Via: Haiti Analysis.
Burning tires and protestors welcomed former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush when they arrived at the half-crumbled National Palace on Mar. 22 for a visit which Haitian President René Préval called “historic.”
In fact, the visit was little more than an expensive photo-op to reinforce the world public’s perception that the U.S. government, even more than Préval’s, is leading international efforts to help Haiti recover from the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
The three leaders posed in front of the Palace’s ruins and held a brief press conference (two questions) in the Palace garden. “It’s one thing to see it on television but it’s another thing to see it with your own eyes,” said Bush in a typically penetrating observation. “That’s why on our return, we are going to explain the situation here to Americans.”
Clinton, who as the UN’s Special Envoy to Haiti has made regular stops in the country over the past year, even before the Jan. 12 earthquake, spoke like the senior partner of the trio. “We spent most of our time talking today about what needs to be done now so that the Economic Plan and the Donor Conference to be held at the end of this month has a chance to work,” he said, referring to the Mar. 31 international gathering at United Nations headquarters in New York, where $11.5 billion in reconstruction aid is to be raised.
Clinton also said that they wanted to see Haitians move from living “day to day” to living “month by month and to make sure they can eat, take care of their children, and find medical care.”
Outside the Palace fence, some 500 demonstrators loudly protested. “George Bush is a criminal! George Bush is a killer!” they chanted, referring to Bush’s role in backing the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who remains in exile in South Africa. “If you think you’re not a killer, then bring Aristide back. If you think you’re not a kidnapper, then bring Aristide back.” The demonstrators were closely monitored by a large intimidating force of UN soldiers, US troops and Secret Service agents, as well as Haitian riot police.
The demonstration was organized by two principal groups: the National Platform of Base Organizations and State Victims (PLOMBAVIL) and the Lavalas Family Popular Masses of Cité Soleil.
“If Aristide were present in the country… he would have defended the people’s interests in the reconstruction plans being made,” said René Civil, a Lavalas leader. “His voice would be championing the legitimate demands of the voiceless.”
Former employees of state enterprises like the national phone company Teleco and the National Port Authority (APN) also protested the Washington-dictated neoliberal reforms which resulted in their lay-offs, demanding 36 months of unpaid back pay.
“If Préval doesn’t pay us our 36 months, bring Aristide back, and do something to reconstruct the country, we are going to uproot him,” said one former employee.
During the Clinton/Bush visit, Préval again asked for budgetary support to pay current state employees. He said he needs immediately $350,000 to pay salaries because the government only collected 20% of its normal revenues in January and 35% in February.
Haitian firemen arrived and extinguished the piles of burning tires in front of the Palace. As protestors scrambled to find new tires, Haitian police backed by UN troops cleared and shut down the square.
The two former U.S. presidents head the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund which has raised about $37 million from some 220,000 donors. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio gave $1 million, and U.S. President Barack Obama gave $200,000 of his $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize. Bush and Clinton, who were dispatched to Haiti by Obama, also visited a crafts factory and one of the “spontaneous” refugee camps on the Champ de Mars, the capital’s central park.
By Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)
Haiti Liberte’s Message to Demonstrators in London