California-born, Haiti-based filmmaker Kevin Pina recently finished a tour of Canadian cities. He was showing his film, Haiti: Harvest of Hope, which covers the elections that brought Jean Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Party to power. Crowds of hundreds in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria also saw parts of Pina’s forthcoming documentary, Haiti: Betrayal of Democracy, which covers the events surrounding the events (one year ago as of this writing) which led to the removal of an entire elected government and its replacement with a military occupation and an “interim government” led by US citizen, Florida resident and former talk show host Gerard Latortue.
Pina is also a member of the Haiti Information Project, a collection of independent Haitian journalists, and an associate editor with Black Commentator.
The day after the Montreal screening, I attend a press conference set up by the Montreal organizers. My first question to Pina is “why did no other journalists show up?”.
Pina is not surprised. “We have the same problem everywhere. If they were interested in that side of the story, they’d be reporting about it. They’re not.”
Pina explains that even journalists from Canada who live in Haiti are “only interested in the perspective of their government,” attending embassy press conferences but not Lavalas rallies. As an example, he cites the days leading up to the coup of last February 29th, when the international press provided comprehensive reporting of an anti-Aristide rally. While the largest estimate of attendance at the rally was 2,000, the same press ignored hundreds of thousands of Aristide supporters. Pina wrote at the time, “not one photo of the much larger pro-Lavalas demonstration was ever published in the corporate media.”
Today, Pina says the Canadian press is neglecting key information about Canada’s role in suppressing Lavalas, which he says remains “Haiti’s majority political party”, though most of its leaders and key activists are in jail, dead, or in hiding.
Peacekeepers complicit with campaign of suppression
Contrary to its reputation as a peacekeeping force, Pina says that “the United Nations military forces–the Jordanian, Chinese, Brazilian and Chilean military forces– have been part and parcel of this machine that is physically exterminating the majority political party.”
Pina explains that while the UN does not, to his knowledge, directly commit human rights abuses, it plays a supportive role to the Haitian National Police (HNP), who do, according to Pina and his sources.
“The Jordanian forces just recently arrested a man named Jimmy Charles, and turned him over to the HNP. The next day, his body was found in a morgue. The UN forces are making arbitrary arrests without warrants, without cause; they’re providing cover for the sweeps of the poor neighbourhoods.”
Pina says that Canada–particularly the RCMP–is playing a key role in whitewashing crimes carried out by the HNP. Members of the HNP, which is integrating members of Haiti’s feared military forces that were disbanded by Aristide, are currently being trained by the RCMP. The RCMP is also responsible for vetting former members of the military before they join the RCMP.
“[The RCMP are] boasting about training the HNP as an institution, and yet they’re not accepting any responsibility, particularly when the HNP goes into poor neighbourhoods and performs massacres against Aristide supporters.”
Pina says that Canada has not disclosed the components of their police training program. “They claim that there’s a Human Rights component, but other than that, they’re very circuitous.”
“They’re talking about incorporation of the former military into the police force at this point–the RCMP is deeply involved in that, but they’re not talking about what process is in place to ensure that people who committed massive human right violations are not now being incorporated into the Haitian police–especially in light of the fact that these massacres are taking place in these poor neighbourhoods.”
Asked whether there is any tension between the UN forces and the abuses of the HNP that have been documented by numerous human rights organizations, Pina says that any criticism is tantamount to “lip service”. “At the end of the day, they will always side with the Haitian police, no matter what atrocities they commit.”
Role of the UN
Pina says that “the UN lost it’s independence from US foreign policy a while back.” “In the case of Haiti, the UN is a purveyor, an enforcer of US foreign policy in the Carribean.”
“If you look at who is leading the coalition in Haiti today, it’s primarily… Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Each of these nations recieve US largess, in the form of financial aid and military aid in particular.” Pina points to Brazil’s desire to gain a permanent seat on the UN security council. “Many people inside his [Brazilian President Lula’s] party believe that he is taking this position in order to curry favour with Washington,” so that Bush won’t oppose Brazil’s security council appointment.
“The international atomic energy has dropped its investigation into the possibility that Brazil is producing materials to make nuclear bombs – a lot of people are wondering why, given the US’ obsession with nuclear capabilities in countries like Iran and North Korea.”
The coming elections
Canada, says Pina, is “deeply involved” in planning for elections in Haiti, and is implementing what he calls “draconian rules” to make it mandatory to vote, denying non-voters access to social security or government services. “It’s similar to what happened in 1982 in El Salvador–people were so afraid–if they didn’t have the electoral stamp on their ID card, they could be pulled aside by the police and killed, which did happen in El Salvador.”
“Paul Martin, George Bush, Condoleeza Rice–they believe that they can maintain this illusion that there is a process of normalization going on in Haiti, but Haiti is not Iraq. They may come up with this proposal to allow Haitians abroad to vote in the next elections, so that they can have pictures of them with the ink on their thumbs and say jeez, what success this election was.”
“What are they going to do when more than 50,000 Haitians hit the streets to protest against the elections and the RCMP-trained police force has to open fire on them.”
Everwhere he goes, says Pina, people “do not want to legitimize this process… they don’t want to legitimate that their president was taken out.”
“They were tutored by the international community about ‘one person, one vote’. They feel like they played by the rules of the game, only to have it stolen from them again.”
Pina says that it is impossible to have legitimate elections while the majority political party is being forced to hide in the woods, in fear for their lives. “Lavalas has made it clear that the conditions do not exist for them to participate, and I can’t blame them.”
“I’ve often felt that maybe the page should be turned, there’s tremendous pressure to turn the page on Aristide, in order for Haiti to move forward. But the truth is, how can you say that there are conditions for elections when you have political prisoners.”
“How can I fault Lavalas for not wanting to participate when there are massacres being committed against their followers in the poor neighbourhoods. How can I fault them when I have personally seen the climate of terror that exists in Haiti today?”
“Rightly or wrongly,” the majority of Haitians are calling for the return of their elected president, says Pina.
“The role of Canada and the other countries in Haiti is to try to silence those voices, to prepare for the next election so that they can present to the world the facade that the page has been turned.”
Pina asserts that the coming elections will provide the illusion of choice, but will ultimately create disunity. “There are going to be 140 parties in the next election–140 parties!–more than 100 candidates for president… To me, that’s plurality run amok.”
“On the surface, seems like Haitians have more choices, but in reality they have fewer choices. Who do you vote for for president when there are 100 candidates for president and each of them is from a tiny party, each of which wants to hold power in order to serve its own personal financial and political interests. That’s not democracy, it’s just a facade to cover the coup d’etat of February 29.”
Pina, however, is not optimistic that the Canadian government will change course. “It gets to a level where they can no longer deny it, so they have to spin it. All that’s left is to break off a couple of [Lavalas] opportunists who will take part in the elections.”
Pina is also pessimistic about the prospects for more accurate media coverage of Haiti. On the subject of Canadian media coverage, the veteran filmmaker becomes visibly irate, describing Globe and Mail correspondent Marina Jimenez’s coverage of Haiti as an overt attempt to confuse the public about documented facts. In a recent article, Jimenez defined the creole word marronage to mean “obscuring reality”, going on to note that she didn’t know if claims about political prisoners were credible. In the interview and public apprearances, Pina rebuffed Jimenez, explaining that marronage refers to escaped slaves “hiding from French masters, creating their own communities,” a phrase that he says has a lot of resonance with Haitian activists in hiding from paramilitary groups and police. He becomes enraged, however, at Jimenez’s use of the term to “confuse people about the facts,” which he says are at this point are well established.
(For analysis of Jimenez’s coverage, see Yves Engler’s “Haiti and the Globe,” in the February 2005 issue of the Dominion.)
For Pina, the only way to get accurate information is for citizens to take responsibility to keep themselves informed. “We who have an interest in ensuring that our government represent the values of our communities–we have to create our own media. We have to be willing to do our own research in order to find out the truth.”
The proceeds of Pina’s Canadian screenings went to support the Haiti Information Project, a collection of journalists providing independent coverage of Haitian affairs to independent media outlets around the world. The Montreal screening raised around $800.