HAITI: WHY WAS THE PORT-AU-PRINCE CATHEDRAL BURNED DOWN? (cries.regionews from Managua January 19, 1991 165 lines) By Gregorio Selser from "La Jornada", Mexico City. January 10, 1991.
International news agencies reported that the diplomatic corps accredited in Haiti protested to the provisional government about the aggression committed against the Vatican embassy in Port-au-Prince which was sacked and burned by demonstrators during the popular uprising against the attempted coup d'etat of Roger Lafontant on Jan. 7.
During the incidents, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, was humiliated by the demonstrators who forced him to remove his trousers and shoes. His secretary, Monsignor Leon Kalenga, was beaten and wounded in the head with machetes. The Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Christian P. Latortue, sent a message to the Vatican in which he regretted the aggression against the religious institutions. In a radio broadcast to the nation, president-elect Jean Bertrand Aristide condemned the "horrible spectacle" of the torching of the religious institutions stating he "shared the pain of the religious authorities and the diplomatic corps" and also called on the people to show discipline.
By mid-week, the army began to repress the demonstrators and Haitian authorities managed to stop the looting and calm the disorders. The question arises as to why there was such a strong and violent reaction by popular sectors against institutions and persons identified with the Catholic Church in
According to news dispatches from Haiti, the old colonial cathedral of Port-au-Prince was reduced to ashes by a fire set by a mob that was looking for the local prelate, Archbishop Francois Wolf Ligonde. They didn't find him because he had already taken refuge in the suburb of Carrefour. So they burned his personal residence in the Nazareth neighborhood. Also the building of the Haitian Bishops Conference (CEH) was set alight, and the residence of the Papal Nuncio and house of the Salesian Sisters were sacked and destroyed. The Haitian people continue to be, in the majority, Catholic, however, in spite of the persistence of voodoo rites, the growing presence of Protestant churches, and a variety of religious sects. It is fitting to ask, then, why was this popular anger directed against Catholic institutions and figures.
The triumphant presidential candidate Jean Bertrand Aristide continues to be a priest in spite of his suspension "a divinis", and in all his electoral speeches, he called for peaceful solutions and an end to all forms of violence, including in his public exhortations to gynecologist Roger Lafontant and his hordes of "tonton macoutes".
There is a long history of resentment and a more recent history of provocations by the CEH, in which the principal figure was Ligonde. In his first homily of the New Year on January 1, he launched a violent diatribe against Aristide which came at the same time as the reports about an imminent coup d'etat by Lafontant. Said in another way, Ligonde, an ultraconservative prelate and first cousin of Michele Benet, the wife of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, put his money on the Lafontant coup, as did the majority of the bishops and a part of the army, including its commander-in-chief, General Herard Abraham, who permitted the Palace to by taken and the supposed arrest of the provisional president. Then he declared himself to be legalistic when the people began to mobilize and react. The CEH is made up of 10 high prelates, but the people say that in reality there are only one and a half, because although they recognize this high quality in the elderly bishop Willy Romelus, from the city of Jeremie, all the rest don't add up to "half a bishop". The CEH members are the archbishops Ligonde of Port-au-Prince, and Francois Gayot, of Cap Haitien, the bishops Leonard Petion Laroche of Hinche (president of the CEH), Joseph Lafontant and Joseph Kebreau, auxiliaries of Port-au-Prince, Francois Colimon of Port du Paix, Emmanuel Constant of Gonaives, Alix Verrier of Les Cayes, and Guire Poulard of Jacmel.
These high churchmen were born and/or grew up in the shadow of, or by decision of, the Duvalier dynasty, and at difference from those of Panama, they are all Haitian. Their appointments were agreed upon with the Vatican after a harsh confrontation which resulted in the expulsion from Haiti of all the members of the Jesuit Order whom Francois Duvalier accused of being "communists". In the last days of Baby Doc and in light of the reigning unrest, the CEH observed an attitude of "prudent criticism" of the regime, but when he fell and fled, Bishop Laroche, who was named by Papa Doc, warned against the "temptations to violence" in allusion to that which broke out at that time against the "tonton macoutes". Meanwhile, Archbishop Ligonde called for "immediate reconciliation". At the same time, the CEH, acting jointly, censured the activity of the Salesian priest Aristide who had been one of the main forces behind the popular mobilization. The bishops demanded that he not step out of bounds, that is, that he confine himself to his specific religious mission. The polemic that began in this way concluded in 1988 with the expulsion of Aristide from the Salesian Order and the related suspension of his condition as a priest. Aristide's appeal to the Vatican has still not been resolved; but the controversy had the advantage of winning him many more followers, because the episcopate, with the exception of Romelus, was discredited for their attitude of silent compliance during the time of Duvalierism.
Aristide did not put himself up to be a candidate for the presidency or for any other political office. However, when a convention was held in Vertaillis on October 13-14, 1990 by the "tonton macoutes" and they created the Union for National Reconciliation (URN) and designated Lafontant, their historical leader, as candidate, the association of parties and popular organizations grouped together as the National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD) interviewed the priest and literally demanded that he accept their nomination. On October 18, Lafontant, who continued to be subject to an arrest warrant by authorities, personally presented his candidacy to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) without being arrested. That same day, Aristide accepted his nomination. The electoral campaign was summed up as "the `tonton macoutes' versus democracy", but while the priest talked about peace and fraternity among all Haitians, Lafontant - whose candidacy was finally vetoed by the CEP - was characterized by his calls to violence and the threats he made. On November 24, Bishop Laroche attacked Aristide obliquely, reminding him of article 285/3 of the Code of Canon Law.
On December 5, at the end of a political meeting in the Petionville neighborhood, the "tonton macoutes" attacked with machine guns and bombs and left five dead and more than 50 seriously wounded. Two days later, a CEH document distortedly declared: "How did this come to happen? Is it not because they have tried to divide Haitian society into two camps, that of the good and that of the bad?[...] Thus, violence becomes a necessary instrument for the construction of the new political system, of the new regime of government. What is being prepared is definitely a State founded on the cycle of violence."
The dead and wounded were all from the FNCD, but the bishops put the blame on Aristide. He had asked for an interview with Laroche in order to explain his program for peace. It was granted to him as "a brother in the faith, and not as a politician". Aristide triumphed with more than 68% of the votes on December 16 in the only fair elections in the entire history of Haiti. Days before, Lafontant publicly declared that he would not allow him to assume the presidency. On January 1, Archbishop Ligonde, without any reason, attacked Aristide who at all times has shown himself to be prudent and conciliatory. On the 7th, after midnight, Lafontant began his coup.
Maybe this makes it possible to understand why Ligonde was sought out and why the church and ecclesiastical buildings were burned?