MABE Orphanage -- Port au Prince, Haiti

MABE Orphanage -- Port au Prince, Haiti

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer 2011 -- Leisa's Haiti Journal #4

Luke, Leisa, Paul and the children
and staff of the MABE orphanage
Dear Friends,


Haiti was saved from most of tropical storm Emily this week, so we were able to continue serving the children in Port au Prince area without any disruption, save an occasional welcome breeze and the slight flooding we saw in Cite Soleil. Three cases of condoms have been delivered, and 10 cases of supplies ordered for "Wings of Hope" children's home for the severly disabled. I took Marcorel Lisius to tour Grass Roots display of examples of locally sustainable/approprate housing. Besides having founded MABE orphanage, Marco is an expert in sustainable building (specifically sanitation). I will meet with folks for medical services to register for PROMISS on Monday which should enable us to use our dear donations to get even better prices on rxs. Also, we did accept as a partner "Grass Roots" who in turn will offer us free medical supplies we can pick up in Haiti, saving shipping costs. It has been a very busy last week.


We did find our car and ourselves seated front row to a volatile demostration of some very frustrated young men looking for work in front of the Haitian Social Services building. Rocks and a few shots were fired, but no one seemed to be injured.


Thank you so very much for supporting our Children's Hope work in Haiti...without you the work could not move forward.


Peace always and all ways,


leisa

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer 2011 -- Leisa's Haiti Journal #3: Amputee Clinic

Our two new Haitian sons packed, carried and delivered donations into the Prosthetika amputee lab, their eyes round with awe and reverence as they were handed molds used to make new limbs for other Haitian children.


This was their first service trip with Mommy Leisa and Papi. Though every excursion away from the orphanage is a grand adventure, this time the full force of service work came down hard on our two little sons. They had only seen us deliver toys, food, water and medicine. Our visits to Mabe Orphanage were characteristically full of cheerful things: a Disney movie under the stars, surprise ice cream, soccer balls, new beds…When D’Alessandro held up the small prosthetic leg it looked as if the burden of all street children came to rest on his young shoulders. Some part of him will always carry the burden of having once been a street kid himself, struggling to care for his two year old brother…without shelter, safety or clean water.


Now, that burden is an opportunity. I return to Port au Prince today for yet another meeting at the U.S. Embassy that may soon allow us to bring Dro and Tevez to their new home in America . Haiti will always be their home as well, as it has almost become for us. Very soon, though, we hope, their world will become much larger, their opportunities much greater and that huge compassion they carry may grow wings of its own.


Peace, all ways and always,


Leisa

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Leisa's Haiti Journal #2 - The Sun Set Backwards

June 22, 2011 - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
 
We watched the sun set backwards in Florida last night on our way to Haiti. (As born and raised Californians, we know  the sun is supposed to set over  the ocean). Tomorrow before the sun has a chance to come up again, we'll be off to Haiti with thousands of dollars worth of supplies that we are not sure we can pay for when the bill comes due. Somehow, though, we have confidence. 
 
Florida's opulent beauty and abundance stand in such stark contrast to what we know we will experience tomorrow. More than the sun setting seems backward today. Tourist's drippy plastic bottles of icy water remind me of the day last year when we helped fill water buckets from a truck we flagged down in Cite Soleil. A long line of dust-dry children and their desperate mothers patiently waited for their portion of water. We hadn't budgeted for a truck load of water, but what could we do? Normally scrubbed Haitian children had grime and bugs sticking to them with equal determination. Their mother’s eyes which normally both confront and comfort me with their centuries old wisdom, strength, and determination were for once, downcast. Post quake, mid-cholera has left nearly everyone in Port au Prince suffering either loss or illness at the start of this new hurricane season. 
 
It’s not too late to help. This trip, we purchased all the medicine, tarps, toys and books we could pack up to our weight limit of 100 pounds per person (not sure how many more trips Paul’s chronically sore lower back has in it). We printed and carry 20 copies of the 200 page research project from last trip, and some of my new children’s book, “Children of the Coup.” We have committed to visit three amputee sites, a few clinics, orphanages, a boy’s home, and the new site for Sopudep School, yet we never really know where need will take us. What we do know is that we cannot meet these needs without your support.
 
In short, it will take us a few months to get back to a balanced budget. We trust, though, that it will happen, as it always has.


So, if you planned on making a pledge and just haven’t done it yet, write back now.


If you have pledged, and not sent your check, now is a good time.


If you ever wondered how you could make genuine difference in someone’s life, be part our team. Our most valued team members often never come to Haiti . They may help with funding, write grants, throw concerts or organize collection drives. (Thanks to Karen B., Jessica D., and Will L.)  

Three ways to contribute:
1. Go to the blog: http://coalitionfordemocracyinhaiti.blogspot.com/
2. Send a check to Children's Hope, 3025A Cambridge Rd., Cameron Park, CA 95682
3. Reply to this email with a pledge of any amount (Please follow up with a check).
 
Peace, all ways and always, 
Leisa

Leisa's Haiti Journal #1 (Saturday, June 4th, 2011)

Dear Friends,


Today, little Emma (age 8) is lugging duffel bags and counting bottles of children's vitamins bound for Haiti. Trouble is, there is not enough medicine to fill up all the bags she set out. After paying off the last Children's Hope trip to Haiti in January this year, (aside from the $1,350 earmarked for amputee services) we have only $350 remaining for our pharmaceutical supply order. (We usually order $1,000 to $4,000 in new medicines).


We are fortunate to have five student interns this time to help carry supplies. They will also assist in the distribution of the $1,000 they raised that will be spent locally in Haiti to address needs at Mabe Orphanage primarily, and perhaps some at Sopudep School, The Lamp Clinic (Cite Soleil) and St. Joseph's Home for Boys (Port au Prince).


Each intern also raised their own expenses for the trip. We are very proud and grateful to the Peace and Conflict Resolution Club at Sac State for taking the lead on the fund raising on campus.


Once again, I have faith that the rest of us can match their dedication to service. I will order meds this Tuesday, depending on how many pledges we get. Please remember that the cholera epidemic is not going away. Over 5,300 people have died from cholera in Haiti since October (mostly from a lack of clean water). Hurricane season is just starting (June to Nov), as the earthquake induced homeless are now facing bull-dozers plowing down their tent city camps with little or no warning.


Like many of you, little Emma cannot come join our team going to Haiti this month, but she is doing her part. If you find you have a bit to share, it will certainly go far to help those in need who are still suffering. Help us give Haiti a chance to heal.


Ways to donate:


1) Go to: http://coalitionfordemocracyinhaiti.blogspot.com/
2) Send a check to Children's Hope, 3025A Cambridge Road, Cameron Park, CA 95682
3) Reply to this email with a note to me pledging to send any amount, and I will order that amount of meds in your name, (Please remember to mail a check the address below).
4) Forward this email to a friend who has always wanted to support a small, local non-profit that works in solidarity with local community leaders in Haiti, and who hand delivers those supplies and services to the most needy.
5) Collect things we always need, such as:
*children's vitamins, infant tylenol, children's tylenol, children's advil (generic from Costco is the best buy)
*adult generic advil or tylenol (large bottles from Costco are the best value)
*Mary Jane style black girls shoes (needed to attend school - any size - nearly new are fine)
*used cell phones
*web worthy new or used lap tops
*graphing calculators for Haitian high school students (have any in your drawer?)
*light weight rubber sandals (Flip-flops - new only but dollar store is ok)
*children's calculators (dollar store is ok - we need about 300 of these)
*sponsor a child's tuition and uniform/supply costs ($450 per child a year)
*Condoms (we have had a great team working on getting these, and they exceeded their commitment, but it is coming to a close)


6) Activate your own church, club, reading group or service organization - you never know what may come of it. I had three children decide to help Haiti by selling brownies and they raised over $300 dollars, came by and packed up supplies with me. Donations from the above list may be delivered to my address below anytime (but to have them included in this trip they must be here by June 16th).


peace, all ways and always, Leisa


p.s. I just finished my thesis on acutely impoverished children in Cite Soleil. If you want a copy of the PDF file, just write me at ChildrensHope@live.com and I will be more than happy to send you a free copy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Father Roy Bourgeois on Democracy Now!

Human rights group sues mayor in Haiti for terrorizing earthquake victims during unlawful evictions

For Imme­di­ate Release:
May 31, 2011

Con­tact:
Mario Joseph, Av., Managing Attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, mario@ijdh.org, +509-3701-9879/ +509-3554-4284 (in Port-au-Prince) (French)
Jeena Shah, Esq., Legal Fellow, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, jeena@ijdh.org, +509-3610-2781 (in Port-au-Prince) (English)

Human rights group sues mayor in Haiti for terrorizing earthquake victims during unlawful evictions

On Wednesday, June 1, 2011, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) will file a complaint with Haiti’s National Prosecutor against Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy for his recent spree of illegal evictions in displacement camps created after the January 12, 2010 earthquake. Grassroots human rights organizations and tent camp residents also plan to stage a protest at 10 am at the Ministry of Justice, while the complaint is being filed, to draw attention to their grievances. The protest will end before the nation’s Parliament.

At least three camps housing approximately 1,000 displaced persons in the Port-au-Prince suburb were destroyed last week by Mayor Jeudy, his armed security personnel and units from the Haitian National Police, as a part of the Mayor’s declared mission to remove camps from public lands. The police came with little to no warning and raided the camps under the pretext of searching for criminals, slashing tents with machetes and assaulting residents trying to protest the raids.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Haiti: Just When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse

Funeral of Samuel Georges, an 18-year-old who died eight hours
after contracting cholera. Cholera is on the rise in Haiti. 
Credit:Ben Depp, www.bendepp.com

Beverly Bell


BERKELEY, California, May 5 (IPS) - We may soon look back on this period in Haiti with greater appreciation.

Amidst the world-historic levels of death and suffering from last January's earthquake, citizens have at least been spared the scale of government violence that has marked much of their nation's past (notwithstanding attacks against internally displaced persons during forced evictions, and occasionally against street protesters.)

This may change under Michel Martelly, the incoming president. For starters, he wants to bring back the army that former president Jean- Bertrand Aristide dismantled in 1995. Since Haiti already has a police force to maintain public order and the country is not expected to go to war, Martelly can have only one aim for reintroducing armed forces: to reclaim the tool that past presidents have used to shore up their power by means of violent repression of dissent and competition.

Forces are already readying for violence, which will likely be exerted both through the army and through gangs.

Journalist Isabeau Doucet filed this eyewitness report last month: "For over a year, on a hillside south of Port-au-Prince, around 100 former soldiers and young recruits train three times a week. They claim to have a network of camps all over the country where Haitian men meet and exercise, learn military protocol and martial arts and receive basic training... The black-and-red flag of Jean-Claude Duvalier's party hangs in their tarpaulin dressing room… Somebody is paying for this, even though they claim that it's all-volunteer, and the current government is turning a blind eye, if not giving tacit support."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Martelly: Haiti's second great disaster

Many of Haiti's poorest citizens were not dissuaded by former singer Michel 'Sweet Micky' Martelly's near-total lack of political experience. [Gallo/Getty]

Haiti's new president is a friend of coup-plotters, fascists, and armed right-wing groups in his country and abroad.

Greg Gandlin, aljazeera.net

No sooner had Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly been confirmed the winner in Haiti's deeply flawed presidential election than he jumped on a plane and headed to Washington, where he met with his country's real power brokers: officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the US Chamber of Commerce and the State Department.

There, he committed his desperately poor country - where some 700,000 people are still homeless as a result of last year's earthquake - to fiscal discipline, promising to "give new life to the business sector". In exchange, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave him a strong endorsement. "We are behind him; we have a great deal of enthusiasm," she said. "The people of Haiti may have a long road ahead of them, but as they walk it, the United States will be with you all the way," she added.

Martelly, a well-known kompa singer, is an unusual choice to lead Haiti. With no political experience, he represents a clear break with the country's other democratically elected presidents since the island nation ousted the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and ushered in an unprecedented era of democracy.

The US press billed his victory as "overwhelming". But with Haiti's most popular political party, Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas, banned from participating in the election, a vast majority of Haitians didn't vote. Martelly took the presidency with just 16.7 per cent of the electorate.

Compare this dismal turnout with the election of Haiti's last two presidents. Aristide, a popular liberation theologian priest, won the presidency twice in landslides where a majority of the electorate voted, first in 1990 and again in 2000. Aristide's first prime minister, Rene Preval likewise was elected twice by large margins with high turnouts, in 1995 and 2006. In this election, Martelly got two-thirds of the vote - but three-quarters of registered voters didn't turn up.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Losing Latin America

America's 'backyard' has never been so united and independent of U.S. influence.
A University student wears a mask with the face of President Obama during a protest  against his  visit at El Salvador del Mundo square in San Salvador, on March  22, 2011. Obama was on the last  leg of a three-nation tour of Latin America. (Photo by Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images)
By Steve Ellner, April 14, 2011

In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama pressed for quick passage of a free trade agreement with Colombia, and since then has followed up on the proposal. In doing so he has delighted Republicans who had been accusing him of failing to prioritize the issue. In his January speech, Obama made no reference to his unequivocal concern over human rights violations which he had raised in his third presidential debate with McCain.

Since 2008, little has improved to justify Obama's reversal. Human Rights Watch has reported a 41 percent increase in the number of victims in 2010 over the previous year, including the murder of 44 trade unionists. In the first six weeks of 2011, death squads assassinated three more labor activists.

In an attempt to assure members of U.S. Congress that progress is being made, on April 7 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Obama announced from the White House the approval of an "Action Plan," whereby the Colombian government pledged to take stringent measures to curb abuses. Many Colombian trade union leaders, however, refused to buy into the arrangement and expressed skepticism about their government's resolve. Tarsicio Mora, president of the Unitary Workers Confederation (CUT), objected by saying, "It just can't be that respect for a basic right established in the constitution, such as the right to life, has to be required by a commercial transaction."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mixed reviews in US for Haiti's president-elect

Jamaica Observer, April 6, 2011

NEW YORK, United States (CMC) — Haitian emigrants in the United States have reacted warily to the victory of popular musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly in the French Caribbean Community (Caricom) country's presidential election.
Martelly received nearly 70% of the vote.

Preliminary reports show that Martelly, 50, a father of four and flamboyant figure who sometimes performs while wearing a Scottish kilt, received nearly 70 per cent of the votes cast in the March 20 second run-off presidential poll, defeating former first lady Mirlande Manigat, 70.

Some Haitians here have warned that Martelly could polarise the society.

"He has a double intensity," said Ricot Dupuy, manager and a host at Radio Soleil, which serves the Haitian immigrant community in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

"Those who love him, love him intensely. And those who hate him, hate him intensely," he added.
Brooklyn Shopkeeper Grand Drape said Martelly could be just the man Haiti needs.
"He is good for Haiti," said Drape, 68. "He loves people. He can do something better for the country. Let's give this guy a try."

News of Martelly's win on Monday night was greeted with jubilation and disbelief by Haitians, who both embraced and rejected his presidential bid.

"While Martelly is, indeed, a new leader, the structure of economic power remains the same and the old problems have not disappeared," said Robert Fatton, a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia, who has been following the elections since last year.

"In fact, the key players of yesterday have not vanished. Despite his dramatic eruption, Martelly may well be a case of "old wine in a new bottle,' but time will tell", he added.

Other Haitian observers say that the fact that most of the country's 4.3 million voters sat out the elections cannot be discounted.

They also say the fraud that lawyers inside the Vote Tabulation Centre discovered over the past 14 days, as they scrutinized more than 25,000 presidential tally sheets, is also a major factor.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) said it would release the final tally on April 16, after an expected appeal from Manigat is heard. According to the preliminary results, Martelly won by a 2-1 margin.
After the results were announced, Manigat's campaign sent a letter to the justice minister accusing CEP president Gaillot Dorsinvil of seeking to influence the results during a late Sunday night visit to the VTC.
Even with the challenge, Haiti's streets remained free of violence that the international community had feared if Martelly had lost.

Although there had been a perception for weeks that Martelly had won, his campaign was unsure of the outcome, even as advisors put him through governance tutorial courses.

Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/pfversion/Mixed-reviews-in-US-for-Haiti-s-president-elect_8632728#ixzz1Iz6Bd1lI

Friday, April 1, 2011

Haiti's Movement from Below Endures

by Jeb Sprague
Aljazeera, english.aljazeera.net, March 27, 2011

Despite those in power trying to keep him out, the return of Aristide to Haiti has rekindled hope among the poor.

As twice ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family were escorted out from the airport tarmac in Port-au-Prince, loud chants of "Titid, Titid, Titid" rose from an ecstatic gathering that filled every space of a causeway leading out from the airport.

One crowd gathers in support of the former president, Jean-Bertand
Aristide, now returned from exile 
[Photo credit: Wadner Pierre]
Sitting on walls, a few climbing a telephone pole, rows of youth jumped in excitement at the return of Aristide from exile in South Africa – a heroic figure for the people whose history is one indelibly rooted in resistance.

As the gates swung open for two police vehicles, an SUV with dark tinted windows and a white van carrying guests, an airport grounds man with a huge smile on his face clasped the hands of a skinny police officer motioning the cars through.

Heavily armed UN soldiers with sky-blue helmets stood in rows some 30 meters away. The caravan made its way alongside the airport route. In waves, thousands poured in from the slums carrying flags and banners on foot. One man dressed as Jean Jacques Dessalines – the founding leader of Haiti – charged down the street atop a horse, waving the crowd forward. Many were on motorcycles or piled into trucks zooming through the dusty air.

Haiti Abstains

Dan Coughlin | March 22, 2011


Despite a massive UN mobilization, Haitians stayed away from controversial presidential elections in large numbers on March 20, raising serious questions about the legitimacy of the government poised to take power.

“The majority of the Haitian people did not vote in this election because the majority of people stand behind Lavalas,” said Wilnor Moise, a 29-year-old former bus conductor from Cité Soleil, referring to Fanmi Lavalas (FL), the democratic movement of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was barred from participating in the elections.

Haiti’s disputed parliamentary and presidential poll, culminating in the final round of voting this past Sunday, is key to the future of billions of dollars in pledged earthquake aid and to that of the 14,000-strong UN force that has occupied Haiti since the 2004 coup d’etat that overthrew Aristide and his party.

The banning of progressive parties and the FL from this year’s polls, allegedly because of procedural and technical issues, opened the electoral landscape to two neo-Duvalierist presidential candidates: Mirlande Manigat, 70, the wife (and some say surrogate) of a former right-wing president, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, 50, a popular konpa musician.

Martelly appeared to emerge as the victor, although preliminary results won’t be announced until March 31 and final ones on April 16.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Return Of Aristide And Haiti’s Future

by Bill Fletcher, Jr
NNPA Columnist
The Seattle Medium, 3/30/2011


It happened on March 18th. After more than seven years, the democratically elected—yet ousted—president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide returned home. Accompanied by his family as well as allies, such as actor/activist Danny Glove,r and noted journalist Amy Goodman, he returned to, in his words, make a modest contribution to Haiti.

Aristide returned immediately prior to a runoff presidential election between two individuals, a former first lady and an entertainer, that has about as much legitimacy as a crap game with shaved dice. Haiti, the victim of a U.S.-supported coup in 2004 against Aristide, followed by occupations and a disappointing administration of Rene Preval, was not permitted to have a truly democratic election for president. The proof? Neither former President Aristide nor his party (Fanmi Lavalas) was permitted to participate in the election. Permitted by who? At the end of the day, by the U.S.A. Had George Bush still been the President of the United States, I would have understood such a position, even while objecting. But, Bush is long gone and his successor, President Obama, not only refused to permit the participation of Fanmi Lavalas in the recent elections, but made its objections to the return of Aristide as clear as the beautiful blue of the Caribbean Sea.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Former President Aristide on His Party’s Exclusion from Haiti’s Election: “Exclusion is the Problem, Inclusion is the Solution”

With Aristide's Return Comes Hope

We don't know how Haiti will react to an election that excluded his party, but the former president will take his cue from the people

Selma James
The Guardian, Monday 21 March 2011

The return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family to Haiti ends seven long years of campaigning – the 92% of voters who elected him had never accepted his overthrow in 2004 by a US-backed military coup. They risked their lives against a UN occupation that killed and brutalised thousands to demand his return. And last Friday he flew back from South Africa, where he had been living in forced exile, to a rapturous welcome in Port-au-Prince.

Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide greets followers
on his to his  home in Port-au-Prince on 18 March.
Photograph: Andr S Mart Nez Casares/EPA
I was one of those waiting to greet him at his modest house, from where he was kidnapped seven years ago. Some of the waiting crowd were former political prisoners, others were visiting from exile. Yet others, disheartened after so many defeats – dictators, coups, hurricanes, earthquake, then cholera – had returned from Haiti's diaspora.

We listened on transistor radios for news of his arrival. Finally Aristide's plane had landed, and he was addressing supporters in a number of languages. He was back on Haitian soil two days before the fraudulent election from which his party has been excluded.

Much later his car was heard in the driveway. As the barrier that protected the house began to slide open, mainly young people began to flood the path and climb the walls, until we were surrounded by a torrent of the joyous. Lavalas, meaning "flash flood", was the name of Titid's party, and here it was. In their midst, hidden from our view, was the Aristides' car.

We waited another hour to be escorted inside through the singing and dancing crowd. I was welcomed into the arms of his wife and my friend Mildred Trouillot. She was unafraid, elated to be back and part of this historic event. Her girls, 14 and 12 years old, had to see how their father was greeted, she told me, so "they understood who he was. Nothing else can explain it". The girls' non-negotiable demand was that they bring their beloved little dog.

Later we were brought to meet their father. Aristide spoke about learning from the people, a practical strategy now.

He embraced me as the living connection with my late husband CLR James's Black Jacobins. Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa when Aristide first arrived there, had told him that when Mbeki read this history of revolutionary slaves triumphant, he felt confident they would end apartheid. It was not so much a book as a weapon for freedom fighters. James had implied in the book that that was his intention. How unfair that he never knew of his real success.

On election day we visited Cité Soleil, an impoverished area which has been an Aristide stronghold. We heard that two days earlier the presidential candidate Michel Martelly, a popular musician associated with the Tonton Macoutes – the Duvalier murder squads that terrorised Haiti for decades – had been driven out by Aristide supporters. UN soldiers from Brazil were all around the polling station, menacing, rifles at the ready.

We asked people about Aristide and the elections: they were happy he was back, but he wasn't on the ballot and they urgently needed to hold a government to account.

Yet the presence of Aristide in Haiti has immediately shifted everyone's situation. When he landed he spoke of "the humiliation of the people under tents" and said that "modern-day slavery will have to end today".

What's clear is that the 1804 revolution never ended. The US and the Haitian elite seem as determined as 19th-century France to keep Haitians enslaved, though sweatshops have replaced plantations and UN tanks Napoleon's army.

Nobody knows yet how Haitians will deal with the rigged election results. Aristide spoke to us about "learning from the people". He is likely to take his cue from their collective response. Having achieved the victory of his return, the movement has again a powerful, compassionate voice.

Barack Obama, Oscar Romero and Structural Sin

Greg Grandin | March 23, 2011
Published on The Nation (http://www.thenation.com)

In El Salvador, on the last leg of his Latin American tour, President Barack Obama paid a highly symbolic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot through the heart as he raised the Eucharist chalice during a mass, in March 1980. His assassination was ordered by Salvadoran military officer Roberto D’Aubuisson [1], a School of the America’s graduate.

As El Faro [2]—an important online source of independent Central American news—put it, Obama’s homage to Romero is a “truly extraordinary” gesture, since D’Aubuisson not only ran private-sector financed death squads but was a founder of ARENA, an ultraconservative political party that until 2009 had governed the country for two decades and enjoyed excellent relations with Washington.

Today, El Salvador is led by President Mauricio Funes, head of a center-left coalition government that includes the FMLN, the insurgent group turned political party Ronald Reagan wasted billions of dollars and over 70,000 lives trying to defeat in the 1980s. By lighting a candle for Romero, Obama, it might be said, was tacitly doing in El Salvador what he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—do in Chile: apologize for US actions that resulted in horrific human tragedy.

Obama in San Salvador focused on trade and immigration and celebrated Central America’s transition away from the civil wars of the 1980s and early 1990s. But hope, in reality, is in short supply; it would be difficult to exaggerate the crisis that today engulfs Central America, one that might very well turn out to be as bad as the 1980s.

Squeezed by Plan Colombia to the south and Mexico’s disastrous War on Drugs to the north, Central American violence has skyrocketed. Whole regions in Honduras and Guatemala are either overrun by narcos, or militarized by security forces, themselves deeply involved in criminal activity, including drugs, illegal logging, car theft and kidnapping. The explosion of biofuels production and the intensification of mining (particularly gold mining) has created an ecological disaster and generated widespread social dislocation. Protesting peasants, especially in Honduras and Guatemala, have been checked by a revived planter-death squad alliance, though now “death squads” generally go under the euphemism “private security.” An increasing number activists are turning up dead. In February, the bullet-ridden bodies of four Q’eqchi’ Mayan community leaders—Catalina Muca Maas, Alberto Coc Cal, Amilcar Choc and Sebastian Xuc Coc [3]—were found in a river.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

South Africa working to help Aristide return, says US should discuss any objections with Haiti

By DONNA BRYSON, Tuesday, March 15

PRETORIA, South Africa — South Africa is helping ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide return to his homeland from exile in Pretoria, and any problems Washington has with that should be taken up with Haiti, the deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.

Marius Fransman told reporters that Aristide could return to Haiti in the next few days, or a week. A South African official last week said Aristide planned to return before a presidential run-off vote on Sunday. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged Aristide’s right to return from South Africa, but he said returning this week “can only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections.”

Toner urged Aristide to “delay his return until after the electoral process has concluded to permit the Haitian people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere.”

Fransman said: “It is not our responsibility if America feels that he should only go in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks.

“They need to engage the Haitian government,” he said.

Aristide has lived in South Africa since leaving Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. plane. He accused U.S. diplomats of kidnapping him. Washington denies the charge.

The former slum priest was Haiti’s first democratically elected president and remains popular with the poor.

Aristide has been saying for months that he wants to return to help his homeland recover from a devastating January 2010 earthquake. The way was opened when Aristide’s diplomatic passport was delivered last month.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Haiti wants Aristide: let him go

Jean-Bertrand Aristide's picture is held up by a demonstrator protesting
against Haiti's President René Préval. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP
Even now, to prop up a fatally flawed election, Washington is trying to sabotage the return of Haiti's ousted former president

Kim Ives
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 March 2011

Jean-Bertrand Aristide's picture is held up by a demonstrator protesting against Haiti's President René Préval. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP
The arrogance of Washington's renewed efforts to thwart former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to Haiti from a seven-year exile in South Africa is mind-boggling.

During the 29 February 2004 coup d'état, in the middle of the night, a US Navy Seal team, under the direction of American deputy ambassador Luis Moreno, kidnapped President Aristide and his wife Mildred from their home in Tabarre and flew them, under guard in an unmarked US jet, into a first stint of exile in the Central African Republic. Since then, tens of thousands from all over Haiti have taken to the streets several times each year to demand his return.

During the US-appointed post-coup de facto government of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue (2004-2006), Haitian police and United Nations occupation troops regularly gunned down the demonstrators and carried out murderous assaults on Aristide strongholds in popular neighborhoods like Cité Soleil and Belair, killing dozens of residents, including women and children. When in late March 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a team of other VIPs rescued the Aristides from virtual house arrest in CAR and flew them in a private jet to Jamaica, the Bush administration was livid. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice spent an hour on the phone threatening then Prime Minister PJ Patterson to get Aristide out of there.

Aristide to end exile and return to Haiti before vote, lawyer says

Supporter of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide are
eagerly awaiting his return to the country ahead of March elections.
by Rich Phillips, CNN  March 13, 2011


(CNN) -- Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will end his exile and return to Haiti within the next week or so, ahead of the country's elections, his lawyer told CNN Saturday.

"He is headed back to Haiti," said Ira Kurzban, Aristide's longtime attorney. "We don't know when yet, but it will be before the elections."

A presidential runoff is scheduled for March 20.

Aristide was Haiti's first democratically-elected president. He was toppled in 2004 after a bloody revolt by street gangs and soldiers and has since been living in exile in South Africa.

The Haitian government issued a new passport to Aristide in February.

His lawyer says the former president simply wants to go home.

"He has no interest in meddling or being involved in the election. He has no interest in being involved in politics," said Kurzban.

According to his lawyer, Aristide is concerned about the perception created by returning to Haiti just days before the election. He is more worried, however, about the possibility of not being able to go back at all after the vote, if the new administration is not receptive to his return and revokes his visa, Kurzban said.

"He wants to go home. He's been in exile for seven years," Aristide's lawyer said. "He wants to get his medical school up and operating given the conditions in Haiti. That's his interest."

Aristide, who was whisked out of the country in a U.S. jet, has claimed his ouster was orchestrated by Western powers. The former Roman Catholic priest, considered by many to be a champion for the poor, remains both a beloved and polarizing figure.

He has often expressed his desire to go home and reiterated that wish in January after former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to Haiti.

Aristide's return would come at crucial time in Haiti's history.

The Caribbean nation's efforts to recover from a devastating 2010 earthquake have been compounded by a cholera epidemic and political chaos sparked by allegations of fraud in the presidential elections held in late November.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Haiti: U.S. Asks South Africa to Delay Aristide’s Departure

March 14, 2011
Haiti: U.S. Asks South Africa to Delay Aristide’s Departure
By REUTERS

The Obama administration said Monday that the former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide should refrain from returning to Haiti before the presidential runoff election on Sunday. A State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said that Mr. Aristide, above, had the right to return, but doing so this week “can only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections.” A delay, Mr. Toner said, would “permit the Haitian people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere.” He said the United States was asking South Africa, where Mr. Aristide has lived in exile since 2004, to delay his departure. Mr. Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said the United States “should leave that decision to the democratically elected government instead of seeking to dictate the terms under which a Haitian citizen may return to his country.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Latin America Breaks Free

By Benjamin Dangl, The Progressive, February 2009

Five years ago, when Evo Morales was a rising political star as a congressman and coca farmer, I met him in his office in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He was drinking orange juice and sifting through the morning newspapers when I asked him about a meeting he just had with Brazilian President Lula. “The main issue that we spoke about was how we can construct a political instrument of liberation and unity for Latin America,” Morales told me.

Now President Morales is one of many left-leaning South American leaders playing that instrument. This unified bloc is effectively replacing Washington’s presence in the region, from military training grounds to diplomatic meetings. In varying degrees, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Venezuela are demonstrating that the days of U.S.-backed coups, gunship diplomacy, and Chicago Boys’ neoliberalism may very well be over for South America. The election of Barack Obama also gave hope for a less cowboy approach from Washington.

While many of the current left-of-center leaders in Latin America were elected on anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal platforms, the general scope of their policies varies widely. On the left side of the spectrum sit Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador. They have focused on nationalizing natural resources and redistributing the subsequent wealth to social programs to benefit the countries’ poor majorities. They have also enacted constitutional changes aimed at redistributing land and increasing popular participation in government policy, decision-making, and budgeting. Chávez, Morales, and Correa were also more outspoken than other leaders in their critique of the Bush Administration.

Lula, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, and Nestor and Cristina Kirchner of Argentina have been more moderate in their approach toward confronting neoliberalism, but have been trailblazers in human rights and in their dealings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization. Though they haven’t been as radical in their economic and social policies, they have shown solidarity with Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

A conflict in Bolivia this past September proved to be a litmus test for the new regional unity. Just weeks after a recall vote invigorated Morales with 67 percent support across the country, a small group of thugs hired by the rightwing opposition led a wave of violence against Morales’s supporters. The worst of these days of road blockades, protests, and racist attacks took place on September 11 in the tropical state of Pando. A private militia allegedly funded by the rightwing governor, Leopoldo Fernández, fired on a thousand unarmed pro-Morales men, women, and children marching toward the state’s capital. The attack left dozens dead and wounded.

Just before this violence hit a boiling point, Morales kicked U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Philip Goldberg out of the country, accusing him of supporting the rightwing opposition. Morales said of Goldberg, “He is conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.” Numerous interviews and declassified documents prove that the U.S. Embassy has supported the Bolivian opposition. Goldberg denies these charges. At a protest in which effigies of opposition governors and American flags were burned, Edgar Patana, the leader of the Regional Workers’ Center of Bolivia, spoke to reporters of Morales’s decision to kick out Goldberg: “If he hadn’t expelled him we would be tearing down the U.S. Embassy today.” Chávez followed Morales’s lead and kicked out the U.S. ambassador in that country. The Bush Administration responded by ejecting both nations’ ambassadors from Washington.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Assessment of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution at Twelve Years


Feb 2nd 2011 , by Gregory Wilpert - Venezuelanalysis.com


On the 12th anniversary of Chavez’s first oath of office as president of Venezuela on February 2, 1999, one can easily get the impression from the international mainstream media that Venezuela is trapped in a terminal spiral towards becoming a state socialist dictatorship. One reads about a failing economy, presidential authoritarianism, rampant crime and corruption, arbitrary nationalizations of companies, and persecution of the private media and of opposition leaders. If all of this is true, then why does President Chavez continue to enjoy widespread support within Venezuela, according to polls? True, recent electoral successes have been relatively narrow for Chavez, but he and his supporters continue to maintain the support of approximately half the country’s population.[1] [3] More importantly, opinion polls regularly show that Venezuelans say their political system is more democratic and their economy is functioning better than the polities and economies of most other countries in the region. Leaving aside the theoretical possibility that the opinion polls and electoral results are false, how can it be explained that Chavez and his government continue to enjoy this much support when Venezuela is supposedly a nightmare of crime, repression, and a failing economy?


I argue that Venezuela is far from being a failed leftist experiment. Rather, there is substantial evidence that just the opposite is the case. Venezuela has made significant progress in the past 12 years of Chavez’s presidency towards creating a more egalitarian, inclusive, and participatory society. Indeed, these advances explain the government’s ongoing popularity. At the same time, though, one must recognize that there are significant shortcomings that have either persisted throughout Chavez’s presidency or in some cases are new. This helps to explain why the Chavez government’s popularity seems to have peaked with Chavez’s 2006 reelection (winning 62.8% of the vote in December of that year) and has gradually declined since.


In order to explain the relatively high level of support after 12 years in office I will first present some of the most important advances of the Chavez government in the areas of polity, economy, society, and international relations. I will then also take a look at what some of the most important shortcomings are and what factors or obstacles might explain the persistence of these shortcomings. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but merely a summary of what I consider to be the most important advances, shortcomings, and obstacles.

America Campaigns to Keep Aristide in South Africa

March 10, 2011
Black Agenda Report


by Glen Ford


If diplomacy is a form of lying, then the United States’ efforts to delay indefinitely the return to Haiti of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is a triumph of the most foul diplomacy. Aristide has a passport, but no permission to land in Haiti and, it appears, no permission to take off from South Africa, where he has lived in exile since his overthrow in a U.S.-backed coup in 2004. The outgoing government of Aristide’s onetime ally, President Rene Préval, provided the passport.


A ‘distraction’
But the U.S. – which really runs the country in a troika with France and Canada – is unalterably opposed to an Aristide comeback. After last year’s devastating earthquake, the Americans said Aristide would be a distraction from the job of national reconstruction. Very little in the way of reconstruction has gotten done since then, but the Americans now claim that Aristide would distract from the runoff elections scheduled for March 20.


Three out of four Haitians were already distracted from taking part in the first round of elections in November, without Aristide’s presence. That was undoubtedly because Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, by far the most popular political grouping in the country, was prohibited from participating – also at the insistence of the Americans and the tiny Haitian elite with which they are allied.


Brazil silent
Brazil acts as rent-a-cop for the United Nations mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, but WikiLeaks documents show the United States has pressured Brazil to use its influence with South Africa to keep Aristide’s feet planted firmly on African soil.


Brazil dearly wants to get a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and feels it cannot afford to make the Yankees angry.


South Africa claims it’s under no pressure from anybody, but then claims it has an obligation to consult "all the role-players to work out the ideal conditions for him to go back." Clearly, those "role-players" are the Americans and their French and Canadian co-conspirators.


Aristide’s lawyer says he will not attempt to leave South Africa without permission. Of course, if South Africa gave its blessing to an Aristide flight to Haiti, the U.S. would be forced to abandon the charade and give Aristide a yes or a no, in its own voice – which would expose Washington as the occupying power in Haiti. Gone would be all pretensions that the Americans favor Haitian democracy.


In hopes of putting the U.S. on the spot, a group of social activists, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Danny Glover, Randall Robinson, Dick Gregory, and 11 others sent a letter to South African President Jacob Zuma.


No obstacles
The letter expressed hope that President Zuma "can assist the Aristides in making their transition as soon as possible." It said, "All the last remaining obstacles to the Aristides’ return have been removed," and expectations have been raised among Haitians that Aristide will soon arrive. But even Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban – who was wildly optimistic only a few weeks ago – seems resigned that Aristide won’t be going home any time soon.


So all the Haitian people have to look forward to is this month’s elections that they didn’t want anyway, for candidates that were essentially forced on them by the United States – an exercise that nobody but Americans believes has anything to do with democracy.


Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rev. Jesse Jackson, "An Open Letter to Our Brother, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide"

To Our Brother, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide:

We wish to extend to you our full support for your return to your beloved homeland, Haiti.

As people of faith, we know that the road to democracy and justice is not an easy one. These years of enforced exile have been painful -- not only for you and your family, but for the people of Haiti. We join the call from all over the world for this exile to end.

The poor of Haiti, those you have represented with such tenacity and dignity over all these years, continue to demand your presence. We hear their voices and we join their call.

In the strongest terms, we urge the United States government to cease its opposition to your return. There can be no democratic development while a democratically elected leader is banished. And there can be no true reconstruction without the participation of the majority of Haiti's people.

In the aftermath of the terrible earthquake of 2010, your return will provide hope and lift spirits. Please know that when you get to Haiti, we will be there with you.

You are in our hearts and in our prayers.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Archdiocese of Detroit

Rev. Phil Lawson, Interfaith Program Director, East Bay Housing Organizations

Rev. C.T. Vivian, Civil Rights Activist, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Sir John Alleyne, Church of England, UK

Dr. Amer Araim, Dar-ul-Islam Mosque, Concord CA

Father Roy Bourgeois, Founder, SOA Watch

Kathy Boylan, Catholic Worker, Washington, D.C.

Rev. Dr. Lorenzo Carlisle, Pastor, Faith Healing Prayer Deliverance Christian Center, Oakland, California

Rabbi David J. Cooper & Rabbi Burt Jacobson

Kehilla Community Synagogue*, Oakland California

Sister Maureen Duignan, OSF, Executive Director, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant

Father Renaud Francois, Montreal, Canada

Sister Stella Goodpasture, OP, Justice Promoter, Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose

Dr. Jacqueline Grant, Womanist and Director of Systematic Theology, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Pastor, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, Washington, D.C. and National President, Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice of the United Church of Christ

Father Lawrence Lucas, Our Lady of Lourdes, R.C. Church, Harlem, NY

Rev. Dr. Carolyn McCrary, Womanist and Director of Pastoral Care, Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, GA

Rev. Paul Nicolson, Chair, Zacchaeus 2000, UK

Dr. Itihari Ture, Director of Center for African Biblical Studies, DeKalb County, GA

Mama Zogbe, Chief Priestess, Mami Wata Healers Society of North America

Mamissii Makena Zannu, Priestess, Mami Wata Healers Society

Reverend Doctor Nozomi Ikuta, Interfaith Prisoners of Conscience Project

*for identification purposes only

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Washington Won't Allow Democracy in Haiti


Why Washington Won't Allow Democracy in Haiti
Written by Mark Weisbrot
Posted: 24 February 2011


One area of U.S. foreign policy that the WikiLeaks cables help illuminate, which the major media has predictably ignored, is the occupation of Haiti. In 2004, the country's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown for the second time, through an effort led by the United States government. Officials in Haiti's constitutional government were jailed and thousands of its supporters were killed.

The Haitian coup, besides being a repeat of Aristide's overthrow in 1991, was also very similar to the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, which had Washington's fingerprints all over it. Some of the same people in Washington were even involved in both efforts. But the Venezuelan coup failed, partly because Latin American governments immediately and forcefully declared that they would not recognize the coup government.

In the case of Haiti, Washington learned from its mistakes in the Venezuelan coup and gathered support for an illegitimate government in advance. A UN resolution was passed just days after the coup and UN forces, headed by Brazil, were sent to the country. The mission, still headed by Brazil, has troops from a number of other Latin American governments that are left of center, including Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. They are also joined by Chile, Peru, and Guatemala.

Would these governments have sent troops to occupy Venezuela if that coup had succeeded? Clearly, they would not have considered such a move, yet the occupation of Haiti is no more justifiable. South America's progressive governments have challenged U.S. foreign policy in the region and the world, with some of them regularly using words like imperialism and empire as synonyms for Washington. They have built new institutions such as UNASUR to prevent these kinds of abuses from the North. Bolivia even expelled the U.S. ambassador in September of 2008 for interfering in its own internal affairs.

The participation of these governments in the occupation of Haiti is a serious political contradiction for them and it is getting worse.

The WikiLeaks cables illustrate how important the control of Haiti is to the United States. A long memo from the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince to the U.S. Secretary of State answers detailed questions about current Haitian President Rene Preval's political, personal, and family life, including such vital national security questions as "How many drinks can Preval consume before he shows signs of inebriation?" It also expresses one of Washington's main concerns: "His reflexive nationalism and his disinterest in managing bilateral relations in a broad diplomatic sense, will lead to periodic frictions as we move forward our bilateral agenda. Case in point, we believe that in terms of foreign policy, Preval is most interested in gaining increased assistance from any available resource. He is likely to be tempted to frame his relationship with Venezuela and Chavez-allies in the hemisphere in a way that he hopes will create a competitive atmosphere as far as who can provide the most to Haiti."

This is why they got rid of Aristide, who was much to the left of Preval and why we won't let him back in the country. This is why Washington funded the recent "elections" that excluded Haiti's largest political party, the equivalent of shutting out the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. And this is why MINUSTAH (the UN-backed military mission) is still occupying the country, more than six years after the coup, without any apparent mission other than replacing the hated Haitian army, which Aristide abolished as a repressive force.

People who do not understand U.S. foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington because it is poor and has no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington operates, as the WikiLeaks cables illustrate.

For the State Department and its allies, it is all a ruthless chess game, and the pawns matter. Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so. The poorest countries—like Honduras—present the most opportune targets. A democratically-elected government in Haiti, due to its history, would inevitably be a left government and one that will not line up with Washington's foreign policy priorities for the region. Hence, democracy is not allowed.

Thousands of Haitians have been protesting the sham December 2010 elections, as well as MINUSTAH's role in causing the cholera epidemic, which has taken more than 2,300 lives. Judging from the rapid spread of the disease, there may have been gross criminal negligence, i.e., large-scale dumping of fecal waste into the Artibonite River. This mission costs over $500 million a year, when the UN can't even raise a third of that to fight the epidemic that the mission caused or to provide clean water for Haitians. Now the UN is asking for an increase to over $850 million for MINUSTAH.

It is time that the progressive governments of Latin America quit this occupation. It goes against their principles and the will of the Haitian people.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis, writes a weekly column for the Guardian (UK), and has written numerous articles on economic and foreign policy.


February 2011
Mark Weisbrot's ZSpace Page

Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Beautiful party' awaits Aristide

'Beautiful party' awaits Aristide

Former president plans to return before Haiti's second-round election

By CLARENS RENOIS, AFPFebruary 16, 2011
Montreal Gazette

Supporters beat drums in the slums while workers spruced up his private villa as Haitians prepared yesterday for the possible return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide with feverish anticipation.

"Some people are cleaning the streets, others are getting the residence ready, and we are making preparations for a beautiful party," diehard follower Rene Civil told AFP.

"There is a real feeling of expectation among the people," Civil said, desperate to see his beloved "Titid" -or little Aristide -walk once again on Haitian soil.

Haiti has cleared the way for Aristide's return from exile in South Africa by issuing him with a new passport despite warnings from the United States that the move would only add to the quake-hit nation's political turmoil.

Aristide's lawyer said yesterday that the former president will return to Port-au-Prince before the second round of presidential elections on March 20.

"Yes, I believe it will happen before the election," lawyer Ira Kurzban told AFP.

The once firebrand man of the cloth, who rode his reputation as a champion of the poor to become Haiti's first democratically elected president, fled in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane, accused of massive corruption and rights abuses.

In his checkered political career, he served as president on three occasions, and was ousted from office twice, in a 1991 military coup and in a popular uprising in 2004.

As masonry workers repaired cracks in the walls of Aristide's once splendid villa, some residents dusted off their portraits of the diminutive, bespectacled former leader.

Door-to-door canvassing has been organized to recruit the biggest possible turnout whenever Aristide finally makes his return to Toussaint L'Ouverture airport.

Ancyto Felix, another tireless Aristide partisan, said there were plans to hold a massive rally in the Haitian capital on Friday.

Haiti, the poorest country in the region, is in dire circumstances following last year's earthquake, which killed more than 225,000 people.

Fervent Aristide supporters, who include many of the most desperate slum-dwellers, are convinced he is uniquely positioned lead the restoration of their battered country.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Defense of Aristide

By IRA KURZBAN
ira@kkwt.law.com

The Haitian government has issued a diplomatic passport to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This is long overdue; Aristide has wanted to return ever since he was forced into exile in 2004.

There is no justification for him not to; he is a Haitian citizen, charged with no crime; and the Haitian constitution explicitly prohibits compulsory political exile. Aristide, The New York Times noted during his first exile (1991-1994), “won Haiti’s first and only democratic election overwhelmingly,” followed by a “seven-month tenure [that] was marked by fewer human-rights violations and fewer boat people than any comparable period in modern Haitian history.”

He wants to return home, as a private citizen, and assist in Haiti’s relief effort. He has repeatedly said since 2004 that he wishes to return home to work in the field of education. His two Ph.D.s – one in psychology and the other in African languages – and his history, including seven years teaching in South Africa and the establishment of a medical school and university at the Aristide Foundation are testament to his long involvement in education.

The ball is now in South Africa’s court. Even though Aristide has every right to return under Haitian and international law, documents recently revealed by Wikileaks show that the U.S. and the Brazilian governments have pressured the South African government to keep Aristide there. The United States imposes its will, as the most powerful nation on Earth, to keep in distant exile the deposed president of one of the weakest. Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, meanwhile, walks free, gives press conferences and makes ceremonial visits around Haiti.

The return of Duvalier – accompanied by former death squad leader Louis Jodel Chamblain as his security chief – to Haiti last month revealed the stark double standard in U.S.-Haitian relations, one that harkens back to a shameful era, when the U.S. government propped up the brutal Duvalier regimes for decades. The danger is not only from his impunity, but from the threat of a re-legitimization of Duvalierism. Haiti now stands on the verge of a precipice; an extreme right-wing political turn – one that openly favors the rich and despises the poor – lies below.

The U.S. government is not a neutral spectator to this situation – this is clear from Obama-administration statements more opposed to the idea of Aristide’s return than to Duvalier’s ongoing presence. Even worse, the United States has been pressuring the Haitian authorities into arbitrarily allowing kompa singer Michel Martelly (who is known to have supported Duvalier in the past, and who got the support of just 4.5 percent of registered voters) to proceed to an elections run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat (who received 6.4 percent support from registered voters).

Considering what is known of the right-wing proclivities of each, this could be akin to Haiti’s equivalent of a presidential race between an unpopular Republican and an unpopular tea tarty candidate, with no Democrat allowed to compete. Contrary to last week’s media reports, however, the electoral authorities have not yet made a final decision on the elections runoff. It has now emerged that only half of the Electoral Council members actually signed onto the statement announcing Martelly’s advancement; a majority is required.

Ultimately, it is the right of the Haitian people – a right enshrined in Haiti’s constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to decide their own political destiny. New first-round elections, including Fanmi Lavalas and all eligible parties this time, are the only democratic way forward. Aristide should also be allowed to return to Haiti. No foreign power – whether the U.S., South Africa, or others – has the right to impede his return. Contrary to what the State Department appears to suggest, by reversing a grave violation of constitutional order when Aristide was ousted, democracy will be strengthened when he comes back, not weakened.

Ira Kurzban was the former general counsel for the government of the Republic of Haiti from 1991 to 2004. He is currently representing former President Aristide.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/02/14/2066861/in-defense-of-aristide.html#ixzz1EC7C01lU

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This time, the people of Haiti may win

The US has overthrown Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice. But now it will encounter a new reality in the Americas

Mark Weisbrot
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 10 February 2011

US marines invaded Haiti in 1915, occupying the country until 1934. US officials rewrote the Haitian constitution, and when the Haitian national assembly refused to ratify it, they dissolved the assembly. They then held a "referendum" in which about 5% of the electorate voted and approved the new constitution – which conveniently changed Haitian law to allow foreigners to own land – with 99.9% voting for approval.

The situation today is remarkably similar. The country is occupied, and although the troops wear blue helmets, everyone knows that Washington calls the shots. On 28 November an election was held in which the country's most popular political party was excluded; but still the results of the first round of the election were not quite right. The Organisation of American States (OAS) – under direction from Washington – then changed the results to eliminate the government's candidate from the second round. To force the government to accept the OAS rewrite of the results, Haiti was threatened with a cut-off of aid flows – and, according to multiple sources, President René Préval was threatened with being forcibly flown out of the country, as happened to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

This week Aristide has been issued a diplomatic passport by the government, and is preparing to return from exile in South Africa. But Washington does not agree, as US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley made clear. He was also asked if his government had pressured either the Haitian or South African governments to prevent Aristide's return. He refused to answer: I take that as a "yes".

The US has been the prime cause of instability in Haiti, not only over the last two centuries, but the last two decades. Although Haiti is a small and poor country, Washington still cares very much about who is running it – and as leaked WikiLeaks cables recently demonstrated, they want a government that is in line with their foreign policy for the region.

In 1991, Aristide – Haiti's first democratically elected president – was overthrown after just seven months in office. The officers who carried out the coup and established the military government, killing thousands of innocent Haitians, were subsequently revealed to be in the pay of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

When Aristide was elected to a second term, in 2000, the US and its allies destroyed the economy through an economic aid boycott. Together with aid to the Haitian opposition and an armed insurrection, Washington's effort succeeded in overthrowing the government four years later.

Now that Aristide is returning, we can expect to see another massive smear campaign against him in the local media, with allegations of human rights abuses and comparisons with the Duvalier dictatorships. In his book, Damning the Flood, Professor Peter Hallward looks at the best available data for the number of political murders in Haiti: Duvalier dictatorships (1957-1986), 50,000; after the US-sponsored coup of 1991 (with US-funded death squads), 4,000; after the US-organised coup of 2004, 3,000; Aristide's tenure in office (2001-2004), between 10 and 30.

Aristide cut the political violence in Haiti by abolishing the army and the murderous "section chief" system, which were its main sources. For that, Washington will not forgive him. Can the US and its allies continue to deny Haiti's national sovereignty, which it won 207 years ago in the world's first successful slave revolt? Aristide is still a symbol of that sovereignty, and respect for the millions of poor Haitians. For Washington, that is inherently dangerous.

But the Americas have changed since the last time Aristide was overthrown. Washington met strong resistance from South America when it supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009; Honduras has still not been allowed back into the OAS. Governments that Washington does not want – for example in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela – have been elected and survived despite coup attempts and other destabilisation efforts. The left-of-centre governments that now preside over most of Latin America have dramatically and permanently changed hemispheric relations.

Last week Washington failed to gain support for its change of Haiti's election results in the 23-nation Rio Group. Rights can no longer be denied to Haitians, simply because they are poor and black. Nor can Aristide be denied the right to return to his country. As with Egypt, Washington will have to adapt to a new reality.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011