Thursday, September 28, 2006

Murder in Fontamara

At least eight have been killed and many wounded in attacks by gangs against residents in the southern Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Fontamara this week, Haiti's Radio Kiskeya reports. It appears that Dymsley "Ti Lou" Milien, one of the accused gunmen who killed Haiti's most famous journalist, Jean Dominique, in April 2000, and whose presence in the Martissant neighborhood I revealed this summer in an article for the Inter-Press Service, was among the assailants.

Residents of Fontamara, like those of Martissant, where dozens of people were killed in gang wars this summer, are accusing Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH) forces and the MINUSTAH mission of, at best, passivity. In more melancholy news, Esterne Bruner, a grassroots community leader from the Grand Ravine section of Martissant, whom I met and interviewed in July and who had been shot once by rampaging gangs before, was killed on September 21st. Politicians and criminals continuing to fight for miserable power and the Haitian people caught in the middle.

In the struggle for accountability and transparency, Haiti's Le Matin has published the French-language version of one of my articles, Les droits de la personne doivent primer sur les intérêts partisans, last week.

Brasil stays in foreign investors’ good books

The Financial Times' Foreign Direct Investment (fDi) magzine this week published a piece I wrote on the rosy Brazilian economy, submitted quite a few months ago but still relevant with the country's upcoming presidential election next month. The are some interesting comments from Guido Mantega, uttered when he was still president of Brazil’s Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimiento Economico e Social (BNDES) and before he became Minister of Finance (his current job). You can check it out here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hauling HIV/AIDS Out of the Closet

Of some of the most important insights I was able to gain during this trip to Jamaica, I think one of them was that the struggle against HIV and AIDS takes many forms, and one of them is the struggle against bigotry. You can read about what I found here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Grieving Father Takes on Police Impunity

My new article addressing the problem of police brutality in Jamaica and the steps being taken to address it can be found here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A trip to Alligator Pond

My friend Jan Voordouw of the Panos Institute of the Caribbean and I took a break from journalistic endeavours to travel through Jamaica's still pristine southwestern coast yesterday, spending awhile in the little fishing village of Alligator Pond before taking a remote road along the Caribbean and seeing nary another soul and, indeed, no signs of human habitation at all for many miles. Given such conditions, the area is reportedly a favored point on entry for drugs and firearms coming into Jamaica, the latter of which are increasingly arriving from Haiti, many officials say. It was enjoyable nevertheless to find a part of this heavily touristed island where fishermen can still ply their trade unencumbered by sprawling private hotels, and the gentle hospitality of country people is still the rule of the day.

Recruiting Soldiers

I'm recruiting soldiers
For Jah army
Recruiting soldiers
Jah time is now
Satan forces
They all rise up to fight
They all rise up to fight
Jah and the saints...

But there is confusion
In high places
About the lamb that was slain
And all these years I hear them say
They're building a nation
But all these tricks were just a game

Hear them praising old Marcus Garvey

Hear them exalting his name
But all these times they be doing that I say
If he was here right now he'd go to jail the same

- Peter Tosh

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On the passing of Joseph Hill

I suppose it is appropriate that I am in Jamaica as I first learn of the stilling of one of the greatest voices that reggae ever produced, that of Culture lead singer and songwriter Joseph Hill, who passed away a month ago while on tour in Germany. The driving force behind, among other reggae, classics as the epochal 1977 hit Two Sevens Clash, See Them A Come, I'm Alone in the Wilderness and International Herb, Hill was, for my money, one of the greatest songwriters the genre ever produced, able to effortlessly meld biblical imagery with a clear message of hope, perseverance and resistance that resonates today as well if not better than it did during the group's heyday in the late 1970's. During a highly economically disadvantaged time in my life, I watched Culture play an outdoor concert in Miami in 1997, and the old master had lost none of his power or fire. I think I feel something of him lingering tonight in his island home. Jah-Jah see them a come, but I and I a conquerer.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bipartisan opportunism and Haiti?

Just arrived in reggaeland under the cover of darkness last night, flying through a crimson sunset that turned, all of a sudden to night. I spied a recent posting by the investigative journalist Lucy Komisar on her blog that suggests the money trail surrounding Haiti's ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which saw the public relations firms of former U.S. congressmen and head of the Congressional Black Caucus Ron Dellums receive $989,323 for three year's lobbying, may have by no means been a merely partisan affair, as any student of realpolitik can appreciate.

Komisar suggests that Alice Fisher, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and a Bush political appointee, served as as a partner at Latham & Watkins in 2004, then the Wall Street counsel for IDT, the world's third ranked international phone company. The company, as Komisar notes has been "accused in two lawsuits of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks to former Haitian president Aristide beginning in 2003 to get a sweetheart deal with Teleco, the Haitian government phone company." The Securities and Exchange Commission, the United States Attorney in Newark, NJ, and a federal grand jury are investigating the charges.

The CEO of IDT, James Courter, is a prominent for Republican congressmen from New Jersey, and prominent Republicans on IDT's board include former UN ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, former New York congressman and Republican vice presidential nominee Jack F. Kemp, former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, and former Minnesota senator Rudy Boschwitz

Some have charged that Fisher is blocking an agreement to share seized Haitian drug money that would help Haiti pursue the bribery case in US courts. This is an interesting development that bears watching to see where it will head.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Stuyvesant Town and the life of the American wallet

The New York Times had a highly interesting Op-Ed today on the way insurance giant Metropolitan Life's sale of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village - the 110 building East River enclave built in the 1950’s, as housing for World War II veterans and their families - has increased the fears on many New Yorkers that "Manhattan is becoming more and more off limits to all but the truly wealthy." As someone has never been able to afford to live in Manhattan, opting for and in fact preferring the ethnic polyglots of Brooklyn and Queens, the article helps put in perspective the quandary that many cities face, but is perhaps brought out in greatest relief here in the Big Apple.

The lifeblood of this city comes from its middle and working classes, the thousands of waitresses trying their hand at acting for the first time as they arrive from Minnesota, the young guys working grunt jobs shuffling papers at law firms or advertising agencies while secretly working on that first novel or first screenplay, those musicians who deliver furniture as a way to make ends meet, not to mentions the tens of thousands of immigrants who drive New York's taxis, keep its subway system running (ahem), run the myriad of restaurants that give the five boroughs their endless culinary vocabulary and give the gift of their art, music, language and intellect to this sprawling mass of humanity we know as New York. If we, year by year, are priced farther and farther away from the nexus of the expression of that energy, if not its creation - which Manhattan has been and remains for the entire world - then what? What comes to fill the place of all those who give New York its personality but can no longer afford to live within its boundaries?

My dear friend Nomi Prins, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Demos, has recently come out with a new book tackling just such subjects, Jacked: How "Conservatives" are Picking your Pocket (Whether you voted for them or not), published by PoliPointPress, which examines the real struggles that the working class in America face today, struggles that often get ignored in both the mainstream and self-described "progressive" press, which seems to prefer ceaseless armchair commenting on foreign affairs to actually getting one's feet wet with reporting. Nomi did get he feet wet, traveling through the South in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, far west to Seattle, to Detroit and beyond, as the book conducts a guided tour of the American wallet. Literally. Examining a driver's license leads to a discussion of gasoline prices, energy policy, and Iraq, while the Social Security card leads Ms. Prins' analysis that the Bush administration's efforts to "reform" Social Security have in fact weakened it. Having not finished the book yet, I can't give a full account of it, but so far it is an engaging look at the actual hardships of working people in Bush's America, and as such should definitely be worth a look.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Le Prix du Sang

On Tuesday, Véronique Valmé, who decided to return to Haiti from abroad two years ago, was laid to rest at the Eglise St-Pierre in Petionville. I never met Véronique personally, though I do know at least one of her relatives. She was shot and killed on Saturday night in what was apparently a failed kidnapping attempt, along with her namorado, Karl "Karlito" Lubin Zounon, who was of Haitian-Béninois extraction as they left my favorite restaurant in Port-au-Prince, Anba Tonel. A presumed assailiant was also killed.

Three more lives - joining those of people I did know, like Jacques Roche, James Petit-Frere, Winston Jean-Bart and others - brought to a violent early end for what? "Where will this all end?" some Haitian friends have asked me. From the humblest bidonville in Port-au-Prince to the wealthiest mansions in Laboule and Fermathe, hardly a home has been untouched by the violence that has swept through the country in the last five years, and my fear is that the government of Rene Preval and the UN forces in Haiti thus far seem powerless to stop it.

No doubt the predators of this poor country, in Haiti and abroad, sustain themselves on a steady diet of deaths like these, each one able to be used for political ends, useful in the quest, by their willing accomplices and their acolytes blinded by arrogance or naiveté, in the struggle for "miserable power," as the Haitian people suffer continually and without respite. Haiti’s greatest author, Jacques Stephen Alexis, wrote of his Haitian protagonists in his finest book, Compere General Soleil, published in 1955, that "The closer they came to the promised land, the more they felt the net tightening around them."

In 1983, at the height of the dictatorship of Jean-Cluade Duvalier, Pope John Paul II visited Haiti and thundered "Haiti must change" in reference to the violent, authoritarian state apparatus. Those words still ring true, but what must change today is the system of social and economic exclusion, the pernicious flow of guns and drugs through a fragile, easily corruptible state and the cancer of violence that has cut through so many lives. Much like the people I witnessed displaced from their homes by violence in Martissant this past July, Véronique and Karlito were doing nothing, harming no one, when that violence visited itself upon them.

Haitians and the international community must take a hard look at themselves and ask how they can stop that violence's bloody march forward before another generation of young men in the slums are lost to the gun, before any more journalists are cut down for simply practicing their craft, and before any more people, simply out for a night on the town, become yet another element in the litany of lives whose potential we will now never know.

Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix report

Amidst all the furor over the highly-questionable Lancet article on the human rights situation in Haiti (composed by a researcher stating that she is plainly a supporter of Haiti's former president Aristide and lauded by Mr. Aristide's well-paid Miami lawyer), what has been lost in the shuffle is the fact that Haiti’s Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix - a genuinely non-partisan body - recently released a report where it stated the following:

"Many political and even economic sectors are involved with violence and weapons. It is important to remember that fact. This is not about making accusations, but we must be conscious that arms do not resolve anything. Those who commit acts of violence, who are responsible for such acts must face that truth and accept their responsibility. The State must also face its responsibility and fight violence and impunity."

The Commission counted 2506 dead victims of violence during the 47 months it has been operating.

The full report can be read here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Human rights, not politics, should be priority for Haiti

The Haitian information resource AlterPresse has published my latest Op-Ed on the situation in that Caribbean country. You can read it here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Journalists line up for the Bush gravy train

In testimony to the fact that supporters of Haiti's disgraced former president are not the only ones greedy or stupid enough to accept money from a government in exchange for defending backwards policies, today's New York Times reveals that the Bush administration’s Office of Cuba Broadcasting paid 10 journalists in the United States "to provide commentary on Radio and TV Martí, which transmit to Cuba government broadcasts critical of Fidel Castro." The group included three journalists at El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister newspaper of The Miami Herald. This would seem yet another example, much of a piece with the payments doled out by the Education Department in 2005 to the conservative commentator Armstrong Williams for newspaper columns and television appearances praising Mr. Bush's education initiative, the No Child Left Behind Act, of a government obsessed with dipping its fingers in aspects of civic life where it doesn't belong. A report from the Government Accountability Office after the Williams affair came to light in 2005 said the Bush administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

It would seem that there is more than enough legitimately critical reporting to be done on the Castro government, and incidents like this only serve to harm people who want to report objectively from the region. One wonders what these journalists were thinking, and who was asleep at the switch at the Herald to let them get away with it. For my own part, I'll prefer to remain poor and independent.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Human rights or political gamesmanship?

A recent article, "'Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households," by Athena R Kolbe and Royce A Hutson, published in The Lancet, Volume 368, Number 9538, 02 September 2006, appears to be the latest salvo in campaign to keep some Haitian politicians from being held to account for the abuses they committed against the people of Haiti.

While no one disputes the fact that human rights abuses took place during the 2004-2006 interim government in Haiti (in fact I personally lost several friends during this period), many of us who follow the country closely have reason to believe that this report was in fact composed as part of an ongoing attempt to rehabilitate the public image of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his political party, Fanmi Lavalas. There is compelling evidence to suggest that the coordinator of the research, and one of the two authors of the Lancet article, Athena Kolbe, is in fact a pro-Fanmi Lavalas journalist who goes by the name Lyn Duff. At the end of the article "We Won't Be Peaceful and Let Them Kill Us Any Longer" - Interview with Haitian Activist Rosean Baptiste, interviewed by Lyn Duff, 4 November 2005, San Francisco Bay View, there is an email link to the author: Email Lyn at

Lyn Duff is described as "a friend of Aristide" in Justin Felux's article, 'Debunking the Media's Lies about President Aristide', published by Dissident Voice on 14 March 2004, and worked with Aristide's Lafanmi Selavi center for street children, which was one of the centers for arming and organizing the gangs who terrorized Port-au-Prince during his tenure (I had several gang-leader friends who passed through there). All of this naturally begs the question of how Kolbe/Duff's "research" into the issue of human rights violations and the perpetrators be regarded as objective when she herself states that for three and half years she was an Aristide employee, who states that her sympathies are solidly with Haiti's disgraced former president and his party. The Lancet report states that no murders or rapes were committed by Lavalas partisans during the past two years, a statement that, given Haiti's climate of partisan violence, beggars belief and flies in the face of eyewitness testimony many journalists have collected.

At a press conference I attended at the outset of 2002 held by several armed pro-Lavalas militant factions from Cite Soleil held at the Centrale Autonome des Travailleurs Haitians (CATH) hall in downtown Port-au-Prince, (sponsored and attended by such Cite Soleil notables as Amaral Duclona, James "Billy" Petit-Frere, Rosemond Titus and others), many women there described how they were repeatedly gang raped by gang members in the neighborhood. As the militants sponsoring the conference were closely affiliated with the Fanmi Lavalas party, it followed suit that those victimizing the women in those zones often were not. Given the factional fighting among the gangs, these did not always hold true, though. Later, some of the pro-Lavalas gangs, especially that commanded by Dread Wilme, became notorious for using rape as an instrument of terror.

As some of the ghastly rapes carried out in Saint Marc in February 2004, including one by a gang lead by Ronald "Black Ronald" Dauphin in the ruins of the city's burned-out commissariat, were carried out in full view of the CIMO and Unite de Securite de la Garde du Palais National d'Haiti forces in the city - who at the time were reporting directly (and hourly) to Aristide's National Palace - one must ponder whether these sexual assaults were happening with government sanction. There are many survivors who can attest to this.

I can recall policeman Jean "Grenn Sonnen" René Anthony, who operated under commissar Emmanuel Mompremier at the Delmas 33 precinct as a torturer and executioner during Aristide's tenure in office before linking up with Rémissainthe Ravix to engage in freelance banditry after Aristide's ouster, went on Haitian radio in early 2005 (I forget which station) to say that he was going to rape and murder PNH spokeswoman Gessy Coicou. I remember being stunned that any station would carry such a declaration.

Rape, unfortunately, appears to be looked upon as just another weapon in the arsenal of some of Haiti's politicians by which they can crush opposition to them and whatever designs they may have on power. It is high time that it be denounced without regards to who is committing it, and that foreign lawyers, journalists, researchers and others stop attempting to shield the guilty from having to answer for their crimes.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Googoosh in Mannahatta

Listening to the great Persian singer Googoosh wail the plangent strains of Ghalibaf as the sun sank behind us and we crossed under the Hudson River into Manhattan today, it reminded one of how, in the cacophony of the voices of politicians, some of the heart and soul of what we share as humans can get lost among all the chest-thumping and fight for "miserable power," in Michele Montas' memorable phrase. Like the work of the brilliant, Lycée-educated Iranian author Sadegh Hedayat, whose book The Blind Owl was only available in his native land following the abdication of Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1941, the art of Googoosh, despite the language barrier, speaks as eloquently to the concrete and steel canyons of Manhattan as it does to Teheran's sooty, crowded lanes and serves, on evening's like this one, as a reminder that life is a more nuanced creature than mere politics could ever hope to completely address.