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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Full moon rising

It's a beautiful full moon rising over Haiti tonite.

This morning we returned to the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux for more interviews. We began with an interview with rural economist Georges Werleigh. Halfway through his talk I looked over at my digital recorder and realized with this sinking feeling that the battery had died on it. Unfortunately, what that means is that I lost the audio file. I don't understand why Zoom doesn't design the H2 so that it automatically saves the file before it goes into shutdown mode when the battery dies. I thought I could use this talk for a feature segment on WORT's Third World View. I also video taped the talk and could extract the audio from that, but my computer has less than 16GB of space left on it--not nearly enough to digitize the video. After Ghana my computer battery is also fried. I really need a new computer.

I don't know that I have a lot of new or insightful thoughts to report today, but let's try another quick summary. Werleigh began with a historical overview of Haiti, tracing developments from the Spanish conquest through French colonization, the slave revolt, and US occupation. In Haiti's first constitution, Dessalines abolished foreign ownership of land but in the twentieth century the US reversed that legislation as it sought to impose a capitalist mode of production on the country. Subsequently, Haiti has been caught between two economic systems: an antiquated, rural, feudalism based on the French landholding system, and an urban, capitalist, formal system emerging out of the US occupation of the country. Both lead to the impoverishment of Haiti and the development of an economic system that runs against the interests of the vast majority of the population.

Werleigh proceeded to describe the emergence of a new bourgeois capitalist class in the twentieth century based around middle eastern merchant immigrants. This class is colloquially referred to by the initials of three of the ten leading families: Brandt, Accra, Mevs or "BAM," a creole word that means "give me." They came to monopolize much of the economy production of the country: industry, trade, banking, etc., while excluding the ability of others to participate.

We then took testimony from a series of groups, beginning with Favilek, a women's victim group that supported those who suffered sexual and other types of violence in the 1991 and 2004 coups. They said that they are tired of talking because they have talked to the government, human rights organizations, and other groups that make lots of promises but never follow through. The reality is nothing ever changes.

Next was ANAMDECH, an association of street vendors founded in 1997. They support people who do not have the resources to start a formal business. Among their work is a defense of human rights. They related the story of the murder of a UN soldier in civilian clothes in an apparent robbery on April 12, 2008. The UN responded by attacking and burning merchants, many of whom lost everything. Because they had bought their merchandize with high interest loans they were destroyed, leading to protests for reparations. They have complained to human rights groups, the UN, US, etc., but no one has responded. 268 vendors were affected, including 2 who were killed. Attacks on informal vendors remain an ongoing problem.

The Center for the Defense of Human Rights (CDDH) made two main demands: that the government follow through with the agreement to help victims of the 1991 coup, and that they establish a new truth and justice committee to look at abuses in the aftermath of the 2004 coup. Many groups also repeated the demand for the return of Aristide, arguing that it was illegal to keep anyone out of the country by force. The CDDH said that beginning on January 15, 2010 they will launch a new campaign to force this issue with the government. Unless he is brought back, everything will be blocked. Another activist emphasized that they want a popular government who cares for people, and Aristide has been the only politician who has cared for marginalized people. They are not just pro-Aristide, one person emphasized, but also pro-democracy.

Representatives of other groups repeated similar stories of a lack of respect for human rights in Haiti, and how the UN and the Preval government have not done enough protect peoples' rights or improve the situation. Why should people in the US and elsewhere have human rights, but not those in Haiti? They called on us to send a message to Obama that Preval should be judged on these charges. He should be forced to follow through on his promises.

Similarly, a common complaint was the exclusion of Lavalas from the upcoming February congressional elections. The CDDH placed a rhetorical question for Obama how he would react if it were the Democrats that were excluded from contesting an election in the US, and only the Republicans were allowed to run. The US is supporting a real mess in the coming elections, and our message to Obama should be to stop them.

Others shared a common misconception that their situation would improve with the election of Obama in the United States. Unfortunately, he has continued the politics of exclusion that hinders Haitian development. This is a historical problem, tracing back to the US refusal to recognize a Black republic in Haiti, the second independent country in the Americas. A free Black country would set the wrong example for slaves in the US, as well as neighboring Caribbean islands. Both France and the United States deliberately sent the message to other countries that they do not want to be like Haiti, that a revolution is a very, very bad idea. While Haiti has helped many other countries, including Simon Bolivar with the independence of South America, those gestures have rarely been reciprocated.

Several people emphasized that while they embrace people from the United States and Canada, they remain adamantly opposed to those governmental policies. Haiti needs cooperation with other countries including the US, but this must be based on a relationship of respect. They called for a different kind of solidarity. They hoped that our visit would help people understand what Haiti needs, and this includes a voice for the marginalized and the participation of Lavalas in the upcoming election.

We also talked to several labor leaders who related stories of being fired from their jobs and the government not following through with promises of unemployment aid. A particular problem was with the public telecom company that was sold to a Vietnamese company at a huge bargain. Typical neoliberal polices of fire sales of public resources continues under the Preval government.

Rural groups talked about the undermining of the agricultural economy that leads to urban migration in search of better living, with the associated problems of growing cities. The situation of human rights violations in rural areas is often worse because people do not have the resources to protect themselves.

Another group described delays in court hearings for detainees in the judicial system, and the terrible overcrowding conditions in Haitian prisons. Prisoners suffer from torture, bad food and water, and a lack of families who could help them.

Common themes that emerged throughout the day were calls for a stop to the oppression, and that even while the majority suffers they never give up on their struggles.

Our long day ended with a brief conversation with Petion Rospide, a former political prisoner, and more thoughts from the journalist Yves Pierre-Louis who talked to us yesterday. I turned the video camera back on, and in addition to my audio recordings (which I'm slowly uploading to my website, hindered only by a slow internet connection) and taking more pictures I didn't manage to take any notes on their talks to transcribe into this blog post. But I think I did get some good audio that I can use for a report on WORT's Third World View.

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