[News] Haiti: yesterday and today
News at freedomarchives.org
News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 1 11:24:31 EST 2005
HAITI YESTERDAY AND TODAY
by Laura Flynn and Derrick O'Keefe
Seven Oaks Magazine
March 30, 2005
Laura Flynn is the co-author of a new pamphlet on Haiti called 'We Will Not
Forget'. The report details the accomplishments and gains made by the
Haitian people during the tenure of the Lavalas Party and Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, who was overthrown last year in a coup backed by the United
States, France and Canada. Flynn recently spoke to Derrick O'Keefe of Seven
Oaks about the occupation of Haiti, Aristide's legacy and the prospects for
Derrick O'Keefe: The new pamphlet that you have co-authored is titled We
Will Not Forget. What were some of the main gains made before the 2004
coup that youve outlined?
Laura Flynn: I guess the most important gains were probably in the areas of
health care and education. There were more schools built between 1994 and
2004 than there were in the first two hundred years of Haitis
independence. In addition, there were major AIDS prevention and treatment
programs that had been internationally lauded and were receiving support
from the UN AIDS program.
There were also major gains at the level of democratic freedoms, freedom of
assembly, freedom of speech, and the fact that Haiti had successful
democratic elections for a period of ten years which included two peaceful
transfers of power from one democratically elected president to another.
Theres a whole lot more outlined in the pamphlet, but I would say that
those are some of the major high points.
O'Keefe: What was the character of the rebellion against Aristide in early
2004 that led up to the coup? Who was behind it?
Flynn: I would say that it was sort of a coalition effort. The major
players were the United States and France, on the international level.
Within Haiti, the coup was very much financed and supported by the
relatively small business elite who had never supported Aristide and were
particularly upset during the last year before the coup at his attempts to
raise the minimum wage.
Both of those groups then used the former military. In 1995, Aristide
actually dismantled Haitis military, which for two hundred years had
basically been a repressive force within the country. And, although the
military was dismantled and this was a military that was responsible for
the death of over 3000 Haitians during the first coup from 1991 to 1994 --
you still had a lot of people around. They didnt have jobs and they were
angry about what had happened. So that force was then utilized by the
elites and their international sponsors to create this coup.
O'Keefe: People wonder about the motivations of the United States and
others for removing Aristide when they did. Had he started to disobey
some of the restrictions put on him when he was returned to power in 1994?
Flynn: Thats actually kind of a myth that he was placed under certain
restrictions. There was never an explicit, you know, you will go back and
you will not be able to do these things. They knew what his politics were.
I think the restriction is sort of always in place, that Haiti is 600 miles
from the United States, the United States has always played a
disproportionate role in Haiti, and Haiti like every single other Third
World country has to negotiate with the World Bank and IMF. And World Bank
and IMF policies throughout the Third World are pretty horrendous.
I think part of the reason for this real upsurge in anti-Aristide sentiment
in the U.S. has a great deal to do with the change in the administration in
the U.S. I dont think that the Clinton administration was supportive, but
they were not nearly as hostile as the Bush administration has been to
Lavalas and to Aristide in particular
This time you also had very strong support from France and that was
somewhat of a new element. About a year before he was overthrown, Aristide
had started calling for the repayment of an onerous debt that Haiti had
been forced to pay at the time of its independence the independence debt,
or independence blackmail. After Haiti got its independence in 1804, France
only agreed to recognize the new independent nation if Haiti agreed to
repay the French landowners who had lost land and property, meaning
actually slaves, to the tune of about 90 million French francs.
So the Haitian government actually paid that debt, and what Aristide was
saying was that this was a case where the damages of colonization could be
really clearly calculated. We know exactly what we paid and we know who we
paid it to. And in todays money that added up to $21 billion, which Haiti
was beginning to take legal steps, going through the World Court, to try
and make a claim against the French. And, from the moment that began,
France upped its support, funnelling a lot of money into the Haitian
opposition to destabilize the Haitian government.
O'Keefe: And we also have had some work done here in exposing Canadas
involvement in both planning and carrying out the coup. What groups are
fighting for the restoration of Aristide? Who is resisting this occupation?
Flynn: Let me just say one thing about Canada. I think its certainly true
that Canada has been very supportive of this coup and has been a full
partner, and that is different from the 1991 to 1994 period in which Canada
played a relatively positive role. And I honestly dont have a very strong
sense of the motivation for that but my guess is that it has to do with
Canada wanting to perhaps, like France, have a place where they can be on
the side of the United States. If they are in conflict on other issues,
they are willing to sacrifice Haiti that might be part of the motivation.
In terms of whats going on right now on the ground, Lavalas, which is a
huge political party, remains very strong in the sense that if there was a
legal election Im sure Lavalas candidates would certainly win. That means
you have 70 to 80 percent of the population thats diametrically opposed to
this coup. At the same time, the repression against them is massive and
heavy, and people are not only risking their lives but losing their lives
to continue to resist.
I dont even know if it would be true to say groups, but throughout the
country there is active resistance, demonstrations in the north of the
country, and in Port-au-Prince, where people literally get killed almost
every time there is a major demonstration. People continue to march and
demonstrate and protest against whats happening. And theres particularly
strong movements in the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince, which are heavily
populated and which have been traditional strongholds of support for
Lavalas and for Aristide.
O'Keefe: You have obviously touched on it somewhat, but could you elaborate
on the human rights situation in Haiti today, which has recently been
documented in the Griffin Report?
Flynn: Well, as I was saying before, there has been massive repression
going on throughout Haiti. The reason for the repression is directly
related to the fact that there is strong resistance. The repression is as
bad as it is because the de facto regime knows that if they do not maintain
that repression they wont be able to stay in power. If there was no
repression, Im sure that in a very short period of time the government
So there are various levels of targeting of high level officials of
Lavalas, many of whom have been jailed. There were over 700 people in jail.
I dont know exact numbers now, but probably somewhere in that vicinity,
the vast majority of whom have never been charged with any crime and
certainly have not been tried. That includes the former Prime Minister and
the Minister of the Interior who were on a hunger strike for a period of
about twenty days. They are actually currently in a UN hospital but they
have not been released by the Haitian authorities, so they continue to be
held, for almost nine months at this point, with no actual charges being
filed against them. They are just the most prominent cases.
At another level, we have sort of more brutal sweeps that are targeting the
poor en masse. So literally going into poor neighbourhoods and opening
fire, or going after known militants, organizers, local leaders in the
community, and hunting them down. Nobody really knows how many people have
been killed, but we know that just in March , the first month after
the coup, the morgue in Haiti had over 1000 bodies disposed of, and a
normal month would be like a hundred. So the rate of killing is just
astronomical, its far worse that the 91-94 period, and some human rights
people within Haiti estimate that as many as 10 000 people have been killed
since February 29 of last year.
O'Keefe: Have you found that public opinion in the United States has
started to shift toward opposition to the coup?
Flynn: I think that public opinion is shifting. First of all, what we
really have is a news blackout in the current moment. There was massive
media coverage of Haiti leading up to the coup, and then its hard to
imagine that its not a purposeful blackout. For instance, Yvonne Neptune
was on hunger strike for twenty-one days. Hes the former Prime Minister, a
person who had been in international forums all over the world, well known.
Hes in jail with no charges, and theres not been a major news media story
in the United States on that situation. Maxine Waters, U.S. Congresswoman,
went down and visited him in jail and spoke out about it. The New York
Times hasnt even mentioned this, nor have any of the other papers, except
I think a little bit out of Miami.
So in that sense I think what were facing is a kind of clampdown to say
this situation does not exist. What is coming out is starting to
acknowledge what is happening. I think the Griffin Report was a major
breakthrough, because its hard to deny when you see those photographs. In
that sense, I would say that in progressive communities, information is
starting to get out. I live in Minneapolis, and our numbers of people
coming out to events on Haiti are far larger than they used to be.
O'Keefe: Aristide was restored in 1994. Is it possible that he will come
back again? What are the prospects for the return of the constitutional
government in Haiti?
Flynn: Yes, I think it is possible. He remains the constitutionally elected
president of the country. His support in Haiti remains strong. During his
three years in exile [1991-94], at the beginning of that time nobody
thought that it would be possible. So I dont think theres any reason to
give up hope at this point. I really have to take my direction from the
people in Haiti, that the sort of bottom line is his physical return to the
country. Thats what theyre demonstrating for. I mean, they are
demonstrating for democracy, for recognition of their rights, but they have
said he physically has to come back to Haiti. So I dont think anyone here
should be throwing that option away for them, because it really is up to them.
*For the latest news and updates from occupied Haiti, check out
*Laura Flynn and independent journalist Anthony Fenton will be speaking
about Canada's role in Haiti and the ongoing resistance to occupation on
Friday, April 1, at 7p.m. Vancouver's Mount Pleasant Neighborhood House
(800 East Broadway).
The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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