ARMED WITH RHYTHM: HAITIANS AND THEIR SONGS OF FREEDOM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — * When the crowd forms in Haiti, the songs begin. One group sings: ``Oui, Cedras, oui, Cedras contra fini.'' Another group answers: ``Aristide pap renouvle/contra encore.''
In other words, the contract of Haiti's military leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, is up. And President-in-exile Jean-Bertrand Aristide is not going to renew that contract. It was clear the crowd of about 200 singing at the waterfront on Oct. 7 was jubilant and eager to demonstrate after three years of repressive military rule.
Such protests continue. Men and women carry branches; a young man keeps rhythm with a battered drum. In Haiti, where an estimated 50 to 70 percent cannot read or write, songs are the most popular form of protest. ``Even people who don't understand the words sing anyway,'' a protestor says. ``They understand the spirit of the words.''
``Arrest him! Jail him!'' the crowd chants. ``Arrest them; jail them!'' They refer to the paramilitary operatives that have terrorized the population since the 1991 coup. Many of the songs heard often at the pro-Aristide demonstrations, which have sprung up here since US forces landed here Sept. 19, carry a similar theme, denouncing the crowd's enemies more than cheering its heroes.
The taunts have become bolder. But at the Oct. 7 gathering, when two Haitian police walked up toting rifles, youths ran for cover. The parade almost disintegrated. Slowly, it reformed again, marching past the police barracks and then the National Palace. Then on to military headquarters. Haitian soldiers looked on impassively as the crowd surged onto the street. No violence marred the day of song.