New Reality in Haiti: Re-ascendance of the Wealthy Elite Protected by US/UN Occupation

It was 9:30 on a mid-July morning in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Classes were well underway at this school for poor children located in the wealthy Delmas neighborhood on Rue Freres Jacques. The two-story cinderblock building holds 700 students and 40 teachers. The children had been at their studies since 7AM.

Without warning, a local Mayor named Wilson Jeudi, pistol in hand, raided the building with eight armed thugs. The group began to wreck the school, destroying the modest furniture and equipment carefully accumulated over years. They roamed through the building, breaking every single blackboard. The broken blackboards still show algebra problems, French vocabulary lessons, and alphabets. They smashed the wooden benches and desks where the children sit for their lessons, and shattered the precious water fountain.

Confronted by the attackers, the Head Teacher refused to leave. In front of the children, they kicked him, threw furniture and beat him with the butt of their guns. Approaching the school offices, the Mayor threatened the secretary and the janitor, telling them to get out because he was closing the school.

For 12 years, Haitian grassroots activists from Mobilization pour Changer La Vie have worked to build this school devoted to educating poor children. The school, like many others, emerged during the first administration of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, when literacy campaigns and access to education for Haiti’s poor was a major focus of the progressive Lavalas agenda. The director tells us, “It took 12 years to build this school, and only one day to destroy it.”

There are an estimated 300,000 children who perform domestic chores as unpaid household servants in Haiti and thousands more street children. These are among the children served by the school. These children had a voice during President Aristide’s administrations. They had the first children’s radio station in the world, Radyo Timoun, which promoted human rights for all Haitians. Democracy meant that 299 schools, numerous health clinics and parks were built to advance Haitian children’s lives. The government gave scholarships to children in domestic service. As a local Haitian told us while we surveyed the wreckage, “Aristide was trying to help the lower classes — that’s why he was kidnapped.” Now, hope recedes for the children of Haiti as the US-backed wealthy elite fight to regain control of the country’s resources and agenda.

An estimated 500,000 Haitian children cannot afford to attend school. Only the wealthy can pay $100 a month to educate their children. Here at College Classiques de Freres, those who can are asked to pay $6 per month. There are families with five children attending the school who don’t pay anything. As September approaches, families and teachers alike worry about whether classes will open. And, teachers tell us, the children may be scared to come.

The property on which the school stands once belonged to Michel Francois, chief of secret police under the coup regime of Raoul Cedras, which ousted democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. When Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994, Francois went into exile. He was later indicted by the US Justice Department for shipping millions of dollars worth of cocaine and heroin from Haiti to the US, and now lives undisturbed in exile in Panama.

His property was seized and sold to a new owner, who then sold a portion of it to the school. The school pays money on the property each month.

The Mayor of Delmas is Michele Francois’ cousin. His designs on the property reflect the new reality in Haiti – the re-ascendance of the wealthy elite protected by the US/UN occupation. A teacher told us, “Mayor Wilson knew he couldn’t get the place legally, so he came in to terrorize.” Everywhere we traveled in Port-au-Prince, the poor are being assaulted by reinvigorated right-wing forces and by UN troops — in the markets, the schools, streets, in the poor neighborhoods, at the workplace and the prisons.

Children are not spared. In fact, thinking about two little girls — Stephanie and Alexandria — who were killed last January by UN troops in Cite Soleil, children are at great risk. As a teacher at the school noted, “when the police come in Haiti, they don’t care about children.” Another progressive school, SOPUDEP, has also come under attack by anti-Lavalas authorities.

Meanwhile, Rue Frere school adminstrators and teachers prepare for September classes. They seize upon our visit to get the word out and help protect the school. They have reported the Mayor and his gang to the police with the expectation that an investigation will be conducted. They have invited news media to visit the school to witness the damage. The resolute directors and teachers of Rue Frere School will no doubt succeed in rebuilding this important popular-based institution.

Leslie Mullin is a human rights activist who was part of a recent Haiti Action Committee delegation to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to document the current situation as the US/UN occupation continues. Read other articles by Leslie, or visit Leslie's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Vivian Patenaude, RJM said on August 26th, 2007 at 7:41am #

    Dear Leslie,

    Please forward this article to Jean-Robert Cadet, author of the book, “RESTAVEC” as well as to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Manchester Union Leader…..Can’t we find a way of putting international pressure on this situation?………..
    Could not the “mayor” be suspended from his duties until the case is reviewed by a Gov’t official?….

    Thanks for standing up for those who deserve Human Rights…..Vivian

  2. Kathryn said on August 27th, 2007 at 7:10am #

    Although this article does highlight some of the terrible realities the poor children of Haiti are facing, it also fails to recognize the atrocities that occurred under the Aristide regime. Many of these health clinics, parks, and schools were never completed and much of Haiti’s poor was left, once again, with unfulfilled promises made by the government. This government terrorized the nation and drained every last penny of the national treasury.

    For those that were there the day that Aristide was “kidnapped”, there was no such occurence. He left, on his own will, with the future of Haiti packed up in his suitcase in neat stacks of $100 dollar bills. As he rests and recooperates in Africa, he and many of his followers continue to use his return as an excuse to terrorize, rape, and kill those who are searching and begging for a better life.

    Watching these monstrosities unfolf for a lifetime far surpasses a short sojourn where one is often blinded by their own visions of democracy, something that has never truly existed in Haiti.

  3. Joe Zelenka said on August 27th, 2007 at 7:15am #

    Dear Leslie,

    I have been to Haiti many times with the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas. I validate what you are saying. The haves get it all while the have nots beg for bread crumbs. The poor have no voice. They did have a voice in President Aristide but U.S. policy made sure his voice would be no more. How sad.

    I know many courageous people in Haiti who continue to call for justice. Sooner or later they too are silenced. However, they keep on speaking out which tells me that the poor never quit. They are faith filled and continue to have hope.

    The Haitian poor are my teachers. I have learned a great deal from them and I pray that I will continue to learn from their ongoing spirit of hope.

    Thanks for your voice as you continue to make known the plight of the poor.

    I wish you Peace.

  4. Scarlett said on August 27th, 2007 at 8:54am #

    I am thankful to Leslie for her work and thankful I have read this report because it has spoken on behalf of the Haitian poor–something unusual when it comes to most U.S. journalism on the country.


  5. Cheryl said on August 28th, 2007 at 7:26am #

    Every time I read a story like this is breaks my heart. Thank you Leslie for publishing this story for others to hear and know. Let the deeds of the evil be seen by all. It is one thing for outsiders to corrupt and sabotage the future of Haiti, but it is a shame that Haitians too have the blood of destruction on their own hands and take part in tearing down their own country.

    I am a Haitian American born in the US who has never been preparing myself for my first visit to Haiti this November. I soon will see with my own eyes the beauty and sadness of Haiti. I send my prayers that the spirits of the children and teachers of Rue Freres Jacques are not broken. This story is one first step in rebuilding. Thank you for telling it.

  6. marie said on September 23rd, 2007 at 9:21pm #

    I’s so sad for us as haitian . Even in the 21st century where every nations know what it wants, as haitian we still acting like bet.broken down a school doesn’t have nothing to do with having something with the pass president it’s time for us as 88 to stop this type of dilemny. One thing that bother me so much is that these type of people always want to migrate to another country after they finish with the country ‘beauty an then later will claim that the where the king in haiti.this type of aminal need to change .they also need not only to visit country with civilization and also attend classes that can teach them how to act.I hope this type of people live Haiti alone .I’M in my mid 40s I reminber my haiti cheri .Please give the country a break.