Growing numbers of people in Canada and around the world are raising their voices against the February 29, 2004 coup against the constitutional government of Haiti and the bloody repression that has reigned on that island ever since. Events in some thirty cities around the world will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the coup and condemn the widespread violations of democracy and human rights in that country.
Two events in Canada have helped galvanize people into action–the publication in late 2004 of a new report on the human rights situation in Haiti; and the recent speaking tour to four Canadian cities of journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina.
New human rights report
The Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami published a shocking report in late 2004 on the current situation in Haiti. The 61-page document is based on a visit to Haiti from November 11 to 21, 2004, by a human rights team led by U.S. attorney Thomas Griffin.
The report’s introduction states, “After ten months under an interim government backed by the United States, Canada, and France and buttressed by a United Nations force, Haiti’s people churn inside a hurricane of violence. Gunfire crackles, once-bustling streets are abandoned to cadavers, and whole neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world. Nightmarish fear now accompanies Haiti’s poorest in their struggle to survive in destitution. Gangs, police, irregular soldiers, and even UN peacekeepers bring fear. There has been no investment in dialogue to end the violence.
“Haiti’s security and justice institutions fuel the cycle of violence.. As voices for non-violent change are silenced by arrest, assassination or fear, violent defense becomes a credible option.” (The full report is available at the website of the Haiti Action Committee: www.haitiaction.net/index.html )
The report contains photos of Haiti’s police and rightist gangs in action and their dead victims lying in the streets of the poor neighborhoods, often for days on end. Several thousand people have been killed in the past year at the hands of the rightists and their coup regime. Many of the poor neighborhoods of the capital Port-au-Prince cannot easily access food, water or health services because those who venture in or out become targets of the police. Hundreds of Haitians languish in prison in gruesome conditions with no charges or due process of law.
Griffin interviewed members of the United Nations-sponsored military force in Haiti, currently headed by the government and armed forces of Brazil. He reports on widespread evidence of the UN collaboration with the Haitian National Police (HNP) in repressing and killings opponenets of the coup. The HNP, most of whose members were installed after the coup, receives training and arms from police forces of the occupying countries, including the RCMP and many municipal police forces from Canada.
A commander of the UN Civilian Police Unit, from Quebec City, Canada, told the Griffin team that he is “in shock” over the conditions in Port-au-Prince. He said that his UN mandate is to “coach, train and provide information” to the HNP, but all he has done in Haiti is “engage in daily guerilla warfare.”
“Where are the newspaper reporters?” he asked Griffin’s team.
Human rights reports from earlier in 2004 reported the same pattern of killings and repression of supporters of President Aristide and his Lavalas party.
In a rare glimpse from the Canadian corporate media into conditions in Haiti, an article in the February 7, 2005 Globe and Mail detailed horrific conditions prevailing inside the prisons there. But the article made only the briefest mention of the Griffin report. The mainstream press in Miami, where a large Haitian exile population lives, was silent on the report until February 22. An article by Jim Defede appeared in the Miami Herald that day.
Journalist Kevin Pina speaks in Canada
“There is a systematic campaign taking place in Haiti today to physically eliminate the Lavalas movement of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” charged journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina in Vancouver, BC on February 9.
“And there is a reason for that. President Artistide was elected in 2000 by an overwhelming majority of the Haitian people. The coup regime and the foreign occupation forces are talking about holding an election later this year to legitimize their rule. But this would be illegal and unconstitutional.
“The Lavalas movement says it will boycott an election, and this would prove a major embarrassment to the U.S. and Canada. If they don’t have long lineups on election day to show to the international press, their game will be up. So the repression aims to silence opposition to a sham election.”
Earlier, Pina told a press conference in Montreal, “The United Nations military forces have been part and parcel of this machine that is physically exterminating the majority political party, the Lavalas movement of President Aristide.” He charged that Canada–particularly the RCMP–is playing a key role in whitewashing crimes carried out by the Haitian National Police.
Pina toured Canada from February 5 to 12. He spoke to several thousand people at public meetings and seminars in four cities-Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria. He also gave many interviews to local and alternative media outlets. He has lived in Haiti for the past five years and has reported from there for the last fifteen. The tour featured his 1994 film on Haiti, Harvest of Hope, and his forthcoming film, Haiti: Betrayal of Democracy.
Canada: key force in the occupation
The Canadian government was centrally involved in the planning and execution of the coup in Haiti. Five hundred Canadian soldiers occupied Haiti from the time of the coup until July. They have been replaced by police drawn from the RCMP and other provincial and municipal police forces. Military and political officials from Canada and other countries of the UN occupation force play a decisive role in all government decision making in Haiti. They are members of the governing committees of the illegal, coup regime.
A key element of Canadian and UN plans for a future Haiti is the holding of a national “election” later this year. Denis Coderre, special adviser on Haiti to Prime Minister Paul Martin, told a political conference on the future of Haiti, held in Montreal on December 10 and 11, 2004, “What we are looking for is to have a secure environment for elections at the end of 2005.”
Martin visited Haiti on November 15. “We must be here for the long term,” he told reporters. When questioned about the “justice” system in Haiti, he acknowledged that acts “slowly,” but he also stated, “There are no political prisoners in Haiti.”
Two months later, on January 28, 2005, Coderre met with Haiti’s most prominent political prisoner, the lawful prime minister, Yvon Neptune. Coderre spent one hour with Neptune . in the latter’s jail cell. (Neptune’s supporters succeeded in removing him from prison on February 20, out of concern for his life. They delivered him to UN forces, who promptly handed him back over to the Haitian police.)
Canada embarks on aggressive course
The invasion of Haiti is a centerpiece of the Canadian government’s declared aim to make Canada a more aggressive and influential imperial power in the world. Other features of that policy include:
a.. A commitment to participation in a long-term occupation of Afghanistan and pursuit of the internal war there.
b.. Deepening Canada’s participation in the occupation of Iraq by agreeing to join in training the new, repressive Iraqi army.
c.. Closer alignment at the United Nations with the colonial settler state of Israel in the latter’s suppression of the national rights of the Palestinian people.
d.. Significant boosts in military recruitment and spending.
e.. A plan to create a more powerful military strike force.
The head of Canada’s armed forces, General Richard Hillier, outlined plans for a beefed-up strike force in a series of press interviews in mid-February. “We’re talking about taking army task forces, navy task groups and air capability … and have it ready to deploy either in Canada or around the world as an entity that says ‘Canadian’ on it..”
“What we need is something that is going to allow us to project power across the shore … whether that’s in the north part of Canada, the coast of Canada, or around the world.” (Vancouver Sun, February 15, 2005). Hillier says the military wants an assault ship capable of carrying up to 1,500 troops, heavy equipment, and helicopters.
The claim that such a military force serves a “humanitarian” purpose was exposed as a fraud during the recent Asian tsunami disaster. The federal government did not deploy the military’s Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) until public pressure forced it to do so. By the time the force reached Sri Lanka, sixteen days after the disaster, local and international humanitarian agencies had already met the most pressing emergency needs.
Why have the world’s richest powers ganged up on one of the world’s poorest countries?
The government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide implemented modest social reforms for the poorest people of Haiti. It promised more. It enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of the Haitian people, and its existence embodied the deep aspirations of that people for more radical and far-reaching reforms. Quite simply, a people engaged in their country’s politics in this manner represent a potential threat to the banks, mining companies, and sweatshop manufacturers that are reaping big profits from the cheap resources and labor of the Caribbean and Latin America.
Demonstrations and rallies will condemn the first anniversary of the coup
Rallies are planned in Vancouver and Montreal on February 26 to condemn the coup in Haiti, demand the return of the constitutional government, and call for the end of political repression. Thomas Griffin will be in Ottawa on February 28, meeting with political, trade union, and human rights figures. He will speak at a public meeting that evening.
In Vancouver on that same day, activists will visit the offices of cabinet minister David Emerson, deliver the Griffin report, and demand an explanation for Canada’s support to the repressive regime in Haiti. Members of Parliament in the Vancouver area will receive letters asking the same question.
For details on events in these cities and others around the world to mark the first anniversary of the coup: http://www.quixote.org/hr/
Many solidarity activities will take place in the United States. A major conference took place in Washington, DC, on February 5 and 6 to discuss and coordinate this. Titled (from the Creole language) the “Kongre Bwa Kayima”, it was attended by more than one hundred people, including Haitian exiles, democratic forces from Haiti, and human rights organizations.
In Brazil in late January, thousands of delegates attending the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre approved a sweeping resolution in support of the Haitian people. For the full text: http://www.haitiaction.net/News/FL/1_30_5.html
There is an urgent need in Canada for student groups, trade unions, the New Democratic Party, and others concerned with human and social rights to join in condemning the coup and demanding an end to the criminal role of the Canadian government. Too much time has already been lost since February 29, 2004, a now-infamous date in Canadian history.
(For background to the coup, its aftermath, and Canada’s role, see Socialist Voice #11 and 27, www.socialistvoice.com/).
Socialist Voice is edited by Roger Annis and John Riddell Readers are encouraged to forward or distribute issues of Socialist Voice. Comments, criticisms and suggestions are always welcome: write to [email protected] All issues of Socialist Voice are available at www.socialistvoice.com