|Haiti Archives 1995-1996|
|22/04/95||INTERNATIONAL LIAISON OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE HAITI: UPDATE|
April 22, 1995
I. "Kenbe Fem, Pa Lage" II. News Briefs III. Creole Laws for Creole Speakers IV. Update on the Elections V. Women in the Movement for Democracy
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I. "Kenbe Fem, Pa Lage"
"Justice brings reconciliation, and reconciliation brings peace. Food brings justice as justice brings peace. Neither justice nor food alone bring peace." (President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Port-de-Paix, April 12, 1995)
The process of consolidating democracy in Haiti is strongly pushing forward despite all resistance to abandon the old tradition that used the state apparatus as an instrument of repression and terror. "This process is irreversible", says President Aristide.
President Aristide firmly stands with the people of Haiti to build permanent mechanisms of participation which will allow them to lift the country "slowly but surely from misery to poverty with dignity". Forging social bridges and juggling among all democratic voices, the President of Haiti has shown his commitment to reach out to all citizens. To assure the active participation of all, the government of Haiti is working towards the creation of a judicial system, the development of free and fair elections, and the establishment of a functioning state.
The progress since the return of democracy is impressive: an end to the systematic brutal repression and mismanagement of the nations affairs; the return of thousands of refugees and people living in hiding; the humanization of the disenfranchised and repressed people who are now claiming the opportunity to creatively participate in their own destiny.
The problems are still immense: right-wing paramilitary forces remain armed; an economy crippled by the coup regime, high prices and unemployment; a corrupt and gangrenous state after many self-serving regimes; the lack of infrastructure at all levels; an array of apparent conflicting agendas within the United States government which has held up promised aid; and a reluctance by international donors to consider Haitian priorities for assistance.
II. News Briefs
1. The members of the National Truth and Justice Commission have been officially invested. The Commission has been created by decree of President Aristide and his government to establish the truth about the most serious human rights violations committed between September 29, 1991 and October 15, 1994. The Commission will seek to identify those responsible and shed light on the circumstances of the abuses. It will prepare a report which will include recommendations for reparations and rehabilitation of victims; measures to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations; reforms of the judicial system, the security forces, and the Haitian armed forces; measures to ensure that those responsible for abuses do not hold public office; and steps to prevent the resurgence of illegal organizations such as paramilitary groups. The objective is to put an end to impunity and thereby create the conditions favorable to national reconciliation and justice for all Haitians. The Commissions work will not replace but rathercomplement the work of the Justice Ministry. The seven members of the Commission include sociologist Francoise Boucard; lawyer and human rights educator Ertha Elysee; former director of Justice and Peace and director of the Program of Alternative Justice Freud Jean; human rights lawyer Reni Magloire; human rights activist Bacre Waly Ndiaye, and Inter-American Commission for Human Rights active members Patrick Robinson and Oliver Jackman. The three international members have been selected in close consultatin with the UN and OAS. The mandate of the Commission is for a period of six months, which can be extended an additional three months. The Commission is critically short of funds and is seeking support from governments, organizations, foundations and other donors. Funds are being channeled through the UN Office of Project Services.
2. Through an initiative of President Aristide, the Justice Ministry is receiving funds to support the prompt investigation and prosecution of some of the most notorious cases of human rights violations, including the assassinations of Justice Minister Guy Malary, Antoine Izmery, Father Jean-Marie Vincent, the torture murder of Jean Claude Museau, and the public attack on Bishop Willy Romelus outside the Cathedral. A group of Haitian lawyers has been working through the Ministry of Justice for the past few months and international technical assistance is being provided by a group composed of Argentine lawyer Jaime Malamud-Goti, who was in charge of the 1985 human rights trials in Argentina; law professor and litigator Irwin Stotsky, who has worked for the past 18 years on behalf of Haitian refugees; attorney H. T. Smith, President of the US National Bar Association; and human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, former Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has carried out successful human rights proscutions against international human rights violators, including former Haitian President, General Prosper Avril.
3. Several state-run programs are underway to reduce the high cost of living and improve the conditions of the disadvantaged majority. Community stores and community restaurants are being opened throughout the country to relieve poverty. Also, the program "soulaje lamizh" (poverty relief) offers regular stipends of money to poor families and victims of the coup. Great activity is being seen at the state-run store in Port-au-Prince to enable the opening of the new Community Store in May. During a recent visit to Port-de-Paix, President Aristide offered a check of nearly one million gourdes to start community restaurants for the disadvantaged of the region, delivered agricultural equipment, and presented plans for the construction of an irrigation canal for the North-West.
4. As part of the commemoration of Toussaint Louvertures death, President Aristide announced the grant of H$ 70,000 to repair and renovate Toussaint Louverture high school in Port-au-Prince. Also in the area of education, the Ministry of Education announced a modest increase in teachers salaries. A private university in Port-au-Prince is organizing a conference on judicial reform at the end of April.
5. President Aristide inaugurated a monument to the memory of those Haitians who died at sea while fleeing repression under past military dictatorships. Since the Duvalier regime, Haitians have fled their country in great numbers to escape state brutality. After the coup of 1991 tens of thousands more became refugees while an estimated 300,000 people became internal refugees, hiding in fear of persecution by the military. Tens of thousands crossed the border to the Dominican Republic. Others fled Haiti by boat: an unknown number drowned; some reached the Bahamas, Cuba, and other islands in the Caribbean; many were intercepted by the United States Coast Guard, which forcibly returned them to a country plagued by terror; some were allowed into the United States or other countries to pursue their asylum cases. The terror of those three years of repression should never be forgotten … It should never be allowed to return…
6. A plan to enlarge and improve the telephone network by using a fiber-optics system will allow an increase of 100,000 telephone lines in Port-au-Prince within a year, announced the General Director of Haitis state-run telecommunications company, Paul Lacombe. Lacombe predicts that the number of available lines will jump from 60,000 to 160,000, meaning that about 500,000 more people will have access to phones.
7. Seventeen companies have resumed operations in Port-au-Princes Industrial Park, employing 3,000 workers. Some returned after having set up shop in the Dominican Republic after the coup. Some 35% of the companies are already operating at full capacity.
8. "To permit Mr. Constant to remain at large in the United States will appear as an affront to the Haitian government and will cast doubt upon the seriousness of our resolve to combat human rights violations…", states a release by the United States Information Service of April 3, 1995. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher asked US Attorney General Janet Reno for the immediate deportation of Emmanuel Constant, head of FRAPH, the paramilitary organization responsible for numerous human rights violations in Haiti in 1993 and 1994.
9. The alleged existance of several anonymous "lists" —hit lists, watch lists, death lists, enemies lists, meeting lists— have made the headlines in the US press. Different US agencies differ in the value and significance of these lists. Most Haitians do not seem to take these lists very seriously, seeing alleged death lists as a recurrent part of local political life. Such lists sometimes may be even published by the same people whose names appear in the list in order to discredit the opponents, create chaos, or as a strategy to gain political recognition.
10. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are undergoing a renewal of relations. There is a growing movement among solidarity activists, labor unionists, and intellectuals pressuring for new relations between the Haitian and Dominican societies. There is also an increase of trade, educational exchanges, and collaborative projects particularly in the areas of reforestation, energy, transport, and tourism. Hardly a week passes without a delegation from one of the countries visiting the other. It is increasingly understood that the well-being of the two countries is mutually dependent. As President Aristide has said in a number of occasions: "Haiti and the Dominican Republic are two open wings of a bird" which will fly off when both wings harmoniously flap together. A new Dominican Ambassador in Haiti has not been designated yet.
11. Following in the long line of visitors, former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias and former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulrony are expected in Port-au-Prince. Oscar Arias, 1987 recipient of the Nobel Peace Price, will present on April 27-28 the conclusions of the first national political poll conducted in Haiti on 1) the current situation, 2) the abolition of the Army, 3) disarmament, 4) justice versus impunity, 5) relations with the Dominican Republic, 6) the popularity of some political figures, and 7) the upcoming legislative elections. Brian Mulrony, one of the first world leaders to condemn the coup of 1991, will meet with President Aristide these coming days.
III. Creole Laws for Creole Speakers
Another step is being taken toward the inclusion of all Haitians in the affairs of their country. After almost 200 years in which all legal proceedings and documents were conducted in a language unknown to most of Haiti's citizens, the legal system is now using creole for its procedures.
The new State Secretariat for Literacy is translating all laws into Creole, the only language spoken by an estimated 95% of Haiti's citizens. It is also putting into Creole all legal documents, such as land deeds, birth certificates, and marriage licences. Moreover, the Secretariat intends to train those involved in legal and administrative functions to read and write Creole, so that they may be more equipped to make state procedures and documents accessible to all.
One of the key victories of the "cultural revival" which the Haitian people waged after the ouster of Duvalier in l986 was a validation of the Creole language. The l987 Constitution, acknowledging that "The only language spoken by all Haitians is the Creole language," made Creole a second official language of the republic. French was the only official language until that time.
In his inaugural statement, Minister of Literacy Paul Dejean writes: "When those who have been designated to speak in the name of the State to all the citizens of the country speak in a language understood by only a small percentage of the people, aren't they giving an advantage to that small percentage? Is this not an injustice they commit against most of the citizens of the country?" Just as French has always been used in Haiti to further the elite's exclusive hold on power, so the official use of creole in of the legal system will ensure equal participation and democracy.
IV. Update on the Elections
"I encourage Haitians to think about the importance of the upcoming elections for the future of the country… Good, honest elections can help us fight the high cost of living and insecurity. Do not let hunger stop you from taking part in the fight for justice." (President Aristide, April 11, 1995).
The members of the political parties, the CEP and the Special Representative of the United Nations in Haiti met with President Aristide at the National Palace on April 6. UN Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave his guarantee that the UNMIH, in charge of overseeing the elections, will support the electoral process. "Men and women of the country, we are here to listen to what you have to say, to listen to what you want, in the hope that our presence will assist in a small way to advance the process in the direction which you want". The President of the CEP, Anselme Remy, promised to try to remedy all complaints brought before his office throughout the country as quickly as possible. Another meeting took place on April 11 between members of the CEP and political party leaders to further discuss the electoral process.
President Aristide has repeatedly made a plea to all Haitians to participate in the upcoming elections and has denounced the campaign of violence intended to keep people away from the polls and the disinformation campaign to discredit the government. In a Los Angeles Times editorial, journalist Amy Wilentz commented that " the lower the registration and turn-out, the better the chances that conservative anti-Aristide forces will be able to take over the legislature. If voters stay away, the Haitian right wing will participate because thay have a chance of winning; if the voters register in droves —as when Aristide was elected — the conservative strategy is to withdraw from the elections, alleging the balloting will not be fair, and thereby delegitimizing the outcome in advance."
In order to allow more time for voters and candidates to register and for the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) to properly set up the massive logistical electoral structures throughout the country, a new election date of June 25 and runoff date of July 16 have been established. The official list of candidates will be published on May 13.
V. Women in the Movement for Democracy
Women's Voices in the Movement
The grassroots women's movement for justice has been gaining momentum in Haiti since Jean-Claude Duvalier's ouster in February, 1986. Since then, women's voices in determining and stating the democratic agenda have grown increasingly loud and articulate. It is important to note that while the movement covers some issues which concern all women, most of the work focuses on redress of the political and economic disempowerment which is concentrated among the poor in general, and even more among poor women.
During the past six months, women have been working steadily to reclaim the political space lost during the coup d'etat. "During the three years of the coup," said an organizer in the grassroots church, "there was an attempt to crush women's morale. Instead, women matured, and saw the necessity of bonding together to defend ourselves. Now our political commitment is stronger than ever." As for the dynamism occurring since the political opening of October 15 of last year, when President Aristide returned to Haiti, one national women's organizer said, "The same sort of push is going on now as after l986."
Discussion and initiatives generated by the new Women's Ministry and the national move to find justice for rape cases are prompting grassroots women to coalesce and act on women-specific initiatives. A random sampling of the new growth reveals the following:
— To strengthen their role in mixed, traditionally male-dominated groups, women are increasingly forming their own committees. This is true within the tilegliz (Christian base community), peasant, and popular quarter (urban slums) sectors, to name a few.
— Women from rural areas and popular quarters are starting their own grassroots groups or are asking to join in national ones. Many of these are organized around marketing and the economy. All speak of violence and inflation as major concerns.
— In various areas of Port-au-Prince, women's organizations and women's divisions of popular organizations are working to form neighborhood-wide coalitions, or kowodinasyon fanm.
— Socio-professional women are becoming more active politically, prioritizing dwa fanm, rights of women, and plans to participate in the upcoming U.N. Conference in Beijing.
Priorities and Demands
These women are not organizing only on gender-specific issues, but on all matters of justice and participation which affect the society. There is broad agreement between popular women's groups on their priorities and needs:
-Justice is overwhelmingly the first demand. This call includes: disarmament of paramilitary attaches and the related zenglendo network; prosecution of those responsible for crimes against the people, especially rape; damages to compensate victims; and judicial reform to ensure that the criminality and impunity end.
-Credit to help combat inflation, unemployment, and poverty. Three years of a coup and an unevenly applied embargo have left most women —especially the market women, who form the backbone of Haiti's informal sector— without the capital to conduct business.
-Participation in the affairs of the country. This means transparent and democratic government and the opportunity to influence political and economic policy, as well as a voice in local society.
-Financial and technical support for their programs and organizing initiatives. The practical difficulties the women's initiatives face are compounded by pressing poverty. One organizer illustrated the problem: "A group of 150 women in a gwoupman (grassroots organization) might only have two women among them who are employed. Where are they going to get money or resources to put their plans into action?"
-Socio-economic empowerment through policies and programs aimed at helping the poor majority of the population: jobs, combatting inflation, education, health care, and development policies determined by the people themselves.
Acting upon Words
The demands of women in the democracy movement are firmly rooted in action. The methodology of the movement includes several components: reflection and frmasyon, through which women learn from their own individual and collective experiences; articulate what must change, and how that change can occur; organizing, in the knowledge that unity creates strength; and mobilization. A few of the many examples of women's recent organizing efforts are listed below:
--- Grassroots women are mobilizing across Haiti to work with the Ministry of Women in establishing local justice bureaus for women. Staffed by representatives of local organizations, the offices will do screenings; document abuses; help women file legal complaints; provide social services, health care, and psychological care; and perform crisis intervention. --- On February 6 in Port-au-Prince, women politicians and activists participated in an all-day conference on women's role in the upcoming elections. --- Some popular groups are working to make birth control more accessible to poor women. --- Women's groups are developing educational programs to help women know their rights. --- Human rights advocates are collecting and presenting to the government documentation regarding abuses against women. --- Throughout Haiti, women's groups and women from mixed-gender community groups are sponsoring meetings and conferences to articulate their demands and plan programs. Education and frmasyon programs are being iniiated all over. --- Peasant women, professional women, and women from popular neighborhoods turned out on International Women's Day, March 8. They expressed their demands publicly in their neighborhoods and on the radio, and directly to the government within and in front of the National Palace. --- On International Women's Day and again on April 1, Haitian and Dominican women held political exchanges on the border. --- In several instances, women in rural associations are pooling their goods and energy to mltiply the effects of their scarce resources. Some examples of women-led development --- Rape victims, their advocates, and other activists have held numerous fora throughout Haiti in the past several months to discuss how to respond to, and seek justice for, rape. Meetings have taken place among popular organizations, the Women's Ministry, human rights groups, and health care networks. --- The month of March was declared Women's Month in Haiti by the Ministry of Women. --- On March 24, the Women's Ministryand legal advocates held a conference on women's rights and laws at the State University. --- Women participated in an exposition of products grown and created by women, on March 26 at the Women's Ministry. --- SOFA (Haitian Women's Solidarity) is moving ahead with plans to open women's health clinics and legal clinics throughout Haiti.
For more information and documentation directly from women's groups in Haiti, contact the International Liaison Office, tel: (202) 965-0830, fax: (202) 965-0831.
N.B. These materials are being distributed by the International Liaison Office for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The International Liaison Office is registered with the Department of Justice, Washington DC, under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, as an agent of the Government of Haiti. The required registration statements are available for public inspection at the Department of Justice. Registration does not indicate approval of the contents of these materials by the United States Government.
INTERNATIONAL LIAISON OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE Phone: (202) 965-0831 Fax: (202) 965-0831 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org