Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Anna Ferdinand on Martissant

(Originally published Feb 18, 2007)

From Anna Ferdinand

It was 1995 when I first went to Haiti. I was visiting the National Office on Migration (ONM) one day and met up with a group of young men from Grand Ravine who had gone into exile to the DR during the coup for their support of Aristide. Upon their return, with the restoration of Aristide, they approached every government office they could think of in an attempt to bring development to their area now that democracy had returned. I began teaching English at a school at their request. After class often I would join them in their rehearsals for a folklore troupe and a theater group.

They also brought me on several occasions to Grand Ravine, introducing me to people who had been in Guantanamo, telling me about their hopes for a school in Grand Ravine, and a project that would stop the erosion of the road that crossed the deepening ravine. They were bringing up the issues that faced the new democracy; the need for schools, infrastructure, reforestation and
the need to promote a beautiful culture in a country filled with artists. It was a time when there was hope that these things could now be achieved, that if you could stumble upon the right government channel, these things just might happen.

By the year 2000, when political crisis had been well established and the May 21 elections took place, one of the group from Grand Ravine, Luckner Monprevil, was elected as second in a cartel of three Port-au-Prince mayors under Fanmi Lavalas. The artists who had been members of the theater group were now his security corps, toting large guns. At the inauguration, City Hall was overrun with Lavalas supporters and the scene was chaotic. I came upon the law student turned adjoint mayor to congratulate him. He was surrounded by his well armed friends, cowering in a room in the back. It was a mad scene outside, and the reality of power in that situation was overwhelming him in the moment. Unfortunately he came into a questionable situation and political chaos and mismanagement brought his cartel down. I don't think he did much of anything while in power and by the end was criticized for driving a Mercedes to work.

By 2003 the groups were well armed, and all innocence seemed to have been lost. True power to develop from the mayor's office had come and gone. Power had corrupted, with positions for the old gang in parliament and presence in the National palace. Only the dance teacher had turned away in disgust.

When Fefe Bien Aime, a Grand Ravine resident who had been appointed as cemetery director (a gun battle in the cemetery took place under his direction), was killed, the Lavalas group, entrenched in the new system of Popular Organizations, turned against Aristide. Bien Aime was last seen in the hands of the police. Later his car was found dumped and he was dead. But after a couple of months of calling Aba Aristide, they were again pro and the new leader was seen in the palace; political mutations in an atmosphere devoid of positive development in any sense. Just as the Raboteau folks came in and left the Lavalas fold, so did the group in Grand Ravine. Idealism, ideas of justice and development were long gone, lost to gang war.

The discussion of what gang was in charge of what crimes occupies the discussion on this list, fights between the authors of articles in a war of words, is equally unconstructive. It's easy to try and paint a picture of black and white, right and wrong, but Haiti is far beyond that. Michael Deibert has done a commendable job, with heavy duty investigative journalism over the years, of opening the eyes to the fact that no one side has the monopoly on what is good and right.

The United States government bought their own form of political gangsters to carry out their war out in what they consider a slum. Aristide played the same game on his lower wrung of power. There was a hope that he would step out of the game, to hold up a mirror in the face of what the most powerful do to the least powerful. Instead he became their mirror image. The consequence has been that not only did Martissant residents initial activism result in little, but the whole country has blown up in everyone's faces.

The gang wars, the election wars, the constant parade of wars just hit on the sand like endless waves, lapping up on the real land, with real people living real lives where nothing ever changes because people never change.

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