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28367: Haiti on Demand (news) Time to Support Haiti (fwd)

From: Haiti On Demand <haitiondemand@gmail.com>

 *Time to Support Haiti*
by Michael Deibert
Op-Ed submitted to The Henry Jackson Society (UK)
23rd April 2006

On 21st May, if everything goes according to plan, Haiti will inaugurate
Renè Garcia Prèval as its new president. Shortly thereafter, the country
will install new senators and deputies for its upper and lower houses of
parliament. Mr. Prèval, who served as Haiti's president from 1996 until
2001, will take over the leadership of a country courtesy of a ballot
supervised by the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
and replace an unelected interim government that has overseen convulsing
violence and economic stagnation since the flight of Haitian President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

MINUSTAH, lead by former Chilean Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdès and
consisting of 7,519 UN peacekeeping troops, 1,776 police and a staff of
1,132 civilian personnel, has been widely and often accurately criticised
for its inability to impose order in Haiti's lawless capital,
Port-au-Prince. The city has seen hundreds, possibly thousands, killed in
waves of kidnappings, gang wars, blanket police retaliation and vigilante
justice since Aristide fled amid an armed rebellion and massive street
protests against his rule. But the mission, even despite the timid turnout
for this month's second-round vote, must nonetheless be congratulated on
pulling off in the first round a feat that even a few months before many
would have thought impossible: mass participation in an electoral process
now widely viewed as legitimate in a country riven by class and political

Prèval is a complex figure, not at all the Aristide puppet that many have
long accused him of being nor the humble country man he sometimes likes to
portray himself as. He has a massive task ahead of him: depoliticising and
professionalising a police force that was intentionally infiltrated with
gang members and criminal elements during Aristide's reign, reversing
deforestation estimated at over ninety-eight percent and its attendant
environmental catastrophes, and making a more equitable and open economic
system in a country where eighty percent of the population is mired in
chronic poverty. While it is true that one does not survive as long as
Prèval has in Haiti's brutal political climate without having finely honed
political skills, the fact that Prèval remained untouched at his home in
rural Marmelade in northern Haiti as violence swept through the country in
early 2004 (and Aristide loyalists were being killed, jailed or driven off)
is testament to just how well-regarded he was by the people in that part of
the country. The response of the broader Haitian electorate demonstrated
just how much hope people have that he will help ameliorate the situation.
Unlike the international community's previous intervention in Haiti when Mr.
Aristide was retuned to power and a military government deposed in 1994,
this time it is essential that the international community stay involved in
Haiti for the long haul.

Had the international community listened to some of the voices in the
Haitian debate, these elections might have never occurred. The support of
self-described 'progressive' forces outside of Haiti has unfortunately
all-too-often fallen by the wayside in deference to short-term political
goals. The descent into the facile 'saviour politics' that Mr. Aristide
exploited so successfully during his political career came at the expense of
a sustained and even-handed attempt to help the vast majority of decent,
honest Haitians strengthen their country's institutions, create a more open
and equitable economic system and reinforce a truly open, democratic
political process. If progressive forces are serious about helping Haiti's
eight million people, this is a dynamic which must change.

On 3rd February, four days *before* Haiti's presidential election, the
Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), long an uncritical
supporter of Mr. Aristide's government, released a statement entitled *Botched
Job: The UN and the Haiti Elections
assailing the ballot. COHA wrote that 'the elections, which are central to
the Bush administration's desire to get the island off its foreign policy
agenda, are unlikely to offer a way out of the current nightmare of
instability, chaos and violence'. In support of this contention, they quoted
the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which asserted that
the ballot would suffer from a 'lack of democratic legitimacy.'

The IJDH itself is a curious creature. The Miami attorney Ira Kurzban is
listed as 'one of the founders of IJDH', and 'a member of the Board of
Directors' in a 24th March 2005
sent by the IJDH to Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS. According to US
Department of Justice *Foreign Agents Registration Act *(FARA)
(3) Kurzban's law firm received $3,569,026 from the Aristide government of
behalf of its lobbying efforts between 2001 and 2003, and he has been
identified as Mr. Aristide's personal attorney in, among other places, a
16th March 2004 press release from the office of United States
Representative Maxine Waters. While employed by the Aristide government, in
addition to representing its interests in the United States, Mr. Kurzban was
responsible for helping to
fund<http://www.ijdh.org/SF-Haiti%20Fundraiser%20Invite.pdf>(4) the
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Haiti, which included on
its staff a gifted US attorney, Brian Concannon. Mr. Concannon is now the
lead attorney with the IJDH and, though the organisation is ostensibly
headquartered in Oregon, where Mr. Concannon resides, donations are directed
to be sent to a Florida address, the region where Mr. Kurzban resides. The
group's 2005 annual report
<http://www.ijdh.org/pdf/ijdhannualreport05.pdf>(5) lists $53,836 of
contributions from undisclosed 'individual supporters'.

Mr. Concannon, in an August 2005 interview on Flashpoints Radio in the
United States, repeatedly referred to the vote to which Haitians responded
so magnificently in February, as a 'phony election', saying that 'ninety
percent of the Haitian people want nothing to do with this election.'
Echoing Concannon, Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research
co-director Mark Weisbrot, who is often unable to get even the basic details
of Mr. Aristide's second term in office correct, wrote in *The
Nation*<http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051212/weisbrot>(6) magazine
last November that the vote would be a 'farce'.

In tandem with this effort to de-legitimise the vote, Haitian organisations
advocating on behalf of the nation's workers and peasantry have been
particular victims of a scurrilous campaign. These groups were at
loggerheads with the Aristide government due to, among other offences, the
brutal (and illegal) March 2002 eviction of peasant farmers from the
Maribaroux Plain by government security forces to make way for a low-wage
factory there, and the machete attack that same year by government partisans
against a group of farm workers agitating for better conditions at a factory
in the town of Guacimal. The latter attack left two dead and eleven
summarily imprisoned.

When peasant activist Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who has been organising
subsistence farmers against abusive governments and working to halt Haiti's
environmental degradation in the country's Plateau Central for over thirty
years, was the recipient of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize, the IJDH
denounced him on Flashpoints Radio as 'a strong organiser behind the
political end of the coup which drove Haitian President Aristide from power'
(The award is sponsored by the San-Francisco-based Goldman Environmental
Foundation, and is the world's largest prize program honoring grassroots
environmentalists). Jean-Baptiste, the leader of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay
(MPP) peasant union and the twenty-thousand member Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal
Kongre Papay (MPNKP) (both named for the village of Papay where they are
based), was also the subject of a March 2006 article by Tom Reeves in *
Counterpunch* <http://www.counterpunch.org/reeves03012006.html> (7) magazine
which stated that 'Chavannes was mentored by Aristide since his youth'. This
statement was a complete falsehood that ignored the fact that Jean-Baptiste
is a full decade older than Aristide and had began organising peasants in
1973 when Aristide, a former priest, was still in seminary school. Providing
no supporting evidence, Reeves goes on to write that 'according to former
MPP members from Mirebalais and Thomond in the Plateau (towns many miles
from Papay)...interviewed in March 2004, Chavannes welcomed (rebel leader
Louis Jodel) Chamblain and even held a dinner for his band at Papay.' This
allegation stands in stark contrast to a 24th February 2004
communiqué<http://www.grassrootsonline.org/weblog/mpp.html>(8) in
which Jean-Baptiste and the MPP pointedly, and at no small risk to
themselves, said they would *not* aid the rebels, nor demonstrate for them,
stating that 'collaboration (with the rebels) is not possible?We (the MPP)
cannot make an alliance with this group just because we are both against

A similar smear campaign has been waged against one of Haiti's most militant
and effective labour unions, Batay Ouvirye (Worker's Struggle), for
receiving financial support from the liberal AFL-CIO's American Centre for
International Labour. This
included $20,000 for a Workers' Centre in the town of Ouanaminthe on
Dominican border and the possibility for an additional $50,000 to facilitate
a free trade zone in Port-au-Prince. The organisation had received no money
from the AFL-CIO before Aristide's February 2004 ouster. In the midst of the
attacks, the New York-based Grassroots Haiti organisation bravely stated
that 'the inherent weaknesses in the international left and especially in
the US progressive movement (is that) solidarity too often focuses on
charismatic leaders with access to state power while overlooking the
struggles of actual workers and others on the ground. The international left
would be in a better position to criticise if it had been providing a
meaningful level of concrete support to Batay Ouvriye and other grassroots
organisations over the years.' It is indeed odd to watch privileged North
American activists lecturing working-class Haitians on how they are and are
not allowed to attempt to better their country's lot.

My own dealings with this current of political thought following the
publication of a memoir of my time in the country, *Notes from the Last
Testament: The Struggle for Haiti *, written after having spent the better
part of a decade visiting and reporting there and having seen first-hand
what the Aristide government had become, were of a similar vein. In *The New
Left Review* and on the Znet website, which has quoted the IJDH eight times
over the past two years while never mentioning its connection to Aristide, a
Canadian activist and occasional journalist by the name of Justin Podur, who
speaks no Kreyol and the sum of whose personal experience in Haiti consisted
of one month-long trip in the fall of 2005, penned a pair of juvenile
personal attacks on myself and the book, producing a supposed 'smoking gun'
to discredit the work. This was a statement from one Patrick Elie, denying
his presence outside a church, the Eglise Saint Pierre, in the capital on
3rd December 2002 (where I addressed him by name and in English), at the
beginning of what became a day of attacks against anti-Aristide
demonstrators in Haiti's capital. Podur described Elie as a 'Haitian
activist' as well as a 'very courageous and brilliant individual.'

A former junior cabinet minister and confidante of Mr. Aristide who has thus
far wisely been excluded from involvement in Prëval's re-emergence on the
political scene, Mr. Elie was heretofore perhaps best known for being
arrested outside of Washington, DC in April 1996 and jailed for nearly two
years in the United States for, among other offences, apparently threatening
the life of Prèval's ambassador to the United States at the time, Jean
Casimir. Subsequently held for falsely claiming to be a diplomat and for
using a false address on a federal firearms transaction, court
from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit show that US
diplomatic security and police inventoried from Mr. Elie's hotel room at the
time a Colt .223 semi- automatic assault rifle with a round in the chamber
and six magazines loaded with armour-piercing ammunition, a Remington .22
calibre bolt action rifle equipped with a telescopic sight, a loaded Steyr
9mm semi-automatic pistol with 264 9mm rounds (including 180 rounds of
hollow-point ammunition), night vision equipment, two knives, approximately
$4,800 in cash, purchase receipts for three additional firearms and
documents relating to the activities of Mr. Casimir. Mr. Elie's connections
among Haiti's elite economic and political class saved him on that occasion,
but one cannot help but to speculate as to what exactly was being planned.
And one must question how Znet could put stock in the words of such a
plainly unstable and unreliable individual, so obviously a thorough product
of Haiti's dysfunctional political milieu. It certainly points to their
operating on a far different moral compass from that of the grassroots
activists I have met in Haiti over the years.

Claiming to be progressive, Znet, *The New Left Review* and journalists such
as those mentioned above have, in fact, been doing the work of Haiti's
reactionary landowners and upper-class. These forces within Haiti have been
attempting for many years to marginalise peasant and worker activists from
international support and thereby facilitate their continued oppression by
an unfair economic system, one that Aristide and his party milked as
effectively as any political leaders ever have in Haiti. At present, sectors
of the international left are helping them in this task.

It is high time that some in the progressive movement give up their
illusions about Haiti and set about helping the millions of brave and
resilient people who are struggling daily to improve their lot there in
substantive and demonstrative ways. The time for ruling class activist
fantasies about Haiti is finished. The time for concrete action is at hand.

If Mr. Prèval is to succeed in bettering the lives of Haiti's long-suffering
people, something we all hope for, the international community, and
particularly the progressive community, must openly and honestly support
organisations working for progressive change and an open and free society
rather than continuing their de facto support of the 'corrupt, immoral,
thieving, charlatan, incompetent, bankrupt, criminal, anti-worker,
pro-imperialist and reactionary' remnants of the *anicen regime*, as Haitian
activist Mario Pierre once memorably described them.

I have written before that what is at stake in Haiti is too important to
surrender the dialogue to mercenaries, opportunists and novices, and that
has never been truer than it is right now.

*Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The
Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press). The views in this article are his
own. His website is www.michaeldeibert.com.*

*** *

1. "Botched Job: The UN and the Haiti Elections"
Friday, 3 February 2006, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

2. "Letter to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights," 24 March 24 2005.

3. Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) Semi-Annual Reports (Haiti),

4. IJDH Fundraiser Invite, 1 November 2005.

5. IJDH Annual Report 2005.

6. "Undermining Haiti" by Mark Weisbrot, The Nation, 22 November 2005.

7. "The Puzzling Alliance of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Charles Henri
Baker: Haitian Election Aftermath," by Tom Reeves, Counterpunch, 1 March

8. "MPP Speaks to the New Dimension of the Haitian Crisis," press release,
24 February 2004.

9. Batay Ouvriye press release, 9 January 2006.

10. "United States of America vs. Patrick Elie," United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, 28 April 1997.

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