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Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Lethal Police Violence

The crisis in Haiti has neocolonialist roots in the United States and Canada.

People take part in a protest against fuel shortages and to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on September 20, 2019.

It’s getting hard not to notice that U.S. corporate media is covering pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong far more than pro-democracy forces in the Caribbean. It can be challenging to catch up on significant events in a place that’s a mere two-hour flight from Miami; with a few exceptions, the media is largely failing Haiti right now.

A movement birthed in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince has now swelled to broad swaths of the populace in all 10 of Haiti’s geographical departments. Friday, October 11, saw a national mobilization of tens of thousands of protesters out in force throughout the country demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise — and 10 of them didn’t make it home alive.

Longtime Haiti observer Kevin Pina, editor of Haiti Information Project, told Truthout that protesters were assaulted on October 11 by police armed with guns, tear gas and water cannons, and that seven protesters were reported to be killed by police in Petion-ville, a wealthy enclave in the hills above Port-au-Prince. Three more were killed in Saint-Marc in the western department of Artibonite. Those killed on October 11 included a 16-year-old boy, bringing the documented death toll (all on the side of the protesters) to more than 20.

Pasha Vorbe, a member of the executive committee of the political party Fanmi Lavalas, told Truthout in a call from Port-au-Prince that Lavalas has counted 28 total protesters killed by police during the current revolt.

“Today, I can tell you, we are living in a humanitarian crisis; it is not just Lavalas, the entire population is against Jovenel Moise and the rigged elections that delivered him to us,” Vorbe said.

Haiti is in revolt against The Core Group, a political entity formed by dint of United Nations Security Council Resolution in 2004, the same year as the U.S.-backed coup toppled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas party from Haiti’s helm. A multi-national supervisory body with the nebulous mission of “steering the electoral process,” its creation was originally proposed as a six-month interim transition support measure, yet it endures to this day.

At issue is the legitimacy of the presidency of Jovenel Moise, who was installed in 2017 to serve a five-year term. Protesters say Haiti cannot wait until 2022 for his departure from office.

Moise stands accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the proceeds of the PetroCaribe energy loan program extended by Venezuela. He earned the ire of many Haitians after attempting to remove energy subsidies in July 2018. The president’s administration has been directly implicated in the massacre of upward of 70 people (some reports say closer to 300) in the Lasalin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince — a four-day torture and killing spree in November 2018.

The massacres took place in the same community that had been demonstrating on a weekly basis since July 2018 in protest of the economic violence of double-digit inflation, currently at approximately 19 percent.

Targeted assassinations are ongoing. On October 10, Haitian journalist Néhémie Joseph, a reporter with Radio Méga and critic of the Moise administration, was found dead in his car with multiple shots to the head, prompting a demand for a swift investigation from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

With continued backing from The Core Group — which is chaired by the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, and comprised of the Ambassadors to Haiti from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the European Union, the U.S. and the Special Representative of the Organization of American States — Moise clings to power. If he can hold on until January 2020, and parliamentary elections (currently scheduled for October 27) do not take place by then, the parliament will be dissolved and Moise can rule by decree.

Cécile Accilien, director of the Institute of Haitian Studies at the University of Kansas told Truthout the political situation in Haiti is complex.

“We’re ruled by far more powerful countries, the 1 percent, the NGOs — everyone’s playing a game,” she said. “But most of us don’t know what the rules are or who the players are, but we know this: Everyone is playing Haiti.”

Pina noticed how Moise appeared more confident after meeting with Donald Trump in Mar-a-Lago in March 2019.

“Moise’s entire disposition changed after he’d gotten reassurance from Trump that he will back him,” Pina told Truthout. “I assume there was a quid pro quo for Trump supporting him in exchange for doing a 180 on Venezuela.”

I’ll make a promise to you,” Pence told the assembled leaders. “Stand with us and know we’ll stand with you. Work with us and we will work with you.” Haiti had pointedly not been invited in June 2018 to a confab with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who was courting nations willing to vote to eject Venezuela from the Organization of American States and to invoke the Rio Treaty (the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) for the first time since 9/11, potentially clearing the way for U.S. military intervention in Venezuela.

Subsequently, Moise reversed Haiti’s support for Maduro and Venezuelan sovereignty.

“Our response has to be sarcastic,” Vorbe said. “If they think that Moise is so good and great why don’t they give him a job in the U.N. or in Washington? Quick, before he drains the economy completely.”

The hypocrisy of the U.S. attacking Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as “illegitimate” while upholding Moise is not lost on Vorbe. Much of what Washington claims about Maduro’s 2018 re-election is verifiably true about Moise’s election in 2016: Yes, there was a record low voter turnout in Venezuela, only 46 percent, but in Haiti it was vastly lower: only 18 percent of the electorate went to the polls. Accusing Maduro’s government of drug trafficking and money laundering reminds Haitians that Moise came into office already accused of laundering millions of dollars. Plus, he was mentored by Guy Phillippe, currently serving nine years in a U.S. prison for those exact crimes.

The Devastation of Haiti’s Economy

Vorbe said Moise has bankrupted the startup businesses that were developing in Haiti and has annihilated the education system. This year there will be 70,000 high school graduates and places for only 7,000 university students. Jobs are in scarce supply. Without a meaningful economic development program, Haitian workers are left to labor in sweatshops that pay the lowest sub-poverty wages in the hemisphere. According to the World Bank, 32 percent of the country’s GDP in 2018 was derived from remittances from family members living elsewhere.

“Today the majority of Haitians do not eat three regular meals a day,” Vorbe said. “Maybe they eat once a day, or every other day. They feel practically doomed, and their living conditions are getting worse every day.”

Maud Jean-Michel is known as Sanite B., the host of Sewom Patriyotik on Radyo Tele Timoun. A human rights protector and freedom fighter, she uses her radio platform to expose what the U.S. is doing to Haiti. She bristles at hearing Haiti referred to as a poor country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere.

“We are one of the richest, but Haiti has been impoverished,” she continued. “This is the reason they keep us in turmoil. If we stabilized, we could use our resources — our bauxite, uranium and black marble — how can we be poor when we have so much? If Haiti is so poor, why is the U.S. there, why is The Core Group there, why do they refuse to leave us alone?”

Haiti also has billions in gold, iridium, copper, and oil advises human rights attorney Èzili Dantò. “And,” she told Truthout, “the Windward Passage and a history the enslaving nations must rewrite.”

She said the U.S. built its largest embassy in the Western Hemisphere in Haiti to control Haiti’s geopolitical position and strip it of its assets and riches.

“They will obliterate Haiti before they allow it to succeed as a nation,” Dantò said. “There is white fear of Haitian success.”

Vorbe sees preserving Haiti’s remaining riches for Haiti and the Haitian people as Haiti’s last chance for survival.

“It’s essential that Haiti get out from under the current constitution before any deals to develop mineral resources or arable lands go forward,” he warned.

“All of the institutions have failed the majority of the people,” he said. “Judiciary, legislature and executive, all corrupted completely. We have to start over, start fresh, with something that suits the younger generation.”

The country has come to a full stop and the demands are clear: Moise must go before finishing his five-year term, without conditions; the billions embezzled must be returned to the treasury to capitalize the future of the country; and a three-year “time-out” must be planned so the nation can stabilize and a meaningful process for free and fair elections can be created.

Lavalas has put out a transition plan that calls for “put[ting] in place an executive and a government of public safety…consist[ing] of credible personalities, engaged in the struggle against exclusion and corruption, who share a vision of a new method of governance.” If that sounds vague, it was meant to be a conversation starter. Dialogues across all segments of Haitian society have been ongoing with facilitation by civil society groups, and participants are finding common ground.

“We want a new nation, a democracy, free elections, a new constitution, and a type of government that’s better for us,” Vorbe said. “We’re doing the deep thinking about it now.”

A Political Crisis in the U.S.’s Backyard

Pacifica Radio journalist Margaret Prescod recently returned from a week of documenting the revolt in Port-au-Prince on the back of a motorcycle ridden through streets ablaze and blitzed with tear gas. She and her team were fortunate not to have been hit by the live rounds fired by police. This was her third trip to Haiti in the past few months, and she said she’s never seen a worse human rights crisis or people better organized and more determined to prevail.

“Over and over the people say, ‘We have no food, no jobs, no way to support our families,'” Prescod told Truthout. “‘We are not leaving the streets. We’d rather die on our feet than live on our knees.’”

Born in Barbados, Prescod keeps a sharp journalistic eye focused on foreign meddling in Haiti’s affairs.

“I’m with Frederick Douglass,” she said, referring to the abolitionist’s maxim in his 1893 World’s Fair speech: “Haitians…striking for their freedom, they struck for every Black man in the world.”

In the early 1800s, Haiti repelled Napoleon and ended slavery six decades before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Prescod said Haitian protesters have said that they view the current revolt as a continuation of the rejection by the Haitian grassroots of the subversion of Haiti’s sovereignty in the U.S.-backed 2004 coup and its aftermath, especially the imposition of presidents “selected” by the U.S. and Canada in elections ridden with fraud.

“After victory, what follows next is an important question,” she advises. “The grassroots have nothing, but they know what’s going on: I was told by protesters that any Haitian government you see backed and supported by the U.S. is generally not one that is good for the Haitian people.”

The days Prescod was on the ground were perilous — the police were shooting live rounds from unmarked trucks, she said. She added that her crew was told at the barricades that police were hiding in ambulances, a blatant violation of international law, transporting themselves with teargas to penetrate the roadblocks.

Prescod’s Pacifica radio team was the first international group of journalists to visit Lasalin and speak with survivors of a series of massacres said to be linked to the Moise government. They were accompanied by a delegation from the National Lawyers Guild. Following her reporting on the massacre, Prescod returned to Haiti as part of a delegation headed by U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters to further investigate the Lasalin massacres.

Surviving victims of the Lasalin massacre told Prescod that their communities were politically targeted to punish them for their protests against Jovenel Moise, and for their support for Lavalas, the party of Aristide.

“Jovenel Moise uses paramilitary thugs similar to the Tonton Macoutes, as a strategy to strike fear into their hearts,” she explained.

Prescod said the massacres were barely reported by U.S. and international media, and when they were, it was framed as gang warfare instead of political terrorism — even when a U.N. report verified there were in fact ties between the perpetrators and Moise’s government, specifically implicating Pierre Richard Duplan of the PHTK (Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale, the ruling party of Jovenel Moise).

What Happened in Lasalin

This sticks in Judith Mirkinson’s craw as well.

Mirkinson, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), is co-author with Seth Donnelly of The Lasalin Massacre and the Human Rights Crisis in Haiti, a 14-page report published on July 8, 2019, by the NLG and Haiti Action Committee.

“First of all, the narrative of competing gangs…throw that out, that’s garbage,” she told Truthout. “It was the worst massacre in decades. I get very angry thinking about it.”

The report begins:

On November 13, 2018, police and other paramilitary personnel entered the neighborhood of Lasalin in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. What followed was a massacre of the civilian population. Buildings, including schools, were fired upon and destroyed, people were injured and killed, with some burned alive, women were sexually assaulted and raped and hundreds were forcibly displaced from homes. Bodies were either burned, taken away to be disappeared, buried, never to be found, or in some cases left to be eaten by dogs and pigs.

Mirkinson hopes people will read the report and that it prompts a renewed focus on Haiti from the human rights and progressive communities.

“In recent history, the U.S. has overthrown the government twice, prevented democratic elections twice and treated Haiti like a neocolony,” Mirkinson said. “Haiti is in our hemisphere, $260 million of our tax dollars have paid for police in Haiti since 2010. We do have a responsibility to pay attention.”

Solidarity Actions in the Haitian Diaspora

A spate of solidarity actions has taken place in California, Montreal, Toronto, New York City and Miami in recent weeks.

On September 30, Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 occupied the prime minister’s election office in Montreal for three and a half hours. They delivered a statement to officials and media demanding that Justin Trudeau stop his support for Moise. Meanwhile, at a press conference in Toronto, Trudeau seemed flustered to hear a reporter’s question about the occupation of his Montreal election office. The group followed up with a boisterous rally on October 1, resulting in one arrest, which also garnered media attention.

Yves Engler, co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority, told Truthout that the group plans to up the ante during the Canadian elections.

“Haiti is what brought me to be critical of Canadian foreign policy,” Engler explains. “In 2004, I was shocked by how terrible Canada had been in the coup against Aristide. Life in Haiti is decided in Washington and Ottawa.”

On October 1, a group of Haitians protested Hillary and Chelsea Clinton as they were promoting their new book: The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York.

Human rights attorney Èzili Dantò said she supports the protests by KOMOKODA (the Committee to Mobilize Against Dictatorship in Haiti) who bird dog the Clintons’ public appearances.

“We know the harms the Clintons have done to Haitian women,” Dantò told Truthout. “Haitian women will not have their agony and colonially imposed poverty be used by parasites like Hillary and Bill Clinton.”

Ricot Dupuy, a Haitian journalist at Radio Soleil in New York City, said he holds then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responsible for installing Michel Martelly as president, ushering in an era of illegitimate governance that is still killing Haitians today.

On October 2, Haiti Action Committee held a march and rally with South Bay students, teachers, human rights and community activists in downtown San Jose, California. They expressed solidarity with the uprising of the Haitian people and demanded an end to U.S. support for the dictatorship and death squads in Haiti. Six activists blocked the entrance to the Federal Building while chanting “Stop massacres in Haiti!”

On October 3, Haitian Americans participated in a roundtable listening session organized by U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson with invited guest U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Miami, Florida.

On October 9, Solidarité Québec-Haïti #Petrochallenge 2019 held a press conference reiterating its demand that Trudeau denounce Jovenel Moise.

And on October 13, the group held a protest rally outside Trudeau’s campaign office in Montreal.

Dantò said that support from Haitians living in the diaspora now standing in solidarity with the masses in the streets has never been higher. Nevertheless, she worries about political machinations in Washington.

Truthout requested an update from the Congressional Caribbean Caucus and received a statement from staff containing these assertions:

The country is experiencing fuel shortages, lack of clean water, dwindling food reserves, and more as protests escalate…. We hope that the October 27th parliamentary elections will take place as scheduled and without violence.

October 17 is Dessalines Day, a national holiday in Haiti that commemorates the death in 1806 of Jean-Jacques Dessaline, a major hero of Haitian independence. It is also the one-year anniversary of a bloody day for protesters against Jovenel Moise; two people were killed last year and many others wounded. The passing of an entire year is a crystallizing reminder that the patience Moise asked of the people last year has been unanswered by any positive or meaningful action all this time.

“Haiti is caught in a vicious circle,” Vorbe said, “but we want to prepare for our future.”

Many of the masses of people anticipated to be in the streets on October 17 will be carrying leafy tree branches; most don’t have the money for poster board and magic markers. And they don’t need them — the branch is the symbol for the mobilization of the Haitian people. The historical covenant to rebel in 1804, to risk bloodshed, was made in the mountains, out of sight of the overseers and bosses. It was also carried by those fighting the tyranny of their day during the Duvalier era. The leafy branch is the sign of those ramifications.

From her academic perch at the Institute of Haitian Studies in Lawrence, Kansas, Accilien said she struggles to find the words about this moment.

“Seems like this a moment of steps forward and steps back. We have a glimpse of hope, but we’ve seen these moments before,” Accilien said. “When is it going to be something else — when will it be Haiti’s turn to tell the story?”

Note: This article has been corrected to clarify that Moise attempted to remove energy subsidies in July 2018.

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