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With Bishop Desmond Tutu in Haiti




The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of
Haiti, and The Organization of American States jointly sponsor the
new Bishop Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Center, which they dedicated
after the Mass at the Cathedrale Sainte Trinite in Port-au-Prince on
Sunday (1/12/06). Bishop Tutu was the preacher.  See
http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/dedication.jpg).  I was in Haiti
to represent the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church at this
occasion.

 

The next day, Monday (1/13) I was part of a small group scheduled to
go with Bishop Tutu by helicopter to Cap-Haitien, the second largest
city in Haiti.  Many waited there for him to speak as he had done on
Sunday.   

 

By 7:30a, we were assembled in the lobby of Hotel Montana, but by 8a
were told to expect delays.  Demonstrations clogged roads, and the
pilot could not reach the helicopter.  Leaders of the OAS among us
used radios and cellular phones to monitor demonstrations throughout
Port-au-Prince.  As we waited, some of us moved about the roof and
balconies of the hotel, which sits on the top of a tall mountain and
commands views of much of the capitol.

 

By 9a we heard a demonstration far below us on one side of the
hotel.  Then we spotted the demonstrators, at least a mile away.  

 

At 10a we heard louder shouts much nearer, from a different group
altogether, down the hill from the front of hotel and moving towards
us.  Ten minutes later 10 they reached the hotel gate, already firmly
shut and surrounded by security officers.  Our group moved into the
Bishop Tutu's suite and watched from his balcony on the top floor. 

 

The demonstrators chanted "Préval! Préval! Préval!"  

 

René Préval was by far the most popular candidate in the election for
Haiti's President held six days earlier on February 7th. Like almost
everyone in the country, the demonstrators were weary with delays in
counting the votes and in discerning the official winner.  Rumors
were rife that some members of the electoral college do not like
Préval and were manipulating the results to prevent his having the
50% plus one vote required to win.  Short of that count, Haiti's
constitution demands a second ballot.  Leslie Manigat, the next
candidate behind Préval garnered only 11.8% of the
vote.                 

 

The mood of the demonstrators seemed more jubilant than angry.  More
ominous were the occasional sirens sounded by one of heavy vehicles
of the U.N. forces in the middle of the street surrounded by the
demonstrators.  Thousands of peaceable people crowded into a very
small space can all too easily be manipulated by one or more persons
with a more volatile agenda.   Police and soldiers were ubiquitous,
some with rifles and guns.   We heard reports that a Jordanian in the
U. N. special forces had killed a person in a demonstration near the
airport, half an hour from us.

 

At 11:10a, after an hour, the crowd in front of the hotel had grown
to 6,000 or more.  Those in the front began to rock the huge gates,
farther and farther with each push, until the gates tumbled under the
weight and the crowd moved into the large parking and garden areas in
front of the hotel.  "Préval! Préval! Préval! "Lespwa! Lespwa!"
Lespwa is the name of Préval's party and the word "hope" in Creole."
    

 

Some of the demonstrators jubilantly hoisted a picture of Préval
 together with a Haitian flag on one of three flag poles in front of
the hotel.  Great cheers went up.  From the balcony many of us waved
and gave thumbs up.  Re-living these scenes two days later, I have
not been able to remember a time that I was afraid.   I wondered
whether I misremembered our mood, but pictures developed today show
us enjoying the occasion.  See especially
http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/watching1.jpg. It seemed to me
that we were witnessing democracy at work. 

 

About twenty minutes after the demonstration had moved into the yard
of the hotel, Bishop Tutu went downstairs to a the first level above
the entrance and warmly greeted the crowd. (See
http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/crowd1.jpg)

 

"Bonjour!" he shouted. 

 

"Bonjour!" those nearest to him responded. 

 

Most at a distance could not see what was happening.  He raised his
hands to his ears and with a big smile again said, "Bonjour!" 

 

More joined in responding delightedly, "Bonjour!" 

 

After several such efforts, the crescendo had engaged a large block
of the demonstrators, much as he had engaged the country's interim
president, interim prime minister, and the entire diplomatic core
with his sermon at the cathedral the day before.  Bishop Tutu
congratulated Haiti on having had a peaceful election.  He recalled
how important peaceful elections had been in South Africa.   He stood
in solidarity with the people's desire to have an expeditious
conclusion to the elections, and urged the Electoral College to act
fairly and promptly.     

 

After Bishop Tutu finished speaking, many of those in the crowd
closest to the front of the hotel turned as if to go.   Those farther
back had not heard him and were not clear what was happening.  Some
had taken advantage of an opportunity to enjoy the hotel's swimming
pool.   It seemed that the demonstration was dying down.   Bishop
Tutu returned to his own balcony waving to the crowds. 

 

Then on the platform where he had spoken to the crowd without
amplification, some members of the hotel staff produced a lectern and
tested microphones to use with it.  Had they not known that Bishop
Tutu had finished speaking?  Were they anticipating others to
speak?   Their testing of the microphones caught the attention of
those leaving.  They stopped, and again the crowds shouted "Préval!
Préval!  Préval!"

 

Almost exactly one hour after they had toppled the gate, they entered
the hotel.  They were not intent on vandalism.  Long after they left
I could not find examples of any willful destruction.  But the sheer
force of thousands of people moving into the space produced a mess. 
Part of the lobby has no wall separating it from "outside" but tall
vegetation.  As some of the crowd moved through the vegetation, they
found themselves needing to step on a table and a wood chair to get
to the floor level as others nudged at their backs.  The seat of one
wooden chair gave way and the vegetation disappeared.  (See the scene
before the crowd entered at
http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/before.jpg and the chair and
table afterward at http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/after.jpg.)

 

It took several minutes for the crowd to work its way over the huge
hotel.  They did not try to break into a single room nor vandalize
the hallways.  We heard knocks at the door of the Bishop Tutu's
suite.  A security person inside with us connected with a security
person watching from outside.  The bishop told them to invite a
couple of the demonstrators to some in and have a chat with them.  
Two entered.  He greeted them warmly and kindly.  They looked like
deer in headlights, said nothing, and almost immediately left.

 

Throughout most of the demonstration, many UN helicopters circled
close to the hotel.   After the demonstrators left the bishop's
suite, he was told that a helicopter had landed on the helipad at the
top of the hotel and could take him away to safety. (See the helipad
at http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/heliport.jpg.) He explained
that he felt quite safe and would stay as originally planned until
the next day.  No one could claim that unrest had threatened him or
frightened him away.

 

That evening Hotel Montana put under the door of the rooms of those
of us staying there a letter saying, "Dear guest, We take this
occasion to sincerely thank all our guests for their support,
calmness and understanding during today's manifestation.  In view of
the event, the hotel cancelled its agreement with the United Nations
Media Results Center (UNOPS) and they will no longer be renting a
conference room at the Hotel Montana."

 

American Express, spotting that my card had been used at the hotel,
called my home machine to say the hoped that I was safe after the
activities at the hotel.  Likely they also wanted to hear from me if
someone else had stolen my card and used it there.

 

American Airlines canceled all flights into and out of Port-au-Prince
indefinitely.   Bishop Tutu and I made our way out of  Haiti on
Tuesday as planned, using private air transport.  

 

I am very proud of Haiti, very proud of the strong church leadership
there, especially that of Rt. Rev. Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of
Haiti.  Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  The
Diocese of Haiti is behind only Virginia and Texas in the number of
its baptized members.  The diocese operates many schools and medical
facilities.  It is one of the few stable institutions in the country,
and its priests serve well with often limited resources.  

 

Haiti has been abused again and again by outside exploiters and by a
history of dictators.   So much hangs in the balance of this
election.   A major portion of the populace turned out to vote.   
Pray for peace, for fairness, for good will, and for prosperity in
this place.

 

Louie

 

 

 

Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison St., 12D, E. Orange, NJ 07018.
973-395-1068

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew

 

See additional photographs:

 

http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/waiting.jpg -- some of us touring
the hotel when the demonstrators were far off

http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/center.jpg -- the Bishop Desmond
Tutu Center for Reconciliation and Peace

http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/duracin.jpg -- Rt. Rev. Zache
Duracin, Bishop of Haiti

http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/seminarians.jpg -- Seminarians
arrive for the mass and dedication with the dean, Very Rev. Oge
Beauvoir

http://rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/haiti/tutu_crew.jpg -- Bishop Desmond
Tutu and Louie Crew

 



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