Two Views of the World

Haiti news

March 15, 2006

Two Views of the World

Citizens of Haiti in the utterly poor communities of Cite Soleil, Bel Air, La Saline, and other distress areas have a problem they can't seem to shake. They are living a battle with the very forces of the world community that are supposed to assure the protection of people in dire need: UN troops, aka MINUSTAH, a multinational force, and their administrative handlers.

Haiti's poor people, largely Aristide supporters, have been branded with the words 'bandits' and 'chimere' ( ghosts ), terms that were created by Haiti's elite for political use in the everlasting war between the rich elite of 1% and the very poor, 85% of Haiti's people. As all slander, it is a sticky label, especially when given wide coverage by the western press, which is responsible for public opinion in those countries that have declared Haiti a 'failed state'. Of course, even that is a slanderous label which can make you think that some nations just can't get it together, that they are incapable, and therefore all manner of 'help' is justified, even when uninvited. This media-distributed Washington propaganda view of Haiti seems to be the only story given to the apparently clueless UN foreigners who are now holding court over Haitians. Though this excuse seems impossible for high level managers.

Having control of the country, the 'helpers' then proceed to the next step and dominate the 'failed' society with such kind of 'helping' as to help mostly themselves. In Haiti's case this 'help' is designed by the corporate elite of the 'helper' countries, US/Canada/France, in cooperation with the small elite of the victim-country, and is formulated to result in economic advantages for both elites, the mercenary brotherhood of the rich in action. ( A case in point is the starvation among rice farmers in Haiti caused by the massive dumping of heavily subsidized American rice. Even though this should at least result in lower prices for consumers, the price has about doubled. A result of Haitian distribution-ownership. Double whammy for poor Haitians: 1) Small farmers go hungry. 2) Poor consumers go hungry. ) It somehow turns out that a few people are doing just great, while the vast majority is literally dying, if not from hunger and disease then from guns wielded by the 'helpers' soldiers. In this case UN soldiers and police. This is done in the name of 'democracy promotion' and 'free trade', and in our names, as 'good, benevolent humanitarians'. So it is in Haiti, where a democratically elected government , including over 7000 elected officials, was smashed two years ago, by a coalition of the US, Canada and France. It was declared a 'failed state' and, anyway: " (Aristide) has worn out his welcome…" US Vice President Dick Cheney's take on democracy !

It must be noted that the 'failing' of the state was largely incubated by the 'helpers', for years, until it could be portrayed as the very problem to rush in to help with. Just like any good church-goers would do. The people living in the resulting poverty are so fragile in their economic and security condition, their sanitary hell, their every aspect of survival, that a lesser force than an army could push them over the edge. Like the gang of 200 to 300 thugs the western press has equated with a popular uprising.

While many of the 'helping' people involved on the ground in Haiti are well intended, to be sure, there is a canyon of separation between the two worlds that are the 'helping' United Nations on one hand, and the reality bound, suffering poor of Haiti on the other. The Brazilian soldier we talk to in the awe-inspiringly poor slum of Pele in Port-au-Prince, uses the word 'bandits' in his broken english explanations, and reveals the UN position of fighting, more or less, against the entire population of poor people surrounding him. He reflects the official line found in the air-conditioned UN offices 'on the hill'. He seems to be a good-natured person, but is totally isolated by language, race and culture. Wielding deadly force under these circumstances is clearly inviting trouble. He and his comrades are tense and uncomfortable.

The offices of the UN are light-years removed from the scene in Pele or Cite Soleil. The air is sweetly fragrant, the streets are paved, shiny SUVs and well dressed guards are everywhere. Palm trees and Hibiscus swaying in the breeze. It's upscale Miami in Haiti. The Canadian spokesman for MINUSTAH, David Wimhurst, sitting in an air conditioned office in a UN-leased hotel in Port-au-Prince, speaks the language of the elite/western propaganda and talks about 'stabilizing' the country after the 'departure' of Aristide, having 'inherited his criminal gangs.' 'There would be bloodshed in Haiti, if we weren't here.'

Could it be that he is really unaware of the blood shed by UN and police forces? . He is a former journalist, which may explain his fit with the mainstream media line. (But then he is, of course, also the source…)

When I asked him whether there exists a dedicated MINUSTAH office as liaison to ground-level popular organizations of the poor majority, he Answered in the negative. (We had been told by organizers in the poor areas that the UN had not responded for two months to improvement projects proposed to them in writing.) How 'helping' can we get?

In a CBC interview right after the discovery of ballots at a dump he had cited possible theft and violence by angry masses of people at two or three polling sites as likely. Today he lists that version of explanation in third place after 1) possible fraud, and 2) accidental throw-away. It is astounding to see the constant down-selling of the intelligence of the Haitian people in such completely illogical portrayals. Why- after so much hardship to get to the voting booth-would Haitians dump their ballots, especially when their candidate is hurt by it? Similarly, why would 85.000 Haitians write nothing on a ballot and put it in the box, after all the struggle of getting there? Only western readers could buy this story, and that's who it was meant for. That this issue of the 85.000 'blank ballots' was a main part of the negotiation to decide whether Preval did or did not win the presidency is puzzling, in view of his landslide victory. How they got into the box is not discussed in western media.

Given the various elements of suspicious details in the process of the CEP tabulation handling, it is telling that one hears little from the western media or UN officials on the obviously scandalous behavior by some within the CEP, to the extent that the UN security team decided at one point to remove the doors to the space where the tabulation commission was headquartered!

What would happen after that bit of news in Canadian federal elections?

The office of the Canadian director of the International Monitoring Mission for the Elections in Haiti (IMMHE), Claude Parent, is quartered in a quiet setting of private villas with lush gardens, amidst mature trees and privacy walls with flowering shrubs. White late-model SUVs with UN markings are parked in every nook and cranny. Inside, the offices are cool and tasteful, mostly white with steel and wood accents. M. Parent is head of a team of 10 long term observers and 127 short term observers, 4 of the former and 106 of the latter being Canadians. The rest are from a variety of countries. He works with the CEP, the Haitian Provisional Elections Commission, a body of 9 members, a president and an extra-constitutionally added 'Director General', Haitian Jacques Bernard, who fled the country to the US after charges of fraudulent manipulations of the vote tabulation became known.

( In a bizarre twist to his story, he is now back, after 15 days of US welcome, demanding the firing of three dissenting commission members, and resuming his 'duties', it appears. So far little protest can be heard.)

M. Parent is also in touch, every morning, with the Canadian military head of the UN security team, Barry McCloud. His force is in charge of insuring that none of the elections material gets lost or stolen, just such as the case of the trashed and partially burned boxes of thousands of ballots ( many for Preval ) and signed tabulation sheets found at the dump at Titanyen, outside Port-au-Prince.

M. Parent's team, fearing the worst towards the end of the week, amid mounting tabulation delays by the CEP, booked tickets to evacuate even before the dump find and the resulting protest demonstrations. ( He implied that the news broadcast from the dump may have been a "show", that one could not be sure. )

They announced their departure on the day after the news from the dump, leaving on Thursday, February 16th, for the neighboring Dominican Republic. Only to return on the following Monday at 7AM, reassured by the non-violence of the massive demonstrations. This fact has had almost no discussion in western media. Perhaps because it would be a crucial indicator of the falseness of reporting in our 'free press' when it comes to descriptions of the Aristide-supporting poor majority as 'criminal elements' and 'violent gangs'?

The UN's MINUSTAH forces are called 'TOURISTAH' by Haitians, usually with a broad grin accompanying the term. The comment here is that 'they don't do anything for us. They're just using up the budget.' In the CARRIBEAN MARKET, the Superstore of the upper class, and in the large EPID'OR deli-market and bakery, both heavily guarded by men with assault rifles, the starched-shirt Canadian military men mix with the well dressed civilian SUV crowd shopping for their goodies. It is a world apart from the majority life of roadside vendors engulfed by heavy diesel fumes and 'Tap Taps', small and large trucks for people-transport, which are usually overloaded and with people standing on the bumper, holding on for dear life.

Descending from the lofty heights of Petionville and the world of UN civil servants to the stinking, tight, overcrowded slums of Cite Soleil and Bell Air, the perspective turns as fast as the stomach. Garbage is everywhere; people do whatever they must to survive in the most immediate sense. There is no leeway here. Gray colored dogs, pigs and chickens do what they must, like the people. It is a labyrinth of misery. The few greens are gray from thick dust, open sewers run along the people's stalls. Everybody is selling. Kids run barefoot on flattened garbage. There are many tiny efforts at industry. Despite the harsh scene, people still smile, especially the countless beautiful kids. But the weight of the poverty is palpable. It's like a refugee camp after 10 years of service denial.

Ask Samba Boukman, a popular leader in Bel Air, about the UN's pro rams and he has a short answer: "The only program that the [interim] government has been involved in has been to come and kill people in poor neighborhoods."

Samba Boukman says this sitting on a wooden school bench in the primitive, congested quarters of poor residents, but not the poorest in the slum. There is distinction even here. Accessed via narrow alleys going deep into the maze of abodes, the place is relatively clean. Chickens are pecking the concrete floor cracks. These people are making organizing efforts to feed poor kids, and a spirit of community is present. He is a proud, majestic black man with sharply focused eyes, serious, in his early thirties, dressed in a neat T-shirt with the name ZAKAT ZANFAN on the front, a local group working to help children. Some of these children had to flee to his area to escape police raids, and they had to cope somehow.

President Aristide supported schools and the 'Alpha Resto' program. Now, after two years of 'help' from the US/Canada/France-beholden government, the fact is that schools are struggling at 10% of previous performance, with every volunteer help there is. The feeding -and-literacy 'Alpha Resto' program was an effective way to feed and teach illiterate people at the same site. Usually at schools, after hours. Thousands and thousands of people previously served neither learn to read, nor get any food there now.

The immediate need for drinking water, food, healthcare and housing had been a priority for Aristide. Since his abduction there is not even meager support for the beginnings he managed to achieve, even with a starvation budget and under the crippling punishment policies of the US/Canada/France.

Still today, many MINUSTAH folks have no idea how much they are victimizing the victims, and the troops from such countries as Jordan are especially hated for their ways of 'enforcement', even the Brazilian soldier we talked to calling them "crazy"!

Some Haitian parents, meanwhile, are so desperate that they give up some of their children for adoption to an American-managed orphanage, Three Angels Home. They arrange adoption by American parents. These parents have reached the end of their economic rope, even with family help. This phenomenon and the large number of street kids in Port-au-Prince is a sad indicator of the failure of the 'helping' by western powers.

One wonders whether our western society would see the same world as the poor Haitians, if they had had control of a majority of all radio and TV stations in Haiti, instead of the elite, as well as the ear and goodwill of a western press with integrity. ( It does sound surreal. ) Telling a story of distortion and lies is the foundation of abuse and suffering in Haiti. As was the case in Nicaragua and many other countries. The authors and re-tellers of these fabrications bear responsibility for the immense hardships Haitians are coping with every day. Perhaps, as the writer Kurt Vonnegut put it: We should just apologize and jump in a lake. Better yet, we should apologize and show respect.

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