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Remembering the Jean-Rabel Massacre

July 2012

For Haitian peasants July 23, 1986, will always be remembered with sadness and renewed conviction. On that day at least 139 peasants were killed in Jean-Rabel, located in the Northwest of the country, by Tonton Macoutes following orders from local landowners. Most of the peasants killed were advocating for land reform by contesting local landowners’ claims to State-owned land. The massacre took place at a turbulent time in Haitian history, a mere few months after a popular struggle led to Jean-Claude Duvalier’s ouster, which in turn led to a power vacuum immediately filled by a bloody military junta. The junta remained in place until the democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991.   Although the perpetrators of the massacre have never been held accountable for their crime, over the years the massacre has served as a rallying point for peasants across Haiti.  This year, from July 15 – 23, 2012, Grassroots International grantee Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together Small Producers of Haiti) will observe the 25th anniversary of the Jean-Rabel massacre with a series of marches, public debates, and press conferences.   In the spirit of those who died 25 years earlier in Jean-Rabel, Haitian peasant movements continue their fight for social justice, food sovereignty, agrarian reform and decentralization. These movements, accompanied by other social justice organizations in Haiti, serve as the nation’s conscience offering alternatives to neo-liberal policies that further impoverish and marginalize peasants and rural communities.   Understanding that structural change doesn’t happen overnight, Haitian peasant movements have taken the long-view in their struggle for peasant rights and greater national investment in the agricultural sector. In doing so, they have outlasted various Haitian administrations while creating a groundswell of support overtime—their members number in the hundreds of thousands across Haiti.  The work of peasant movements in Haiti has become even more important since the January 2010 earthquake, where the call to “build Haiti better” has often neglected the needs of peasants and the better alternatives they offer. Haiti’s reconstruction offers an opportunity to decentralize resources by investing in rural communities where 70 percent of the population lives. Decentralization coupled with agrarian reform and investment in the agricultural sector would keep Haitian farmers where they belong: on the land producing food and a good life, not in shantytowns in Port-au-Prince searching for a living.   The day will come when Haitian peasants’ demands will be met and their recommendations incorporated into Haiti’s national policy. Until that time, they will continue advocating for national sovereignty anchored in food sovereignty, which can only be achieved through the work of small farmers.


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