Sunday, August 21, 2005

Kevin Pina and the Haiti Information Project

“You are always making trouble for us. I have taken your picture and I am going to give it to the Haitian police. They will get you.”
- Brazilian officer speaking to journalist and film-maker Kevin Pina in Haiti

Kevin Pina previewed footage from his upcoming movie “Haiti: Betrayal of Democracy” in Washington D.C. on July 25th, days after another arrest of a well-respected supporter of the deposed president of Haiti Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Movement. With congresswoman Maxine Waters in attendance, Pina dedicated the showing to the freedom and vision of Fr. Jean-Juste, who sits in a Haitian jail without written charges as what Amnesty International calls a “Prisoner of Conscience.”

Many people have already seen still shots from Pina’s movie without even realizing it. He has become the front man for a group of (anonymous) Haitian journalists, the Haiti Information Project, which has put the mainstream media to shame. The group consistently scoops stories about governmental violence against Haiti´s poor and takes photographic evidence that contradicts the assumptions and conclusions of international media about the daily reality of post-coup Haiti. Almost all of the recent photos of pro-democracy protests as well as the pictures of casualties caused by the Haitian police or the UN come from HIP. Months prior to the film showing this work manage to show up on the BBC when HIP showed Haitian police planting guns on the bodies of murdered Lavalas protesters. Such footage is often disturbingly graphic, which Pina warned the crowd as the lights in the Plymouth Congregational churched dimmed. But as the filmmaker added, “it is important for everyone to see this footage to understand what is really going on in Haiti.”

What is going on in Haiti?
From the film’s opening scene that shows U.S. Marines blocking the path of pro-democracy Haitian protesters in the wake of Aristide’s “kidnapping” by U.S. forces, the documentary paints a picture of internationally sanctioned campaign of violent repression against the poor communities of Haiti in general and Aristide’s Lavalas movement in particular.

“Betrayal of Democracy” is Pina’s second film on Haiti after “Harvest of Hope.” This sophomore effort exposes the role of United Nation’s forces in the current campaign of political violence in Haiti. With footage starting from January 2005, Pina documents aggression by the UN on behalf or in coordination with the Haitian Police.

The fact that the Haitian police are murdering political dissidents is not news in Haiti. As human rights investigators have proven, many of the coup leaders from the former military that have been responsible for numerous coups against the elected leaders of Haiti have been reincorporated into the police force. The resulting violence including indiscriminate shooting during raids in poor neighborhoods, arrests without charges, and outright assassinations is a pattern that has been repeated today from the coups of the past generation.

“Betrayal” surprises its audiences by showing how the deeply the UN first became complacent and then participatory in this pattern of violence. One resident of Cite Soleil commented that the UN is doing nothing serious in Haiti “except to massacre all those in favor of Aristide’s return.” With a series of interviews and graphic photographs from the aftermath of police and UN actions, the movie describes how the role of UN troops in HNP lead violence has continuously escalated.

On one occasion described in the film, it becomes clear that journalists from the HNP were preventing a massacre by filming masked Haitian police in black SUVs who had their guns drawn on the crowd. Since most pro-democracy demonstrations in Haiti include police assassinations, the crowd anticipated the type of killing seen during the anniversary of the Haitian coup on Februar 28th , but Pina and other photographers caused the police to hesitate because of the presence of international journalists. The Brazilian officer in charge UN forces on the scene responded to Pina by screaming “F*ck you!” repeatedly and telling him to “Go F*ck himself.” The Brazilian general then took Pina´s picture and threatened to pass the photo on to the Haitian Police so they could “take care of him.” Though the masked police withdrew from that confrontation, the movie then shows the footage from later that day on another street corner of the bodies of protesters lying on the ground, reportedly killed by police in black SUVs.

As this interaction shows, the UN has come to support the Haitian police unquestionably. In this case they threatened to help the police identify and target a pro-democracy activists, but the heart of the film shows repeated evidence of UN raids into poor neighborhoods like Cite Soleil that end in unwarranted arrests, destroyed houses, and indiscriminate firing on civilians.

The most graphic and shocking evidence of UN violence against the Haitian people came from the Cite Soleil on July 6. Scene after scene of that time shows Haitian men, women and children in their houses, in their beds or in the streets with gaping head wounds. While the UN for a long time claimed that they “knew of no civilian casualties” from this operation, the Haiti Information Project managed to confirm at least 20 deaths, almost all from head shots at relatively close range.

Pina underlined the fact that “the UN brought no medics to support this operation because they were not anticipating any injured civilians. They were shooting to kill. These were all headshots.” While the idea that the UN “peacekeeping” forces were assassinating civilians in Haiti´s poorest neighborhood to support the coup is difficult to accept, the footage is incontrovertible.

When seen with Pina´s first film on Haiti “Harvest of Hope,” the new “Betrayal” is even more sad because of how much history has repeated itself, and how little most people are aware of that fact. “Harvest of Hope” focuses on the first coup against president Aristide in 1991 when Aristide is arrested by the military, and bodies appear in the mourgue of Lavalas activists. That film reports 4000 killings, 250,000 people in hiding, and 43,000 boat refugees because of the 1991 coup. Indeed, the film goes back to the elections of 1987 to show that the military created panic and chaos in Haiti to disrupt the democratic process and maintain their hold on power. In all of this political violence, then as now, the hardest hit area is Cite Soleil, one of Lavalas´ strongest bases of support. Most of this political instability was lead by Haitian military figures on the CIA payroll, just as the current political situation was brought about by some of the same Haitian military figures with the help of the US marines.

Who are the UN force
The Haitian citizens repeatedly complain in the film that the Jordanian forces are the most violent and brutal, and complain that an army of a dictatorship should not have forces in the country supposedly to bring about democracy. But the UN led violence brings up questions about the other forces in the country, including Argentine, Chilean, and Brazilian forces. Pina took questions about this point, answering that “all of these militaries have sordid histories within their own countries,” referring to the military juntas that ruled these countries about a generation ago. But why would the “progressive” government of Lula in Brazil support this killing? Pina answered with two possibilities “Lula is trying to get Brazil a permenant seat on the UN security council among other strategic concerns, and he hopes that his soldiers’ role in Haiti will mollify American objections to that position,” adding that there is also an advantage to Lula of getting a troublesome military out of Brazil so it can do no harm there.

For whatever reason, the United Nation`s force in Haiti continues to act as an accomplice in the murder of Lavalas basis of support before the upcoming elections planned for the end of the year. Such elections, like the UN “peace-keeping force” only serve as political cover for theft of Haitian democracy.

The importance of the HIP
What Pina´s two movies, along with theShows the bankruptcy of current journalism out of Port Au Prince. While most individuals interpret Haiti’s current situation as somehow inherent in the Haitian people, and major media outlets continue to blame the violence in Haiti on “The Shadow of Aristide,” the Haiti Information Project continues to show graphic evidence of a widespread campaign of violence to restore to power the Haitian ruling class after the people voted them out of power. Taken in combination with previous works, “Betrayal” and the HIP give a historical context to today’s events, showing how the military players killing to stay in power and those in neighborhoods like Cite Soleil fighting for their democracy and survival have been locked in this battle since before the first democratic election went forward and was then overthrown,As such powerful testimony, HIP’s work has the ability to shock and inspire pro-democracy forces around the world to stand with the Haitian people to demand truth, justice and democracy. As one Lebanese-American activist said after seeing “Betrayal” in D.C . and trying to explain its importance to his colleagues “this is extremely important. Haiti is much worse than even Palestine.”

In short the work of HIP on http://www.haitiaction.net and in Pina’s films threaten to ignite the type of concentrated and long-term Haiti solidarity movement, if enough activists take the initiative to force these images and stories on the public conscience. (Truth in advertising, I have done voluntary translations of HIP stories into Spanish for dissemination in Latin America).

2 comments :

Roberto Iza Valdes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JH said...

Haiti Information Project (HIP) and Kevin Pina honored with Project Censored award.

(HIP story among Top 25 Censored Stories of 2008 recognized by Project Censored): http://www.projectcensored.org

# 12 Another Massacre in Haiti by UN Troops
Sources:
HaitiAction.net, January 21, 2007
Title: “UN in Haiti: Accused of Second Massacre”
Authors: Haiti Information Project
http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/1_21_7/1_21_7.html

Inter Press Service
Title: “Haiti: Poor Residents of Capital Describe a State of Siege”
Authors: Wadner Pierre and Jeb Sprague
http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=36772

Student Researcher: William Leeming
Faculty Evaluator: Dianne Parness

Eyewitness testimony confirms indiscriminate killings by UN forces in Haiti’s Cité Soleil community on December 22, 2006, reportedly as collective punishment against the community for a massive demonstration of Lavalas supporters in which about ten thousand people rallied for the return of President Aristide in clear condemnation of the foreign military occupation of their country. According to residents, UN forces attacked their neighborhood in the early morning, killing more than thirty people, including women and children. Footage taken by Haiti Information Project (HIP) videographers shows unarmed civilians dying as they tell of extensive gunfire from UN peacekeeping forces (MINUSTAH).

A hardened UN strategy became apparent days after the demonstration, when UN officials stated they were entering Cité Soleil to capture or kill gangsters and kidnappers. While officials of MINUSTAH have admitted to “collateral damage,” in the raids of December 2006, they say they are there to fight gangsters at the request of the René Préval government.

But many residents and local human rights activists say that scores of people having no involvement with gangs were killed, wounded, and arrested in the raids.

Although MINUSTAH denied firing from helicopter gunships, HIP captured more than three hours of video footage and a large selection of digital photos, illustrating the UN’s behavior in Haiti.

An unidentified twenty-eight-year-old man, filmed by HIP, can be seen dying as he testifies that he was shot from a circling UN helicopter that rained gunfire on those below. HIP film also shows a sixteen-year-old, dying just after being shot by UN forces. Before dying he describes details of the UN opening fire on unarmed civilians in his neighborhood. The wounded and dying, filmed by HIP, all express horror and confusion.

IPS observed that buildings throughout Cité Soleil were pockmarked by bullets; many showing huge holes made by heavy caliber UN weapons, as residents attest. Often pipes that brought in water to the slum community now lay shattered.

A recently declassified document from the US embassy in Port-au-Prince reveals that during a similar operation carried out in July 2005, MINUSTAH expended 22,000 bullets over several hours. In the report, an official from MINUSTAH acknowledged, “given the flimsy construction of homes in Cité Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets.”

Frantz Michel Guerrier, spokesman for the Committee of Notables for the Development of Cité Soleil based in the Bois Neuf zone, said, “It is very difficult for me to explain to you what the people of Bois Neuf went through on Dec. 22, 2006—almost unexplainable. It was a true massacre. We counted more than sixty wounded and more than twenty-five dead, among [them] infants, children, and young people.”

“We saw helicopters shoot at us, our houses broken by the tanks,” Guerrier told IPS. “We heard detonations of the heavy weapons. Many of the dead and wounded were found inside their houses. I must tell you that nobody had been saved, not even the babies. The Red Cross was not allowed to help people. The soldiers had refused to let the Red Cross in categorically, in violation of the Geneva Convention.” Several residents told IPS that MINUSTAH, after conducting its operations, evacuated without checking for wounded.

Following the removal of Haiti’s elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government (see Censored 2005, story #12), up to one thousand Lavalas political activists were imprisoned under the US-backed interim government, according to a Miami University Human Rights study.

A study released by the Lancet Journal of Medicine in August 2006 estimates that 8,000 were killed and 35,000 sexually assaulted in the greater Port-au-Prince area during the time of the interim government (2004-2006). The study attributed human rights abuses to purported “criminals,” police, anti-Lavalas gangs, and UN peacekeepers.

HIP Founding Editor Kevin Pina commented, “It is clear that this represents an act of terror against the community. This video evidence shows clearly that the UN stands accused, once again, of targeting unarmed civilians in Cité Soleil. There can be no justification for using this level of force in the close quarters of those neighborhoods. It is clear that the UN views the killing of these innocents as somehow acceptable to their goal of pacifying this community. Every demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is seen as a threat to their control if it includes demands for the return of Aristide to Haiti. In that context it is difficult to continue to view the UN mission as an independent and neutral force in Haiti. They apparently decided sometime ago it was acceptable to use military force to alter Haiti’s political landscape to match their strategic goals for the Haitian people.”

Update by Kevin Pina

Since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas political party were ousted from power on February 29, 2004, accusations of gross human rights violations have persisted in Haiti. While the Haitian National Police (HNP) received training and assistance from the UN following Aristide’s ouster, they were also accused of summary executions, arbitrary arrests, and the killing of unarmed demonstrators. The actions of the Haitian police became so egregious that even UN police trainers (CIVPOL) began to question the motives of their commanders and the mission’s objectives. The Haiti Information Project (HIP) received the following correspondence in response to a May 8, 2005 article “UN accommodates Human Rights Abuses by police in Haiti.”1 This is the first publication of that correspondence:

"Just want to reinforce your observations as all being accurate.

I am one of the 25 US CIVPOL here on the ground in Haiti, having arrived last November. As a group we are frustrated by the UN’s and CIVPOL’s unwillingness to interpret their mandate aggressively. I have been pushing them to conduct investigations into all the shootings and other significant Human Rights violations with no success. The Police Commissioner and command staff shows little interest and claim the mandate does not allow them to do this. Unfortunately I have countless examples.

The corruption in the HNP is massive with little interest in addressing the problem. Just keep up the pressure, I don’t know what else to do."

Stephen MacKinnon
Chief, Strategic Planning Unit
CIVPOL-MINUSTAH

Chief MacKinnon provided HIP with information and documents that painted a disturbing picture of a UN operation more obsessed with political embarrassment caused by mounting demonstrations for Aristide’s return than interest in reigning in human rights abuses committed by the HNP.2

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) now stands accused of having itself committed several massacres in the seaside shantytown of Cité Soleil. This area of the capital served as a launching site for massive demonstrations demanding the return of President Aristide and for an end to what they called the foreign occupation of their country.
The Brazilian military has responsibility for leadership of the UN military forces in Haiti and is authorized to use deadly force. They are at the top of the command structure and their influence on the overall mission should not be understated. More importantly, there is a direct parallel between Brazilian military tactics utilized by UN forces in Haiti and similar military-style assaults used by the police in their own country.

The Brazilian military police have been accused of firing indiscriminately in the poor slums of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro called favelas. This was highlighted in an Amnesty International report “Brazil: ‘They come in Shooting’: Policing socially excluded communities,” released on December 2, 2005.3
This is similar to the tactics authorized by the Brazilian generals in Haiti. It has resulted in several high-profile massacres committed in the poor slum of Cité Soleil where protestors challenged the UN’s authority by continuing to launch massive demonstrations demanding Aristide’s return and condemning the UN’s presence in Haiti. In each instance, the UN and the elite-run Haitian press demonized the entire community as being criminals and gangsters and/or collaborators of criminals and gangsters. While it is true that armed “gangs” operated in the neighborhood and a few claimed they were aligned with Aristide’s Lavalas movement, these military raids had a clear correlation to the ongoing demonstrations and opposition to the UN presence in Haiti.

Cité Soleil was terrorized on July 6, 2005 when Brazilian commanders authorized a raid by UN forces with the stated aim of routing gangs in the area.4 For Aristide supporters, the raid was a preemptive strike by the UN to dampen the impact of protests on Aristide’s birthday, planned to take place only nine days later on July 15. It also represented the first time UN forces purposely sought to assassinate the leadership of armed groups claiming allegiance to Aristide’s Lavalas movement.5 By the time UN guns stopped firing, countless unarmed civilians lay dead with many having been killed by a single high-powered rifle shot to the head. Since then, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the US Embassy and various intelligence agencies, were aware of the excessive use of force by UN forces in Haiti on July 6, 2005.6 Despite being heavily censored by US officials, what emerges is clear evidence of the disproportionate use of force by UN troops in Cité Soleil.

December 16, 2006 saw another large demonstration for Aristide that began in Cite Soleil and only six days later on December 22, Brazilian commanders would authorize a second deadly raid that residents and human rights groups say resulted in the wholesale slaughter of innocent victims. The unspoken parallel of Brazil’s role in leading the UN’s military strategy in Haiti is the fact that terror tactics such as these have been their modus operandi in their own country.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 2, UN forces entered Cité Soleil firing indiscriminately and their victims were two young girls killed as they slept in their own home.7 Massive demonstrations were scheduled to take place five days later demanding the return of Aristide throughout Haiti on Feb. 7. While these demonstrations went largely unreported by the international corporate media, this stood in contrast, to the avalanche of news stories filed two days later on Feb. 9, when UN forces launched yet another deadly military operation in Cité Soleil.8

Although these raids were ostensibly to rid the neighborhood of gangs, they followed the same pattern and relationship to demonstrations for Aristide’s return and military tactics used by Brazilian commanders in previous UN operations.
The only rights organizations documenting the loss of life and destruction of property resulting from the UN raid on December 22, 2006, as well as previous and subsequent UN military operations, were the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI).9 HIP, the organization originally authoring the article being recognized by Project Censored, is a news agency that has extensive video evidence and interviews from Cité Soleil taken the same day these attacks by UN forces were executed. HIP offers any human rights organization the opportunity to view the documentary footage and evidence supporting the claims of Cité Soleil residents that massacres by UN forces have been committed against them. Unfortunately, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States have remained conspicuously disinterested and silent about this evidence.

For further information and updates about Haiti, please visit www.haitiaction.net, www.ijdh.org, www.HaitiInformationProject.net, www.haitianalysis.com, www.canadahaitiaction.ca, and www.ahphaiti.org.

Notes

1. Haiti Information Project,”UN accommodates Human Rights Abuses by police in Haiti,” May 8, 2005. See http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/5_8_5/5_8_5.html.

2. Internet correspondence received from Steve McKinnon to HIP May 12, 2005.

3. Amnesty International Report, “Brazil: ‘They come in Shooting’: Policing socially excluded communities” December 2, 2005. See http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e &id=ENGAMR190252005

4. Haiti Information Project, “Evidence mounts of a UN massacre in Haiti,” July 12, 2005. See http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/7_12_5.html.

5. Haiti Information Project,”The UN’s disconnect with the poor in Haiti,” December 25, 2005. See http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/12_25_5/12_25a_5.html.

6. Haiti Information Project, “US Embassy in Haiti acknowledges excessive force by UN,” January 24, 2007. Article based on FOIA documents obtained by College of DuPage Geography Professor Keith Yearman. See http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/1_23_7/1_23_7.html.

7. Haiti Information Project—February 2, 2007. UN terror kills Haiti’s children at night http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/2_2_7a/2_2_7a.html.

8. Haiti Information Project, “Massive demonstrations in Haiti catch UN by surprise,” February 9, 2007. See http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/2_9_7/2_9_7.html.

9. Haiti Information Project,”The UNspoken truth about gangs in Haiti,” February 15, 2007. See http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/2_15_7/2_15_7.html.

10. Video images documenting UN military operations on July 6, 2005 and December 22, 2006 were taken by HIP videographer Jean-Baptiste Ristil.