Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Update on Haiti

"While much press was garnered by the peaceful protests in Beirut that helped achieve the resignation of the Syrian backed president there, another peaceful protest for Democracy was largely ignored by the press. In Port-Au-Prince on March 1st, the Haitian people called for the return of the elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide and for the unelected leaders to respect their freedom of speech.
The police responded to the non-violent march on the anniversary of the most recent coup with live ammunition from U.S. made rifles, killing five.
Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a pattern of political killings in Haiti, and the origin of these rifles is not the only connection between that violence and the U.S. government...."

-excerted from Democracy For Haiti by Simon Fitzgerald
Below is an update on the situation in Haiti

Special Thanks to Dan Beeton for keeping me up to date on developments in Haiti.

As many people know, the Haitian people suffered a coup over a year ago in which former military and paramilitary leaders with U.S. military training crossed over the border from the Dominican Republic to overthrow (for the second time) Haiti's first democratically elected leader, the former priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide. In the lead up to the siege on the capital, the paramilitary leaders had to free their other paramilitaries that were in jail for mass murder convictions. The coup was finalized when U.S.-American forces lead Aristide onto a plane where he was taken incommunicado to perhaps the most obscure dictatorship on the planet, the Central African Republic.

Since the coup, there is been a reign of political violence that seems designed to destroy the popular Lavalas political party, Aristide's supporters. A University of Miami human rights report details much of this violence. The report is available as a pdf file.

The U.N. has troops in Haiti, but it seems that their only translators to Haitian Kreyole are Haitian military/police, so the U.N. soldiers are often witnesses or accomplices to political violence. Haiti Action details this phenomenon focusing on a recent pro-democracy demonstration where a handful of peaceful pro-democratic protesters were shot and killed in front of U.N. troops. The Haitian police are then seen planting weapons on the dead bodies in these photos (Warning: these photos are graphic, photos 12-15 detail the planting of the gun). U.N. soldiers and Haitian police in U.N. blue helmets (photo # 18) are seen filming the protesters before the attack occured.

The international press has been largely silent about this political violence. Instead they blame violence on stability, gangs or "the shadow of Aristide," following the line of the pro-coup Haitian media and the official U.S. statements.

Recent reports on the release of convicted murderers who took part in the coup failed to mention the summary executions, disappearences, and detentions without trial of pro-democracy forces.

For example, the former Prime Minister of Haiti, Yvon Neptune has been held without trial for nearly a year. He is on hunger-strike and is near death, but is not mentioned in, for example, BBC's discussion of the Haitian judicial situation. The Miami Herald (often the U.S. paper most interested in Latin America) has called for Neptune's release, as has a group of U.S. congress people led by Maxine Waters. However, his situation is deteriorating while the world media continue to have little interest in Haiti.

The African National Congress (once the party of Nelson Mandela) has called for a campaign to Free Haiti from the tyranny of dictatorship, while activists in Washington are discussing a plan of action to support the next Haitian protests for democracy so the activists in Haiti will not be murdered in relative silence.

One of the problems, described in the University of Miami report, is that most of the violence is directed towards the poorer neighborhoods like Cite Soleil (often called the poorest neighborhood in the Western hemisphere). Meanwhile the western media is concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods like Bel Air, where the situation is relatively controlled except for non-violent resistance actions like the downing of powerlines earlier this month.

Cite Soleil remains under seige and there are signs the government is preparing to wipe-out the neighborhood and evict its residents. The Association of University Graduates Motivated for a Haiti with Rights has a more detailed discussion of the violence directed toward Cite Soleil.

Pro-democracy organizing in Haiti continues despite the difficulties.

The question for journalists is, Why are these voices being blacked-out in the mainstream media? How is the instability due to the democratically elected leader and not the coup-leaders and those committing acts of violence (and ordering acts of violence to be committed)?

The question for the American people is, How bad will we let the violence against our neighbors get? I ask all who care to follow up this research, join with democracy advocates, and not let the situation get as bad as El Salvador during the height of its (U.S. sponsored) civil war repression (if Haiti is not already that bad, its hard to tell).

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