By Roger Annis
The following article is based on a report prepared by the Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN). The author was a member of the group’s delegation to the World Social Forum.
Since this report was written, the foreign-imposed presidential election was held in Haiti on February 7. Former Lavalas Party leader and former president of Haiti René Préval won the election handily, according to preliminary counts and exit polls. But the body responsible for counting the vote, the Provisional Electoral Council is saying the vote tally will be slow and allegations are emerging of tampering with the count. If Préval does not receive 50 percent plus one of the vote, a runoff election will be held in March.
The February 7 election was hardly an exercise in democracy. The Lavalas Party was effectively banned from running. Ballot stations were few and far between in the poor neighborhoods of the country, but very present in the well-to-do neighborhoods. Regardless of the vote outcome, the real power in Haiti will still lie in the hands of the venal Haitian elite and the foreign occupying powers, including Canada.
The Haitian masses seized the narrow opening that the election offered to them and delivered a rebuke to the occupying powers by voting for the one candidate, René Préval, who is identified with the deposed president Jean-Bertrand Arisitide and the social and political programs that he sought to implement. The masses show every sign of continuing their mobilizations until the country’s sovereignty is restored and the job of building a society of social justice can continue.
A large Haiti solidarity delegation from Canada, Haiti and the United States made the ongoing human rights catastrophe in Haiti a focus of attention at the January 24 to 29, 2006 World Social Forum (WSF) in Caracas, Venezuela. The delegation organized public forums and other actions opposing the 2004 imperialist invasion and coup in Haiti. It organized to challenge apologists for the coup who had a significant presence in the WSF’s deliberations.
The delegation from Canada was organized by the Canada Haiti Action Committee (CHAN) and included 19 people from six cities. There were ten people from Haiti in attendance as well as four others living in exile. A U.S. delegation included more than 10 activists.
Opening march and rally, January 24
The World Social Forum opened January 24 with a rally and march of several tens of thousands. Members of the Canadian delegation carried a large banner, “U.S., France, Canada, UN: Hands Off Haiti!” along the 10-kilometer route, along with colorful placards reading, “Canada Out of Haiti.” They made Haiti solidarity a very vocal presence in the march, chanting in Spanish, “Canada (U.S., France, Brazil, Chile, Argentina) out of Haiti!” and “Sovereignty for Haiti, troops out!” Other participants in the march as well as bystanders along the route cheered us on and asked lots of questions about the situation in Haiti.
Venezuelan people were especially encouraging. President Hugo Chavez has spoken out against the coup in Haiti, reminding the his people that if they do not organize to defend their sovereignty, they could face the same fate as Haiti. There are strong historical ties between Venezuela and Haiti that remain deep in the consciousness of the Venezuelan people. Haiti sent soldiers to Venezuela in the 1810s and 1820s to assist the liberation army of Simon Bolivar in the struggle to free South America from Spanish colonialism.
Several Venezuelan participants in the rally told us, “They helped us win our independence, now it’s our turn to help them!”
Two forums, January 25 and 26
On January 25, eighty people attended the first of two forums organized by CHAN. The meeting featured presentations by five of the members of the delegation from Haiti, including Paul Loulou Chery, secretary general of the Haitian Workers Confederation (CTH). American sociologist William Robinson, author of Promoting Polyarchy and other writings, also spoke on the panel. Delegates attended from scores of countries, including Venezuela, Columbia, Brazil, Canada, the U.S., Britain, and Ivory Coast.
Presentations covered the range of political and social issues facing the Haitian people — the foreign occupation, prospects for a truly free election, the ongoing repression, the situation of the hundreds of political prisoners, social conditions among the population, and the conditions of Haitian workers, including those working under slave-like conditions in the Dominican Republic.
During the discussion period, several apologists for the February 2004 coup from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the views of the panelists. A representative from Canadian government-funded NGO Development and Peace defended the work of non-governmental organizations working in Haiti, but she left unanswered the charge that such organizations have failed to speak out against the coup or the post-coup repression in which thousands have perished.
Yolette Jeanty of Kay Fanm, an NGO in Haiti oriented to women, argued forcefully that the 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his government is of no consequence for the Haitian people. “We are in solidarity with the Haitian people,” she said, “not with one man. He does not represent the people.”
The next day, another forum featured delegates from Haiti. This one, attended by 125 people, was organized by the U.S. delegation and the Haitian political rights organization September 30 Foundation. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a leader of the Foundation and who lives in exile in the U.S., was one of the speakers. About 125 people attended.
Rally at the Brazil embassy
On Friday, January 27, 25 delegates from Canada joined an equal number from Brazil for a rally at the Brazil embassy in downtown Caracas demanding the withdrawal of that country’s military forces from occupied Haiti.
Ivan Pinheira of the Comité por la Retirada de las Tropas Brasileñas de Haïti began the rally with a statement about the decision of the Brazilian government to support U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region. He was critical of Brazil’s president Lula, who, he argued, had made terrible concessions to the demands of the U.S. government. Pinheira said that Brazil was now doing the “dirty work” of George Bush.
More speakers followed, representing CHAN and a number of left political parties in Brazil. Closing commentary was provided by Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine. He expressed appreciation for the solidarity being shown through this demonstration, and others like it taking place all over the world. He also talked about the importance of actions such as this for raising the morale of the people of Haiti. They continue to struggle despite the many serious obstacles and threats they face.
Following the demonstration, many participants traveled to an indoor rally where President Chavez spoke to some ten thousand people. His speech electrified the crowd, calling for a united and worldwide struggle against imperialism and declaring that if humanity is to survive the onslaught of imperialist war and environmental degradation, the 21st century must be a century for creating and expanding socialism throughout the world.
Final forum, January 28
The third forum of the Haiti solidarity movement, and the second one organized by CHAN, took place on January 28. More than 90 people attended. We heard a panel of speakers from Haiti, North America and South America. Two women from Haiti, one from the young generation, gave moving accounts of the struggle for survival in the poor neighborhoods of Haiti’s towns and cities.
Members of Global Women’s Strike attended the forum, and two of its leaders spoke. They both made sharp condemnations of the decision of the World Social Forum organizing committee to facilitate the participation of non-governmental organizations from Haiti and abroad that are complicit in the 2004 coup.
Andaiye, of Guyana, referring to the previous evening’s rally with President Chavez, said, “Last night, through no fault of President Chavez, we saw the World Social Forum place a representative on the table of dignitaries, Camille Chalmers, who is opposed to the struggles of the Haitian people for sovereignty. This is not acceptable.”
Chalmers was also a guest speaker at the aforementioned rally that opened the World Social Forum on January 24. He is the coordinator of the Haitian NGO PAPDA (Plateforme haitienne de plaidoyer pour un développement alternatif). It receives funding from agencies of the imperialist governments now occupying Haiti via NGOs such as the Quebec-based Alternatives. PAPDA was a prominent element of the anti-Aristide/anti-Lavalas Party bandwagon that helped legitimize the coup. It called for President Aristide’s resignation during the tense and critical months leading up to the coup.
Margaret Prescod, also of Global Women’s Strike, spoke next. “Andaiye’s comments on Camille Chalmers,” she said, “speak to a deep problem in the World Social Forum — that racism and sexism is deeply embedded in its structures.”
“I am originally from Barbados,” she continued. “The Caribbean people have a deep stake in what is taking place in Haiti. Our lives depend on stopping the slaughter in Haiti, they depend on cleaning up the problem in the World Social Forum. Because if we don’t, the other islands will become killing fields too.”
Euvonie Georges Auguste, a women’s rights activist living in exile in St. Lucia, tied together Prescod’s points on lack of accountability and the work of organizations like that of Camille Chalmers’ when she spoke on the “absolute lack of connection between NGOs and grassroots organizers in Haiti.”
Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine spoke on the same subject. He cited the work of other pro-coup groups that receive imperialist funding, such as the trade union grouping Batay ouvriye. “These groups have significant support internationally. They know how to speak well, and they receive significant funding from such agencies as USAID.”
An elected municipal official from Haiti gave a fiery talk at the meeting. He was one of thousands of elected and popular leaders who were also victims of the 2004 coup. He faces threats and intimidation today. “My biggest problem today is not with Gerard Latortue (president of the “interim government” of Haiti) or with George Bush,” he said. “I know they will never help us. My problem is with those who speak in my name but who work against our movement for freedom.”
Mario Joseph, the foremost human rights lawyer and defender of political prisoners in Haiti today, explained the living conditions of prisoners.
Two North-American researchers, Anthony Fenton, a CHAN activist from Vancouver, and Jeb Sprague, from Long Beach, California, spoke about the connections between “democracy promotion” by imperialist think tanks and the funding of opposition to Lavalas in Haiti. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the elite opposition to Lavalas by such outfits as the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.
Sprague detailed the role of the International Republican Institute (IRI) in forming a “socialist coalition” between the Organization du people en lutte political party and other anti-Lavalas “left” organizations, calling this a policy of “political encirclement” around the popular movement.
Discussions with delegates from Canada, Brazil, elsewhere
Throughout the WSF, the Haiti solidarity delegation engaged delegates in discussions about the coup in Haiti and the serious implications of the complicity of NGOs or left political forces. On January 27, several CHAN members participated with 60 fellow Canadian activists at a forum on the topic of the recent Canadian federal election organized by the International Socialists.
At another event, Canadian delegates met members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brazil and urged them to bring eyewitnesses from Haiti to Brazil to explain the role of United Nations forces in carrying out repression against the popular movements in Haiti.
Delegates also spoke to members of the governing Workers Party in Brazil and the Communist Party of Brazil, which gives critical support to the government. Typically, they would deny that Brazilian troops have been responsible for repression in Haiti. They argue that Brazil had sent troops to Haiti to “help” the Haitian people and to avoid a situation where the U.S. and Canada would exercise exclusive control over policing.
New-found contacts in Brazil have opened some doors for the solidarity delegation from the three countries to take its campaign to Brazil and join up with those prepared to take an honest look at the UN role in Haiti.
Discussions were also held with officials in the government of Venezuela, outlining the ongoing atrocities in Haiti and warning of the pernicious role of the imperialist government and the fake-left NGO’s they fund.
A new political situation will open up in Haiti following the foreign-imposed national election on February 7. The Haitian people will have enormous expectations that whoever is elected, a new government must put an end to the killings and repression and get the foreign occupation forces out of the country.
The occupiers have other intentions. In Canada, a new government was elected on January 23 and all the evidence suggests it is committed to an even deeper military and political role in Haiti. The U.S. government is also committed to its neocolonial course in Haiti.
The contacts made throughout the World Social Forum open up new possibilities for taking Haiti solidarity deeper into political life of Canada, the U.S., Brazil and other countries implicated in the coup. It is vital that Haiti solidarity work be expanded with new energies, right around the world.