U.S., UN-backed oppression in Haiti becoming more extreme

With opposition to the coup government continuing into the middle of its second year in power, state and United Nations violence against the Haitian poor majority has escalated.  Less than two weeks after a UN-led operation that killed many unarmed non-combatants, and which the government said killed a major leader of alleged pro-Aristide violence, violence and deaths continue at a level elevated even compared to the past 17 months of post-coup terror.

The present government came to power after a 2004 February 29 coup d'etat promoted by, and ultimately carried out by, the U.S., France, and Canada.  This government has finally scheduled elections for various local and national positions in the months of October and November, but the majority of Haitians appear likely to be too terrorized to participate.  Indeed, some people following the situation closely, such as Glen Ford of the Black Commentator, consider the present increased violence an attempt to crush even a protest of the elections.  Most Haitians see elections run by this government as illegitimate and few are expected to participate.

Yesterday, the Haitian National Police took into custody one of the only well-known people even considering running for election on behalf of the Fanmi Lavalas party of President Aristide, who in exile still has far broader support than any political figure in Haiti. Popular Pro-Aristide Priest Arrested, Again

As reported in a Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (HLLN) e-mail alert last night, and confirmed by the Guardian today, police sent popular priest Gerard Jean-Juste to the Central Prison and told him he would be charged in connection with the death of Jacques Roche.  For both HLLN and the newspaper the primary source was Bill Quigley, a U.S. citizen representing the priest now as a defense attorney.

Quigley, in a later e-mail message passed on by Marguerite Laurent of the HLLN and posted at Voices in the Wilderness, described the questioning of Jean-Juste as follows:

He had a quick hearing with a justice of the peace, who refused to wait until Mario Joseph, his Haitian lawyer could be present.  No written charges were shared - again questions were like, what party do you belong to?  can you explain your presence at the funeral of Jacques Roche?  Do you know why the bandits killed him?  Do you visit the poor neighborhood of Bel-Air frequently?

Roche, a social and culture editor at a major newspaper who also had a television show, was kidnapped and held for $250,000 ransom.  HLLN alleges that family members and work colleagues were only able to raise about $10,000, and Roche's family had expected members of the wealthy, coup-supporting Group 184 to contribute to the ransom because Roche worked for them.  Instead, Roche's captors murdered him, and dumped his body on the streets of Port-au-Prince on July 14, when the ransom was not paid.  At the time, Jean-Juste was still in the United States.  He had helped lead, on July 13, a protest at the Brazilian consulate in Miami against the July 6 Cite Soleil killings by United Nations forces in Haiti, which are led by Brazil.

Despite the jailing of Jean-Juste, the Guardian reported that "chief government prosecutor Audain Daniel said a decision had not yet been made on whether to charge Jean-Juste, an outspoken critic of Haiti's interim government."

This is the fourth time agents of the coup government jailed the priest, most recently after he was attacked at Roche's funeral, in the presence of police, by anti-Aristide attendees who accused him of participating in the murder.

Jean-Juste's longest arrest took place last year. As Reuters reported in a recent article, "Jean-Juste was taken from his church last October while he was feeding street children and was jailed for nearly seven weeks. His imprisonment rallied to his side human rights groups, including Amnesty International".

General and Government Violence Continues, Increases

On July 5, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders issued a press release decrying escalating violence:

Since MSF opened a trauma center in Port au Prince in December 2004, medical and surgical teams have treated more than 3,100 patients — 1,112, or more than one-third, for violence-related injuries, including 861 gunshot victims, 126 for machete or knife wounds, 67 for beatings, and 40 for rape. Half of those treated for such injuries are women, children, or elderly.

"It is appalling that civilians continue to bear the brunt of increasing violence in Port au Prince during these past months," said Ali Besnaci, the Head of Mission for MSF in Haiti.  "We're treating children as young as 4 and women in their 70s for gunshot wounds.  We recently had nearly 30 gunshot victims in one day.  And we know that many of those injured are either afraid of or prevented from getting the treatment they need.  Some patients come several days after being shot. This is simply unacceptable."

People have been shot and killed, both deliberately and unintentionally, by all of the armed factions fighting in the seaside slums, or "quartiers populaires," of Port au Prince. Some have said they were wounded during operations conducted by the Haitian National Police (HNP) and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

"The number of gunshot victims we are treating has been increasing dramatically these past few weeks," said Besnaci. "And more and more patients have devastating multiple wounds caused by exploding bullets. Civilians in many parts of Port au Prince are struggling just to survive. They fear leaving their homes because it could cost them their lives. Everyday, people throughout the city tell us that they have never experienced such levels of violence before."

MSF, which relies on co-operation with the UN for part of its work, nonetheless felt compelled in the above press release to pass on that many patients say they are victims of government or UN violence.

A June 30 report by Pierre Salignon, General Director of the international medical humanitarian organization for France, in Haiti, blamed many woundings on shootouts between UN or police forces and what he typifies as criminal pro-Aristide gangs.  Salignon, who is clearly anti-Aristide, still holds the U.S. and French-imposed government responsible for interfering with the treatment of those who are wounded:

According to medical personnel, it's very hard for wounded men and teenaged boys to get to St. Joseph's. Suspected by the police of belonging to armed opposition groups, they fear being arrested or executed by the police before they can even receive care.  One injured man, transported to St. Joseph's by a local taxi, was arrested right in front of two stretcher-bearers before they could take him out of the vehicle, and driven by the police to Port au Prince's general hospital, where he died an hour later, under police guard and without care.

Choosing Voters for Elections

The increased violence comes as the coup government plans to hold elections after nearly two years in power.  The U.S. government is spending $15 million, and other countries another $29 million, to support the execution of these elections, according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs.  Fanmi Lavalas is boycotting in the face of pervasive violence against its leaders, and less than ten percent of the voting-age population is expected to participate (or perhaps even be registered: see "An Election Without Voters," an editorial by Sue Ashdown and Olivia Burlingame Goumbri, on the staggering failure of the coup government to open registration centers— apparently none anywhere people in the poverty-stricken majority live).  Glen Ford of the Black Commentator explained the situation like this:

The U.S. desperately needs to have its criminal actions in Haiti to appear to have been ratified by Haitians, in a calm, if sparsely attended, process. So it has pressured United Nations forces to treat Cite Soliel and other sprawling slums in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, like Fallujah. They are to be smashed – before the elections. Instead of terrorism, the code word is gangsterism. Just as everyone killed in Iraq is a terrorist, every man, woman and child shot down in the slums of Haiti is a “gangster.”

With Jordanian troops in the lead, Brazilians in command, a helicopter overhead, and armored personnel carriers firing cannons, the United Nations crashed into Cite Soliel last week. Cannon and automatic weapons fire cut through the scrap wood and tin shacks like butter. Scores were killed; we’ll never know how many. The clear intention of the United Nation’s atrocities against civilians is to make the capital safe for elections in which far less than ten percent of the population is expected to take part – to terrorize the population and kill as many community leaders as possible. Then, when the elections are held, no one will dare demonstrate. Port-au-Prince will have the calm and peace of the dead. Like Fallujah. That’s the way the regime in Washington wants it.

Why Haiti

Naomi Klein asked Aristide what led to his falling out with the U.S. government, for which the Haitian people have again suffered so much.  His answer: the one thing he didn't put in the deal for the U.S. to restore him to power: "privatization, privatization, privatization."  Klein wrote in The Nation's upcoming August issue:

The dispute dates back to a series of meetings in early 1994, a pivotal moment in Haiti's history that Aristide has rarely discussed. Haitians were living under the barbaric rule of Raoul Cédras, who overthrew Aristide in a 1991 US-backed coup. Aristide was in Washington and despite popular calls for his return, there was no way he could face down the junta without military back-up. Increasingly embarrassed by Cédras's abuses, the Clinton Administration offered Aristide a deal: US troops would take him back to Haiti--but only after he agreed to a sweeping economic program with the stated goal to "substantially transform the nature of the Haitian state."

Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to "free trade" and cut import tariffs on rice and corn in half. It was a lousy deal but, Aristide says, he had little choice. "I was out of my country and my country was the poorest in the Western hemisphere, so what kind of power did I have at that time?"

But Washington's negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept: the immediate sell-off of Haiti's state-owned enterprises, including phones and electricity.

Aristide's compromise of democratizing the state agenties ultimately proved to be not enough for U.S. rulers when they found he truly meant letting parliament vote on what to do.

"The hidden agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all the state public enterprises." He threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatizations. "Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn't respect my word, when they were the ones who didn't respect our common economic policy."

The reaction of the U.S., with France and Canada, was the economic isolation of Aristide's democratic government and the support of its anti-democratic opponents, culminating in the coup d'etat of 2004 February 29, sealed with the aid of U.S. and French troops and now, as mentioned, maintained with the aid of a UN mission led by Brazil.

The power structure of the world, from international laws to the powerful governments that violate them at will, is set up to ensure a right to profit— justice, quality of life for the majority, and human freedom be damned.  Until the power to enforce this privilege is taken away, entire countries will be made examples of, with their populations made victims like the people of Haiti.

Resolve and Action

The Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network has a broad Haiti resolution that probably captures much of what the Haitian people want and need.  It is frequently in their e-mail alerts but this reporter has not found it on their web site.  Point five may be particularly strategic for those of us living in the countries sponsoring this oppression.  Many people credit the "refugee problem" with then-president Bill Clinton ending the coup-of-1991 government, but the Bush administration is avoiding that problem by denying asylum to Haitians who are suffering from political persecution, economic deprivation, and natural disasters (made worse by non-functioning government).  If we in the United States are unwilling or unable to help Haitians fight for justice, at least we can help win them the right to survive and fight for justice here themselves.

The entire Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network resolution, which they call on all people to support (bolding of text added):

  1. Demand the return of constitutional rule to Haiti by restoring all elected officials of all parties to their offices throughout the country until the end of their mandates and another election is held, as mandated by Haiti's Constitution;
  2. Condemn the killings, illegal imprisonment and confiscation of the property of supporters of Haiti's constitutional government and insist that Haiti's illegitimate "interim government" immediately cease its persecution and put a stop to persecution by the thugs and murderers from sectors in their police force, from the paramilitaries, gangs and former soldiers;
  3. Insist on the immediate release of all political prisoners in Haitian jails, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Interior Minister Privert and other constitutional government officials and folksinger-activist Sò Anne;
  4. Insist on the disarmament of the thugs, death squad leaders and convicted human rights violators and their prosecution for all crimes committed during the attack on Haiti's elected government and support the rebuilding of Haiti's police force, ensuring that it excludes anyone who helped to overthrow the democratically elected government or who participated in other human rights violations;
  5. Stop the indefinite detention and automatic repatriation of Haitian refugees and immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to all Haitian refugees presently in the United States until democracy is restored to Haiti;
    and

  6. Support the calls by the OAS, CARICOM and the African Union for an investigation into the circumstances of President Aristide's removal.  Support the enactment of Congresswoman Barbara Lee's T.R.U.T.H Act which calls for U.S. Congressional investigation of the forcible removal of the democratically elected President and government of Haiti.

A revolution to democratize the foreign policy of our countries – whether we live in Brazil or nearly any wealthier country – or at least strong protest at the level of civil disobedience is what's called for here.  But for those of us without the time, resources to risk arrest, or organization, here are some call, write, or fax actions called for by groups concerned for Haiti.  They have been included in e-mailed versions of Bill Quigley's letter and at its home on the Voices in the Wilderness site (the people of this organization also happen to be veterans of civil disobedience).

In the U.S., you should probably start with your own Congress-people, but here's a whole list of people to demand accountability from:

Write or fax UN Special Representative Juan Gabriel Valdés, urging him to release MINUSTAH's prison report immediately, and to resist pressure from the Haitian police to minimize the number of casualties. A sample letter is below. Mr. Valdés speaks English, French and Spanish. His fax number is (dial 011 first from the U.S. for an international line) 509 244 3512.

 Mr. Juan Gabriel Valdés
 Special Representative of the Secretary-General
 United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti
 387, avenue John Brown
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti

 Contact Information:

 U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley
 United States Embassy
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
 Telephones: 011-509-223-4711, or 222-0200 or 0354
 Fax: 011-509-223-1641 or 9038
 Email to Dana Banks, Human Rights Officer:
 BanksD@state.gov

 Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher
 Embassy of Canada
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
 Telephone: 011-509- 249-9000
 Fax: 011-509-249-9920
 Email: prnce@international.gc.ca

 Ambassador of France in Haiti, M. Yves GAUDEUL
 Embassy of France
 51 place des Héros de l'Indépendance - BP 312
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti
 Telephone: 011-509-222-0952
 Fax : 011-509-223 5675

 Haiti Authorities:
 Fax. No. 011-509-245-0474
 Me. Henri Dorléans
 Ministre de la Justice et de la Sécurité Publique
 Ministére de la Justice
 19 Avenue Charles Sumner
 Port-au-Prince, Haiti

This article was updated Sunday 7 a.m. for formatting, to add details about the election such as U.S. spending, to make clear that the U.S. government's problem with democratizing state agencies was that it wasn't privatization, and most importantly to clarify that HLLN only alleged that murdered journalist Jacques Roach worked for Group 184, not that he supported their policies.   Again, if nothing else, please contact your representatives in the U.S. House and Senate and insist that resolution of the crisis in Haiti began with the withdrawing of U.S. and UN support from the anti-democratic forces, including the present interim government, the restoration of previously elected officials, and the holding of elections in an environment free of violent suppression.

(Most of this article is assembled from other people's writing, but feel free to contact this transcriber with questions, corrections, comments, or plans for organizing for justice at e-mail address ben_nn@melanconent.com.)

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