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A Tribute to Jacques Roche, Haiti’s Tireless Defender of the Poorest

July 2005

We, representatives of the organizations signing this note, wish to draw the attention of the Haitian population and of the world’s social movements in general to the fact that Jacques Roche, assassinated this Thursday, July 4, 2005, was not only a journalist and a poet, but also and above all a SOCIAL ACTIVIST, always on the front lines of defense for the cause of the Voiceless. To pay him the tribute he deserves, we wish to retrace for his entire itinerary as a social activist: an aspect which has not been sufficiently recounted in the various positions taken to date.

We had the privilege of taking part with Jacques Roche in the realization of several activities in which he always used his talent and know-how, his artistic sense, his love for culture and his writing and speaking skills to defend the national cause and the cause of the poorest. In this way, from 2000 to 2004, collaborating with PAPDA and particularly with the Jubilee 2000 National Coalition-Haiti, Jacques Roche played a determinant role in the mobilization for the cancellation of Haiti’s external debt. He encouraged several painters to design artistic works (paintings) on the issues of hunger, the high cost of living and the external debt. He had also put together a series of interviews with Haitian artists and intellectuals who were speaking out against the slavery of the debt. Jacques used these artistic works (paintings, posters) to travel throughout several of the country’s geographic departments, holding exhibitions and giving talks on the topics of external debt, national production, etc.

At the international level, he took part in various mobilizations, conference-debates, seminars and in the World Social Forum in order to inform international networks about the extreme poverty faced by the Haitian people, about hunger, and about the consequences of the application of structural adjustment policies which affect national production and create more poverty in Haiti.

At the beginning of 2002, when the Lavalas Government had signed an agreement with the Dominican Government for the establishment of Industrial Free Zones (ZFI) in the fertile Maribahoux plain, thus expelling several hundred peasants producers from their lands, Jacques Roche was one of the pioneers in the launching of a vast mobilization to defend the plain’s small farmers. He made countless trips to the countryside in collaboration with the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA) and the Support Group for Refugees and Repatriates (GARR) together with delegations of peasants, students, workers, women, etc to take part in and organize the struggle against the establishment of the free zones in the fertile Maribahoux plain in the commune of Ouanaminthe (North-East Department). In spite of the challenges of transport, the difficult roads and lack of financial support, Jacques was always ready to go wherever there was a need to mobilize for the cause of the poorest. Thus, in addition to Ouanaminthe, he had traveled to several towns along the border with the Dominican Republic to raise popular awareness regarding the consequences of the establishment of the industrial free zones all along the border area.

Jacques had many concerns about the future of the fertile Maribahoux plain. He so greatly admired the natural beauty of the plain that he had decided to make a collection of photographs. Thus, he had contacted several institutions and organizations to collect money being used to finance this initiative with the support of professional photographers. With these photographs of the natural beauty of the plain, its production, the rivers which cross it, the peasants who work there, etc., Jacques had put together a traveling exhibition, an interesting poster showing the relation between peasant women and cultivation of the land (a woman harvesting beans), postcards which had been distributed nationally and internationally to call upon various networks of the world social movement to give their solidarity to the cause of the peasants of the Maribahoux plain.

This northeastern plain was a source of inspiration for Jacques who wrote a famous text entitled: “The Maribahoux Wind.”

Jacques cherished several dreams for national production. During his collaboration with PAPDA’s food sovereignty program, he always insisted on the creation of a local market for the sale and promotion of local products coming from each of the country’s departments.

Jacques always defended the cause of migrants, those who are obliged to leave their home. One of the most famous texts that he wrote on this topic was a poem dedicated to the children living in the bateys: “Child of Cane,” where he put himself in the shoes of a child living in a batey to express his feelings. This poem was translated into several languages and widely published at the national and international levels via a poster.

Jacques showed his love for the country, the workers, the children, modest people, and national production not only in words, through his texts, but also and above all in his relations with others. In spite of his intellectual capacity, he was a modest person who had the ability to get along with everyone. He took pleasure in savoring the corn roasted by a small-scale street vendor, in drinking the coffee purchased from the woman reputed to brew great coffee, of having his stew (konsonmen) every evening in a small restaurant he had just discovered and intended to promote. In this way, he struck up friendships with several women working in the processing of local products such as peanut butter, jam, the powdered corn snack sham-sham, and the local egg cream liquor Cremas, etc.

Jacques was a philanthropist. He loved his friends, and he loved his neighbors. In our offices where he visited us, Jacques always brought us joy. He knew and had a word of encouragement for everyone, whatever their level of involvement within our organizations.

We especially appreciated Jacques’ desire and capacity to dialogue with any and all sectors as long as the goal was to do good and to decide upon the essential needed to advance the cause of the nation. He wrote, corrected our texts, and came to assist us when we were overwhelmed with activities. We still remember his extraordinary commitment in carrying out the Third Assembly of the Caribbean Peoples (ACP) organized in Cap-Haitian from August 19 to 23, 2003.

Jacques was not a political activist, but rather a man of conviction, a social organizer and philanthropist, loving life and that which is good. He did not erect barriers between himself and any social class. He wanted real change for his country and always repeated the slogan, “Another Haiti is possible!”. He had clear ideas about what should be done to make that change; he was always willing to dialogue with any ideological tendency and social class in order to bring the dialogue forward.

Jacques did not like conflicts. He was a committed activist, always ready to be useful with a spirit of justice, freedom, equality and love for his country. In spite of the fact that all of his family lived abroad, he chose to stay in Haiti, sometimes under very difficult conditions, because he always said, “My place is here.”

This is, to some extent, the friend, comrade, social organizer, activist, poet and journalist that has just been brutally taken from us. Before Jacques’s cadaver, we bend down to cry out our pain and our revulsion and to reflect and try to understand the current state of our country.

We, representatives of organizations from the Haitian social and popular movement, signatories of this note, say “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”. Too much blood has been spilled in this country!

We ask of the Haitian people that we re-center ourselves and that we mobilize to break this infernal cycle of violence that affects us all.

In order to make known the various facets of the eminent personality that Jacques Roche was and in order to pay him a rousing tribute, we, the organizations and institutions signing this note, invite all the sectors that had the opportunity to live and to work with him and all the partner international networks to organize activities throughout Haiti (in Port-au-Prince as well as in the provinces) and in different countries that enable us to say, in his memory, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!” In particular, we invite the peasants, workers, defenders of national production, defenders of human rights, artists and intellectuals, students, sports lovers and journalists to make Jacques Roche known in their way and to mobilize to stop the unacceptable through a Week of Homage from July 18 to 23, 2005.

We invite all of you to mobilize so that the sufferings undergone by Jacques Roche and that his blood spilled and his love for his country may serve as an inspiration to enrich our conscience and give us the courage to continue the struggle to change our country.

Port-au-Prince, July 16, 2005

Organizations signatories:

– Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees (GARR)

– Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA)

– Solidarity Among Haitian Women (SOFA)

– Support Committee for Women’s Health (CASF)

– National Human Rights Defense Network(RNDDH)

– Centre Pont-Haiti

– Platform for Sustainable Agriculture (PAD)

– Betty’s Local Products

– Association of Haitian Professionals Trained in Cuba(APROHFOC)

– National Campaign against Structural Adjustment and External Debt (KANPANN)

– Association for the Advancement of Natural Medicine (AMEN)

For Authentification:

Colette Lespinasse (GARR)

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