Canada, Haiti, and the Struggle for Justice


Patrick Elie is a former cabinet minister in the government of Haiti, a leading social justice activist in that country and a fierce opponent of the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a regime change which was supported by the United States, France, and Canada.

Elie is currently on a five-week speaking tour across Canada, visiting over twenty towns and cities. Derrick O’Keefe, co-editor of Seven Oaks, recently interviewed Elie by telephone.

Derrick O’Keefe: Patrick, your visit to Canada was delayed as a result of events in Haiti. And then when you did arrive here you were subjected to rough treatment. Could you explain what happened?

Patrick Elie: I was scheduled to come to Canada on February 14. But, what happened was, with the election and the attempted fraud that followed, the people of Haiti took to the streets and voted with their feet after having voted with their ballots. And, as a consequence, Air Canada cancelled its weekly flight to Port-au-Prince. So I had to start the tour one week late.

I left on February 21 and arrived in Montreal in time for an event at Concordia University. But when I got to Customs I was detained and searched. All my papers were examined – I’m talking about personal papers, and notes, agenda and everything. These were even taken away from me. I insisted on being present when they were going to examine these papers, but they refused. I had a TV camera and they insisted on viewing the film that was in it. They took my laptop. All kinds of stupidity. And of course they couldn’t have anything against me, so then the supervisor of Customs came and told me I was cleared but now CSIS wanted to talk to me.

O’Keefe: How long did CSIS take with you and what was their attitude towards you?

Elie: It was an attitude that was not aggressive, I would say. But they wanted to know a bunch of things that were none of their business. They wanted to know who invited me, who my contacts were in Montreal, etc. They also wanted to know where I was staying in Montreal and what was my phone number. I said it’s none of your business. They also, and this is even more interesting, asked me about the content of my private conversations with President Aristide since his exile. So after about a half an hour I told them, ‘I’m tired of this, I’m already late. So unless you’re going to arrest me I’m going.’ So I just picked up my luggage and I left.

But because of this I missed my event at Concordia, because I was only able to clear the airport at 10p.m. Fortunately, the next morning we had a press conference in Montreal that was quite well covered.

O’Keefe: The election of René Préval strikes me as yet another amazing victory by the Haitian people. Do you think that the United States, France and Canada, who helped engineer the regime change in the first place, could have foreseen this outcome? And how will these countries now try to maintain their control over Haiti?

Elie: I think they started to get a bit edgy, first when people started registering [for the election] in higher than predicted numbers, and then when that registration process accelerated after Préval had declared rather late in the process. I believe that, had he declared as early as the other candidates, they would have devised some kind of plan to actually deal with his candidacy.

And when you can’t derail or sabotage an election upstream, then what you do is go downstream. After Aristide was first elected in 1990, they went downstream and did the coup. I supposed a coup was not yet in the plans this time, so they went downstream and started tweaking the results. For me, there were two victories by the Haitian people. The first was that swift maneuver around the trap that was this election by coming out in droves to vote on February 7. But even more significant, and more beautiful in my view, was the coming out on February 13 to really state their decision that their vote was not going to be stolen. I think this was even a greater proof of the determination and political savvy of the Haitian people.

O’Keefe: What do you foresee in terms of the results of the National Assembly elections?

Elie: From the partial results of the first round, it looks like the party of Préval was leading everywhere they had presented candidates, and leading by a sizable margin. If the second round is not rigged, and if Préval is able to find some allies, he will have a majority parliamentary block. And that will mean that he will be able to find a Prime Minister who will be cooperative rather than adversarial. But of course this is if there is no further ‘hanky panky’ with the results.

The Haitian people traditionally give more importance to the presidential election, and tend to slack off when it’s time for the parliamentary election. So I hope that Préval’s party will really mobilize strongly so that the vote comes out for that second round, and ensure that all the candidates of the platform are in fact elected.

O’Keefe: You mentioned the issue of a new Prime Minister. What happens now to the Lavalas political prisoners, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. Is there any chance that he will be released in the near future given the election results?

Elie: I think that President-elect Préval said that this was among the priorities, and that this was an easy enough issue to resolve. I understand that Prime Minister Neptune, I haven’t read the letter myself, wrote to Préval saying that the release should happen before the president is inaugurated lest it be construed as a political decision of favoritism rather than a decision based on justice. So I think we should keep on pushing for the de facto regime, which actually jailed these political prisoners, to release them, rather than waiting for President Préval’s inauguration.

O’Keefe: Two of the questions on people’s minds now with respect to Haiti are: when or will the UN troops leave and when or will Aristide return to Haiti?

Elie: Both questions are to be answered by the elected officials of Haiti. When you are in charge of a country, when you are the President, and the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice of the entire country, you have to weigh whatever action you are going to take. You set the right course, but the rhythm of what you do has to be realistic. So, for example, when you take the UN, their presence has been so massive that to require them to leave in a swift fashion might introduce an element of destabilization. So, I think President Préval has indicated that the mission should change, and I suppose also that a timetable should be established for its fading out. My opinion is that one of the first things that should be done is to get rid of that Jordanian battalion which has been a plague really.

O’Keefe: You are doing an extensive tour of Canada. What is your main message to the people here, and do you see any opening for a real change in Canadian policy towards Haiti?

Elie: There is always a possibility when you have a change in government, but that will only remain a potential for change if the Canadian people don’t step in and say ‘we don’t want our tax money to be used against another people’. And for that to happen, Canadians have to be informed about the real situation, about the real Haiti and the real Haitian people, who have been so misrepresented by the mainstream press and also by the so-called experts on Haiti, who have been proven wrong over and over again by the Haitian people. Reality flies in their face, and yet on CBC and Radio Canada, they are always the ones being given the microphone, when they are completely incompetent and have been proven so by the last election. So, as they are the ones presenting Haiti to Canadians, it’s no wonder that either Canadians are indifferent to Haiti or even hostile to the Haitian people. And that allows for the kind of misguided policy that Canada has applied in Haiti over the past five years.

O’Keefe: As minister in Haiti democratic government in the 1990s, you played a historic role in dismantling the notoriously repressive Haitian army that was associated so many dictatorships.

Elie: It’s something I did out of necessity. I am a chemist by trade, I have a PhD in organic chemistry. But my country needed me. It needed me in the most difficult jobs, which were the fight against drug trafficking, and then after that in trying to dismantle the state security apparatus, the army, and set up a new police. It had to be done. I had no formal training, but that’s the way it is. When you have to learn on the job you learn on the job, and you do the best that you can, and that’s what I did.

O’Keefe: I don’t know what your relationship is with the president-elect, but do you see yourself ever again taking on government-level responsibilities in Haiti?

Elie: First of all, about my relationship with Mr. Préval, we have known each other for thirty years now, and we have been comrades in the political struggle. There’s no problem there. However, I think I’m more useful on the outside pushing in. Because if everybody gets into government, then who is out there to keep watch? I would, however, consider only one position, which is that of Ombudsman. Haiti’s judicial system is in such a shambles that I think I could be helpful while it is being redressed. Meanwhile, a lot of people, especially poor people, are being victimized by this system. And I think the Ombudsman’s role can be part of alleviating these problems.

*For more information on Patrick Elie’s cross-Canada tour, see www.canadahaitiaction.ca.

 

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