Leslie Mullin reports from Haiti, a 'deeply African country', where, after Aristide, there is 'a deliberate and violent attempt to reverse a truly democratic effort that stood firmly for the poor majority...a violent, brutal counter-insurgency, a counter-revolution', blame for which she lays at the door of the US and the UN.
The experience of travelling to Haiti is amazing, because Haiti is so deeply an African country and people. The first time I was there, three years ago, I was astounded by the sights and sounds of Haiti which are so resonant of West Africa: the market women; the young girls riding donkeys in the countryside, huge baskets on their heads; the vigour of massive demonstrations - the pounding rhythmic feet, visions of Soweto. Everywhere in the darkened poor city neighbourhoods at night, without electricity, in their cinderblock houses stacked on top of each other rising up hillsides, people sing, blast radio music, play instruments.
It is my privilege to have travelled on two trips to Haiti with fiercely political Black activists who have embraced Haiti as a cherished symbol of liberation to African people everywhere. They evoke deep bonds of shared experience among African people of Haiti and America, who came on the same slave ships. They point out that the same people who are killing and oppressing Haiti's people left Black people to die by the thousands in New Orleans after Katrina, and now attempt to steal their land. Haiti's grassroots movement recognises this powerful bond among the two peoples. Everywhere we spoke about the San Francisco 8 or about New Orleans. Lavalas activists sent a message of solidarity.
It is taking things out of context to try to talk about what exists in Haiti now without acknowledging what was achieved by Haiti's grassroots movement under Aristide. Because it is not just that things are bad right now, but that what is happening is a deliberate and violent attempt to reverse a truly democratic effort that stood firmly for the poor majority. It is a violent, brutal counter-insurgency, a counter-revolution.
For a brief moment, after decades of dictatorship and a long history of resistance, Haitians achieved the dream of social justice and freedom. The poor had power. During that brief period of time, there were no boat people leaving Haiti. During that brief period of time, massive projects were undertaken to support the poor. The goal was to move Haiti's people from misery to poverty with dignity. Beautiful public parks were built in poor neighbourhoods; schools, health clinics, a medical school; micro-loans to market women and literacy projects flourished. During that brief period, poor street kids swam in the presidential pool; Haitian legal teams held Truth Commissions, took on the tonton macoutes. Death squads who had terrorised, tortured and killed thousands, were prosecuted and imprisoned.
This is why Aristide is so revered in Haiti. As one Lavalas activist put it, Aristide never gave up; he stood up to the Western powers, and fought for those who cannot speak. He is a symbol of hope and democracy for Haitians.
What we found in Haiti now are activists struggling everywhere to resist the renewed assaults on Haiti's poor, to move in a period once again dominated by foreign guns, foreign economic clout and terrorism. 24,000 march on Aristide's birthday; a transport workers' strike blocks roads and shuts down traffic throughout the country. 50 grassroots activists, the elderly women in dresses and straw hats, mark the 92nd anniversary of the 1915 US invasion in a spirited protest at UN headquarters. We are there to see the dozens of heavily armed UN troops aligned against them, ensignia marking their countries of origin - Sri Lanka, Jordan, Philippines, France, Bolivia, and among the unmarked Westerners, surely Americans. The Haitians are undeterred - chanting, yelling, dancing, singing, photo displays of UN and other coup victims prominent.
Why must the poor be shot down by UN troops in Cite Soleil? Why are the market women beaten, even killed, by petty bureaucrats and police thugs to drive them off the streets, why burn the markets and deprive them of their meagre income? Why must armed thugs storm into a school of 700 poor children, headed by Lavalas activists, breaking the blackboards, desks, drinking fountain - the few artifacts needed to teach those who could not afford $100 a month to go to school? Why must their teacher be beaten? Why must prisons be filled with those who fight for democracy, starving on diets of foreign white rice, deprived of clean water to drink, sleeping in shifts in stifling cells built for 20, housing 80? Why must life be nearly impossible - transport workers up against heavy license fees and fuel costs, telephone workers laid off? Why?
Because Haitians are a deeply political people; they have tasted democracy; they insist on their human rights. Western powers cannot enforce their elite, global agenda on Haiti unless they can contain this massive popular movement and destroy its righteous vision.
Here is what Randall Robinson says in his new book, An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of President:
'What was it, though, about Haiti that made the place so different from other Caribbean places, so especially combustible? What property, what special character did it have that would incite the rich white West to engage a poor, largely black nation with such glowering, unrelenting hostility...The Haitians knew their history. The Haitian peasants may have had few material possessions to speak of, but they knew what their slave ancestors had done to the French, to the English and to the Spanish. They also knew what they had done to liberate all of Latin America, as well as themselves. No matter how poor they were, the Haitians knew these things about themselves, things that made them special to themselves, that made them resilient and independent, that gave them great art, that unsettled, even now, those nations the peasants' slave ancestors had once soundly thrashed.'
US 'low-intensity' warfare is so termed, not because it is mild, but because it comes under the radar of the American people, as does mostly anything having to do with Haiti. What did the UN come to do in Haiti? As one Lavalas activist put it, they came to make the country go backwards. They spend $500 million a year to maintain UN troops - money that could provide water, schools, healthcare for Haiti but instead the UN does nothing for Haiti.
What do the Haitian people want from us? They want our solidarity. They want us to expose and mobilise people against what is happening. They want us to demand the UN mandate in Haiti not be renewed; to support the return of Aristide to Haiti; oppose privatisation; to insist on freedom for Haiti's political prisoners.
* Leslie Mullin is a long-time San Francisco-Bay Area human rights activist who returned in late July 2007 from a week-long Haiti Action Committee delegation to visit Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The delegation met with organisers across the breadth of Haiti's grassroots movement.
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