A year after the fall of the dictatorial Duvaliers, Cristina Odone looks at church reactions to fledgling steps to democracy.
HAITI'S bishops find no improvement in their country's situation one year after the ousting of dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier.
Duvalier's fall from power, the Haitian bishops released a statement of unequivocal condemnation of the new regime. Led by General Henri Namphy, the new government must "make changes, new men are needed", warned the Bishops last week.
Although General Namphy has undertaken the drafting of a new constitution and has called for a free presidential election to be held in November, accusations of Government corruption, of economic injustice and inequality, are being levied against the General's administration.
The country's poverty, and illiteracy, as well as the remaining vestiges of the hated; Duvalier regime (including "Baby Doc" 's secret police, the Tonton Macoutes) have driven the Haitian Catholic Church to an increasingly political literacy programme, which aims to teach
half of the six million inhabitants how to read and write in the next five years.
Moreover, a new and radical wing of the clergy is fast emerging, despite the resolutely conservative stand of Archbishop Francois Wolff of Port-au-Prince and Bishop Francois Gayot of Cap Haitien. Prominent among the new radical priests are Bishop Willy Romulus of Jeremie, and Fr Jean-Bertrand Aristide who is based in Port-au-Prince. Both Churchmen speak of Liberation Theology and hail Nicaragua's Catholic Church as the example to follow.
Despite last week's bishops' statement, which presented a unified front against the lack of progress made by General Namphy, the Catholic hierarchy is increasingly separated into these two political camps, with the Pope's support of the conservatives made explicit with his recent re-appointment of Bishop Gayot of Cap Haitien as president of the Episcopal Conference.
The recent anti-communist campaign that has been waged in Cap Haitien is seen as the work of Bishop Gayot: while Fr Aristide and his faction are viewed as the champions of the poor against foreign exploitation such as the multinationals in Haiti.
Meanwhile, Haiti remains one of the poorest nations in the Western hemisphere, with the lowest literacy in the West, and with a strong Voodoo following among the poor. Haitians, according to the bishops' statement, "do not aspire to a mere change of personnel, but of mentality and system."
Things have not changed, over the past year in Haiti. And Haitians have yet to follow the Pope's advice and "turn the page on the errors of the past".