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Commentary :: Education : International
The Dismantling of Popular Education Under the new U.S-backed Regime in Haiti
22 Aug 2004
The public education system in Haiti has been hard hit since the overthrow of jean Betrand Aristide. Several members of a delegation of human rights observers and journalists report on the situation from Port au Prince.
dignity picture small.jpg
On February 22, 2004 eighteen people were killed as the so-called rebels, who overthrew the constitutional government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, looted and burned the Police Commissary and Transportation Authority of Cap Haitien. Their violent campaign included the destruction of a school bus program founded and subsidized by the Aristide government. During the raid, all of the buses that provided transportation for poor children in the countryside were looted and burned.

A worker in the school bus yard in Cap Haitian was forced into hiding after the coup expressed his fear and frustration standing among the ruins of the once thriving program of gutted busses marked “Dignity.” Fighting through tears he stated, “The international community wants us to give up our dignity, doesn’t want us to join hands but we still have dignity. If they are rich it is because they took our programs and resources without working for them. I think it is my right to work in a program supported by the former government, but it has cost me so much.”

The majority of peasant families struggle to get by without jobs or resources and many are unable to afford public school fees, much less transportation. Public transportation costs, which could be 30-100 goudes per day, are out of the question for most families, particularly those with more than one child. The program under Aristide’s government provided transportation at the cost of 250 goudes per year ($6.00 US). With the school year scheduled to begin in September, some employees are scrambling to salvage the bus system with no resources, salaries, or support from the interim government. Since the area is still largely controlled by the former military, an atmosphere of fear surrounds those who would attempt to rebuild programs that were founded and supported by the overthrown Lavalas government.

The situation in Cap Haitien represents a larger trend across the country. During the last decade the Aristide and Preval administrations built hundreds of schools, more than three times the number that existed prior to 1990. They also gave loans to families in September to cover school fees, which could be repaid over the course of the year. The interim government has significantly raised fees for public schooling and no longer offers these loans. In the city of Petionville, the cost for one year was raised from 55 goudes ($1.50 US) to 355 goudes ($10.00 US). Many families will be unable to send their children to school in September.

Another example is a community initiative that assists poor children who could not even afford the government subsidized public schools under the now deposed Aristide administration. SOPEDUP (The Society and Organization of Providence for Economic Development in Petionville is a grassroots organization that participated in the now dismantled universal literacy project instituted by Aristide’s Lavalas political party. The project provided free literacy classes to adults between the ages of 30-60. SOPEDUP members began to take notice of the increasing number of children attending these adult literacy classes with their parents in Petionville. The organization decided to bridge the gap and started a school to provide education to the poorest children in the community. Under the Aristide administration SOPUDEP was given a building once belonging to a former drug dealer and Duvalier assassin, Lionel Wooley. They also received some material aid but found it hard to meet the payroll for teachers’ salaries as the number of students increased. Salaries were paid in part by the community and fundraising efforts of a few supporters abroad. They were also supplemented by the contributions of members of the school’s administration who also held jobs in the local municipal government.

One of the directors of the school, Jean Jacques Bataille, was an administrator in the mayor’s office. His personal salary from his government job helped pay the teachers. Since the interim government came into power Bataille has been fired, and as a result, he is unable to continue helping. With few resources to go around, communities in Haiti are financially interdependent -- the loss of one job affects not only the employee’s family but also others who benefited from their support of grassroots community development projects.

Examples like the school bus program in Cap Haitien, the literacy program and the SOPUDEP school are not unique under the rule of the wealthy technocrats Washington has used to displace the popular democratic movement in Haiti. The illegal Latortue government, and the so-called international community that supports it, are dismantling programs to assist the poor developed under the Lavalas administration, and in doing so economically undermining the popular movement that brought Aristide to power.

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