Haitians from throughout the Diaspora were joined this past weekend by a number of solidarity activists at the Kongre Bwa Kawiman 2005 in Washington, DC. Eugenia Charles, one of the key organizers of the gathering, spoke with Derrick O’Keefe from Seven Oaks about the results of the weekend and about the current political situation in occupied Haiti.
Derrick O’Keefe: Could you tell us who was gathered this weekend in Washington, D.C. â€“ from where in the Haitian Diaspora people came â€“ and what general topics were discussed?
Charles: We had Haitians come from Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Haiti, in order to share knowledge and talk about the present situation, especially the increasing violations of human rights taking place in Haiti, the arbitrary arrests, the killings at the order of the de facto government of Gerard Latortue. This was talked about by all of our speakers that came from Haiti, and also Mr. Thomas Griffin was with us, an investigator and immigration lawyer who went to Haiti and produced a 61 page report with extensive information and pictures.
We also talked about the issue of Canada, the United States and France, who are currently trying to place Haiti under UN Trusteeship for 25 to 40 years, which is something that the popular classes, which is 80% of the Haitian population, do not want. We know that Haiti got its independence in 1804, and people have worked very hard and fought to maintain it, and â€“ since we finished commemorating our 200th anniversary of our independence â€“ itâ€™s imperative for the Haitian people to mobilize and stand up to the United States, France and Canada, and let them know that we will not accept re-colonization.
O’Keefe: You mentioned the report by Thomas Griffin. What are some of the key points that need to be communicated about this very comprehensive study produced for the University of Miamiâ€™s Centre for the Study of Human Rights?
Charles: His report proves that itâ€™s truly a campaign of political persecution and execution thatâ€™s being done at the hands of the United States, Canada and Franceâ€™s command, and also by the Latortue government, to literally wipe out anyone who is a Lavalas supporter in Haiti. You can see it in the bodies, the way the people are being mutilated, the bodies piled up at the morgue.
It gives you proof, hardcore facts as it is, pictures. The bodies, you canâ€™t dispute them.
That report is very vivid and I encourage everyone to read it and take a look at the extent of the human rights violations that are taking place in Haiti.
O’Keefe: What, in your view, were the motivations behind the coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide that took place last year, on February 29, 2004?
Charles: The United States â€“ Canada has recently become involved in this, starting with the meeting they held in 2003 to kind of plan that coup which finally took place in 2004 â€“ has never liked Aristide, because heâ€™s been one thatâ€™s been preaching liberation theology, and thatâ€™s not something the U.S. supports. Heâ€™s been one that advocates against the IMF, World Bank, and structural adjustment policiesâ€¦
And he was also calling on the French government to pay reparations to the Haitian population. After we had gotten our independence, we were forced to pay over $90 million dollars worth of gold to France, and retribution is important right now for Haiti, because the money that France owes us can be used to repair Haiti, to build the infrastructure and to build more schools, so that Haiti will not remain the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.
O’Keefe: Would you say that there was a consensus around the political demands that Haitian solidarity activists should be putting forward?
Charles: It was pretty clear that the physical return of President Aristide is one of the things that we are asking for, and that respecting the peopleâ€™s vote is very important.
O’Keefe: Without lending credence to the anti-Aristide campaigns by the governments of the U.S. and Canada, among others, could you comment on his political trajectory and that of Lavalas. How had Aristide changed from 1991, to 1994, to 2004?
Charles: I donâ€™t think that President Aristide has changed, as a man, from when we first elected him. When we first elected him, we elected him as a priest, but when he ran for his second term he ran as a politician. So there were some differences, but everybody who has gotten into a position learns and grows, and they develop and master different skills.
The people still believe in him. That has not changed. In terms of the Lavalas movement, I think that some people have broken off in different directions and these are people that, I believe, were just using the Lavalas movement as a way for them to get into office. But the core of the movement has not changed; the core of the movement continues to demand the peopleâ€™s needs, which is basic education, clean water, infrastructure, hospitals, roads, and jobs for the poor. The basic social services that every low income person in a country should receive, these are the things that the Lavalas movement has been requesting and calling on all governments to do.
During the Aristide years, there were a lot of things we received. For 190 years, there were very few public schools in Haiti. But during the time that the Lavalas government was in office, they built over 100 hundred high schools and over 100 elementary schools. Even the people in the rural areas were able to go to school, and were able to learn how to write their own names. I can recount that my own grandmother, who is eighty-some years old, was able to go to school and learn how to write her own name. So thatâ€™s an extreme improvement to what we ever had beforeâ€¦And that change is what the U.S. and Canada and France have put an end to right now.
O’Keefe: Weâ€™ve just had the experience of the U.S. orchestrated elections in Iraq, which were clearly designed to try and legitimize that occupation. Later this year, there are election slated for Haiti. Will there be participation in these elections by the Lavalas party, and how do you see them playing out?
Charles: I think that if there is to be an election in Haiti right now it should be under the leadership of President Aristide, because heâ€™s still the duly elected president of the country. His term doesnâ€™t end until February 7, 2006. So therefore he should be the man who oversees the hand-over of power to the next president.
And we know what will happen if the election takes place without the participation of President Aristide and the Lavalas Party. Itâ€™s re-colonization. Canada, the U.S. and France have already put out this plan, placing Haiti under UN trusteeship for 25 to 40 yearsâ€¦I think itâ€™s ludicrous to take a country that has been independent for 200 years and to put it in the hands of the people that it has fought to get its independence from. Itâ€™s time to give the Haitian people a chance; itâ€™s time to let Haiti liveâ€¦
The Lavalas Party continues to be the political party with the largest following in Haiti. If you have an election right now with Lavalas participation, it is a complete guarantee that they will win the election again, and I think thatâ€™s what Canada, the U.S. and France are afraid of.
I mean the elections that just took place in Iraq are sham elections, sham democracy. And if you look at the amount of infrastructure destroyed by the U.S. in Iraq, I think that it wonâ€™t be long until whatâ€™s happening in Haiti is happening in Iraq, with government coup upon coup.
O’Keefe: There are already actions planned in a number of Canadian cities to mark the 1-year anniversary of the coup in Haiti. What kind of activities, and protests, are being planned for later this month in the United States?
Charles: There are a number of activities being planned, especially by the Haitian community. They started today, February 7, which is a very important day in Haitian history. It was the day that â€˜Baby Docâ€™ left the country and the day that President Aristide was sworn into office.
So we will continue with actions and with events to bring attention to whatâ€™s happening in Haiti. And coming out of this conference we have a resolution calling for the physical return of Aristide to Haiti, and calling for an end to the human rights abuses that are occurring. We will also be publicizing the resolution on Haiti that came out of the recent World Social Forum.
The Haiti Information Project tour committee will be hosting independent journalist Kevin Pina in Vancouver and Victoria this week. A public forum on Friday, February 11, 7p.m. at SFU Harbour Centre will feature a documentary film and talk by Pina, as well as the contributions of local independent journalist Anthony Fenton, who has worked to expose Canadaâ€™s central involvement in the illegal regime change in Haiti.