Over sixty people rallied last Tuesday in Montreal in front of both the U.S and French consulates as well as the major federal government offices, marking the 18th anniversary of Haitiâ€™s post-Duvalier (Baby Doc and Papa Doc) constitution. Organisers chose these sites to highlight the role these three countries played in last yearâ€™s overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haitiâ€™s elected President. The anniversary of the constitution was seen as a fitting day to demand the return of constitutional order in Haiti, including the physical return of Aristide.
Montrealâ€™s information picket was in solidarity with a much larger mobilization in Port au Prince where, despite a terribly repressive political climate, tens of thousands gathered to march from the slum of Bel Air. Although the march was publicized well in advance, that morning U.N soldiers handed out leaflets urging people not to protest. U.N soldiers then proceeded to block the march from leaving Bel Air, preventing people from reaching their goal – the Constitutional Plaza. Later in the day the
47 year-old brother of a Montreal rally organizer was shot and killed for wearing a t-shirt with Aristideâ€™s picture.
Angered at the dismantling of their democracy, Haitians have taken to the streets en mass in protest upon protest recently. In Port Au Prince, on February 28th – the first anniversary of the coup â€“ thousands marched only to be fired upon by the Haitian National Police. At least two protestors were killed as U.N soldiers looked on. Three days later 10,000 marched in Port Au Prince. On March 18, yet again thousands marched from the Port Au Prince neighbourhood of Delma 2 demanding the return of Aristide. A few days after this, police opened fire on a March 24th protest in CitÃ© Soleil â€“ at least one protestor was killed. Late Wednesday night gang lord, Thomas Robenson who was paid by Andy Apaid, Haitiâ€™s leading sweatshop owner, to terrorise Lavalas (Aristide’s party) sympathizers in Cite Soleil was killed. Early morning Thursday, celebratory demonstrations erupted, forcing the police to flee the Cite Soleil precinct. In response the U.N sent a thousand soldiers to block protestors from leaving the massive seaside slum.
Outside of Port Au Prince on March 29th, in Hinche thousands marched for the return of the elected president and as many as 12,000 took to the streets in Haitiâ€™s second city, Cap Haitien. Similar numbers demonstrated in Cap on December 16th and again February 27th.
Considering how scant Canadian media attention has been of pro-democracy demonstrations in Haiti, it is difficult to believe that so many large marches have taken place. Yet they have, together with politically motivated imprisonments, rapes, and killings meant to put a stop to these mobilisations.
The dominant media rarely makes known the Canadian backed violence that is taking place in Haiti. A recently released Harvard Law School report condemning the UNâ€™s mission in Haiti was almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media. The dearth of coverage on the this report is especially striking since Canada is in control of the entire 1400 member U.N civilian police (CIVPOL), not to mention the fact that the most cited individual in the report is Canadian CIVPOL commander, David Beers. This sobering report claims, ‘MINUSTAH [U.N forces] has effectively provided cover for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au-Prince’s slums.’
With the exception of a good summary in La Presse and a short mention in Le Devoir, the rest of the media, as far as I can tell, ignored the Harvard human rights report. Much as (with the exception of an opinion piece in the Toronto Star and a few lefty columnists) they ignored the even more disturbing University of Miami human rights investigation released at the end of January.
Canadian media has barely reported on the ample evidence of state sponsored and U.N backed human rights violations taking place in Haiti. This lack of media attention allowed Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, to make his second trip to Haiti in four months without having to defend the violence of the installed government or Canadaâ€™s crucial support for this regime. (Canadaâ€™s financial support for the installed regime is significant, including paying the salary of the deputy justice minister and another official in Latortueâ€™s inner circle. Canada has already dished out $90 million to installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, only $10 million less than the U.S with an economy ten times the size.)
Pettigrew knows full well the kind of regime Canada is supporting. One month ago I gave him a copy of the University of Miami human rights investigation and three weeks ago Canadian special advisor to Haiti, Denis Coderre received a six-person delegation detailing the horrific human rights situation in Haiti. Yet during Pettigrewâ€™s trip to Haiti on March 17th, he told Latortue, â€œCanada holds you in high esteem, you have in us solid alliesâ€ (translated from French). This is a clear signal to Latortue that repression against the pro-democracy movement in poor neighbourhoods will not lose him any brownie points with the Canadian government. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Canada, France and the U.S understand that without the repressive climate, demonstrations of a few thousand would likely be ten thousand, ten thousand fifty thousand and so on. It is unlikely Latortue would last much more than a week without political violence and foreign support. This reality gives Canadians some power in reducing the repressive political climate.
A good way to start reducing the repressive political climate is by pressuring media outlets and political parties to give voice to the horrific realities in Haiti today. Three weeks ago NDP foreign affairs critic, Alexa McDonough finally sent out a press release concerning human rights violations in Haiti. Last week NDP MP, Libby Davies, sent a letter to Pettigrew regarding the human rights situation in Haiti. Much more, however, is needed from the NDP. Specifically people need to press McDonough to join U.S congresswoman, Maxine Watersâ€™, upcoming delegation to Haiti.
Heck, NDP leader, Jack Layton, should take a trip down and meet with jailed constitutional Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune. Neptuneâ€™s arbitrary incarceration is supported by $100,000 the Canadian International Development Agency gave to the highly partisan â€œhuman rightsâ€ organization, National Coalition for Haitian Rights. The money was for the specific purpose of juridical, medical, psychological, and logistical assistance for the victims of an alleged massacre in la Scierie. Almost all serious analysts agree, however, that the la Scierie “massacre“ never took place, for which Neptune is supposed to be the intellectual author. In fact, during a recent trip to Montreal Ronald Saint-Jean, coordinator of the Committee for the Defense of the Haitian People’s Rights and author of a book detailing the fabrication of the ‘massacre’, argued convincingly that if Neptune dies in jail, his blood is on Canadaâ€™s hands. The killing of a countryâ€™s constitutional Prime Minister as a result of Liberal party policy.
That sounds like a scandal the NDP might want to expose.
Saint-Jeanâ€™s visit from Haiti is a good example of how Montreal and Ottawaâ€™s Haitian communities are getting organized to oppose Canadaâ€™s role in Haiti.
Slowly solidarity activists are also recognizing how destructive Canadaâ€™s role in Haiti has been. The Haitian community and solidarity activists are starting to turn the tide of public opinion. Last monthâ€™s 500-strong demonstration in Montreal garnered a reasonable amount of media attention and it is fair to say that in the past two months, media coverage of Haiti has gone from really, really bad to, well, really bad.
A significant Haiti solidarity mobilization in Montreal is planned for May 15th, the weekend before Haitiâ€™s May 18th Flag Day. The march will take place under the banner â€œLand, Decolonisation and Self determinationâ€ and is focused on support for indigenous self-determination and against Canadian colonialism in Haiti. A book detailing Canadaâ€™s role in dismantling Haitian democracy is to be released in May.
To further ratchet up the pressure on the Liberal government in late May, a book tour/Haiti solidarity caravan, including a slideshow and video footage will be making its way to communities across the country under the theme, â€œEnd Canadian Support for Haitiâ€™s violent Regimeâ€.
For those interested in organizing a book tour/Haiti solidarity caravan in your community, please contact yves: [email protected]
For those interested in joining the Canada Haiti Action Network listserve, please contact Kevin [email protected]