Nouvèl FOKAL

mercredi 4 mai 2011

MEMORY : two April 26ths that marred our history

Port-au-Prince, April 26 1986

April 26, 1986 ended the period of hope and restored liberty: the post-dictatorship period is born.

Two and a half months have passed since the departure of the Duvalier family and the end of the dictatorship. Liberty is there, it waits and sometimes appears briefly.

On Saturday April 26th 1986, around 9:00 am, it is with determination, with gravity, that a few dozen people meet at Sacré-Coeur church in Turgeau for a commemorative celebration. None are very young, and most come from outside the country and have made the effort to make their return to Haiti coincide with this date, April 26.

April 26th 1963 was a day of massacres against some members of military families  suspected of trying to kidnap François Duvalier’s son, Jean-Claude Duvalier at Bird College in Port-au-Prince. This day had terrified the population - houses had been set on fire with their occupants still inside, children were taken away, whole families arrested, tortured, killed, disappeared.

On this day in 1986, for the first time in 23 years, the victims - parents, close friends, both children and adults, receive a symbolic tribute from those who had survived the dictatorship and the violent reprisals by escape or going into political exile.

After Mass, those in attendance had agreed to go downtown by way of Bois-Verna to Chancerelle,  the ruins of Fort-Dimanche, the sinister prison where most people had had a loved one or relative imprisoned, tortured or disappeared. In February 1986, they wanted to tear down Fort-Dimanche so as to expunge the horror within its walls, they wanted to demolish its walls to exorcise the demons. But in reality, Fort-Dimanche had become an arsenal, an arms depot for the military.

Quickly, the initial group from Sacre-Coeur is joined by hundreds of people: older people there to testify for their grand-children or nephews killed in their twenties, families who had lost relatives, brothers, sisters or friends. On this occasion, in an unusual fashion, all social classes mingled. There were mulatto upper-class families, frequently targeted by François Duvalier, as well as working-class people, who for the first time dared come into the open to express their opposition to arbitrary dictatorship.

The crowd starts to descend Bois-Verna, carrying posters with photos and names,  stopping in front of houses known for having suffered violent events: assaults, arrests, or death.

The procession is impressive in its gravity, calm and determination.

The reaction is not only authoritarian but also monstrous, it happens in a very public and  ostentatious manner, bringing the past  from its obligatory silence.

For those attending this march, the dawning of hope has come. They feel that a change in the nation is still possible, in spite of the cost.

The crowd reaches Chancerelle and Fort-Dimanche around 1:00 pm. When speeches are about to start, gunfire is heard. The crowd has been infiltrated by agitators, and the military inside Fort-Dimanche, under  the orders of the chief of police, a well known macoute (Duvalier’s political police) gives the order to shoot point blank at the crowd under the pretext that they want to take over the fort. The crowd scatters, which brings an end to the demonstration.

Those who were wounded, whose numbers are not known, took flight in any way they could. The dead were left where they fell - there were eleven bodies. No one dared come back for them. No funeral was celebrated, the bodies were simply thrown into a mass grave at Titanyen, an area outside Port-au-Prince where the dictatorship had always disposed of bodies. The official communiqués commenting on the event said there were unavoidable mistakes, as would happen anywhere under these circumstances.

This event, of April 26th 1986, put an end to the new-found liberty; the post-dictatorship was born and with it, the perpetuation of human rights violations.

The results of those human rights violations are serious, both physically and psychologically. Violence, which now accompanies all survival situations, is endemic in Haiti and effects social interaction in a negative way.

The awareness of this constant violence has put into question the very notion of victim.
It is necessary that there be a reflection on these memories, and on the  demand made on society to forget - or to act as if it has forgotten - so as to survive, even though its past makes it necessary to keep alive the memory of its independence. This reflection on  memory sharpens  the process of mourning and the work on mourning. It has become classic to stress the importance of the paradoxical aspects of a vanished  reality, where it is convenient to block the memories that revive more or less persistently. Memory seems to lose itself in wandering, where rational logic is non-existent. The past does not seem to give lessons but continues to haunt the Haitian collective identity as it does the individual.

On April 26th 1986, during the disastrous commemoration of the dramatic events of April 1963, nothing has been forgotten; the necessities of survival in Haiti or in exile had required the burying of the terrible traumas, but not their disappearance or whitewashing.
In the end, private sufferings merit being publicly named and should engender the  recognition of this new era that was not yet named post-dictatorship.

We are stunned by the opacity shown by the public institutions; a flagrant will not to admit to a past that merits public recognition and to give this past a public symbolic space, as if, after many years, mourning has become impossible.

As if, up to now, memory has forgotten to mourn all that it remembers.

April 26th 1986 has nearly been forgotten. In the same way that we forget or pay no attention to the multiple events, all dramatic, that continue to happen daily in Haiti… Maybe because they keep on happening - transport trucks that fall into ravines; two or three individuals, never named, who were shot at today, yesterday or a month ago; the boat that travels from Jérémie to Port-au-Prince, because of the lack of roads, sinks with more then 1,200 passengers; a minister of government is shot point-blank; militants that are tracked and systematically tortured; the earthquake victims; people who disappear or are attacked or raped - there is a huge loss of memory now appearing on the Human Rights front.

It is on this memory loss that one has to focus, in order to bring about the Haitian dream of marching forward.

Yet, the dream and memory are intertwined. One without the other, and one keeps reproducing the fantasies and the horror. If it is undeniable that social unrest and violence have taken over traditional therapeutic and cultural cures, luckily not all has vanished.
The Haitian has not vanished and one is awed in the face of his strength and capacity to resist, to stand in spite of retributions. But the price is high in human lives, and in the tragic modifications of destinies. It is on this fact that reflection is necessary.

Cécile Marotte

Introduction to a work «Mémoire oubliée, Haïti 1991-1995» by Cécile Marotte and Hervé Rakoto Razafimbahiny and published by Éditions Regain and CIDIHCA in 1997.