Against All Odds, Haitians Protest Illegal Regime, Foreign Occupation

In the teeth of murderous repression, the Haitian people are finding ways to assert their sovereignty and dignity and demand the return of their constitutional government, overthrown 10 months ago in a Canadian-backed coup.

The two latest expressions of their will occurred in Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, on December 16, and on December 31 in the Belair district of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. In Cap Haitien, 10,000 people staged a march calling for the return of the constitutional government and an end to the widespread repression. They chanted, “Aristide must return!” and “We will never accept the kidnapping of our president!” In Belair, a large protest made the same demands.

Rightist gangs and foreign invaders

On February 29, 2004, Canadian, French, and U.S. military units invaded Haiti and joined with rightist gangs to overthrow the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was forcibly removed from the country and now lives in exile in South Africa. The invasion force then stood by as the rightists unleashed murderous violence against supporters of the ousted government. Several thousands were killed in the months following the invasion, and thousands more have been jailed. (For background to the coup and its aftermath, see Socialist Voice #11)

Protests against the coup regime are not letting up. But they are frequently broken up by “police” and other vigilantes, often under the watchful eye of foreign occupation forces, and sometimes with their direct participation. The march in Cap Haitien was possible because the United Nations force there, composed of soldiers from Chile, guaranteed its security. However, one organizer of the march declared, “Although we see the UN and the police allowing us to demonstrate peacefully today for the return of our elected president, we have no illusion … their role could turn repressive once again…”

Early on the day of Aristide’s overthrow, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize a multinational occupation force in Haiti. Currently, it is headed by Brazil.

“We cannot forget that it was the same UN that stood by and allowed police to kill unarmed demonstrators in the capital on September 30. It is the same UN that has allowed the illegal government of Gerard Latortue to fill the prisons with Lavalas [Aristide supporters] and has allowed the former military to return and kill us.”

September 30 protest

Haitians are still reeling from a wave of jailings and killings following a massive pro-Aristide march of 10,000 people on September 30 in Port-au-Prince. Haitian police (that is, rightists in uniform) opened fire on the demonstration, killing several people. In the following days, the rightists set up checkpoints and cordoned off entire neighborhoods, and then detained or murdered opponents of the coup regime.

The UN occupation forces have taken part in killings. The latest UN attack occurred in the Cité de Soleil neighborhood in Port-au-Prince on December 14. Rightist gangs entered the neighborhood and opened fire on residents. Many were killed. When UN soldiers from Brazil and Jordan arrived, protests erupted against their presence. Soldiers fired into the air to disperse the crowds and then shot into the crowds, killing several.

One Cité de Soleil resident told journalists, “[Rightist gangs] began a heavy attack against us and many people were killed. The United Nations then used this as a pretext to invade our neighborhood and end our calls for Aristide’s return. It is clear they are working together to exterminate us.”

Some neighborhoods have organized self-defense to resist the assaults by rightist gangs and UN forces. Officials of the coup regime and the UN forces refer to anyone involved in self-defense as “bandits”; foreign news agencies use the phrase, “pro-Aristide gangs.”

Solidarity efforts abroad

Protests outside of Haiti against the coup regime and the repression are building. Father Jean-Juste, Haiti’s best-known Catholic priest, spoke to a public meeting in Miami on December 7 that was organized to call for the release of prisoners from Haiti’s jails. Another meeting took place in New York City on December 5. It was co-sponsored by the Lavalas and the Parti populaire national.

There was a small demonstration in Vancouver on November 12 on the occasion of a visit to the city by Prime Minister Martin. One protester confronted Martin about his planned visit to Haiti two days later. “Will you be meeting with Lavalas?” Martin was asked. He ignored the question.

Two protests of several hundred people occurred in Montreal on December 10 and 11 outside a conference convened by the Canadian government to discuss the future of Haiti. The conference was attended by several hundred hand-picked invitees, and featured the participation of Gerard Latortue, the “interim prime minister” of Haiti.

“I denounce bitterly what is going on here,” one observer at the conference, Cheryl Albert Gray, 40, told the Montreal Gazette. She is the secretary of the Regroupement des bénévoles Canado-Haitiens. “They’re trying to set up a protectorate in Haiti. If they want to help, that’s good. But we don’t want interference.”

“With what right does the Canadian government call a conference?” asked protester Pierre Antoine Joseph, 60. Another protester, Serge Denis, 57, said, “In Haiti, there are 95% poor and 5% rich. We are here to represent the 95% poor.”

Canadian government: a party to the coup and the killings

The Canadian government is trumpeting its role in the coup in Haiti. Its elite military unit played a key part in the overthrow of Aristide. Five hundred of its soldiers then joined the UN occupation force that “secured” Haiti in the weeks after. Today, 100 Royal Canadian Mounted Police and military officials remain with the occupation force.

“We were the ones who secured the airport in Haiti [on or about February 29]”, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin proudly told CBC Radio in a wide-ranging interview on foreign affairs on December 13. “Those were Canadian forces who did that. We’ve got to be able to play that kind of role.”

He explained that Canada will henceforth play a more aggressive role in propping up the declining world order led by its principal ally, the United States. He began the interview with this thought: “Foreign policy isn’t only something you study. Foreign policy is something you do.” Martin boasted that Canada has been part of every recent election in “failed states.” He said Canada will combine electoral showcases with “institution building” in the countries that it or its allies occupy. “My view is, you begin with military security, but you can’t leave it there. What you’ve got to do after that is to begin to put in place the institutions that will allow those democracies [sic] to grow.” Ottawa’s plans for “institution building” in Haiti were on display at the December conference in Montreal. Several hundred select people were invited to the conference, but the list did not include members of the Lavalas political movement of President Aristide.

At a joint press conference with Latortue on December 11, Martin explained that the Canadian government would focus its efforts in Haiti on creating a more effective police and judicial system, and in helping stage a national “election” in 2005. Meanwhile, his colleague had to fend off questions from reporters about killings and arbitrary arrests and detentions in Haiti. “Nobody in this government has ever been involved in any violations of human rights,” Latortue shouted in reply.

Yet according to Agence Haitienne de Presse, Latortue told journalists in the days following the September 30 demonstration in Port-au-Prince, “We shot them, some of them fell, others were injured, others ran away…”

Canada’s enthusiasm for phony elections is also at play in Iraq. There, it has initiated an international commission to lend credibility to plans of the U.S.-British occupation force to stage an “election” on January 30.

Prison conditions

Conditions in the prisons in Haiti are especially grisly, and increasingly coming under fire from human rights groups. On December 1, a massacre of prisoners took place at the Haitian National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. A rare eyewitness report appeared in the British newspaper the Guardian on December 19. “I saw everything,” a former inmate, Ted Nazaire, 24, told the Guardian correspondent. Nazaire was released two days after the massacre and is now in hiding. “It was a massacre. More than 60 were killed.”

The correspondent interviewed other former inmates, an ambulance driver, and human rights observers, who told similar versions of Nazaire’s story. Visits to the prison have been barred since December 1.

A report by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti confirms that scores of imprisoned people were killed on that day. The report describes those who are detained in this and other prisons in Haiti: “The vast majority were likely arrested illegally without a warrant and detained on vague charges with no evidence in their file and no change of judicial review of the detention.”

The Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church in Haiti estimates that 700 political prisoners are held in Haiti’s prisons. These include the former prime minister, Yvon Neptune, and other elected officials. Father Gerard Jean-Juste was arrested on October 13 and spent six weeks in prison.

Media cover-up helps Canada’s role

Ottawa’s criminal role in Haiti gets the kid-glove treatment from virtually all capitalist media sources in this country. There are few news reports about events there, including the frequent protests by Haitians calling for the return of the constitutional government.

For example, CBC Radio One ran a story on Haiti on its flagship newsmagazine program, “The Current,” on December 20. Program host Anna Maria Tremonti summed up the violent rightist offensive that preceded the February 29 coup by saying that Haiti’s capital city had, “collapsed into chaos as anti- and pro-Aristide supporters clashed in the streets of Port-au-Prince.” In late February, she continued, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide “finally left Haiti.”

She then introduced CBC Radio’s main correspondent in Haiti, Stephen Puddicombe, who was just back from another visit to the country. “What is causing this latest round of violence in Haiti?” Tremonti asked.

“Things were running pretty smoothly after Aristide left the country and finally ended up in South Africa,” replied Puddicombe, referring to the time when rightist murders swept the land. “United Nations troops were brought in. Canadian troops, to a large extent, started it off, and had a lot to do with things working out.” But he lamented that it’s all come apart since then.

Serious flooding in the western part of Haiti in May, astronomically high joblessness, the flood in September in the country’s third largest city, Gonaives, and the fierce repression have all contributed to a rise of protest and resistance.

International protests against the coup and occupation in Haiti are planned for February 28. Strong actions are needed in Canada on that day to protest the crimes of the Canadian government in Haiti.

A vital source of regular news from Haiti and the diaspora can be found at the website of the Haiti Action Committee

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