Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Michael Deibert speaking to BBC World Service on impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in Puerto Rico

My interview with BBC World Service on the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias here in Puerto Rico can be heard here, with my segment beginning around the 14:40 mark. As you can imagine, we talked a little politics, as well.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dominican Republic: George Floyd protests spark reckoning with race as elections loom

Mon 15 Jun 2020

Dominican Republic: George Floyd protests spark reckoning with race as elections loom 

By Michael Deibert 

The Guardian

(Read original article here)

As demonstrations were held around the world against racism and police brutality, a group of protesters arrived last week at Santo Domingo’s Parque Independencia to honor the memory of George Floyd, the African American man killed by Minneapolis police.
The vigil had been convened by Reconocido (Recognized), a local organization that describes itself as made up primarily of Dominicans of Haitian descent – a group that routinely faces racist discrimination.

But counter-protesters were waiting for them: an ultranationalist organization dubbing itself the Antigua Orden Dominicana (Old Dominican Order) had called on social networks for people to come out and “defend against the Haitian invasion”.

As Reconocido members tried to hold their event, the counter-protesters shouted invective at them. Police officers stood by, and when they eventually intervened, it was to bundle Reconocido’s leader, Ana María Belique, and another activist off to jail.

“What happened shows the levels of intolerance that exist here regarding the issue of race,” said Belique, who was released hours later without charges. “Perhaps if George Floyd was not black and if we were not an anti-racist collective, it might be different. Because everything black in this country evokes Haiti – as if it were an affront to this nation that turns its back on its black identity.”

The Dominican Republic shares both the island of Hispaniola and an uneasy history with Haiti – the country from which it gained its independence in 1844. It has traditionally provided an escape valve for Haitians fleeing political upheaval and economic desperation at home, even as they are sometimes viewed – often unfairly – as competing with poor Dominicans for low-wage jobs.

The global wave of Black Lives Matter protests reached the Dominican Republic as the country approaches 5 July presidential elections that some believe may put an end to 24 years of nearly uninterrupted governance by the Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (the Dominican Liberation party, or PLD).

The PLD first took the presidency in 1996 through a Faustian bargain with the longtime caudillo Joaquín Balaguer, after a campaign marked by fraud and racist incitement that finally saw Leonel Fernández take the presidential sash.

With the PLD now beset by various scandals – and bitterly divided between wings loyal to current president Danilo Medina (in office since 2012 and running the former government minister Gonzalo Castillo as his successor) and Fernández (who is mounting his own presidential campaign at the head of the Fuerza del Pueblo coalition) – polls suggest the ballot may be won by Luis Abinader of the opposition Partido Revolucionario Moderno (PRM).

What this may mean for the discourse on race in the Dominican Republic remains to be seen. The country’s agriculture, tourism and construction sectors largely depend on immigrant Haitian labor, but over the last decade, generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent have seen a series of court rulings gradually strip them of their nationality.

“Even the political parties that have been seen as more friendly on these issues have been quiet,” said Amarilys Estrella, a visiting professor with the department of social and cultural analysis at New York University.

“All of this silence allows for the amplification of a small group of ultra-nationalists who are anti-Haitian and also anti-black. Even people who might not agree with what is happening might not speak out because they fear they might be a target.”

That fear is rooted in history: an October 1937 speech by the dictator Rafael Trujillo launched a pogrom against Haitians in the country which would eventually become known as “the Parsley Massacre” or el Corte (the Cutting). At least 10,000 and perhaps up to 20,000 Haitians die during a weeks-long paroxysm of genocidal rage.

Acts of public violence against Haitians in the Dominican Republic still happen from time to time, with one of the better-known recent cases being the lynching of a Haitian man in the northern city of Santiago in 2015.

However, protests against corruption and electoral meddling that shook the country earlier this year saw a multiracial and often quite youthful front taking to the streets in what many observers agreed was an unprecedented show of civic discontent that may be a harbinger of future change.

“The young people are in many ways attuned to transnational networks and conversations,” says Lorgia García Peña, an associate professor in the department of romance languages and literatures at Harvard University.

“The language that is being used right now is purposeful. There has been a more global contextualization of the intersection of race, class and economic exploitation that this young generation is much more aware of.”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Donde las vidas de los negros importaban primero en las Américas


Donde las vidas de los negros importaban primero en las Américas
 
Por Michael Deibert
 
El Nuevo Día 
 
(Read the original article here
 
La imagen del asesinato de George Floyd, el hombre afroamericano al que oficiales de la policía de Minneapolis le exprimieron la vida el pasado 25 de mayo, le estrujó el corazón al mundo. El terrible simbolismo de ese acto -un cuerpo negro postrado y finalmente extinguido por el peso insoportable del racismo sistémico – es imposible de ignorar.
 
Es cierto que una buena parte de la historia del Caribe también ha sido escrita en sangre, primero por la exterminación de sus habitantes nativos, y luego por la llegada forzosa de millones de esclavos africanos como parte del infernal sistema de la esclavitud y cautiverio. Sin embargo, en medio de esa dolorosa historia, el Caribe también provee un ejemplo del insaciable deseo humano de ser libre.
 
Haití, que ocupa el tercio occidental de la isla de La Española, que comparte con la República Dominicana, nació en los fuegos de la máquina de la esclavitud. Luego de la llegada de Colón en 1492, los arauacos nativos fueron rápidamente esclavizados y obligados a trabajar hasta la muerte por los españoles, y, a manera de reemplazo, hacia mediados de los 1500 ya había sobre 30,000 esclavos africanos en la isla, apenas un preludio de lo que vendría después.
 
La economía de Saint-Domingue, como se conoció una vez los franceses obtuvieron el control gracias al Tratado de Ryswick, se basaba en el cultivo de azúcar. Hacia fines de los 1700, suplía tres cuartas partes del azúcar que se consumía en todo el mundo, y su economía generaba más ingresos que todas las 13 colonias estadounidenses originales combinadas. Muy pronto se convirtió en la más próspera colonia francesa, pero también en un lugar donde la población de 40,000 blancos dominaba a más de 30,000 mulatos y negros libres y a 500,000 esclavos en condiciones de brutalidad propias de una pesadilla.
 
La noche del 14 de agosto de 1791, un imponente supervisor negro traído de Jamaica, llamado Boukman, condujo una larga y compleja ceremonia de vudú a las afueras de Cap-Français (hoy día Cap-Haïtien) en Bwa Cayman (El Bosque del Cocodrilo) en medio de una dramática tormenta tropical, durante la cual los esclavos presentes juraron levantarse contra sus amos. Lo hicieron. En agosto de 1793, Toussaint Bréda (así llamado por la plantación de Bréda, donde servía como capataz) anunció que se cambiaba el nombre a Toussaint Louverture en una proclamación en la que declaró: “He emprendido la venganza. Quiero que la libertad y la igualdad reinen en Saint-Domingue”.
 
Una serie de extraordinarias personalidades se unieron a la rebelión de Louverture, tales como el exesclavo convertido en gran comandante militar Jean-Jacques Dessalines. También estaba Henri Christophe, un exesclavo angloparlante que se creía era originario de Grenada y de quien se pensaba que de joven había combatido junto a las fuerzas francesas durante el Sitio de Savannah en la Guerra de Independencia de los Estados Unidos. Y además estaba Alexandre Pétion, cuya ascendencia blanca y mulata lo convertía en un gens de couleur (hombre libre de color) y quien había sido educado en Francia antes de volver a Saint-Domingue.
 
La rebelión continuaría a tropezones durante 13 largos años marcados por el sectarismo, la traición (Louverture sería secuestrado por los franceses y moriría en una solitaria celda en las montañas de Jura, en 1803) y sufrimientos frecuentemente horrorosos. Las fuerzas haitianas finalmente derrotaron a las francesas en la Batalla de Vertières en noviembre de 1803 y, el 1ro. de enero de 1804 fue declarada la República de Haití (el triunfante Dessalines recuperó el antiguo nombre arauaco de la isla).
 
Aunque no es un hecho tan conocido como los contornos amplios de la revolución en sí (como tampoco lo es el subsiguiente exterminio de prácticamente toda la población francesa que quedaba en la isla, ordenado por Dessalines), la Revolución Haitiana también proveyó un marco de referencia para los frentes multirraciales contra el sistema de las plantaciones. Miles de soldados polacos, reclutados por Francia para luchar contra los esclavos rebeldes, terminaron desertando y uniéndose a la causa rebelde, ganando así ciudadanía haitiana honorífica tras el triunfo de la revolución. Aun hoy día uno puede conocer a algunos de sus descendientes en el pueblo de Cazale, en el valle de Artibonite, al norte de la capital, Port-au-Prince.
 
No obstante, el infernal sistema aún continuaría en el resto de las Américas. En los Estados Unidos se necesitarían sesenta años más y una sangrienta Guerra Civil para ponerle fin. En Puerto Rico, donde los esclavos se unieron al levantamiento del Grito de Lares contra los españoles, continuaría hasta 1873. En Cuba existió hasta 1886 y en Brasil se sostuvo hasta 1888.
 
Sin embargo, las palabras de la Declaración de Independencia de Haití, proclamada en la ciudad de Gonaïves en 1804, aún resuenan a través de los siglos:
 
No basta con haber expulsado a los bárbaros que han ensangrentado nuestra tierra durante siglos … Debemos, con un último acto de autoridad nacional, asegurar para siempre el imperio de la libertad en el país donde nacimos; debemos quitarle al gobierno inhumano que por tanto tiempo nos mantuvo en el letargo más humillante toda esperanza de reesclavizarnos... Debemos vivir independientes o morir. Independencia o muerte, dejemos que esas palabras sagradas nos unan y sean la señal de batalla y de nuestra reunión.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

We All Need To Breathe

[Note: I translated this statement by the Cuban actress Iris Ruiz on the death of George Floyd, the subsequent protests and what they mean to Cuba's democratic movement. Any mistakes in the text are mine, not hers. The San Isidro Movement was formed in 2018 to defend the rights of Cubans to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and, in addition to Ruiz, includes such cultural actors as the poet Amaury Pacheco, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and the gallerist Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, among others. Please read and share as you see fit. MD]   

We All Need To Breathe  

By Iris Ruiz


If I have learned anything in recent years from the experience of the civic struggle in Cuba within the San Isidro Movement, it is intersectionality. There are multiple and non-homogeneous motivations behind the slogan "Down with communism!" If you live in Cuba and are oppressed by the communist regime but you are white, it is one thing. If you are black, it is another. If you are not from Havana, another, and if you are a woman or gay, or if you come from marginal, impoverished neighborhoods, another still. If your family had possessions and they took them away, or if they were illiterate and learned to read and write with the "revolution.” If your parents ate the harvest for pleasure, if you stayed on the work trip, you married the Russian, the Italian. If they threw eggs at you when you left, if you arrived on a raft or had to cross jungles and deserts with smugglers. If they send you a remittance or you live off your salary. If you repatriated. And so on. Layer upon layer of oppression and accumulation of fears, pains and hatreds. 

Thus, the perspective that we are shaping for a new Cuba is different depending on the glass through which  we look at it or what one would say in good theater: The mask we put on to look our own reflection. 

“I can't breathe!” George Floyd cried as he was dying and, unlike the years when the bagasse curtain did not allow Cubans who were inside the island to access information from other countries, or participate in the world, or even comment, today we can. Thanks to Cubans who fought and died for internet access and thanks to those who still fight against laws and decrees like Decree 370 inside and outside the country, today we can and we are going to use our voices and our bodies for good, because they are profits from our struggle.  

Dialogue, debate, discussion, tiradera or catharsis are exercises inherent in the opening of a body that has been hardened and almost putrefied, pestilential and immobile for 61 years. A dead civility, a corpse that we now dissect, at the same time that we cry and we want to say everything that we couldn’t and above all that we love, because the death of those whom we love so much hurts us for more defects that it has and for how diverse we are . While it is true that our societies are structurally and culturally racist and oppressive, it is also true that we have traditionally built structures and cultures of struggle for freedom, whether it be peaceful, non-violent resistance or through rebellion and war. 

Although we have gained some of those freedoms, we still have many to gain. We should not be stuck in our comfort zones. Although the evil that moves us is communism, we have also become citizens of the world and our civic responsibilities are broader now.  

The cry of George Floyd was not for us to see the black, the Indian, the Chinese or the white, the Cubans or the Americans, the communists or capitalists that we are and that we have been, that we should already know. Our human history has given us more than enough evidence of these differences and what it has left as the consequences. If we continue to be deaf to those words and, believing that we are right, we cover our mouths or those of others and arrogantly stifle their opportunities and rights and opinions, we are not positioning our ideologies, we are killing our humanity. That is the crime. Absolutely all of us must breathe and if we cannot, we are dead. 

- Iris Ruiz

[Note: Bagasse is the pulpy residue left after the extraction of juice from sugar cane. Decree 370 is a draconian new law aimed at curtailing freedom of expression over the internet.] 


Monday, June 08, 2020

'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians

'Our heritage is abandoned': burning of Haitian church fuels anger at politicians

Damage to part of Unesco world heritage site is emblematic of uncaring government, critics say

By Michael Deibert 

Published on Fri 17 Apr 2020 12.45 BST 

The Guardian 

(Read original article here)

Cultural leaders in Haiti have described the gutting by fire of a celebrated 200-year-old church as an avoidable tragedy that highlights the fragility of the Caribbean nation’s patrimony – and the need to preserve its historical treasures.

The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church in the town of Milot is part of a Unesco world heritage site that includes the ruins of the Sans Souci palace and the Citadelle Laferrière, an imposing fort that looms over Haiti’s northern plains.

Fire tore through the church on Monday, causing its distinctive black wooden dome to collapse. The cause of the blaze has not been determined, but some saw it as indicative of the malaise of misrule that has long bedeviled the island – some of it locally rooted, and some imported by more powerful neighbors.

“[For years] we have been asking the state to ensure the protection of these colonial dwellings, which are important as monuments of slavery, yet nothing has been done,” said Laënnec Hurbon, a sociologist with the State University of Haiti.

“But the state spends its time buying luxurious cars for ministers, functionaries and parliamentarians. It is therefore not surprising that everything concerning the national heritage is abandoned.”

The church was constructed between 1810 and 1813 by Henri Christophe, one of a cadre of revolutionary leaders including Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines who helped Haiti oust the French and end the system of slavery.

Christophe went on to declare himself King Henry I and ruled in autocratic splendour over northern Haiti until his death by suicide in 1820 amid a protracted civil war.

On Christophe’s death, the church was ransacked, and its dome had collapsed following an 1842 earthquake. In the 1970s, the renowned Haitian architect Albert Mangonès led an effort to restore the complex. It was named a world heritage site in 1982.

Some worry the legacy that the buildings at Milot attest to is being lost amid Haiti’s current political upheaval.

“The structural inequalities in our society mean there has never been an education accessible to all that would teach the idea of the common good,” says the Haitian author Yanick Lahens.

Haiti has been shaken by often violent unrest for months, prompted in part by a long multibillion-dollar corruption scandal which has engulfed the administration of President Jovenel Moïse.

Despite the political battles, however, the church seems to pierce to the heart of Haiti’s national identity, across party lines.

In a letter to the government after the fire, educational and civil society figures called on the nation’s political leaders to “stop this denial of our history as a people [as] only these monuments remain, testimonies of our history of struggles, suffering and hope.”

One former president, Prosper Avril, who ruled the country from 1988 to 1990, has called for a taskforce to protect the country’s cultural heritage.

In a land that often seems beset by internecine political vendettas, some hope that even in this dire moment, the church’s reconstruction might serve as a point of unity.

“The royal chapel of Milot is a testimony to the history of our people,” said Erol Josué, director of Haiti’s national bureau of ethnology (BNE). “The Haitian state should engage all layers of the population in its reconstruction, because this is our heritage.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

L’église de Milot qui vient de prendre feu est un monument unique

[I was interviewed by Ayibo Post about the terribly sad devastation by fire of the church adjoining the Palais Sans-Souci in Haiti's Milot, outside Cap-Haïtien. Both structures sit beneath the magnificent Citadelle Laferrière, built by Henri Christophe between 1805 and 1820. MD]

L’église de Milot qui vient de prendre feu est un monument unique 

Ayibo Post


(Read the original article here.)

L’église de Milot, patrimoine historique du pays construit entre 1810 et 1813, a pris feu ce 13 avril 2020, l’année de la célébration du bicentenaire de la mort du roi bâtisseur

Le roi Henri 1er doit se retourner dans la tombe dans laquelle il repose depuis 200 ans. Son église, la chapelle royale de Milot classé au patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO, a connu un incendie ce matin du 13 avril 2020. Les préparations pour la commémoration de la mort du roi prennent donc un grand coup. Le patrimoine historique du pays aussi.

« C’est désolant, regrette Erol Josué, directeur du Bureau national d’ethnologie (BNE). Je connais la chapelle, je vais souvent à Milot dans le cadre de mon travail sur la préservation du patrimoine immatériel. C’est une perte importante. »

Télémaque Henri Claude, l’un des maires de la commune de Milo, déplore aussi cet incident regrettable. « Cela s’est passé entre minuit et deux heures du matin, estime-t-il. La population a donné l’alarme, l’église était déjà en feu. Maintenant nous ne pouvons plus parler de chapelle de Milot, mais de ruines. Nous avons fait un grand pas en arrière »
La commune de Milot ne dispose d’aucun service d’incendie. Les camions des sapeurs-pompiers qui ont accouru sur les lieux venaient du Cap-Haïtien, à plus de 15 kilomètres de la commune.

« Les pompiers ont fait de leur mieux, assure le maire. Mais quand ils sont arrivés, il n’y avait pas moyen d’éclairer la scène pour qu’ils puissent mieux travailler. De plus, l’église est située en hauteur, et les pompiers ne pouvaient pas amener l’eau jusque-là. »

Incendie criminel ?

Il est encore trop tôt pour déterminer l’origine de l’incendie. Mais toutes les pistes sont ouvertes. « En général, c’est une zone où les gens restent tard. À cause du couvre-feu imposé pour le coronavirus, dit Télémaque Henri Claude, il n’y avait pratiquement personne aux alentours de l’église à cette heure. Tout le monde était rentré. Nous ne pouvons donc pas savoir ce qui s’est réellement passé, et c’est une enquête qui pourra le déterminer. Mais ce serait regrettable que le feu soit volontaire. »

Frédérick Mangonès est architecte. Il a passé plus de 20 ans de sa carrière à restaurer la citadelle Laferrière et le Palais Sans-souci, classés au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité. « On ne peut évidemment pas encore déterminer ce qui s’est passé, dit-il, mais il y avait une installation électrique dans le dôme. Il est construit en bois. Mais il n’y avait même pas un extincteur dans l’église ; cela pose le problème de la sécurité dans nos monuments historiques. »

Selon le maire de Milot, il y a des agents de sécurité sur le site, car l’église fait partie du Parc national historique, dans lequel on retrouve aussi la citadelle Laferrière et le palais Sans Souci.

Des actes de vandalisme auraient aussi été dirigés contre la citadelle Laferrière, rapporte Erol Josué, ce qui lui fait craindre un acte prémédité. « La porte vitrée du musée de l’artillerie, l’un des plus grands de la Caraïbe, a été brisée samedi soir », informe le directeur du BNE.

Le dôme, un bijou d’architecture

L’architecte Frédérick Mangonès mêle sa voix au concert de dénonciation de l’incendie. « L’église de Milot est la seule dans le pays qui a cette structure circulaire. Le dôme qui la recouvre est particulièrement bien fait, même si ce n’est pas l’original. »
« Pour l’époque où le dôme a été construit, c’était un vrai tour de force, comme beaucoup d’autres aspects de l’architecture du palais Sans Souci. »

Ce premier dôme était en très mauvais état. Les Américains, sous l’occupation, et peu avant leur départ, l’ont reconstruit. « Ils ont fait du bon travail, et l’ont remplacé par une structure moderne, en bois, dit-il. Cependant, je crois qu’il était disproportionné par rapport à la base. L’architecte qui a construit le palais Sans Souci est de toute évidence un professionnel de premier ordre. Je ne crois pas qu’il avait construit un dôme aussi grand. »
Le dôme de l’église allait bientôt être restauré. « Il y a consensus qu’il fallait le restaurer, continue Frédérick Mangonès. Mais le débat portait surtout sur ses proportions. Personnellement, je pensais qu’il en fallait un nouveau, adapté proportionnellement à la base. »

L’église de Milot, en plus de sa portée historique, aurait une signification ésotérique dans son architecture. L’ingénieur Claude Prépetit, dans un article, a fait une « étude symbolique », c’est-à-dire une « analyse rigoureuse des nombres et des formes sacrés habilement dissimulés » dans l’architecture de l’église. L’ingénieur, connu surtout pour ses travaux sur les séismes, se demande si l’église de Milot n’est pas « un catalyseur de la conscience humaine et des énergies de la nature qui émettait des ondes de formes positives et bénéfiques au royaume du roi Henri. »

Restaurer le patrimoine

L’incendie de l’église Milot met la lumière sur les faiblesses du pays en termes de protection du patrimoine matériel et immatériel. L’UNESCO et l’Institut de sauvegarde du patrimoine national (ISPAN) ont un programme en commun de restauration de certains sites comme le Parc national historique.

« Dans les autres pays de la région, les sites sont mis en valeur, dit Frédérick Mangonès. Chez nous, les moyens mis à la disposition de l’ISPAN sont une goutte d’eau comparée à la mer de ce qu’il faut réaliser. L’ISPAN a fait un inventaire des sites du pays. Il ne s’agit pas seulement des architectures militaires, mais aussi des systèmes civils comme les aqueducs, etc. »

Erol Josué croit que les responsables de l’État ont un grand rôle à jouer pour éviter que ces incidents se reproduisent. « Nous nous occupons tout le temps de politique, nous n’allons pas au rythme de la société, pour grandir, dit le directeur du BNE. Il y a un lien entre l’ignorance des gens et la protection du patrimoine. Cet incident nous affaiblit encore plus. Nous avons beaucoup de sites historiques, mais nous n’avons pas assez pour qu’ils soient détruits. »

Le Parc national historique est important pour le secteur déjà affaibli du tourisme. Michael Deibert, un journaliste, auteur et professeur invité à l’université de Lisbonne a travaillé pendant plus de 20 ans en Haïti. Il croit que l’importance de ce parc va au-delà du pays. « La citadelle Laferrière et le Palais Sans Souci sont parmi les monuments historiques les plus importants de l’hémisphère Nord », dit-il.

« C’est là que l’abolition de l’esclavage a commencé en Amérique, continue-t-il. Visiter le nord d’Haïti, et comprendre le courage de ceux qui se sont révoltés contre ce système infernal est une profonde et bouleversante expérience. »

Widlore Mérancourt a participé à ce reportage.







Friday, March 27, 2020

BBC World Service interview about Delphin Kahimbi

My discussion with Esau Williams of BBC World Service about the mysterious death of former DR Congo intelligence chief Delphin Kahimbi can be heard here. My part starts around the 3:15 minute mark.