Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Archived Commentary on Haiti

In perusing my files re Haiti, I found this commentary and decided to put it online since it has good information on recent Haitian history.  Here is the link to the show, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle, 9/19/13 on Haiti with an update from guests recently returned from the neighboring Caribbean island- Ayana Labossiere, Aimee Riechel and Ruth Beyene of Haiti Solidarity Club at Mission High School. Freedom Is A Constant Struggle. 

Commentary on Haiti for KPFA, Berkeley, 3/14/1992, by Kiilu Nyasha.

Thousands of Haitian boat people picked up by Coast Guard cutters have been detained at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  After fleeing Haiti’s newest military dictatorship, the Caribbean refugees are being imprisoned in tents on a hot airfield fenced in by barbed wire and fed army rations.  Only a small percentage has been granted political asylum.  They’ve been held virtually incommunicado with no access to lawyers, telephones or postal services.  To date, nearly 9,000 men, women and children have been sent back to Haiti where they face arrest, torture and even death. 


U.S. Involvement in Haiti has a long history.  In 1915, it was invaded by U.S. Marines and occupied for 19 years during which the U.S. trained a joint military-police guard that evolved into today’s Haitian army.  For nearly 30 years, the U.S.–backed military dictatorship of Francois Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, succeeded by his son Jean-Claude, or Baby Doc, looted the national treasury, trafficked in cocaine, and terrorized Haitians with their Tonton Macoute (Creole for bogeymen).  Yet the dauntless Haitians ran Baby Doc and his entourage out of the country in 1986, when the U.S. had to airlift them to France for safety. 


In the next four years, Haiti had seven governments—five of them resulting from military coups de tat.  Then in Dec. 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, an activist priest and champion of the poor, was democratically elected, with almost 70 percent of the vote in Haiti’s first, fully free, internationally monitored election.  But on Jan. 7, before Aristides could be sworn in, the Tontons Macoute, led by their former boss, Roger Lafontant, seized the presidential palace in an aborted coup.  

The indomitable Aristide supporters built flaming barricades around the palace, counter-attacked the Tonton  Macoute, and demanded the army arrest Lafontant and his thugs.  In a salute to the people’s fearless determination, on July 30, Aristide declared a national holiday to celebrate their victorious trial, conviction and imprisonment of putschist Lafontant and his henchmen.  But the triumph was short-lived.  

Two months later on Sept. 30, another bloody coup claimed close to a thousand lives in a week, forced President Aristide into exile, and initiated a reign of terror against Aristide supporters. 

The army and the dreaded Tonton Macoute held the country’s new parliament hostage until its members voted to annul Aristide’s election and install Joseph Nerette as acting president.  Five months later, despite the rumblings of the OAS and the Bush Administration, the military junta is still in place, and no date has been set for Pres. Aristide’s return. 

Haitians have been victimized by arbitrary arrests, tortures, beatings, random shootings, house-to-house searches and seizures, a crackdown on free speech and press, prohibition of meetings, demonstrations and strikes, the burning down of villages and wholesale massacres.  E.g., two burial pits were found containing 60 bodies, many of them children. 


Journalists and human rights monitors have been threatened with death and prevented from doing their jobs.  

On December 3, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights estimated 1500 Haitians had been killed within two months of the coup.  Yet a U.S. State Dept. official made the absurd statement that “Haiti is a democracy, even if it is a suspended democracy right now.”  Such a ridiculous assertion is White House justification for its forced return of thousands of Haitian refugees who risked death on the high seas rather than be shot or tortured.  In fact, officials estimate only 50% survive the dangerous voyage. 

This inhuman policy of repatriating Haitian immigrants began with Jimmy Carter and was followed through by Reagan when he signed an interdiction treaty with Baby Doc in 1981.  At that time, Haitians who reached these shores were incarcerated in detention camps in Miami where they were separated from spouses and children and forced to remain in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.  Many committed suicide. 
In stark contrast to U.S. treatment of the dark-skinned Haitians is that afforded the Indochinese, over 600,000 of whom received financial grants and government assistance in finding homes and jobs in America.  Cubans, Soviets Jews and other European refugees have been welcomed with open arm.  Even the Salvadorans who had to fight for political asylum in the wake of civil war were ultimately granted “temporary protected status.” 
In lieu of Haiti’s heroic history, I can’t help thinking that the European elite of France and the U.S. is still hostile toward these Afro-Caribbean’s for having defeated Napoleon’s crack troops in their legendary battle against France that made Haiti the first colony in the Western Hemisphere to win freedom from slavery and national independence.

In total opposition to current U.S. practice regarding Haitians is the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.  The wretched refuse of your teaming shores, send these the homeless, tempest-lost to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden doors.”

In closing, I’m very pleased to announce that President Aristide, who arrived at Oakland Airport this morning, will be speaking at the First Congregational Church….[Of course, this happened nearly 20 years ago to date, September 18, 2013].

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