Rockburn: This report is staggering in so many ways, and it has images in it as well – they warn you about it at the beginning – of what is taking place there, and they are almost unbearable to look at…How long have you been there? Just give us a little background on you.
Pina: Iâ€™ve lived there for five years; Iâ€™ve been covering the situation for fifteen years.
Rockburn: So you have seen first hand over the last year since Aristideâ€™s ouster, what has been going on there. The way it is depicted in a lot of the Western media, is that, that it was an uprising against Aristide, and he fled, and thatâ€™s the end of that. That he was the one responsible for that, and that his followers are the oneâ€™s responsible for a lot of the violence now. Do you buy that one?
Pina: Not at all. I was there during that period. There was a lot of theatre that went on, especially during the period before Aristide was forced to leave. You certainly had then Secretary of State Powell change his position twice. One moment heâ€™s saying the constitution has to be respected; suddenly the so-called grand opposition demonstrations evaporate from thousands into hundreds overnight, after that first statement. Then you have him and other so-called â€œundisclosedâ€ State Department representatives, unidentified State Department representatives, then saying exactly the exact opposite, that Aristide is part of the problem, that weâ€™re seeking a solution that includes the possible departure of the President.
Now what people donâ€™t like to talk about is whereas they portrayed him as this embattled leader who was resigned to his own fate, who realized that he had lost the faith of his own people, what they fail to talk about is the fact that at the very moment that he was being taken out of his residence by 50 U.S. Marines, heavily armed U.S. marines, there was a 747 refuelling on a tarmac in Kingston, Jamaica, that was filled with resupplies of arms and ammunition, which was supplied by the South African government at the request of CARICOM, the very moment that he was being taken out of his residence. That alone should tell us that this was not a President who was resigned to his fate, or was somehow willing to go gentle into that good night. Itâ€™s clear that he was willing to stay and fight for what he considered the democratic principle, and the continuance of his mandate.
Rockburn: And he was spirited away, in your opinion.
Pina: He was spirited away obviously in a very surreptitious way, even to the point where we had lost contact with him; myself and others had been in contact with him up to the last moments, then, suddenly, nothing. We werenâ€™t able to be in contact with him until he suddenly appeared in this dictatorship in the Central African Republic, and very few of us even knew where Bangui was until Aristide showed up there.
Rockburn: Now the violence that began, and continues to this day after that, was described by people that weâ€™ve had on this program as being perpetrated not by groups with political interests and political motivations as they were often depicted outside of Haiti, but basically power-hungry gangs of terrorists. In many ways, in my mind, when I hear them described, they sound like the janjaweed in Sudan, people who just seem to be doing it because itâ€™s what they do.
Pina: I think that youâ€™ve got to remember that youâ€™re dealing with the majority of the poor in Haiti, who are largely uneducated, who for the first time felt that they had a stake, they had a voice in the presence of Jean Bertrand Aristide in the Presidential palace in Port au Prince, and that when they felt embattled they were frightened. In the weeks before, in the year before Aristide was forced out of the country, they were frightened. The base of his popular support in the slums of the capital, where I think a lot of this has been focused. And at the same time you had the opposition provoking violence from Lavalas and it was funny the way that the press played this because anytime any small thing would happen to the opposition the press, the international press, would scream from the rafters, international human rights organizations would scream from the rafters. Myself, I documented at least three dozen killings of members of Lavalas in those same poor neighbourhoods and the press and those same human rights organizations, never uttered a single word.
Rockburn: Now Lavalas, for people who donâ€™t know, is a political organization…
Pina: Itâ€™s the political party of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Itâ€™s what evolved into the political party that brought him into office the second time, in 2000.
Rockburn: Letâ€™s talk about the Group of 184 as theyâ€™re called, and the guy who is sort of the mouthpiece for the group, a guy by the name of Andy Apaid. Whatâ€™s their story? Explain what their story is and who they are.
Pina: You know, Iâ€™ve been following this story a long time; It really goes back to something called the Democratic Convergence. The Democratic Convergence was a group of fourteen parties that were brought together under a program that was basically funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development USAID. Their idea was that Aristide and Lavalas have so overwhelmingly so much popular support, and control so much of the political landscape of Haiti, that the only way that weâ€™re going to balance this democratically is to create an opposition, which is exactly what they did. They funded an opposition in the name of â€œpolitical plurality,â€ I believe was the term that they used. The Democratic Convergence had attempted on many, many occasions to compete with Lavalas and they were a dismal failure, to the point where the only role that they could take was an obstructionist role. They couldn’t win any power, they had no base of popular support, but what they did have was the backing of Washington, of Paris, and Ottawa, in the name of this so-called political plurality.
It became clear that that was a failed experiment that that was going nowhere, and suddenly here comes the Group of 184, the so-called â€œcivil societyâ€ groups, the civil society initiative. It is led by Andre Apaid, who is a well-known sweatshop owner in Port au Prince; he owns twelve factories, garment assembly factories; his family is very wealthy, part of the traditional wealthy elite class, of Syrian background. There is a large middle eastern segment of the Haitian elite. Andy Apaid burst out of the scene, obviously with a lot of support; they were very media savvy; there was a very good reason that they were media savvy. They were being backed up by an organization in Washington, the Haiti Democracy Project, which was founded by a man named James Morrell and a right-wing Haitian businessman named Rudolph Boulos. These guys concocted this think tank in Washington, and youâ€™ve got at their opening people like Roger Noriega, Georges Fauriol of the International Republican Institute, youâ€™ve got Luigi Einuadi, who is now the titular head of the Organization of American States; and several other people on the right of the American political landscape, the majority of them being former or current employees of the U.S. State Department and the U.S. government, part of the Haiti Democracy Project. Really, the 184 was their project in a lot of ways. They served as the publicity wing for the 184 in Washington, and a lobbying wing for the 184.
Rockburn: What I donâ€™t get out of all this, though; it would make more sense to me this kind of struggle between these two factions, if there was an actual prize at stake. Haiti is an economic and social basket case, thatâ€™s how itâ€™s described by everybody, there doesnâ€™t seem to be a prize in all of this for anybody…
Pina: there are billionaires in Haiti, my friend. There are millionaires and billionaires in Haiti who have made themselves quite comfortable over the years.
Rockburn: From what?
Pina: well letâ€™s put it this way; Haiti is a captive market. When you have 8 million souls whose major staple diet is beans and rice, and you control the importation of those goods, thatâ€™s a lot of money if you get five gourdes every day, letâ€™s say you get 25 cents a day from every man, woman and child, that adds up over the years. And it certainly has added up for a few families who control that trade.
Rockburn: How does Canada, and the UN, get snookered then, into what appears to be, from what youâ€™re saying and other people weâ€™ve had on the show say, is a charade of an interim government, and what is probably going to be another charade of an election process.
Pina: I donâ€™t think itâ€™s â€œsnookered.â€ I think it has to do with historical relationships, and it has to do with the historical relationship between the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean and this notion of popular democracy, and this relationship of Canada and the United States to each other. The historical relationship of the United States to governments that are popularly elected is very clear. Youâ€™ve got the example of Jacobo Arbenz, who was democratically elected, whoâ€™s overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup in 1953, because he wouldnâ€™t play ball with the United Fruit Company and U.S. landed interests in Guatemala. Youâ€™ve got the example of Juan Bosch in 1965, where Lyndon Johnson sends in 20,000 troops in order to forestall him from returning to office after a 1963 coup in the Dominican Republic; and then youâ€™ve got the example of Salvador Allende in 1973, in Chile, itâ€™s very similar. So the United States has always shown that itâ€™s anathema, that U.S. foreign policy is anathema to popular democracy, popular democracy meaning that when a leader is elected in a country in Latin America and the Caribbean by the overwhelming majority and is more beholden to their constituency than to U.S. foreign policy – in the history of Latin American and Caribbean, that has resulted in a coup dâ€™etat against that government. Usually they will rely on the local elites, and/or the military that the U.S. has built and trained.
Canadaâ€™s relationship to the U.S., I think, also has a history. There is a sort of anglophile connection there , historically. Canada right now is playing an odd role in that itâ€™s the kinder, gentler faced cover for what is basically U.S. foreign policy. In many ways, the in same way the United Nations is fronting for what is basically U.S. foreign policy in Haiti today.
Rockburn: Well, according to this study that I made reference to earlier, this investigation, one of the people , one Jean Philippe Vixamar who is in the Ministry Justice in the interim government, the Latortue government, is paid for, he acknowledges this in the interview they do with him, paid for by CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, and has been for four years. Prior to that he worked for USAID. And this man in his interview, and if this is all true that he is a paid employee, I was trying to find out by the way and couldnâ€™t by the time you came in here. But he says things in this interview that there are no political prisoners in Haiti, that the current rash of warrantless arrests and reports that hundreds of prisoners have not appeared before a judge is wrong. He says prosecutors and magistrates are frequently too afraid to come to work but that all prisoners in Haiti are seeing magistrates.
Pina: Thatâ€™s an absolute falsehood; that couldnâ€™t be further from the truth. According to the Peace and Justice Commission of the Catholic Church in Haiti, there are over 700 political prisoners in the capital alone. That does not include the provinces. Back to this thing about Canada though, the RCMP, Iâ€™ve seen them in action, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in their so-called role that they boast of, of training and assisting the Haitian police. Well, whereas they boast of this role of training and assistance, when the Haitian police commit these heinous massacres and human rights violations in the poor neighbourhoods to silence the voices of the poor who are still demanding that Aristide return to Haiti, the RCMP are refusing to accept responsibility for their performance. So whereas they say â€œËœweâ€™re doing a great job in restoring democracy in Haiti by training the Haitian police,â€™ when the Haitian police kill journalists like Abdias Jean who they killed three weeks ago, the RCMP remains silent and says that they have no responsibility in the performance of this same police force.
Rockburn: There is going to be an election coming at some point. And Canadaâ€™s going to support it, the OAS, and everybody else. we havenâ€™t got a lot of time here left, but whatâ€™s going to happen? Is the violence going to escalate as this election approaches? Are we going to see much more?
Pina: Lavalas will not participate in those elections. Theyâ€™ve already declared. Youâ€™re going have more than 150 political parties, this is political plurality run amok. They are going to have more than a hundred candidates for the Presidency; the majority political party is not going to participate because of the political prisoners, because of the climate of repression, because of then of then role of the PNH Haitian National Police who are committing assassinating people in their communities, because there is no right to freedom of assembly right now. They cannot have peaceful demonstrations, and this is what this is really about, what this tension and violence thatâ€™s going on is about, is that basically this has been a campaign to exterminate through violence the majority political party, which is Jean Bertrand Aristideâ€™s Lavalas Party. On Election Day theyâ€™re going to have a problem, because Haiti is not Iraq. And the problem theyâ€™re going to have is what are they going to do when the cameras are clicking and whirring searching for those photo-ops of those long line-ups at the polls, you know those wonderful photo-ops like they had in Iraq? But what you have is 50,000 angry Haitians demonstrating in Port au Prince denouncing the legitimacy of those elections. Itâ€™s going to be a grand embarrassment for Mr. Martin; itâ€™s going to be a grand embarrassment for Mr. Bush, and certainly for the United Nations when that day comes.
Rockburn: All right Kevin, I appreciate your doing this. Thanks very much.
Pina: My pleasure.
The report Rockburn refers to is the University of Miami School of Lawâ€™s Center for the Study of Human Rights: â€œHaiti Human Rights Investigation, November 11-21, 2004.â€ The report was authored by immmigration attorney and former federal law enforcement officer Thomas Griffin. It is available at: www.law.miami.edu/cshr.
Ken Rockburnâ€™s â€œTalk Politicsâ€ airs weeknights at 9 PM ET/PT, on CPAC. For more information, visit www.cpac.ca.
Kevin Pina is a Special Correspondent for Flashpoints Radio (www.flashpoints.net), is Associate Editor of BlackCommentator.com, and is a documentary fimmaker. Pina was touring across Canada screening his â€œHaiti: Harvest of Hope,â€ and exerpts from â€œWe Will Bend but We Shall not Break,â€ featring political prisoner and folk singer So Anne Auguste, and â€œHaiti: Betrayal of Democracy, a documentary in progress.â€