Burning Questions, Pending Tasks
“There are many international organisms in our country, and they want to control everything. For them is there any difference between helping and giving orders?” That is one of the burning questions that religious people are asking themselves today in Haiti.
On March 31, the multinational military force of over 20,000, largely US, soldiers that had occupied Haiti since September 1994, left the country. They were relieved by 6,000 United Nations soldiers, also largely from the United States. The UN Security Council considered the situation "secure and stable" enough to take charge of it. On June 4, Haitians will vote in legislative, municipal and local elections, under UN supervision and submerged in a sea of parties.
A Confusing, Ambiguous and Violent SituationIn just a few weeks after the return of President Aristide in October 1994, Haiti's 7,500 member army, heavily contaminated by Duvalierist corruption and repressive tendencies, was reduced to 1,500. But the 6,000 left "unemployed" retained a veritable arsenal and many appear to be linked to the wave of killings and assaults throughout the country. Three thousand former soldiers have been admitted into the interim police force.
President Aristide called on Haitians to join "self defense brigades" to confront the chaotic situation in his discourse on February 7, the anniversary of his 1991 inauguration. US soldiers took on the tasks of preventing demonstrations, accrediting Haitian journalists to cover official events and organizing entrance exams for the police academy.
In the midst of this confused and ambiguous situation, the prestigious Haitian Conference of Religious Leaders, to which Aristide himself once belonged, celebrated a plenary assembly in mid February and issued a declaration that, in cautious language, defines Haiti's greatest challenges. We have translated below the central part of the declaration, which originally was published in Creole (subtitles are ours).
Government Control?"The military repression that oppressed the people is now almost a bad memory. For its part, the government tries to listen to the people and respond to their demands. Political authorities are demonstrating a certain willingness to establish a different kind of relationship with citizens. Despite all of this, we have grave concerns, and put forward a series of questions:
* Does the government have control over what happens in the country? Does it have control, for example, of the work of many international organizations in Haiti?
* Are efforts by the government and public administration to make changes that favor the people being sabotaged and slowed down?
* Has the government truly been able to control inscriptions for the new police force and the functioning of the interim police force? Are not many former military members responsible for crimes being enrolled "recycled" once again?
* The efforts to halt corruption in public institutions appear to us very timid and some suspicious practices from the past, like "zombie checks" or "ghost employees," continue.
* Where is justice in this country? Are reforms of the judicial system taking place? Is the situation not continuously deteriorating? Criminals and "zenglendos" [ former paramilitary members, criminals with political destabilization goals] are absolved without a trial. In reality, who is responsible for justice?
To Help or to Run the Show?The international community collaborated efficiently with the return of the legitimate President and we recognize this contribution. However, the presence and actions of foreign organizations in the country are stained by an ambiguity that continues to concern us.
* We find that they want to control everything. Is helping a synonym for commanding or giving orders? In our judgment, there is a big difference between the two.
* The international civil organizations have businesses that distribute money to some candidates and organizations. Is this not a way of creating divisions and fomenting corruption?
* With the pretext of civic training, are not many other organizations actually planting confusion and dispersion among the people?
* Will the 1,001 economic promises made since October 15 become reality or are they only beautiful words?
Elections Like This?The approaching elections only increase our concerns. The arms in circulation, and those which are still carefully hidden, present a great threat to the population and feed repression and insecurity. The victims are still numerous. The people are in water up to their necks and do not know where to look, given the police and judicial vacuums.
The cost of living continues to batter us. Unemployment, instead of dropping, continues to rise. The people are expectant. The worst is that they have no access to any kind of information that will help them understand what is happening.
In these conditions, we seriously ask ourselves about the possibility of these elections being truly free and in favor of the people. Is it not the moment for the government and all citizens of good will to mobilize and assume their historic responsibilities?
We also believe it could be necessary to open debate about the role of legislative representatives, senators, local governments, magistrates and CASEC (Community Section Administration Council). If not, how will the people be able to measure the candidates and the many political parties that come to `woo' them? Providing the people fundamental clarifications about election criteria would be a critical support and a task to develop throughout the national territory.
Everyone's TasksOur country's development will not take place without us and, to achieve this, it is not enough to have a little good will. It demands determination, discipline and perseverance. The support of all sectors of civil society should be stimulated so they can offer an original participation and put their sense of responsibility at the service of the country.
We, Haiti's religious leaders, believe that:
* For democracy to be truly established, it is necessary for all men and women of good will to join together to help people defend their rights in the next elections.
* For peace and reconciliation to be a reality, and for social injuries to be cured, all men and women of good will must offer their hand and support the initiatives to create a Truth Commission.
* For the people to truly participate in the life of their country, a government literacy project must become reality, with the collaboration of all men and women of good will throughout the country.
We, Haiti's religious leaders, commit ourselves once again to continue walking with the people until, together, we transform all the situations of fear and death that today paralyze life."