Dear Sisters of the Caribbean,
We, the members of the permanent coordinating committee of the National Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights (CONAP) were shocked and outraged to receive your joint declaration denouncing a United States-backed coup d’etat in Haiti and your defense of an outlaw regime.
We were shocked not only by the content of your statement but also by the fact that prior to taking any stand with regard to the current situation in Haiti, you did not take the precaution of contacting your sisters and sister organizations in Haiti. CONAP is composed of a wide variety of feminist organizations and grass -roots womens organizations throughout the country. We also feel that it would be appropriate to remind you all that the coordinating committee is composed of ENFOFANM, which is a member of CAFRA, SOFA which is the national contact for the International March, Kay Fanm which organized the International Tribunal on Violence against Women which many of you supported, and Fanm Yo La, a feminist organization working for gender equality in the political arena.
We would also like to remind you that all of CONAP member organizations were involved in the organization of the recent meeting of the Assembly of Caribbean Peoples in August 2003. Prior to addressing the more fundamental issues related to the fallacious and racist comments in your declaration, we would like to unequivocally state that the manner in which you proceeded is a direct affront to the principles of feminist practice which should have guided your action and the principles of solidarity which should have informed your position.
We take this as a direct affront and believe that this translates your total lack of regard and respect of your sisters in Haiti. With regard to the fallacious and racist statements in your declaration, we can only conclude that you did not deign to read any of the declarations made by CONAP and its member organizations during the past months and years.
We would also like to remind you that in order to facilitate communication with women and women’s organizations within the region- whom we thought were our sisters; we produced these statements in English and Spanish.
Therefore the oft-used excuse that you do not understand French does not provide an easy out.
Therefore we can only conclude that either you are not really interested in what has been happening in Haiti and the position of women’s organizations or that your position is more motivated by your own individual and personal concerns – rather than the interests of the women and men of Haiti.
Therefore we beg to differ with your statement that « We have always deeply felt that we must defend Haiti because Haiti is ours ».
We have on the contrary found you to be both suspiciously absent and silent. Where have you all been? Obviously focused on other issues far from the reality of Haiti and the Haitian people. Haiti and Haitian women were neither in your hearts nor in your minds.
Under the circumstances, wisdom would have suggested that you either inform yourself prior to taking a stand or remain entrenched in your habitual and « safe » silence. For the purpose of brevity and despite the fact that we feel that it would be incumbent on you all to learn your history, we would like to focus on the following statements made in your declaration.
You have insisted on the fact that Aristide was a democratically elected president with a constitutional government. We would like to remind you that the legislative elections of 2000 were roundly denounced by both national and international human rights organizations, as well as international observers including a Trinidadian- as being severely flawed and rigged.
Despite this, the regime proceeded with the installation of an illegitimate parliament. This was followed by a so called presidential election in November 2000 with 5% of the electorate, and the so called victory of a single candidate Mr. Aristide. At best, one could state that he was elected with a major democratic deficit and a total lack of legitimacy. In December 2000, under orders of the newly elected president, parliamentarians and officials of the regime, accompanied by armed thugs, burned and ransacked political party headquarters and non governmental organizations.
Over the past three years, the Lavalas regime has institutionalized corruption and dilapidation of the public treasury, aided and abetted drug trafficking, perverted the national police and further consolidated its power through arming gangs of street children and delinquents.
These gangs, in open collaboration with the police, and funded by the government, have engaged in systematic human rights violations (disappearances, tortures, extortion) and have perpetrated numerous acts of gender based violence. Had you bothered to read our statements you would have been informed.
Over the past years, the Lavalas regime has tried to silence all voices of dissent; political parties, journalists and the independent media, human rights organizations, peasant organizations, labour unions, and women’s organizations. Rather than addressing the needs of the Haitian population, the regime preferred to use both licit and illicit funds to pay gangs and other supporters, open offshore accounts, build palatial homes and buy luxurious cars, and put up billboards with the effigy of the President.
The level of institutionalized corruption reached new heights in a country in which the vast majority struggles to ensure daily survival. In addition to attempting to silence the voices of dissent and democracy in Haiti and ignoring the basic needs of the Haitian population, the Lavalas regime has spent millions of Haitian tax payer dollars to hire lobbyists to « defend » his cause in regional and international fora.
Conflicts of interests abound both within the United States and the Caribbean. The targets of this lobbying effort included the Black Caucus, members of the Democratic Party and highly placed officials with the region. It would be very informative for you to look into this further. In October 2003, women’s organizations lead by CONAP denounced the Lavalas regime and labeled them an outlaw and rogue regime.
The notion of an outlaw regime, devoid of legitimacy and authority to act on behalf of the Haitian people, was then appropriated by a broad coalition of other civil society actors in Haiti. We would like to draw to your attention that this broad based and heterogeneous coalition of civil society actors constitutes a major contribution to democracy in Haiti because the future requires the participation of all sectors of the Haitian population as engaged and responsible actors. As of November 2003 numerous demonstrations were disrupted by armed gangs working hand in hand with the police.
The sanctity of the university was violated as was the inviolability of hospitals. We would like to believe that you were at least aware of this-but perhaps not. The appearance of rebel forces in Gonaives in December were the logical outcome of Aristide’s policy of arming thugs and then when they were no longer useful, executing them. It was a clear case of thugs turning against their master.
While clearly condemning the use of violence, CONAP recognizes that this situation was perhaps inevitable. The situation further escalated in January and February 2004 beginning with the masquerade organized around the bicentennial which was boycotted by every civil society organization in Haiti.
A parody of every fundamental value which underlies the Haitian revolution, this celebration by an outlaw regime was of course attended by CARICOM representatives. The escalating violence in the country and the continued belief in the underlying principles of democracy led the Haitian population, through its various bodies representative of all sectors of the nation, to call for the resignation of the President.
This was and is a democratic demand. All elected officials, even those who have a deficit of legitimacy, must be held accountable for their actions. Unless we are mistaken, this is also a fundamental principle in the rest of the Caribbean. However we find it interesting that rather than defending this principle, you appear to be more comfortable stating that Haiti warrants a second rate democracy.
This same attitude coloured the position of your heads of government who preferred to hide behind fallacious arguments based on supposed popularity rather than taking a brave and principled stand on the fundamental rights and aspirations of the Haitian people and rule of law. By their lack of courage they also contributed to creating a situation which continued to deteriorate and which opened the door to the re-apparition of FRAPH, members of the former military and finally the presence of foreign troops on Haitian soil.
In the days and weeks immediately preceding and following Mr. Aristide’s resignation, under direct orders of the Lavalas regime, thugs, officials and accomplices of the regime pillaged, burned and destroyed state intuitions, private businesses including numerous banks. In addition to the destruction of institutions and productive infrastructures, they also continued a campaign of systematic repression against the Haitian population.
This provoked massive internal migrations as well as the influx of trans border migration and boat people. While it is unclear the role played by the international community in the recent events in Haiti and most particularly in the appearance of new social actors in the political arena, and the need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all, the resignation of Mr. Aristide constitutes a victory for the Haitian people and for the women’s movement. Unfortunately, we are celebrating this without you.
The challenges facing Haiti are enormous both in terms of ensuring inclusion within the political process, ending impunity, strengthening national control, denouncing the occupation, and laying the foundations to recapitalize an economy which has been ruined by the will of one man who was willing to do anything to maintain his power. We would have liked to engage in the process and address theses challenges with our Caribbean sisters- but if necessary we shall do it alone. In closing, the Caribbean Charter for Civil Society owes a debt of gratitude to the work done by many of you, including most of all Peggy Antrobus- it is a shame that you do not believe that the Haitian people should benefit those same rights and that our leaders should be held accountable to the same standards to which you aspire. Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and right now, with the sound of gunshots in the background as Lavalas armed thugs open fire on demonstrators, and dozens of national and international gunshot victims in the hospital and in the morgue, we are continuing to organize and focusing our efforts on building a country where our rights will be respected and our voices heard.
For the National Coordination for Advocacy on Women’s Rights:
Myriam Merlet Olga Benoit Yolette Jeanty ENFOFANM SOFA Kay Fanm