November 29, 1987: I was There, I Just Wanted to Vote

This post is also available in: Kreyol

November 29, 1987 general elections were held in Haiti to elect a new leader following the fall of the Duvalier Regime. These elections were canceled after hundreds of optimistic citizens who lined up to vote that day were gunned down by the Haitian military. This is Lunise Jules’ recounting of that unfortunate day. 

The powers that be in 1987 were not satisfied with simple election fraud tactics and false results. They were better at stopping people from voting altogether, killing, gunning down and intimidating voters with their war tanks.

Usually on my way home from Petion-Ville, I avoid driving through Route Frères at all costs, because traffic is always unbearable there. For some unknown reason, this past Friday afternoon, November 20th, I decided to drive through Route Frères to get to my house in Jacquet. A few minutes after parking in my driveway, I found out that Delmas 95, the road I usually take to get home, was in utter chaos. Rocks were being thrown, and tires were being burned. It was the first time the protests against the 2015 elections had gotten that violent. Luckily, something in the back of my mind kept me from driving through Delmas that day. I let out a sigh of relief, grateful for my saftey. It is hard to imagine that I, this same scared lady on November 20, 2015, was out in the streets of Port-au-Prince on November 29, 1987, militantly making her way to go vote for the first time in her life.

When Duvalier’s reign came to an end in February of 1986, I thought I was dreaming. I was happy to see this regime leave the country. I hated the arrogance of the makout, I hated how any person could turn up missing while our leaders offered no explanation for the many lives they were destroying. My nights were haunted with nightmares of my mother and father’s friends who disappeared, of people this regime executed while forcing citizens to watch and applause when I was a child. People executed in public parks in Cap Haitian like Max Péan, or in front of the Republic Bank of Haiti in Cap Haitian, like the deranged man who screamed “Gèt manman w!” at Duvalier. Those days were finally over! And the greatest of all, we would be able to finally vote and choose our next leader. I get to vote for the first time in my life! At 29 years old, nobody could condemn me for dancing at the thought of this.

In 1987, the controllers of the political machine in Haiti were not as sophisticated as the ones of today. The powers that be in 1987 were not satisfied with simple election fraud tactics and false results. They were better at stopping people from voting altogether, killing, gunning down and intimidating voters with their war tanks.

We were ecstatic at the chance to finally vote. We truly believed that this was the only way to make our demands met, and for most of us, it was the first time we would ever get a chance to vote. Gunshots rang all through the night, the night before the November 29 elections. I naively thought that the gunshots were security measures being done by the Haitian army, warning shots to scare away troublemakers who might want to keep people from voting the next day. The army is doing its job, we’ll be able to vote bright and early. Nothing will keep me from voting. This is what I told myself.

Only 10 days prior, I had given birth to a baby girl. She came before the elections in time for her mother to be able to vote. As early as September, I tried to convince Dr. Jean-Louis to schedule my c-section in time for me to participate in the upcoming elections, but he refused. “Lunise, there are no politics when it comes to childbirth.” Why doesn’t he understand?!

But Talie was a good child, activist from the womb. As early as November 16th, she demanded to be let out. By November 20th, I was already back at home, practicing walking upright in preparation for Election Day. When the 29th arrived, my belly was still bandaged from my surgery, but nothing was going to stop me from going to vote for the first time in my life.

Early morning November 29th, we drove down to Christ Roi in the Nazon area. Haitian soldiers were stationed at various points in their tanks. The first point of shock: on the ground right next to one of the tanks was a dead body, a second one next to it, and a third one not too far. We could not drive any farther, the dead bodies were in the way. One of the corpses looked like a journalist I knew. My stomach turned upside down, and I began to scream to keep from choking. But I refused to return home. I would not be stopped from voting. Who did this? How did the military let this happen?

We continued making our way to our polling station, swerving to avoid driving over dead bodies. We turned onto Poupla Avenue. This is where we were going to vote, at the national school. From afar, I could see a line forming. But suddenly, we heard three gunshots causing the line to scatter. Everyone ran and ducked to avoid getting shot, and then stood back up to form the line to vote again. This is where I need to go. I placed my hand on my belly because I still felt pain from labor, but the pain was not strong enough to keep me from voting that day.

The streets were marked with death. And I had brought myself to it, into the valley of death that the Haitian army had created for all of us who were naive and innocent enough to believe that democracy was possible in Haiti then.

All of a sudden, a group of young men stood in front of our car, blocking our way. They wanted us to help a woman that was lying on the ground covered in blood, her leg had been shot multiple times. She needed to get to a hospital quickly. She was on her way to her job in Croix Desprez when she got shot. This is when I finally woke up and understood that I was in the middle of a war. This is when I finally realized that the streets were fairly empty, and our car was one of very few on the road. The smell of bullets was everywhere. The streets were marked with death. And I had brought myself to it, into the valley of death that the Haitian army had created for all of us who were naive and innocent enough to believe that democracy was possible in Haiti then.

Our car only had two doors. If I got down, I would get shot, but we needed to save this woman. I immediately started to shout out a quick strategy, and nobody had time to argue: I’m going to count to three! On “one” I will get down, on “two” I will let my seat down, on “three” put the woman onto the backseat! Our small improvised army worked well. On the count of three, the woman was in our car, and we got to General Hospital quickly because the streets of Port-au-Prince were empty. When we reached the hospital, they took the woman in immediately, and rudely screamed at us to make us leave quickly. They did not want us to see the large number of patients they were receiving.

The few cars we saw on the road that day were all jeeps like ours. Back then, those types of cars were driven by the military and NGO workers. One man we drove by had been wounded on the side of his head, blood was pouring out from his head onto his shoulder. Upon seeing our car, he gathered the last bit of strength he had left to run because our jeep looked like the jeeps carrying the people who had shot him. He did not know that ours was carrying innocent people like him.

I was trembling like a leaf. My motivation to vote was gone, my motivation to save that woman’s life had run out. They left us in complete fear. Which road was safe? Where could we go where they aren’t shooting people? Would I get home safely? Would I have the chance to hold my four children again? Would I get the chance to see my newborn baby again?

Finally, we arrived home safely, thank God. I ran straight to my newborn daughter’s crib. I looked at her, and with tears in my eyes, I recounted the unfortunate events of the day like a hurt child: I just wanted to vote, Talie…For the first time in my life.

This post was originally written in: Kreyòl

Lunise Jules

Lunise Jules

Lunise Jules fèt Plezans nan Nò Ayiti Toma, e li grandi Okap. Li se direktris yon ONG entènasyonal ki travay nan devlòpman ekonomik an Ayiti. Lunise se manman senk pitit. Depi li tou piti, Lunise pa janm wè lavi li san jwe mizik, ekri teyat ak pwezi.

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