Being a reprise of the final week of the Lavalas regime, I begin with the Port au Prince Carnival, 2004. The parades in la ville were an advertisement for Prezidan Jean Bertrand Aristide, with all the floats advertising senk an, or five years. This is the signal for Aristide being allowed a full five years in the Presidential Palace. Until January 2006. Nice tee shirts were in abundance with a circular logo of five doves around the 5 ans slogan.
The music itself was a sad reflection on a true kanaval as most of the bands are boycotting and in the political opposition. In response to this musical opposition movement the government seems to have invented a bunch of new imaginary bands. This is an innovation in the political game, but the role of musicians and music in Haytian politics is important and perhaps unique. Bands for carnival were absolutely necessary, so they were invented. We have been treated to them on state television for a few months now, teenagers doing rap moves to real bad canned kreyol rap.
All of this was happening while the armed revolt in the north and civil rejection in many parts of the country were happening. No news of the collapse was to come from the government stations but Tele Éclair started to re-broadcast a Euro news feed on Monday.
Shortly after the French station began a report from Haiti, the news was cut off. They were showing footage from Gonaives, at the bus station with an armed insurgent in the foreground. When the commentary began a tape loop of carnival coverage from the previous 15 minutes was put in its place. This was very interesting. Someone from the government had control of the broadcast from this previously independent station.
Ash Wednesday morning (Feb 25, 2004) brought an end to the show. The country awoke to a rampage of Lavalas chimeres unleashed upon the Metropole. (Chimere are gangs for the Prezidans party, parti Lavalas) A trip to the airport that morning to deliver my sister Pamela to a scheduled flight revealed roadblocks going up before 7 am with virtually all traffic stopped. The President had called for a mobilization of all militants Lavalas to combat the invasion from the north by partisans of the armed opposition.
This mobilization was supposedly to resist the approaching forces of Guy Phillipe (the former police chief leading the armed opposition), but preventing anyone from reaching the airport looked to be the main effect, and possibly the intent. Many of these armed opposition units were formerly members of the ancien army or FRAPH, the civilian militia of the defacto regime of 1991-1994 which was abolished by the USA invasion to restore J.B Aristide to the country.
All routes into the airport were blocked with burned out car bodies and armed men were at the entrance to the airport road. These armed men were dressed in black uniforms with no markings. Reports of such an anonymous force of Lavalas shock troops had been heard in the past but this was the first personal meeting. They had M-1 (or M-14) rifles from the arsenal of the ancien militaire, presumably in storage for political emergencies. The police carry M-16s supplied by the USA during the professionalizing mission after the restoration of 1994.
The little dream world of peaceful lavalas marches and a joyful senk an carnival had gone by the wayside. The face of lavalas which we have come to know all too well was back in full force with barricades, burnings and brutality.
No police were to be seen on the street during Wednesdays takeover of the city or during the next four days of Lavalas unleashed. Titid had ordered his armies of the night out to lock down the city.
Many cars were stolen at roadblocks that Wednesday and in the days that followed. Reports of people being robbed of their tickets and passports and luggage while trying to attain the Airport are legion. Talk on the street was that women were strip searched, young men taking slight liberties with the power that was thrust upon them by the President of the Republic.
The radio stations and local journalists did a fantastic job the first few days of the rampage by Lavalas partisans, reporting from all corners of the republic about the assaults by the chimere Lavalas and attacks by various insurgents on Tribunals and Commissariat (police stations) in various towns around the country.
Electricity was halted for most parts of Port au Prince on Wednesday and the flash of gunfire provided most of the lighting. Looting of businesses and burning of houses began to pick up speed on Thursday and Friday. Thursday evening it was announced that the last flights had left that day. Whether anyone was able to reach the airport without an armed escort is questionable.
Helicopters began flying over the city on Thursday, prompting hopes of the arrival of the arrival of the Marines. Rumours of the dispatching of US Naval vessels were rife but nothing arrived, despite reports of a fleet being sighted in the bay. The US Marines were reported to have escorted the UN staff to the airport in their helicopters on Thursday or Friday.
Friday it was reported that Aux Cayes, or Les Cayes, underwent a gros battle, with insurgents taking that Ville. Later it was rumored that the insurgents were actually disgruntled drug dealers claiming that they were cheated out of their share of the take by the office centrale. Mirabelais was also reported to have fallen, with the tribunal being looted. On Saturday Port au Prince police were dispatched to re-take the town. That they ventured out of their bases was amazing in itself, they did nothing to stop the looting and killing in Port au Prince.
A commentator on Radio Ginen, prone to effuse praises of his Excellency Jean Bertrand Aristide, on Friday gave an impassioned appeal for the violence to stop, to sispann kraze brize tout bagay. (suspend wrecking everything)
Saturday most of the radio stations fell ominously silent. From a retreat in the mountain village of Kenscoff rumors arrived of Banks invaded and held hostage by chimere Lavalas, supermarkets looted and many bodies in the streets and houses invaded. Titid called for everyone to go back to work on Monday, everything would go back to normal and all forgotten. Cellular telephone service remained functional throughout all of this, strangely, although no water was being delivered to the poor districts, service cancelled along with the electricity service.
The only television station broadcasting on Saturday was TNH, Television Nationale de Haiti. They showed endless documentaries of the rise of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Saturday was ominous even up in the mountains. Most local radio stations were off the air; power having been absent for days and no fuel available to be purchased. Radio France International remained, and Radio TiMoun, an arm of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy.
Saturday night Radio TiMoun had a call in show with Prezidan Aristide himself. Someone would call in a comment and the announcer then called his Excellency for a half hour response on democracy. Gunfire echoed throughout the hills and all over the city.
On Sunday morning the BBC and RFI announced that Aristide had left the country in a white plane, announcing that he resigned to spare the country more bloodshed.
In Kenscoff the crowds came out into the street, clouds swirling about while the young men looted the police station, which had been abandoned that morning after firing warning shots throughout the night.
Looters proudly wore uniforms and riot gear, batons and lexan shields the emblems of their liberation. People who never talked politics were eager to proclaim their happiness at the departure of Lavalas. Aristide brought much suffering they said.
After everything interesting was taken from the Commissariat, such as uniforms and police identification cards, the gang moved over to the mayors building, apparently intent on breaking in and rooting him out. They say that Marie de Kenscoff wasn’t really elected, that the police stole the ballot box and declared the lavalas man the mayor. Luckily the grown ups talked the mob out of burning out the rascal and a few men stood guard to restrain the excitable in the crowd.
Many of these young men happily looting the police station and attempting to burn out the mayors’ office were undoubtedly chimeres just a few days ago. It was reported that some local lavalas stole much furniture from the police station, although a big screen television and washing machine were destroyed that morning, being tossed off the porch and smashed with steel bars.
After the resignation TNH (Television Nationale d'Haiti)began showing Euro News satellite feed, paeans to Aristide no longer being called for. At 7 pm a news conference with the Convergence Democratique was broadcast, Evans Paul introducing the group. They called for a national reconciliation, for the police to go back to work and do their job, they called for Electricity de Haiti to go back to work and for peace, finally.
Bon Anne is the new greeting, oui. Bonne Anne.
created: 4 March 2004