Sovereignty and Justice in Haiti

April 8 , 2007

Below we print excerpts from an interview with Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, coordinator of the Fondasyon Trant Septanm (September 30th Foundation) that works with victims of the coups d'état in Haiti in 1991 and 2004. The interview was conducted by Darren Ell for the Haiti Information Project and appeared in in February.

Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine (LPA): It is important to understand that the Canadian, American and French forces that arrived were there because Guy Philippe's men, who were paid to carry out the coup d'état, were unable to finish the job. The population was there to defend the democratic process in place, which had its problems, but which was nonetheless in place with President Aristide. This multinational force that arrived, comprised in part of Canadian troops, this was an occupation force. They came to carry out a coup that others were incapable of carrying out themselves. I am very critical of the US, Canadian and French military presence. I am all the more critical because this intervention came at a time when we in Haiti were celebrating the 200th anniversary of our independence. It was literally a slap in the face to the people of Haiti. What's more, it was exactly the same situation when we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our independence under President Nord Alexis in 1904. The neocolonial powers had organized the same conspiracy to sabotage the first commemoration of the independence of Haiti. For the Bicentenary, it was the same conspiracy. It's as though they wanted to downplay the achievement of 1804, as though they wanted to say to the world that Haiti had attained independence too early, as though they wanted to display it as a failure, and they contributed all they could to this failure. This is why I am critical of the intervention of the Canadian military alongside the American and French troops.

Darren Ell (DE): Talk to us about the notion of occupation. Your organization has made parallels between the repressive techniques of the regime of Gérard Latortue - the Prime Minister installed by foreign powers after the departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide - and the brutality of the US occupation of 1915-1934. In particular, you have spoken of the fate of Charlemagne Péralte. Can you talk about Charlemagne Péralte and the parallels you make between the way he was treated and the way the Latortue Regime treated the population of Haiti between 2004 and 2006.

LPA: First of all, it's important to point out that Charlemagne Péralte is a national hero. He took up arms to defend the national territory, to defend the country against the US military occupation of 1915. He had his army, the Cacos. The Caco army was made up of poor people. At the same time part of the intellectual class had been co-opted by the occupiers and the bourgeois elite, the poor were fighting for national sovereignty with Charlemagne Péralte.

The parallel with 2004 is that after the coup d'état of 2004 and the occupation of our national territory by the multinational force, which was transformed later by the mandate of the UN Security Council - the creation of MINUSTAH - there was a group within the population, people from the poor neighborhoods, that took up arms to defend our sovereignty. It was them who stopped Guy Philippe and Buteur Métayer's men [who were paid] by the CIA, it was them who stopped them from carrying out the coup d'état. After the US government, the American, Canadian and French governments intervened to consummate the coup, to kidnap President Aristide and take him into exile, the comrades in the poor neighborhoods of Cité Soleil, Bel Air and other areas continued to fight for national sovereignty and an end to the occupation. The regime of Gérard Latortue and the media, the coup media, the media that collaborated with the occupiers and that continue to collaborate with the occupiers, they called the inhabitants of the poor neighborhoods "Chimères," "bandits" and "criminals." They wanted to stain the reputation of Fanmi Lavalas because the people in Fanmi Lavalas struggle against the occupation. They were after all the victims of the coup d'‚tat of February 29th 2004.

It's the same category of the population who were with Jean-Jacques Dessalines at the time of our independence. They were called the "va-nu-pieds" army (the barefoot army), an indigenous army. This indigenous army had no uniforms. They were slaves. In 1915, it was the same thing. It was the poor from the poor regions that followed Charlemagne Péralte. They were called the Cacos. During the two years of the de facto regime of Latortue, it was the same situation again. It's always the poor who rise up to defend national sovereignty.

That is why in the eyes of the Bourgeoisie, in the eyes of the intellectual elites, these people are no different than the "va-nou-pieds," nothing but criminals, whereas in my opinion these people are the protectors of our sovereignty. They are people engaged in a political struggle, a revolutionary struggle. They aren't criminals. They aren't killers. They aren't kidnappers. But they are given this image. This hat is placed on their head, but they are in fact combatants.

DE: And Charlemagne Péralte, what happened to him is in fact what happened to thousands of people in Haiti for two years, from 2004 to 2006.

LPA: Absolutely!

DE: It was a campaign of terror. Are there parallels between the way this man was treated and the way thousand of people were treated between 2004 and 2006? Is it the same strategy, drag bodies in front of everyone?

LPA: It's the same strategy. Don't forget that Charlemagne Péralte was betrayed just as today our Haitian intellectuals are betraying the people by collaborating with the occupiers. Charlemagne Péralte was betrayed. He was arrested by the US marines, killed and place on a door, his body exposed to the entire population.

In the poor neighborhoods of Port au Prince and in other regions of the country, it's the same thing. The current occupiers, the troops of MINUSTAH, are doing the same thing to the poor. We could take the example of Dred Wilme. We can take the example of Dred Mackenzie. These were community leaders in these neighborhoods. Today in the poor neighborhoods of Cité Soleil the occupation forces continue to massacre the poor. They dangle the specter of insecurity or kidnapping in order to conduct deadly aggressions in these neighborhoods. And the entire population is taken hostage and targeted. People are killed every day in Cite Soleil in the same way Charlemagne Péralte was killed. . . .

LPA: . . . During the last coup d'état, rape was used as a weapon by the former military, by the people who carried out the coup against the women of the poor neighborhoods and particularly against women whose partners or husbands were active in Lavalas.

DE: So, it was a political weapon.

LPA: Yes. But don't forget that in Haiti the subject is very taboo. So many women who went through it never spoke about it.

DE: So the number could actually be higher.

LPA: Probably, because women here who are victimized by rape are practically quarantined and become scorned by society. And there are no structures in place to help them. But there is also another problem. I worked with women who were victims of rape during the first coup d'état against Aristide. Even though a small number of women who were able to get help, their cases can't go to court because a medical certificate must be issued by a public hospital. At present, the government is voting on a law that would allow private doctors in private clinics to issue a medical certificate attesting to rape. But before now, this wasn't possible.

DE: And during the coup it wasn't possible.

LPA: And now it's too late. So legally there is nothing the women can do because the law is not retroactive, and it's too late to gather the medical evidence. . . .

DE: One last question: your organization has stated that the thousands of murders during the last two coup d'‚tats were an attempt to murder the democratic ideal in Haiti. Has this happened?

LPA: When I see the courage of the people of Cité Soleil and the other neighborhoods, I know the ideal is alive. There are people here who are ready to struggle for the return of democracy in Haiti. People die every day in Cité Soleil for this cause. So it's clear that the ideal of Dessaline as well as the ideals of Toussaint and Peralte are alive and well. I felt it on February 7th when tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand the return of President Aristide. It's a matter of principle! Why is President Aristide not allowed to return to Haiti? Why does the US government oppose it and by what right? People here also demand the liberation of all political prisoners. They were jailed by Latortue but are still in jail under the current so-called "democratic" government.

So the democratic ideal is not dead but to find it you have to be in contact with the poor of Haiti, like the people in Cité Soleill and other poor areas of the country. These are the people responsible for the achievement of 1804 next to Dessalines. It was them who were next to Charlemagne Péralte. And it's them today who have taken up arms or who are struggling nonviolently for democracy and sovereignty in Haiti.