Haitians Fight for Their Rights
Haitians Demand Housing and Oppose Horrific Conditions in Camps
On August 27, thousands of Haitians demanded their right to housing and protested horrific conditions in the refugee camps where they have been forced to live since the January earthquake. At noon, people in fifteen camps located all over Port-au-Prince simultaneously beat pots and pans, or conducted “bat teneb,” to demand a moratorium on expulsions and an immediate solution to the continuing problem of inadequate shelter. This followed demonstrations August 12,also demanding the right to housing.
Residents are also facing immanent threats of expulsion from the camps in violation of Haitian and international law. They emphasized that the government must immediately provide humane alternatives to the muddy, dangerous, unsanitary and brutal living conditions by nationalizing by decree all the empty and idle lands in the hands of large landowners and verifying ownership titles for those displaced.
In a press release announcing the action, the people in the fifteen camps called for international solidarity and raised their demands for rights: “On August 27 we will raise our hands in the air and call out loudly, sound the trumpet to wake up the authorities, unblock the cotton deafening their ears. We will make a concert of noise in the camps, strike and beat and sound the trumpet loudly to ask the Préval / Bellerive government to respect our constitutional right to housing, food, health, school, work, water, electricity.
“We refuse to participate in your election while under tarps, while being evicted from tents, without respect for our basic rights. We’re asking for houses, to which we have a right. This is no gift, it is our right under article 22 of the March 29, 1987 Constitution, which guarantees the Haitian state provide decent lodgings to all its citizens.”
Starting at the gates of former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s residence in Tabarre, yesterday, thousands of Lavalas supporters began their spirited ten-mile march and demonstration ending up at the collapsed National Palace in Haiti’s capital. Along the way, thousands more joined the march as it passed the Aristide Foundation, turned west along the north side of the airport past the strong and supportive neighborhoods of Sarthe and Cite Soleil. Finally, the march headed downtown through the Aristide stronghold of Bel-Air past the earthquake devastation of the National Cathedral and back down the hill to join the masses camped out in front of the National Palace to bring their demands. The crowd was estimated to be 7-8 thousand before it arrived at the Palace.
Every year since the U.S. kidnapped their democratically elected president, the People of Haiti have not ceased from calling for his unconditional return from exile in South Africa. And likewise — every year — the forces, the “master” minds behind the coup d’etat of 2004 and their affected corporate-media mouthpieces attempt to distract the public conscience away from the mobilizations on July 15. In other major cities throughout the country there were smaller, but just as lively mobilizations led by the Fanmi Lavalas political organization.
After the deadly earthquake of January 12, this year’s -commemoration has become even more important to the People of Haiti. The people believe that Aristide could have been more effective at boosting the morale of the county and energizing them, for rebuilding, than what they have concluded to be an unresponsive and indecisive government.
Last year the Préval government blocked Fanmi Lavalas — the largest political organization and supported by an over whelming majority of the population — from the elections to select members of the Parliament. The day after President René Préval met with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, his handpicked election council barred Fanmi Lavalas from the elections.
The entire country called “FOUL” as they boycotted both election days that saw more than 95 percent of the voting population honoring the boycott and staying home and off of the streets. So far, it appears that the same civil unrest scenario will play out for this year’s presidential election scheduled for November.
For most political observers are not surprised that the Earthquake didn’t shake up the US Embassy enough to see any change in its Machiavellian agenda to bring Haiti fully into becoming another client state. If anything the agenda of 2009 is the post-earthquake agenda of 2010. The deadly Haiti policies of George Bush I & II are the same as the Haiti policies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
While the presidential candidacy of rapper/entertainer Wyclef Jean in Haiti’s upcoming presidential and legislative elections has garnered much international attention, underneath the glare of this hype are the continued assaults on the country’s democratic process. Much is at stake in this key election, scheduled for November 28. The winner will be responsible for the colossal task of rebuilding the nation’s shattered infrastructure and psyche after the January 12 earthquake. Jean’s glitz and glamour have stolen international headlines (despite Haiti’s August 20 ruling denying him the candidacy), however, the real story is that the country’s strongest and most popular political force will again be excluded from these elections.
The United States and the principal international power brokers have stated over and over again that the promotion of a stable and democratic political process is a primary goal in Haiti. However, international elites continue to support and fund an election that openly excludes the political party Famni Lavalas, the party founded by former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide. Not only has Lavalas been excluded from Haiti’s political process by the country’s Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), its supporters are continually intimidated and violently suppressed by a United Nations army that continues to be in Haiti six years after the 2004 coup that ousted Aristide from the presidency. The CEP and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) continue to work in coordination with each other to make sure only the Haitian and international economic elite have their say in the country.
Though its stated mission is peacekeeping, MINUSTAH has also taken a political stance in the country. Since the UN army has been in Haiti it has worked with international elites to actively oppose the kinds of policies that Lavalas was promoting before its violent ouster. Lavalas, for example, attempted to halt the privatization of public utilities, raise the country’s abysmally low minimum wage, and pursue demands that France begin to pay the historic $21 billion debt owed to its former colony.
Since the coup, MINUSTAH and Haitian police have continually referred to Lavalas supporters as “bandits,” which they have used to justify illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings. MINUSTAH has killed civilians in Port-Au-Prince’s slums, specifically in the Lavalas strongholds of Bel Air and Cité Soleil, silencing the demands of self-determination and socio-economic justice of the people in these neighborhoods. MINUSTAH’s shoot-first tactics have been well documented, and Haiti scholar Peter Hallward has compiled a lengthy list of human rights abuses and outright massacres by MINUSTAH in his book Damming the Flood (pp. 275-310). The terror and intimidation of Lavalas supporters has continued throughout President René Préval’s term in office, especially during the six months following the earthquake.
Though Préval, an Aristide protégé, originally ran on a progressive ticket, he has since refused to support a bill that would have increased Haiti’s paltry minimum wage and has not allowed Aristide to come out of exile. Now his administration faces social unrest due to the slow progress of post-earthquake recovery. The unrest, in large part, has taken the form of public demonstrations organized by supporters of Lavalas, still considered to be the main political vehicle for Haiti’s poor, who make up 90% of the population. MINUSTAH has responded to these popular demonstrations with repression, and has upheld Haiti’s internal process that has excluded Lavalas from the elections.
As the principal official electoral institution in the country, the CEP has banned the participation of Lavalas and 14 other political parties in the upcoming November elections. While under Haitian law the Préval-picked CEP does not have the legal authority to exclude any legally recognized political party, it has continued to ignore both internal and international pressure to reverse its decision. Indeed, it seems to have made a habit of undermining Lavalas’s efforts to take part in the democratic process.
In the run-up to the 2006 elections, for example, the Haitian government imprisoned a popular Lavalas presidential candidate, Father Gerard Jean Juste, on a bogus murder charge in an effort to block him from taking part in the election. While in prison Jean Juste was unable to fulfill the CEP’s demand of registering in person, and was banned from participating in the election.
This was just the beginning. In the 2009 Senate elections, in which 12 seats were contested, every Lavalas candidate was banned by the CEP on procedural grounds. Despite Lavalas’s punctual submission of a list of its candidates, the final list was rejected by the CEP because it did not have the original signature of Aristide, who was the leader of the party despite his forced exile in South Africa. The spontaneous creation of this new requirement seemed to be a blatant effort to block Lavalas’s participation and led the party to call for a boycott of the election. The voter turnout for the election was a measly 3-5% of the population – a clear signal that Haitians rejected the election, and another indication of Lavalas’s immense popular support.
In November 2009, after the CEP announced the dates for the 2010 elections, Famni Lavalas complied with all of the known legal requirements and preparations to participate. Aristide sent the CEP the necessary documents with his original signature and an accompanying certificate from a Haitian notary, which authorized Lavalas representative Dr. Maryse Narcisse to formally register the party for the elections. Aristide appeared on the local radio station Radio Solidarity to confirm that the party had followed all necessary requirements. Once again the CEP disqualified Lavalas due to its failure to submit the proper documents for the 2009 Senate elections, not the 2010 election. Street marches and spontaneous protests ensued.
On August 20, the CEP ruled against the candidacy of Wyclef Jean, as he did not meet the residency requirements to participate in the election. Jean previously viewed himself as Haiti’s Bob Marley, but in a recent interview with Time magazine, he likened himself to another entertainer-turned statesman, Ronald Reagan, a frightening comparison for Haitians, given Reagan’s fervent support for the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1980s and the advent of economic neoliberalism during his term in office — with his enthusiastic support. In one of Jean’s songs he sings “If I was president instead of spending billions on the war, we can use some of that money, in the ghetto.” But given Jean’s stated dedication to neoliberal policies, “if he was president,” he would be much more likely to carry out the wishes of the domestic and international business community, than those of the desperately poor majority that he claims to represent. With all the media coverage on Haiti’s election fading away with Jean’s departure, it is unclear which remaining candidate he will endorse, but the candidate certainly won’t be from Lavalas.
Kevin Edmonds is a NACLA Research Associate
To cut to the chase, no election in Haiti, and no candidate in those elections, will be considered legitimate by the majority of Haiti’s population, unless it includes the full and fair participation of the Fanmi Lavalas Party of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Fanmi Lavalas is unquestionably the most popular party in the country, yet the “international community,” led by the United States, France and Canada, has done everything possible to undermine Aristide and Lavalas, overthrowing him twice by military coups in 1991 and 2004 and banishing Aristide, who now lives in South Africa with his family, from the Americas.
A United Nations army, led by Brazil, still occupies Haiti six years after the coup. Their unstated mission, under the name of “peacekeeping,” is to suppress the popular movement and prevent the return to power of Aristide’s Lavalas Party. One must understand a Wyclef Jean candidacy, first of all, in this context.
Every election since a 67 percent majority first brought Aristide to power in 1990 has demonstrated the enormous popularity of the Lavalas movement. When Lavalas could run, they won overwhelmingly. In 2006, when security conditions did not permit them to run candidates, they voted and demonstrated to make sure Rene Préval, a former Lavalas president, was re-elected.
Préval, however, turned against those who voted for him. He scheduled elections for 12 Senate seats in 2009 and supported the Provisional Electoral Council’s rejection of all Lavalas candidates. Lavalas called for a boycott, and as few as 3 percent of Haitians voted. Fewer than 1 percent voted in the runoff, once again demonstrating the people’s love and respect for President Aristide.
Fanmi Lavalas has already been banned from the next round of elections, so enter Wyclef Jean. Jean comes from a prominent Haitian family that has virulently opposed Lavalas since the 1990 elections. His uncle is Raymond Joseph – also a rumored presidential candidate – who became Haitian ambassador to the United States under the coup government and remains so today. Kevin Pina writes that Raymond Joseph is, “the co-publisher of Haiti Observateur, a right-wing rag that has been an apologist for the killers in the Haitian military going back as far as the brutal coup against Aristide in 1991.
“On Oct. 26  Haitian police entered the pro-Aristide slum of Fort Nationale and summarily executed 13 young men. Wyclef Jean said nothing. On Oct. 28, the Haitian police executed five young men, babies really, in the pro-Aristide slum of Bel Air. Wyclef said nothing. If Wyclef really wants to be part of Haiti’s political dialogue, he would acknowledge these facts. Unfortunately, Wyclef is fronting.”
As if to prove it, the Miami Herald reported on Feb. 28, 2010, “Secret polling by foreign powers in search of a new face to lead Haiti’s reconstruction might favor Jean’s candidacy, as someone with sufficient name recognition who could draw enough votes to overcome another Lavalas electoral boycott. “
Wyclef Jean supported the 2004 coup. When gun-running former army and death squad members trained by the CIA were overrunning Haiti’s north on Feb. 25, 2004, MTV’s Gideon Yago wrote, “Wyclef Jean voiced his support for Haitian rebels on Wednesday, calling on embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to step down and telling his fans in Haiti to ‘keep their head up’ as the country braces itself for possible civil war.”
During the Obama inaugural celebration, Jean famously and perversely serenaded Colin Powell, the Bush administration secretary of state during the U.S. destabilization campaign and eventual coup against Aristide, with Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”
Jean also produced the movie, “The Ghosts of Cite Soleil,” an anti-Aristide and Lavalas hit piece, which tells us that President Aristide left voluntarily, without mention of his kidnapping by the U.S. military, and presents the main coup leaders in a favorable light. It features interviews with sweatshop owners Andy Apaid and Charles Henry Baker without telling us they hate Aristide because he raised the minimum wage and sought to give all Haitians a seat at the table by democratizing Haiti’s economy, a program opposed by the rich in Haiti.
It uncritically interviews coup leader Louis Jodel Chamblain, without telling us he worked with the Duvalier dictatorship’s brutal militia, the Tonton Macoutes, in the 1980s; that following the coup against Aristide in 1991, he was the “operations guy” for the FRAPH paramilitary death squad, accused of murdering uncounted numbers of Aristide supporters and introducing gang rape into Haiti as a military weapon.
It uncritically interviews coup leader Guy Phillipe, without telling us he’s a former Haitian police chief who was trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador in the early 1990s or that the U.S. embassy admitted that Phillipe was involved in the transhipment of narcotics, one of the key sources of funds for paramilitary attacks on the poor in Haiti.
Wyclef runs the Yele Haiti Foundation, which the Washington Post reported on Jan. 16, 2010, is under fiscal scrutiny because “(i)t seems clear that a significant amount of the monies that this charity raises go for costs other than providing benefits to Haitians in need In 2006, Yele Haiti had about $1 million in revenue, according to tax documents. More than a third of the money went to payments to related parties, said lawyer James Joseph (T)he charity recorded a payment of $250,000 to Telemax, a TV station and production company in Haiti in which Jean and Jerry Duplessis, both members of Yele Haiti’s board of directors, had a controlling interest. The charity paid about $31,000 in rent to Platinum Sound, a Manhattan recording studio owned by Jean and Duplessis. And it spent an additional $100,000 for Jean’s performance at a benefit concert in Monaco.” A foundation spokesperson “said the group hopes to spend a higher percentage of its budget on services as it gains experience.”
Please spread the news: “Wyclef Jean is not a friend of the people’s democratic movement of Haiti.” The floating of his candidacy is just one more effort by the international forces, desperate to put a smiley face on a murderous military occupation, to undermine the will of the Haitian majority by making Wyclef Jean the Ronald Reagan of Haiti.
Let us be clear. Jean and his uncle, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., are both cozy with the self-appointed czar of Haiti, Bill Clinton, whose plans for the Caribbean nation are to make it a neo-colony for a reconstructed tourist industry and a pool of cheap labor for U.S. factories. Wyclef Jean is the perfect front man. The Haitian elite and its U.S./U.N. sponsors are counting on his appeal to the youth to derail the people’s movement for democracy and their call for the return of President Aristide. Most Haitians will not be hoodwinked by the likes of Wyclef Jean.
Charlie Hinton is a member of the Haiti Action Committee in San Francisco and works at Inkworks Press, a worker owned and managed printing company in Berkeley. He may be reached at email@example.com http://sfbayview.com/2010/wyclef-jean-for-president-of-haiti-look -beyond-the-hype