Haiti’s Movement from Below Endures

Despite those in power trying to keep him out, the return of Aristide to Haiti has rekindled hope among the poor.

Source: Al Jazeera

As twice ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family were escorted out from the airport tarmac in Port-au-Prince, loud chants of “Titid, Titid, Titid” rose from an ecstatic gathering that filled every space of a causeway leading out from the airport.

Sitting on walls, a few climbing a telephone pole, rows of youth jumped in excitement at the return of Aristide from exile in South Africa – a heroic figure for the people whose history is one indelibly rooted in resistance.

As the gates swung open for two police vehicles, an SUV with dark tinted windows and a white van carrying guests, an airport grounds man with a huge smile on his face clasped the hands of a skinny police officer motioning the cars through.

Heavily armed UN soldiers with sky-blue helmets stood in rows some 30 meters away.

The caravan made its way alongside the airport route. In waves, thousands poured in from the slums carrying flags and banners on foot. One man dressed as Jean Jacques Dessalines – the founding leader of Haiti – charged down the street atop a horse, waving the crowd forward. Many were on motorcycles or piled into trucks zooming through the dusty air.

Movement songs rang out. “Nou pap janm trayi san nou, san nou se san Aristide… li menm ki rasanble nou tout, fok nou tout ansanm fe youn” sang the jubilant flood of people, calling for unity in struggle.

A small group of former presidential security men and police provided escort. Around them surged a crowd estimated at between 7,000 to 15,000 strong.

Upon reaching the grounds of Aristide’s home, crowds jumbled inside- sitting on trees and opening the side gate to let more in. It was so packed in the area around the front door that the family could barely make its way inside their house.

The return of an icon

In recent weeks, rumours swirled of Aristide’s return. For decades he has been the most popular figure among Haiti’s rural poor and urban slum dwellers.

Even with a resource-starved state his administrations launched a steady stream of social investment programs [PDF]: building more schools than in any time in the country’s history, a national literacy ALPHA campaign, constructing and refurbishing medical clinics, the hospital of La Paix, and a university training doctors with the help of Cubans.

The poor have not forgotten this. Even under intense pressure from foreign powers, Aristide was able to disband Haiti’s brutal military and refuse to go forward on privatisation sell-offs of state institutions that René Préval, his technocrat predecessor, took up.

Aristide is one of the few living people referred to as a hero by those in the tent cities dotting the capital after the January 11, 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand people, possibly more.

On the day of his return, one group of Cité Soleil residents explained that they were unsure of what time Aristide’s plane was landing.

The expected day and time of the arrival kept shifting, as powerful forces worked to avert the return. Adding to the confusion, perhaps intentionally, one elite radio station falsely broadcast that his plane would not arrive until March 22nd.

Many in the crowd chanted that the “eleksyon/seleksyon” in the next few days was “fini” – worthless. Maryse Narcisse, official spokeswoman of Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL), called for a general boycott. Aristide denounced the continued exclusion of FL from elections just after he landed.