Haiti: Violence and Courage
From Rafiqui: In February 7th 2006 the Haitians elected a new President. On February 17th 2006 the results of their choice was finally announced; René Preval, a close friend of Jean-Bertrad Aristide’s and former President of Haiti from 1996-2001, had won. The Haitians had believed that they had handed Preval a landslide, but in fact it was officially announced that he had only won by a small margin, hence avoiding a run off election, but forcing him to negotiate a government with his opponents. What transpired during that 10 days between voting and results remains anyone’s guess. But Brian Concannon, of the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti, concluded that “...for the fourth time since 1990 [Haitians] handed their chosen candidate a landslide victory. And for the fourth time Haitian elites, with support from the International Community, ...undercut the victory, seeking at the negotiation table what they could not win at the voting boot.” This should not have come as a surprise to anyone who had been following the situation in Haiti since the removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Those who had wrested power from the elected leaders were not simply going to hand it back because of another election. I had been working in Haiti in 2005 documenting the ‘interim’ government’s violent campaign against the pro-Aristide and still hugely popular Lavalas movement. This campaign of assassinations and intimidation continued throughout 2005 and even during the elections itself. These images help us understand the atmosphere of fear and intimidation in which the recent elections were finally carried out. The also provide testimony to the courage of the Haitian people who despite violent coercion remain determined to choose their own future. When this work was exhibited at Visa Pour L’image in 2005 I included a short introduction to Haiti’s political situation. This original introduction is included below the series.
Haiti today is a land shrouded in social and political myths. These myths plague the analysis and reporting about the country and mislead us about what is taking place there. Frequently repeated by the media and politicians, these myths tell us that Haiti is a country of unending cycles of senseless violence; that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country in the face of a ‘popular’ uprising; that the ‘international community’ intervened to help bring ‘democracy’ to Haiti; that the occupation forces continue with their good work of building schools, bridges, clinics and roads. And the most persistent myth; that pro-Aristide ‘gangsters’ remain the principal source of violence and instability in the country. In 2005 I traveled to Haiti and found a reality that did not reflect what I had been led to believe. I witnessed an ongoing campaign of violence and repression by Haiti’s current leaders, installed by the USA and France, to eliminate the still vastly popular Lavalas (pro-Aristide) movement and its supporters. Hundreds of Lavalas activists lie without charge in jail while hundreds of others have been killed while protesting in the streets or during Haitian National Police (HNP) raids into strongly pro-Aristide neighborhoods1. Entire communities suspected of pro-Aristide leanings have been surrounded by UN (MINUSTAH) and HNP checkpoints and the residents denied services like water and electricity2. And yet both the USA and France have stood firmly behind the ‘interim’ government. Recently the USA decided to restart economic and military aid to this government. This is in sharp contrast to its attitude towards the democratically elected President Aristide whom it placed under economic sanctions in 1995 and then worked tirelessly to topple by funding and courting his opponents. The sanctions withheld nearly $500 million from one of the poorest nations of in the Western Hemisphere and caused severe social and economic devastation in the country. At the same time the US government provided financial and political support to Aristide’s opponents and even arranged conferences in neighboring Dominican Republic for Aristide's opponents to meet those from Washington who shared similar political views. As Amy Wilentz, a journalist with extensive experience in Haiti, wrote “In a country...where the military has been disbanded for nearly a decade, soldiers don't simply emerge... they have to be reorganized, retrained and resupplied... and someone has to organize [them].3
1 “Haiti Human Rights Investigation” University of Miami School of Law 2004 2 “Keeping the Peace in Haiti?” Harvard Law School, Clinical Advocacy Group 2005 3 Amy Wilentz, The Nation, March 4th & April 9th 2004
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