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Youth Group Network Had Key Role in Duvalier's Fall

February 16, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

During the week, youth-led protests broke out in city after city. On Jan. 31, the day Duvalier imposed an official state of siege, bloody clashes between bands of youths and security forces erupted for the first time in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

A week later, Duvalier was gone. He left behind a taped message saying he was giving up power to spare the country from a bloodbath.

Narcisse said he drew his inspiration for the protests from reading about the French Revolution and about so-called liberation theology, a leftist Catholic movement that encourages the clergy to lead grassroots campaigns for economic and political reforms.

Such teaching has spread through the Haitian Catholic Church and its schools in recent years. Luciano Pharaon, a teacher at Immaculate Conception School, said he helped Narcisse with strategy for the protest activities.

"He is a very intelligent youth," said Pharaon, 32. "But he doesn't have the ability yet to shape all his projects into a strategy."

'No Perfect Strategy'

Pharaon said the strategy that emerged "was to carry out the struggle on several fronts to destabilize the government with the goal of throwing it out." He added, "There was no perfect strategy, but just an idea to contact other people and get them to do the same thing."

The movement was not ideological, Pharaon said. "There were no Communists, no capitalists behind it--just the people with a desire for change."

Father Norman Sliger, a Canadian priest who heads a Catholic parish in Port-au-Prince, said that many members of church-sponsored youth groups participated in the protest movement.

"Inside these groups they were praying, they were thinking," Sliger said. "After they thought about the situation that had been imposed on the shoulders of the Haitian people for so many years, they thought something must be done."

Church youth groups in Haiti were especially active in 1985 because it was the U.N.-sponsored International Youth Year. Last April, thousands of youths from church groups around the country met in the southern city of Jeremie.

Spirit of Solidarity

That meeting, Sliger said, produced a new spirit of national solidarity among young Catholics who later participated in the anti-Duvalier protest movement.

"In my opinion, that is where the movement started," he said.

Nestor Fils-Aime, a student from Gonaives, attended the Jeremie meeting. He said he was especially impressed with a speech given to the gathering by Msgr. Willy Romelus, the bishop of Jeremie.

"He said all sectors should gather together to guide the destiny of the country and that all people should be engaged in the fight for liberation of their Haitian brothers," said Fils-Aime, 18. The meeting he said, "helped raise the awareness of youth."

Key Opposition Figure

Other youth groups, outside the church, were organized by followers of Hubert de Ronceray, an opposition figure during the last years of Duvalier's regime.

De Ronceray, 53, was arrested in 1974 for urging youth to political activism.

"We had to go into clandestineness," De Ronceray said last week. He said his youth organization had secret groups throughout the country that participated actively in the protest movement.

The groups were coordinated by regional leaders, who maintained "constant contact" with him, De Ronceray said.

Richardson Narcisse said he knew of youth groups in southern Haiti that had coordinated protest action with De Ronceray followers.

A Man to Be Trusted

"He is a man who can be trusted," Narcisse said. "I admire what he has written."

De Ronceray said that his youth organization will support him as a candidate for the presidency of Haiti. The military-led provisional government has said elections will be held but has not set a date.

Young activists are critical of the composition of the provisional government, which includes former high officials of the Duvalier government.

"That is why we say that the revolution is here, but it is not finished," Narcisse said. "We don't want the departure of Duvalier to settle everything. We don't want things to go back to the way they were before.

"We want radical social change for developing the country."

He said that the government should purge itself of Duvalier associates and set a date for elections "this year." If that does not happen, he warned, the youth protest movement will take to the streets again.

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