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28102: Fenton: (interview): A Conversation with Samba Boukman and Samba Mackandal (fwd)

From: Anthony Fenton <fentona@shaw.ca>

Opening Space for Popular Movements: A Conversation with Samba
Boukman and Samba Mackandal
Interviewed by Stuart Neatby, John Dimond-Gibson, and Christian
Heyne. (SJC) Rush Transcript.i
Thursday, March 2nd.

The desperately poor neighbourhoods surrounding Haiti?s capital of
Port-au-Prince have been hardest hit by the political violence and
social cleansing directed against Haiti?s poor by the US, Canadian,
and French- imposed government of Gerard Latortue. The neighbourhood
of Bel Air has been one of the hardest hit of these neighbourhoods,
facing daily shootings and arrests from both the Haitian National
Police as well as the UN/MINUSTAH forces.
We had a chance to speak with Samba Boukman and Samba Mackandal, two
grassroots organizers in Bel Air, on March 2nd about their reactions
to the February 7th elections, the political and social repression
they?ve suffered, and their hopes for a process of national
reconciliation following the election of Rene Preval as Haiti?s
President. The following is a rush transcript of that interview.

SJC: We wanted to ask a few questions about the elections that just
happened. A number of officials and the top electoral monitors from
the Canadian government have described this election as being the
best that Haiti has ever had. What is your response to that?

SB: As the popular movement of poor disenfranchised people known as
Lavalas, we have always had only one weapon: the Democratic Weapon,
which is one man, one vote.

After 200 years of independence, on Dec 16th,1990, Haiti held the
first democratic election in its entire history. That is when we, the
people from poor neighbourhoods, got to elect Jean Bertrand Aristide,
the poor priest, as a president who could represent us. So in 1991
there was a clear threat to democracy when some countries like
France, United States and Canada joined to a minority of people - who
now have organized themselves as the Group 184 ? who organized a coup
against Aristide and all of the people of Haiti. But because of the
support and help of real friends of Haiti, what we call Bon Blans,
the people had a chance to get through it when Aristide was returned
to power in 1994. So with the solidarity from the Black Caucus, the
Clinton administration, and the mobilization of people here in Haiti,
the people finally got the return of the president they had elected.

So the return of democracy helped relieve a lot of problems in poor
neighbourhoods because it gave us access to food, health care,
potable water, and different other basic needs. But that didn?t stop
the international community and also a minority of the wealthy people
in Haiti, from again organizing a coup in 2004 against the needs of
Haiti, causing suffering in the poor neighbourhoods, and bloodshed
all over again.

As a people descended from African slaves, we believe in the
democratic way. We believe that there is one way to take power, and
this is by voting someone that we trust in. So after the coup of Feb
29 we have been mobilizing for a very long time, protesting in the
streets peacefully, in order to call for the respect of our vote.

But we have been mobilizing also against exclusion, the social
exclusion that people in poor neighbourhoods are victims of. Because
when we talk about social exclusion, it?s because the wealthy people
in Haiti ? joined with some of the wealthy countries ? they wanted to
have elections but without the people of the poor neighbourhoods.

So when we say that the wealthy countries and the wealthy people in
Haiti tried to stop the people in poor neighbourhoods from voting,
that?s clear because we have a lot of evidence of it. They committed
killings very often in the poor neighbourhoods, so that the people
would move away. They didn?t have polling centers in the poor
neighbourhoods so people would be discouraged from voting. They
called our neighbourhoods no-man?s-lands so that people would not
visit and find out about our suffering and our struggles. Many people
here do not have food to eat and potable water to drink but they do
have the idea that their votes should be respected. They remember
September 16th 1990 and they wanted this to occur again through the
new elections that just happened.

For us, the vote of February 7th 2006 has a real meaning: it is a
clear answer to the coup of 2004. We wanted to show to the wealthy
people, who organized themselves as the Group 184, that we will not
let them exclude us from the political decision making process and
that they cannot take everything for themselves. We wanted to show
that we are still part of the country. It was a slap in the face of
the defacto Gerard Latortue/Boniface Alexander government to have so
many poor people vote.

But compare this slap in the face to the repression that we have been
subjected to. We have been imprisoned just because of our political
affiliation. We have been victims of different massacres, but we
still decided to organize against all of this oppression.

Some people seem to think that the people who live here are all
illiterate and that we don?t deserve to have the same vote as
everyone else. So that is why we gave them this response ? to show
that we know what we need and we know how to get it. So while people
may say that we are illiterate and that we don?t know anything about
democracy, our vote was a clear response to tell them that we know
politics better then they do. It was quite a lesson for them because
it was above their understanding, what the people accomplished on Feb
7th. Even part of the international community shares the opinion of
the elite here ? thinking that people in poor neighbourhoods are just
dumb and crazy and don?t know what to do.

So our vote on February 7th was a clear response to them too. Our
vote was a vote for the release of all political prisoners. We voted
for a real national reconciliation through a dialogue of the people
which will allow us to move towards peace in Haiti. The vote was not
the only step. We will be voting again for the senate so that Preval
will be in a strong position to help the people. We will also be
mobilizing for a general amnesty which will help the country get the
reconciliation that it needs so that we can move against the social
exclusion that is going on right now in Haiti.

But our country?s reconciliation process should not proceed in a
hypocritical way. The rebels who took weapons against the government,
killed people, and destroyed public administration and public
buildings are walking free on the streets and are going wherever they
want to. Some of them were even candidates in the last election. If
they are free, then there is no way that they should keep in jail
young people from the popular neighbourhoods who used weapons to
defend their rights, the rights of the voters, and the constitution.
It does not make sense that there can be two sets of rules; one for
the wealthy people and one for the poor people. The wealthy people
are walking the streets and going free everywhere, even if they were
involved in a lot of crime and infractions. So that should be the
same for the people from the poor neighbourhoods who were involved in
crime and infractions. They should be back in their homes and the
police should pull their names off of the Research Lists of wanted
persons that the police have put everywhere ? in the radio and in the

SJC: We would like to ask about educational programs which were set
up in the years before the coup ?from 2000 onwards- and what has
happened to them since. Specifically we are interested in the alpha-
resto lunch programs which combined free food with adult literacy

SB: Well, the main objective of the wealthy people is to stop the 85%
majority of the people from having access to the wealth of the
country, and they consider education to be part of the wealth of the
country. Stopping us from having access to education is one way to
prevent us from sharing the wealth of the country.

During Aristide?s term, education was more accessible to the people
than it is now. During Aristide a lot of new schools where built, and
a lot of projects were going in those schools. They were providing
food to the people, they were providing uniforms for the people, and
they even had subsidies for the price of the books. The parents only
had to pay half or a quarter of the price of books, and that really
contributed to education in Haiti.

Since the coup of February 29th, we can say that education is
functioning at only 10% of its capacity in the poor neighbourhoods of

Little children could go to school, but once above the age of 9, it
was not easy. Even if they were in elementary or high school, many
had to leave Bel Air because they were threatened with illegal
arrests or killings. Some of the families decided to move out of Bel
Air and go to some other place so that their children could go to
school. It still was difficult because a lot of the parents had
worked in public administration and since they had lost their jobsii
it was not easy to afford school in Haiti. So this is why in poor
neighbourhoods education is a big issue and concern for the families.

Even the schools which are near Bel Air, many of them were not
functional because a lot of them have been used as a camp or barracks
for the black uniformed Haitian Police or UN.

This is why for the last two years, a lot of young folks from Bel Air
were not going to school and it is clear that the transitional
government has not really helped in any way to relieve the situation
in the poor neighbourhoods. No subsidies on school fees. No
rehabilitation of public schools. No subsidies on the price of gas,
which affects the price of transportation to get the children to
school and at the same time the price of everything. So people have a
problem getting access to basic needs and they give priority to food
and not education. Even projects like the feeding programs that used
to be run under the Aristide government have stopped, so even the
children who go to school do not have access to one hot meal a day.

In the poor neighbourhoods, what we consider the biggest threat or
violence against us is when we wake up in the morning and we don?t
know what we are going to eat during the day. This is considered one
of the biggest forms of violence against the people in the poor

SJC: So speaking of that kind of violence, we understand that you
worked in the capacity of the alpha feeding program for adults ? an
adult literacy program. We wanted to get a sense of what difference
that program made in your neighbourhood.

SB: This was like a knife blow to the bellyiii ? when the government
stopped the alpha program. Because we remember that when this program
was running, it was so great to see those adults, who didn?t have the
chance to know how to read when they were children, learn to read.
They were so proud when they could do something in the public
administration, even if they could just sign their name.

This pride was something that gave us hope for what Haiti should be.
With adults having access to literacy it helped in so many other
things. When they go to vote, they will know where to make their
cross. Before, anyone could just say ?put it here? and they wouldn?t
know if it was the right place. While this program was running, it
was clear to us that there was a change, a good sign of hope for
these people. But now that they have stopped it is like a koud kouto
nan vantiii to everyone that the people stopped having access to
education when they feel so close to it.

SJC: Has the UN or the Latortue government tried to fill the gap that
was left by the feeding programs in Haiti?

SB: The only program that the government was involved in was to come
and kill the people in the poor neighbourhoods. Prime Minister
Latortue even said in a speech that ?There was an operation in
September 30th 2004. We shot them, some of them fell, others were
injured, others ran away.?

This was the date of a police attack on a large peaceful
demonstration commemorating the date of the first coup against
Aristide and calling for his return ? ed.

During the Latortue government there were a lot of violations against
children of the street. They were victims of illegal arrests by the
black uniformed police and they took them to a garbage dump called
Titanyen and killed them. And that is why a lot of street children
who were aware of the situation came to hide in Bel Air and Cite
Soleil so that they could have a chance to not be killed by the
national police.

When all of those children from the streets came to hide in Bel Air,
we had to feed them. So that is why we had to start a little social
organization where all of the people can find support so that we can
decrease the level of misery in Bel Air. We started a feeding program
so that people could come and get at least one hot meal per day.

SJC Who helped you with that?

SB: We had friends who were committed to helping us with this and
they would come with one sack or three sacks of rice so we could
share with the people and cook something and allow everyone to be a
part of it. Also Yele Haiti, which is hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean?s
foundation, contributed and gave us some food to distribute.

SJC: And most of these friends were from Haiti?

SB: Most were but also there are some international friends who have
sent things to share with the children like clothes and food.

The name of the social organization is Zakat Zanfan. Zakat is an
Arabic word referring to a charitable tithe required of muslims, and
Zanfan is children in Creole. We would like to make use of your
microphone to call all of the international social organizations who
would like to help Zakat Zanfan to contact us so that we can help the
children who are in the streets in Bel Air with no families, with no
parents, and who are trying to make it on their own.

SJC: What are your expectations for the Preval government in terms of
help to organizations your work with

SM: As we always like to say ?the river is wide but with god?s help
we will cross it? and we consider President Preval to be a big rock
in the middle of the river that we can stand on.

The main objective is to have a real dialogue with all of the
children of Haiti. We don?t believe that President Preval, just by
himself will accomplish something big for the country. That is why we
are calling all of the children of Haiti to gather together so we can
work together and fight to have a new page of history.

As our ancestors had seen the deportation of Toussaint L?Ouverture,
one of Haiti?s independence heros, so our generation has experienced
the deportation of President Aristide. Our main fight right now is
for this dialogue process, and one of the things that will help this
dialogue process is to have Aristide be a part of it ? close to the
table where everyone will gather to discuss what the country needs.
As President Aristide?s term was finished in 2006 and President
Preval was elected fairly, and we are waiting for him to facilitate
and create the conditions for the dialogue process between all of the
children of the country, because as you can see now every thing is

The only way to have this reconstruction process is to have an
understanding between the people above the hill and people below the
hill wealthy people and poor people.

SJC: There have been voices in Canada calling on Preval to share
power with the parties that lost the election and form what is called
a ?government of national reconciliation.? Is that advisable or a
good idea in your opinion?

SM: That is why we mentioned the dialogue process. It should involve
different sectors and different affiliations. All sectors should be
welcome to be part of the dialogue process and of the union
government. Like Leslie Manigat who finished second in the
Presidential election with 11% of the vote. He is still someone who
has a role to play in improving the situation in Haiti.

This is not something new nor has it only been suggested in Canada.
In the Preval campaign there where speeches welcoming all sectors who
wanted to be part of improving the situation by reconstructing the
country. He always welcomed all fractions who really wanted to do it.
I can remember the words from one of Preval?s speeches from his
campaign: ?Even if I am elected I am open to dealing with people not
necessarily involved in Lespwa,? he said. ?All people who are good
patriots, who have a good will of improvement and change, I am open
to working with them so that we can have a better country.? This is
something that really counts for me and I think that this is
something that he should work on.

SJC: Is there a concern that elements of the interim government will
continue on into the Preval government?

SM: The people don?t trust the members of the defacto government
because we have already gone through another defacto government
during the military dictatorship of 1991-1994. Both of those
experiences have finished with bloodshed. So we don?t really trust
the interim government representatives and it could be a big concern
to have them continue in the new government that Preval is about to
start. They haven?t done anything to show that they have a good will
for improvement. A good example of that is that they haven?t had the
courage to release even one political prisoner. They should have the
courage to say that we want to release even some of the people who
have been arrested illegally. And that would show that they are open
to doing something positive. But since they are not doing that, it is
showing people why they cannot trust them. Many of the people who
have kept the interim government representatives in power, even they
don?t trust them or work with them anymore.

So there?s no way that people like us, who never believed in them,
would ever work with them. It is because of the dialogue process that
we want to start that we do not call for the arrest of most
representatives of the interim government, because that step would
stop the dialogue and reconciliation process. But in reality they
have accomplished so many bad things that they should be under arrest.

SJC: So you want an investigation of those people?

SM: It would be good to have an investigation so that the truth can
come out about the many killings and the many massacres that have
happened in popular neighbourhoods.

In Bel Air we have so many friends and so many people who have been
living nearby who have died, killed in the streets. It would be good
for people to know about the massacres, who was in charge of them and
who was behind them. We know that the people from this interim
government will have official amnesty, just like always. The former
director of the police Leon Charles now has an international position
at the Haitian embassy in Washington. We know that after this,
Latortue will be moving to the United States, Canada, or France. They
will welcome him because all of these countries keep saying that he
is doing a very nice job. So we know they won?t arrest him.

SJC: I want to clarify. You?ve spoken of a general amnesty before. In
other words, this would be concerning only the leadership, the
investigation of major responsibility.

SB: A general amnesty should not be only for the officials, like
giving a new international position to the former director of the
police. it should be an open general amnesty, not only for the
wealthy people from the Group 184 who have been involved in
distributing weapons to some people in the poor neighbourhoods so
they can infiltrate into political movements and cause disturbances
in poor neighbourhoods. It should not be just an amnesty for the
wealthy people, or for only people like former minister Justice
Bernard Gousse, who is behind a lot of killings. We are recommending
a general amnesty so that all sectors, whether they are in (public)
life, or in the disenfranchised class, can benefit from an amnesty.
Because we know that in the poor neighbourhoods, there are young
police officers who were dismissed with weapons in hand. There are
demobilized soldiers who are demanding the return of the army, who
have weapons in their hands. But we should not excuse some people and
still have Research Lists police wanted lists on the people in the
poor neighbourhoods.

SJC: What do people in Bel Air think of Canada, considering that
Canada was a supporter of the return of Aristide after the first
coup, and a supporter of the interim government after the second coup?

SM: All over the country here, people know that Canada is an example
of democracy to the world, and that Canada contributed a lot in
planting democracy after the first coup. That?s why the people here
were really surprised to see that the government of Canada was behind
the coup of February 29th and also supporting the interim government
that was supporting so much violence. It surprises the people to see
such a transformation from the Canadian government about its policy
in Haiti.

But we always like to establish the big difference between bon blans
and mauvais blans good white people and bad white people. We know
that the people in Canada have been in solidarity with us, contrary
to the Foreign Affairs ministry of Canada who said that people in
poor neighbourhoods have made it a no-man?s land, and are
perpetrating different kinds of crime in Haiti.

There is one last example of clear evidence that the people of Canada
are in solidarity with the people of Haiti, because the way that the
people of Canada voted is like a response to the last government who
supported the interim government in Haiti. When we talk, we are
talking about the people of Canada who are in solidarity with Haiti.
We will not say that the last government of Canada was bad and that
the new one will be better because we don?t know if the policy will
change. We don?t want to decide who is the worst and who is the best,
we just hope that the people of Canada will open their eyes so that
they know what the Canadian policy is in Haiti and so they know what
is going on, so they can stop it when it is something bad.

SJC: We want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

SM & SB: Thank you.


i Transcribed from English-Creole translation. Some inconsistencies
of exact translation may be present.

ii An estimated 4000 government workers were fired by the interim
government, many of whom were from poor/popular neighbourhoods.

iii Exact translation: koud kouto nan vant, literally meaning a knife
blow to the stomach. The expression is a play on the expression koud
kouto nan do which translates to ?a stab in the back.?
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