Vancouver Co-op Radio, May 16, 2005
Tsangarakis: As our listeners know, Haiti has been under military occupation and a de facto dictatorship led by the United States, Canada, and other so-called â€œfriends of Haiti,â€ since February 2004. Can you characterize, Jean, the present nature of the occupation?
Saint-Vil: Well, it is illegal, it is brutal..The complicity of the media that presents it as something other than what it really is makes it very difficult for the general public to know that, for instance, there are people being killed in Haiti, not only by the local police, but also by the UN forces that were deployed there, supposedly, to keep the peace, but really, to keep the people from expressing their anger at the fact that their democracy, in which they had invested so much in terms of money and energy, has been overthrown. So really the UN is playing a shameful role in Haiti, basically upholding U.S. policy, which is to implement puppet dictatorships that are going to be baptized â€œdemocraciesâ€ by the United states and therefore accepted by the rest of the world.
Tsangarakis: Last year on May 18th and numerous times since then, peaceful demonstrators have been fired upon or killed by Haitian security or police who are being trained [among others] by Canadians. What kind of demonstrations are planned [in Haiti] for this May 18th, Haitiâ€™s Flag Day?
Saint-Vil: There are going to be demonstrations inside of Haiti and throughout the world, actually, because thereâ€™s been an international solidarity day with Haiti that has been called by the University of Guyana students. Inside of Haiti, the nature of these demonstrations as we have seen since the time of the coup is that people from the marginalized areas of the society, who have nothing left to lose, organize themselves, take to the streets, to, first, call for an end to the repression that is taking place, where they really slaughtering people in the poor neighbourhoods with the help of the UN, as I had said earlier.
They also are going to be, specifically this year of course, calling for the release of the political prisoners; there are about seven hundred, actually more than that, political prisoners in jail right now, one of them, the most famous being the legal Prime Minister of Haiti, Yvon Neptune, who has been in jail for almost a year now, because he doesnâ€™t agree with the coup that took place. He characterized what they are calling the resignation of Aristide as something that is completely illegal and unconstitutional; so heâ€™s been in jail for about a year now, and people are going to be calling for his release, and thatâ€™s very important, because as you mentioned, the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] is training the Haitian police that have been killing people since the coup, trying to keep them down, and as journalist Kevin Pina has stated quite fairly, the RCMP wants to take credit for the Haitian police, but not for the people that the Haitian police have been slaughtering.
But on top of that you have our own Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin, who has gone to Haiti, the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister has gone officially to Haiti; they didnâ€™t go when we had a constitutional government, they went when we have that puppet government that they, with the Americans and the French, have installed. And one of the statements, the shameful statements that Prime Minister Paul Martin made in Haiti back in November 2004 was that â€œthere are no political prisoners.â€ He was saying that while the legal Prime Minister Yvon Neptune was in jail, his direct counterpart in Haiti. Also, people are going to be, of course, asking for the return of Jean bertrand Aristide, who is now in exile in South Africa. The importance of that is that people are saying that itâ€™s not just President Aristide that they are asking to be returned but actually constitutional order, because when the coup took place there about 7,000 people elected in the 2000 elections and with the coup what the U.S. has managed to do is basically fire all those elected officials and replace them with thugs and criminals in their stead.
Just one example, you have an assistant Mayor of Port au Prince named Jean Philippe Racine, who was quoted as saying that â€˜you know, itâ€™s going to have to be a massacre but we have to do it,â€™ basically killing people in the poor neighbourhoods in order to have peace. Thatâ€™s the kind of criminal you have, itâ€™s like you have the power to impose on the Canadian people, you know, some of the worst criminals in Canada and put them as Mayor of Ottawa or Prime Minister of Canada, of course this country would have been a mess. This is what the coup of 2004 has achieved in Haiti. And thatâ€™s why you have the ANC [African National Congress], the African Union, you have the CARICOM nations, all of these entities asking that the people who participated in creating this mess – in particular the governments of France, Canada, and the United States – clean up the mess and return to Haiti its right to self-governance, with a constitutional government.
Tsangarakis: Jean, what kind of impact do you think that firing into crowds has had on popular mobilizing? I envision a protest here in Canada; can you imagine if there was firing upon the crowds?
Saint-Vil: Well you know, itâ€™s a very difficult thing to be talking about, you know, as a Haitian-Canadian I feel a certain amount of guilt also, because Iâ€™m quite safe here in the demonstrations I go to, because there are certain things that Canadian society will not accept to know about and see, but inside of Haiti a lot of things are happening with the blessing of our government. Since the population of Canada doesnâ€™t see it, it goes unchecked. People get shot at point blank and its again and again and again; it has happened so many times that now you even have individuals within the UN system who are denouncing it and saying that this can no longer go on.
But the reaction of the people of Haiti is amazing. you have, the other day, April 20th, something amazing happen in Haiti, where the UN had encircled a poor neighbourhood named Cite Soleil, which is the most impoverished in all of Haiti, and people could not get out of Cite Soleil unless they get out by boat and most of them cannot afford it, and so basically you had a neighbourhood under siege, really, because they donâ€™t trust the UN because they have seen the UN walking in with the Haitian police, killing people. Just a few days earlier a number of people were killed in that regard. And so you had another neighbourhood that was also under attack, the neighbourhood of Bel Air, where thousands of people live, and they organized a demonstration on April 20th to go into Cite Soleil to show their solidarity. And what is amazing is that they didnâ€™t go there just to have a demonstration, they went there with food and water, thatâ€™s why some of us have termed this the â€˜Jesus model of solidarity.â€™ That is, â€˜when I was hungry you brought me food, when I was thirsty you brought me water.â€™ This was such a powerful lesson because these are the people who do not trust the UN that was there supposedly to protect the demonstrations, because oftentimes when they did organize these demonstrations, they would tell them at the last minute that their permit to demonstrate is not valid and that that would be used to justify the fact that the police would fire into the crowd and kill four, five or six people.
And you never hear about it now because thereâ€™s this feeling that there are some people in Haiti that are disposable, and these people die and itâ€™s no big news. But if one French person in Haiti gets killed, or an American gets killed, or a member of the UN gets killed, you hear a lot of talk about it, but, you know, a Haitian dies, well, itâ€™s nothing. Well, these people operating under these circumstances managed to organize this show of solidarity and Iâ€™m told that the residents of Cite Soleil returned in kind this amazing gesture of solidarity by going into Bel Air to show that they are not alone. So, yes, people are getting killed and some of them are month old babies that get caught in the crossfire, fifteen year old girls as we saw in the latest report, but these people refuse to give up because they have no choice.
Right now in Haiti what you have is people who can afford to stay in Haiti like the very rich, the ultra rich, the sweatshop owners, and those who canâ€™t afford to leave because they simply cannot even buy their pass into one of those rickety boats that you see getting on the Florida shores. So they cannot go anywhere, itâ€™s a trapped population, and the only thing they have to do is fight. And like Malcolm X said, â€˜the most dangerous person is one who has nothing left to lose,â€™ and these people are fighting with all theyâ€™ve got. And itâ€™s amazing that, to this moment, they are choosing as their primary way of fighting back, peaceful demonstrations, and these people deserve our admiration, they deserve our solidarity, and they deserve the courage of journalists who have gone to document what they are really living, and go past the spin and all the racist rhetoric that has been used to portray what is happening in Haiti as simply one other Black nation where they cannot get it together. Thatâ€™s not what is really happening there, what is happening is an international crime where itâ€™s people have invested in democracy with the little that they had in terms of resources, have had that democracy usurped from them from powerful nations with criminals inside of Haiti, in the Haitian political elite – people who are too lazy to go to the polls and trust their fate into the hands of people that they donâ€™t consider to be their equals, because they are impoverished.
Tsangarakis: Jean, tell us about the demonstrations that are planned in Ottawa and internationally this Wednesday, May 18th, in solidarity with the Haitian people.
Saint-Vil: Yes, itâ€™s very exciting because we have many cities inside of Canada; I know in Vancouver you guys are going to have a demonstration. We have demonstrations in PEI, in Halifax, in Toronto; in Montreal we had a demonstration yesterday that I heard went pretty well, and on Wednesday May 18th right here in Ottawa, we have the Ottawa-Haiti Solidarity Committee, which involves local Haitian community organizations as well as No War Paix, the anti-war group, both on the Ottawa side and on the Gatineau side…who are going to show their solidarity with the people of Haiti, basically saying â€˜Haitians, you are not alone.â€™ This demonstration will involve two actions: one of them is a demonstration in front of the offices of CIDA in Gatineau where we are going to be providing leaflets informing Canadians including the employees of CIDA, of the handiwork that our tax money is doing in Haiti, where CIDA is actually funding people working in the Haitian Ministry of Justice, which is holding all of those political prisoners that I told you about.
And also [CIDA is] financing fake NGOs that are supposedly working on human rights but really are working as police informants and also, for instance, cooking up fake information about Yvon Neptune, who is the legal Prime Minister who has been in jail for a year. And now, this organization, this NCHR, that CIDA has provided $100,000 to cook up information to put Prime Minister Neptune in jail, has been so discovered to be a fake organization, that its parent organization in the United States has asked them to change their name, to no longer use the acronym NCHR, which they have done a few weeks ago. So weâ€™re going to denounce the work of CIDA, the use of our tax money to participate in illegal activities in Haiti.
The second action…weâ€™re going to go in front of the French Embassy to do something that is going to be happening around the world at French Embassyâ€™s and French consulates, where there is a petition calling for the full restitution by the State of France, of the funds that it extorted from the Republic of Haiti at gunpoint starting 1825 all the way to 1947. That amount, which is known as the Charles X Ransom was collected because France said that they had lost their property, which includes my great-great grandfather, the slaves who decided that they were human beings and wanted to enjoy their freedom like all human beings. Well, this is estimated, back in 2003, to be about $22 billion US. People are saying that since we are men and women working for peace, but not just any peace – but peace with justice. And since we know and cannot any longer pretend not to know why Haiti is impoverished, we can no longer pretend that we donâ€™t know that France stole this 22 billion dollars from the people of Haiti; therefore we assume our responsibility to demand that France 1) return the money without undue delay to the people of Haiti; 2) Present formal apologies to the impoverished people of Haiti and 3) Renounce in words and in deeds its persistent harassment of Haitiâ€™s African population which began during the…years of racial slavery and colonization.
So, throughout the world, people are going to be doing that tomorrow…Thereâ€™s an online petition as well that people can sign…at www.haitiaction.net, where they can learn about this international day of solidarity with Haiti. Basically, it;â€™s the world standing up, and like I said earlier, you have organizations like the ANC, the African Union, who obviously see the racist connotations of this coup and refuse to support it, but also we have non-Africans who recognize that we can no longer continue in this world where you have these fallacies where you have fake organizations like CIDA, USAID, Agence Francaise, giving crumbs to people that they have impoverished and pretending that this is solidarity . What we are calling for is true solidarity, honest solidarity based on historical facts, and, really, dealing with issues of poverty at their root…What we want is real solidarity and not these kind of fake gestures where politicians get away with it because their journalists in their countries are not asking the right questions, and they are just playing into the white manâ€™s burden type of theme, that these people are poor because of some kind of genetic disease that they have and weâ€™re going to help them with CIDA and it doesnâ€™t matter if we inly send $2000, because $2000 goes a long way in a place like Haiti. Thatâ€™s crap, $2000 doesnâ€™t go anywhere…
Thatâ€™s why people standing in solidarity with Haiti are focussing on the $22 billion that was stolen from Haiti at gunpoint, and if Haiti get what is rightfully its own money – because that is a very well-documented case – because France not only started to collect that money in 1825 but they went many times with their guns,and this is from official documents…if human beings around the world would stop using this racist policy of treating people unequally around the world, and Haiti would get its $22 billion, we could shut down CIDA, USAID and all these World Banks and fake organizations and let the people develop their own countries with their own resources because they can, just like every other peoples on this planet have the ability to develop themselves, their countries.
Tsangarakis: Very important point there, the amount of reparations. Jean, last question; it looks like Canada is headed for another federal election, one that might replace the Martin-led Liberal regime, who have overseen Canadian policy in Haiti for over a decade. How do you think the elections might affect organizing around the issue of Haiti and what measures can be taken to get the issue on the election agenda this time?
Saint-Vil: I think it can make a difference, but Iâ€™m not counting on the politicians, because we have informed everybody on the political landscape in Canada about whatâ€™s happening in Haiti. The NDP knows, the Liberal government knows, the Conservatives know, and we havenâ€™t seen them do anything. The Bloc Quebecoise knows and we havenâ€™t seen them stand up. Of course, itâ€™s not surprising because as Canadians we are all observing the shameful state that our politics is in today; people just basically take the easy way out and they donâ€™t take up any issues that seem to be controversial or difficult. So, our strategy is to focus on the Canadian population, and inform the Canadian population so that we can bypass the spin taking place within the allied media, which only says things when it is considered to be an issue that Canadians have financial stake in.
They donâ€™t tell you the truth about whatâ€™s happening in Haiti because itâ€™s not significant, yet it is significant for human beings who value human life, so what we are doing is letting Canadians know and weâ€™re going to make sure that we challenge the candidates in all the parties as to how they are going to first, for instance, deal with the fact that we have found that CIDA has been used not to do development work in Haiti but, in particular in Haiti, to destabilize a democracy, and to cover up a coup that has taken place. We donâ€™t accept that our tax money be misused like that, whichever the party in power. So weâ€™re not only looking at this as the handiwork of the Liberal party that has messed up in Haiti, that has participated in an illegal coup, but weâ€™re also looking at this as the NDP that has not yet stepped up to the plate to be the socially conscious party that it pretends to be, and we have plenty of documentation that we have informed Alexa McDonough [with]; myself personally, I have met with the leader of the NDP, Mr. [Jack] Layton; I have met Alexa McDonough, they have all the documentation in their hands, so if they donâ€™t do anything thatâ€™s because this is a party without backbone and what people are saying is that they are the â€˜Liberal liteâ€™ may be true. We donâ€™t want to pass judgement yet; they have the information; weâ€™re going to see if they dare raise the issue of Haiti during the elections.
And I know the Haitian community, the African community which is very vexed by this racist coup – and thereâ€™s no way else to characterize it – we all understand that this was a coup that took place in a black nation because, in the world that we live today, black people around the world donâ€™t have the power yet to mobilize and make their nations respected and their peoples respected, but weâ€™re getting there and there are non-Africans who have understood the message of this 2004 coup, who are following it. So weâ€™re following the parties and I can tell you for sure that people like Pierre Pettigrew [Canadaâ€™s Foreign Affairs Minister], people like Denis Coderre, who is now the Canadian Prime Ministerâ€™s person on Haiti, who is of course also being named on the sponsorship scandal, are probably not going to be re-elected also because of their participation, like Denis Paradis, in the Haiti issue. But the issue is not just to get these people to pay for participating in this illegal coup in Haiti but actually to make sure that we get elected officials from whatever party in parliament who are going to deal with a foreign policy that moves away from Prime Minister Martinâ€™s so-called â€œResponsibility to Protect,â€ dogma, which to me as an African-Canadian sounds very much like the very old white manâ€™s burden, white supremacist ideology , you know, that we have a â€œresponsibilityâ€ to go out and civilize or evangelize or whatever, these barbaric people.
What we are saying to the Canadian politicians is that, as human beings we donâ€™t have a responsibility to protect anybody, [rather,] we have an obligation to respect, and that means to make sure that our foreign policy does not go in tow with the Bush-Condoleeza Rice thing where they just go out and do whatever they want to countries like Venezuela and Haiti. The coup in Venezuela did not happen because Venezuelans stood up; the coup in Haiti happened because although Haitians stood up they didnâ€™t find the solidarity that is necessary to stop very powerful nations like the United States and Canada when they are involved in illegal activities against a country like Haiti. And yet, inside of Haiti we have criminals, we have the political class that is willing to sell its soul for a promise that they are going to be put in the Presidential seat, etc., however, without the help of the foreign entities, those criminals in Haiti would be where they belong, in jail, and we would have had the people that the Haitian population had elected in office. If it is not acceptable that Karla Homolka [ be the Prime minister of Canada, it is not acceptable to take some criminal who has been living in the United States for years and ship him to Haiti and call him Prime Minister. Thatâ€™s not acceptable and weâ€™re going to fight it. Whether the politicians in Canada stand for justice and truth we will not know but we will be asking them the questions then our votes will go according to what we see from them in terms of response and policies on these issues.
This interview is archived at coopradio.org
Jafrikayiti (Jean Saint-Vil) is an Ottawa-based activist within the Haitian diaspora in Canada. He has been a featured political analyst on CBC television’s (now cancelled) Counterspin, CPAC’s Talk Politics, and CBC Radio’s The Current, and has (tirelessly) spoken at numerous public events across Canada and the United States. He is also a radio journalist, host of CKCU-FM’s “Rendez-Vous Haitien” and CHUO-FM’s “Bouyon-Rasin.” He can be reached at [email protected]
Yolanda Tsangarakis is a community activist and radio host in Vancouver, B.C.