By Joe Colas
Caribbean News Now Contributor
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (HCNN) — Several thousand people demonstrated on Monday in Haiti’s capital to voice opposition against government leaders and to mark the 22nd anniversary of a 1991 coup that ousted and sent into exile then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who now heads a political party opposed to the administration of the Caribbean country’s president, Michel Martelly.
Protestors had signs calling for the resignation of Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and carried two symbolic coffins representing the demise of the top two leaders of the current administration.
“We, militants of the opposition, want Martelly and Lamothe to leave power because they are not doing anything to change the situation here,” Jacques Toussaint, a demonstrator from Aristide’s party, told HCNN on Monday.
Aristide supporters, joined by other opposition parties’ sympathizers, were brandishing posters of former president Aristide, while calling for new election, and for an improvement in their social and economic situation.
“Down with Martelly, down with Lamothe,” shouted angry demonstrators, who marched through several streets in the capital Port-au-Prince.
Smaller opposition groups also took to the streets in the southern city Les Cayes and in the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the second largest in the country.
Since the September 30, 1991, coup that overthrew Aristide during his first presidential term, his supporters each year organize demonstrations or other political events to mark their rejection of the bloody military coup.
Another group opposed to former president Aristide’s party also demonstrated to call for judicial proceedings against the former leader who, they say, had extorted money from many members of mutual funds organizations, which had been revealed to be pyramid schemes.
“Many medium class families and other people of very modest means put all their money in these mafia organizations which were mostly controlled by Aristide and his allies,” said Rosemond Jean, who was leading the anti-Aristide march, which drew fewer crowds.
“Actions should be taken against Aristide so that those who lost their money may be compensated and reimbursed,” chanted Jean. Aristide has in the past rejected the accusations.
The spokesman for Martelly, Lucien Jura, said the demonstrations were a “proof that democracy is working in Haiti, that freedom of expression is an undeniable reality, contrarily to opponents who often claim Martelly was establishing a dictatorship in the country.”
“People have a right to demonstrate and this right will always be guaranteed as long as president Martelly is in power,” Jura told HCNN.
“But president Martelly, who is working to improve the living conditions of the needy population, was elected for five years and he will complete his constitutional term regardless of the views of a minority who wish to force him from power,” he said.
Officials say the government has inherited a very difficult situation from past administrations which failed to build the necessary development infrastructure and to set up social programs that could help the most vulnerable.
“Can you imagine that since the creation of this nation, over 200 years ago, it is for the first time you have a government that actually thought of setting up a structured social assistance program for the Haitian poor?” Kedler Augustin, a spokesman for Lamothe, told HCNN.
“Of course, because of the limited means, there are people who have not yet been reached, but the program has already reached one million people in a relatively short period of time,” said Augustin.
Recent polls show that a majority of Haitians continue to support the work of Martelly and Lamothe.