News and opinions on situation in Haiti
Initial Reports on elections in Haiti: Elektyon an Gate, the elections are ruined!!! – Sham Elections to be followed by politique de doublure, Patrick Elie interviewed on Haitian history…HLLN notes 3 scenarios for these selections, et al
– Elektyon an Gate, the elections are ruined!!!
– Sham Elections followed by What, Politique De Doublure? by Marguerite Laurent for Haitian Perspectives, Feb. 7, 2006
– Port-au-Prince is under high security on the eve of the elections, but there are serious concerns about the possibility of massive voter fraud designed to necessitate a second round of the elections
– As violence dropped slightly, officials scrambled to put the final touches to Haiti’s elections today. But tension remained high as a former protégé of ousted President Aristide continued as the front-runner.
– Election’s approach turns concern into quiet optimism
– The Haitian Revolution and Black History
– Standing on Truth, Living without Fear: HLLN’s position on the foreign-sponsored elections under coup d’etat, hasn’t changed. As the people go to elections, as we analyze the fact, today on Feb. 7, 2006, HLLN makes only these additional comments: There are three scenarios that are foreseeable for the Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006 elections. (See below)
Below is the initial report on today’s Haiti elections directly from people on the streets of Port-au-Prince, right this hour, courtersy of the Ezili Danto Witness Project:
QUESTION: How are the elections going?
ANSWER- Ezili Danto journalist in from the streets of Haiti:
“There’s no place for the people to vote. They’ve gone to vote and the voting places are not there – popilatyon an, yo pa gen kote. It’s bedlam in the streets of Port au Prince, Gonaive and even in Jacmel, people trying to vote have died. People have died in running to get to in line. Some have suffocate, been trampled under foot. There’s a large police, swat team presence in Port-au-Prince, police are shooting tear gas and arresting people trying to vote and the population is frustrated. Tensions are running hight, the people have registered to vote but there are no polling places where they can vote.
ELEKTYON AN GATE!!!! The election is ruined! It cannot be legitimate…but the people are still trying to vote. Where they are sending the people in Site Soley, is a like a pig park where the people can’t even stand in the area, it stinks. There are goat droppings there, all over the ground. But all over Port-au-Prince people are trying to vote. There must be about 50,000 people in the streets, and they are not finding the places to vote….’
This is the initial reports from the streets of Haiti.
Translated from Kreyol by the Ezili Danto Witness Project, Feb. 7, 2006 at 12:18 pm
Sham Elections followed by What, Politique De Doublure? by Marguerite Laurent for Haitian Perspectives, Feb. 7, 2006
“ We are counting heavily on the Americans not to let someone loyal to Aristide be elected just two years after his ouster” – AHP, Feb. 6, 2006
OnĖ e respĖ la sosyete,
The recent Miami Herald article, by Joe Mozingo, entitled “Election’s approach turns concern into quiet optimism” and copied below, pretty much outlines the new spin for muting the voices of the masses, even in the very unlikely case the result of these selections are allowed to go to Rene Preval.
The plan, then, is to make sure there is “a president whose party does not control the parliament and the parliament will not have a president,’’ Boulos said.” (See “Election’s approach turns concern into quiet optimism:
Be assured, based on what we know about Haiti Democracy Project, IRI, Boulos and the neo-cons, compromise is not what they stand for. If that were the case, as the NYT article “Democracy Undone” show, these neocons would have negotiated a solution with Aristide and Haiti would not have suffered a coup d’etat, over 10,000 Haitians would not now be dead, countless in prison and in exile and the instability, insecurity, chaos, kidnapping, drug dealing worse than ever in Haitian history. Thus, it would be foolish to believe now that those who want total power, by hook or by crook, and have committed mass murder for it, would now work, as Boulos says in this Miami Herald article, so that the “… capacity of the president elected to compromise and bring two or three parties in the parliament in a government of national unity will be the key of success.’’ (See, “Democracy Undone: Mixed Signals…www.haitiforever.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=13509#13509 ) Puhhhleeeze!!!
Don’t buy it. HLLN has never bought the idea that elections alone, not to mention elections-under-occupation or run by foreigners and an unconstitutional regime will solve Haiti’s social and economic disparities. Moreover, the sewage of the coup d’etat will seep into these selections even if the ballot counting reflects the actual votes of the majority of the people casting votes in February 7th, 2006's high-tech, less-polling-places-than-2000, exclusionary elections in Haiti. Fact is, Boulos has just outlined the next obstruction that Haiti’s powerfully-Washington-connected Middle Eastern Haitian minority can take even if the Timothy Carney/USAID/US State Department allows a (perceived) Lavalas candidate to take office in Haiti.
A few days ago, as I read the posted Miami Herald “optimism” article, knowing this corporate newspaper’s penchant at putting a good face to the UN failures, Latortue’s failures and, in general, the corporate media’s penchant for spins, halftruths and for spewing out the State Department’s and Middle Eastern Haitian’s propaganda, ahh..I thought, the attempt to establish politique de doublure has a history. It goes way back to the beginning of our Haitian history (even as early as with Christophe and Pétion).
The point is when the un-electable Mulatto (the paradigm now transformed to not, mulatto/black, but the poor masses against the un-electable middle eastern Haitians) can’t win through free and fair elections they customarily and routinely attempt to put up a Black as mere figurehead.
(I use “Black” here, not in US racial terms, but Dessaline’s “lovers of liberty” term – that is theoretically to mean a Haitian representative who has a mass base and would be expected to push for the elevation of the poor with government sponsored social and economic programs, not work solely in the interests of Category One, the US/Euro imperialist. See, Radio Interview with Marguerite Laurent on Haitian History and meaning of Jan. 1st and “Black” in Haitian history: wakeupwithcoop.org/Jan2nd-06p1.mp3 ; or, “Another Independence Day under occupation” by Marguerite Laurent, SFBayview: www.sfbayview.com/010406/kangamundele.shtml ) .
The current application of the doubluture idea, as articulated by Haiti Chamber of Commerce chairman and Haiti Democracy Project’s Reginald Boulos, would be to allow a Rene Preval, who has a mass base and constituency to be a figurehead, an administrator, while real power is wielded by the neocon-chosen Prime Minister (head of the Legislature) working in the interests of said Haitian minorities and their foreign IRI/USAID/CIDA/European Union-sort of foreign backers.
Presently, now that it appears that 9,000 foreign troops working, as proxies for the Bush Administration and their Haitian sweatshop/neocon agents, may not be successful at indefinitely maintaining, by force, or even by rigged elections the reign of Group 184/Haiti Democracy Project/Bush-McCain-Noreiga Regime-change, today Boulos, Boulos, (a Haiti Democracy Project/Group 184 founder/creator), is desperately, according to the Miami Herald quote noted above, reaching to try establish politique de doublure (politics by understudies). Under this system, a “Black” leader would serve as figurehead for mulatto/middle eastern/US imperialist elitist rule.
Ase! Enough already.
It’s time for the efforts at muting the voice of the masses to STOP. Enough of the blood of Haiti’s poor has been spilled. There’s been enough impasse overall. It is way past time for these Middle Eastern Haitian folks to understand we live in a new age, the poor’s children won’t allow either for rule-by-force, or for polique de doublure to be successful in this new age and begin the dialogue towards establishing mutual co-existence within the various sectors making up the Haitian family.
Listen up: Christophe may have failed after Dessaline’s death to unite our Haitian family. But we, in this generation won’t fail, will not be content to be exotic backdrops for tourists enjoying our land and resources, or to take figurehead roles, or accept dependency and patriarchy, as doled out, by the socially and historically define “white peoples” (on either the Left or Right sides of the world’s political spectrum) and their Haitian sycophants.
Our task, the task of decent Haitians of this generation, is to begin bringing into application the 1804 feat of the African ancestors – which means Haitians extending from source and requires we begin by redefining our relationship with the imperialists (or, if you prefer, by redefining our relationship with the white saviors, from both the right and left spectrum of the political divide) and through institutionalizing the rule of law in Haiti, so that all Haitians, irrespective of color, gender, class, ethnicity, religion or national origin, shall be afforded equal rights and opportunities under the law and its due application.
It is time for the foreign gatekeepers in Haiti to stop their repression, and one-sided application of the UN Mission mandate, Haitian and international laws. HLLN request DDR be equally applied to the poor living in the populous areas and, not solely given only to those who stood against the Constitutional Government
If the infamous Louis Jodel Chamblain, Frank Romain and Guy Phillipe could be roaming free in Haiti, who is to deny asylum to the poor combatants or even the criminal suspects in Site Soley? Why shouldn’t DDR be applied to these folks if people like Rudolph Boulos, who once was summoned for questioning in February 2002 concerning the assassination of Haitian journalist, Jean Dominique, has yet to face any imprisonment or civil sanctions. There is no doubt that Jean Dominique publicly lambasted Rudolph Boulos for having sold poisoned children’s cough syrup, through his company Pharval Pharmaceuticals. Over sixty poor Haitian children died from diethyl alcohol contamination of Afrebril and Valodon syrups, the deadly concoction brewed in Boulo’s private laboratories. but Boulos roams Haiti, like Guy Phillip, Toto Constant, Louis Jodel Chamblaim, free.
Why is there a double standard, as applied to Haiti, especially by the internationals and the righteous Neocons, as to what makes a “criminal.” Does having no money necessarily means one is less deserving of asylum, justice and reintegration into society?
What’s to be done with Haiti Democracy Project’s founder, Stanley Lucas of the International Republican Institute that is not to be considered for those who fought off the bi-centennial coup d’etat in Haiti?
Are Haitians to forget Lucas’ treasonous actions for bringing about the bi-centennial coup d’etat but not to forgive those who fought off the IRI/Lucas/Apaid/Carney destabilization? Why should we forget the Raboteau massacres, the July 6, 2006 Site Soley Massacres, the Fort National Massacres, or that Lucas was implicated in the Jean Rabel 1987 massacre of peasants?
Are we to continue asking the UN to go in and slaughter the “gangs” in Site Soley, but forget to ask that the coup d’etat folks be brought to justice; that people like Haiti Democracy Project’s Olivier Nadal, the former president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, who is implicated in a peasant massacre in the Haitian township of Piatre in 1990 be just ALLOWED to continue roaming the country, like Lucas, Guy Phillipe, Louis Jodel Chamblaim, Toto Constant, FRAPH, Stanley Handal, the Boulos brothers, Apaid, et al, as free men, representatives of all that is good and beautiful and Eurocentric and innately non-criminal in Haiti! Don’t think so, folks.
This is a new day.
Justice must be equally applied or we have just wasted the lives of over 10,000 Haitians in another coup d’etat and should just expect the same old song to be playing if a new paradigm is not establish and NOW.
HLLN would hope, that if the people of Haiti vote Rene Preval into office, that said Haitian vote would, for once, be respected by the international community and that the new authorities, along with the international gatekeepers would immediately begin applying the rule of law – which would mean equal application of DDR to all combatants, release of the political prisoners, resignation of Latortue, return of the exiles, stop to the repressions, the beginning of an authentic Haitian national dialogue and investigation into the coup d’etat, a dialogue about the role of foreigners on Haitian soil and the responsibility of the Haitian minority to the Haitian body politic and nation.
Below is an English translation of a Feb. 6, 2006 AHP article where I found statement quoted above which begin this piece. The quote, which I reiterate to end this essay, reminds us all, once again, of why these elections will always be contested, there are political prisoners in Haiti, terror in going out to vote and foreign powers counting Haitian ballots. And, here’s the bottom line, as articulated by a imperialists/group184/Latortue sympathizer, who stands in alliance with what the population is actually fighting against. He articulates the Boulos/Apaid/Carney hopes for Feb. 7, 2006 elections:” We are counting heavily on the Americans not to let someone loyal to Aristide be elected just two years after his ouster””
Given all this, we anticipate fraud and a logistical nightmare on Feb. 7, 2006, not to mention the terrorizing of the voters. Yet, we know Haitian will overcome, one way or the other, transforming terror into hope. HLLN commits to continue speaking truth to power no matter the shenanigans of these selections. It’s time, way past time, for a Haitian national dialogue to begin as outline herein.
The AHP article:
Port-au-Prince is under high security on the eve of the elections, but there are serious concerns about the possibility of massive voter fraud designed to necessitate a second round of the elections
Port-au-Prince, February 6, 2006 (AHP)- Calm prevailed in Port-au-Prince on the eve of Tuesday’s elections for a new president and 129 members of Parliament.
Soldiers from MINUSTAH and police officers from the United Nations Police (UNPOL) and the Haitian National Police (PNH) are present everywhere in the capital, (Port-au-Prince), to prevent any possible acts of violence that could disrupt the first elections to be held since the sudden departure of President Aristide on February 29, 2004.
At the same time, rumors have been circulating throughout the day about possible attempts at vote fraud.
The supporters of the Platform of Hope and many diplomats accredited to Haiti declare they are practically certain of victory this February 7th for candidate René Garcia Préval, while sectors close to the former opposition to Aristide are counting on the possibility that one of their candidates may make it to the second round.
Incidents of destruction of photos of Préval were observed this Monday in the vicinity of FrĖres and Petion-Ville.
Reports have also circulated regarding the discovery of ballot boxes stuffed with ballots at a home in Delmas 65, while an individual close to the CEP tried to reassure the public’s concerns about the possible existence of fictitious polling stations.
One individual was arrested last week at the Haitian-Dominican border with ballot boxes in his possession that were full of ballots already marked for a candidate of the former opposition to Aristide.
People gathered at mid-day along the Champs-de-Mars not far from the National Palace chanting “the vote in favor of the favorite will be so massive there will be no room for shenanigans”.
A short time later, young professionals who were having drinks at a bar in Pétion-Ville were voicing their opinions.
“ We are counting heavily on the Americans not to let someone loyal to Aristide be elected just two years after his ouster” said one of the bar patrons.
Another replied “any attempt at fraud with which one sector or another of the international community might choose to associate itself would only plunge the country deeper into chaos”.
Numerous sectors of the population say they are counting on the presence of tens of thousands of international observers and poll watchers from the political parties to deflect any attempt at dirty tricks, some of which could be very subtle, in their opinion.
At least five members of the body tasked with organizing the 2006 elections are members of parties of the former opposition to Aristide that are in the race for this election.
CEP Secretary General Rosemond Pradel is a high-ranking official of KONAKOM, one of the three parties of the Fusion coalition whose presidential candidate is Serge Gilles, while Father Freud Jean is a member of the directorate of the OPL party (Organization of the People in Struggle) which is running Paul Denis as its candidate for president. Pastor Pauris Jean-Baptiste, CEP Treasurer FranĮois Benoit, and CEP member Joséphat Gauthier all belong to the Group of 184, the organization of André Apaid Junior to which the independent candidate Charles Henri Baker belongs.
In other election news, the Provisional Electoral Council held a ceremony monday to inaugurate a center for releasing the results of the 2006 elections.
CEP Executive Director Jacques Bernard described the opening of this center as a clear, positive step toward modernization with regard to the holding of transparent elections in Haiti.
Mr. Bernard reiterated the determination of the CEP to facilitate the smooth running of the elections.
“Everything is all set from the CEP’s point of view for the holding of the presidential and legislative elections on February 7th”, declared Mr. Bernard, who asked the public to turn out massively at the polls to choose capable leaders to help Haiti find its way out of the impasse.
He appealed for solidarity and civic fraternity from all who are fortunate enough to know how to read, urging them to come to the assistance of people who are unable to identify the polling offices and polling stations.
Emphasizing that the future of Haiti is in the hands of the population, Mr. Bernard said he believes that the collaboration of all is very important to the smooth running of the elections.
The center where the elections results will be released is the only official voice of the CEP, mandated to communicate the results of the elections. It will welcome the new members of the government, representatives of the diplomatic corps, observers, and more than 500 journalists, said Mr. Bernard.
Mr. Bernard went on to recall that the counting of ballots will be down in the open, in the presence of representatives of political parties, journalists and observers. AHP February 6, 2006 11:3O PM
As violence dropped slightly, officials scrambled to put the final touches to Haiti’s elections today. But tension remained high as a former protégé of ousted President Aristide continued as the front-runner.
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Amid an uneasy lull in the gunfire and kidnapping that has dogged this capital for months, ballots arrived at voting centers on mules and trucks as the rugged, troubled country prepared for presidential and legislative elections today.
Election officials were still struggling to resolve last-minute problems in what has been a chaotic lead-up to the balloting. But the drop in violence was giving officials and observers a bit of hope that the election will be a peaceful one — unusual for Haiti.
‘’All systems are go,’’ said Gerard Le Chevallier, the chief of U.N. electoral assistance. “This is going to be the best election Haiti has ever had.’’
But tensions remain high, as they have since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country in the face of an opposition movement and an armed rebellion in 2004. Now a one-time protégé of Aristide, the former President René Préval, is the front-runner in the polls, and no one knows who might try to disrupt the election with violence.
And then there’s the aftermath. Some analysts speculate that an outright Préval victory — in which he gets more than 50 percent of the vote and does not have to go to a March 19 runoff with the second-place finisher — could spark violent opposition.
On Monday, U.N. peacekeepers increased patrols and checkpoints along roads around the volatile slum of Cité Soleil.
But by and large the teeming, overcrowded city was as tranquil as it gets. Schools were closed for security concerns. Downtown streets, usually choked with cars and fumes, were nearly wide open. People sauntered along sidewalks and sold fruit in booths along the Champs de Mars, the city’s main square.
‘’I am quite certain we will have a peaceful process tomorrow,’’ said José Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, who arrived Monday to witness the election. “Of course, you can never be sure completely.’’
“Stand up and make your choice.’’
Patrick Féquiere, a member of the electoral council who has been highly critical of the process, said he expects the biggest problems to be chaos caused by poor planning.
“I think that administrative flaws threaten the election more than fraud,’’ he said. “If [today], the people of this country don’t accept the obstacles, then I am afraid it’s going to be a big flop.’’
Féquiere says perhaps 100 of the voting centers as of Monday were still up in the air, because leases had not been signed with the building owners, or they had lapsed. Bernard said this is simply false — that there were three or four instances where the owners demanded to be paid before they would allow election workers to enter, and that they were quickly compensated.
By 5 p.m. all of the ballots had been delivered to the proper voting centers. ‘’The real moment has arrived,’’ Bernard said. “Good elections are the only solution to save our nation.’’
Election’s approach turns concern into quiet optimism
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Crippled by two years of bloodshed and economic stagnation, Haiti is heading toward elections Tuesday amid hopes of advancing its tortuous transition to democracy that began 20 years ago — and fears of even worse chaos.
A peaceful and fair ballot that delivers a recognized, legitimate winner will offer Haiti a chance to restore security, seek out foreign investors and set off on the long road to economic recovery and social reform.
But a day marred by major violence, fraud or serious challenges to the winner could keep the poorest nation in the hemisphere in the grip of one of its longest and most violent crises since the Duvalier dictatorship ended in 1986.
International donors have paid nearly $60 million to hold the presidential and parliament elections in hopes they will lift this nation out of the mire of lawlessness and political recriminations that emerged when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country in 2004 in the face of heavy opposition and an armed rebellion.
BALANCE IS TILTING
‘’We’ve reached a point where the balance now is tilting toward holding the elections,’’ said Mark Schneider, a senior vice president of the International Crisis Group who has consistently warned of the perils of holding an election prematurely. “There’s less likely to be violence in Haiti’s future if they hold elections than if they don’t.’’
Like many others here, Schneider also expressed concern that armed groups — connected to political leaders who fear they will lose — will try to disrupt the process. But the last week of campaigning has seen a modicum of calm.
But violence is not solely the domain of Aristide supporters. Haitian National Police Director General Mario Andresol has told The Miami Herald that he fears gunmen opposed to Préval are planning violence to disrupt the vote.
Historically, Haitian elections have seen violence as military and political leaders took their fight to the streets in clear acts of repression. In 1987, thugs linked to the now disbanded armed forces massacred at least 34 people on election day.
Top U.N. officials and foreign diplomats say they do not foresee widespread violence delaying the process.
‘’I don’t see things collapsing as they did in 1987,’’ said Tim Carney, chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy here. “Everyone — some grudgingly — wants to go to elections. They want to get rid of this interim government and get a constitutional government and move forward.’’
REDUCING VOTER FRAUD
U.N. advisors and Haitian electoral officials say that while they may not have quite the quantity of voters as in the past, the level of fraud will be sharply reduced.
‘’This election has to be like a lighthouse for the future of the country,’’ said Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of the Electoral Council. “Most of the past elections have been fraudulent. That is why the economy and society is in shambles today. This needs to be a new starting point.’’
Organization of American States technicians have created a database of voters and high-tech ID cards. Election workers at roughly 800 voting centers will have a printout showing the voter’s name and photo. And fingerprinting will prevent people from voting twice.
‘’I never thought this feeling we have now, that the election will take place and people want to vote, would come to pass,’’ said Claude Parent, secretary general of the Canadian-funded International Mission of Evaluation of Elections in Haiti, the largest group of international electoral observers.
Parent added that while the election process was not transparent when his group first arrived in September, “right now, it would be very difficult to take the election by fraud.’’Unlike elections past, where the military or ruling party could control the balloting, there is no dominant political force in Haiti to rig the process.’’I think, with all its flaws, this is going to be the least imperfect election Haiti has ever had,’’ said Lionel Delatour, a prominent political consultant here and former diplomat to Washington.
Delatour added that he has seen signs that the last two years taught opposing political groups that intransigence is destructive. Whoever wins the presidency must reach out to opponents and reconcile a political class sharply polarized by Aristide.
Reginald Boulos, chairman of the Haiti Chamber of Commerce and one of Aristide’s most ardent foes, said the private sector is “prepared to support and to unite behind the president . . . whoever it is, provided the international and national observation sanction this election as a fair one.’’While some members of the business elite are backing Préval, many are likely to vote for the two candidates coming in second and third in the polls — Charles Henri Baker, a farmer and business leader, and Leslie Manigat, a former president.
A runoff will be held March 19 if none of the 32 presidential candidates wins a majority.
But none of this trio has the party apparatus to ensure a majority in the 129-seat parliament, also to be elected Tuesday.
That means they will have to work with their opponents or face the type of political paralysis that dogged the latter half of Préval’s 1995-2000 term in office.
‘’We will have a president whose party does not control the parliament and the parliament will not have a president,’’ Boulos said. “So the capacity of the president elected to compromise and bring two or three parties in the parliament in a government of national unity will be the key of success.’’
The new government’s viability will also depend on the help of the international community, which pledged $1.3 billion to Haiti in August 2004 and has yet to disperse half of that.
Currently, the U.N. mission here, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, has 9,000 soldiers and civilian police on the ground. The force is still trying to build a viable police force after years of neglect and corruption have decimated it.
But MINUSTAH’s mandate here is only approved through Feb. 15, and although it is likely it will be extended before then, no one knows for how long. Even a popular government will have little to work with without significant international help.
Electricity is spotty. Schooling is too costly for much of the eight million population, half of which is illiterate. The healthcare system is in shambles.
Half the country does not have access to drinking water. Deforestation is turning the countryside into a desert, and peasant families are moving into the urban slums like Cité Soleil, where gangs fill the vacuum left by weak or corrupt authority.
‘’The horrible misery of the people who live in Cité Soleil and the abandonment of the people by the state has made the people rely on the gangs,’’ said Juan Gabriel Valdés, Annan’s special representative in Haiti.
Valdés said the new government will have to work with foreign donors on a vast humanitarian effort to reduce political tensions and boost the economy.
But the first step comes Tuesday.
‘’Everyone has come to the conclusion that the election wil take place on Feb. 7 and they just have to accept that,’’ Valdés said. “
I believe it is absolutely necessary that everyone participates.’’
The Haitian Revolution and Black History
The Haitian Revolution and Black History
Patrick Elie speaks for CKUT’s Black History Month
Patrick Elie is a long-time poltical and human rights activist in Haiti. While he is a chemist by trade, he is also someone who is passionate about his people and their history.
We spoke with Patrick Elie in Port au Prince about Haiti’s history and the slave revolt in the context of Black History Month. Elie asserts that the Haitian revolution was not only a momentous event for Haitians, but for people all over the world in demonstrating that freedom, not slavery, was the natural state of humankind.
Elie elloquently makes the links between Haiti’s distant past, and the current political situation, as imperialist forces are once again meddling in the country’s affairs. Just like in 1791, Haitians are today embroiled in a struggle against racist imperialism and colonization. The characters and terms have changed, but the game largely remains the same.
Interviewed by Aaron Lakoff and Leslie Bagg
—>To download the audio version of this interview, visit:
Q: Haiti’s history is all too often ignored in terms of its importance and significance. Can you talk about this history and what it means to you as a Haitian person today?
A: You’re right to point out that Haiti’s history was a momentous event, and an event that has significance, not only for black people, but for all of humanity. When the slaves revolted on mass in 1791, and after a long struggle against the French army, were able to proclaim Haiti’s independence and the end of slavery, it was the first time that a whole people extended the notion of freedom to everybody. Not only that, they also demonstrated that slavery is the unnatural state, and freedom is the natural state of man.
Besides, it was not only an anti-slavery struggle. It was also a struggle for self-determination against colonialism and imperialism. I always say that the Haitians went beyond what, for example, the Marxists envisioned that the proletariat, by freeing itself, would free everybody. It was not the proletariat this time – it was even lower. It was the slaves, who were considered as chattel. The chattel actually stood up and demonstrated their humanity and thus freed everybody. In that sense, the whole world has a debt towards Haiti and the Haitian revolution.
Very few people realize what it took for people who were slaves, kept ignorant, and 60% of whom at the time of the uprising had been born in Africa. They knew of this country here only as a kind of concentration camp. It was a foreign and hostile land to them. I always say that it is something that is almost beyond comprehension that such an incredible feat could have been achieved. For those who are so often very harsh towards Haiti and the Haitian people, saying, ‘how come after 200 years after independence Haiti is still poor?’. I say without even going to the hostility that the dominant powers at the time (France, Great Britain, the USA) exerted against the new republic, all those colonies who had slaves were horrified by the Haitian revolution, and they wanted to contain it as much as possible. Don’t forget that in Haiti, the slaves liberated themselves in 1794. In the USA, it wasn’t until 1865. In the French colonies it wasn’t until 1848. In Cuba and Brazil, it was even later. So the Haitians were at least 50 years in advance of the so-called ‘enlightened’ countries of Europe.
Also, one has to realize that the Haitians started from zero. It’s not the same as the other colonies like Canada or the USA where the Europeans who came to dominate these countries simply cut the ties with the mother country. They came in with all the advances and political structures. Haitians had to invent or try to reinvent from zero. So, truly, for Haitians this is the 3rd century, not the 21st, because we had to start from scratch. I think although nobody could be satisfied with the state of Haiti today, one should never forget it’s only been 200 years.
Q: One impression that we have gotten from being in Haiti for 3 weeks is the amount of public discourse and respect which is paid to some of the characters and leaders behind this slave revolt. Can you talk about some of these characters and their significance in Haiti then and today?
A: Yes, Toussaint (L’Ouverture) is often referred to as the forefather of Haiti’s independence. He was this black general who took these bands of recent slaves and turned them into an army. When he succeeded in actually controlling the whole island, he enacted a constitution which abolished slavery. He also attempted something which was way ahead of its time. He tried to have blacks, whites, and mulattoes living all together in a rainbow nation. All of that of course was destroyed by the stubbornness and short-sightedness of Napoleon, who by trying to re-establish slavery, truly made it into a racial war. But the war was not racial – it was about freedom.
As you know, Toussaint was treacherously captured by the French and deported to one of the coldest parts of France. He was murdered, you could say, because he was left to die.
But, what happened was that after a period of disarray after the landing of Napoleon’s expedition and the capturing of Toussaint, pretty soon some of the generals that had rallied to the French after Toussaint’s exile came to realize that they had to come together and not simply have a liberation from slavery and autonomy, but true independence if they wanted to keep their freedom. That’s how (Jean-Jaques) Dessalines, who was a black general, got together with (Alexandre) Petion, a mulatto general. Although they had been enemies a few years back in the fight for power, they decided to ally themselves so that the war of independence could be won. That’s how the French were finally defeated on November 18, 1803, and all the French soldiers and planters left Haiti.
So we always tend to go back to these heroes, especially Toussaint, but also Dessalines and Petion, because they symbolize the Haitian flag and the Haitian motto, ‘l’Union fait la force’ (‘In union, there is strength’).
I think that today at this particular juncture in Haiti we should look more than ever to that example. This is a country which is deeply divided. It is divided mostly between an elite who has monopolized knowledge and the economy, and the vast majority of poor people who toil for less than two dollars per day. Such a divide is incompatible with a viable nation. I believe that more than ever it is important to look to the example of Dessalines and Petion, and try to reach a compromise between these elites and the masses. Otherwise this country is doomed.
Q: Throughout Haiti’s history there has been racial stratification or racial hierarchy, even with mulattoes who had their freedom before blacks. The elite that we see in Haiti today, for example the Group of 184, is lead by people who aren’t what we’d call black. We still have the mulatto elite. How is it that this racial hierarchy has been kept throughout the years?
A: As is often the case, when you have a society that is unjust, unbalanced, it tends to reproduce itself. It really takes a decision by a collectivity to stop that.
However, one should be very careful in describing the split in Haiti in colour or racial terms. For one thing, the divide is mostly between people who consider themselves Haitian, and people who consider that you only are civilized the less Haitian you are. They do not consider themselves Haitian, and that has nothing to do with colour. It has to do with a cultural bias. It has to do with the ‘présupposé’ (French term). The basic hypothesis that these people have made is that we need to bring the Haitians to civilization, and in order to do that we need to make them into second-hand copies of the Europeans or the Americans.
Secondly, the reason why it is more complex is that the mulattoes no longer control this country’s economy. You will find if you really do the research is that they have been mostly replaced by Haitians of middle-eastern origin. They tend to function like clans, inter-marry, etc. This is not conducive to a viable country. We have to find a way to integrate this community of middle-eastern origin into Haiti. There is resistance on their part, but there has not been what I’d call a true effort to integrate them. We need to do that or else we’ll have a country which is divided, and that’s a recipe for catastrophe.
The Haitian people have been depicted to the world as having a violent history. Look at how little violence there is when you consider the social divide, the distribution of wealth in this country. You look at Jamaica (compared to Haiti), and despite the incredible rise in violence in the last two years, we still have a murder rate which is half of Jamaica’s. When you speak of Haitian history as being one of the most violent in the world, this is complete hogwash. First of all, this is a country which is only 200 years old, and every country has a rough beginning. You take the history of France during the time of the Kings preceding 1789, it’s nothing but revolts here, poisonings there…things like this.
But also, what do you consider violence which is part of your history? Is it only the violence which has occurred on your soil, or is it also the violence which you bring to other countries? And in that sense, I’d say that England, the USA, and France have more violent histories than Haiti.
If we start the clock in 1804 and follow the histories of France, the USA, England, and Germany alongside that of Haiti, I think Haiti is going to finish dead last in terms of violence.
This (violent) way of describing Haiti is extremely prejudicial to the country and to the people because a lot of friends we could have in Canada, the USA, etc., are completely led astray by these descriptions of Haitian history. The violence in Haiti should be ten times what it is given the economic difficulties and the terrible social divide. You have 5% of the population controlling upwards of 70% of the wealth. And if you took that 5% and segmented it, you’d find that the top 1% controls about 50% of the country’s wealth. In any other place in the world, if you found this data you’d have yourself a huge confrontation of Rwandan proportions, but you don’t have that here.
Q: It seems that Haitian history also defines itself as being a history of struggle against white supremacy. One story we find interesting is the story of the creation of the Haitian flag. Can you share this story with us?
A: It has been said that before May 18, 1803, when really it was decided to go and fight for Haitian independence, the Haitians were fighting against the French flag. As you well know, this flag has red, white and blue. It is said that at the Congress of Unity in 1803, Dessalines ripped the white part from the French flag and united the blue and red, saying that the red symbolized the mulattoes, and the blue symbolized the blacks. Since Toussaint’s project of a rainbow country had been rejected by the whites, they were taking the whites out of this.
But yet, it was not an anti-white, but rather an anti-French and anti-Napoleon gesture. Some whites, and especially a Polish regiment, actually sided with the Haitians in a war against Napoleon’s army. They were made Haitians by Dessalines. Dessaline’s constitution said no matter what the colour of your skin, you were considered a black person in Haiti. So, really it was mostly symbolic rather than racial.
The Haitian revolution was one which was very, very generous. For example, it stated that any slave or anyone of Indian (indigenous) descent who set foot in Haiti would automatically become free. This generosity again manifested itself when Bolivar and Miranda, Latin American revolutionaries who fought for the independence of countries in South America, came here for help. They were given money, weapons, and even Haitian volunteers went with them to help free Latin America from the Spanish yoke. They did that more than once on the condition that Bolivar would abolish slavery once he had declared independence.
Q: You had mentioned before that the world owes Haiti a debt for the examples it has set. However, in one of the cruel ironies of history, Haiti was forced to pay a debt to the French for property which was lost during the slave revolt. When Jean-Bertrand Aristide was in power centuries later, he made a very clear connection with history and he demanded slave-era reparations from the French. Can you talk about how this debt affected Haiti from its onset, and the more modern side in Aristide’s demands for reparations?
A: I think that Aristide’s demand for reparations was completely just, even if it had very little chance in succeeding in concrete terms. It was also a very dangerous demand from the French point of view. As we know, Haiti is not the only country that the French have devastated and looted. So the French would be facing the same demand from all their ex-colonies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.
In Haiti, this demand was doubly just. We were not asking for reparations from slavery itself, which France has (since) declared as a crime against humanity. We couldn’t ask for reparations for slavery. We simply asked for reparations for the money which was forcefully extracted from Haiti to repay the slave-owners that Dessalines had kicked out. And this played a tremendous role in stunting Haiti’s growth, because that debt took more than 100 years to pay. Imagine another country starting by having to pay something that represented more than the total Gross National Product at the time. It was paid as always by the Haitian peasant.
Q: How was that money forced from the Haitians, and why did they pay it?
A: It was done with what we call the ‘gunship diplomacy’, but I think also that one of the reasons that this debt was paid was because the Haitian leadership at the time was at odds with its own population. So rather than face the French and face their own population at the same time, I think they made a deal with France so that the French would not represent a threat to Haiti, and they could concentrate on trying to control their own population who were agitating for a better distribution of wealth in the country at the time. I don’t think that at that time France could have truly retaken the island. I think it was a threat of violence, but also weakness and wickedness from the Haitian ruling elite.
Q: One of the reasons why Canada supported the coup d’etat against Aristide in 2004 is because we have a foreign policy objective called ‘Responsibility to Protect’. What R2P says is that Canada has a responsibility to protect and care for failed states. But it seems what you’re trying to get at is that if we were to call Haiti a failed state, we would have to look at its history, and certainly these external factors. What has led Haiti to be a failed state?
A: It’s a bit hasty to call Haiti a failed state. Or, if it is a failed state, it is a state that has been failed by a number of very powerful countries, amongst which France and the USA are the two worst examples. It is a country which was never allowed to evolve by itself and from forces within itself. The most recent example was the coup d’etat in the name of protection against President Aristide. I am not defending the policies of Aristide, because this is a moot point. What I am saying is that the man was twice elected freely by his people, and he had a mandate. So, how can you engineer his overthrow and actually participate in it in the name of the duty or the right to protect?
Anyways, you judge a tree by the fruit it bears. What they’ve done is unleashed violence in this country, unleashed political repression. President (George W) Bush is probably one of the worst presidents that the USA has had, but nobody has suggested that the Canadian army should go secure Andrew Airforce base, have (Bush) forcefully taken from the White House, and sent to Siberia.
If you took polls in other countries after the first Bush presidency, they would all be saying that this guy is very bad. Yet the whole world accepted that the American people re-elected him, and that was that. Why can’t it be the same for us? I think it is deeply racist that some countries can decide that if we don’t pick right, they have the duty to correct our choice. This is very, very dangerous, and deeply racist.
The reason why I say it is racist, for example when it comes to France, from the left to the right, the whole French political class is united on Haiti. Just today I heard that some ex-French socialist prime-minister came out and said that the Haitian people should vote for a certain candidate. Would they ever do that in an American, Italian, or Japanese election? No. They feel that in their paternalistic, racist way that they can tell the Haitian people who is the best president for them. Haitians are incapable of doing that, it seems.
Q: On January 1st, 2004, Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence with massive celebrations across the country. Then, not even two months later, a coup d’etat led by the USA, France, and Canada happened against the democratically-elected president of Haiti. It seems that the fact that this happened so close to the bicentennial is significant. Can you reflect on that?
A: Yes, I think it is no coincidence that it happened exactly in the year of our bicentennial. You see, the dominant powers can hold a grudge for very long. Haiti is still a hated symbol for people who want to dominate the world or dominate other people because of their race or their colour. It was important that Haiti be humiliated in the very year of its bicentennial.
Also, these two terrible years we have lived have shown something else which is worth taking note of. You have a people who are incredibly resilient and who know very well what they want, just like their ancestors back in 1791. And despite the economic and police repression, you see these people standing up again and demanding their rights.
In Haiti, you have a people that despite the fact that 50% of them cannot read or write, have a level of political consciousness which I have rarely seen in any other country. This is an asset, and given the chance can be turned into a real force for change.
But the Haitian people can’t do it alone, because we have strong enemies – this has already been demonstrated. We need to be able to inform the international public opinion, especially in these countries which have interfered so grossly in our lives and our affairs. That’s the important thing about the work that you do, and other people in the USA or Canada are doing in actually trying to tell the truth about Haiti, the Haitian people, and the current political situation.
[Aaron Lakoff and Leslie Bagg are two activists and independent journalists from Montreal who travelled to Haiti for the month of January, 2006. They can be reached at montrealtohaiti at resist dot ca.]
– Radio Interview with Marguerite Laurent on Haitian History and meaning of Jan. 1st in Haitian history:
– Another Independence Day under occupation
– Standing on Truth, Living without Fear: HLLN’s position on foreign-sponsored elections under coup d’etat, dictatorship and occupation | Haitian Perspectives by Marguerite Laurent, October 31, 2005
HLLN’s position hasn’t changed much. Only additional comment to the above would be: Here are the three scenarios that are foreseeable for the Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006 elections:
1. Preval wins but the internationals steal the vote or it is mismanaged because of intented logistical difficulties and the coup d’etat folks deny the mass votes for Preval and arbitrarily declare Baker the winner. Then, we have the same status quo as under Latortue with the people under repression and UN troops upholding an unelected unconstitutional government without a Haitian mandate. (De facto Protectorate)
2. Preval wins but he is controlled, compromised. That is he is requested to go after the ‘gangs’ no real DDR or asylum is given, as under Latortue, to the opponents of Group 184 et al, only to the former military and FRAPH– But Preval is acknowledged, by the internationals as the legitimate President, but he is required to rule with an occupational force legitimizing the minority in the parliament and elsewhere. Whatever shape the politique de doublure takes, same chaos as we have now expect worst with Preval losing his current base like Aristide lost some of his popular backing because pushed to do the dirty work of the neo-liberals. (De facto Protectorate)
3. Preval wins but he refuses to go against the ‘gangs’ in Site Soley like Aristide refused in Gonaive. Then the international community will put an embargo on his government, grind the political process to a halt. IMPASSE. Just as in 2001-2004. Then we will have the impasse as under the last Aristide government, except worse because of the mass murders, repressions, increase in lawlessness, no justice system, no authority. Since Kofi Annan is talking about the UN staying in Haiti for 10 years, if Preval wins, and he is controlled, they will be turning Haiti into a penal colony under this UN protectorate with Preval as administrator. (De Facto Protectorate)
Bottom line is the people of Haiti are in these elections to maneuver, buy time, stop some of the mass murders, the indefinite detentions, show the world how the repugnant elites will steal the elections and hold on until mobilization reaches a higher point.
HLLN will travel with them, but stay on promoting PRINCIPLES.
See, Turning Haiti into a Penal Colony: The Systemic Criminalization of Young Black Males in Haiti by Haiti’s US-imposed Miami government parallels US habit of criminalizing Blacks in the US| Haitian Perspectives by Marguerite Laurent, November 3, 2005 www.margueritelaurent.com/pressclips/damocles.html