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René Préval Speaks in Montreal

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Issue: 36 Section: Canadian News Haiti

May 3, 2006

René Préval Speaks in Montreal

by Dru Oja Jay

After meetings with Montréal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and members of the local Haitian community, Haitian President-elect René Préval addressed an audience of 700 in north Montréal on Tuesday night.

In a speech delivered mostly in creole to an overwhelmingly Haitian audience, Préval stressed the need for involvement from the Haitian diaspora, who he exhorted to provide "investment, talent and knowledge" to Haiti. Préval struck a pragmatic tone about the importance of tourism and foreign investment, saying that both are important to the Caribbean country's development.

Préval speaks to a crowd in Montréal Tuesday night. photo: Dru Oja Jay
Préval spoke forcefully in favour a "Parliament that works" and described measures he hopes will avoid a situation where other parties from blocking any legislation proposed by his Lespwa party. Préval distanced himself from previous attempts at "reconciliation," saying instead that everyone except for "assassins, drug dealers and thieves" should participate in democratic decision making.

A mostly enthusiastic crowd broke turned momentarily hostile when Préval mentioned the involvement of Claude Moise, editor of an elite right-wing newspaper in Haiti, in a committee charged with examining citizenship requirements. Dozens of people shouted and waved their arms in opposition to the move. Préval paused for several seconds, waiting for a calm moment before insisting on the need to build a consensus in Haiti.

As Préval was approaching the stage, many audience members chanted "Aristide, Préval" and "Lavalas, Lespwa," affirming the common agenda of the two broad-based parties of Haiti's poor majority. Cries of "no to the coup d'état" were also heard.

The President-elect did not speak of his recent visits to Cuba or Venezuela, or of the anticipated influx of medical personnel and cheap oil as a result of deals made with their governments. Préval also did not mention that some of his closest advisors were blocked from entering Canada. Former Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis told Reuters that "the Canadian government has put my name on a blacklist of perpetrators of crimes against humanity." Reuters reported that Préval had reacted with outrage. Alexis demanded a public apology from Canada, but the matter has scarcely been mentioned in Canadian media.

The Canadian Press reported that Préval's visit itself has been kept "almost invisible" by the Conservative government. According to the report, Préval's visit is "informal" because he will not be officially inaugurated until May 14. However, Harper's visit with interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who was never elected but took power after a military coup, was more thoroughly publicized.

Michel Sanon, a Montréal-based teacher, said that the "invisibility" of Préval's visit was political. "Préval is not the person that the Canadian government expected to be welcoming after the elections, said Sanon."

Attendance was limited to 700. photo: Dru Oja Jay

Dozens of people waited hours to enter the building, and others complained of selective access to tickets. photo: Dru Oja Jay
"Préval is unwanted," said Sanon. "He is wanted by the people of Haiti, but he is unwanted by the foreign powers that got rid of [the Aristide-led government]."

"If you look at the welcome Préval received in Cuba, Venezuela or Brazil, the difference is very big."

Some of those in attendance expressed concerns about the limitations placed on access to the event. Several dozen people were forced to wait outside while only those with tickets were allowed to enter. Questions were raised about access to the tickets, and the entrance to the venue was the site of many heated exchanges in the hours before the event began.

Hubert Molaire, who was in charge of security, explained that there were only 700 tickets, and that those who wanted to enter were told they needed to acquire tickets. Molaire cited security reasons, though no security checks were performed on those who acquired tickets.

Though those who waited were eventually let in, many expressed outrage at the selective distribution of tickets. TV journalist Chavàn Klévo said that many of "those who supported Aristide and Préval when they were attacked" were marginalized and discouraged from attending the event.

Klévo said that long term Préval supporters were "humiliated" when they were prevented from entering until they had waited for hours, with many standing outside in the rain.

"It's us who support Préval," said Klévo. "We're going to make sure he knows that the people organizing on his behalf in Montreal are not doing a good job."

"They're trying to create a space between Aristide supporters and [members of Préval's party] people who now support Lespwa," said Klévo.

Many attendees observed that singers and announcers who took the stage before Préval's entrance used almost exclusively French, which in Haiti is associated with an elite minority and is largely not used by the poor majority. "Why are they playing the Canadian anthem and singing in French? It's doesn't make sense," said Klévo.

Préval will meet with Quebec Premier Jean Charest on Wednesday.

» Canadian Press: Visit by Haiti's president-elect Preval kept almost invisible

» Reuters Canada: Haitian officials say they're barred from Canada

» Dominion: Haitian President-elect Preval Visits Canada

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