Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Note de Presse: La création d’une commission baptisée : Commission Protestante Contre la Dictature en Haïti (CPCDH).

 Note de Presse

Nous signataires de la présente, dirigeants et ambassadeurs, respectivement de la Conférence des Pasteurs Haïtiens (COPAH), du Conseil National Spirituel des Eglises d'Haïti (CONASPEH), de la Fédération des Pasteurs Haïtiens (FEPAH) et de la Fédération Protestante d’Haïti (FPH), informons le public en général et les chrétiens protestants en particulier de la création d’une commission baptisée : Commission Protestante Contre la Dictature en Haïti (CPCDH).

Cette commission a pour mission de :
1. Travailler avec toutes les institutions religieuses et organisations de la société civile en vue de l’intensification de la mobilisation pacifique pour le respect de la constitution, particulièrement l’article 134-2.
2. Sensibiliser toutes les églises protestantes, à travers tout le pays, afin que les chrétiens, citoyens haïtiens à part entière, puissent s’engager résolument dans la lutte contre la dictature en Haïti.

C’est un combat pour la vie, l’avenir, et la dignité du peuple haïtien. C’est un combat pour le triomphe du droit, de la justice et de la démocratie. S’y engager n’est pas une option, mais un devoir chrétien et citoyen ! Car, selon les saintes écritures, les chrétiens ont l’impérieuse obligation de défendre les opprimés et de les délivrer de la main des méchants (Psaumes 82:4).   

Aussi, sollicitons-nous le soutien de la presse parlée, écrite, télévisée et en ligne pour la pleine réussite de cette noble mission.
Que Dieu bénisse Haïti et donne la force nécessaire aux haïtiens pour se battre pour la démocratie et le respect de la constitution !
We signatories hereof, leaders and ambassadors, respectively of the Conference of Haitian Pastors (COPAH), of the National Spiritual Council of the Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH), of the Federation of Haitian Pastors (FEPAH) and of the Protestant Federation of Haiti (FPH), want to inform the public in general and Protestant Christians in particular of the creation of the the Protestant Commission Against Dictatorship in Haiti (CPCDH).

This commission's mission is to:
1. Work with all religious institutions and civil society organizations to intensify peaceful mobilization for the respect of the constitution, particularly Article 134-2.
2. To sensitize all Protestant churches, throughout the country, so that Christians, Haitian citizens in their own right, can resolutely engage in the fight against the dictatorship in Haiti.

It is a fight for the life, the future, and the dignity of the Haitian people. It is a fight for the triumph of law, justice and democracy. Getting involved is not an option, but a Christian and civic duty! For, according to the holy scriptures, Christians have an overwhelming obligation to defend the oppressed and deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82: 4).

Therefore, we ask for the support of the spoken, written, televised and online press for the full success of this noble mission.
May God bless Haiti and give Haitians the necessary strength to fight for democracy and respect for the constitution!
Port-au-Prince, le 17 février 2021
Suivent les signatures:
Rév. Pasteur Ernst Pierre Vincent   
Président de la Conférence des   
Pasteurs Haitiens (COPAH)   
Tél: +509 3607 1041

Dr. Gerard Forges Dr. Gerald Bataille
Ambassadeurs de la Fédération Protestante D’Haiti
Tél: +509 4772 6868 Tél: +509 34935447

Pasteur Jacques N. Janvier     
Président de la Fédération des Pasteurs   
Haïtiens (FEPAH)      
Tél: +509 3725 6136     
Dr. Francoise St. Vil Villier
Présidente du Conseil National Spirituel
des Eglises (CONASPEH)
Tél: +509 3419 4427  

Rév. Ismael Baptiste
Scrétaire Exécutif de la Conférence des
Pasteurs Haitiens (COPAH)
Tél: +509 3575 8284
(Translation by Michael Deibert, 17 February 2021)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Haiti’s Dangerous Crossroads

December 21, 2020 

Haiti’s Dangerous Crossroads

As Haiti veers from its constitutional path and armed gangs compete for power, its civil society persists in spite of the odds

By Michael Deibert

Newlines Magazine

(Please read original article here

At the end of November, a curious decree was published in Le Moniteur, the official journal of Haiti’s government. The edict announced the creation of a new security service, the Agence nationale d’intelligence (ANI). Answerable only to the president and immune from criminal charges without presidential approval, the ANI’s anonymous agents will be tasked with the “monitoring of individuals and groups liable to resort to violence and to undermine national security and social peace.”

A Caribbean nation of 11 million, sharing the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has rarely known a period free of political tumult in its 217-year history. The country was forged in the fires of the world’s only successful slave revolt. Marginalized by outside nations aghast at the thought of a Black republic, bedeviled by internecine political wars and repeated outside meddling (including a 1915 to 1934 military occupation by the United States), this nation of what the Haitian author Lyonel Trouillot called “the children of heroes” has not had an easy path.

Few periods, however, have been as tumultuous as the last year, as President Jovenel Moïse, in office since February 2017, has squared off against a fractious opposition that has thrown everything they have at him to drive him from power, without apparent effect.

From Haiti’s mist-shrouded mountains to its lush rice fields to its glistening tropical beaches, warring politicians now battle in a landscape of competing armed groups. The criminality and economic anguish they stalk are far from natural occurrences like the hurricanes that occasionally batter Haiti’s shores; they have been created by powerful people both within and beyond its borders.

Moïse, an agribusinessman known locally as Nèg Bannann (The Banana Man), won the presidency by gaining 55.60% of the vote in a crowded field in a November 2016 contest marked by feeble participation. The opposition’s earlier promise to wait for voters with “machetes and stones in hand” likely did not help turnout. With the vote overseen by an interim president and political rival — former senator Jocelerme Privert — it was the second attempt at holding a presidential ballot after the first attempt was shelved due to violence and allegations of fraud.

Running as the candidate for the Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK) developed by former president and carnival singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, Moïse promised an aggressive infrastructure program to help revive Haiti’s economy, still struggling from January 2010’s devastating earthquake.

Despite the construction of miles of roads and the beginnings of an effort to restructure Haiti’s faltering energy grid, the reality has turned out somewhat differently. Moïse has been dogged by allegations of corruption related to his business dealings before becoming president. A 600-page audit of the Venezuelan low-cost oil program known as PetroCaribe claimed that firms linked to Moïse took part in an embezzlement scheme. Since 2018, a civil society movement under the slogan Kot kòb PetroCaribe a? (“Where is the PetroCaribe money?”) has demanded accountability for the funds, an end to corruption, and other government abuses.

Moïse denied links to the scandal and called on the Organization of American States to investigate, while frequently assailing what he charges is the “state capture” of Haiti’s resources by corrupt business elites and their political allies. Earlier this year, a government anti-corruption task force published a report which concluded that, between March 2019 and May 2020 alone, private oil companies operating in Haiti made $94 million in undue profits at the expense of the state.

After all eight members of Haiti’s Conseil électoral provisoire (CEP) resigned last July, Moïse created a new electoral council and unilaterally named its members. Many have been tasked with organizing local and federal elections and overseeing a commission to re-write Haiti’s often-criticized 1987 constitution. The new document is slated to be approved by a plebiscite, a move that left many stunned.

The president’s actions are “totally, wholly, bluntly unlawful,” says Georges Michel, a Haitian historian and constitutional expert. “It is a move towards arbitrary rule and dictatorship.”

Reached for comment, Haiti’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Claude Joseph said that the changes were needed, noting — correctly — that presidents have been left to govern by decree several times in recent years as legislative elections failed to occur on time. Joseph went on to say, “President Moïse has been absolutely clear that he will not stand for a second term. These reforms will serve no benefit to him but will pave the way for a functioning democratic government in Haiti.”

In fairness, Moïse’s aberrant actions have been equaled if not exceeded by those of his political opposition, a different breed entirely from his civil society opponents. They are a collection of men — for they are almost all men — who have developed reputations for themselves at home often at odds with how they wish to be perceived abroad.

Before the terms of most of its members expired in January, Haiti’s parliament was regularly unable to reach quorum because its members didn’t show up for work. In May 2019, rather than allow a vote on Moïse’s designate for interim prime minister, a group of opposition senators led by Antonio “Don Kato” Cheramy, a former rapper turned politician, destroyed the meeting room. After Moïse nominated a Ministry of Finance official for the same post four months later, opposition politicians, again led by Don Kato, once more vandalized the parliamentary meeting hall. One of the president’s fiercest critics, the former senator Moïse Jean-Charles, recently demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy — a favorite target of opposition ire — and vowed to “dismantle this political class to make room for a new dynamic carried by young people.” This promise might have sounded more convincing were it not coming from a 53-year-old man who has not had a job outside of politics since the mid-1990s. In late 2019, an opposition-led armed strike forced the country to a standstill for weeks, further wounding an already grievously ill economy and achieving virtually nothing.

Another of Moïse’s many recent decrees seeks to classify protest strategies such as reducing freedom of movement on public roads as “terrorist acts,” punishable by up to 50 years in prison.

With many of their own families living safely abroad, Haiti’s political operators appear to hold fast to Satan’s maxim in Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: It is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

As all of this goes on, Haiti’s security situation has disintegrated. In the space of a few days, kidnappers seized a young doctor from the Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, a well-known guitarist from the group Strings, and the wife of the head of the Unité de sécurité générale du palais national (USGPN), the police unit directly responsible for the president’s personal security. Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper recently ran an account of one kidnapping victim that detailed how kidnappers possessed “heavy weapons, dozens of vehicles and government license plates,” performed reconnaissance on potential targets’ social media accounts and were able to open the phones of their victims without asking for security codes. In August, Monferrier Dorval, head of the Port-au-Prince bar association and a well-known attorney, was slain returning home, one of several such assassinations in recent months.

This landscape is even more dolorous when one pauses to consider that, in just over 25 years, Haiti has been host to the Mission civile internationale en Haïti (MICIVIH), the Mission des Nations unies en Haïti (MINUAH), the U.S.-led “Operation Uphold Democracy” in 1994, and, from 2004 to 2017, the Mission des Nations unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH), which eventually became the Bureau intégré des Nations unies en Haïti (BINUH), which is presiding over the current implosion.

As the political situation in Haiti has deteriorated, the role of the baz (base) — the armed groups in the country’s most impoverished quarters acting as a kind of netherworld of neighborhood protector, tax collector, muscle for political interests and freelance criminal — has grown to ever more powerful levels.

The baz are descendants of other irregular paramilitary forces in Haitian history — from the zinglin of the mid-1800s rule of Faustin Soulouque to l’armée souffrante of the renegade general Louis-Jean-Jacques Acaau to the Tontons Macoutes of dictator François Duvalier. One can almost pinpoint when the baz, as a specific political modus operandi, overwhelmed Haiti’s democratic sector and began the slow, inexorable poisoning of its political system.

After returning in October 1994 from an exile during which hundreds (perhaps thousands) of his supporters were killed by the army and paramilitaries (some of whose leaders were on the payroll of the CIA), then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s first order of business was to disband the military that had overthrown him. He dissolved the military in April 1995 (which was illegal without a constitutional amendment, as the army was still enshrined in Article 263 of the Haitian constitution). With the creation of the Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH) the following month, many hoped for a more humane face of public security in Haiti.

The PNH faced a rough economic landscape, however. In 1995, as part of an IMF and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment made with U.S. President Bill Clinton’s support, Haiti lowered tariffs on imported rice to 3% from 50%, quickly becoming the world’s fifth-largest importer of U.S. rice. The backbone of the Haitian economy, local rice could not compete with cheaper American imports, putting farmers out of work. Those who fled the countryside to the cities found few jobs waiting for them, as the early-1990s U.S. embargo that helped drive the military regime that had ousted Aristide also wrecked Haiti’s manufacturing base.

At a January 1996 meeting between the PNH and a gang that referred to itself as Lame Wouj (The Red Army) in the seaside slum of Cité Soleil, a young policewoman named Marie Christine Jeune criticized what she viewed as the president’s attempts to co-opt the nascent police force by suggesting it join forces with pro-government thugs. Two months later, a month after Aristide left office, Jeune was found slain. It was the beginning of a pattern of the killing of police officers who would not turn a blind eye to illegal armed actors that continues to this day.

That same year, Aristide founded the Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family) party. In the years leading up to and beyond Aristide’s 2001 return to office, the party nurtured a network of armed supporters in marginalized communities. The network was referred to as chimere, after a mythical fire-breathing demon. Many of the leaders of these groups in Port-au-Prince had grown up in the orbit of Aristide’s Lafanmi Selavi home for street children. When I was living in Haiti between 2001 and 2004, a number of them became my friends. They would receive a little money for no-show jobs at state industries and, in return, were expected to enthusiastically demonstrate for the president and terrorize his opponents. They were in regular contact with the PNH. Almost none of these young men would make it out of their 20s alive.

Aristide was overthrown in February 2004 after months of massive street protests and an armed rebellion against his rule (a rebellion that began with the Lame Kanibal, a formerly loyal gang in the northern city of Gonaïves). After that, the young gunmen engaged in a brutal war of attrition against police, then under the command of Léon Charles (who would later be named as Haiti’s ambassador to the Organization of American States and was recently re-appointed by Moïse as head of the PNH), that became known as Operation Baghdad. Hundreds would die before some level of stability returned when an unelected interim government was replaced by René Préval, in his second turn at the helm of Haiti’s ship of state. Préval, between his inauguration in May 2006 and Haiti’s apocalyptic January 2010 earthquake, proved that he was Haiti’s wiliest and most able politician.

The only president in Haiti’s history who twice turned power over to a democratically elected successor, Préval – an agronomist by training – represented a figure in whom many sides of Haiti’s stratified nation, from the rich in their villas above Port-au-Prince to those in the slums, felt they had a representative. He managed to bring a measure of tranquility to the divided country, saying that Haiti was like a bottle that must rest on its broad base to be secure. If it rested on its narrow mouth (the presidency and the country’s elite), it would topple over and shatter.

When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, destroying much of the capital city and killing more than 300,000 people, Préval appeared at times paralyzed when faced with the massive task of rebuilding. After a fraught election during which the international community pressured him, and as with his 2006 win, street protests erupted when it looked like the leading candidate might be deprived of victory, Préval (who would die in March 2017) turned the presidency over to Michel Martelly in May 2011. Many among Martelly’s entourage, including some advisers, had either direct or family links to the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1971 until his overthrow in 1986.

Many foreign commentators on Haiti couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that a right-wing populist who had previously performed in drag and a diaper and had once released an album called “100% Kaka” could win a contest for the presidency. But the Haitian sociologist and former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Guy Alexandre, saw things much more clearly. He wrote that Martelly’s popularity was “explained by the frustration of the population and its rejection of Préval, who has not been able to manage the country after the earthquake… [Martelly] is backed by former Duvalierists and the youth of the popular classes for whom he represents a break with the traditional political system.”

A little over a year after his election, Martelly would form the PHTK, whose name — roughly translated as “Bald Headed Haitian Party” — referred to Martelly’s gleaming pate. Corruption and patronage flourished, and the PHTK would enthusiastically embrace the baz model, as had many other political parties as it metastasized throughout Haiti’s body politic.

In recent months, despite the revival of the Haitian army in 2017, two specific armed groups have risen to prominence as the government and its opponents prosecute their struggle for power.

Last year, while the government negotiated with the PNH over the police department’s desire to form a union, a gang calling itself Fantôme 509 (the country code for Haiti) and claiming to be dissident police began appearing at demonstrations. Though certainly dominated by current and former officers, there is some evidence that Fantôme 509 also struck an alliance with a gang operating out of the Village de Dieu slum. Appearing masked and frequently shooting in the air and at vehicles, Fantôme 509 is viewed widely as a wing of the opposition, and the rank-and-file PNH perceives the group’s members as outlaws.

On the opposite side is Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a former officer in the PNH’s Unité Départementale pour le Maintien de l’Ordre (UDMO) who went rogue following a November 2017 PNH raid against a gang in the hillside slum of Grand Ravine during which at least two police officers and 10 civilians died. Part of a larger neighborhood called Martissant, Grand Ravine is a known opposition stronghold. About to be arrested amid an investigation of the civilian deaths, Chérizier instead retreated to his home base in the lower Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. He was subsequently linked to a 2018 massacre in the capital’s slum of La Saline that a United Nations report said left at least 26 people dead (a report by the Haitian human rights group Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH, put the death toll at 71) and during which the U.N. alleged involvement by two then-government officials.

Chérizier held a press conference last June, dressed in a suit and carrying a machine gun, during which he announced the formation of the G9 an fanmi e alye, an alliance of armed groups around the city. A month later, G9-allied gunmen held a public demonstration in Port-au-Prince during which police did not intervene. Though Chérizier specifically stated that he was not “pro-government or pro-opposition,” many see the G9 as the government’s bludgeon to clear out potentially troublesome elements from opposition neighborhoods before as-yet-unscheduled elections are held. Speaking on Radio Métropole last month, Moïse said, “I have no connection with these bandits, I do not distribute money or weapons to them to maintain order in their neighborhood.”

On December 10, Cherizier and the two officials — Ministry of Interior functionary Fednel Monchery & former West Department delegate Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan — were sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for their alleged roles in the La Saline killings.

Many veteran observers feel the dynamic in Haiti with the armed groups has begun to shift in recent years, with the politicians no longer holding all the cards.

“Many of the gang leaders are very aware that they’re being used, and they want to start doing things for themselves, especially when it comes to the next elections,” says Louis-Henri Mars, the executive director of Lakou Lapè (“peaceful community” in Creole), a group that promotes non-violence and dialogue. Mars is the grandson of Haitian author Jean Price-Mars, one of the founders of the négritude movement of Black consciousness and has been involved working with the most marginalized communities in the capital for decades. “You’re not going to become mayor if the crew don’t say yes, you’re not going to become deputy.”

Earlier this month, the eminent Haitian jurist & homme politique Gérard Gourgue died at 95. Under the Duvalier dictatorship, he bravely created the Ligue haïtienne des droits humains, and was repeatedly beaten and harassed by the tyrannical security forces. He was briefly a member of the military-civilian junta after Duvalier’s fall in 1986, and his likely victory in 1987 presidential elections prompted the killing of voters in what became known as the Ruelle Vaillant massacre. Still opposed to tyranny into his 70s, Gourgue was a member of a wide-ranging opposition when Aristide began his drift toward dictatorship. He was briefly proclaimed “provisional president” in 2001, leading the school he ran to be attacked by Aristide partisans as students cowered inside.

Gourgue was one of the last of the all-but-vanished generation of democratic activists that I met during my first trips to Haiti in the 1990s, notable for their intellectual brilliance. There was the economist, author, and political militant Gérard Pierre-Charles. There was the former head of the Parti unifié des communistes haïtiens René Théodore. There was the ex-priest turned human rights champion Jean-Claude Bajeux, who had lost most of his family to Duvalierist terror. All have since gone to join to the ancestors

It is not easy to find these bright lights in Haiti’s political firmament anymore, but if one knows where to look, one can still find them in the country at large.

The impoverished Cité Soleil is often characterized as a place of violence, but it is a community where fishermen mend nets by the glittering Caribbean and delicately-dressed schoolchildren skip down dusty streets as residents struggle diligently to better their lives. In such communities, one finds groups like the Sant Kominote Altènatif Ak Lapè and the Konbit Solèy Leve, which have tasked themselves to provide residents with a world-class library, which is already half-built. Further afield, one finds groups like the Asosyasyon Orijinè Granplenn in the northern community of Gros-Morne, which advocates for the interests of Haiti’s long-suffering peasants. In Haiti, even those with the most impetus to give up soldier on, often against extraordinary odds, chèche lavi (looking for life).

In an open letter in Le Nouvelliste published a few months ago, an eminence who even predated Gérard Gourgue’s generation, the 103-year-old author Odette Roy Fombrun, confessed to her compatriots, “I am sad to leave my country in tatters.”

She then went on to implore them to:

Rise to the level of true citizens by agreeing to make personal sacrifices in favor of the country, of political and economic stability, of the return to the constitutional path, and the strengthening of institutions. It is imperative to stop this descent into hell with the humility of each of us to recognize that, alone, not in small, dispersed groups, we can do nothing. …Wisdom and love of country require us to work together.

As they stand, daggers drawn, one hopes that Haiti’s political actors hear her plea.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Dominican Republic: George Floyd protests spark reckoning with race as elections loom

Mon 15 Jun 2020

Dominican Republic: George Floyd protests spark reckoning with race as elections loom 

By Michael Deibert 

The Guardian

(Read original article here)

As demonstrations were held around the world against racism and police brutality, a group of protesters arrived last week at Santo Domingo’s Parque Independencia to honor the memory of George Floyd, the African American man killed by Minneapolis police.
The vigil had been convened by Reconocido (Recognized), a local organization that describes itself as made up primarily of Dominicans of Haitian descent – a group that routinely faces racist discrimination.

But counter-protesters were waiting for them: an ultranationalist organization dubbing itself the Antigua Orden Dominicana (Old Dominican Order) had called on social networks for people to come out and “defend against the Haitian invasion”.

As Reconocido members tried to hold their event, the counter-protesters shouted invective at them. Police officers stood by, and when they eventually intervened, it was to bundle Reconocido’s leader, Ana María Belique, and another activist off to jail.

“What happened shows the levels of intolerance that exist here regarding the issue of race,” said Belique, who was released hours later without charges. “Perhaps if George Floyd was not black and if we were not an anti-racist collective, it might be different. Because everything black in this country evokes Haiti – as if it were an affront to this nation that turns its back on its black identity.”

The Dominican Republic shares both the island of Hispaniola and an uneasy history with Haiti – the country from which it gained its independence in 1844. It has traditionally provided an escape valve for Haitians fleeing political upheaval and economic desperation at home, even as they are sometimes viewed – often unfairly – as competing with poor Dominicans for low-wage jobs.

The global wave of Black Lives Matter protests reached the Dominican Republic as the country approaches 5 July presidential elections that some believe may put an end to 24 years of nearly uninterrupted governance by the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (the Dominican Liberation party, or PLD).

The PLD first took the presidency in 1996 through a Faustian bargain with the longtime caudillo Joaquín Balaguer, after a campaign marked by fraud and racist incitement that finally saw Leonel Fernández take the presidential sash.

With the PLD now beset by various scandals – and bitterly divided between wings loyal to current president Danilo Medina (in office since 2012 and running the former government minister Gonzalo Castillo as his successor) and Fernández (who is mounting his own presidential campaign at the head of the Fuerza del Pueblo coalition) – polls suggest the ballot may be won by Luis Abinader of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM).

What this may mean for the discourse on race in the Dominican Republic remains to be seen. The country’s agriculture, tourism and construction sectors largely depend on immigrant Haitian labor, but over the last decade, generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent have seen a series of court rulings gradually strip them of their nationality.

“Even the political parties that have been seen as more friendly on these issues have been quiet,” said Amarilys Estrella, a visiting professor with the department of social and cultural analysis at New York University.

“All of this silence allows for the amplification of a small group of ultra-nationalists who are anti-Haitian and also anti-black. Even people who might not agree with what is happening might not speak out because they fear they might be a target.”

That fear is rooted in history: an October 1937 speech by the dictator Rafael Trujillo launched a pogrom against Haitians in the country which would eventually become known as “the Parsley Massacre” or el Corte (the Cutting). At least 10,000 and perhaps up to 20,000 Haitians die during a weeks-long paroxysm of genocidal rage.

Acts of public violence against Haitians in the Dominican Republic still happen from time to time, with one of the better-known recent cases being the lynching of a Haitian man in the northern city of Santiago in 2015.

However, protests against corruption and electoral meddling that shook the country earlier this year saw a multiracial and often quite youthful front taking to the streets in what many observers agreed was an unprecedented show of civic discontent that may be a harbinger of future change.

“The young people are in many ways attuned to transnational networks and conversations,” says Lorgia García Peña, an associate professor in the department of romance languages and literatures at Harvard University.

“The language that is being used right now is purposeful. There has been a more global contextualization of the intersection of race, class and economic exploitation that this young generation is much more aware of.”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Donde las vidas de los negros importaban primero en las Américas

Donde las vidas de los negros importaban primero en las Américas
Por Michael Deibert
El Nuevo Día 
(Read the original article here
La imagen del asesinato de George Floyd, el hombre afroamericano al que oficiales de la policía de Minneapolis le exprimieron la vida el pasado 25 de mayo, le estrujó el corazón al mundo. El terrible simbolismo de ese acto -un cuerpo negro postrado y finalmente extinguido por el peso insoportable del racismo sistémico – es imposible de ignorar.
Es cierto que una buena parte de la historia del Caribe también ha sido escrita en sangre, primero por la exterminación de sus habitantes nativos, y luego por la llegada forzosa de millones de esclavos africanos como parte del infernal sistema de la esclavitud y cautiverio. Sin embargo, en medio de esa dolorosa historia, el Caribe también provee un ejemplo del insaciable deseo humano de ser libre.
Haití, que ocupa el tercio occidental de la isla de La Española, que comparte con la República Dominicana, nació en los fuegos de la máquina de la esclavitud. Luego de la llegada de Colón en 1492, los arauacos nativos fueron rápidamente esclavizados y obligados a trabajar hasta la muerte por los españoles, y, a manera de reemplazo, hacia mediados de los 1500 ya había sobre 30,000 esclavos africanos en la isla, apenas un preludio de lo que vendría después.
La economía de Saint-Domingue, como se conoció una vez los franceses obtuvieron el control gracias al Tratado de Ryswick, se basaba en el cultivo de azúcar. Hacia fines de los 1700, suplía tres cuartas partes del azúcar que se consumía en todo el mundo, y su economía generaba más ingresos que todas las 13 colonias estadounidenses originales combinadas. Muy pronto se convirtió en la más próspera colonia francesa, pero también en un lugar donde la población de 40,000 blancos dominaba a más de 30,000 mulatos y negros libres y a 500,000 esclavos en condiciones de brutalidad propias de una pesadilla.
La noche del 14 de agosto de 1791, un imponente supervisor negro traído de Jamaica, llamado Boukman, condujo una larga y compleja ceremonia de vudú a las afueras de Cap-Français (hoy día Cap-Haïtien) en Bwa Cayman (El Bosque del Cocodrilo) en medio de una dramática tormenta tropical, durante la cual los esclavos presentes juraron levantarse contra sus amos. Lo hicieron. En agosto de 1793, Toussaint Bréda (así llamado por la plantación de Bréda, donde servía como capataz) anunció que se cambiaba el nombre a Toussaint Louverture en una proclamación en la que declaró: “He emprendido la venganza. Quiero que la libertad y la igualdad reinen en Saint-Domingue”.
Una serie de extraordinarias personalidades se unieron a la rebelión de Louverture, tales como el exesclavo convertido en gran comandante militar Jean-Jacques Dessalines. También estaba Henri Christophe, un exesclavo angloparlante que se creía era originario de Grenada y de quien se pensaba que de joven había combatido junto a las fuerzas francesas durante el Sitio de Savannah en la Guerra de Independencia de los Estados Unidos. Y además estaba Alexandre Pétion, cuya ascendencia blanca y mulata lo convertía en un gens de couleur (hombre libre de color) y quien había sido educado en Francia antes de volver a Saint-Domingue.
La rebelión continuaría a tropezones durante 13 largos años marcados por el sectarismo, la traición (Louverture sería secuestrado por los franceses y moriría en una solitaria celda en las montañas de Jura, en 1803) y sufrimientos frecuentemente horrorosos. Las fuerzas haitianas finalmente derrotaron a las francesas en la Batalla de Vertières en noviembre de 1803 y, el 1ro. de enero de 1804 fue declarada la República de Haití (el triunfante Dessalines recuperó el antiguo nombre arauaco de la isla).
Aunque no es un hecho tan conocido como los contornos amplios de la revolución en sí (como tampoco lo es el subsiguiente exterminio de prácticamente toda la población francesa que quedaba en la isla, ordenado por Dessalines), la Revolución Haitiana también proveyó un marco de referencia para los frentes multirraciales contra el sistema de las plantaciones. Miles de soldados polacos, reclutados por Francia para luchar contra los esclavos rebeldes, terminaron desertando y uniéndose a la causa rebelde, ganando así ciudadanía haitiana honorífica tras el triunfo de la revolución. Aun hoy día uno puede conocer a algunos de sus descendientes en el pueblo de Cazale, en el valle de Artibonite, al norte de la capital, Port-au-Prince.
No obstante, el infernal sistema aún continuaría en el resto de las Américas. En los Estados Unidos se necesitarían sesenta años más y una sangrienta Guerra Civil para ponerle fin. En Puerto Rico, donde los esclavos se unieron al levantamiento del Grito de Lares contra los españoles, continuaría hasta 1873. En Cuba existió hasta 1886 y en Brasil se sostuvo hasta 1888.
Sin embargo, las palabras de la Declaración de Independencia de Haití, proclamada en la ciudad de Gonaïves en 1804, aún resuenan a través de los siglos:
No basta con haber expulsado a los bárbaros que han ensangrentado nuestra tierra durante siglos … Debemos, con un último acto de autoridad nacional, asegurar para siempre el imperio de la libertad en el país donde nacimos; debemos quitarle al gobierno inhumano que por tanto tiempo nos mantuvo en el letargo más humillante toda esperanza de reesclavizarnos... Debemos vivir independientes o morir. Independencia o muerte, dejemos que esas palabras sagradas nos unan y sean la señal de batalla y de nuestra reunión.

Monday, June 8, 2020

'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians

'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians

Damage to part of Unesco world heritage site is emblematic of uncaring government, critics say

By Michael Deibert 

Published on Fri 17 Apr 2020 12.45 BST 

The Guardian 

(Read original article here)

Cultural leaders in Haiti have described the gutting by fire of a celebrated 200-year-old church as an avoidable tragedy that highlights the fragility of the Caribbean nation’s patrimony – and the need to preserve its historical treasures.

The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church in the town of Milot is part of a Unesco world heritage site that includes the ruins of the Sans Souci palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, an imposing fort that looms over Haiti’s northern plains.

Fire tore through the church on Monday, causing its distinctive black wooden dome to collapse. The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but some saw it as indicative of the malaise of misrule that has long bedeviled the island – some of it locally rooted, and some imported by more powerful neighbors.

“[For years] we have been asking the state to ensure the protection of these colonial dwellings, which are important as monuments of slavery, yet nothing has been done,” said Laënnec Hurbon, a sociologist with the State University of Haiti.

“But the state spends its time buying luxurious cars for ministers, functionaries and parliamentarians. It is therefore not surprising that everything concerning the national heritage is abandoned.”

The church was constructed between 1810 and 1813 by Henri Christophe, one of a cadre of revolutionary leaders including Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines who helped Haiti oust the French and end the system of slavery.

Christophe went on to declare himself King Henry I and ruled in autocratic splendour over northern Haiti until his death by suicide in 1820 amid a protracted civil war.

On Christophe’s death, the church was ransacked, and its dome had collapsed following an 1842 earthquake. In the 1970s, the renowned Haitian architect Albert Mangonès led an effort to restore the complex. It was named a world heritage site in 1982.

Some worry the legacy that the buildings at Milot attest to is being lost amid Haiti’s current political upheaval.

“The structural inequalities in our society mean there has never been an education accessible to all that would teach the idea of the common good,” says the Haitian author Yanick Lahens.

Haiti has been shaken by often violent unrest for months, prompted in part by a long multibillion-dollar corruption scandal which has engulfed the administration of President Jovenel Moïse.

Despite the political battles, however, the church seems to pierce to the heart of Haiti’s national identity, across party lines.

In a letter to the government after the fire, educational and civil society figures called on the nation’s political leaders to “stop this denial of our history as a people [as] only these monuments remain, testimonies of our history of struggles, suffering and hope.”

One former president, Prosper Avril, who ruled the country from 1988 to 1990, has called for a taskforce to protect the country’s cultural heritage.

In a land that often seems beset by internecine political vendettas, some hope that even in this dire moment, the church’s reconstruction might serve as a point of unity.

“The royal chapel of Milot is a testimony to the history of our people,” said Erol Josué, director of Haiti’s national bureau of ethnology (BNE). “The Haitian state should engage all layers of the population in its reconstruction, because this is our heritage.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

L’église de Milot qui vient de prendre feu est un monument unique

[I was interviewed by Ayibo Post about the terribly sad devastation by fire of the church adjoining the Palais Sans-Souci in Haiti's Milot, outside Cap-Haïtien. Both structures sit beneath the magnificent Citadelle Laferrière, built by Henri Christophe between 1805 and 1820. MD]

L’église de Milot qui vient de prendre feu est un monument unique 

Ayibo Post

(Read the original article here.)

L’église de Milot, patrimoine historique du pays construit entre 1810 et 1813, a pris feu ce 13 avril 2020, l’année de la célébration du bicentenaire de la mort du roi bâtisseur

Le roi Henri 1er doit se retourner dans la tombe dans laquelle il repose depuis 200 ans. Son église, la chapelle royale de Milot classé au patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO, a connu un incendie ce matin du 13 avril 2020. Les préparations pour la commémoration de la mort du roi prennent donc un grand coup. Le patrimoine historique du pays aussi.

« C’est désolant, regrette Erol Josué, directeur du Bureau national d’ethnologie (BNE). Je connais la chapelle, je vais souvent à Milot dans le cadre de mon travail sur la préservation du patrimoine immatériel. C’est une perte importante. »

Télémaque Henri Claude, l’un des maires de la commune de Milo, déplore aussi cet incident regrettable. « Cela s’est passé entre minuit et deux heures du matin, estime-t-il. La population a donné l’alarme, l’église était déjà en feu. Maintenant nous ne pouvons plus parler de chapelle de Milot, mais de ruines. Nous avons fait un grand pas en arrière »
La commune de Milot ne dispose d’aucun service d’incendie. Les camions des sapeurs-pompiers qui ont accouru sur les lieux venaient du Cap-Haïtien, à plus de 15 kilomètres de la commune.

« Les pompiers ont fait de leur mieux, assure le maire. Mais quand ils sont arrivés, il n’y avait pas moyen d’éclairer la scène pour qu’ils puissent mieux travailler. De plus, l’église est située en hauteur, et les pompiers ne pouvaient pas amener l’eau jusque-là. »

Incendie criminel ?

Il est encore trop tôt pour déterminer l’origine de l’incendie. Mais toutes les pistes sont ouvertes. « En général, c’est une zone où les gens restent tard. À cause du couvre-feu imposé pour le coronavirus, dit Télémaque Henri Claude, il n’y avait pratiquement personne aux alentours de l’église à cette heure. Tout le monde était rentré. Nous ne pouvons donc pas savoir ce qui s’est réellement passé, et c’est une enquête qui pourra le déterminer. Mais ce serait regrettable que le feu soit volontaire. »

Frédérick Mangonès est architecte. Il a passé plus de 20 ans de sa carrière à restaurer la citadelle Laferrière et le Palais Sans-souci, classés au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité. « On ne peut évidemment pas encore déterminer ce qui s’est passé, dit-il, mais il y avait une installation électrique dans le dôme. Il est construit en bois. Mais il n’y avait même pas un extincteur dans l’église ; cela pose le problème de la sécurité dans nos monuments historiques. »

Selon le maire de Milot, il y a des agents de sécurité sur le site, car l’église fait partie du Parc national historique, dans lequel on retrouve aussi la citadelle Laferrière et le palais Sans Souci.

Des actes de vandalisme auraient aussi été dirigés contre la citadelle Laferrière, rapporte Erol Josué, ce qui lui fait craindre un acte prémédité. « La porte vitrée du musée de l’artillerie, l’un des plus grands de la Caraïbe, a été brisée samedi soir », informe le directeur du BNE.

Le dôme, un bijou d’architecture

L’architecte Frédérick Mangonès mêle sa voix au concert de dénonciation de l’incendie. « L’église de Milot est la seule dans le pays qui a cette structure circulaire. Le dôme qui la recouvre est particulièrement bien fait, même si ce n’est pas l’original. »
« Pour l’époque où le dôme a été construit, c’était un vrai tour de force, comme beaucoup d’autres aspects de l’architecture du palais Sans Souci. »

Ce premier dôme était en très mauvais état. Les Américains, sous l’occupation, et peu avant leur départ, l’ont reconstruit. « Ils ont fait du bon travail, et l’ont remplacé par une structure moderne, en bois, dit-il. Cependant, je crois qu’il était disproportionné par rapport à la base. L’architecte qui a construit le palais Sans Souci est de toute évidence un professionnel de premier ordre. Je ne crois pas qu’il avait construit un dôme aussi grand. »
Le dôme de l’église allait bientôt être restauré. « Il y a consensus qu’il fallait le restaurer, continue Frédérick Mangonès. Mais le débat portait surtout sur ses proportions. Personnellement, je pensais qu’il en fallait un nouveau, adapté proportionnellement à la base. »

L’église de Milot, en plus de sa portée historique, aurait une signification ésotérique dans son architecture. L’ingénieur Claude Prépetit, dans un article, a fait une « étude symbolique », c’est-à-dire une « analyse rigoureuse des nombres et des formes sacrés habilement dissimulés » dans l’architecture de l’église. L’ingénieur, connu surtout pour ses travaux sur les séismes, se demande si l’église de Milot n’est pas « un catalyseur de la conscience humaine et des énergies de la nature qui émettait des ondes de formes positives et bénéfiques au royaume du roi Henri. »

Restaurer le patrimoine

L’incendie de l’église Milot met la lumière sur les faiblesses du pays en termes de protection du patrimoine matériel et immatériel. L’UNESCO et l’Institut de sauvegarde du patrimoine national (ISPAN) ont un programme en commun de restauration de certains sites comme le Parc national historique.

« Dans les autres pays de la région, les sites sont mis en valeur, dit Frédérick Mangonès. Chez nous, les moyens mis à la disposition de l’ISPAN sont une goutte d’eau comparée à la mer de ce qu’il faut réaliser. L’ISPAN a fait un inventaire des sites du pays. Il ne s’agit pas seulement des architectures militaires, mais aussi des systèmes civils comme les aqueducs, etc. »

Erol Josué croit que les responsables de l’État ont un grand rôle à jouer pour éviter que ces incidents se reproduisent. « Nous nous occupons tout le temps de politique, nous n’allons pas au rythme de la société, pour grandir, dit le directeur du BNE. Il y a un lien entre l’ignorance des gens et la protection du patrimoine. Cet incident nous affaiblit encore plus. Nous avons beaucoup de sites historiques, mais nous n’avons pas assez pour qu’ils soient détruits. »

Le Parc national historique est important pour le secteur déjà affaibli du tourisme. Michael Deibert, un journaliste, auteur et professeur invité à l’université de Lisbonne a travaillé pendant plus de 20 ans en Haïti. Il croit que l’importance de ce parc va au-delà du pays. « La citadelle Laferrière et le Palais Sans Souci sont parmi les monuments historiques les plus importants de l’hémisphère Nord », dit-il.

« C’est là que l’abolition de l’esclavage a commencé en Amérique, continue-t-il. Visiter le nord d’Haïti, et comprendre le courage de ceux qui se sont révoltés contre ce système infernal est une profonde et bouleversante expérience. »

Widlore Mérancourt a participé à ce reportage.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: A Reporter's Notebook of the Year Gone By

This past year was quite an eventful one, marked by the publication of my fifth book, a move to Puerto Rico and the honor of witnessing the verano boricua here in San Juan this past summer. Below are the articles that came out of this very fruitful time.

Some exciting things are afoot for the new year. As always in my work, I will try to help bring the voices of those on the downside of advantage, too long ignored, to a wider audience and empower the forces of basic human decency & compassion against what kind seem like a grim world and the remorseless, pitiless machines of its malefactors.

To all near and far who I have been lucky enough to cross paths with, I ask you to never, despite everything, lose your capacity to marvel at the beauty of the world and the belief that, in the words of Carlos Fuentes, there must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.



Jacmel in all my dreams in Michael Deibert's Blog (28 October 2019)

FDI resurgence helps Philadelphia to bounce back for fDi Magazine (13 June 2019)

Overseas investors help Évora's elevation for fDi Magazine (13 June 2019)

Mexico president orders IPA shutdown for fDi Magazine ( 24 April 2019)

How will border unrest affect a reborn Tijuana? for fDi Magazine (14 February 2019)

Articles about my work and interviews

A Leadership Crisis in Puerto Rico on The Takeaway (18 August 2019)

The Political Future of Puerto Rico on The Takeaway (5  August 2019)