Imagine if the U.S. were to hold elections after the Republican Party had rounded up Senator John Kerry andother prominent Democrats and thrown them in jailwithout charges, while waging a campaign of violenceand political assassinations in all blue states. Tohold Haitian elections under present conditions wouldbe comparable to this, according to one of thepanelists at the launch of the Toronto Haiti ActionCommittee (THAC).
For the THAC launch event on August 4, prominent Haitisolidarity activists addressed a crowd of 80 people asToronto joined the ranks of other Canadian cities(Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Halifax) that arehome to active groups calling for an end to therepression being carried out in Haiti by anillegitimate Canadian-backed government.
Escalating political repression in Haiti
Since a Canada, U.S. and France-backed coup thatoverthrew the democratically elected Haitiangovernment in February 2004, liquidating 7000government officials from office and dissolvingSenate, political repression has been the order of theday in the Caribbean nation. The constitutional Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, has been languishing injail for over a year without even facing charges,while Father Jean Juste, a potential presidentialcandidate for the Lavalas Party, is also in prison withoutcharges.
Meanwhile, the elected Haitian president,Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is in exile in South Africa. A Universityof Miami study has documented escalating human rights abuses and a campaign of violence being waged againstHaitians living in poor neighbourhoods around thecapital 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 fairdemocratic elections in Haiti will be the release ofall Haitian political prisoners, an end to politicalviolence and repression by the Haitian NationalPolice, and the return of the elected Haitianpresident to Haiti. Lavalas is boycotting theelections process until these basic conditions aremet.
However, Canada is continuing to push for theelections to be held under present conditions, and hasgone to great lengths to legitimate a process regardedby many Haitians as a sham. PrimeMinister Paul Martin's Special Adviser on Haiti, Denis Coderre,has scoffed at the reports by the University of Miamias propaganda reports. Just last Saturday, Coderregushed to the CBC about how moving he had found thesight, during his recent trip to Haiti, of thousands and thousands of people who were in line to registerfor the election.
A new pretext for political repression
With no legitimate government in power, and thejustice system in disarray, there has been a surge inkidnappings and violence in Haiti. The de factoHaitian government and its apologists have repeatedlytried to blame Aristide supporters for theviolence, a claim which has provided aconvenient pretext for continued repression of poorHaitians living in neighbourhoods that have been mostvocally opposed to the coup.
This opportunistic argument by Haiti's de facto rulers hasbeen widely challenged. An International Crisis Groupreport, funded in part by the Canadian government,has stated that criminal activities, particularlydrug-trafficking and contraband âe¦ are behind muchof the current wave of violence. The report notedthat criminal elements in Haitian society have much togain from delaying the reestablishment of the rule oflaw.
On July 6, the UN Security Council-mandatedstabilization force in Haiti carried out a massacreon the poor neighbourhood of CitÃ© Soleil, known to behome to many Lavalas supporters. The UN claimed it hadgone into CitÃ© Soleil to find gang leadersresponsible for kidnappings. However, according tovideo evidence and eyewitness accounts, including byReuters correspondent Joseph Guyler Delva and MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res, at least 23 civilians,including women and children, were massacred.
Canadian media coverage of Haiti: news or propaganda?
The Canadian national media has recently beenjustifying the continued repression of Lavalas and itssupporters by uncritically parroting the Canadiangovernment and the de facto Haitian government'sunfounded claims that Aristide supporters areresponsible for the violent kidnappings. Two recentstories in the Canadian national media provide a casein point. On August 1, The Globe and Mail publishedan article that emphasized that many observers believe the current level of political violence is anattempt by gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide to destabilizethe country. The sole evidence cited in thearticle to back this claim was the opinions ofpolitical players in Haiti who are known for beinganti-Lavalas and pro-coup partisans.
One of The Globeand Mail's sources was a virulently anti-Aristidereporter by the name of Nancy Roc, who until recentlyworked for a Haitian radio station which was one ofthe active players in the U.S. campaign to destabilizeHaiti's constitutional government in 2003-4. Theonly other source quoted was the privately-fundedWashington, D.C.-based Haiti Democracy Project, whichhas close ties with right wing Haitian Ã©lites and U.S.foreign policy Ã©lites, and which had been one of theprime groups lobbying in the U.S. for the constitutionalHaitian president to step down.
Meanwhile, on the August 6 edition of CBC Radio One'sThe House, Denis Coderre faced not the slightestchallenge 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 theescalation of repressive forces. The Globe and Mailarticle stated that UN forces had recently not usedas much force as they ought to have.
This comes less than a month after the UN carried outthe documented massacre on the poor neighbourhood ofCitÃ© Soleil. While the recent Globe and Mail story didmake mention of this event (referring to it as apositive and much needed show of muscle by the UN),the newspaper failed to mention the civiliancasualties, stating only that it left six armed gangmembers dead.
Growing Canadian resistance to a violent Canadianoccupation
The impressive number of participants who have beenturning out at recent Haiti solidarity events suggeststhat Canadians are increasingly tuning in to hearwhat's going on behind the media charade. The launchof the Toronto Haiti Action Committee saw aturn-out of about 80 people, and a talk about Haitithe following day in Hamilton by Justin Podur (a frequent Znet and rabble.ca contributor) drew a crowd of over 40 people. With five Canadiancities now officially hosting active groups integratedwith the cross-border network of Haiti ActionCommittees, and with residents of Hamilton now talkingabout forming their own group, the movement seemspoised to keep growing.
This movement has already enjoyed a significantvictory. The massacre in CitÃ© Soleil saw protestactions in cities across Canada on July 21, organizedin concert with actions across Brazil and the U.S.. TheUN, which had initially denied that any massacre hadtaken place, was shamed into announcing that it wouldinvestigate the July 6 CitÃ© Soleil massacre.
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