[News] Chávez in Haiti

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 10 13:10:47 EDT 2007


April 10, 2007

Chávez in Haiti



Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez found a hero's 
welcome when he visited Haiti on March 12. People 
from Port-au-Prince's poor neighborhoods lined 
the streets of the capitol to cheer, to chant, to 
dance and sing, with the infectious enthusiasm of 
Haitian celebrations. President Chávez returned 
the affection. He jumped from his motorcade and 
joined the party, marching, even running with the 
crowd. At the National Palace, Mr. Chávez climbed 
up on the perimeter fence to shake and slap 
hands, like he had just scored a World Cup goal. 
He publicly thanked the Haitian people for their 
hospitality and enthusiasm, and for their 
historic support for liberty in the world.

President Chávez and the Haitian people hit it 
off so well for reasons of principle and of 
practice. Haitians consider Chávez a leader in 
the global fight against the global power 
inequalities that keep people in Haiti, Venezuela 
and the rest of Latin America poor, hungry and 
uneducated. They see him standing up to the most 
powerful leader in today's world- President Bush 
(whose name was frequently invoked that day, not 
charitably) - and to the World Bank and other 
powerbrokers. Even better, unlike their President 
Aristide (whose name was frequently, and 
charitably, invoked), Chávez keeps getting away 
with standing up to the powerful.

President Chávez in turn knows that the Haitian 
people have been relentlessly standing up to 
inequality and other oppression for more than 200 
years. He knows that Haitians won their own 
independence in 1804 by beating Napoleon- the 
most powerful leader of his day- and that Haiti 
became the first country to abolish slavery. Mr. 
Chávez knows- and acknowledged at the National 
Palace- that Haiti played a critical role in his 
own country's independence. He also understands 
that the Haitian people are still fighting for 
their sovereignty, and will keep fighting as long as necessary.

President Chávez was also welcomed because he 
came bearing much-needed, tangible gifts. At the 
Palace, he signed a $100 million agreement with 
Haiti's President Préval to provide Venezuelan 
oil, development assistance, and financial 
support for the Cuba/Haiti partnership that 
maintains over 800 Cuban medical professionals in 
Haiti's poorest areas, and is training the same 
number of Haitians in Cuban medical schools 
(Fidel Castro joined the Chávez-Préval meeting by 
phone). These gifts are particularly welcome 
because unlike the North American and European 
donors, Venezuela and Cuba do not condition their 
largesse on Haiti decreasing social spending or 
restructuring its economy to benefit multi-national corporations.

This public display of mutual affection 
contrasted sharply with the Haitian poor's 
relationship with other Latin Americans in Haiti, 
a relationship that is hostile for reasons of 
principle and practice. A few days before Chávez' 
visit, Edmond Mulet of Guatemala, the Special 
Representative of the United Nations 
Secretary-General, dwelled on the negative when 
he told Brazil's Folha newspaper that "a photo of 
Haiti today would reveal a horrible situation: 
poverty, the absence of institutions, debility, 
and the absence of the State." Brazil's 
Ambassador to Haiti, Paulo Cordeiro Andrade 
Pinto, told the newspaper that President Préval was "passive" and "sluggish."

Ambassadors Mulet and Andrade Pinto do not jump 
from motorcades to join the infectious enthusiasm 
of Port-au-Prince's street celebrations. They 
travel quickly between homes in wealthy 
neighborhoods and offices in wealthy 
neighborhoods, with armed escorts in large cars, 
windows tinted and rolled up, air-conditioning 
on. Their employees, the soldiers of MINUSTAH, 
the United Nations (UN) "peacekeeping" mission 
that Mr. Mulet directs and Brazil leads, do go to 
poor neighborhoods, but they stay in armored 
personnel vehicles, their automatic weapons, 
rather than their hands, extended to the Haitian people.

Too often, MINUSTAH troops do more with their 
guns than just point. In December, January and 
February, they conducted repeated assaults on the 
crowded, poor neighborhood of Cité Soleil. 
MINUSTAH spokespeople claimed the troops were 
pursuing gang members, but their automatic rifles 
shot enough high-powered bullets into Cité 
Soleil's thin-walled houses (MINUSTAH estimates 
it shot 22,000 bullets in one 2005 raid) to kill 
dozens of people- women, children, the elderly- 
with no possible connection to gang activity.

Mr. Mulet diplomatically refers to the civilians 
as "collateral damage." They are collateral 
enough that MINUSTAH did not transport any of the 
civilians wounded in the December and January 
raids to hospitals. UN ambulances were on the scene, but for soldiers only.

The neighborhoods MINUSTAH hits hardest- Cité 
Soleil, Bel-Air and others- supplied the crowds 
that greeted President Chávez with such 
enthusiasm. They are also the urban base of 
Haiti's Lavalas movement, which supplied the 
votes that brought landslide victories to 
Presidents Aristide and Préval in 1990, 1995, 
2000 and 2006. The neighborhoods never accepted 
the February 2004 overthrow of their 
constitutional government, sponsored by the 
United States, Canada and France, or the forced 
exile of President Aristide, banished to Africa 
on a U.S. Government plane. Nor have they 
accepted MINUSTAH, the only peacekeeping mission 
in UN history deployed without a peace agreement.

MINUSTAH's mission was to consolidate George 
Bush's coup d'etat. It originally supported the 
brutal and unconstitutional Interim Government of 
Haiti (IGH), led by Prime Minister Gérard 
Latortue, a Bush supporter and television host 
flown in from Boca Raton, Florida. The mission 
included backing up the IGH police force's 
campaign of terror against Lavalas, but it also 
included MINUSTAH's own attacks in the poor 
neighborhoods. After Haiti's return to democracy 
in May 2006, the Haitian police stopped their 
murderous raids in places like Cité Soleil. But 
MINUSTAH, under frequent pressure from the Bush 
Administration and Haitian elites to take a "hard 
line" against the poor neighborhoods, keeps shooting.

People in Cité Soleil do not minimize gang 
violence- like the poor everywhere else, they 
bear the largest burden of street crime. But they 
understand that the violence will never be 
defeated by violence; that their violence can 
only be successfully attacked with healthcare, 
jobs, and dignified living conditions. Those are 
the weapons deployed by President Chávez, and by 
their own President Aristide, who was criticized 
for providing too many jobs to Cité Soleil's 
youth. So week after week, Haitians take the 
streets, to call for MINUSTAH to leave and for 
President Aristide to come back. On March 12, 
along with "Viv Chávez, Viv Aristide", they chanted "Aba Bush, Aba MINUSTAH."

MINUSTAH at least understands the appeal of 
President Chávez' generosity. After negative 
publicity following the December and January 
raids in Cité Soleil, the mission's 
communications department started stressing its 
efforts to "win the hearts and minds" of Cité 
Soleil by providing healthcare, water and food in 
areas where they dislodged gang members. In 
March, Cité Soleil residents brought us to a 
basketball court, near a suspected gang 
headquarters. That same day, glowing press 
reports were posted on the internet, complete 
with photos of MINUSTAH's humanitarian work. 
Brazilian Colonel Afonso Pedrosa bragged that 
MINUSTAH had provided 200 bottles of water and 
1000 plates of food to the people, to show that 
things had really changed with the gangs' departure.

The basketball court had been one of the heralded 
sites where MINUSTAH demonstrated how things had 
changed in Cité Soleil. The day the peacekeepers 
took over, the court was quickly transformed into 
a busy humanitarian center, with water 
distribution, food and a field hospital. But the 
Cité Soleil residents told me that the 
humanitarian center lasted only a day. After the 
photographers, reporters and PR specialists had 
documented MINUSTAH's largesse, and returned to 
their hotel rooms, the whole operation was taken 
down. The humanitarian center quickly reverted to 
what we saw: a hot, dusty, basketball court. 
MINUSTAH soldiers reverted to patrolling Cité 
Soleil from armored personnel carriers, guns pointed out.

The Haitians we spoke with felt that MINUSTAH's 
"hearts and minds" campaign targeted the hearts 
and minds that read newspapers and watched 
televisions in South America and the United 
States, while messages to Cité Soleil were 
delivered by automatic rifle. They reciprocate 
the antipathy and the cynicism of Ambassadors 
Mulet and Andrade Pinto, and MINUSTAH, calling the mission "TOURISTAH."

President Chávez and MINUSTAH are taking two 
different paths of solidarity to Haiti, both 
pioneered by Simon Bolivar, South America's 
Libertador. After Bolivar and his followers 
arrived in Haiti on Christmas Eve 1815, having 
been expelled from Venezuela then pushed out of 
Jamaica. Haiti's President Pétion welcomed the 
freedom fighters, providing them shelter, guns, 
ammunition and a printing press. On his way out 
to start an uprising in Venezuela in April 1816, 
Bolivar asked how he could repay Haiti's 
generosity. Pétion replied the best thanks Haiti 
could receive was the liberation of all the 
slaves in the Spanish colonies. Once in 
Venezuela, Bolivar the idealist freed the 1500 
slaves his family owned, and on July 6 printed a 
proclamation, on Pétion's printing press, 
abolishing slavery in Spanish America. Presidents 
Chávez and Préval commemorated this cooperation 
by placing flowers at Port-au-Prince's monuments to Pétion and Bolivar.

But Bolivar had another setback, and by September 
he was back in Haiti. Pétion again provided 
shelter and supplies, and Bolivar launched 
another attack in December 1816. This time he was 
successful, liberating a wide swath of territory 
from Venezuela to Bolivia. But this time the 
freedom he sought was more limited. El Libertador 
had become a "realist," willing to compromise his 
most fundamental ideals to satisfy his allies. 
This time he did not print out an emancipation 
proclamation, and Venezuela retained slavery and 
its horrors almost as long as the United States did, until 1854.

Bolivar also passed up other opportunities to 
thank Haiti for making his revolution possible. 
He declined to recognize Haiti (Venezuela did not 
send an Ambassador until 1874). When in 1826 the 
new Republic of Colombia organized the Congress 
of American States to bring together all the 
newly independent countries of the Americas, the 
"realists" acquiesced to the United States' 
request that Haiti, the country that had 
sheltered their freedom fighters in their hour of need, be excluded.

Many of Haiti's neighbors have taken the path of 
Bolivar the idealist. Cuba does not have 
Venezuela's oil and money, but it does have 
doctors, so for the last decade it has supported 
a team of over 800 Cuban medical professionals, 
deployed to Haiti's poorest and most remote 
areas. About the same number of Haitian students, 
many of them from poor families that could never 
afford medical school, are studying under 
scholarships in Cuba. The Caribbean Community and 
Common Market (CARICOM) stood up for Haiti's 
democracy when it was under attack in 2004, 
calling for international support for the 
democracy and refusing to recognize the illegal 
replacement. CARICOM gave the rest of the world a 
civics lesson, by sticking to its democratic 
principles while the United States, Europe and 
most of Central and South America (but not 
Venezuela) embraced the dictatorship.

Many of Haiti's other neighbors- generally the 
more powerful ones- have followed the path of 
Bolivar the "realist" and compromised their 
fundamental ideals to satisfy potential allies. 
The Organization of American States (OAS) is a 
successor to the Congress of American States in 
more ways than one. In principle the OAS has 
stronger democracy requirements than CARICOM, but 
in practice the organization accepted Haiti's 
2004 unconstitutional regime change without 
flinching. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, 
Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay have sent 
soldiers to join Brazil in MINUSTAH.

MINUSTAH's participants do know what they are 
doing, and it does trouble them. Lieutenant 
General Urano Bacellar, the Brazilian Commander 
of MINUSTAH, committed suicide in January 2006, 
apparently because he was unable to reconcile his 
duty to fulfill his "mission" of taking a hard 
line in poor neighborhoods with his moral 
convictions. His predecessor, General Augusto 
Heleno Ribeiro, complained to a Brazilian 
congressional commission that "we are under 
extreme pressure from the international community 
to use violence" in Haiti's poor neighborhoods. 
But General Heleno Ribeiro's concern did not 
extend to poor Haitians who did not deserve to 
live, as determined from his Armored Personnel 
Carrier. He told Haiti's Radio Metropole in 
October 2004 that "we must kill the bandits but 
it will have to be the bandits only, not everybody."

A year ago, Brazil's Folha interviewed returning 
Brazilian soldiers. One said "the name 'Peace 
Mission' is just to pacify the people. In reality 
no day goes by without the troops killing a 
Haitian in a shootout. I personally killed at least two."

So far Latin America's "realists" have been able 
to live with their consciences, confident that 
the advantages of participating in George Bush's 
idea of a peacekeeping force will yield benefits 
to compensate for what they are doing to the 
Haitian people. For Brazil the benefits include 
an improved chance of a permanent seat on a 
potentially-expanded UN Security Council. For 
other countries, it is money for cash-strapped 
government budgets (the UN reimburses the 
countries several times a poor soldier's salary), 
or a chance to appease the Bush Administration 
without compromising on trade issues or opposition to the Iraq War.

But the "realists" should see that the winds in 
Latin America are changing. The Bush 
Administration's approach to the world, that 
MINUSTAH embodies, is losing credibility and 
failing, and not just in Iraq. While President 
Chávez was basking in the crowds' energy in 
Port-au-Prince and other cities of Latin America, 
President Bush was traveling the region too. Mr. 
Bush was not caught up in the infectious 
enthusiasm of street celebrations. His itinerary 
was carefully orchestrated to avoid the large 
protests held in every single country he visited. 
In the last two months, citizens of Argentina, 
Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador and Peru have 
taken to the streets to protest their country's 
complicity in MINUSTAH's brutality. The MINUSTAH 
countries may soon find that in pursuing George 
Bush's Haiti policy, they have tied their destiny to a sinking ship.

Mario Joseph, a Human Rights Lawyer, manages the 
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Haiti, 

Brian Concannon Jr. is the Director of the 
Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, 
and an analyst for the International Relations 
Center's Americas Program. He was a Human Rights 
Observer for the United Nations in Haiti in 1995 and 1996.

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