[News] Haiti: yesterday and today

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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

<http://sevenoaksmag.com/questions/57.html>http://sevenoaksmag.com/questions/57.html
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=55&ItemID=7552

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 
his return.

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 you’ve 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 Haiti’s 
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. 
There’s 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 Haiti’s 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 didn’t 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: That’s 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 don’t 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 today’s 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 Canada’s 
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 it’s 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 don’t 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 what’s 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 I’m sure Lavalas candidates would certainly win. That means 
you have 70 to 80 percent of the population that’s 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 don’t 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 what’s happening. And there’s 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 won’t be able to stay in power. If there was no 
repression, I’m sure that in a very short period of time the government 
would fall.

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 don’t 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 [2004], 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, it’s 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 – it’s hard to 
imagine that it’s not a purposeful blackout. For instance, Yvonne Neptune 
was on hunger strike for twenty-one days. He’s the former Prime Minister, a 
person who had been in international forums all over the world, well known. 
He’s in jail with no charges, and there’s 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 hasn’t 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 we’re 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 it’s 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 don’t think there’s 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. That’s what they’re 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 don’t 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 
www.haitiaction.net.

*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).


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