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Haitians demand civilian government and democratic elections, 1986-88
On February 7, 1986, Haiti's dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier fled the country for France after a non-violent campaign for his removal (see "Haitians overthrow regime, 1984-1986"). Before leaving, he set up the National Governing Council (CNG), under the leadership of Henri Namphy, to rule the country.
Over the several months after Baby Doc's flight in early 1986, the economy did poorly. Many trade unions called wildcat strikes. Many people started calling for "dechouker," or an uprooting. There was violence from the opposition, with some people sacking the homes of people known to be in the Tontons Macoutes, Haitian Creole for bogeymen, who had been the secret police of the dictatorship. People sacked the temples of some Voodoo priests due to their association with Papa Doc, the father of and dictator before Baby Doc.
Over 10,000 protesters gathered in the streets of the capital, once to demand a civilian government and the resignation of the CNG and Namphy, and another time to honor the anniversary of a massacre of dozens of people under Papa Doc's regime. The protesters met police violence and several were killed. Politicians and political leaders quickly denounced the violence and the government, saying that the government was at fault for permitting the murders to occur. Some leaders also demanded that the interim government step down.
Resistance multiplied: leaflets, graffiti with popular slogans, tire blockades on major roadways, a student strike, and a general strike. One notable aspect of the strikes was the majority compliance of bus drivers in the capital, preventing many people from getting to work. Haitians also held large demonstrations in other cities around the nation.
The campaign clarified its demands: three government officials should step down because they had stopped reform and threatened to cut jobs, the governing council should be dissolved, a civilian government should be formed, and there should be immediate meetings between the council and the campaign.
In March, Namphy promised the dismissal of three members of the governing council (CNG) that had ties to Baby Doc and the removal of the curfew. He said he would establish an assembly in the fall of 1986 to figure out electoral procedure. Municipal elections would be held in July of 1987. After that would come national elections and he said he would not be a candidate for president. The new president would be inaugurated February 7, 1988.
Opposition started having radio boycotts and specified its demands by asking for a new council under the leadership of resigned junta-member Gerard Gourgue.
In mid-June, the organizational structures of the opposition that had been coordinating the resistance thus far became more visibly apparent to the populace. Sylvio Claude of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party was one leader of the alliance between various political, labor, and student organizations, as well as the Communist Party and the League of Haitian Women. Claude had been a staunch opponent of both Duvaliers. Many Haitians started expressing a concern that elections would not resolve all of their present problems. On June 13, the United States expressed its support of Namphy's government by providing an emergency grant of millions of dollars of aid. The United States shipped military equipment to Namphy; since the time of Baby Doc's flight, the U.S. had quintupled its military aid to the impoverished nation.
Opposition boycotted the elections for a constituent assembly in October 1986. In November, Namphy told the troops to scale back the force that they were using on activists and said that the soldier who had shot a bus driver would face trial. The coalition at this point started to gather the support of radical Catholic priests.
In early December, people in Gonaives began threatening to set up an alternative government and to block the highway, effectively cutting off the northern region from the rest of the country. Demonstrations and roadblocks became increasingly common throughout December. There was one march of 100,000 on the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, and another rally that police disrupted by firing into the crowd. In Gonaives, police were responsible for two deaths.
In February, radio and newspaper parodies of Namphy became more popular, and people staged a play mocking his rule. Graffiti documenting the history of the democratic campaign and the current efforts for civilian rule covered buildings in the capital.
On March 29, 1987, voters approved a constitution with 99% of votes in favor. In mid-May, two groups of military advisers arrived from the United States. Many citizens saw this as an effort by the U.S. and Duvalierists to control the transition to democracy.
The labor movement began a wave of strikes in late June 1987 focused on Namphy's economic policies, particularly the U.S. and International Monetary Fund supported ones. The opposition called for higher rice subsidies, the reopening of closed plants, and a higher minimum wage.
Soldiers arrested 6 labor leaders, including Jean Auguste Mesyeux, co-leader of the Autonomous Central of Haitian Workers (CATH), and soon shut down the organization. Much transportation was at a standstill, as was most commerce. Strike supporters set up tire barricades on many streets around the city. The strike was again largely successful, in part because the bus drivers stayed home.
During the strike wave, twenty-one university students threatened to self-immolate on July 7 in protest.
The strikes continued off-and-on through the end of July 1987, usually organized to go for two days at a time, so that citizens could stock up on supplies before continuing the strike. Throughout this period, there were large demonstrations with noises, such as motorists all honking their horns at a certain hour, or people banging on pots and pans to demonstrate their ongoing support for the strike. The strikes were nationwide, and often included demonstrations that occasionally included symbols, such as the waving of tree branches to represent victory.
At this point, the Committee of 57, the leadership of the campaign, had the support of over 90 groups, including private sector organizations, lawyers, professors, and political, labor, religious, and popular organizations. Strikes often began to have more slogans, including anti-American sentiments, and calls for the U.S. to withdraw its role in Haitian affairs. The coalition began demanding that government representatives step down and join the masses, and called for a tax boycott. However, by the end of July, more people were walking to work in violation of the strike order.
In late June, the CNG announced that it would hold elections in August 1987, but that it would void the new election law and institute its own voting laws for those elections. Students graduating from secondary school in various towns around the country announced that they would boycott final exams until the CNG changed the decree.
Within 2 weeks, the government consented to revoke the election decree and give electoral oversight back to the electoral council. This move cancelled the elections scheduled for August 23, but the government said it would reschedule elections once the council set up its guidelines. The new election date was later set for November.
That same day, the Information minister resigned, as did six members of the 45 member advisory council, saying that Namphy was ignoring their advice.
The CNG continued to receive large amounts of U.S. funding and military gear. The United States government called for talks between the government and the opposition, and said that its aid was contingent on cooperation with the transition to democracy; the U.S. declared that the demonstrators setting up flaming barricades were jeopardizing U.S. economic aid.
Coalition leader Jean-Claude Bajeux said that the protests would not stop until Namphy and Regala stepped down. He proposed an alternative of a new council with two civilians and one military representative, and suggested specific people to fill the various positions. Church, political, and business leaders demanded that Namphy reorganize the CNG or step down, but said that they would be willing for Namphy to remain as caretaker until elections in November. Some opposition leaders declared that they could no longer accept anything short of the junta's resignation, because so much blood had already been shed. Leaders in the Roman Catholic Church called for national reconciliation and an end to violence. Some political leaders said that they would be satisfied if the CNG grew to include more civilian members. At this point, many workers were expressing a concern that they could not afford to keep the strike going for much longer.
The CNG announced that it would not step down, but that it would reinstate CATH, and the junta soon withdrew some military presence, allowing the strikes to continue peacefully. Haitians in the U.S. protested to demand that the U.S. stop aiding and interfering in Haiti. These Haitians also said that Namphy was no better than Duvalier and that the U.S. was responsible for his power. The U.S. vocalized its continued support for Haiti, and said that it would cut off their funding if the junta stepped down. The strikes had begun to hurt U.S. offshore manufacturing.
On July 7, 1987, thousands of people gathered around the National Palace to witness the self-immolation, but the students did not show up. Opposition groups continued having public mourning and demonstrative funerals for slain protesters.
It became clear that Duvalier's Tonton Macoutes were still patrolling the country, and were responsible for some of the repressive violence of the previous weeks.
On July 14, 1987, the electoral council announced its drafted election law. The presidential election was to be held on November 29. Three days later the army pledged allegiance to the constitution in a symbolic effort to show their neutrality, and for the junta to show its commitment to democracy. However, protests continued nationwide, as did state violence.
In early August, a Catholic priest, Reverend Jean Bertrand Aristide, said that Haitians would be justified in taking arms against the repressive regime, and called Namphy's government "terrorists," citing the Bible as justification.
24,000 high school students refused to take their final exams in August 1987 in protest of the junta; the student strike was 90% effective. The National Federation of Haitian Teachers endorsed their decision, as did the coalition. Some students showed up to exam locations, took copies of the exams, and then left the building and tore up the exams outside. The exams were necessary for high school graduation and university attendance, although most Haitian students were unable to afford university anyway. Industries in the capital held a sympathy strike for two days of the boycott. In a northern town, 5000 demonstrators marched to protest the junta.
Opposition leaders Victor Benoit and Serge Gilles said that they felt obliged to change tactics in face of the extreme repressive brutality and the presence of the Macoutes, and so they withdrew their demands for Namphy's resignation and endorsed the November 29 presidential elections. They continued to demand the disarmament of the Macoutes, and asked that the junta guarantee the safety of all electoral candidates. However, some opposition declared that the elections would not be fair, and continued their anti-Namphy stance.
The Committee of 57 nominated human rights activists and former junta member Gerard Gourgue to be their electoral candidate. He had been the only opposition member in the CNG. There were over 20 candidates, but only 4 front-runners: Marc Bazin, Louis Dejoie, Gerard Gourgue, and Sylvio Claude. Due to the threat of violence, candidates changed their campaign plans, cancelling mass meetings and making radio speeches and distributing fliers instead.
On November 29, 1987, the polls closed within a few hours of opening as gunmen opened fire on voters, killing 22 by 9:15am.
A strike protesting the electoral violence began 8 days after the elections, and lasted for two days. Schools remained closed. In response to the electoral violence Aristide called for a "real revolution," saying that no democratic elections would take place under the junta as it stood.
The Catholic Church condemned the army for the electoral violence. The Organization of American States (OAS), a coalition of 31 countries, passed a resolution asking for democracy in Haiti through the implementation of free elections and critiquing prior violence.
The U.S. government had invested substantially in the elections, spending nine times the amount that the Haitian government had in preparation for the event. Canada and the United States had both sent observers for the elections. The United States halted much military aid and ordered its training operations to leave Haiti, and soon cut off the rest of its aid as well, saying that it would not reinstate it until a civilian government was in place. The U.S. said that it was not considering military intervention.
The CNG promised new elections and said that a new president would still be inaugurated by February 7; while at the same time it dissolved the electoral council. The CNG asked civic groups to nominate people to an electoral oversight group, but many decided to not comply with the CNG's request, saying that they did not think any elections would be free under the CNG. The former electoral council, in hiding since the elections, said that no elections without their oversight would be legal. It soon became clear that Duvalierists that the electoral council had banned from running in the original elections would be able to run in the rescheduled elections.
Claude was nearly alone in advocating that foreign countries intervene to guarantee fair elections. The poor and working classes also supported foreign intervention, while the middle and upper classes generally rejected such an idea. The other leaders and former candidates were skeptical as well.
On December 9, the four leading candidates said that they would boycott elections and work together to find a solution to the political crisis, possibly setting up a parallel government. They predicted that the public would boycott the election by up to 90%. The junta announced that it would establish a new electoral council in 2 days and would hold elections on January 17. Out of the 9 institutions that the CNG had asked for nominations to the electoral council, only the CNG and one other made nominations. The CNG threatened to jail those demanding an electoral boycott.
The opposition called another strike for January 16 to protest the elections. The OAS and the Caribbean Conference of Churches both turned down the CNG's offer to observe the elections. Many Haitians started fleeing the capital, saying that they expected the area to be dangerous during the elections. The Catholic Church cancelled its masses for Election Day, citing fear that soldiers would force congregations to the polls. The boycott was 80-95% effective on the day of elections. There was no violence at the polls.
The government soon announced Manigat to be the victor. The opposition pledged noncooperation. The U.S. also declared that the elections had not been democratic, and that it would not resume aid. The opposition coalition declared February 7, the day of the inauguration, to be a day of mourning, and called a strike that shut down much of the capital.
Manigat became president on February 7. The opposition then agreed to stop their criticism and frequent strikes, agreeing to respect Manigat's presidency initially.
Exactly three years later, after the end of this particular campaign, Haiti swore in Aristide, its first democratically elected president.