Sunday, March 30, 2008

Exploding the Myth of Aristide

There is a long standing English list serve on Haiti, run by Bob Corbertt out of Webster University. Over the last three years, I have been sparring there with the supporters of deposed Haitian President Aristide. Aristide still has many supporters, mostly among the left in the United States, many still most certainly still on his payroll from the ill gotten gains that he stole from the people of Haiti.

In Haiti, things are moving along fine under the duly elected President Preval. now three years into his 5 year term.

Brian Concannon, once Aristide's lawyer, ( and a fellow alumna of Middlebury College)still runs a number of groups - namely the IJDH, which has for some strange reason overtaken the literate women at WILPF. They are promoting a book written by a Englishman enamoured by the myth of Aristide.

Michael Deibert, a journalist who cover Haiti for over ten years, has written a detailed review of this book. by Peter Hallward.

One Aristide supporter posted to the Corbett list a small quibble on Deibert's review. Here is what I posted in response:

I have not read Hallward's book I have however, read Deibert’s book, Notes from the Last Testament. I have read it entirely through four times. I have also purchased ten copies, giving them out rather freely to people who are working in the development field with the DR and Haiti.

Mr. Deibert’s book is masterful account of what he saw happening on the ground. I found that time and again, he clarified his own point of view, informing his readers of what was going on inside his own mind, seperating as best as any journalist can, the difference between what he saw and what he felt about what he saw.

I have also read the Farmer book- which is not journalism but a plea for attention to the poor – and have an ever growing bookshelf here of books in English and French – on Haiti. I have also read most of Aristide’s books. And since I had lived in Haiti, I was an avid consumer of the news at the time of Coup number one and Coup number two.

When I first arrived here four years ago, I had only been informed of Haitian events via the US press, both the standard press and the more “left leaning” progressive press, via Amy Goodman on Pacifica – whom I tended to believe more than the NY Times or Washington Post- what with the historic “disinformation” on US foreign policy.

Yes, indeed, I do have Howard Zinn on my bookshelf.

What I discovered from my time here on the ground was that “traditional” press had a more accurate portrayal of what had happened here than the “left”. Goodman, Farmer, Chomsky, Z magazine – all failed in my opinion – to meet my standards for journalism – in that it should at least attempt to cover both sides of the story.

When I arrived and started to talk with people here, I found that I had an embarassingly simplistic take on the situation. I did not know about the co-op bank scandal. I did not know about the number of people in Aristide’s government who had been indicted for narcotic trafficking., I did not know about the actual uprising on the ground.

All I knew was that the “international community, via the International Republican Institute” had engineered a coup d’etat against “the most popular democratically elected President ever.” I believed Aristide when Amy Goodman said that he been kidnapped. I no longer do.

I knew nothing of the attacks by the Lavalas supporters against those who opposed them. I knew nothing about the terror that had overtaken the streets of Port au Prince. I did not know that Aristide’s government had been labeled a “press predator” by Reporters without Borders.

But I have spent four years now becoming better informed. For one year, I spent almost four hours a day reading both the press and the list servs in French from Haiti. Now clearly, those who are writing in French do not represent the majority of Haitians. They represent the educated class.

I have also been educated by a young Haitian college graduate who was my roommate for a time – whose parents are not literate but certainly have opinons, and whose own family is divided between Aristide and Preval. I have spoken to people on the streets in Ouanaminthe and Anse A Pitres who are removed and a bit neglected by the their government, by people in NGOs – both Haitian and American.

I know that my information will always be flawed because, unlike Deibert, I am not fluent in Kreyole but must always find a Haitian who can translate from either French or Spanish. But I know for certain that there are many people in the States who have neither Kreyole, nor French but pretend that they know what is going on in Haiti. Deibert is not one of them. He is fluent in English, French, Kryeole, and Spanish.

So now I have grave doubts over anyone who still defends Lavalas. I despair a bit about the entire Left in the US – who listen to people whose integrity is compromised by blind loyalty to (and paychecks from) Aristide, a man whom history will, I believe, judge to be more interested in his personal power than the welfare of his people.

Again - here is the link to the review of Hallward's book.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The US progressive left and Haiti

I am pleased to report that someone, finally, has named some of the issues within the progressive left of the United States. Dave Rovics, a folk singer whose music has sustained me for years, has this to say about the rallies organized by the ANSWER coalition.

Soon perhaps, the "left" in the States will realize that what is most precious to us all is freedom. That means Freedom of expression, of association, of movement - that is what attracts so many people to the US, that we are, indeed, freer that almost anywhere in the world. (I say almost even though I have not yet discovered a nation which has more freedom). Since I love freedom above all else, I do not support the governments of Chavez and Castro, because they limit freedom of speech, my most precious liberty.

Nor do I support the work of the Haiti Action Committee, which I believe is hate filled and dangerous, seeking to destablize a democratically elected government. They are working for Jean Bertrand Aristide, rather than the people of Haiti.

Nor do I any longer read Z magazine, which I find simply full of the same anti, anti, anti..

Or listen to Amy Goodman, whose blind support of Aristide has led to such dreadful misinformation about Haiti within progressive circles in the US.

Nevertheless, I have great respect for the opinions and music of this folksinger, who represents the best and the brightest of the United States. Listen up.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ayati, Cherie

Haiti is the second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere, and the first Black republic in the world. From her shores, Simon Bolivar launched the fight for the liberation of the Latin America. While newspaper editors always cite the grim statistics on poverty, on disease, of deforestation, of children in forced labor, there is another reality there.

For me, Haiti holds the key to what ails the United States, the ‘affluenza’ which is alienating our children, driving us into lives of endebtedness. We work so many hours that most Americans do not even know how to take a vacation, how to rest, how to enjoy themselves. Holidays in the States are always linked to consumption in one form or another.

In Haiti, there is little to consume, little beyond the bare necessities to even buy, so holidays are spent singing and dancing and sharing meals. I remember back thirty years ago, when I first lived there, the differing reactions of the foreign tourists. Even then Haiti had a level of poverty that few Americans ever see.

There were more tourists into Haiti then into the Dominican Republic.

Groups would usually divide into half: those who were so shocked by the poverty that they could see nothing else and those, like myself, who simply lost our hearts to these people, who in the midst of such poverty, created such fantastic art, held their heads high, kept the children clean and well disciplined, sacrificed for their children’s education.

I used to see the discomfort on the faces of the former group and imagine what was in their minds. In the States, we are indeed taught that money can buy happiness. Yet here were these people who clearly had nothing, but had within them some wellspring of joy that had long been extinguished in us. How did they do it?

I used to think that if I stood still long enough in Haiti, someone would come around and paint me in the same primary colors as the buses, perhaps giving me a name, like “God is Justice.” I had an old car with a leak in the radiator which meant that I had to stop every 30 minutes and put in water from the gallon containers that I carried with me in back.

My little cabin on a hill by the beach was an hour and a half away from the main base diving group for whom I worked, Baskin in the Sun, at Ibo Beach. Weekends, I would drive down for visits and parties, and advanced diving courses. The coast road would be deserted, no signs of houses between the towns. Yet within 30 seconds of my stop on the road, the car would be surrounded with a crowd of smiling Haitians, all helping me examine the engine with great empathy

“Missionaire?” They would ask, as I was clearly not a tourist. “Oui”, although my mission was to learn rather than teach.

Haiti is much poorer now that it was back then. It is much more deforested, much more depleted of its most valuable treasure, the educated youth whom families sent abroad for education and work. It is sustained by foreign aid, by missionaries, by remittances, by lots of dirty drug money, and by the sheer will of the dedicated people who have stayed behind.

But it is rising now. Hold you breath a bit and watch carefully.

Haiti came out from under the repressive dictatorship twenty years after her sister republic here in the Dominican Republic. 1986 and 1965 respectively. As in Haiti, a left leaning president took office here in the DR, one Juan Bosch. He was overthrown in a coup and the US invaded and occupied the country. Most Dominicans believe that the US engineered the coup , as the cold war was still in full swing, the Soviets threatening the US with missiles through its client state of Cuba. Twenty years later, the rise of the left in Haiti resulted in years of Jean Bertrand Aristide, who finally left office, after being re-instated by the United States, in 2004.

Haiti is thus a very young democracy, only five years old.

There is a new nation growing from the deep strong roots planted here in 1804.

The tourist industry is starting up again. Wait til you see those beaches!

Wait until you meet these people., full of courage, full of dignity, full of love and art and music.

You will lose your heart, I’ll just bet.

Welcome to the club.

Ayati, Cherie.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

News on the Peacefront

A hot war was perhaps avoided here in Santo Domingo last week as the presidents of Columbia (Uribe), Venezuela (Chavez), and Ecuador (Correa) faced off around a round table along with other Latin American presidents.

For those who are not following the war on the Southern front – in Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia – the news is that Columbia went over into Ecuador’s territory and assassinated Raul Reyes, spokesperson and the second in command of the FARC forces.

When the leader was killed, the Columbian forces captured two computers which contained documents indicating that both Chavez and Correa had been aiding FARC with money and training space.

Before the meeting of the Rio Group here, there had been a peace march by resident Columbians and friends, led by a young friend of mine, Sebastian Molano. That march was part of global peace march, organized on FACEBOOK, by young Columbians around the world. Columbian youth are the second largest users of Facebook. They are tired of war. They are tired of having all Columbians labeled as “narco-trafficers”. They took to the streets around the world to express their displeasure with the activities of FARC.

I do not know if that demonstration boosted the resolve of the Columbian government to more aggressive action to eliminate the armed resistance to democratic rule, but I suspect that it did. I am very proud to know this young Columbian and see all the others around the world like him who are willing to stand up for peace.

And, although I am firmly committed to peace, I am not naïve enough to believe that governments have yet reached the point where they can simply will away armed resistance.

Last week was a major step forward towards peace in the region. Before the meeting, Ambassadors had been withdrawn, troops had been sent to the borders. Things were very hot. The week following the meeting here, all diplomatic relations were restored and Columbian and Ecuadorian singers assembled on the border to give a concert for peace. Truly Amazing.

The presidents of Mexico, Nicaragua, Argentine, all gave their opinions on the issue after Uribe and Correa had had a chance to read their statements and speak with one another face to face. I was able to watch the proceedings live on TV. My favorite speaker was Kirchner of Argentina, one of Latin America’s two women presidents, who chided the men on their petty and moody behavior, observed that they needed perhaps a bit of time to get control of their emotions, and observed that women were indeed the more intelligent of the two genders.

The Dominican President, Leonel Fernandez, who is standing for reelection here in May, guided the proceedings with grace and insight. He led the group to draft a resolution which, in the end, had Columbia apologize to Ecuador for violating their territorial rights without informing the government first. But both Ecuador and Venezuela were recognized as having aided an armed insurrection against their sovereign neighbor.

It was a brilliant moment in the annals of peacemaking which should not pass without a great celebration.

I continue my work on bringing peace between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who have not resolved their differences since their war in 1844.................

But there are reasons to be hopeful. Fernandez is getting global recognition as a peacemaker.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Mango Man

Just when you think it is all just completely hopeless, that we are never going to get it right, that the more we try, the worse it gets........ just then.... when the hope is about gone .....

you meet someone extraordinary.

I had the privilege of talking for an hour with one of Haiti's bright lights --- and Haiti has millions of them, but lots of them have left....

A graduate of City University in NY (my alma mater as well), Jean Buteau returned to Haiti to work and started in on the mango business. Not an ordinary Mango business, but one which has become the NUMBER ONE exporter of organic mangos in the world. It has the first hot water USDA pre-processing plant in the world, so that the Haitian mangos go through their first big inspection before they leave Haiti.

But what was most extrodinary about M. Buteau was not just what he had already done, but the way he thought about his country, his people.

We sat in an elegant bistro in Petionville(ah yes, Haiti has more than a thousand faces), drinking cold Presige beer while he spoke of his dreams for the future:

"Every morning there are 300,000 people between here and Croix de Bouquet wake up with no food in their house and no money in their pockets. They have to go out and hustle something in order to get some food for themselves and their children every day - sell a pair of jeans, find a bit of work, something. At the end of the day, they are so tired and they have no time left so they end up eating cornflakes because it is easy and cheap. I want to figure out how to get them a packet of food, of their own food, of taro and yame and their own vegetables - in such a way that they can cook it quickly, and be nourished on their own food."

Please send this man a lot of money and a great team to work with!!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Haiti is speaking

These friends speak my mind:

- are you listening?

Helaina Stein and Sabina Carlson

Issue date: 2/26/08 Section: Op-Ed Tufts Daily

Haiti. What was the first thing that came to mind when you read that word? When we posed this question to students around campus, they had responses like: "Poverty," "Crime," "Dangerous," "Poorest," "Aristide," "Hunger," "Cruises" and "Mothers making food out of dirt." In the international vernacular, Haiti is the only country with a last name: the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Headlines like "Haiti Among Top Ten Dangerous Destinations" and "Charity Group Sounds Alarm for Haiti" continue to unrelentingly support this stigma. It is not surprising, then, that Tufts students, who pride themselves in global awareness and active international dialogue, reflect this one-dimensional portrayal of Haiti.

Few people are aware that the majority of the Haitian populace exists in its rural countryside, far from the flares of violence that are overwhelmingly reported from the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Last month, the RESPE: Ayiti team traveled to Balan, a rural town in northern Haiti. Accompanied by two Haitian mentors, we arrived with the object of assessing a rural community, understanding its strengths and challenges, observing local community initiatives and determining how we could harness the academic resources of our university to support those existing initiatives.

The voices of rural Haitians are often tossed aside in favor of "reality" as told by the Haitian elite and government. Our framework was simple: We wanted to treat the members of the community not as research subjects, but as our teachers, and to learn from them what life is truly like in "the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere." Far from a charity project, our goal was to support this community in its path for self-empowerment.

When we arrived in Balan, we were welcomed into a community that had infinitely more depth and color than the black and white headlines of the newspapers. Instead of being greeted by gangs wielding guns, we were welcomed by gwoupman - community groups in the village - eager to meet us and teach us about their community.

But though our seven days in Balan were spent in tranquility, without any threat to our physical safety, we encountered and interacted with many elements of structural violence - a subtle repression of human agency. Balan is not only physically isolated by miles of unpaved roads, but it is also socially and politically isolated.

Amid the vibrant voices of the community, we noticed an unsettling silence of an absent government. The government's void is reflected in the rutted roads, dark homes without electricity, schools without lights or books, empty clinics and the arable but unfulfilled fields. Haiti itself has been condemned to failure by the Western world from the time it earned its title as the world's first black republic in 1804. This has manifested itself externally through unfair trade agreements and the outright subversion of Haiti's democratic process, and internally through the exploitation and neglect of the Haitian peasantry by the Haitian elite.

The daily challenges of the rural population can thus find their roots in this ever-deepening history of isolation.From afar, all of these problems blend together into a concept that we acknowledge as poverty. However, on the ground, it translates into not only individual challenges, but individual triumphs in one community's struggle for a decent life. The community's determination to succeed reflects itself from the women supporting each other through informal micro-loans, to the youth who take the time to clean a crumbling road, to the farmers who pool their physical strength to help each other reach harvest. While these stories do not make international headlines, they are the headlines of each new day in Balan. Because of this, we feel it is our responsibility to present the Haiti we saw, with neither romance nor stigmatization.

If we consider ourselves members of this global community, it is our responsibility to look beyond the World Bank reports and the U.S. State Department travel advisories. So let's not let the conversation end here. The next time you think of Haiti, don't simply think of coup d'états and gangs; think of the violence inherent in empty stomachs. Think of the injustice when a child peers eagerly into the window of an elementary school he will never afford. Think of the brutality a farmer experiences as he watches his crop destroyed by the sun after working himself to exhaustion. Think of the neglect of a community's needs going unfulfilled by an absent government.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Exporting Criminals

Neither Haiti nor the Domincan Republic is able to handle the wave of criminals who are being returned here after advanced training in the US prison systems. See one request

Free Trade?

At the luncheon the other day, my Dominican neighbor who used to live in NYC while she worked at the United Nations, said

"I hear a lot of bad talk about globalization but whenever I look at my supermarket shelves. I say: Bring it on."

The DR signed the "free trade agreement " DRCAFTA last year. Now we are beginning to see the results on the supermarket shelves.

The lovely small local cauliflowers sit a bit bruised and battered on a shelf beneath their huge bright white American cousins bearing the "Dole" label.

The American veggies probably came by plane, using up umpteen tons of jet fuel. They were most likely fed on a diet that completely damaged the surrounding ecosystem, contributing to the toxic run off poisoning the rivers. They are the result of forceful US imperialism which aims to open up all the markets in the global south and Europe to its products, without reducing its own agricultural subsidies.

It is no way "fair trade" and only by some stretch could it be considered "Free"

I stand in solidarity with the citizens in the global south and call for an end to the US farm subsidies -which actually increased last year thanks to the pork barrell votes from the DEMOCRATS in Congress.

Viva La Huelga.

Viva Che.