Flashpoints Radioâ€™s Nora Barrows-Friedman interviews Dave Welsh, Haiti Action Committee
Flashpoints: The paltry coverage of the situation in Haiti these days mainly consists of speculation and U.S. response to the upcoming elections, which many people ion Haiti believe will be a total and complete sham. Meanwhile, vicious attacks on Haitians continue unabated by the United Nations forces and the death squads. Two days ago the Cite Soleil neighborhood in Port au Prince was attacked by the UN forces. Joining us to talk about this is Dave Welsh. Welsh, an activist with the Haiti Action Committee, just returned from a fact-finding delegation [to] Haiti. Dave Welsh, welcome back to Flashpoints.
Welsh: Itâ€™s good to be here.
Flashpoints: First of all, tell us what happened in Cite Soleil two days ago, talk about these attacks by the UN so-called â€œpeacekeepingâ€ forces.
Welsh: I was on the phone with a Haitian human rights worker yesterday (Wednesday, November 10th) and Tuesday, and he told us that there were three attacks that took place on Tuesday (November 9th). One was at midnight at two in the morning, the second was at seven in the morning, and the third was at four in the afternoon. And these attacks were with tanks, with cannons mounted on them, and when I say they are tanks, they are armored personnel carriers, except they donâ€™t have treads, so they are just like tanks otherwise. And they had helicopters also firing. The toll, according to this human rights worker was fifteen wounded and two dead. There was a young woman of twenty-three, who was killed, and a man in his early forties was killed, and fifteen were wounded.
Then at nine oâ€™clock, three people were arrested; this is in the Cite Soleil neighborhood, which is actually a city within a city; it has about 300,000 people who live there; there are thirty-four different neighborhoods in Cite Soleil, and the tanks were active in a number of them. There were two different tanks from Peru shooting in the direction of Bellecourl that is the Peruvian contingent that is a part of the so-called â€œpeacekeepingâ€ force in Port au Prince. There was another tank in the Boston neighborhood and another tank firing in the direction of Pele. The cannons from these tanks were issuing projectiles which, when they hit the ground, would explode and anybody who was around there might very well get hit by shrapnel or explosive. The Red Cross came in after these attacks in a pickup carrying a Red Cross flag on it and a siren, and picked up the wounded and took them to St. Catherines hospital, where the Doctors Without Borders have set up shop. And there was one man who had bullets in the head, at the time he wasnâ€™t yet dead, and they took him there; I donâ€™t know if he was the one that was killed or not. So, itâ€™s a continuing assault on the poor neighborhoods. They come in there, people are being hit in their house, because a lot of these houses they are very flimsy, they are like shanties, they are made of cardboard and tin and sometimes cement blocks. Some are hit in their house, some are hit on their way to work; some are coming home from work. So it is an assault on the civilian population; it is basically almost a genocidal assault.
Flashpoints: Dave, of course this is all being whitewashed in the media, and you can hardly find a news report on this attack and ones similar to it. They are so focused right now on these sham elections. What is your assessment of how this bait and switch is playing out in Haiti?
Welsh: Well, I donâ€™t have an on the ground information about the election; I just know that when we were there recently with the International Tribunal on Haiti; there was a Commission of Inquiry which was established by the Tribunal, and it was headed by Ramsey Clark and I and some other people were on it; we went down there together and witnessed testimony about the massacre on July 6th â€“ the big massacre in Cite Soleil as well as other massacres in Bel Air and other popular neighborhoods. And while we were there we were told â€˜how can you have an elections,â€™ this what the grassroots activists told us, â€˜how can you have an election when they are going to the neighborhoods where the people live, shooting them up, and killing people, when the Lavalas Party leadership is in jail, when the head of the Lavalas Party is in exile in South Africa, President Aristide, how can you have elections.â€™
President Aristide just issued a statement saying that at the time in the eighties when the anti-Apartheid movement was coming on strong but it was still very far from where it was in 1994, at that time Nelson Mandela, [along with] a lot of the other leadership was in jail, and their position was â€˜how could we participate in elections?â€™ Aristideâ€™s idea was how, in a situation like that, could the African Congress participate in elections when their leaders were being killed, when their people were being killed, when popular neighborhoods were being destroyed by the South African authorities at the time? So he basically drew an analogy. Today, he said, under these conditions, how can we have free and fair elections?
Flashpoints: As you mentioned, you were in Haiti to investigate new evidence of that July 6th massacre. Remind us of the background of this day. What happened? Who carried it out? And the new evidence you uncovered.
Welsh: Well, it was the United Nations troops; there are about 7,800 UN troops in Haiti, and itâ€™s under the command of a Brazilian general. They did relieve the General who was responsible for the July 6th massacre with another Brazilian general who, if anything, has a worse record. At that time, in the middle of the night, most of these attacks have taken place in the middle of the night although increasingly they are brazenly doing it in daytime too. These tanks and helicopters went in there shootingâ€¦Let me just give you a couple of examples of witnesses that we interviewed. There was a woman in her fifties said that at three A.M. everybody in the neighborhood woke up becauseâ€¦the UN troops were shooting; helicopters and tanks were shootingâ€¦She and her family ran from the bullets, and her pregnant daughter â€“ because the bullets were entering their house, so they ran to try to escape â€“ and the pregnant daughter got a bullet in the forehead and her two grown sons were shot in the back.
A lot of these people testified to us that the male bodies were being pulled into the tanks, but they were letting the female bodies and the childrenâ€™s bodies stay there, and there was a lot of speculation that they were trying to do a line up of dead people, of dead men, to make sure that they got Dread Wilme, who was the community leader who they assassinated on that night. In fact, the houses where these people live were along the road and itâ€™s a densely populated urban slum, so itâ€™s not as if you have roads that vehicles can go on. Itâ€™s almost like a bidonville, is what itâ€™s called in France, it is a shantytown, very similar to the bidonvilles that were established in the Parisian suburbs that are exploding right now that were established during and after the Algerian war for Independence. And some of the tactics that they were using then in the bidonvilles of Paris they are using today in Haiti. The home of Dread Wilme was in the middle of this area which is not accessible by road and they broke down the houses, like this womanâ€™s house was broken down by a tank, and they broke through these houses and then they went through in the direction of Dread Wilmeâ€™s house. They wanted to get the body and establish that he was in fact dead. They also dropped explosives on his house, so I guess they were trying to get him one way or the other.
Now, the people of the neighborhood describe Dread Wilme as a protector, as someone, if you needed a little money, so you could pay to get your childrenâ€™s uniforms or books so they could go to school; you could go to Wilme and he would try to help you outâ€¦So he was acting as an unofficial, peopleâ€™s government official in there, in this neighborhood, but for the United Nations and the coup regime which is running things in Haiti, and the National Police, they describe him as a â€œbandit.â€ In fact they put wanted posters all over with his name on it and names of other popular leaders, as well as actual criminals, and put them up, basically encouraging people to turn them in. So the difference between the way they describe Dread Wilme as a bandit, thatâ€™s what the United Nations general who was in charge of - this (Brazilian general), who was in charge of this operation - said â€˜We got him, we got the bandit, weâ€™re very pleased with the operation.â€™ And about fifty people were killed in that operation. There was a mass grave; the bodies were rotting, the people took the bodies and dragged them to a makeshift mass grave, because there was too much disease and smell.
What weâ€™re going to do is â€“ thereâ€™s already been one session of the Tribunal, which was held in Washington, D.C., and they took testimony, thereâ€™s going to be more testimony taken in Boston and weâ€™re going to present what we learned from these different witnesses, and this is going to become part of the record. Already three commanders, people with command authority over these massacres, have been convicted, and a number of other people have been indicted, and one of the people convicted is the Brazilian General (Heleno Ribero) that was in charge on July 6th, and the intention is to take these to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and a do a human rights prosecution. Thereâ€™s going to be two more sessions of the Tribunal in Miami and New York, and then when itâ€™s completed, then the case is going to be made to the International Criminal Court. This is happening live; this is happening practically every day, thereâ€™s some incident with the police or the UN shooting up this neighborhood so what we were investigating happening earlier in the year, is still going on, still going on with the encouragement and support of the United States government, the French government, the Canadian government, and Kofi Annan of the United Nations.
Flashpoints: For more information you can visit http://www.haitiaction.net.