Imagine if the U.S. were to hold elections after the Republican Party had rounded up Senator John Kerry and other prominent Democrats and thrown them in jail without charges, while waging a campaign of violence and political assassinations in all “blue states.” To hold Haitian elections under present conditions would be comparable to this, according to one of the panelists at the launch of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee (THAC).
For the THAC launch event on August 4, prominent Haiti solidarity activists addressed a crowd of 80 people as Toronto joined the ranks of other Canadian cities (Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Halifax) that are home to active groups calling for an end to the repression being carried out in Haiti by an illegitimate Canadian-backed government.
Escalating political repression in Haiti
Since a Canada, U.S. and France-backed coup that overthrew the democratically elected Haitian government in February 2004, liquidating 7000 government officials from office and dissolving Senate, political repression has been the order of the day in the Caribbean nation. The constitutional Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, has been languishing in jail for over a year without even facing charges, while Father Jean Juste, a potential presidential candidate for the Lavalas Party, is also in prison without charges.
Meanwhile, the elected Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is in exile in South Africa. A University of Miami study has documented escalating human rights abuses and a campaign of violence being waged against Haitians living in poor neighbourhoods around the capital city, Port au Prince.
Lavalas, Aristide’s party which is still the Haitian political organization with the most popular support by a large margin, insists that a prerequisite for fair democratic elections in Haiti will be the release of all Haitian political prisoners, an end to political violence and repression by the Haitian National Police, and the return of the elected Haitian president to Haiti. Lavalas is boycotting the elections process until these basic conditions are met.
However, Canada is continuing to push for the elections to be held under present conditions, and has gone to great lengths to legitimate a process regarded by many Haitians as a sham. Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Special Adviser on Haiti, Denis Coderre,has scoffed at the reports by the University of Miami as “propaganda reports.” Just last Saturday, Coderre gushed to the CBC about how “moving” he had found the sight, during his recent trip to Haiti, of “thousands and thousands of people who were in line to register for the election.”
A new pretext for political repression
With no legitimate government in power, and the justice system in disarray, there has been a surge in kidnappings and violence in Haiti. The de facto Haitian government and its apologists have repeatedly tried to blame “Aristide supporters” for the violence, a claim which has provided a convenient pretext for continued repression of poor Haitians living in neighbourhoods that have been most vocally opposed to the coup.
This opportunistic argument by Haiti’s de facto rulers has been widely challenged. An International Crisis Group report, funded in part by the Canadian government,has stated that “criminal activities, particularly drug-trafficking and contraband are behind much of the current wave of violence.” The report noted that criminal elements in Haitian society have much to gain from delaying the reestablishment of the rule of law.
On July 6, the UN Security Council-mandated “stabilization” force in Haiti carried out a massacre on the poor neighbourhood of Cité Soleil, known to be home to many Lavalas supporters. The UN claimed it had gone into Cité Soleil to find “gang leaders” responsible for kidnappings. However, according to video evidence and eyewitness accounts, including by Reuters correspondent Joseph Guyler Delva and Médecins Sans Frontières, at least 23 civilians,including women and children, were massacred.
Canadian media coverage of Haiti: news or propaganda?
The Canadian national media has recently been justifying the continued repression of Lavalas and its supporters by uncritically parroting the Canadian government and the de facto Haitian government’s unfounded claims that “Aristide supporters” are responsible for the violent kidnappings. Two recent stories in the Canadian national media provide a casein point. On August 1, The Globe and Mail published an article that emphasized that “many observers believe the current level of political violence is an attempt by gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide to destabilize the country.” The sole evidence cited in the article to back this claim was the opinions of political players in Haiti who are known for being anti-Lavalas and pro-coup partisans.
One of The Globe and Mail‘s sources was a “virulently anti-Aristide reporter” by the name of Nancy Roc, who until recently worked for a Haitian radio station which was one ofthe “active players in the U.S. campaign to destabilize Haiti’s constitutional government” in 2003-4. The only other source quoted was the privately-funded Washington, D.C.-based Haiti Democracy Project, which has close ties with right wing Haitian elites and U.S.foreign policy elites, and which had been one of the prime groups lobbying in the U.S. for the constitutional Haitian president to step down.
Meanwhile, on the August 6 edition of CBC Radio One’s The House, Denis Coderre faced not the slightest challenge when he blamed “people supporting Mr.Aristide” for kidnappings and other “terrorist acts.”
Legitimating the war on the Haitian poor
This recent national media coverage calls for the escalation of repressive forces. The Globe and Mail article stated that UN forces had recently not used as much force as they ought to have.
This comes less than a month after the UN carried out the documented massacre on the poor neighbourhood of Cité Soleil. While the recent Globe and Mail story did make mention of this event (referring to it as ap ositive and much needed “show of muscle” by the UN),the newspaper failed to mention the civilian casualties, stating only that it “left six armed gang members dead.”
Growing Canadian resistance to a violent Canadian occupation
The impressive number of participants who have been turning out at recent Haiti solidarity events suggests that Canadians are increasingly tuning in to hear what’s going on behind the media charade. The launchof the Toronto Haiti Action Committee saw a turn-out of about 80 people, and a talk about Haiti the following day in Hamilton by Justin Podur (a frequent Znet and rabble.ca contributor) drew a crowd of over 40 people. With five Canadian cities now officially hosting active groups integrated with the cross-border network of Haiti Action Committees, and with residents of Hamilton now talking about forming their own group, the movement seems poised to keep growing.
This movement has already enjoyed a significant victory. The massacre in Cité Soleil saw protest actions in cities across Canada on July 21, organized in concert with actions across Brazil and the U.S.. The UN, which had initially denied that any massacre had taken place, was shamed into announcing that it would investigate the July 6 Cité Soleil massacre.
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