During the brief day and a half since I arrived in Ayiti I have had 9 meetings with representatives of GRI partner organizations, journalists, and allied international development organizations.
My head is spinning, but the richness of these exchanges with these tireless Haitian human rights and development activists is a necessary ingredient for understanding how progressive Haitians are living this difficult period of transition. While at the office of Institute Culturelle Karl Leveque, a member organization of POHDH ( The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations) I happened to see the quotation that I used to entitle this journal entry – « ni rire, ni pleurer, comprendre » – loosely translated – « we must not celebrate, we must not cry , we must understand ».
The main purpose of my trip is to gain a deeper understanding of how our Haitian partners have experienced the period leading up to, and after, the departure of Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Everyone with whom I have spoken refers to 2003 as a year of intense activity on the part of organized civil society and popular organizations from all sectors – labor organizations, peasant organizations, professional associations of doctors, lawyers, journalists, agronomists, student organizations – to impress upon the Haitian government that changes were needed… that impunity must be addressed…that justice must be served. These organizations negotiated, held press conferences, mobilized, and finally came together to organize mass street demonstrations…..to no avail.
« The turning point came in the fall of 2003 when student protests about lack of services and lack of university autonomy were meet with severe repression by Haitian National Police (HNP) accompanied by extra-legal armed gangs transported in state owned vehicles entered the University Campus and beat and severely injured students and some faculty, » said Camille Chalmers, Executive Secretary of PAPDA ( The Platform to Advocate fro Alternative Development). The State University of Haiti has traditionally been an almost sacred autonomous space – a haven of free expression and freedom of thought. The right to freedom of expression had been violated in a manner that no sector of Haitian society could ignore.
One might ask why, in a country where basic social and economic rights are so fragile, so deeply ignored, would a people react so strongly to the violation of the fundamental right of freedom of expression? I can only imagine that the answer lies deeply embedded in the minds of Haitians who have lived so long under the most violent and brutal state repression of US supported or tolerated dictatorships.
Collette L’Espinasse of GARR (Group in Support of Refugees and the Repatriated) said, »Many sectors of civil society had been working peacefully together to try to try and heal the rift of the deep polarization of Haitian society – we did not want a rupture of Haitian society. But in the fall of 2003 events took place that were like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The women’s organizations held silent vigils asking for an end to impunity – they sat before the National Palace in silence dressed in white – but they too were brutally beaten by Haitian National Police and extra-legal armed gangs. And there was never any legal governmental response to redress the abuse. There was no justice. Impunity reigned. »
This morning’s TV news cast included footage of a large Fanmi Lavalas demonstration indicating the refusal of the Fanmi Lavalas to participate in the CEP (Elections Commission). If the current level of state sponsored repression were in any way similar to that which took place in the aftermath of the 1991 coup d’etat, would Fanmi Lavalas have been able to conduct a large public demonstration and press conference that was televised on National TV?
At this moment I am sitting in the NCHR office where staff are attending to a case involving a family of former Lavalas members from La Saline who have been brutalized and abused by members of their own organization. The violence and polarization continue – even under the occupation of the MIF. But the seeds of hope continue to be reinforced as human rights workers continue to work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served for all and that the climate of intolerance and impunity is brought to an end.
More later this afternoon… I must go now to more meetings with representatives of international human rights and development organizations with offices in Haiti.