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Archive for Saturday, February 28, 2004

KU institute director sees coup attempt as ‘overdue’

February 28, 2004

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Lawrence is home to one of the world's foremost Haitian scholars.

Bryant Freeman, director of the Institute of Haitian Studies at Kansas University, said the current turmoil overwhelming the country was no surprise.

"If one believes in the inevitability of history, this present coup d'etat was somewhat overdue," Freeman said.

Freeman has studied the country for more than 45 years. He was an adviser to U.S. and United Nations military forces in the country during the 1990s and has trained U.N. observers on Haitian history, language and culture. He has published or edited numerous articles and books about Haiti, including a 55,000-word Haitian-English dictionary.

In the past 200 years, the country's government has been overthrown 30 times, an average of one successful coup every 6 1/2 years. The last one took place in September 1991.

This time, rebel forces are trying to remove Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Troublesome elections

The only constant holding opposition parties together right now is a unified hatred of Aristide. If he is removed from power, chaos likely will break out, Freeman said.

Aristide was elected in 2000 with his term set to expire Feb. 7, 2006. Opposition leaders have said the 2000 elections were fraudulent.

Kansas University professor Bryant Freeman holds up Haitian
President Jean Bertrand Aristide's political poster during a
"Contemporary Haiti" course in Wescoe Hall. Freeman, who taught the
class Thursday, has studied Haiti for more than 45 years.

Kansas University professor Bryant Freeman holds up Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide's political poster during a "Contemporary Haiti" course in Wescoe Hall. Freeman, who taught the class Thursday, has studied Haiti for more than 45 years.

Freeman said the presidential elections were not fraudulent, but some of the senatorial seat elections might have been.

"If you believe in democracy, there is no justification in forcing Aristide out now," Freeman said. "He was elected with 92 percent of the vote."

The main area of contention during the election revolved around seven senatorial seats. The candidates did not win a clear majority of the votes, and the country did not hold required run-off elections. This caused opposition leaders to call the entire election, including the presidential race, into question.

The main problem in Haiti now, Freeman said, is that the country does not have the necessary conditions to foster democracy. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and lacks natural resources. Only about 15 percent of the country is literate.

And with all the revolutions that have taken place in the past 200 years, the country regularly destroys itself.

"When you burn down city halls and courtrooms, they don't get built by themselves," said Freeman, who was in Haiti during a coup in 1988. "When Haitians revolt, they destroy everything."









Haitian studies

The Institute of Haitian Studies is one of two in the world. The other is at Indiana University, which focuses primarily on the Haitian Creole language. The KU institute focuses on Haitian history, language and culture. All of the institute's research is funded by sources outside the university, primarily private foundations.

Freeman has been teaching classes on Haiti since 1978. He originally came to the university in 1971 as a French professor and chairman of the French and Italian department. He took over as director of the institute when it was founded in 1992.

Freeman first became interested in Haiti when he visited the country in 1958.

"It was love at first sight," he said.

He began to learn Haitian Creole and decided to teach classes solely on Haiti after a group of French students suggested it to him.

The type of students who take classes in the Haitian studies programs are "independently minded," Freeman said.

"It doesn't take much daring or initiative to take one of the big three languages: Spanish, French or German," he said. "Haitian studies students are all individuals."

Matt Thornton is a student in KU's program. He did not know about the institute before enrolling at KU but said he was happy to have the opportunity to take classes. He has visited Haiti once, and said he hoped to work in the country in his future career.

"Professor Freeman is such a great resource," Thornton said. "Being taught by him is such a privilege."

Personal experience

Caroline Henrius is a Haitian studies and anthropology major at KU. She has lived in Haiti, and her husband, Cedanor, is from the country.

"His sister and all of our family are down there," Henrius said. "It's hard to get ahold of people by the phone. It's scary because the town where his sister lives is cut off from the main city."

Henrius said the opposition leaders mainly were a group of people who had power when the Duvalier family ruled the country from 1957 to 1986.

"The opposition is basically the old guard trying to get back their comfortable status quo," Henrius said.

Henrius has always been interested in Creole culture. A desire to help led her to Haiti.

"I always felt good when I was there," Henrius said. "There was always something to do that mattered. Living here, you can go months without knowing for sure what you did today really made a difference in anybody's life. But in Haiti, you can't go 15 minutes without knowing that."

Henrius wants to go back to Haiti and open an orphanage for children that would teach them about their history, language and culture.

"I want to work with kids in some way that doesn't destroy their cultural identity," Henrius said. "So they can grow up and function in their own culture and hopefully help Haiti one day."

'The unexpected'

Katie Griggs is another student in the Haitian studies program at KU. She was getting ready to travel to Haiti to begin a new job as a volunteer coordinator at a hospital near Port-au-Prince when the rebellion picked up steam two weeks ago.

"I got a call the morning I was supposed to leave, one hour before, saying I shouldn't go," Griggs said.

Griggs was going to finish her degree by doing field studies work in Haiti. Now she is in Kentucky waiting to go to Haiti and start her job, but she has no idea when she will be allowed back in the country.

"The only thing to expect is the unexpected," Griggs said.

Griggs, 23, first went to Haiti her senior year in high school as a part of a Topeka program called Haitian Episcopal Learning Partners. Since then, she has traveled to Haiti twice a year.

"The people there are what keep me coming back," Griggs said. "Haitian people have a spirit like no other."

Like his students, Freeman wants to return to Haiti. Despite the unrest in the country, he said he would hop on a plane and go there if asked.

"I've never felt more alive than when I am in Haiti," Freeman said.

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