February 28
One Day in Tana - Looking to Leave.

The potential for hypocricy in the US position strikes us here as we wait to see what happens. They stormed the government buildings last night. Dozens of people are hurt. Someone was beat to within an inch of his life. The people are having to construct their own barricades to protect TV and radio outlets (which is why we cannot get past Ansirabe). As we made our way into town there were rows of spikes in the road we had to negotiate, and then an SUV with "I Love Ratsirika" dragged into the middle of the road with its tires slashed and windows smashed. Will there have to be a slaughter of innocents like 10 years ago before the US media pays attention to this? So much for standing up for human rights, freedom of the press and the right to self determination. How many reporters here will fall victim to the same fate as Daniel Pearl? The US state department and USAID have been all over this country in the past trying to get people to urge reform and to press for openness, so they do and when push come to shove, the US has the appearance of siding with the status quo. This country can go several ways. Maybe peace. Maybe internecine racial strife. Maybe military dictatorship. It is not clear. We are completely disillusioned and we are depressed.

This, from the a non-governmental representative while we were in Ft. Dauphin, paints the picture we see here as well:

Up until yesterday, Fort Dauphin has remained quite calm. There is the general strike, but most people keep their offices and businesses functioning (including the banks). There have been large daily marches and gatherings supporting the movement for transparency and for Marc Ravalomanana. These afternoon marches have included people from the whole spectrum of the society here. The same has been observed in Tulear. There have been two quite small gatherings of people supporting Ratsiraka. Participants to the latter each received 5000 FMG (my guardian went for the dosh as did most of the others I suspect). In Tulear, AREMA (Ratsirika's party) hands out 10,000 FMG to participants at rallies.

As I was getting in my car, a group of what I would consider normal Fort Dauphin folks, whom were left alone by the Gendarmes, approached me. These were not people with origins from the high plateau. After discussing our astonishment to the actual implementation of this "état de nécessité" (state of emergency... martial law), they question me on the contradictions of the American position. They asked how can USAID promote "good governance and civil society standing up for their rights" through the PACT and PAGE programmes here in Fort Dauphin, and then turn their backs when people eventually do. Another question posed was in relation to how the USA can support associations of election observers and then decide not to listen to them. To follow that one up, how can the USA call for a second round of elections when it is clear that there is no way to stop the AREMA machine from changing the results in favor of the incumbent. In addition, they added that AREMA will clearly make the issue of the second round one of race. This should be obvious as it is already happening. AREMA makes noise by paying people and stirring up the racism. Most people fear this more than anything and hence do not want a second round.

Election fraud in Fort Dauphin, and in the south in general, has been the norm. The referendum on "autonomous provinces" in 97 or 98 (I forget) was basically a vote of yes or no for Ratsiraka's program at the time. Fort Dauphin was 63% no. The Prefet at the time, Mr; Masimana Manantsoa, was telephoned by the President and told to change the results. He did not and his career has paid the price. He has been garaged in a small insignificant office in Tana where he can not create troubles through his honesty. The same was true for the mayoral elections and for the recent Senatorial elections. The HCC (the same commission that denied Ravalomanana's claim to a 52% majority) claimed that a woman had won the election for mayor of the nearby town of Betroka for the AREMA party when she was not even a candidate (there were four male candidates). The HCC has no credibility what so ever with people here in the south. They consider it a joke. I was asked if the International Community blind to this?

The results of the latest presidential elections from Fort Dauphin were also clearly altered in favor of the incumbent, impossible here in Fort Dauphin where AREAMA is far from being the strongest political party.

The general feeling I am getting from locals here is that the USA should have either a neutral policy or one that stands behind the programs they have supported over the past few years. Much of what has been supported by USAID in this vein is resulting in people voluntarily and peacefully demanding transparency. I have played a minor role in this with the PAGE and PACT programs. It seems as if our embassy is chucking this to the side when a crisis develops.

Regardless of the justifications for the USA position, it has come clear from my discussion with the Malagasy people here (in the Malagasy language and with the understanding of the nuances therein I might add) that they perceive the USA to be lining up with France (widely still preceived as colons) and others behind the incumbent. Again, regardless of the reasoning, this is the popular perception. This as people believe the second round will go to Ratsiraka through corrupt means. People in the south in general (Tulear, Fort Dauphin, and the rural areas), want change. They may not all be for Ravalomanana, some hardly know who he is, but they certainly want Ratsiraka and his whole corrupt team out. People want to believe that change is possible. These are coastal people I am talking about. All those supporting the incumbent do so because: they wish to maintain the status quo for economic reasons; they only know the name of one candidate; they have been influenced by the racism argument; or their votes have been bought.

-- fin--

We are at the Ibis in Tana tonight. We feel we are safe. We are a quick run from the US Embassy if that is necessary, but we do not think it will be. Outside there are throngs of people seemingly lining up for long overdue back pay from the government. There is a sign that says "Gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple" (this should be familiar to Americans! Government of the people, by the people and for the people"). No one is allowed to take more than MF 500,000 from their bank accounts per month. That's about US $80.00. We have given Clara and Riana the bulk of their per diem in advance so they can take it to their families, reserving a little so it is there for them later as we leave.

Our plan now is to skip Ranomafana and go to Perinet for 3 days instead. Then try to get out of here to the Seychelles and continue collecting there. We'll just have to come back again. It seems there is just no other way.