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Feb. 10, 2004

Associated Press photos
An unidentified man lies dead yesterday in the main street of Saint Marc, 45 miles west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after being shot and killed by Aristide supporters, according to witnesses.

Haitian revolt
has local emigrés on edge

Concerns rise over relatives, country’s future

The Patriot Ledger

andolph resident Jean Charles regularly tunes his radio to one of a handful of Boston-area stations dedicated to Haitian news and listens to reports from his homeland.

The stories have been getting bleaker by the day.

An armed uprising continues to spread across pockets of the Caribbean nation, bringing more bloodshed and despair to a country that is already ravaged by poverty and political instability.

‘‘It’s a sad situation,’’ said Charles, who moved to Boston in 1972 and has lived in Randolph for 17 years. ‘‘That was the first black independent country in the world and we still cannot find peace.’’

Like Charles, many of the more than 40,000 Haitians who call Greater Boston home are keeping close tabs on the situation, contacting family who stayed behind, and hoping for peace to finally settle on the country.

At least 42 people have been killed as rebels in nearly a dozen towns spar with the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest who rose to power by promising dignity to the poor but whose grip on the country has grown more tenuous in recent weeks.

‘‘That’s the only thing people talk about, because we all have family or even distant family back home that we are concerned about,’’ said Riche Zamor Sr., who left Haiti 38 years ago and has lived in Randolph since 1986. ‘‘You send money back home, you support people, and you are wondering what’s happening to them.’’

Zamor is supposed to travel to Haiti next month. The trip is on for now, but he is monitoring the situation and staying in touch with family. The violent revolts have so far eluded Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, and his relatives there have gone about their regular activities.

‘‘They have lived through so much of this turmoil, so they have become accustomed to it,’’ said Zamor, who runs the Latin American Health Institute in Boston. ‘‘It’s just like deja vu. People have learned to adjust their lives to the ups and downs of the country.’’

After decades of dictators and military rule, Aristide won Haiti’s first democratic election in 1990. He was ousted within months by the army and restored to power in 1994 by U.S. forces.

Tension has mounted since Aristide’s party won flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors blocked millions of dollars in aid. Most of the nation’s 8 million people are jobless and live on less than $1 day. Many people must walk miles -- to receive basic medical care.

In Port-au-Prince, a coalition of opposition political parties met to discuss whether they should join the rebels, but apparently distanced themselves from the uprising.

The uprising began Thursday in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city. A revolt that began in Gonaives in 1985 led to the ouster of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.

With no army and fewer than 5,000 poorly armed police, the government is ill-equipped to halt the revolt.

‘‘The national police force alone cannot re-establish order,’’ Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said.

In Massachusetts, one group based on the South Shore has been delivering humanitarian aid to the country for two decades. Nannette Canniff, who runs the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation out of her Randolph home, was supposed to leave for Haiti yesterday with volunteers from Florida. The group, which has its roots in Quincy, canceled the trip because protesters have blocked roads on the way to Fond des Blancs, a rural region in southwest Haiti where the organization built a hospital, a school and housing.

Canniff, who spent all of January in Haiti, said Fond des Blancs remains safe, in part because it is not a political region. Still, violence elsewhere can make it difficult to get medicine and other much-needed supplies through.

‘‘They’re concerned that this is escalating,’’ Canniff said of Fond des Blancs residents. ‘‘It seems to be getting worse. It holds up all progress we’re trying to do in Haiti, for everybody, not just for us.’’

Oreste Joseph of Randolph said he calls family in Haiti at least once a week. Some of his relatives have been protesting Aristide’s government, and Joseph said police used gas on his cousin and others as they marched last month.

Joseph said he used to believe Aristide could help lead Haiti out of despair. He now thinks otherwise.

‘‘People are still hoping that someone can bring changes to Haiti,’’ Joseph said. ‘‘That’s exactly what (Aristide’s) plan was, but did he follow through with that plan? That’s why the people are turning against him. The country is getting poorer and poorer and education is lacking.’’

Karen Eschbacher may be reached at


Stories by
Karen Eschbacher
Photos by
Gary Higgins

The Patriot Ledger

Viergeine, 8, cries during the funeral of her father, Fritzson Archelus, 24, in Gonaives, Haiti. Archelus died on Feb. 7 in the cross fire when the police unsuccessfully tried to retake the city from rebels of the Gonaives Resistance Front that started an uprising in the city on Feb. 5.


Parents and relatives of police mourn their dead relatives during a ceremony to honor slain police in the National Palace of Government, Port-au-Prince.



A man holding a U.S. flag shouts anti-Aristide slogans as he participates in a rally of the new National Resistance Front To Liberate Haiti.



A rebel of the Gonaives Resistance Front patrols the slum neighborhood of Raboteau in the city of Gonaives, Haiti.



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