Who really killed Jean Dominique and Jacques Roche?
Fri, May 10 2013 08:22
by Kevin Pina and
Father Gerard Jean-Juste
Kevin Pina recently interviewed legendary Haitian priest and human rights activist, Father Gerard Jean-Juste from Miami, Florida on the program Flashpoints heard on the Pacifica network. The following is a transcript of the interview made possible by Kevin Salinger.Kevin Pina: Good afternoon, this is Kevin Pina with Flashpoints on Pacifica. Today's very special guest is my dear friend, and a man who has fought tirelessly for justice in Haiti, who has fought tirelessly for human rights in Haiti, Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Father Gerard Jean-Juste is currently in Miami, he is undergoing chemotherapy. He was, of course diagnosed with leukemia while he was being held without charges in a Haitian jail. He was tested by Doctor Paul Farmer, who then smuggled out his blood and diagnosed him with leukemia. Finally the US, United Nations-backed forces, the US-backed government, installed government of Gerard Latortue was forced to free Father Gerard Jean-Juste to allow him to begin his medical treatment. Father Gerard Jean-Juste, good afternoon, and welcome to Flashpoints.
Fr. Jean-Juste: Good afternoon Kevin, good afternoon to all the listeners of Flashpoints.
Kevin Pina: Well, now you've had a little bit of time, you've been in Miami. How are the treatments going Father, how are you feeling?
Fr. Jean-Juste: It has been improving for a while, and I feel better now. I thank God; I thank all of you for your prayers, and for your support. And also, I'm getting ready right now for the second cycle of chemotherapy treatment. I have about five more cycles left, so the first one went very well, and I hope the second one will go well too, and the other ones, so they hope within five months I may recuperate pretty good.
Kevin Pina: Now I now that, in theory, your case is still pending in Haiti, but I'd like to get into that a little bit, particularly in light of the fact that there's been a lot of talk lately by Reporters Without Borders, and by the widow of Jean Dominique lately, raising the question of Jean Dominique, in particular the involvement of Lavalas in the murder of Jean Dominique; and I can't help but think of the parallels, in that, you of course are accused of being involved in the kidnapping and the murder -- a preposterous accusation of course -- and the murder of Jacques Roche. Jacques Roche was a reporter who was, really, I guess a sort of slanted reporter, I guess there is another term for it, a reporter who worked with the Group 184, which was, of course, the opposition group that helped to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. But Father, I don't think that we ever really heard from you. How did you feel when you first heard this preposterous accusation against you? I know you must have felt it was preposterous.
Fr. Jean-Juste: Definitely, definitely, it was ridiculous to charge me with such a preposterous accusation. I was in Miami on business, and then I returned to Haiti on the 15th, two days or three days after the Jacques Roche assassination. So I had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Jacques Roche. Of course, now they are looking for a way to get rid of me, to shut my mouth, and also to stop Lavalas from participating in the election, in order for them to go to the elections and carry all the posts. But, unfortunately for them, and fortunately for us, within time the case of Jacques Roche has been dying -- inaudible -- because the search found nothing about us, they dropped the charges. But I would like to see Jacques Roche obtain justice, in the sense that they should try to find the true killers and go after them, and bring justice to the case. But now we have to ask the question: who was the true killers of Jacques Roche? Because it seems to me this is a political killing in order to capitalize, in order to benefit out of the exploitation of the death of Jacques Roche. And this is the beginning of what we call the "arming of ti machet." That was the first in a series where we've been attacked at the church, it was something plain, by some officers of the de facto government, and later on we discovered that the death squad was in full speed going after Lavalas people, even at the soccer game, organized, or sponsored by the USAID, where so many Lavalas people have been assassinated and killed in cold blood. So I guess there was a -- inaudible -- going on, and they were looking for a way to trap us Lavalas, and put everything on our back, and then get rid of Lavalas. So they have failed, Lavalas has survived, and now we hope we will keep moving forward, obtain justice, not only for myself, but for the other political prisoners, and for everyone else accused falsely in the case.
Kevin Pina: It seems so hard though to figure out the truth and to be able get justice, when people seem to politicize incidents like this, and use it as a tool of political persecution against those who are associated with Lavalas. Of course there's the most recent example of your own where you were not involved with Jacques Roche, but yet we know that the minister of culture under the Latortue government got up and accused you personally, accused Lavalas of involvement. Without any proof it was printed in the media, in the mainstream media and in the Haitian press, and there were very few questions raised as far as the validity of it until you were finally released when the charges were dropped. But I can't help but also think about the Jean Dominique case.
|©2000 Michelle Karshan - Demonstration in memory of Jean Dominique at Radio Haiti Inter April 3, 2000 - Sò Anne participated in demonstration outside Radio Haiti Inter to protest the murder of Jean Dominique the day before. Reporters Without Borders aledged that Sò Anne played a role in the Dominique assassination, this is the first time that her name has ever come up as a "suspect."|
Kevin Pina: And of course Reporters Without Borders said absolutely nothing, or very little about this thing of Abdias Jean. You know we don't know, there's no clear evidence who killed Jean Dominique, but we know that there were eyewitnesses who say that the Haitian police summarily executed Abdias Jean in January 2005, in the neighborhood of Cite de Dieu. We know that for a fact.
Fr. Jean-Juste: Yeah, that's true. Unfortunately, this is the type of reporting we have coming from France. And understand that some French officials have been helping some Haitian students in order to make them rise against the Lavalas government all the time. And because President Aristide was apparently asking for France to repair it, to repair, to uh -
Kevin Pina: Give reparations.
Fr. Jean-Juste: - for reparations, and they [owe] 22 billion dollars to Haiti, and France refused, and in that case, I guess Reporters Sans Frontiers is trying to think ahead, to make us forget what we are looking for. We're looking for reparations, we're looking for restitution, and I think its about time that France stop- and deal frankly with the issue, otherwise, they cannot understand the issue. We're still alive, and probably after Jacques Chirac or some other government, we'll still continue to demand reparations and restitution, and we will gain justice someday.
Kevin Pina: Now you know, sometimes it almost seems like a cultural war for me. When I see the attacks, the character assassination on leadership of Lavalas, when I see the attempt to destroy the reputation of Lavalas, when I see the attempt to paint it with a wide brush stroke, that it was a violent movement at the behest of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the dictator of Haiti, all of this sort of propaganda machine within culture. And a latest example is this film that was just released, which I haven't seen yet, but the main theme of it, its called Ghosts of Cite Soleil, its produced by the son of Jorgen Leth, Asgar Leth. Jorgen Leth of course was the former Danish honorary counsel to Haiti, who had to resign because he had written a book that detailed his sexual exploits with his 17-year-old house servant, and that created a very moral uproar and he had to resign from that position. But his son Asgar Leth now has produced a film called Ghosts of Cite Soleil, in which he now chronicles the exploits of two gang leaders in Cite Soleil called Tupac and Billy. And according to this film, there are these phone calls that are made reportedly, in this film, that say that they are being made by those close to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is getting leadership to the gangs in Cite Soleil to go out and kill the opposition. Father Gerard Jean-Juste, I've never asked you this question before: what is your opinion about the accusations that have been leveled against Jean-Bertrand Aristide, that he was using the state to sponsor violence against the opposition in Haiti?
Fr. Jean-Juste: Well its completely false, its completely propaganda, its completely unjust doing that to President Aristide. The president was elected by the people, the president was well-loved by the people, by most Haitians, as the president was being so good to the poorest ones in Haiti by offering education to everyone, regardless that the international community had stopped all aid, all assistance to President Aristide as well as President Preval in the past; and these presidents, loved by the people, had managed to offer maximum services to the people. And that is the reason that now we have so many people coming out, still supporting these Lavalas presidents. So I guess the enemy should take a lesson, instead of trying to destroy all those who want good for the grassroots, who want good for the people in general, who want good for everyone in general, rich or poor, who want possibilities for the poor, want - going after these good Haitians; and I think they should, instead, try to find ways to bring cooperation and help us better the life of the people. That's the way how I see it, but unfortunately we have a long way to go to make these people, to make the enemies of the Haitian people understand that. Its not the proper way to live, its not the proper way to operate, and they should come on the side of the people. So we hope with our prayers, with our discipline, we shall convince them, someday they will change. That's why hope, or otherwise I'll see why people who are educated, who are supposed to know better, will go in a way of -- inaudible -- that leads to the assassination of so many Haitian brothers and sisters. And President Aristide, he is loved by the Haitian people, not because he is President, or because he has done something great, its because he has shown complete love for the people. Poor people can enter the palace and eat with the president, and party with the president, as well as rich people. So President Aristide has been opening his arms and heart to everyone. So at the moment that the people have tasted this type of service, this type of offer coming from the president -
Kevin Pina: Open government.
Fr. Jean-Juste: - from the government -- you can do whatever you want, they will give their life for the movement, because the movement is in their advantage, giving them more dignity, and more hope, and improve their living. So that's the best way to operate. The best way to operate is completely to come with some services that allow people to receive basic human needs. So this is the best way, and you're going to have the Haitian people with you forever. But the other ways, exploiting them, killing them, and telling them nonsense -- they won't accept any of that nonsense.
Kevin Pina: You know Father, there seems to be a revision of history going on as well. People seem to be wanting to sweep under the rug what life has been like in Haiti the past two years, which I can only describe as a human rights hell. But I wonder if you could just help our listeners to understand, if you could describe, define what the last two years have been like in Haiti before the elections, after the coup against Aristide, February 29, 2004. How would you describe that period of history, Father.
Fr. Jean-Juste: Well as you just were referring, it was hell in Haiti, cause, imagine that we had a democratic government functioning, and in effect, within the international community, they come together and, with some putchist leaders, coup leaders, and they get rid of this elected president. And that has been quite a blow to us Haitians. So many innocent people have been killed for nothing, and the people who have survived have received no services at all, and all the public places that were built, to serve the people, to welcome them -- the parks, the public institutions in education, meant to serve the people -- everything has been either destroyed or disappeared. And so the de facto government that has been imposed on us the last two years has received more assistance from that sector of the international community -- from the international community at large, I should say -- and has done nothing for the people in concrete. Look at Haiti now: they are still without electricity, no woods, and no food for the people, and -- inaudible -- it's very expensive. And on the human rights level forget it. The jails are overcrowded with innocent people, most of them Lavalas people. And so this is a situation where they have tried to force a government in the throat of the people, and the people have stood up and thwarted them. So I think we have a great lesson today, and Haiti should never, never live such a sad, hellish moment, like we've had the last two years, in its history. So we have to find ways now to make democracy a growing, and find ways to make sure that human rights of all in Haiti are respected, and find ways to correct whatever wrong has been done by the previous de facto government, and move ahead to see if we can bring as many Haitians -- to bring them together, as many as possible, and to rebuild this beautiful country God has given us. So that's the way how I see it, because it is true that I'm not able to speak more, but you know, in the condition I'm now, I'm in the middle of treatment and I'm taking a lot of medication right now.
Kevin Pina: I understand Father. This is Kevin Pina on Flashpoints on Pacifica, our guest today is Father Gerard Jean-Juste. Now Father they've set you free to undergo chemotherapy for lymphatic leukemia, which of course is very dangerous. They had held you to the point where it had become life-threatening, and of course your treatment had to commence immediately. But technically you're still a political prisoner, because technically after your treatment you're supposed to return to Haiti. Is that right?
Fr. Jean-Juste: Yes, I'm looking forward to returning to Haiti. As far as my case is concerned, in order to send me for treatment the government wanted to pardon me. I said, what have I done to deserve a pardon? So I am the one who went on appeal. I'm going on appeal, and I would like to win the case all the way, all the way, and I won't back off until I receive justice from the government of Haiti, probably now would be under government under Preval administration, yeah.
Kevin Pina: Well I can't thank you enough Father Gerard Jean-Juste. God bless you sir and thank you so much for your time. Please take care.
Fr. Jean-Juste: Thank you very much Kevin. My greeting to all the listeners, and I hope God bless every one of us. Thank you.
The "Freedom Fighters" behind the 2004 coup in Haiti
Sun, Mar 31 2013 03:42
|Teenagers killed in Belladères: Louis Ramil, 14 years old and Natalie Souverain, 17 years old - killed by 2 bullets in the vagina - were assassinated by former military. The armed groups of ex-soldiers and members of the paramilitary group FRAPH who served in the pay ofthe U.S. and France organized extremely murderous campaigns against the border population|
Haiti Information Project (HIP)
Human Rights Archives
"Nou pap janm bliye!/We will never forget!"
Remembering Gerard Latortue's "Freedom Fighters"
The Victims of the Haitian "Contras" Testify
Haiti Progres August 4-10 2004
Original story was published on the centerfold spread in French and appears for the first time on the web here. This version will have additional information that did not appear in the original printed version. All photos and story provided by Haiti Information Project to Haiti Progres.
Story in kreyol: Rapò sou sitiyasyon kite pase nan Beladè nan mwa jen pou rive nan desanm 2002
The series of deadly incursions by ex-soldiers and members of the terrorist organization, FRAPH and other mercenaries, especially on the Haitian-Dominican border, didn't just start a few days before the kidnapping and forced exile of President Aristide. Equipped and armed with expensive heavy weapons by agents of the Bush Administration, benefiting from the active complicity of the Dominican government and army, and working in coordination with the internal "opposition", these criminals have spread terror in the border region and led harassment operations which have claimed dozens of civilian victims during the last two years.
Here is a brief report on the attacks led by the former commissioner, Guy Phillipe and Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former death squad leader, who were presented as "freedom fighters" by the government of Gerard Latortue. This is the summary of a document published by the Haiti Action Committee entitled "Hidden from Headlines."
"In the morning of July 28, 2001, commandos in military uniforms attack five police stations in Haiti, including the Police Academy in Freres, a suburb of the capital. During this action the head of this police training center was killed along with four other police officers.
On December 17, 2001 a commando unit of 30 heavily armed men attack during the night and take control of the National Palace. They declare that Aristide is no longer president and try to force the Palace security guards to join forces with them to carry out a coup d'etat. The scoundrels are surrounded and finally dispersed by the police and thousands of civilians who take to the streets to defeat this attempt."
However, most of the assailants managed to run away and get to the Dominican Republic where they get political asylum to again take up their seditious and destabilizing activities which ultimately served as the pretext for the governments in Washington and Paris to move to the kidnapping of President Aristide on February 29, 2004.
At the end of 2002 and in 2003, army veterans organized attacks against the border towns from the Dominican Republic, killing police officers, civil servants and representatives of the Fanmi Lavalas party, and terrorizing the population.
On May 7 2003, some men who identified themselves as ex-soldiers attack the Peligre hydroelectric center, the most important source of electricity in the country. The commandos torture and execute two security guards and set the control room on fire, causing a worsening of the electrical crisis. The paramilitary group takes several employees hostage from the Partners in Health hospital and steals an ambulance. In response to this attack Dr. Paul Farmer, the director of the hospital, declares: "As you know, this isn't the first time that our medical team is a victim of these Contras. In December they used the same threats and same language, accusing Aristide (rightly) of having dissolved the Army and accusing our staff of being anti-military (again, rightly) It's worth remembering that the so-called human rights organizations in Port-au-Prince told the Miami Herald that these events didn't take place and that this is just "government propaganda."
After the overthrow of President Aristide by the United States and France, the file on a horrible massacre which was carried out by the "freedom fighters" in Belladeres in 2002 resurfaced. Cleodor Souverain, a Lavalas coordinator who has been underground since the February 29 coup, courageously gave this testimony to the Haiti Information Project (HIP), with supporting photos. It comes as a condemnation of the foreign policy of the United States, which aids and encourages the killers, a condemnation of the Dominican government and army who have allowed their territory to be used as a base, and finally a condemnation of the current de facto regime which has embraced these terrorists as "freedom fighters."
Eyewitness accounts of the toll of the former soldiers in Belladères:
The armed groups made up of ex-soldiers and members of the paramilitary group FRAPH, who served at the behest of the U.S. and France for the coup d'etat, organized extremely murderous incursions against the border population from their base in the Dominican Republic starting much earlier. These accounts that we have received give an idea of the toll exacted by these bandits starting in 2002 against members or reputed members of Lavalas in the Belladeres region. Several people have since had to again go underground, such as: Cleodor Souverain, Levelt Rival, Eliodor Denaud, Israel Jean, Felix Bruno, Rodolphe Remarais, Vilceme Rosalvard, etc.
Eyewitness Account of Cleodor Souverain, Belladères
"I am the coordinator of Fanmi Lavalas in the Central Department of Belladeres. In December 2002 I had to leave my house in Belladeres and take refuge in Port-au-Prince because a group of men, armed to the teeth, had arrived at my house to kill me and my family. Since I wasn't there, they assassinated the 5 people who were in my house:
- Rosita Souverain, my sister, 24 years old
- Nathalie Souverain, (17 years old, killed with two bullets in the vagina)
- Mimose Brizard, 38 years old, a friend of the family
- Dubuisson Brizard (35 years old, brother of Mimose)
- Louis Ramil (14 years old, servant)
- Clotaire Jean-Baptiste (ex-soldier)
- Remicinthe Ravix (ex-soldier)
- Voltaire Jean-Baptiste Alia Poitille (former chauffeur for Colonel Michel Francois who caused a reign of terror during the coup d'etat from 1991 to 1994)
- Bell Panel (armed civilian)
- Edouard Casimir (armed civilian)
A group of ex-soldiers arrived in Belladeres and came to my house on February 17, 2004 to rob and pillage. When they left, they left seven children orphans. I've thus become responsible for these kids, which is a huge problem for me. Here are the names of these little orphans:
- Micheline Brizard
- Robecca Brizard
- Chantale Brizard
- Miradelle Nestor
- Pharma Nestor
- Gilene Nestor
- Bussein Tito
On November 28, 2002 Judge Christophe Lauzama was going to hold a hearing in Kinpe. He was accompanied by Cleonor Souverain, Remarais Rodolphe and the magistrate, Jean-Robert Paldomaire. On the way they met some demonstrators from the Democratic Convergence. A former "Leopard" (an elite military unit for repression under the Duvalier dictatorship) by the name of Serge Etienne opened fire on them. Judge Lauzama died and his three companions barely managed to escape.
On December 10, 2002 in Penal, in the third section of Riyarib, armed civilians attacked the house of Eliodor Denaud, coordinator of the Casec of Fanmi Lavalas. The assailants destroyed everything he had. Since then Mr. Denaud, his wife and his nine children have been forced to return to clandestine hiding. On the same day, former soldiers and members of FRAPH killed: Erezman Joseph, Leonie Laverne, Caridor Dorinvil, Sincere Joseph, Jean Harry. On June 23, 2002 they had already killed Wilfrid Denaud, Marrus Pierre and Felix Bomo.
On December 13, 2002, still in the third section of Riyarib, after a confrontation between the police and the ex-soldiers, the soldiers came to Levelt Rival's house, coordinator of Fanmi Lavalas, at one o'clock in the morning. He had to take refuge with his wife and seven children in a banana field. They destroyed everything in his house as well as the small school he directed.
During the same night, at about 3:00, the bandits arrived at Isael Jean's house, a member of Casec. They destroyed everything. Even the goats in the courtyard were killed. Moise Celestin and someone named Golman pointed out Isael Jean's house to the commandos.
Following all these attacks, the supporters of Guy Philippe had decided to go to Las Cahobas. During their trip they ransacked and pillaged the house of Felix Brunel. They also killed Colean Pradel and Dadou Pierre.
On June 26, 2002, the former soldiers who were occupying Wasek Square had kidnapped and killed four members of my family, among which was my cousin whom they accused of being a militant with Lavalas.
Here is the situation in which I find myself. There's no need to tell you of the hardships endured at the hands of the FRAPH members and the ex-soldiers since the departure of President Aristide. Rodolphe Desmarais experienced the same situation."
Testimony of Isael Jean
"My name is Isael Jean, member of the Fanmi Lavalas Casec in the Central Plateau.
In the month of December 2002, ex-soldiers and their accomplices entered Pernal. They came to my house. A friend saved my life and sheltered me with my wife and children. After the kidnapping of President Aristide, my situation got worse. On March 17, 2004, the ex-soldiers came to our house saying they wanted to exterminate all the members of Lavalas. They destroyed everything in the house.
On February 17, 2004 after the assassination of the police chief Maxime Jonas, all the policemen had abandoned the Belladeres commissariat, and a group of soldiers and FRAPH members had taken control of it."
Photos and story provided by:
Haiti Information Project
all rights reserved
a 4 year old boy was hit by a bullet in his spine and survived
Rosita Souverain, 24 years old was the sister of Cleodor Souverain a Fanmi Lavalas official in the Central Plateau.
17 years old. Five people, who were at the home of Cleodor Souverain were brutally assassinated when the former soldiers discovered that he was not there.
Mimose Brizard, 38 years old, a friend of the family
35 years old, brother of Mimose
Louis Ramil - 14 years old - worked in Cleodor Souverain's home
Remembering the 2004 coup in Haiti
Fri, Mar 1 2013 08:51
Haiti 3 years after the earthquake, US Militarizes Relief
Fri, Jan 25 2013 09:38
Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits, Review by Jeb Sprague
Thu, Jan 24 2013 04:45
Placing himself and his camera between the gun barrels of masked death squads and UN accompanied Haitian police, Kevin Pina in his documentary “Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits” (2011) shows what happened in the slums of Haiti’s capitol in the years leading up to it’s decimation by the January 2010 earthquake. Following the 2004 coup that ousted Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, massive demonstrations pouring out from the impoverished slums of Cite Soleil, Bel Air, and other communities, challenged the interim authorities that had been put in place by the U.S, France, and Canada.
To halt the protests and barricade with barbed wire the poor into the slums, authorities carried out a campaign of political violence, targeting the popular Fanmi Lavalas movement and the neighborhoods where it was strongest. Whereas most often violence against the majority poor goes unreported by the media, Pina along with local Haitian photojournalist Jean Ristil risked their lives, being jailed, beaten and threatened in acquiring the footage for this documentary. Often with the only camera on the scene, Pina documents a U.S. and U.N. sanctioned campaign of political violence between 2004 and 2007- where Haitian police snipers shoot demonstrator after demonstrator, aiming for the head in state-sanctioned assassinations. The responses from UN and state bureaucrats ooze in condescension.
A documentary that should be viewed by all who are interested in Haiti and the Caribbean, where state-sanctioned violence has also recently exploded in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica, this documentary should be seen in tandem with Pina’s other films on Haiti: Harvest of Hope (1997) and Haiti: The UNtold Story (2005). Together these films are amongst the most important documentation of the mobilization of the Haitian people at the turn of the twenty first century, starved of resources and braving the bullets of neo-Duvalierist gunmen and their foreign allies, Pina’s documentary is a testament to the human spirit and its quest for justice.
Author of Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti
Remembering Haiti's Earthquake: Jan. 12, 2010
Sat, Jan 12 2013 01:12
Lafanmi Selavi and the case against Aristide in Haiti
Tue, Jan 8 2013 07:38
Background to the Haitian government's case against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and an interview with Caitlin Manning, the director of the documentary "Lafanmi Selavi." The hour long film focuses on the orphanage founded by the former president when he was a priest at St. Jean Bosco.
Aristide discusses history and mission of Lafanmi Selavi
Sun, Jan 6 2013 11:08
The Water of Life
by Jean-Bertrand Aristide
This material was originally prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
On weekends the kids from Lafanmi Selavi, our center for street children, come to our house to spend time, to share food, talk, play and swim in the swimming pool. It is a small pool, too small for 400 kids, but for them it is a piece of paradise. Sometimes we invite children from other parishes in Port-au-Prince. Sometimes a Lafanmi Selavi bus goes to Cité Soleil, to La Saline, to Carrefour to pick up children who want to swim.
This experience, which may appear at first as merely symbolic, has tremendous ramifications. In a country where only 20 percent of the population have access to clean drinking water, swimming pools are exclusively for the rich. There is not a single public swimming pool in Haiti. The pool itself is a symbol of the elite.
We know the kids need food, we know they need school, but we cannot give all of them these things in a day. So while we are working to change the society, we can give them a day in a swimming pool. We say no child is so poor she does not deserve to swim in a pool. And if you imagine this has no impact on the society, think again.
The kids swim with us, with their teachers, with a group of agronomists who work with them on Saturdays, and with American friends and volunteers working at Lafanmi Selavi. A mix of races and social classes in the same water. Sometimes these images have appeared on television. Shortly after we began this experience we started hearing reports from friends among the upper classes of rumors that I was preparing these vagabon, these street children, to invade their swimming pools. Were it not tragic it would be comic. Perhaps the real root of the fear is this: If a maid in a wealthy home sees children from Cité Soleil swimming in a swimming pool on television, she may begin to ask why her child cannot swim in the pool of her boss.
So it is a system of social apartheid that we are questioning. We saw the same phenomena during the civil rights movement in the United States where attempts to integrate beaches and swimming pools met with some of the worst violence of the period. The same was true in South Africa. What we are facing in Haiti is a form of apartheid. There are no laws on the books enforcing segregation, but the social and economic forces at play are so powerful they create a de facto apartheid.
The polarizations are many: literate/illiterate, rich/poor, black/white, male/female, those who have clean water to drink/those who don’t. In Haiti, where these polarities remain so strong, swimming in the same water has both psychological and social repercussions. You swim with people you are close to. If you are a family, if you are a community, swimming together may improve the quality of the relationship. Our experience has shown that the water can help to melt the barriers between us, and wash away the dirt of prejudice.
Officially, slavery no longer exists in Haiti. But through the lives of children in Haiti who live as restaveks we see the remnants of slavery. Restaveks are children, usually girls, sometimes as young as three and four years old, who live in the majority of Haitian families as unpaid domestic workers. They are the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed at night.
They carry water, clean house, do errands and receive no salary. Often they are from the countryside; their parents send them to the city in the hope that the family they live with will give them food and send them to school. The family that takes in the restavek is more often than not just one rung up on the economic ladder. Most families struggle to send their own children to school -- let alone the restavek. So most often restavek children are not in school; they eat what is left when the others are finished, and they are extremely vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
Officially, Haiti is a free country. But through the economic life of the country we see the remnants of colonialism. Ours is an economy of dependence, a restavek economy. Because of foreign food imports our agricultural production has fallen to historic lows. Because we export little our currency is weak. Haitian workers earn the lowest wages in the hemisphere. We are encouraged to exploit and maintain this so-called advantage to attract foreign companies to come. Because our economy is weak we depend on loans and aid from foreign countries to support our national budget. This makes us extremely vulnerable to pressure from international institutions that control the money.
Bertony was a restavek when we met him. He came to the house with a group of children from our neighborhood to spend the day. He was five years old. That day Bertony played, swam and ate all he wanted. When he went home he bragged to the children of the family with whom he lived about this rare day. When the parents heard, they were angry. They would not stand to have this little restavek teasing their own children who had not enjoyed such privilege. They threw Bertony out, saying that if he was such a big man he should go back to Aristide’s house. Bertony had broken the first rule of the restavek. The restavek has no right to speak. Fortunately, Bertony, being a very clever boy, found his way to Lafanmi Selavi, where he quickly became integrated into the life of the house, going to school and working at the kids’ radio station. Today seven-year-old Bertony is a journalist at Radyo Timoun. He not only speaks; the whole country hears him.
Another story came to us after the visit of the famous Haitian-American rap group the Fugees. They played a concert for the rich at Haiti’s Club Med. The lead singer was once himself a very poor child growing up in Port-au-Prince. And he continually reminded the crowd of this. One of the concert-goers was heard to say that the singer did not need to keep talking as this would just make the kids in the street plis sou moun. The closest translation is, "they will think they are somebody." Another person, talking about the kids swimming in the pool I will clean it. But if one of Aristide’s dogs falls in my pool they will be swimming in their own blood."
In 1991, on the first day of my presidency, I invited the poor to breakfast. The palace doors, forever closed to them, were opened. To this day many among the elite feel that the palace has been dirtied by the presence of the of the poor. At the time the response was the coup d’état which did indeed bathe the country in blood.
How do we wash away the dirt of prejudice? Little by little? With a cleansing flood?
When my daughter was born in 1996, we asked, Where should we baptize her? In this country of rigid social delineation, the place that we chose Lafanmi Selavi. There at the house, among the children of the streets, and in the presence of many friends of all social classes, Christine was baptized by her godfather, Bishop Willy Romélus. The water of life can baptize us all new. One people, God’s children, swimming together in the water of life.
In Haiti’s countryside the people are crying out or the water of life, too. The 70 percent of Haiti’s population that lives in the countryside needs water to grow the food that can feed the country. If Haiti is to be economically independent, we must be able to feed ourselves. To do that we must heal the land. We can trace the roots of our current ecological crisis to Haiti’s heavy debt to France in the 19th century, which encouraged the logging of Haiti’s tropical forests for export to Europe. Today only 3 percent of our forests remain. Without the trees to hold the soil, 1 percent of Haiti’s topsoil washes to sea each year, driving Haiti’s peasant farmers further into poverty as the land produces less and less each year.
Since our independence in 1804, every Haitian government has governed on the backs of the peasants, taxing their produce and giving nothing back in return. A deep chasm between people in the countryside and people in the capital has always existed. This chasm is inscribed in the language. Anyone who lives outside of Port-au-Prince is called moun andeyò -- literally, "outside people," outsiders. And the language was inscribed in the law. Historically, paysanne ("peasant," in French) was listed on the birth certificates of anyone born outside Port-au-Prince. When I became president in 1991, by presidential decree we changed the law, so that now all birth certificates are the same. Now we must keep working to change the language -- and the realities of life in the countryside.
On our continent, the banking industry has grown from 40 percent of the economy to 57 percent over the past ten years, while agriculture has shrunk from 30 percent to 15 percent over the same period. In Haiti, agriculture was 50 percent of our gross national product ten years ago -- now it is only 28 percent. The banks in Haiti extend only 2 percent of their lending to the agricultural sector. How can we ask the poor, who are mostly peasants, to put their money in these banks?
Article 247 of the Haitian constitution says, "Agriculture is the principal wealth of the nation and the guarantee of the well-being of the population." Yes, but where will we find water to irrigate the land? If only 2 percent of bank lending goes to agriculture, how will the peasants have money to irrigate, to buy water pumps, to buy seeds, to invest in the land?
In the world at large we see this same picture: 3.1 billion people make their living in agriculture. Their lives are on a collision course with globalization. They cannot compete with industrialized Western agriculture with its heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers. And yet the world economy is not creating new jobs for them. What will they do?
Peasants are forced off their land and move to overcrowded cities where they find neither jobs nor health care, nor schools for their children, nor even clean water to drink. The people follow the land. After the trees are cut from the mountains, the soil washes to the plains and the people follow. When the soil washes away from the plains, the people once again follow, moving to the slums of cities by the sea.
The economically powerful are not protecting the land, the trees, the soil or the people who have existed on this land for generations. Can we expect that aid programs will help our environment or our people who depend on the land? If 84 cents of every dollar is going back to the donor country, how much is left for water for the peasants? Or for trees to hold the water and the soil? The question is dramatic. What will we do to have water?
We are at the millennium and there is still no water for the people to drink -- let alone water for the land. Sometimes foreigners think we are lazy, asking for food, asking for handouts. But in fact we are asking for water. In our rich country, where the sun shines every day, I assure you that if we have water, we will grow the food we need to eat.
Some may ask how a strategy of national development based on agriculture can possibly succeed in this day and age, in the face of the macroeconomic realities we are facing. In fact, we cannot know for sure. But what we can be sure of is that as long as Haitian governments continue to receive instructions from international institutions we will move from the same to the same, the same program to the same program, from bad to worse.
On the other side, if we see organizations in Haiti among civil society looking for strategies that come from the people, this represents a candle in the night. Hope in a night of despair. We can offer an alternative -- an alternative that will not make us rich, but may at least save us from starvation and lead us to poverty with dignity. If what we propose is not perfect, what they proposed has already demonstrated how disastrous it is.
This is a strategy for subsistence, for survival. And that is just what the poor have always done in the face of macroeconomic realities that have never been favorable.
The neoliberal strategy is to weaken the state in order to have the private sector replace the state. Through cooperatives we can perhaps preserve some margin of public services. Without a national mobilization of human resources, we will never be able to create a balance between that economic power and that human power. The human power in my country is the huge majority of the poor. The economic power is that tiny 1 percent that controls 45 percent of the wealth.
The coup d’état of 1991 showed how terribly afraid the 1 percent is of the mobilization of the poor. They are afraid of those under the table -- afraid they will see what is on the table. Afraid of those in Cité Soleil, that they will become impatient with their own misery. Afraid of the peasants, that they will not be moun andeyò anymore. They are afraid that those who cannot read will learn how to read. They are afraid that those who speak Creole will learn French, and no longer feel inferior. They are afraid of the poor entering the palace, of the street children swimming in the pool. They are not afraid of me. They are afraid that what I say may help the poor to see.
But in the end, on this small planet, we are all swimming in the same water.
President Aristide summoned by Martelly's prosecutors in Haiti.
Thu, Jan 3 2013 08:08
UN cholera in Haiti and kidnappings run by the elite
Wed, Dec 12 2012 09:06
|Demonstrations against UN cholera epidemic in Haiti|
|ROMEO HALLOUN (second from left) former leader of the|
Flashpoints Senior Producer Kevin Pina gives an
in-depth update of the situation in Haiti on December 11, 2012.