Haiti Information Project

Christmas 2004 in Haiti

December 27, 2004

Port au Prince, Haiti (HIP) - The benevolence of Santa Claus and the love and wisdom of a prince of peace are not likely to be associated with the Gerard Latortue cabals place in Haitian history.  When the US-installed regime took power following the coup against Haitis democratically elected government earlier this year; they made the grandiose claim of seeking to heal the countrys wounds through reconciliation.  Since then, Haiti has been plagued by a petty and vengeful leadership who, along with a vindictive elite-controlled media, have led a campaign of political persecution against President Aristides Lavalas political party. This spiteful stance only fueled more violence by unleashing the former military and the Haitian police to prey upon supporters of the exiled president who in turn retaliated in what many here justify as a simple act of self-defense. For mere mortals, turning the other cheek is always difficult when faced with certain death.

Reconciliation is nowhere to be found during this holiday season in Haiti. Under the current Haitian regime the word has become synonymous with human rights violations, the summary dismissal of thousands of government employees abandoned without a means to a livelihood and innumerable political prisoners wasting away in jails throughout Haiti. The presence of a United Nations peacekeeping force is no more generous as it seems to have done little other than add legitimacy to a cynical and deadly exercise in pacification undertaken in the name of restoring democracy.

While Haitis wealthy elite returned from Christmas shopping sprees in Miami and New York, the holiday held little joy for the majority of poor families barely surviving. For some, like fired employees from the mayors office in Petion-Ville, it meant tempting retribution by peacefully demonstrating on Christmas Eve for back pay owed them so they might have a little something to bring home to their families for the holiday. Despite their strident spirit, it became clear their demands fell on deaf ears as couriers passed through the hungry crowd laden with sumptuous holiday gift baskets intended for the appointed and unelected mayors on behalf of their wealthy patrons.  

For others, like the families of political prisoners, it meant a long march through the streets of Port au Prince on Christmas Day demanding to be reunited with their loved ones. The smaller children with sore feet were glad for the break they got from walking as they stopped to demonstrate in front of the UN headquarters. The large contingency of heavily armed SWAT team and special units of the Haitian police seemed out of place as the children broke into a spontaneous rendition of Silent Night. The UN peacekeepers mostly seemed disinterested and bored but most likely anxious to return to their homes and barracks to sit down to their Christmas dinner and call their own families back at home via expensive satellite phones.  

All told, for most in Haiti the only gift they could afford this year was to scrape together enough pennies for a humble Christmas dinner to honor and remember their loved ones. A ritual of breaking bread and communion in misery that recalled members of their families who are locked away in prison, living in exile or killed in the political violence of this past year.

Reverence and grief combined to mark the Christmas celebration in the poor neighborhoods of Cite Soleil and Bel Air. Under the watchful eyes of the UN peacekeepers and the Haitian police most people were reluctant to give their names or allow photographs.
The laughter of malnourished children and the smells from thousands of pots of stew, made from whatever was available, mingled with the constant buzz of flies and the omnipresent odors of open sewage and garbage. As families prepared to sit down to their modest holiday meals many tables were decorated with photographs and remembrances of absent loved ones. There were fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers; cousins were there too. Most tables also included at least one small picture of a smiling President Aristide who is still revered among Haitis poor majority despite all the attempts to beat and starve it out of them.

In the midst of this uncertainty save for their poverty, this Christmas in Haiti saw a brief moment of peace for Haitis poor masses. The survivors of the holocaust, the imprisoned, the dead and the exiled all sat down together in spirit to pay tribute to the memory of the birth of a small child who would grow to be a man known for his acts of reconciliation, sacrifice and forgiveness.  Haitis poor majority can only hope the example is not lost forever upon those who supported the coup, the UN or the regime of Gerard Latortue.



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