Thursday, July 28, 2016

HIP Flashback: Mud Cookie Economics in Haiti

A girl eats a mud cookie in Cite Soleil to stave off hunger. The recipe on the ground is one part dirt, one part shortening and half a cup of water. The recipe internationally is one part charity, one part neo-liberal Reaganomics and one part dependence. all photos: ©2008 Jean Ristil

Originally published February 2008

By Kevin Pina

Poor Haiti, the nation they would have us believe is close to a failed state, needs our help once again.

A recent AP article shook charitable institutions to their core by revealing that Haitians are eating cookies made of mud to fill their bellies. After more than an estimated 2 billion dollars of international aid to date, not including all the spiritually challenged Jesus folk who invested a lot more, Haitians still have to live off mud cookies made of dirt to survive. What a realization!

Now comes the deluge of charities trying to do for the Haitian people what they presumably cannot do for themselves while never asking what happened to all that aid money. Some do it for humanity while others do it for Jesus and all the while it builds more dependency not less in Haiti.

Helping Haitians for the Christians is a helpless exercise as they use the poor to reassure themselves of their own relationship to HIM. For the humanitarians it’s to stave off a sense of helplessness as children with bloated bellies and blondish hair go to bed hungry for more than food each night. Their parents need work for real wages and yet their benefactors just don’t seem to get it.

I suppose knowing that Haitians are dependent on you is reassuring and adds purpose to otherwise dull lives in the first world. It certainly seems preferable to accepting that only political independence that allows resistance to Haiti’s wealthy few and forces them to share the spoils is the only answer to poverty. What a terrifying thought. And Jesus was killed for less.

Two Haitian women sifting the clay for té

Haitians have always been told that the reason they go to bed hungry is their own fault. No matter how many embargoes have been imposed, since 1804 and continuing through to 2001, it remains THEIR fault. Despite all the poverty and blame they still manage to cling to an indomitable faith that tomorrow will be better for their children. Resiliency is a fundamental part of the Haitian character to be admired.

Should we expect less from a proud nation of former slaves that defeated Napoleon’s armies only to be forced backward by their slave-holding neighbor to the north? Remember that when Haiti won its independence, as the world’s first black republic, the US was still a country whose development depended upon human chattel kidnapped from Africa.

Té drying on the rooftop of Haiti's old prison for political prisoners during the Duvalier regime

Haitians wear their history on their chests like many of their would-be saviors wear bleeding hearts on their sleeves. The real irony is that while Haitians suffer from the malady of having had their house turned upside down by a coup financed by foreigners in 2004, those same foreigners blame them for not being able to manage their own affairs. It is the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy and a boon to the fundraisers of charitable institutions all over the world.

Haiti has become the holy grail of fundraising for fashionable charitable causes in the so-called third world. Yet Haiti has shown that you can throw as many fundraisers with dog food, marathons and bake sales as possible and nothing will change if the root causes of poverty remain untouched.

Just ask Wyclef Jean and his Yele Haiti Foundation what happened to all the US government funding they received and whether it has stemmed the onslaught of poverty in Haiti. The latter got millions from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to create jobs for Haitians sweeping streets and performing menial jobs throughout the capital. It was the perfect US government-financed charity despite the cover of Wyclef’s high profile Hollywood friends who kicked in a little here and there to make it look good. And yet those pesky poor in Cite Soleil are still eating mud cookies. Has anyone, especially Wyclef, really bothered to ask why? I wonder when was the last time Wyclef or someone like George Clooney ate a mud cookie to keep their belly from grumbling?

Haitian boy watches baby sister while mom works

The truth is that misery and poverty outpace official aid and charitable giving in Haiti. The non-governmental agencies invited to help by the UN continue to toil despite statistics that show they receive 45% of foreign aid to Haiti and 15% of that returns to their respective donor countries. To top it off add the ‘hazard pay’ and expense accounts that make the average salary of the head of an NGO in Haiti $60,000 per year compared to the average citizen who earns less than $250 annually. Nothing like setting the right example for people forced to eat dirt as you drive to your office in an air-conditioned SUV.

I know of a small progressive NGO in Haiti that promises to recycle human waste from the poor to use as agricultural fertilizer. What a great idea except that if Haitians aren’t eating anything more than dirt there can’t be much value to the end product. I don’t want to pick on them but the project serves as a metaphor for how the ‘international community’ is more concerned with what exits Haitian extremities than what enters their bodies for sustenance.

The truth is that while the poor suffer through the current nation building exercise by the UN that forces them to resort to eating dirt, Haiti’s rich are getting richer. Ask the wealthy families like Bigio, Mev, Brandt and the rest of Haiti’s wealthy elite whether they have enough to eat. They were already fantastically wealthy by Haitian standards and have grown more so since Aristide’s ouster in 2004.

All of this has been imposed by the UN who have served as a proxy for the Bush administration’s concept of working with the private sector as the only avenue for helping the poor in Haiti. UN development experts ask us to believe that creating more business opportunities for Haiti’s wealthiest families will result in a demonstrable windfall for the poor. It’s the new neo-liberal agenda that incorporates the old Reaganomics trickle-down theory being instituted by the UN in Haiti. A new name for it might be appropriate in the Haitian context, Mud Cookie economics.

It’s becoming more than obvious by now that this approach isn’t working and what Haiti really needs is a level economic playing field to challenge the disparity between the haves and have-nots. The aforementioned wealthy families have proven over time to be unreliable providers and partners to Haiti’s poor majority. They are in fact predatory monopolists controlling markets and not free market capitalists competing on a level playing field in Haiti. No amount of investment by the international community or charity will alter that fact. This is the real message behind the recipe for mud cookies the poor are forced to eat in Cite Soleil today.

Behind the wall workers prepare té

In today’s Haiti it’s all about supporting business and the private sector while abandoning the rest of the population to be cared for by charities. That’s what Bush, the UN and the cadres of economic experts have left Haitians with after all is said and done. It clearly favors those who already have the capital to invest while increasing dependency on foreign largess for the rest. It seems clear enough that until the monopolist hold by a few families on the Haitian economy is addressed, we can expect to hear more about mud cookies in the future.

I wouldn’t hold my breath though; the last president to even dare to raise this question remains in exile. Aristide was ousted in 2004 and his movement that gave the poor a sense of controlling their own destiny was brutally savaged. Poverty without real sovereignty and the ability of Haitians to change this reality seems preferable to poverty with dignity for those who continue to benefit from it.

Kevin Pina is the founding editor of the Haiti Information Project (HIP)
The Haiti Information Project (HIP) is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti. Winner of the CENSORED 2008 REAL NEWS AWARD for Outstanding Investigative Journalism

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

HIP Flashback - Remembering Haiti's Father Jean-Marie Vincent

Remembering a Champion of the Poor in Haiti

Father Jean-Marie Vincent.
Photograph courtesy of the Fondation Jean-Marie Vincent

by Kevin Pina

Originally published  September 16th, 2009

The international community and the Rene Preval administration recently ignored the anniversary of the brutal assassination of Father Jean-Marie Vincent in Haiti once again contributing to the perception of two distinct Haitian realities. On one hand there exists the Haiti of the wealthy elite, the UN, foreign profiteers, NGOs, diplomats, and their clients in the Preval government. On the other hand there is the Haiti of the majority of the poor who are trapped in the grind of constant poverty with an experience, history and memory uniquely their own.

Haiti’s poor remembered the anniversary of the assassination of Father Jean-Marie Vincent on August 28, 1994 in small solemn ceremonies at his grave site in Port au Prince and the small town of Jean Rabel in northwest Haiti where he founded a peasant rights organization Tet Kole Ti Peyizan. They remembered him for challenging Haiti’s wealthy elite by starting literacy projects and planning an alternative bank dedicated to the poor. They remembered his courage and the beatings he took at the hands of dictators for his incessant call that Haiti’s dispossessed had every right to take control of the destiny of the nation. While members of Haiti’s moneyed class looked down upon the poor illiterate souls they ruled through corruption and violence, Vincent made it clear that the poor were not victims and they harbored a strength and wisdom that the rich would never allow themselves to understand. Vincent once said, “While the rich are concerned with going to heaven the poor are concerned with feeding themselves. We must tend to the needs of the poor to feed themselves before we can talk about the spiritual salvation of those who can already eat.”

In the other Haiti, the anniversary of Vincent’s assassination was overshadowed by all the hoopla of rehabilitating Reagan’s trickle-down economic theory in the form of bringing Haiti back into the camp of the neoliberal-sweatshop development model. The media-hype of a “new Haiti” being born from the promise of new sweatshops and a recent attempt to raise the minimum wage to a paltry $3.73 per day from a scandalous $1.75 per day, once again served to hide the simmering reality of the poor lurking beneath the surface in this island nation of 9 million inhabitants.

Father Jean-Marie Vincent fought against what has now become the reality of the US/UN sweatshop development model being imposed upon Haiti today. This solution to Haiti’s economic woes rewards the predatory and monopolistic wealthy elite at the expense of the masses of the poor in Haiti and has long been referred to as the “Plan Lanmò” or the Death Plan. Father Jean-Marie Vincent opposed this development model when Ronald Reagan first foisted it upon the Haitian masses in the 80s when it was called the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) and he would have certainly been vocal in opposing its recycling today. Pretending that 70% of Haiti’s population are not still considered peasants who live in the countryside and that attracting them to low paid jobs in the capital would not exacerbate the already meager human resources in Port au Prince was a major factor of his opposition to the sweatshop development model.

Fifteen years ago, Father Jean-Marie Vincent was felled in a hail of bullets in front of his rectory at Montfortain in the Port au Prince neighborhood of Christ-Roi. Witnesses described two vehicles carrying members of Haiti’s dreaded Anti-Gang Unit of the Haitian army who opened fire on his vehicle. He was reportedly still alive as the Haitian army purposely led the ambulance slowly to the hospital allowing him to bleed to death before he could reach doctors. His death was slow and torturous only fitting to the profile of the accused such as Capt. Jackson Joanis, Lt. Youri Latortue, and Sgt. Jodel Chamblain all leading members of the Anti-Gang Unit of the Haitian army at the time of his assassination in 1994.

Joanis and Chamblain were judged guilty in absentia in 1995 for the assassination of Antoine Izmery, an Aristide supporter and businessman condemned by his own class as a traitor. Izmery and Vincent were counted among the victims of the Cedras regime that the US State Department once described as “one of the world’s worst human rights violators.” Joanis and Chamblain were ultimately released under the Latortue regime installed by the Bush administration in 2004 after a sham trial that Amnesty International called an “insult to justice.” They were also absolved in the murder of Father Jean-Marie Vincent.

Youri Latortue, a blood relative and security chief for the US-installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue in 2004, is now the powerful head of the Haitian parliament’s Justice and Security Commission. He was also accused of complicity in Vincent’s assassination. According to a report released by a delegation of the Center for the Study of Human Rights in 2004, “A former high-ranking police official from the USGPN (palace security), Edouard Guerriere…claims that Youri Latortue participated in the 1994 murder of catholic priest Jean-Marie Vincent (as did eyewitnesses in 1995), and that he assisted in the 1993 murder of democracy activist Antoine Izmery. From 1991 to 1993, Latortue was an officer in FADH’s [Haitian army] Anti-Gang Unit, the army’s most notorious unit for human rights violations.”

The administration of former president Bill Clinton, who current serves as UN Special Envoy to Haiti while former First Lady Hillary Clinton is Secretary of State for the Obama administration, instructed the CIA and the State Department to conduct an independent investigation into the assassination of Father Jean-Marie Vincent and supporters of president Aristide in 1994. Leon Panetta, who currently heads the CIA was Clinton’s Chief of Staff at the time the investigation was commissioned by the Office of the President. Their spokesman at the time, Roger Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs referred to their conclusions in a press conference on Sept. 13, 1994 when he stated unequivocally, “The gunman who killed Father Jean-Marie Vincent, an Aristide ally, on August 28 was connected to the [Cedras] regime.” Yet none of the details of the investigation have ever been made public to this day.

In the end, what is clear is that UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA chief Leon Panetta now hold the power under the Obama administration to provide the truth behind the assassination of Father Jean-Marie Vincent. They are now in a position to demand that the files of the CIA and the State Department be re-opened. Unfortunately, whether they have the political will to do so may be like much everything else going on in Haiti today. Justice is inconvenient in their “new Haiti” if it gets in the way of “the country moving forward.” Unfortunately for them, history has proven that it is a foundation of sand to build a new future based on lies and impunity in a country like Haiti whose people have shown time and time again they have a long memory.

While providing the truth about Vincent’s assassination may be inconvenient for those who believe they currently hold the destiny of Haiti in their hands, they should understand more than others that the poor will never forget the legacy of Father Jean-Marie Vincent. They will always remember his selfless example of courage and expressions of love for them because he lived, worked and died in their Haiti.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Eleventh Anniversary of Cite Soleil Massacre by UN forces in Haiti

Eleven years ago on July 6, 2005 United Nations "peacekeeping" forces in Haiti (MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission for Haiti) raided the slum of Cite Soleil. What happened during the raid was disputed, until the following documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The State Department's reviewers searched the Central Foreign Policy Records, uncovering ten documents. One document was released in full, six documents were released with excisions, and three documents were withheld in their entirety. The released documents appear below.

The Document Collection
"Haiti: Dread Wilme Killed; HNP More Active." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 6, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001796. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
Douglas M. Griffiths, the number two in the Embassy, provided one of the earliest reports on the raid. "MINUSTAH launched an operation into the Bois Neuf area of Cite Soleil, reportedly killing gang leader Dread Wilme and an unspecified number of his associates. [EXCISED]. This will temporary knock the gangs off their feet, but any number of gang leaders can rise to fill the vacuum left by Wilme's death."
Perhaps not knowing the severity of the raid, Griffiths encouraged further activity. "MINUSTAH needs to keep up the pressure with continuous small and medium sized operations."
"Haiti Post-Dread Wilme: MINUSTAH Takes off the Pressure." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 12, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001829. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
Terming the attack on Wilme a "surgical strike," Griffiths is apparently reporting on a conversation with MINUSTAH commanders. "MINUSTAH has effectively abandoned the long-delayed assault of Cite Soleil...the surgical strike on Dread Wilme and his headquarters has put the gangs on the defensive and brought them to the negotiating table."
"MINUSTAH's passivity is frustrating," noted Griffiths. Yet he also admitted "MINUSTAH was being accused of killing more than twenty women and children." His source found the statistics "credible."
"Haiti: MINUSTAH/DPKO on Reports on Excessive Civilian Casualties." Cable from the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations to State Department Headquarters. July 20, 2005. Cable Number: USUN 001642. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
The State Department's mission to the United Nations was meeting with representatives of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to discuss the situation in Cite Soleil. "In a conversation with USUN [political officer] on July 18, [the source] described the situation in Cite Soleil as very dangerous, and that MINUSTAH's soldiers went into the area on July 6 for only 5 to 6 minutes to complete the operation...[the source] lamented press reports citing 50-60 deaths following the raid, saying that neither MINUSTAH nor DPKO has information that supports the press reports."
Also, "the July 6 MINUSTAH operation that killed gang leader Dread Wilme was meant to be a surgical operation to detain him...the aim was not to kill Wilme or his supporters."
"Human Rights Groups Dispute Civilian Casualty Numbers from July 6 MINUSTAH Raid."Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. July 26, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001919. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
MINUSTAH's After Action Report offered a sharp contradiction to what the Department of Peacekeeping Operations had been reporting. In this cable from Ambassador James Foley, "MINUSTAH's after action report stated that the firefight lasted over seven hours during which time their forces expended over 22,000 rounds of ammunition and received heavy fire in return." A [source within] MINUSTAH "acknowledged that, given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets. As the operation was a raid, MINUSTAH did not remain in the area to do an assessment of civilian or gang member casualties..."
It is also noteworthy the Brazilian commander of MINUSTAH, General Heleno, told a San Francsico-based labor and human rights delegation that a Jordanian battalion led the operation. "MINUSTAH's after action report states that the Jordanians played only a minor role, providing perimeter security and firing approximately five percent of the rounds. It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have killed only six people."
"Haiti: Update in Security Council on Haiti." Cable from the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations to State Department Headquarters. July 28, 2005. Cable Number: USUN 001716. Unclassified. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
The State Department's number two in New York, Anne Patterson, reports on a briefing by the Undersecretary of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. "440 troops were directly involved in the July 6 raid that killed Dread Wilme, and an additional 1000 secured the perimeter area.
"Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel Air." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. August 1, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 001964. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
Ambassador James Foley praises Brazilian soldiers, writing "The security situation in the capital has clearly improved thanks to agressive incursions in Bel Air [a Port au Prince neighborhood] and the July 6 raid against Dread Wilme in Cite Soleil."
"Post has congratulated MINUSTAH and the Brazilian Battalion for the remarkable success achieved in Bel Air in recent weeks."
"UN Shifts Focus From Disarmament to Violence Reduction." Cable from US Embassy Port au Prince to State Department Headquarters. August 10, 2005. Cable Number: Port au Prince 002032. Confidential. Source: Freedom of Information Act release (2005-05-081) to Keith Yearman.
A source meeting with Embassy personnel suggested "the death of Dread Wilme July 6 and the pacification of Bel Air in this summer opened a door of opportunity into the slums.