Saturday, December 31, 2022

Haiti Is At War

 Aug 14, 2022

Haiti Is At War

By Michael Deibert


Haiti has a long, troubled history of politicians using local gangs for political muscle and influence. But what’s happening now is strange and new — the gangs are moving into the power vacuum created by a failing state to exert more autonomy and authority in what’s quickly becoming the biggest crisis in the Americas. 

(Read the original article here)

No safe way out 

The burned-out hulk of the car belonging to the former senator and his driver rested beside a bucolic mountain road that cuts through the hills above Port-au-Prince. The bodies of its former occupants, as charred and desecrated as the vehicle itself, lay inside.


For much of the past year, motorists attempting to leave Haiti’s capital for the southern peninsula — an area dotted with undulating hills, shimmering beaches and picturesque colonial towns — would traverse the lanes though Laboule 12 in an attempt to avoid the warring gangs that operated along the other route that led through the sprawling slum of Martissant, a take-your-life-in-your-hands proposition that saw motorists kidnapped or shot dead with terrifying regularity.


By the time Yvon Buissereth — a former senator who had been appointed head of the government’s social housing division by former President Jovenel Moïse (himself assassinated in spectacular fashion in July 2021) — opted to try his luck on the road last weekend, Haiti was in the throes of a state collapse the likes of which has rarely been experienced in the Western Hemisphere this century.


The gang that allegedly murdered Buissereth is led by a criminal known as Ti Makak (Little Monkey), one of dozens of armed groups currently operating in Port-au-Prince. The gang emerged to fè dezòd (make disorder) in the zone just as the forces of the Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH), the country’s beleaguered national police force, was launching an offensive against another gang, the 400 Mawozo (400 Hillbillies), who run a kidnapping ring based in the city’s northeastern suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets, but whose territorial control extends all the way to the border with the Dominican Republic. This past spring, a failed attempt by the 400 Mawozo to seize the territory of a rival gang, the Chen Mechan (Mad Dogs), in this area, known as the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac, killed at least 191 people, according to the human rights organization Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH). Thousands more were displaced.

What links these two apparently unrelated episodes of violence on opposite sides of the capital also tells the story of state collapse in Haiti. An implosion that has rapidly accelerated since the assasination of Jovenel Moïse, the first Haitian president killed in office since 1915.

The deep roots of gang rule 

Though Haiti has a long history of politically motivated militias — from the Zinglins and Piquets of Faustin Soulouque the mid-1800s, to the Tonton Macoute of the Duvalier family dictatorship (1957- 1986) — the modern-day roots of Haiti’s gang rule can be found in a catastrophic interweaving of events in the 1990s.


A strangling economic embargo designed to return to power Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, ousted in a coup in 1991 after only seven months in office, all but destroyed what was left of Haiti’s manufacturing sector. A subsequent IMF and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment, made with U.S. President Bill Clinton’s support, lowered Haiti’s tariffs on imported rice from 50% to 3%, turning Haiti into the world’s fifth-largest importer of U.S. rice and breaking the backbone of its peasant economy. Those who fled the countryside to the cities found few jobs waiting for them.


It was the children of these news arrivals — as many of the capital’s poorest neighborhoods are populated largely by country people new to the city — who became the first generation of the modern youth gangs in Haiti, a phenomenon encouraged with ruthless efficiency by Aristide and his party Fanmi Lavalas (formed in 1996) to ensure their grip on power. Aristide returned to the presidency in 2001 only to be overthrown again in a 2004 rebellion that began when a formerly loyal gang in the northern city of Gonaïves, the Lame Kanibal (Cannibal Army), turned against him in retaliation for allegedly killing their leader.


I knew many of these young, first-generation gunmen personally, and spent countless hours speaking with them in Cité Soleil, the sprawling seaside slum they called home. Although they were not typical of the inhabitants of the capital’s slums — most of whom, then as now, have no connection to guns or violence — they represented an unavoidable political force. Before their early deaths (all but one died before his 30th birthday), some spoke eloquently to me about a desperate desire to blast Haiti out of its inhuman squalor and inequality. At a certain time, one could see the good they might have done for the country. But Aristide got to them first.

Politicians have long used gangs 

In the last two decades, the armed groups in the slums — who generally call themselves baz (base, in Haiti’s Creole language) — have metastasized through generations of slain leaders and opportunistic politicians of various political stripes, seeking to monopolize the forces of arms and the votes they bring come election time. The Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK), the country's dominant force since 2011 — to which both Moïse and former President Michel Martelly belonged — embraced the baz model as enthusiastically as the Lavalas party (now, like founder Aristide himself, a historical footnote) ever did.


But over the years, something new began to happen, although it wasn’t immediately apparent. During a 2015 lull in the nearly 20-year tit-for-tat violence, two baz in the Martissant communities of Ti Bois and Grand Ravine waged war against each other. I went to interview the leader of the Ti Bois baz, a somber-face man then in his early 30s named Chéry Christ-Roi, known as Krisla, who had improbably succeeded in maintaining his grip on the neighborhood since the early 2000s— an extraordinary period of longevity for someone in his line of work. As we sat inside his hillside nightclub, in a spray of day-glo colors contrasting with the sweeping view of the Bay of Port-au-Prince, he said the gangs were sick of politicians using them as cannon fodder, and they might some day form a sort of alliance for good, or so I hoped.


Haiti’s tortured politics had different plans. In 2016, Jovenel Moïse, a businessman from Haiti’s north, was elected president after a markedly low turnout. The political opposition — consisting of opportunistic career politicians who gave themselves grand names like the secteur démocratique et populaire despite being neither democratic nor popular — flatly refused to accept the election results. The battle lines hardened.


Though Moïse oversaw the construction of miles of roads, and a nascent effort to restructure Haiti’s faltering energy grid — lashing out at “a corrupt oligarchy” and vowing to free from their grasp a “captured state — an audit of the Venezuelan low-cost oil program, PetroCaribe, claimed that firms linked to Moïse cashed in on an embezzlement scheme. A civil society movement, under the slogan Kot kòb PetroCaribe a? (Where is the PetroCaribe money?), demanded accountability for the funds, along with an end to corruption and other government abuses. Striking a modus vivendi with the political opposition whose first demand was that Moïse resign so they could get in (opposition lawmakers twice vandalized Haiti’s parliament in the company of their partisans to prevent Moïse’s choice for Prime Minister from going to a vote), the civil society, perhaps unwittingly, became part of a drama bigger than themselves that was unfolding.

The Rise of "Barbecue"

In November 2017, a police raid in Grand Ravine ended in the deaths of at least two police officers and 10 civilians in what some called a police massacre. One of the policemen involved, Jimmy Chérizier— better known by his nickname, Barbecue — abandoned his post and returned to his power base in the capital’s Lower Delmas quarter, where he founded an illegal armed group, allegedly with ties to the Moïse government —a claim Moïse and Barbecue both denied. In 2018, Barbecue was accused of participating in a massacre in the Port-au-Prince slum of La Saline that killed 26, according to a United Nations report. Barbecue and two officials of the Moïse government were sanctioned by the U.S. State Department for their alleged roles in the killings.


While the Moïse government negotiated with the PNH over the police department’s quest to form a union, a gang called Fantôme 509 (Haiti’s country code) emerged, claiming to be dissident police. The group wore masks and shot their guns in the air, at vehicles and into government buildings. Fantôme 509 was widely viewed as a wing of the opposition. In June 2020, Barbecue, dressed in a suit and carrying a machine gun, held a press conference to announce the formation of the G9 an fanmi e alye, an alliance of armed groups around the city, including Krisla’s Ti Bois baz. Though Barbecue stated that he was not “pro-government or pro-opposition,” he released several videos of himself surrounded by an armed, masked cadre and expounding on the political issues of the day. His Twitter account, which had a large following, has since been suspended. 

Gang war goes viral on social media 

But Barbecue was hardly the only boss in town, and not the only one to grasp the power of social media.


Across Route Nationale 2 from Grand Ravine and Ti Bois, in the Village de Dieu slum, Arnel Joseph, a politically connected gang leader, who reigned over the 5 Segonn (5 Seconds) gang until fleeing in an attempt to avoid arrest, was killed by police in February 2021. The following month, Haitian police tried to storm the slum in a raid that ended with six police officers dead: their final moments recorded by gloating gang members who shared the footage on social media.


Arnel Joseph's successor at the helm of the 5 Segonn (5 Seconds) gang was a different character altogether, and  the footage of the slain policemen was only the beginning of his social media war. Going by the nom de guerre Izo, the new strongman of 5 Segonn presides over a kidnapping empire, the proceeds of which he uses to fund slick videos of himself and his gunmen as he spits rhymes while strutting through the slum and snorting copious amounts of cocaine (He is, at it happens, a lyricist of no small talent). Beyond his musical pursuits, however, Izo has used social media and apps like WhatsApp to boast of his battlefield success and terrorize his rivals. Last month, while bragging about weapons acquired during fighting with gangs from the rival G9-affiliated - slum of La Saline, 5 Segonn displayed the firearms perched on the dead body of one of their enemies. In another video, Izo dismembers the cadaver of a rival he had purchased from the gang in Grand Ravine, and then begins to cook the viscera in a pot.


The 400 Mawozo have also shown a fondness for social media. The gang’s leader, Joseph Wilson, alias Lanmò San Jou  (Death Comes Unannounced), recently recorded himself and his gunmen (who appear to be in their early teens) requesting the “paperwork” of motorists traveling between Port-au-Prince and the Dominican Republic. Last month, 400 Mawozo gunmen murdered a police officer inside a church, spirited the body away and disseminated footage of themselves mulitalitng the corpse.


Wilson, believed to be a houngan, or vodou priest (vodou, despite its reputation in the West, is a religion like any other, combining both light and dark elements), has availed himself of the authority of such a role. I have seen videos of him and other 400 Mawozo members at fêtes involving coffins and other accouterments of death. The possible spiritual elements of the violence in Haiti today in some ways echo the gruesome public displays of Charles Taylor, during the 1989-1997 Liberian Civil War of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), who cannily co-opted some of the trappings of the Poro Society — a male secret society in West Africa — to add an aura of authority to his military might.


The violence has more immediate ways of revealing its interconnection. In the shantytown of Canaan, whose population exploded when thousands of Haitians displaced by the 2010 earthquake resettled there, a gang recently filmed themselves firing in the air as they referred to themselves as “the Taliban.”

The gang state 

Although the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry — who assumed power under controversial circumstances after the assasaniation of Jovenel Moïse — has frequently been accused of having ties to gangs, the gunmen are now making direct attacks on the symbols of the state. In June, 5 Segonn gunmen stormed Port-au-Prince’s Palais de Justice, seat of the highest judicial authority in the capital, and have occupied it since, chasing off judges, clerks, prosecutors, police and staff. The authorities have made no attempt to retake the building, as its armed occupants strut about its rooms destroying files. In July, 400 Mawozo gang members set fire to the Croix-des-Bouquets prosecutor's office. Government services — customs, the central bank and other entities once housed in downtown Port-au-Prince — are abandoning the center of the city to the gunmen and moving to more secure locales, such as the airport or to far-flung suburbs.


“They're trying to establish some kind of recognition as a force or a state within the state,” said a conflict resolution specialist, and friend, who works in some of the capital’s most marginalized neighborhoods. “Any talk of elections without taking care of these guys doesn't make sense.”


More than the politically allied “posses” of Jamaica, which the Haitian gangs once most closely resembled, the armed groups in the country look more and more like the all-demolishing whirlwinds of the Islamic State, for whom killing publicly and ritualistically is as much an affirmation of power and mission as the success of any geopolitical goals.


In a very direct way, the violence also connects Haiti to its giant neighbor to the north, the United States.


In July, a ship arriving from Florida at Haiti’s Port-de-Paix was discovered to be carrying 120,000 cartridges, three handguns, 30 magazines, 20 Ak-47s and $3,890. That same month, seven illegal pistols were confiscated from another ship from the U.S., stopped at the same port. The government responded by freeing two of the men who had been arrested for alleged involvement in the scheme and firing the government official who’d overseen seizure of the weapons. Meanwhile, several suspect containers at a wharf in Port-au-Prince were found to contain 9mm pistols, 14,646 cartridges, 140 magazines and 18 assault rifles.

The gangs are coordinating 

As the country roils amid criminal anarchy, the government of President Ariel Henry has remained largely silent, apparently secure in the support of such foreign actors as the U.S., France and the U.N. Mission in Haiti. The fact that both RNDDH and a now-stalled investigation by the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire (DCPJ) into the murder of Jovenel Moïse showed that Henry had spoken twice to Joseph Félix Badio — believed to be a key link in the plot to murder the president — on the night of the assassination, appears not to phase them. The government’s detachment from the trauma of its citizens was also vividly illustrated when, during a regular bout of gang violence, the prime minister spent a glittering evening at the posh Hotel Montana to celebrate “Europe Day'' with various foreign diplomats. The elegant hotel also serves as the base for the Montana Accord, a group of civil society actors and veteran politicos who “elected” a president and prime minister last year, yet whose authority barely extends beyond the lobby.


Last month, an attempt by the G-9 to take over the Cité Soleil, under the control of baz leader Gabriel Jean-Pierre, aka Ti Gabriel, who heads a rival coalition of gangs called the G-Pèp, failed. It was foiled when 5 Segonn rushed to Gabriel’s aid ferrying gunmen in motorboats along the coast, one of at least three instances that the group has used boats in recent months. The attack failed, but not before more than 200 people — mostly civilians—  were killed and many thousands displaced. The onslaught, most observers agree, was unleashed to acquire territory in order to control voting centers should Haiti’s long-delayed elections ever be held.


It was around this time that the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince tweeted a photo of Chargé d’Affaires Eric Stromayer (the U.S. has not had an ambassador in Haiti since October 2021) grinning broadly behind a stoney faced Ariel Henry, saying the two had “discussed recent security gains.” This must have come as news to Haitians desperately trying to flee the abattoir of gang violence.


Stromayer’s meeting with Henry occurred the same week the RNDDH accused Henry of “continuing to supply the gangs with weapons and ammunition to put an end to the lives of the police, to discourage them in their work and to block justice.” And just weeks after the Episcopal Conference of Haiti demanded: “Why does the State not act?" A few days after the meeting, clashes between the G9-affiliated gang Krache Dife (Fire Spitters) and its rivals turned downtown Port-au-Prince into a war zone, with gunmen wearing police uniforms participating in the fighting and a cadre of “barefoot child soldiers” — as one local media outlet called them — firing automatic weapons. Around the same time, when a delegation of evangelical Protestants showed up one afternoon to clean the streets of the Pont-Breya section of Grand Ravine, gunmen shot the pastor's wife dead. Gang coordination seems to increase by the week. Sensing a common enemy, when police began a sustained campaign against 400 Mawozo this month, the gang sent word to Ti Makak, who helpfully distracted them with his own eruption of violence miles away — ending the life of Yvon Buissereth.

Foreign ‘help’ is making everything worse 

More than 550 people were murdered in greater Port-au-Prince between January and June, according to the Commission épiscopale de l’église catholique romaine Justice et Paix. An additional 200 victims from Cité Soleil were added to that death toll last month. More than 100 police officers were slain between June 2021 and June 2022. And the bloodshed appears to be spreading. In late July, clashes between armed groups in rural Petite-Rivière-de-l’Artibonite, nearly 75 miles from Port-au-Prince, left at least 20 dead and several buildings burned. The OAS recently issued a mea culpa, saying that Haiti’s crisis was “a direct result of the actions taken by the country’s endogenous forces and by the international community,” and arguing that “the international community’s presence in Haiti has amounted to one of the worst and clearest failures implemented and executed within the framework of any international cooperation.” But it, as well, seems to have little idea how to stem the tide of violence.


“Every day, the insecurity in Haiti grows and the population becomes more imprisoned,” Haitian sociologist Laënnec Hurbon recently told me. “The prime minister is deaf and blind and the international community does not show the slightest empathy in the face of the country's tumble toward the abyss.”

Michael Deibert Speaking To Al Jazeera on Anniversary of Assassination of Haiti's Jovenel Moïse

Freedom Soup and the Liberation of Haiti

Freedom Soup and the Liberation of Haiti 

The cuisine, a combination of African and European influences, also tells the story of this complex country’s revolutionary heritage

By Michael Deibert 

Newlines Magazine

(Read the original article here)

On the first day of the year in 1804, at the Place d’Armes in the dusty city of Gonaïves, gazing out onto the turquoise waters of the Golfe de la Gonâve off Haiti, a 46-year-old military leader who had been born into slavery on a plantation near Grande-Rivière-du-Nord unveiled a text that still cries out from across the centuries.

“Citizens,” it began,

it is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty. … We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.

Independence or death… let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our union.

With those words, Haiti declared its independence from France after a 13-year war of liberation and abolished slavery, the first nation to do so. The military leader who had overseen this victory, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, had taken up the torch of Haitian liberation after its after its most charismatic initial proponent, Toussaint Louverture, was kidnapped by the forces of the dictator Napoleon Bonaparte and died in a lonely prison cell in the Jura Mountains (a fate possibly abetted by Dessalines’ own political maneuvering). The formerly French colony of Saint-Domingue would heretofore be known as Haiti, its original Taíno name.

Hardly alone in his campaign against what was then one of the world’s great military powers — marked by victories such as the Battle of Vertières, outside of modern-day Cap-Haïtien (known then as Cap-Français), in November 1803 — Dessalines was aided by a now-mythic cast of characters. There was Henry (often-written Henri) Christophe, an English-speaking former slave, likely born in Grenada. There was Alexandre Pétion, son of a wealthy French father, and free women of mixed African and European heritage who narrowly avoided death as an infant during a 1770 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. And, deceased on the long road to liberty, were patriots like Suzanne Bélair, better known as Sanité Bélair, an “affranchi” (free person of color) who took an active part in combat against Napoleon’s forces and became a lieutenant in Louverture’s army. When she was executed by the French she cried “Viv libète! Aba esclavaj!” (Long live freedom! Down with slavery!)

Tradition has it that in celebration of their victory, the victorious Haitian forces sat down to “soup joumou,” a fortifying soup hinting at the promise of abundance that the hideousness of slavery had denied Haiti’s people and which earlier this year was given the distinction of being part of “the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. The soup itself — an enticing and filling mélange of squash, onions, peppers, beef and pasta — not only has historical resonance but also offers a tantalizing introduction to the rich and varied cuisine of Haiti, something I was able to experience firsthand during several years of living there and a quarter century of visiting the country.

“It is an ode to freedom, a ritual that we participate in saying we believe in a better tomorrow and coming together,” says Dominique Dupuy, Haiti’s delegate to UNESCO. “When you go through this cascade of traumas, resilience comes at a cost, but let’s recognize that we ourselves have the power to push through. We’ve had bad years, but we’re a great people.”

Beset by plotting from foreign powers and what the Haitian author Frédéric Marcelin would later characterize as “civil strife, fratricidal slaughters, social miseries … and idolatrous militarism,” Haiti would soon fall into violent political factionalism. After declaring himself emperor, Dessalines would be assassinated at present-day Pont-Rouge in Port-au-Prince in October 1806. Civil war would break out, with the country divided between Henry Christophe’s Kingdom of Haiti in the north (where Christophe declared himself King Henry I) and Alexandre Pétion’s Republic of Haiti in the south. Following the deaths of both Christophe and Pétion, the nation would finally be reunited under the rule of Pétion’s successor, Jean-Pierre Boyer.

“The revolution is often told in only a victorious narrative, but it involves a lot of bloodshed and intra-group fighting,” says Yveline Alexis, an associate professor of Africana studies at Oberlin College. “But this also not only tells us about how unity and disunity can exist while fighting oppressors but how, in the end, Haiti will be left standing.”

But the dream of Haiti and the singular heroism of its initial accomplishment — defeating a colonial power and eradicating an infernal system — never died, and as the heavy winds of the country’s political struggle blew forward, the people of Haiti — “les enfants des héros” (children of heroes) as the author Lyonel Trouillot called them — carried on that legacy with their food.

When I worked as a journalist in Haiti in the early 2000s, one of my favorite things to do at the end of the week was to leave my flat in the bougainvillea-draped neighborhood of Pacot and head to the Portail Léogâne, the outdoor transit hub used for traveling south out of the city.

There, one could easily find a tap-tap, as Haiti’s brightly colored shared passenger vans are called, heading for the neighborhoods of Martissant, Carrefour and Mariani (a journey that is now very perilous because of the nonstop fighting of politically aligned armed groups called “baz,” or base). After hopping on board, sensuous kompa music playing from the tap-tap’s sound system, one would sail past dilapidated hotels that hark back to the days when Haiti was a tourist destination with outdoor markets where vendors sold their wares under the open sky.

When the tap-tap pauses briefly at a crossroads before continuing south through mountains often fecund after rain and dotted by rainbows, market women run up to the vehicle’s sides, offering travelers tasty snacks such as “douce macoss,” an overpoweringly sweet tricolored candy that, along with Faustin Soulouque, who ran the country first as president and then as emperor from 1847 to 1859, is perhaps the most famous product of the nearby city of Petit-Goâve, a once-beautiful city devastated by Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake. Or they would offer “tablet pistach,” Haiti’s version of peanut brittle.

After an hour or so of the tap-tap’s negotiating serpentine mountain roads, the southern city of Jacmel, where South American liberation hero Simón Bolívar was given shelter by Haiti’s rebel leaders (no one else would take him), appears below, glittering like a jewel next to the tumbling surf.

Once in Jacmel, I would disembark and transfer to a moto taxi to travel the 10 or so miles to the beach cottage that I was renting. There, one could splash in the surf under the gaze of the brooding inland mountains and feast on exquisite “lambi creole” (conch with a uniquely spicy Haitian sauce) and “langouste” (lobster prepared with a distinct smoky flair). In Jacmel itself, on a weekend evening, citizens and stray foreigners would go to and fro between the restaurants and music clubs, the streets lit by the flickering orange glow of the kerosene lamps of the vendors as they offered “griot” (fried pork) to passersby. As the sun set, it was customary to pour a libation of Haiti’s exquisite rum, Barbancourt Cinq étoiles (still, for my money, the best rum in the world) or, for the more adventurous, to sample the various strains of “tafia,” the highly potent raw rum sold in jerrycans at roadside stands (though the best tafia is widely considered to be consumed in the temperate climes of the mountain town of Kenscoff, above Port-au-Prince).

Over the two-and-a-half decades I’ve spent visiting Haiti, the majesty and ebullient tale told by Haiti’s rich cuisine has accompanied me every step. Haiti’s food evokes its sophisticated and varied roots, from the Parisian-style boulangeries that one can find in the tree-draped squares of areas like the Port-au-Prince suburb of Pétionville to the unpretentious “lalo,” a spinach stew served over white rice and often bought from large pots along the road. And if you have never bought some “marinade” (a seasoned batter patty) from a woman selling them roadside, have you ever lived? The same question could be posed if you’ve never enjoyed delicious “poulet boucané” (smoked chicken) on the terrace of Kay Foun, overlooking the busy street in Saint-Marc, accompanied by a Prestige beer so cold that ice still clings to the glass of the bottle, or eaten “pintade créole” (guinea hen in a spicy sauce served with fried plantains and beans and rice) on a (relatively) cool autumn evening.

Regional dishes also abound, from the unique use of coconut around Jacmel in the south to “poul an sòs ak nwa” (cashew chicken) in the north, where one can eat it during an evening of carousing along the Carenage Boulevard that abuts the ocean. In the morning one can take in the stirring sight of Sans-Souci and the Citadelle Laferrière, a palace and fort combination built by Christophe with views across the plains of northern Haiti. Popular in Jérémie, a lovely town on the northern shore of on the northern shore of the Grand’Anse department and known as “la cité des poètes” (the city of poets), one finds “tonmtonm,” a filling breadfruit-based dish.

Haiti continues to struggle with its demons, systemic and structural problems greater than any one politician or political party. When Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last July — the fifth president from the country’s north to be killed since independence — and as gang wars and narrow political infighting continue to rack the capital, it’s easy, particularly for outsiders, to forget this culinary lineage, which in a real way has freedom and a revolutionary heritage in every morsel.

“The Haitian kitchen is a concentration of our Afro and European influences,” says Paul Toussaint, a Haitian chef and restaurateur whose restaurant in Montreal, Canada, Kamúy, mixes traditional Haitian cooking with international elements. “When I am cooking Haitian cuisine, I feel like I am combining those heritages. It’s a love story with our history, and there’s a lot of meaning in our food.”

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.