Charles Boylan of Vancouver Co-op Radio interviews Kevin Pina
by Kevin Pina and Charles Boylan; September 21, 2004
Charles Boylan: I saw an e-mail yesterday and it said that the Haitian Army is re-establishing itself. I want you to tell us what you know about these facts, and to tell us a little bit about what this army is and its history.
Pina: Well it's the Forces, d'army Haiti Fad'h, which was the army created by the US back during the first occupation of Haiti, which lasted nineteen years, from1915 to 1934. The army, traditionally, was a tool of the ruling class of Haiti. It could be bought; it was responsible for more than thirty-three coup d'etats in Haiti's history. During the 1990's, after the coup d'etat against the first government of President Aristide, the army became very deeply involved in drug trafficking. Certainly it's an army that has never had to be used to defend Haiti's sovereignty against any outside force. It's traditionally been a tool of repression for Haitians inside Haiti.
As far as its resurgence [goes], what we know is that members of the former military, as well as members of the former CIA trained paramilitary death squad FRAPH, as well as officers such as Guy Philippe [formerly] of the Haitian police, were given safe harbour by certain segments of the Dominican government and certain segments of the Dominican military. After the year 2000 we know that they began several series' of incursions into Haiti, which led to the assassination of several members of Aristide's Lavalas Party . They would make armed incursions into Haiti and they would then return to their “safe haven” in the Dominican Republic. There have been charges that there's no way that this could have been done without U.S. complicity and the U.S. knowing exactly what was going on.
Certainly, I was reporting about [this]…about two, two and a half years ago. So, certainly if I had that information, it had to be available to the United States government, certainly the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic. And, the former military along with these other forces I described, used Dominican territory to launch an attack into Haiti; a larger attack into Haiti in early February , which led to the coup d'etat of the constitutionally elected President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was forced out of the country on February 29th of this year.
Boylan: Now, the United Nations forces are there. They're there under [the auspices of] some sort of U.N. Resolution I assume. What is their role in all of this?
Pina: Well, it's been very sketchy. The government claims today that they've re-taken the town of St. Marc. The former military has been regrouping and has been calling for its reinstitution, its recognition and reinstitution to its former role, which is basically, de facto rulers of Haiti, as I said, open to bidding to highest bidder within the traditional ruling bourgeoisie of Haiti. They've taken over much a large segment, a swath of the Northern country, which includes the town of Hinche, the Plateau Central including an area called Morn Kabrit, and the town of St. Marc. The UN and the PNH had announced that they had re-taken St. Marc yesterday, however we have not confirmed that.
What's interesting to note is that the UN 'says' that it is assisting the Haitian police force, and [on] August the 14th, the Lavalas organization, which was Aristide's political party - which has of course has seen tremendous repression since the President's forced ouster on February 29th - on August the 14th, Lavalas held demonstrations in the second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, and in the capital, Port au Prince. In both those demonstrations, the UN and Haitian police had demonstrators tuck their t-shirts into their pants, so they could be sure there were no guns at the demonstration. The very next day, on August 15th, the same UN and Haitian police allowed 150 Haitian military to march openly in the capital of Port au Prince, brandishing M-16s, M-14s, a few M-60s, and they were not challenged at all. So, if indeed the UN are beginning to challenge the former military, it's a brand new phenomenon.
Many people who are in Lavalas who, as I said, have been victims of this campaign of repression since Aristide's forced ouster of February 29th, really see themselves as now being caught in a pincer movement between two forces. One is the Haitian National Police - backed up by the United Nations forces - and on the other side is the former military who are trying to come back into power. Now, it's really interesting to note that the United States has worked with the current so-called “interim government”; Lavalas refers to it as 'de facto' government, the U.S. installed government of Gerard Latortue, to now talk about integrating a 1000 of these former military soldiers into the Haitian National Police. Well, they'd already started this process beginning back in March; it really doesn't make sense for them to that they say they're not going to allow the former military to be restored to its former role while at the same time they're virtually transforming the Haitian National Police into an entity that contains a large percentage of those same former military.
Boylan: When you speak this way about this pincer movement my mind flashes back to the tragedy of Lumumba in the Congo 'way back in 1960's,' you had the same sort of intervention by the U.N. on the one side and you had the Chambe [Mobutu's] reactionaries on the other. It's hard to make these parallels of course but it seems to me you have the U.N. sort of playing a duplicitous role here. The original invasion of course was by the United States, Canada, and France. Have all of their forces left the island now?
Pina:I still see smatterings of Canadian troops; there are some French forces here that are laying low; there is still a small contingent of U.S. Marines. But mostly it's the Brazilians, the Chileans and the Argentineans, who are taking the lead. Certainly, I believe that the role of the French and the U.S., and the Canadian is at this point a leadership role within the command structure of the U.N. forces. It's also interesting to note that there's a new level, a new wave of repression that began this last Sunday. Now remember that the U.N. forces claims that they are assisting the Haitian police. This includes even if the Haitian National Police are performing an action at the behest of the Latortue government, which may be based upon a lie, as in the case of So Anne, who is a popular folk singer, who's home was violently invaded by U.S. Marines on May 10th and she herself was arrested by the U.S. Marines, based upon an accusation of the Latortue government, that she was planning to attack U.S. forces.
So, the UN will back up the Haitian police even if the Haitian police from the Latortue government are performing an action that is based upon false information, false information that they know is false. This last Sunday, the Haitian National Police began to indiscriminately round up all adult males in several popular neighbourhoods where Lavalas support is known to be great. On Sunday they arrested more than sixty males in a neighbourhood just North of the capital, and yesterday they arrested another thirty in a neighbourhood called St. Martin. Sunday, the police would come in, and they would create this net around the neighbourhood and then they would indiscriminately round up all adult males who were caught in the net without any cause or justification. Always lingering in the background are large APV vehicles with heavily armed United Nations troops. I guess they are [there] to ensure that no one will resist the Haitian police while they are performing this broad procedure of indiscriminate detainment and arrest in popular neighbourhoods where Lavalas support is known to be greatest.
Boylan: Can you go into a little more detail about the current level of political prisoners in Haiti's penitentiaries, and also put into context this issue acquittal of known murderer Louis Jodel Chamblain, who is one of the “rebels” we read about in early February?
Pina: The Inter-American Human Rights Commission was just in Haiti; they represent the OAS, and of course Amnesty has had several of its researchers on the ground, on and off, as well as Human Rights Watch. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that besides the 'high-profile' Lavalas political prisoners, such as Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, and interior minister Jocelyn Privert, and, as I said earlier, So Anne – Annette - Auguste, this famous Haitian folk singer, there are a lot of lesser known people affiliated with the Lavalas party who are currently filling the jails, not only just in the capital of Port au Prince, but also in places like Cap Haitien. I still receive daily calls from people who ask me - because I'm known as a journalist on the ground - if I can put them in touch with human rights organizations; some of them have been wasting in jail since early March without any trial.
The Haitian Constitution says that people should be brought before a judge and charges should be brought before them after forty-eight hours, but there are people who have been in jail for months and months without any charges never seeing a magistrate or a judge. The jails right now are said to be chalk full of people who are affiliated with Lavalas, who consider themselves to be political prisoners. It is interesting that Jodel Chamblain, who was the second in command of the FRAPH [the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti], which was the CIA-trained paramilitary death squad responsible for thousand and thousands of deaths following the 1991 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide, and who was seen by eyewitnesses to be the trigger man who assassinated a leading businessman and Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery on September 11th, 1993…
The trial was obviously a sham, human rights organizations have rightfully condemned it; it's interesting to note that while Jodel Chamblian was given his 'day in court' as was Jackson Joanis who was the former head of anti-gang, who was also implicated in the murder of Antoine Izmery. Annette Auguste, Prime Minister Neptune and Interior Minister Jocelyn Privert, have had just these cursory visits to the court, and then nothing has been done, they've just been left without word of when their next hearing will be, whereas with someone like Jodel Chamblain is given an immediate trial where eight witnesses are called, seven of the witnesses are frightened out of their minds and will not come to the hearing. Only one shows up and he says nothing about the incident, and the jury deliberates in the middle of the night in secret for fourteen hours and the man is acquitted of this horrendous crime; clearly there is an inequity, there is not an equal application of Haitian law and the Haitian Constitution. But again I think that's to be expected when you have a government that is more beholden to Washington, and to Ottawa, and to Paris, then it is to its own people, and its own constituency. Remember, this government that's in power now has never withstood the test of democratic elections; it's in power by virtue of the role that those three nations played in overseeing the forced ouster, if you will, of the Constitutionally elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29th of this year.
Boylan: Well, this puts the question on the whole constitutionality of the validity of the invasion in the beginning, and I'd like you to speak, if you will, to a Canadian audience, of what you know about Canada in this whole affair.
Pina: It is clear that Canada played a very pivotal role in terms of backing and going along with U.S. foreign policy. Certainly the Canadian government, I would say in, a lot of ways, lacked backbone, at best, and, at worst, were openly complicit with this ouster of Constitutionally, democratically-elected president [Aristide]. But to go to the particulars of what happened on February 29th, you've got to remember that Canada has towed the line of the U.S. government that there these armed rebels threatening the capital. Well, this is just complete nonsense. It was very clear how this theatre went down.
Foreign embassy after foreign embassy, beginning with the Italian embassy, who were then followed second by the Canadian embassy and other European embassies demanded that all their citizens flee Haiti and that hit the headlines big: “Foreign Nationals Flee Haiti” And the n finally the United States demanded that its citizens flee Haiti and that hit the headlines big: “U.S. Citizens Flee Haiti.” You know, President Aristide and Lavalas had been condemning these armed incursions I had spoke about earlier, by the former military, by the former paramilitary death squad, FRAPH, from the Dominican Republic into Haiti, in which they were killing Lavalas officials and then returning to the Dominican Republic. They'd been condemning this for years, and their condemnations had been falling upon deaf ears in the [corporate] press.
Suddenly, Guy Philippe and these guys show up in the country, and all of these [corporate news] editors fall over themselves to find budgets, including sending your dear Paul Knox from the Globe and Mail out here. Suddenly they've got these budgets, per diems, and transportation expenses to send these reporters out to fall all over themselves to cover this 'huge story' of the rebels. When, as I said, Lavalas had been condemning and talking about these people being in the Dominican Republic for years, and it was falling upon deaf ears and the press never had any attention span for it or interest in it, whatsoever. Suddenly, they discover them 'by miracle' and its this huge headline, and as I said this is compounded by this theatre of foreign embassies demanding that their nationals leave, ultimately leading to the U.S. embassy demanding its nationals leave.
The very next day 50 armed U.S. Marines arrive into Haiti, into the capital, flown in a big flurry on a big transport plane, purportedly to check on the security preparations at the U.S. embassy, and then the next bead in this story, this theatre if you will, is that, suddenly, the Toussaint L'Ouverture airport is closed to all airport traffic. Now, you've got to remember that not a single foreign national in this entire time ever had a scratch or a hair touched on his head. Nor was there ever a single shot fired at the airport, and that's what leads myself and many others who were here, who experienced this, to believe that this was just a superb theatrical performance that was being led by France, Canada, and the United States to give the perception of these “dire” circumstances, to give the perception of this 'embattled dictator' Aristide, who had to 'cling to power' by virtue of these violent forces, his 'minions' of his party of Lavalas.
And, by the way, they [Aristide's supporters] were in the streets, and they were trying to protect the capital, and that's why I say that this threat that the U.S. government said forced Aristide out of office, that the rebels were going to enter the capital, was a non-threat, because there was no way that 200, or even 300 heavily armed men could have entered this capital at any time without heavy house to house fighting and heavy resistance. It's just a lie and a non-threat.
What you also have to remember that at the exact moment that those 50 U.S. Marines who entered Haiti under the auspices of checking the security preparations at the U.S. embassy; at the same moment that they were entering Aristide's residence, to take him out of office, to force him onto that airplane to Bangui, in the Central African Republic; at this very same moment there was a large transport plane on the tarmac in Jamaica, refuelling, that was carrying re-supplies of arms and ammunitions for the Haitian police force. This was not, as the U.S. and Canada, and the French presented, a President who was “resigned to his fate.” This was a President, who because that transport plane was being sent in a unilateral assistance agreement with the government of South Africa, with the re-supply of arms and ammunition for the Haitian police force, and as I said at the same moment the President was being taken out by the U.S. Marines, that same plane was refuelling on a tarmac in Jamaica; that was why they had to take him out, because, quite the contrary to the image they portrayed of this man who was resigned to his fate, who had lost the support of his people; this was a man who was willing to fight for the sovereignty, was willing to fight to continue his democratic mandate.
Boylan: This is a very telling story; I don't think that's been broadcast here, that's for certain. That aspect of the story; we were all left wondering, 'Why did Aristide leave? What the hell was going on? And of course we were all left in the dark by the mass media manipulation of the airwaves. This is an extremely important chapter. Tell us a little bit more about this story, tell us a little bit about the circumstances facing you and all those who are trying to bring light to what is actually happening in Haiti, and what oppositional forces, internationally, locally, are putting some weight behind the Haitian people in this dark moment of their history?
Pina: Well, you've got to realize is that it was a huge campaign of disinformation that demonized Lavalas and demonized Aristide, and this is still going on today. They use buzzwords like 'chimere,' which is a term that they call Lavalas who defended themselves, or who defended the government. They've painted Aristide as a 'dictator' who 'lost the support of his people,' who was relying upon his Lavalas 'shock troops.' They've really presented this dark image of what was essentially, what is essentially, a movement of the majority of the poor in this country, they continue [to demonize] to this day.
There has been so much misinformation, and so many lies; the Haitian press participated in it: they fed stories to the international press, and the international press fed it back to them, and suddenly what was innuendo and rumour gets 'transformed' into reality and suddenly reality gets turned on its head, and a lot of what I read [in the press] about Haiti is the exactly the reverse of what I myself and many others who live this reality day to day; what we experience and how we see the situation. Today the Haitian press still plays an horrendous role; the standard of journalism and what passes for the truth, and what passes for professionalism is just abhorrent.
The major news outlets here are owned by large families who are aligned with the elite, or are members of the small economic elite themselves, it's clear that they've had a large role in this movement to overthrow Aristide; it's clear that they'd spent a tremendous amount of money in public relations, whether that be over the internet, in the U.S. press, the French press, the Canadian press. And the U.S. corporate media in general, as I said, presenting this image of the movement of the poor in a very ugly and, I would say, false light. It's not to say that, certainly, there weren't errors made by Aristide; it's not to say that there weren't people amongst the masses of the poor who weren't angry, and who ultimately felt cornered and that they had no resort except to violence. But you've got to remember, and not to apologize for it or excuse it, we have to understand that this really a response to people who knew that this was going to happen, that their greatest enemy who was this corrupt, dangerous, murderous institution, the Haitian military, was being poised to return to this country. They knew that a year ago, and of course how can you expect people who's mothers were raped, whose brothers and fathers were brutally murdered, whose sisters were murdered, not to react very emotionally and in some instances violently, knowing that this was going to happen, that the Haitian military was being poised for an eventual position of return to Haiti?
A lot of what was twisted and said to represent the evil 'shock troops,' the chimeres of the dictator Lavalas, was the righteous indignation and anger of a very, very frightened mass of poor people in this country who for the first time had a government that they felt represented their interests. All you have to do today, with what is going on with this U.S. backed government, this U.S. installed government, by virtue of this action that the U.S., France, and Canada pulled in Haiti, you see that there was a Ministry of Literacy under the Aristide administration, that was one of the first ministries abolished. Literacy, and the majority of the poor learning to read and write is not a priority for this [de facto] administration.
There was public housing that was built where poor families could rent an apartment but their rent would be applied for equity to allow them for the first time to own an apartment or a condominium, that was a decent home with running water and electricity, that was something modern. Now, that housing is being taken over by this government to give to U.N. officials for their own personal housing. Imagine, housing that was built for the poor is now being taken over by this U.S. installed government, to turn over to United Nations workers, and the peacekeeping force, their commanders, so that they can live in them while they are displacing and evicting the poor, who, for the first time, had housing. These are just a few examples to show you what the priorities are now versus what the priorities were. It seems that you only really get to really understand what was really going on before by seeing it being dismantled today.
Another point is the agrarian reform. Everybody always said that there was never any effort to help the majority of the poor who are peasants in the countryside; seventy per cent of Haiti's population are poor peasants living in the countryside. Well, it's only today when we are seeing the agrarian reform being dismantled, under this U.S. installed government, the former landowners are returning and taking back the land that was distributed to the peasants under the Agrarian Reform Act, that we understand that there really was was an agrarian reform project. That huge propaganda campaign, the people who control the press said that agrarian reform program never existed, and the only reason we can see today that it clearly existed is that now the peasants are fighting back and there's open violence now, and rebellion by peasants in the countryside against these large landowners returning to re-claim the land that was distributed to them under the agrarian reform that was started first under the Preval administration, and then continued under the Aristide administration.. These are examples of projects that clearly benefited the majority of the poor, that people said never existed, that the corporate media completely ignored and only focussed on stories that were fed to it buy the elite-controlled media that focussed on these negative acts of violence…[disconnects…]
Boylan: Listeners must be very angry as they listen to the things you are enumerating, listing off these facts that are brand-new to most people. What can we do about it, how can we empower ourselves to affect change, and [to help] restore democracy to Haiti?
Pina: I think that it's got to start with our own governments. I was very proud of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who [recently] called out Washington, Paris, and Ottawa by name today. She said, 'they're the ones who created this mess, they're the ones who are responsible to clean it up.' I think she's absolutely right, that we have to hold our governments accountable, that we need to [exert] pressure, even though the media, which has played such a terrible role in all of this, particularly the corporate media: These are large businesses, these are people who get called up buy the prime minister's and the presidents and the secretaries of this and that, and have the news influenced and shaped for them. These are the people who would rather call the Embassy first to get their reaction, then to risk their necks out on the street to try to get the reaction of the average poor person.
So, they've played a terrible role; right now they are conspicuously silent, they've done their damage, so what means is that we have to rely upon our own education networks, that means that we have to create our own sources of reliable information, that we need to cherish those sources, we need to support those sources, and we need to use that information that we get from those sources that we trust, to then leverage it against our elected officials, in order to get them to stand up, to put this issue back on the burner again, where it belongs. To get them to take responsibility for what they have done in this country, and what they have done to this country. Certainly what has gone down in Haiti falls right at the doorstep of Mr. George Bush, the Junior. I'm certain that right now this is not an issue in the election, but there are people who are trying to make it an issue in the election, particularly when we see, in a lot of ways, the U.S. you know played the leadership; I don't mean to cut Canada down, but they've really sort of been the lackeys, and the lapdogs, if you will, of U.S. foreign policy in this. I'm not trying to say that they weren't smart enough to do their own damage, but you know it's pretty much the U.S. that's called the shots on the ground here and Canada has pretty much saluted and said 'yes sir, whatever you need?'
The French played a more of a public leadership role on the ground; but Canada certainly had a definite role, and certainly the Canadian people should take responsibility to pressure their elected representatives, to put this issue back on the burner and to force them to restore democracy to Haiti, first of all. This is not a government that has been tested by the polls and it doesn't look as if the next elections in Haiti are going to allow the majority political party, who, as we discussed earlier, has been violently repressed, has been subject to mass arrests and mass detentions, is caught in this pincer movement between the violence of the Haitian police committed against them backed up by the United Nations, and the violence of the dreaded former military; they're not going to be able to participate in a free way in the next elections. So those elections are not really going to represent the will of the majority of the Haitian people either.
What I can say is that people should watch closely, because I think that this popular movement is not going to go gentle into that good night. We see it beginning to reassert itself again; we see that people, despite this tremendous atmosphere of a witch-hunt, despite this tremendous atmosphere of political persecution and intimidation, are still continuing to fight for their rights, still continuing to fight for their right for themselves to be part of a Party that represent the voice of the majority of the poor of this country. That's what we need to be watching for, keeping our pulse for, to know who to support on the ground. The NGOs, by and large, play a very evil role in this country. Certainly they played part and parcel right into this campaign to overthrow the democratic government of Haiti. Remember that Haiti saw its first peaceful transitions from one President to another under the Lavalas Party…
Boylan: I'm sorry to tell you this but times up. Kevin, this has been very enlightening and very, very helpful for our audience to listen to this information; and we will definitely be back in touch; thank you very much for joining us. This has been very helpful, and I want to thank-you for joining us.
Pina: It's been my pleasure.
*This interview was conducted on September 8, 2004. For more information, please go to Wake Up With Co-op. Boylan also hosts "Discussion," Wednesday evenings at 7:00 PST. Kevin Pina is an independent journalist, filmmaker, is Associate Editor of the Black Commentator, and currently resides in Haiti.
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