Minustah cops. Although police forces broke up the protest with tear gas and live fire, the press didn’t report any casualties.
By marching on the anniversary of Dessalines’ assassination, the demonstrators added a certain sharpness to their demand for the removal of Martelly from the presidency. n