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Black Lives Matter: Police Repression, the US, and the Political Crisis in Haiti

February 2015

In the United States we’ve spent months zeroing in on the reality of police brutality against Black people.  We’ve been grateful to see and take part in a growing movement that addresses structural racism—pointing out that Black people are disproportionately more likely to die at the hands of police, face institutional racism, and breathe more polluted air. 

In the Black nation of Haiti, too, there has been a systematic dismissal of the value of Black lives and US policy has been deeply implicated in interventions that slaughter the interests of Haiti’s people in favor of a narrow elite.

Haiti—the home of a powerful slave revolt that led to the world’s first black republic—is most often mentioned for its current status as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Today, Haiti is in the throes of a political crisis. Countless protests in the last several weeks culminated with transit strikes that have shut down the capital Port-au-Prince.  Protesters are demanding the resignation of President Martelly and calling for constitutional elections to return the nation to democracy (as well as lower gasoline prices.)  Since January 12, 2015 President Martelly has been ruling by decree because he has failed to hold constitutional elections. Lack of elections has led to a parliament that can’t act, leaving the country without checks and balances of any other Government body.  In its absence Martelly has claimed the authority to issue unilateral executive orders.

As Haitian social movements protest to demand democracy and recognition of the rights of the people, they have been met again and again with police shooting.  The Haitian police have tried to silence protestors, but they have not acted alone.  The United Nations’ “security force” in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — an occupying force—has also shot and killed protestors.  MINUSTAH has been charged with numerous acts of misconduct in Haiti, including rape, and has the infamous distinction of having brought cholera to the already beleaguered island after the earthquake in 2010. The force supposedly tasked with creating security is instead violently working against democracy in Haiti and in the interests of Martelly—who some critics fear may be headed down the path to a Duvalier-like dictatorship.  Police brutality has a long history in Haiti, and it has long been funded by US tax dollars.  Martelly’s security forces have received $73 million in US assistance in just three years.

Given the US’ long role intervening in Haiti against the interests of the people, it should come as no surprise that the election of Martelly—which The Center For Economic and Policy Research described as “fatally flawed”—was also supported and funded by the US and as such the current political crisis too is underwritten by US policy.  In a recent interview with Beverly Bell, Haitian community organizer and human rights activist Jackson Doliscar explained the US’ interests in Martelly’s election.

“The international community saw in Martelly a man who would meet its dictates. It backed him and promoted him in the race for the presidency. The international community, with the US as its key player, found in Martelly the man to implement its goals, namely free access to land for international mining corporations, for tourism development, and for partnerships with big international conglomerates – to the detriment and displacement of the peasantry.”

As Haiti nears the 100th anniversary of its first occupation by the US Government in 1915, occupation, intervention, police brutality, and corruption are as much a reality now as they were then.  The systemic forces that devalue Black lives in Haiti are continually present.  But, the grassroots movements that oppose the systems of racism are growing every day and showing again and again the powerful will of the Haitian people to stand and be counted. 

Haiti’s movement for democracy and against occupation is rising just as the movement against police brutality and systemic racism grows in the US under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter.  As Ricot Jean Pierre, the Director of Programs at the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) said to me recently, with so many movements on the rise, “I am happy, I have hope, I am not afraid.”

PHOTO: Unprovoked, a UN ‘peacekeeper’ and private security officer level their guns on a protester at a UN logistical base, Oct. 15.  Photo by Federico Matais, reprinted from Other Worlds are Possible

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