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Freedom's Deafening Cry

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What follows is an abridged version of a speech by Father Jean Bertrand Aristide, exiled President of Haiti. Aristide delivered this speech, the Cranbrook Peace Foundation's annual peace lecture, on Nov. 30 in Dearborn, Mich.


The crane, the symbol chosen by the Cranbrook Peace Foundation to represent its work, is one of God's creatures that is not indigenous to my country, Haiti. Yet the idea that the crane has come to represent - the spirit of peace, happiness, and unity - is native to the collective consciousness to my people.


The crane is described as a stately bird. In its full splendor, it stands nearly five feet tall. It is well-known for its loud trumpeting call. The crane is not a meek bird and you should not be deceived by its thin and long legs. Those legs have the strength to propel the crane to soar to great heights. The crane is a social and gregarious animal that flies with its family in groups of 20 to 100 in the "V" formation. In flight, cranes extend their legs as they soar on outstretched wings in a rising column of air called a thermal, until they are almost out of sight. Then they regroup into a "V" formation and glide to the next thermal.


Do not attempt to agitate them or interfere with their flight, for they are a protective species. When any one member of the flock is disturbed, the entire flock cries out in a deafening trumpet cali in defense of the whole.


Like the crane, the Haitian people are a stately people. You should not be deceived by any images of meekness. In 1804, we were a people resolved to break the bonds of slavery and did so. Alter our freedom, in the thermal that carne next, we created the first Black nation. We rose a deafening cry to the world community in our fight against bondage, and in our subsequent attempt to position the country as an equal nation in the world community of nations. The call went unanswered and Haiti remained isolated. Fortunately, the spirit of the crane was with us and we gained our independence and survived as a nation.


The spirit of the crane was with us again in Dec. 1990 when Haiti resolved to break the chains of dictatorship and soared toward the next thermal, called democracy. A constitution mandating a government founded on the principles of justice was approved by an overwhelming majority of the country. We won the first free democratic election with 67.7% of the vote. The flight to democracy was not peaceful.


On SepL 30, 1991 around five o'clock in the afternoon, when the coup happened, I was in the palace. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers were shooting. Finally, even with over 700 soldiers ready to light with me, I had to make the decision - to give orders to shoot at the rebellious troops, or to do it in another way.


Because of what I learned from the poor people, because of what I learned from the gospel, I decided to go out of the palace with my hands in front of me, to talk to those who were shooting at us. Unfortunately one of them shot, wounding the soldier to my left. Then they arrested me.


They took me to the army headquarters. There I saw the release of many people who had been imprisoned for drug trafficking or other crimes.


Referring to me, (coup leader) General Cedras asked the soldiers: "Now what do you want me to do with him?" Some of them said, "Well, we'll just shoot him." And some others said, "No, you don"t have to do that." They were divided. Maybe God helped to divide them. As a result, I am still alive.


As I told you, I learned from the gospel. I learned from the people, and I continue to learn. If you do not love people, you can not have those 700 soldiers with you and not ask them to shoot. I didn't want a civil war. I didn't want tp have power, but to share love and serve people. I preferred to avoid a civil war and to continue, with you and the Haitian people, working for peace.


The Haitian people were disturbed in this phase of the flight toward democracy and peace. In defense of their nation, Haitians again raised a deafening cry for peace, freedom and change, and an opportunity to participate in the system from which they have always been excluded. This time the loud trumpet cali was not ignored by the world community. In fact, the entire world, except the Vatican, does not recognize the new government set up by the forces that led the coup.


We say, let's bring justice back. We'll remove General Cedras and the other coup leaders from the army. Let's bring back democracy through a peaceful process and not a bloody one.


Haiti's struggle for peace and democracy has been interrupted. The flight must and will continue. What has sustained Haiti throughout its history, and will continue to sustain Haiti through its present troubles, is the same spirit of unity that propels the crane to soar. It is the collective affïrmation that Haiti as a nation can no longer allow any one of its children to be disturbed on the flight towards freedom. The actions of the few cannot defeat the flow of history. Like the crane, all of Haiti must join in the "V" formation to take flight in a peaceful way, in a non-violent way.


Some people ask: "Why don't you want military intervention to put you back in power?" The answer is simple. We don't have a real army in Haiti. It's 7,000 people, but it's not they who decide to commit crimes against humanity - it's just one general and a small group of thugs. Those 7,000 people with weapons in their hands would not light to defend their general.


So we look to the nonviolent method. If, for instance, President-elect Clinton sent someone to tell General Cedras that democracy must be restored in the country, I'm sure that Cedras would ask how he could save his own future. He wouldn't stand up against Clinton. The military just use their weapons for drug trafficking. So let's believe in the peaceful, non-violent way to bring democracy back to Haiti.


Don't be discouraged if after 14 months you haven't seen that happen. Once the international community will pass from statements to action, we will see that happen.


As Haiti now makes the same trumpet cali first raised in 1804 and then again in 1990, this call cannot be ignored by the world community. Just as the crane races to the defense of any one member of its flock that's disturbed in its flight, so too the world community must rise to the defense of any member nation that is disturbed in its llight to democracy.


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