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Massive Demonstrations in Haiti catch UN by surprise

Challenging recent assertions made by the United Nations that the Lavalas movement is dead, crowds estimated at well over 100,000 took to the streets of seven major cities throughout Haiti on February 7 to demand an end to the UN occupation, freedom for political prisoners and the return of exiled president Aristide. Lavalas is the political movement of Haiti's desperately poor majority and the political party of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was ousted on February 29, 2004 in a coup reportedly backed by the United States, France and Canada. Although the largest demonstrations took place in the capital of Port-au-Prince and Haiti's second largest city Cap Haitien, thousands were reported to have joined similar actions in Port de Paix, Hinche, La Kay, St. Marc and Miragoane. Smaller actions were also reported in the towns of Jacmel, Leogane and Gonaives.
UN Special Envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet had stated one week earlier, "[Demonstrations demanding the return of president Aristide] became 3,000 and the last ones maybe 75...50 people. So I see that this issue of former President Aristide is not present anymore in the political sphere in Haiti anymore, and his movement - familia Lavalas - is very much divided, weakened." Mulet made his comments during a roundtable forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) this past January 31 in Washington D.C.

News of the demonstrations in Haiti has been met with a virtual press blackout by major corporate news organizations. Only the Associated Press (AP) filed a short dispatch on the protests in Port-au-Prince and they reported only "hundreds" attended the demonstration. AP photos also appeared on Yahoo News but appeared to have been carefully selected to minimize the number of participants in Haiti's capital.
Pierre-Antoine Lovinsky of the September 30th Foundation stated during Wednesday's national demonstrations, "Lavalas continues to be the largest political movement in Haiti as they have proven once again. The UN and the international press can do their best to marginalize them and cover-up the truth but they are here to stay and their numbers have never been stronger. Mr. Mulet and the international community have been caught in a web of their own mistruths."

Filling a major thoroughfare of the capital called Route Delmas, the demonstration stretched for miles from above the front of the headquarters of the Provisional Election Council (CEP) on Delmas 48 to down below Carrefour Aviation and a central plaza once inaugurated by Aristide as Place Miel. Demonstrators chanted against the recent national and local elections where they accused the UN-backed CEP of having orchestrated a massive campaign of electoral fraud. Tens of thousands of Lavalas supporters paralyzed the capital for more than a week in Feb. 2006 to challenge the $76 million UN-sponsored presidential elections fiasco. The CEP attempted a ballot counting fraud meant to keep current Haitian president Rene Garcia Preval from assuming office.

When the demonstration reached the front of Haiti's National Palace the protesters seemed determined to remind President Preval that they were the one's who put him in office. "Preval does not have his own political base. His Lespwa party has no political base and it was Lavalas that elected him president and then fought against the fraud for him to assume office," shouted 32 year-old Jean Luckenson so he could be heard above the noisy crowd. He continued, "Preval must stop the UN from killing innocent people in Cite Soleil!" as the crowd broke into a chant of "Justice for the victims of Cite Soleil!" This was a reference to recent UN military operations in the seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil this last December and early January where evidence continues to surface of more than 30 unarmed persons killed and scores more wounded. President Rene Preval personally sanctioned the military operations according to UN representatives quoted in the international press.
A pitched moment occurred as the demonstration reached the UN military headquarters on Lalue also known as Avenue John Brown. Demonstrators hurled insults at the UN personnel protecting the facility with a large phalanx of heavily armed soldiers. "Down with the UN!" was the common chant as the demonstration passed by without incident.

In addition to the self-imposed censorship of coverage of Wednesday's demonstrations by the international corporate media, charges are also being made of censorship of news broadcasts in Haiti. According to Andre Joseph, whose popular daily radio program Variety and Vibrations is heard on WLQY in Miami FL, "My program was rebroadcast daily on Radio Indigene in Port-au-Prince. I got notice from the owner they won't carry the program anymore because of death threats he received. He also told me that the UN threatened to boycott his station and pull any commercials funded by the international community if he continued to air my program. They are the major advertisers in Haiti today and this how they control the media." Another owner of a major radio station in Haiti who spoke on condition of anonymity added, "They have put tremendous pressure on us to censor the news. Especially, the UN military operations in Cite Soleil. The pressure not only came from the UN but from CONATEL as well who are the national licensing board for broadcasters. Not only can you lose your major advertising revenues but now you may also be faced with losing your broadcasters license. The UN is obsessed with the way we handle our coverage of their operations. I've never seen anything like this before in Haiti."

HIP exclusive video, of UN military operations in Cite Soleil on December 22, 2006, show the dangers facing Haitian journalists covering the story. A group of journalists is seen on camera taking cover in a home after being fired upon by UN troops. One of the journalists screams over a cellular telephone, "We don't know why they are firing towards us. We are pinned down and we need you to send a car to tell them to stop shooting towards us. We don't want them to kill us too!"

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