Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aristide Return Imminent?

The Bahama Journal
December 29th, 2008

Four years ago, the United States of America found itself at loggerheads with The Bahamas, Jamaica and other members of the Caribbean Community, this as a consequence of certain ominous developments in Haiti.

Highest on that list would have been the destabilization of the Haitian government as it was then being led by its democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Another consequence would have been this leader’s removal from power and subsequent flight to the Central African Republic – and thereafter his exile in South Africa.

But even more egregious is the revelation that Caricom stood revealed as being totally impotent in the face of force majeure on the part of the United States of America.

As we recall from that time, "Caribbean leaders ended a two-day emergency meeting in Jamaica on Wednesday calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to the removal of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office and into exile.

Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson, who is also chairman of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), stopped short of indicating the leaders wanted to suspend or expel Haiti from the Organization, although he did say they were not prepared to "deliberate in any of our meetings with thugs and anarchists".

Of some continuing moment to us is the reported fact that, "On his arrival in the Central African Republic, Aristide telephoned a number of Caribbean leaders, including Patterson, to say he had been forced out at gunpoint by U.S. soldiers and had no idea where he was being taken."

This was surely a very sad time for both Democracy and Sovereignty in the Caribbean. It was a time when there was no space for even a fig-leaf to shield this region’s collective impotence.
Mercifully, things do not remain the same forever.

So it today happens to be that within a matter of days, the presidency that has been George W. Bush’s would have come to an end. This development will bring with it some measure of relief for any number of people in our region.

Clearly, hopes are especially high in Cuba and in Haiti. Two countries whose people have suffered and endured much at the hands of fate and policy in Washington.

In the Cuban case, there is the continuing hope that the United States will ease up on people to people contact between itself and Cuba.

As regards Haiti, the hope concerns Jean-Bertrand Aristide – a man who is arguably the face of Haiti to the world.

In a sense, Aristide is to Haiti as Lynden O. Pindling is to The Bahamas. In another sense, Aristide is [clearly] to Haiti what Barack Obama is to today’s United States of America.

Some of this spirit clearly pervaded some recent demonstrations, in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the country's second largest city, Cap-Haitien, as Haitians marched and demonstrated on the 18th anniversary of Mr. Aristide's first election as president.

These people gave the lie to the oft stated notion that, "Aristide is from the past. We're looking to the future…" as these words came from the lips of State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

That was then.

Today our dealings are with the demands that are rooted in this time, this place and in today’s realities.

As we deal with matters contemporaneous, new information coming in from Haiti suggests that the time may be nigh for former president of the Republic of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to the land of his birth.

There is also a sense which suggests that talk concerning his return from exile in South Africa is itself directly related to the election of The Democratic Party in the United States and to the ascendancy of Barack Obama.

Today we take note of news that, "Hundreds of demonstrators have marched through two of Haiti's main cities, demanding the return of exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
They went on to exclaim that, "We want our leader to come back to his country. He's the only one who cares about our situation."

Tellingly, "They urged President Rene Preval to keep his promise, made during his election campaign in 2006, to allow Mr. Aristide to return to Haiti."

Now that the time of exile has come and has seemingly almost gone, we are reminded of that time some four years ago when Haiti’s democratically elected president was ignominiously and we dare say imperiously forced to flee an armed revolt in 2004; thence and thereafter warmly accepted as a most welcomed stranger in South Africa. This thanks to Thabo Mbeki, the African National Congress and presumably Nelson Mandela.

As we thought then, so we repeat our view that this was nothing more and nothing less than a species of arrogance run amok.

Aristide can and should return to Haiti whenever he wishes.

After all, that country is the only one that identifies him as its native son.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Haiti's Lingering Agony

The African World
By Bill Fletcher, Jr. Executive Editor

Slightly more than a year ago, a Haitian associate of mine was kidnapped in Haiti and, from the looks of it, was murdered. His body has not been recovered and nothing has been heard from him. Despite significant international attention to his case, Lovinsky Pierre Antoine, a noted Haitian activist and leader, an associate of deposed President Jean Bertrand Aristide, has been “disappeared.”

Lovinsky's story is not a story of an isolated incident. It has become emblematic of the ongoing instability on the western half of the island of Hispaniola. News of the continued occupation of Haiti, gang violence, and the repression of the Haitian people gets little attention in US media circles. Many of us were led to believe that with the election of President Rene Preval that all would be right with the world. That has not come to pass. We continue to witness tragedies inflicted on the people. Most recently, another food riot exploded due to the high cost of basic foods. The situation has become so dire in parts of Haiti that people are eating, quite literally, mud pies in order to stave off hunger.

Haiti has not been a 2008 US Presidential campaign issue. I would wager that it has not been mentioned by either of the major candidates. Yet, the Haitian misery is a matter that an incoming Administration must address, if for no other reason than that the most recent episode in this tragedy can be laid at the doorstep of the USA itself, i.e., the USA was directly implicated in the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Haiti, President Aristide.

A continued United Nations presence in Haiti, at least through the direct involvement of Brazilian troops, does nothing to improve the situation. The Brazilian troops, initially welcomed as friends of the Haitian people, have come to be viewed as nothing more than agents of the interests of the Bush administration. Instead of suppressing criminal gangs, or anti-government provocateurs, they have been used to suppress supporters of Aristide's political party, Fanmi Lavalas. The UN presence is an occupation and it is not stabilizing the situation or rooting out the criminal elements.
There is a viable US role in this situation, but not what is usually suggested. There are major development issues facing Haiti - both environmental and economic - with which the country will need help. The poverty of the country has been such that deforestation has been used as a means of gaining charcoal for the survival of significant sections of the rural population. A Re-forestation program will be needed as part of a major rebuilding of the country. This must be accompanied by a larger plan for economic reconstruction that is based on the needs of the Haitian people. In that regard, it will inevitably involve a major role for both the public sector and foreign governmental support, a fact that goes against the so-called conventional wisdom of those who follow the line of thought of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or the Bush administration.

Haiti's lingering agony should be acknowledged as also our agony. The USA has never allowed Haiti to develop itself on an independent basis. From the time of Haitian independence in 1804 through the coup against President Aristide in 2004 on through today, the US government has been regularly interfering in the internal affairs of the Haitian people totally unafraid or unapologetic when it came to destabilizing and/or overthrowing governments with which it disagreed. Lovinsky Pierre Antoine was one of a long list of casualties in this struggle. I wish that I could say and believe that he would be among the last. Short of significant changes in US foreign policy, that is highly doubtful.

It must be insisted that whoever is elected to the White House in November, 2008 charts a new path in the relationship with Haiti. Criminal activities on the part of our own government do not vanish simply because we no longer hear about them. Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Executive Editor of, a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and co-author of the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bolivia: An Election Post-Mortem

A coca farmer throws confetti over Bolivia's President Evo Morales, left, as he arrives to vote in
Villa 14 de Septiembre, in the Bolivian state of Cochabamba, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Dado Galdieri)
By Jim Schultz
The Democracy Center (

I am always amazed at how people who don’t actually live in Bolivia produce such rapid and certain analyses of events here and what they mean. Official election results for Sunday haven’t even been announced yet by the Corte Electoral and already the Web is full of articles declaring with great confidence what the Evo vote meant and why.

In many cases these analyses are based on a simple formula:

View events – sprinkle briskly with pre-established ideology – come to conclusion that supports that ideology.

Sometimes the ideology involved is right wing: Evo’s victory is a dangerous win for Chavez-style social manipulation of the ignorant.

Sometimes the ideology is left wing: Evo’s victory signals the continuation of the hunger of Latin America’s poor for genuine socialism.

Do certain people abroad really believe that Bolivia is inhabited by women with long braids carrying Noam Chomsky under their arm?

After ten years here I have come to one relatively certain conclusion. Bolivians are like most people everywhere. When they think about politics they don’t really come at it ideologically. They come at it very practically. Their chief consideration is: what do they think will make their lives better, especially given how tough life can be here for so many.

Bechtel didn’t get kicked out because people wanted to fight corporate power (though the leaders of the Water Revolt did). It is because the Bozos running the corporation thought that they could raise water rates by more than 50% overnight and get away with it. In economics the technical term for this is called stupidity.

So, based on a different ideology, one called “Bolivians are smart and know how to look out for their interests,” here is my own analysis of Sunday’s vote – and it ain’t rocket science.

First, the “Age of Evo” was inevitable in Bolivia.

Most Bolivians live so close to the economic cliff that they worry day-to-day just about the basics – feeding their families, keeping a roof overhead, affording the 1.50 Bs. fare for the bus. Their obvious “class interest” is not ideological; it is in people’s faces hour by hour. There are certainly many people in Bolivia who do not need to worry about such things but they are not the majority, or even close to it.

For years the real political question in Bolivia was: Why hasn’t some politician or political party come along and figured out how to represent that majority and win its electoral support? Sooner or later it was inevitable that one would, and one did, Evo. It could have been someone else besides Evo and MAS, but it was Evo and MAS that set out to do so, while other left leaders focused on other things. And none of the others who tried the election route, like Felipe Quispe, had anywhere near the long-term commitment or savvy to pull it off. Evo and MAS did make it their work and they were aided greatly by the incompetence and ruthlessness by some of those who preceded Evo in the Presidency, adding to Evo’s base of support.
I know lots of people who went to the polls Sunday and voted for Evo and their reasoning is pretty simple. In Evo they see a President on their side and in the opposition they see a lot of leaders who look and sound and just like those who have ignored them. Every time Ruben Costas (the Governor) rants in Santa Cruz it only makes Evo stronger. Any hesitations they might have about competence or combativeness by Evo are really much less on their minds than the simple fact that in Evo they see themselves. And that is something very, very new for them in Bolivian politics.

Second, Evo’s Adversaries on the right are louder than their numbers.

The numbers from Sunday speak for themselves. Two thirds of Bolivians want Evo to be President, a third does not. You don’t get more lopsided than that in politics.

Look at it by region. According to the latest results, Evo will win majorities in seven of Bolivia’s nine departments, and majorities of greater than two-thirds in four of them, including two of the largest, La Paz and Cochabamba.

Where is the opposition? Well, it isn’t an overwhelming force in Chuquisaca the way those Sucre leaders would like to portray things. Evo is winning 54% in the department where “capatilia” is king. Opponents can certainly claim Beni, where 58% of those who went to Sunday’s polls voted to oust Morales. But with 100,000 voters out of 8 million Bolivians that puts it in a league roughly akin to Quillacollo, a smallish city down the road here where Evo won handily.

And then there is Santa Cruz, the only region of any size in Bolivia where Evo lost, 60/40. The real result of Sunday’s vote maybe the political isolation of Bolivia’s most vocal department and in particular its vocal leadership. Before Sunday one could speak of the Media Luna, a coalition of anti-Evo departments with Manfred Reyes Villa trying hard to add Cochabamba and make it five. After Sunday what you have is Ruben Costas and the usual gang of Santa Cruz civic leaders screaming for coups and autonomy and tossing out racial insults while they watch the rest of the country slip away.

How is it that the position of Evo’s hardcore opponents got so inflated?

Across Bolivia, the people who you see on the television each night (I do sneak a peak on other people’s TVs from time to time) or who you read about in the press, are not people like my rural neighbors who voted across Bolivia in droves for Evo. Who you see and hear from is a small minority of Bolivians who make an effort daily to be in the news.

As it turns out, the faces you see in the news sections of the paper are no more representative of Bolivia than all those smiling faces at the quincineras of the wealthy that you see on the society pages.

There is the bluster factor. The old Bolivian right wing, which it seems is really going extinct by way of the dinosaur, is making a lot of noise as it goes, imitating with hunger strikes and road blockades the attention-grabbing tactics long used by the left. There is no question, as I have written before, that civic leaders in Santa Cruz and Sucre have been able to turn their agenda into an appeal to regional interest with good success. But those pockets are getting smaller and more isolated, which may explains why Costas’ rhetoric is getting more extreme. Evo picked up seven points in Santa Cruz over his vote there in 2005.

Third, Can Evo Use the Moment?

Morales was skillful Sunday night, going back to looking and acting Presidential and leaving it to his adversaries to act like school bullies looking for a fight. When the votes are analyzed I think it will become clear that his support in the cities and among the middle class remains as weak as his support among the rural and the impoverished is strong. But he needs the cities and the middle class to govern. Acting Presidential is a good start.

But then he has a choice to make. Will he lead with initiatives that aim directly at people’s daily lives – like his programs offering payments to school children and the elderly? Or will he use his renewed political capital to push the agenda aimed more at making the shift in political power more permanent, by pushing forward with a vote on MAS’ proposed constitution?

While this current “Age of Evo” was inevitable (even if led by someone else) it is not forged in stone. There is one political force in Bolivia far more powerful than indigenous identity, class interest, or even regional interest. And that is public dissatisfaction. If people see in Evo a government that is incapable of lifting up their lives (even if they think he is trying) someone else will come along and capture that wind.

Morales and MAS have proven themselves very adept at politics. Very adept. But they have yet to demonstrate a similar adeptness at actually governing. If I were them I’d lend my attention now to that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine -- Still Missing In Action

Message From President Jean Bertrand Aristide on the Anniversary of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine's Abduction

Justice and peace spring from our inherent dignity and inalienable rights. Asstipulated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: All humanbeing are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed withreason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit ofbrotherhood.

Today, this spirit of brotherhood prevents us from remaining silent. Yes, itis already one year since the disappearance of our brother LovinskyPierre-Antoine. On this sad anniversary, as we call for his safe return, wedefend our inherent dignity and inalienable rights. Lovinsky’s absencecertainly increases great passions, such as the passion for justice and peace.

Indeed on this sad anniversary all of us who share in a commitment tonon-violent struggle for justice and peace once again proclaim that the humanrights of all must be protected by the rule of law. Authorities in Haiti mustaddress this tragic kidnapping for a safe return of our mission brother.

May the spirit of this brotherhood revitalize and strengthen Lovinsky’sfamily as well as all innocent victims who have suffered since the February 29,2004 kidnapping.

Dr. Jean-Bertrand AristidePretoria, South Africa
August 12, 2008

Open letter to Haitian authorities, on the occasion of the first Anniversary disappearance of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen Officials:

A year ago to date, on August 12, 2007, my husband, LovinskyPierre-Antoine, returning from an out-of-city stay, hurryingly left his placeof residence to go to an appointment scheduled by phone by individuals wholikely meant to entrap him. It was the last time, up to now while I am writingto you, that he was seen by the members of his family.

It was also the beginning of a crescendo agony for his Loved Ones as well asfor his friends and allies.

August 12, 2007-August 12, 2008.

Twelve long months have gone by since this disappearance wasreported to all concerned constituencies of the country: Presidency, Ministryof Economy, Parliament, Ministry of Justice, National Police of Haiti, UN, OEA,etc.

To this day, the Pierre-Antoine family has noted with disappointment – but without surprise-- the apparent lack -- short of saying the total absence – of results following actions and investigations with which the authoritiesshould proceed.Today, my stance is the one of a traumatized spouse, of a shockedand powerless head of household mother, who remains helplessly silent whenfacing the questions that the two sons of Lovinsky ask on a daily basis aboutwhat actually happened to their beloved father.

No information was given on the progress of the investigation and I come to thepoint of wondering if there really is a genuine intent to reach concrete andofficial conclusions.

A year after this event, the Haitian authorities, as well as the publicopinion seem to have forgotten this citizen whose disappearance, as humanbeing, should mobilize our minds. The worst is the mental, mortal agonyendured by the members of his family; it is also the outrage generated by theperversity of his abductors and the flagrant indifference of his closestassistants.

There is no doubt that such an active and vibrant citizen as Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine does not disappear, does not evaporate in thin air withoutleaving any trace. In fact, the traces and indicators, left during and afterhis abduction were not judiciously followed or explored enough in order toreach concrete results.

I want proof of the fingerprints found in the vehicle used by Lovinsky, thesensational and revealing declarations made to the press by an influentialmember of the political party of which Lovinsky is a member.

Personally, I had, in a not so distant past, related to the policethat, in a spur of hope, I had dialed Lovinsky's cell phone number, and I wasappalled to talk with a correspondent who calmly answered, without seemingconcerned that he held in his hand a personal object that belonged to amysteriously disappeared person, which should bear weight of proof, would justice prevail in this country.

When thinking about the disappearance of Lovinsky, the members of his familyand myself come to the conviction that if his physical body escapes our view,he remains alive in our hearts and souls, as a remarkable husband, a fatherconcerned about the education and future of his children and a wise mentor forhis entourage.

Of course, one may not adhere to his ideological convictions and politicalpractices, but one cannot fail to admire his activism, his seriousness, hisrespect for Words of Honor, his team spirit and especially his love for Haiti.We are lacking words and images to describe Lovinky's incomparable andmagnificent qualities. We keep the very best memories of him in our hearts.

Embracing the shoulders of my two sons who mourn the disappearance oftheir beloved dad and await his probable return, I have not other choice thanto rely on the conscience of all concerned authorities to shed light around hisdisappearance.

In fact, it is time to break down this atmosphere of suspense and of uncertainty; it is about time to break the silence observed around thismatter, a silence converted into a tacit plot, woven to maintain secrecy on theintellectual authors of this hateful act.

Once again, I appeal to the conscience of each and everyone of you to let thetruth emerge and put an end to this unspeakable tragedy, for Lovinsky as wellas for the members of his family. I also appeal to the conscience of themembers of the new government, so that they may re-launch the file of Lovinskyand let the truth shine.

In conclusion, I join my boys to express my gratitude and my thanks to the truefriends and supporters of Lovinsky, to all those who offered their moralsupport, to all those who made incommensurable sacrifices to express theirdisapproval of this act, on the streets of various cities of Haiti, UnitedStates and other countries, as well as in front of various Haitian diplomaticoutlets abroad, to all those who wrote articles on this matter through audio,written, televised media and through the Internet and at last, to all those who, in a way or another, showed their empathy around this sad and painful circumstance.

May they rest assured that beyond all abominations, the family of LovinskyPierre-Antoine remains stronger than ever.

Sustained by Hope!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Michele Pierre-Antoine
Wife of Lovinsky

Evo Morales Claims Win in Bolivia Election

Posters in the capital urge voters to support President Evo Morales in a recall referendum, which also involves the vice president and eight governors.
Unofficial results show the president will retain his post after recall referendum. Two opposition governors are ousted, results indicate.

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer August 11, 2008

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA -- President Evo Morales appeared to have won a sweeping victory Sunday in a nationwide recall election that the leftist chief of state crafted as a means of consolidating support against fierce conservative opposition.Partial unofficial results based on quick counts at polling places indicated that between 56% and 63% of voters cast ballots in favor of Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, according to local television stations.

Those totals easily exceeded the 46.3% that the president needed to stay in office. The reported vote also surpassed the 53.7% that the president garnered when elected in December 2005.

Supporters had plastered graffiti throughout the capital seeking a pro-Morales vote of 60%, a decisive margin that would give new impetus for the president's controversial socialist agenda of nationalizations, land redistribution and a new constitution.
Late Sunday, Morales claimed victory in front of ecstatic crowds in the Plaza Murillo in downtown La Paz.
"Today, Bolivia fights for its dignity," declared Morales, who also called for reconciliation with his opponents.

Morales, Bolivia's first Indian president, is slightly more than halfway through his five-year term. Voting trends Sunday confirmed his unwavering appeal among the western highland Indian masses who have long been the base of his support.

The opposition has bitterly accused Morales of favoring the highland multitudes at the expense of the middle class.

Preliminary results also indicated that two opposition prefects, or governors -- Manfred Reyes Villa in the central state of Cochabamba and Jose Luis Paredes in La Paz -- were ousted. Their defeats would add to Morales' apparent triumph. Under Bolivian law, once the results are officially ratified the president will name interim governors to replace those voted out.

However, a defiant Reyes Villa told a news conference in Cochabamba that he had no intention of stepping down, and he labeled Sunday's vote illegal and fraudulent.

"I continue to be the prefect of Cochabamba," he declared.

The governor alleged illegal padding of the voting rolls in Cochabamba. The state is home to the rural coca-growing zone known as the Chapare, where Morales leaped to national prominence as head of the union representing cultivators of the coca leaf, the raw ingredient in cocaine.

"I would not be celebrating if I were him," Reyes Villa said of the president. "The country continues to fracture."

The apparently ousted governor vowed a legal challenge. Such a move and the prospect of the forced removal of Reyes Villa could heighten tensions.

Paredes of La Paz took a more conciliatory approach: He conceded defeat on Bolivian television, saying he would work to ensure a smooth transition to a new administration. But he also voiced concern about deep cleavages in this nation of 9.2 million.

"I am worried about the unity of the country," said Paredes, whose popularity had been battered by corruption allegations. "I see the country full of confrontations. I hope we find a way to be together."

One other governor, Alberto Aguilar in Oruro state, a Morales ally, was also voted out, preliminary results showed.

The apparent landslide was a major boost for Morales as he confronts stiff resistance from huge swaths of the country, especially four lowland states that hold much of the nation's gas and agricultural wealth.

All four have voted for autonomy in recent months in a process that Morales labeled an illegal effort to split from Bolivia. All seek a greater share of taxes and gas and petroleum royalties now collected by the federal government.

According to the early results, voters in at least three of the lowland states -- Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija -- appeared to cast ballots to oust Morales. There were conflicting reports about the fourth, Pando.

The four all voted to maintain their governors, all political foes of the president.

Official results are not expected for a week.

Earlier, Morales voted in his home district in the Chapare region. "My dream is that there is a great unity of the Bolivian people," the president told reporters after casting his ballot. "We have seen a sentiment of the Bolivian people favoring democracy and in favor of making this process of change ever more profound."


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Haiti's Winds of Democracy Begin to Prevail Under Preval

By Leisa Faulkner and Paul Burke

Haiti Journal #6

As the hurricane season begins in this troubled island nation, the Haitian people dodged a different kind of storm yesterday. In a stunning victory for Haiti's embattled but tenacious democracy, a group of nearly 300 renegade soldiers dressed in the camoflauge fatigues of Haiti's long disbanded military surrendered to government authorities shortly after 6:00 pm last Wednesday, July 30 after a day of tense negotiations at the Grand Prison in Cap Haitien, the largest city on Haiti'snorthern coast.

Sparking grave concern among the Haitian population, members of the old Haitian military, deposed by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1994, re-emerged in Cap Haitien, Mirbale and Wanamet demanding reinstatement and fourteen years of alleged lost wages.

Representatives of Haitian President Rene Preval refused to negotiate with the disgruntled former soldiers, instead giving them two options: surrender peacefully or be forcefully removed by the combined forces of the Haitian National Police and MINUSTAH. The rebel soldiers, apparently relying on President Preval's reputation for cautious deliberation, appeared to be caught off guard by the government's decisive, uncompromising response to this potential crisis.
Facing a superior military force and convinced that Preval was prepared to use it, they gave up.

"They chose to live," summarized local Lavalas activist Lisius (Maco) Orel, an eyewitness.

One group of soldiers was loaded on to a yellow school bus for further questioning. Photographs we were able to take on board showed a ragged, dejected group, reportedly ranging in age from 18 to 80. Tensions mounted and we were warned to move away from the bus as the angry crowd of pro-government residents surrounded it. The bus left the scene without incident, however, as government troops behaved professionally and the crowd remained mostly calm.

Prominent Cap Haitien journalist Alinx Albert Obas, director of the media outlet Radio Tele Etensil, left the negotiations long enough to grant us an interview. Obas facilitated our access to the prisoners briefly before their departure. The prisoners looked tired and downcast. Some covered their faces from the camera, while others sat quietly or spoke on their cell phones.

The National Police oversaw the operation, as the U.N. tanks rolled past, unnecessarily at the ready in front of the Grand Prison, where members of the National Police set fire to a pile of uniforms confiscated from the former military in front of the self-constrained crowd.

Former military chief Morne Michel, representing Baby Doc in Haiti, coordinated the re-emergence of the deposed army which, not coincidentally, took place on the July 30 anniversary of the establishment by Papa Doc Duvalier of the infamous Tonton Makout.

Many of those wearing the old uniforms were recognized as having participated in the 2004 coup d' tat. They demanded 1.5 billion U.S. dollars, arguing that they have been deprived of lost wages since 1994 when the despised military was disbanded in order to fund social programs for the poor.

Paul Antoine Bien Aime spoke for Preval and the Internal Ministry and listened to all demands. Former Colonel Jeudi, who oversees payroll matters, also participated in the talks. Obas spoke to us prior to the public announcement and assured us that neither the requested money nor the re-instatement would be granted, and he was proven correct.

Finally, at about 6 p.m., the renegade soldiers were given thirty minutes to surrender, which they chose to do by 6:10 p.m. They were provided adequate clothing and made their way out of the prison and on to the waiting bus. Though somber, none showed signs of having endured any physical struggle.

Expressing a mix of cautious relief and frustration, several local residents who had gathered outside the Grand Prison agreed to speak to us about the events of the day. Recognizing us as U.S. citizens, one elderly, well dressed gentleman, Brunot Dorvil, spoke out loudly against U.S. intervention in Haiti. "Let my country go!" Dorvil said to us emphatically. When asked his opinion of President Bush, he shook his head in disapproval, but added that it is not just one American president who has caused trouble for Haiti. "For two hundred years the U.S. has caused trouble in Haiti."

A younger man who chose to remain anonymous expressed the skeptical view that the whole event was merely a chance for the unpopular MINUSTA to create the false impression that its presence in Haiti is justified.

August Maxi, a 33 year-old auto body painter expressed his enthusiastic support for ousted President Aristide: "Preval is not our real leader. Aristide is the only leader the people can hear."

Several members of the crowd seemed to agree with another man who complained that this is the second time the old army has tried to make a come back, and that as a result the people don't feel safe. "We never know when they may come back."

Just like the hurricanes.

Leisa Faulkner is an award-winning photographer and the founder of Children's Hope, a humanitarian organization that serves the children of Haiti. She is currently pursuing graduate degrees in development sociology and Third World political economy at UC Berkeley. She can be reached at Prof. Paul Burke teaches Sociology and Labor Studies at Sacramento State University and serves as Chair of the Coalition for Democracy in Haiti. His research focuses on U.S. foreign policy in Central America and the Caribbean. He can be reached at

The authors would like to express our special thanks to our dear friend Lisius Orel for translating all interviews. Orel is a dedicated Lavalas activist and the co-founder of MABO (Movement Action to Benefit the Oppressed), a community service organization and orphanage in Port au Prince.

Bolivia Racked by Political Divisions on the Eve of a Recall Vote

Published on Friday, August 8, 2008 by
by Medea Benjamin

La Paz, Bolivia: On Sunday, August 10, Bolivians will go to the polls to vote on whether or not to recall the president, vice president and the governors of eight of the nation’s nine departments. Just 2½ years into the term of President Evo Morales, his government is racked by political crises. This week alone, two miners participating in a protest for higher pensions were killed in clashes with police; a meeting in the Bolivian town of Tarija between the presidents of Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia was cancelled when protesters tried to storm the airport; and President Morales will not attend the traditional independence celebration in Sucre on Wednesday, August 6 for fear of anti-government violence.

While the president and vice-president are expected to survive the recall, perhaps even overturning a few opposition governors (seven out of nine governors are in the opposition), the tensions tearing at this divided nation’s social fabric will persist.

On one side of this struggle is the impoverished indigenous majority in the western highlands who, along with Bolivia’s first indigenous president Evo Morales, are trying to redistribute power and wealth towards poor communities. Pitted against them is a mostly white elite based in the eastern part of the country who want to keep tight control over the nation’s wealth and are using their money and control of the media to foment widespread discontent. Sadly, the U.S. government, instead of embracing social transformation in Latin America’s poorest nation, is aiding and abetting the opposition.

At the opening meeting of a group called International Intellectuals and Artists for the Unity and Sovereignty of Bolivia on July 26, Bolivian President Evo Morales put the division in simple terms. “Two models of government are on the table,” he said. “One is a colonial model where a few families control the nation’s resources. The other, which we defend, is based on the nationalization of natural resources for the benefit of everyone.”

Morales’ government nationalized the nation’s most important source of revenue, natural gas and has used the profits for social programs that fight poverty and inequality. These include free school meals and a cash payment to mothers who keep their children in school. Morales has also raised the minimum wage and expanded the number of eligible elderly people receiving pensions from 489,000 to 676,000, providing them with the equivalent of 27 dollars a month. [Nearly 60 percent of elderly people in Bolivia live on less than one dollar a day.] He is also trying to institute a land reform that would take non-productive agricultural land from wealthy landowners and give it to poor, landless families.

Morales has appealed to progressive governments in the region to help with his program of social transformation. Cuba has sent thousands of doctors and teachers to rural areas and is building dozens of hospitals. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Brazilian President Lula da Silva are investing in the expansion of Bolivia’s gas industry and helping to construct new highways.
Turn on the radio or the television these days, however, and you’ll hear a different story. A barrage of opposition ads encourage people to vote against the President in the upcoming recall. They scare people into thinking that Morales is going to take away their private property, like their homes or their cars, and paint him as a “Chavez-style dictator” who has indebted the country to Venezuela.

“I apologize to the journalists here,” Morales said at the scholars’ meeting, “but in Bolivia the press is engaged in media terrorism. I know it’s not you, the journalists, but the owners of the means of communication. They manipulate the news and the polls; they lie to the public.”
He gave a recent example. He had just come from visiting Camiri, a town in the department of Santa Cruz, which is the home of the opposition. A large group of people came out to welcome him and listen to his speech. At the end of the rally he heard some firecrackers and was told that there were a handful of protesters. On his way back to the airport, however, he heard a local radio station say that the people of Camiri had blocked him from coming to the city. “I had to laugh,” said Morales, “because there were perhaps 20 young protesters compared to crowds of supporters. But that’s how they reported ‘the news.’”

The recall vote comes on the heels of a series of referendums organized by these powerful elites in the eastern departments calling for autonomy from the national government. They have been able to mobilize significant sectors of the population, including people who once supported Morales but have been disillusioned by what they perceive as government corruption and incompetence.

While the autonomy referendums passed, they were claimed illegal not only by the President, but by the Bolivian Electoral Court, the Organization of American States, the European Union or other major leaders throughout the region.

The next vote is the Aug. 10 recall vote. If Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia lose, they have to hold new elections within 90-120 days. If any of the governors lose, Morales gets to select interim governors until the next election.

Polls indicate that the president and vice president will win, thanks in part the government’s massive voter registration drive and the fact that many voters who are critical of Morales will back him so as not to strengthen the right-wing opposition.

A win at the polls is crucial, but it is not likely to stop the growing tensions that have polarized the country, created a crisis between national and local legal institutions, dried up private investment and led to increasingly violent clashes between supporters on both sides.
The following are some of the crises the government will still have to contend with:

* If several opposition governors lose, they and their supporters may refuse to accept the results, which could lead to increased violence and make certain departments ungovernable;

* A new constitution that aims to include Bolivia’s historically excluded indigenous majority within a “plurinational” state, with greater state control over natural resources, was passed in December 2007 by an assembly that was boycotted by opposition parties. It still awaits approval in a national referendum that is being blocked by the opposition-controlled Senate.

* Even the location of the nation’s capital is in dispute. Sucre, which is in the hands of the opposition, is the historic capital of Bolivia, but all the state powers were shifted to La Paz in the wake of the 1899 Federal War between conservatives in the south and liberals around La Paz.
Opposition leaders, however, have been complaining about “La Paz centralism” and whipping up local sentiment for Sucre to become the capital. This has led to violent clashes that will likely continue.

* Tensions with the U.S. government have been rising, as more information comes out regarding U.S. support for the opposition. The Morales administration has accused the US Agency for International Development (AID) of working to undermine it. Vice President Alvaro Garcia said the U.S. was trying to develop “ideological and political resistance.” In June the Bush administration recalled its ambassador to Bolivia for several weeks following massive protests outside the US embassy, which the U.S. accused Morales of inciting. As Bolivia continues to strengthen its ties with leftist governments in the region and reject free market economic policies, it will face increasing opposition from the U.S. government.

Back at the gathering of Intellectuals and Artists, Frei Betto, a well-loved liberation theologist from Brazil, spoke on behalf of the group when he told Morales, “We’ve come from all over the continent to show our support because the future of Bolivia affects the future of all of Latin America. We’re inspired by your efforts at social transformation and we hope that the August 10 vote takes place in an atmosphere of peace, tolerance and respect for the sovereign will of the Bolivian people.”

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange.

Haiti Journal #2 - Cap Hatien

July 28, 2008

At six o'clock this morning, the sun, street noise and smoke streaming in through the big pink wooden doors nudged me back to consciousness. One more blare of a truck horn, and my transistion is complete. Even at this hour, I could feel the sun tanning my already brown arm, and sliding over toward the remaining shade, I realized I feel at peace for the first time in weeks.

It must be Cap Hatien. Just being here, I feel closer to...well, I don't know what. I do know I am drawn to Shada, and can't think of leaving Haiti without walking with her children again, and capturing them with my camera. But it is more than that. I was trying to explain my compulsion to a Rotary member from the states, named Claude yesterday in Port au Prince. He has been coming to Haiti since about 1988, often for several months each year, "doing god's work", as my partner, Paul would say, sort of tongue in cheek. It's his way of chastising me a bit for my cautionary eye to all evangelicals. He gives this little verbal badge of approval to any and all good hearted people who, like me, keep coming to Haiti with some small bag of good intentions, and maybe a medicine or two.

Claude had asked what I was doing in Haiti. Most of the time, when I stay at St. Joseph's, I answer that question with the short version: "bringing in medical and school supplies." This time I decided to share a bit more since Tom Griffin, another boarder at St. Joseph's had told me about Claude. I trusted Tom, his courage when trying not to slip on oosing bodily fluids while photographing piles of corpses in a forbidden morgue earned him that, and more. Tom told me that Claude was a long-timer, and a "crazy, interesting guy". Sounded like a fit for me, so I was as honest as I could come up with words for.

Sure...I bring in medical supplies, and have, in fact, managed with lots of help, to ship 27 boxes of hospital extras from Marshall Hospital in Placerville, California to Father Gerard Jean-Juste at Sainte Claire's Church in Port au Prince, near the infamous slum, Cite Soleil. This trip, I will leave most of the distribution to his discretion. Before donations got so plentiful, I would hand carry and distribute all donations myself, leaving little time to photograph or do sociological research. Having the honor of being the one that gets to hold the babies that may be saved with a little Tylenol or amoxicilin, has also granted me acceptance and access to Shada, a place most white people would not find safe to body or wallet, due to the raw extreme poverty of he inhabitants. "The hungry have no ears", as Euvonie Auguste, an elegant, well-spoken Haitian Voodoo Priestess or Monbow, told me yesterday. She explained that when people are desparately hungry, they let loose their normal convictions.

But I didn't start out coming to Haiti bringing these supplies. While I was a political prisoner for my protest of the School of the Americas I got word through Paul that I was invited to join a delegation of human rights workers going to Haiti. Even though a donated two-week old copy of the New York Times had just arrived that afternoon to Dublin Federal Prison showing drowned bodies draped in trees, and women selling dirt biscuits on the street, I was thrilled and honored to get to look into the eyes of some of the people I had gone to prison for.

Turns out, I was released too late to join the delegation. It seems, though, that Pierre Labossiere had invited me to do a bit more than take down testimony of abuses. When I asked what I could do for Hatii now, he said simply, "buy your ticket", so I did...on blind faith really. My family and friends told me I was crazy, and tried to talk me out of going alone into a country so recently racked with a hurricane and a coup d'tat, but for some reason I felt very sure from the first burst of humid wind that greeted me stepping off my little plane for the first time, that Haiti is where I need to be right now.

I tried to explain that to Claude.

Shada, where we go today, is the heart and soul of my search, I just feel it. Each time I go there I have to push back my emotion. My very good friend, old professor, and renowned photographer, Roger Vail, invited us to visit him last month in the Santa Cruz mountains, to bask in his hospitality and soak up some clean sea breeze. I had been voicing my insecurities about capturing this thing I am drawn to in Shada. As a grad student in sociology at CSU Sacramento, and a political economy student concurrently at UC Berkeley, I feel the weight of W.E.B. Dubois and the other great sociologists... and frankly feel incompetent. Roger reminded me, simply, "You don't need words". I almost cried, though Paul would tell you this is not an unusual state for me, I did feel a huge burden lift. Maybe, just maybe, I could pull this off with some photography/sociology combo.

At any rate, accepting my opportunity and my own limitations, here I am. Sitting up again in Sasha Kramer's bed.

This is the first time out of eight or nine trips to Haiti that I will not spend some of it with Sasha, now a famous Haiti humanitarian, known largely for co-founding a grass roots organization, SOIL, that has built dozens of dry toilets throughout Haiti. I can't help but see her same enthrusiasm in the bouncing puppy, Ti Compost (or Little Poop in English) that misses her here in her home here in Cap Haitien, a city dominated politically by the Aristide-originated Lavalas movement. Sometime later today, we will walk through this city into Shada, the neighborhood I tried to explain to Claude yesterday.

Partly because Shada is perhaps the most impoverished neighborhood in Haiti, I sense it holds the essence of what I find so complelling. When looking over images I've taken in Shada, I am not as drawn to the dramatic evidence of their existence, though that is so stark and strange to our sensitivities, that Paul thought he would vomit from the smell the first time he went there, as I am to the eyes of her people, especially the children. I told Claude that there is a courage and hopefulness, enduring strength and determination that I think westerners and the world could learn from. In this place, where little girls and boys walk with pigs over mounds of untold layers of muddy trash and feces, they show strength I can only aspire to. It is something I passionately want to capture a bit of, though I feel at a loss for words. Claude said, "Stupidity, is what I would call it. Why don't they just move?". I hope he was kidding, though I am not so sure.

In Shada, barefoot boys make kites salvaged from discarded yellow plastic grocery bogs; a bright eyed little girl smiled up into my camera wearing a powder pink rag the exact color as the algae bloomed pink pond behind her. Mother's cradle babies not destined to live past infancy due to hunger and malnutrition, and ask me to take their picture. This was not their doing, this is not their fault. I do feel though, that it is the world's responsibility and mine, to in any small way possible, make it right.

Thank you for caring about Haiti, and for helping to provide food, medicine, and school supplies for the chldren. Your support is making a world of difference. Later, I will try to write about our visit to Father Jean-Juste's church and seeing the feeding program, though we very seldom have both electricity and internet connection.

In solidarity, and gratitude, always,

Children's Hope
c/o Leisa Faulkner
3025A Cambridge Road
Cameron Park, CA 95682

Haiti Journal #1

Dear Friends,

This is my first journal message, from Haiti, though we don't leave home till tomorrow.

My heart left early.

Even though this week was filled with last minute changes and fixes, getting meds, taking malaria preventative, and hoping pledges come in to pay my visa, part of these plans made it necessary for me to make calls to Haiti, and to some friends from Haiti who are leaders in the people's struggle there. What a great experience.

One of our donated laptops will go to a Haitian human rights activist, René Civil, who was held as a political prisoner, until an international call was made for his release. We forget sometimes how valuable a short note, or email can be in a small country like Haiti. Your efforts helped free him from a prison that I visited on an earlier Children's Hope trip. Conditions are hard to describe. Young boys were housed in cells so small they have to sleep on the bare floor in shifts. A single bucket emptied once daily serves to cart out waste, food comes in from family members as they can afford it. Beriberi is rampant now in the prisons. When I spoke to the prisoners, about half had not had a trial, nor seen a judge. One young boy shared his fear that his family did not even know where he was. What did they ask of me? Solidarity. Solidarity and a piece of paper, so they could send notes to parents and family.

Solidarity is underrated, and much easier than it may seem. But with your help, miracles are happening. Helped by international pressure, Father Jean Juste was also released from prison, charges dropped, and will be at St. Claires Church to receive the 27 boxes (worth more than $20,000) that were donated to Children's Hope, shipped free of charge. Children's Hope will be there to ensure the distribution. We will visit mid-wives and clinics, schools and union halls...finding ways to deliver solidarity in ways that they people decide they can use.

Last year, I was in Haiti longer than expected because a tropical hurricane held me up at the airport. This year, we don't expect a hurricane, but have felt an out-pouring of care and concern from all of you. Thank you for caring about Haiti, a devastated country that used to be the wealthiest colony in the world. The spirit of the Haitian people is not weak, it is strong...her children are her future, and you - part of her hope.

If you made a pledge, please send a check to the address below, if you have not pledged, you still can, by replying to this email. Any dollar amount helps. We may have a chance to write to you from Haiti with updates. It is hard sometimes to find electricity, but we will try.

Always in Solidarity and gratitude,


P.S. Please take a minute to see last trip's photos at our Children's Hope website (