Thursday, November 30, 2006

Brignol Lindor: Cinq ans après

Around this time five years ago, I was beginning my stint as the Reuters correspondent in Port-au-Prince. One of the first big stories that I covered was that of the murder of Haitian radio journalist Brignol Lindor by a gang named Domi Nan Bwa (Sleeping in the Woods), who were loyal to then-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On December 3, 2001, Lindor, the news director of Radio Echo 2000 in the provincial town of Ti Goave was macheted and beaten to death by Domi Nan Bwa members following a similar though non-lethal attack against Domi Nan Bwa member Joseph Céus Duverger (in which Lindor had no involvement). Lindor’s radio program “Dialogue” though, which often featured speakers strongly denouncing the Aristide government and local officials, had drawn the ire of Petit Goave’s mayor, Dume Bony, a member of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas political party, who had held a press conference immediately preceding the killing and, seated next to Domi Nan Bwa’s leader Raymond Jean Fleury, called for the application of “zero tolerance” to be directed at Lindor.

And so Brignol Lindor was murdered. His funeral a week later (which I witnessed first-hand) was one of the first major expressions of popular outrage at the Aristide government, with thousands of angry protesters flooding Petit Goave’s narrow streets to denounce the killing and call for justice for Lindor and his family. The funeral was interrupted several times by police opening fire on the periphery of the crowd.

Now, five years later, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans frontières has sent an open letter to Haitian president René Préval and public prosecutor at the Port-au-Prince court Claudy Gassant asking that after “five years of judicial paralysis and intervene so that a new investigating judge may be appointed to this case as soon as possible."

"We are aware of the enormous challenge that the reconstruction of an honest and effective judicial system represents in Haiti,“ the letter continues eloquently. “This process will not be able to take place if Lindor's murder remains unpunished.”

Remember Brignol Lindor.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Michael Bloomberg’s Unseemly Companions

Earlier this month, while taking him to task for the out-of-control building spree currently affecting north Brooklyn, I opined that, despite my criticism, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has, in my view, thus far largely been a good mayor for the city. That is a judgment I may have to re-examine given Mayor Bloomberg's pandering response in the wake of the shooting of 23 year-old Sean Bell outside of a Queens strip club early Saturday morning.

To be sure, something went terribly wrong in those early morning hours outside of Club Kalua on 94th Avenue in Jamaica, Queens. Police fired 50 rounds at a car of unarmed men departing a late-night bachelor party, hitting the vehicle 21 times. The shooting apparently stemmed from undercover police surveillance of the club and followed what officers and witnesses said was the vehicle's ramming of an undercover officer and an unmarked NYPD minivan. Sean Bell, who was to be married that day, was killed, while front-seat passenger Joseph Guzman was shot at least 11 times and back-seat passenger Trent Benefield was shot three times. The most complete account I have found of what allegedly happened was penned by Newsday correspondent Deborah S. Morris. Quoting New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly that the nightclub in question "had a chronic history of narcotics, prostitution and weapons complaints," and that the three men who were shot were moments before involved in street altercation where one of them - Guzman - made reference to a firearm.

Even if all of this turns out to be the case, Queens district attorney Richard A. Brown will almost certainly and absolutely should impanel a grand jury to uncover what lead to such an overwhelming and deadly display of violence on the part of the police, and to punish any officers who are found to have acted in violation of the law. Of the NYPD officers who opened fire on the African-American Mr. Bell’s car, their racial make-up is mixed: two are black, one is Hispanic and two are white.

However, when Mayor Bloomberg addressed reporters yesterday flanked by the Reverend Al Sharpton and City Councilmen Charles Barron, and pronounced that "to me that (shooting) sounds excessive and unacceptable," before any investigation had taken place, he appeared to be catering to the lowest common denominator of New York city's political landscape. Despite the presence of decent public servants such as Queens councilman Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. (who did, however, go along with the city council's recent 25 percent pay raise for what is a part-time job), the presence of Sharpton and Barron on any mayoral platform should be a cause for shame and reflection among all New Yorkers.

Who can forget Sharpton's cynical exploitation of Tawana Brawley in 1987, or his conviction in 1998 for making defamatory statements against former Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones in connection with that case? In 1987, Brawley was found naked inside a garbage bag, smeared with dog feces and with racial epithets written on her body, four days after disappearing from home. Though Brawely initially contended that a gang of white law enforcement officers had abducted and raped her, a grand jury declared that the entire story was a hoax. Not before Sharpton, though, as well as attorneys Alton H. Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason, made statements claiming that Pagones was among those who had assaulted Brawley. Alton H. Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason were later convicted along with Sharpton, and also disbarred for good measure. Sharpton was found liable for $65,000 of the total damages and, not willing to reach into his own pockets, had an acquaintance pay the penalty. If such a man wants to be a service to his community, humbly attempting to rebuild his reputation at ground-level rather than political grandstanding for personal gain might be a good place to start but, of course, that is not the Sharpton way.

For his part, Charles Barron has marked out a career as probably one of the most morally bankrupt public officials in the United States, which is quite something given the current gang running Washington. In September 2002, Barron welcomed Zimbabwe's dictator Robert Mugabe to City Hall here in New York, apparently pleased with the rapes and murders that Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party have been committing against poor blacks and white farmers alike in that African nation.

Perhaps Barron's fêting of the pitiless despot Mugabe gave the latter the necessary energy to return to Zimbabwe and embark on Operation Murambatsvina - Operation Drive Out Trash - which, as The Guardian in 2005 described thusly:

Zimbabwe's police have used sledgehammers and bulldozers to reduce brick homes to rubble, and they have torched flimsy shacks. At the same time, thousands of informal businesses have been destroyed, with more than 20,000 traders arrested, their possessions smashed or irretrievably confiscated by those entrusted to uphold the law...The onslaught came like a military raid with overtones of a Zimbabwean Kristallnacht. As on November 9 1938, when rampaging Nazi mobs violently destroyed Jewish properties and businesses, the Zimbabwean police have completely disregarded the law, focusing instead on wholesale destruction.

The campaign was also described as "slow genocide by bulldozer," and Amnesty International described "heart-wrenching scenes of ordinary Zimbabweans who have had their homes and livelihoods completely destroyed crying on the street in utter disbelief."

Whatever his motivations, it is also bitterly ironic that Bloomberg's pandering to a convicted criminal like Sharpton and a supporter of tyranny like Barron occurs on the same week that Staten Island drug dealer Ronell Wilson finally goes on trial for the March 2003 murder of two black New York City policemen, Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin (a native of Haiti), both executed with shots to the head from a .44-caliber handgun. Following the murders, neither Sharpton nor Barron could bring themselves to express condolences to the victims' families, nor could they bring themselves to muster any outrage at the execution of two men. The pair maintained, as one critic put it, "a perfect silence" in the face of a killing of exactly the kind of officers that the NYPD needs more of, officers of color with roots in and an understanding of urban communities.

I will still keep an open mind and hope that Bloomberg recovers some of the backbone that he has demonstrated in breaking with his own Republican party over issues as diverse as gun control, abortion and the share New York City should get from the nation's anti-terrorism budget. But it would be hard not to argue that, this week, Bloomberg reached the absolute nadir of his term as mayor thus far.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Violence threatens to blow away Haiti’s fragile democratic gains

Following two shocking recent murders in Haiti of 20 year-old university student Farah Natacha Kerby Dessources and 6 year-old Carl Rubens Francillon, coming as they do on the heels of the grinding march of violence in the Martissant neighborhood, which began in July and seems to show no signs of abating, the tenure of Haiti’s president René Préval appears to be entering a new phase. Unfortunately it seems to be one which is dominated by fears of insecurity as opposed to hope that Haiti’s democratically-elected president and parliament (installed in May) will be able to rapidly turn the country around from its path of political violence and economic exclusion.

Haiti had no longer attempted to recover from Natacha Kerby’s slaying - which found the first year student at l’Ecole Normale St-Louis de Gonzague kidnapped, horrifically tortured and thrown onto a rubbish pile - than young Rubens Francillon was kidnapped from his school in the capital’s neighborhood of Turgeau on November 8th and found strangled outside of the northern city of Cap-Haïtien this weekend.

At Farah Natacha Kerby’s funeral in Haiti’s capital on Port-au-Prince on Saturday at the Pax Villa Sainte-Anne downtown, a demonstration of several hundred people lead by former student leader Josué Mérilien and Rosemond Jean, the former head of the Coordination National des Sociétaires Victimes (CONASOVIC), marched to Haiti’s National Palace and chanted that Préval himself “an accomplice with criminals,” a charge that, however unlikely, gives a glimpse as to the sense of exasperation Haiti’s urban population feels with violence that has continued to claim lives despite a new government with extensive foreign support. Given Mérilien’s and Jean’s years of street-level organizing, this could represent a significant moment in its relations with a population that, on many sides, have grown weary of being victimized with impunity by criminals and criminal-political actors (the two vocations often being interlinked in Haiti).

Haiti’s urban population is not alone. Recently, the Plateforme nationale des organisations paysannes haïtiennes (PLANOPA), meeting at the peasant bastion of Papaye in Haiti’s Plateau Central region, assailed the Préval government for what the organization charges was a lackadaisical approach to combating Haiti’s insecurity.

One hopes for the best, but I fear that things are about to get quite a bit darker before they get any better.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

For U.S. Haitians, Home Is Both Near and Far Away

My most recent article for the Inter-Press Service, For U.S. Haitians, Home Is Both Near and Far Away, which contains interviews with Roman Catholic Bishop Guy Sansaricq and members of the Consortium for Haitian Empowerment (CHE), can be read here.

Meanwhile, back in Haiti itself, Wilkens, the Martissant gang leader I interviewed back in July of this year, appears to have been grievously wounded along with over a dozen other people - in addition to three people killed - in that neighborhood this week.

"A welter of tears and vodka..."

This past weekend, while venturing around New York with a friend visiting from London, I stumbled upon an excellent exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition, titled Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s, is a retrospective featuring portraits from Germany’s Weimar Republic era, which lasted from 1919 until 1933, including sketches and paintings by such top-flights artists as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Christian Schad. Often depicting obese war profiteers, disfigured soldiers, fascist demagogues, kohl-eyed wantons and other iconic images from a Germany that was staggering towards the dual disasters of a Nazi government and World War II, the show’s visual portrait of a country in freefall serves as an excellent compliment to Otto Friedrich’s gripping history of that era, Before the Deluge, which remains, along with Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories and Alfred Doblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, as probably the best record we have of Germany between the wars.

Particularly outstanding is the series in the show from the Dadaist/Expressionist painter George Grosz, who volunteered for the German army in 1914 only to be deeply disillusioned with what he later referred to as “the mass intoxication.” Discharged in 1915 and drafted again in 1917, Grosz subsequently suffered a mental breakdown and was almost shot as a “deserter” before being permanently discharged through the intervention of the eminent patron of the arts and diarist Count Harry Kessler.

This show includes some of Groz’s most scathing work, including Eclipse of the Sun, depicting a rotund Paul von Hindenburg (World War I field marshal and second president of the Weimar Republic) and a group of headless ministers conspiring around a table, as well as Pillars of Society, which mercilessly lambastes the Nazis, the Socialists and the church.

When one reviews these haunting and visceral paintings, it is hard not to recall Count Kessler’s words upon hearing of the terms of Germany’s “peace” with France in January 1920:

Today the Peace Treaty was ratified at Paris; the War is over. A terrible era begins for Europe, like the gathering of clouds before a storm, and it will end in an explosion probably still more terrible than that of the World War.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bonnes nouvelles

It appears that the Inter-American Development Bank has agreed to forgive Haiti's debt to that entity, along with the debts of Bolivia, Guyana, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"The general human rights situation under the administration of the transitional government was catastrophic."

Chronicling a grim roll call of murder, rape and wanton destruction descending upon the Haitian people from a variety of actors, the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) report, February 2004 – June 2006: Overview of the General Human Rights Situation in Haiti During the Interim Government, represents perhaps one of the most thorough accountings yet of the situation René Préval inherited when he assumed Haiti's presidency in May. Among that tableau was the murder of 1,821 civilians, 108 police officers and 10 United Nations soldiers.

"Even if the interim government was not the direct source of the political violence," the report states (a statement I, for one, find highly problematic). "It is evident that they failed in their mission to guarantee the population’s right to life and security. They could not prevent the degeneration of the lawless zones in the metropolitan areas where gang leaders practiced the worst violent acts on the population.”

"The general human rights situation under the administration of the transitional government was catastrophic," the report, whose findings more or less line up with those of Haiti’s Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix (which counted 2506 dead victims of violence during the 47 months it has been operating), goes on.

The farcical acquittals of Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the exoneration of all suspects in the 1994 slaying of Father Jean-Marie Vincent, the failure to pursue the investigations into the murder of Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint and the fact that 86% of Haiti's prison population was (and is) held without the benefit of a trial are all cited as part of the interim government's failure. As well as, in the report's words, the fact that "the Haitian National Police (PNH) was implicated in a number of human rights violations: summary executions, kidnapping, drugs, corruption, and many other exactions." Unfortunately, the report does little to shed light on the details of the fact that the PNH regularly summarily executed individuals they, rightly or wrongly, suspected of involvement with the pro-Aristide gangs that were terrorizing the capital.

The report does, however, allude to one of the era's darkest incidents, the burning by gangsters of the Tête Boeuf Market in Port-au-Prince in May 2005, which killed seven people, and which lead to a call by four of Haiti's most politically progressive organizations - the Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR), the Platforme Haitienne de Plaidoyer pour un Developpement Alternatif (PAPDA), Solidarite Famn Ayisyen (SOFA) and Centre National et International de Documentation et d’Information de la Femme en Haiti (EnfoFanm) - that former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be judged for what they called his crimes against the Haitian people.

Meanwhile, proving that short-sighted self-interest is not limited to developing nations, New York's City Council yesterday voted itself a 25 percent pay raise for its part-time job, with council members now having to stagger along with a mere (!) $112,500 a year, which doesn't even include the lucrative stipends — known as lulus — that are given as perks to committee chairmen and other Council leaders which often total tens of thousands of dollars a year.

In a city where one in five live in poverty, City Council speaker Christine Quinn has proven herself to be just as corrupt, cronyistic and self-interested as any who have come before her. Perhaps the only council members who came off looking not like a bunch of overpaid, crapulent babies were Queens council members Tony Avella and Hiram Monserrate, Staten Island members Andrew J. Lanza and Michael E. McMahon and Brooklyn member Darlene Mealy, all of whom voted against the measure. Avella, for his part, stated that "it is unethical for this body to vote itself a raise,” as indeed it is.

The New York City Council and Christine Quinn should be ashamed of themselves and I for one hope voters remember this moment come next election time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

As Fernández addresses Washington, expulsions of Haitians continue in DR

Haiti’s Radio Kiskeya yesterday reported that more than 800 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic in the preceding four days, bringing the total of Haitians, legal and illegal, deported from that country this year to over 25,000. As I demonstrated in my June 2005 article for Newsday, “Thousands of Haitians are expelled by Dominicans,” these expulsions are often carried out in an extremely brutal and arbitrary fashion and often respect neither the letter nor the sprit of Dominican law and the statutes it sets down for immigration, repatriation and appeal.

As these actions were taking place, Dominican President Leonel Fernández, in statements made at Counterpart International's headquarters in Washington DC, said that, regarding Haiti’s security and economic development, that Haitian President René Préval "cannot do it alone ... we hope Haiti can turn around economically. There is a need for infrastructure. The World Bank and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) need to perform on their pledges for Haiti."

Of course, who could argue with that? But who could also argue that Fernández, who rode a wave of such hope and optimism to victory in the Dominican elections of 2004, has played a rather cynical and double game when it comes to the Haitian question in the Dominican Republic, talking of development on the international stage while at home presiding over a sustained campaign targeting Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans with little or no regard for due process or human rights, dubbed Operation Vaquero (Operation Cowboy), an ugly moniker which speaks of the de-humanization that Haitians working the Dominican Republic are subjected to by politicians and officials at the local level. It is a trend that Fernández himself has, at best, passively presided over and at worst actively encouraged, though the jury is still out on that one.

The Dominican Republic and Haiti need to address their linked destinies in an honest and non-demagogic way. For Haiti, that means that its political class will have to behave in a responsible and competent way that it has never seemed to master in the country’s 200 year history, so more Haitians are not forced to seek economic sustenance in neighboring countries where they are met by exploitation, brutality and racism. For the Dominican government, it means not wearing one face abroad, where it talks of development and the international interest, and another at home, where it is content to fan the flames of xenophobia and bigotry as a diversion from its own failings.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fleeing a sinking ship?

An excellent article earlier this week by the New York investigative journalist Lucy Komisar revealed that five prominent Republicans have resigned from the board of a telecom company accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Former Minnesota senator Rudy Boschwitz, former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, former Washington senator Thomas Slade Gorton III, former NewYork congressman and 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President Ronald Reagan Jeane Kirkpatrick were not included among nominees on the proxy statement filedby the IDT telecom company with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Oct. 30, the article states.

IDT has been the focus of bribery charges centered around Aristide's second term in office from 2001 until 2004, alleging that the Haitian president took hundreds of thousands of kickbacks in money that should have been deposited in Haiti's meager treasury, in exchange for giving IDT a favorable rate on international calls. A former IDT executive, Michael Jewett, claims the he refused to go along with the scheme and was fired for his trouble. Jewett, who sued IDT in October 2005 for wrongful dismissal, charges that the deal enabled several North American companies (including IDT) to operate in Haitifor a cut-rate fee of nine cents per minute, three cents of which promptly disappeared into an Aristide shell company called Mont Salem set up in Turks and Caicos, as opposed to going to TELECO, the Haitian state telephone company, where the money belonged.

Two fairly disturbing bits of news, this time out of Egypt and Kenya. This morning while listening to the BBC, I heard a piece chronicling yesterday’s demonstration by women in Cairo held to protest a series of sexual assaults that took place against women there during the recent Eid el Adha (the feastof the sacrifice), which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Witnesses also charge that Egyptian police did nothing to defend the women. Evidently filmmaker and activist Sherif Sadek documented something very similar in January 2006.

And, in a chilling echo of the violence that has depopulated the Martissant neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, residents of Nairobi’s Mathare shantytown have fled an explosion of gang violence that has killed nearly a dozen people in the last week. An article by the Times’ Jeffrey Gettleman asserts that what “began with a bootlegging dispute…has been fueled by ethnic rivalry,” with the two criminal, quasi-religious gangs at each others throats being members of the country’s Kikuyu and Luo ethnic groups.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On the results of the mid-term elections

Well, you won’t have Senator Man-on-Dog to kick around anymore. For the first time in 12 years, the Democrats succeeded in gaining control of the House of Representatives and scored significant victories in the Senate, which hangs in the balance as I type this. The jury remains out on whether or not former Secretary of the Navy James Webb has triumphed over Virginia Senator George “macaca” Allen, but Rick Santorum, senator from my native state of Pennsylvania, has mercifully been removed from the national stage. Readers may remember Santorum from this immortal exchange with an Associated Press reporter in 2003:

SANTORUM: Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. … It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality —

AP: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.

SANTORUM: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately.

South Dakota voters also rejected a sweeping abortion ban, approved by the state legislature to outlaw all abortions except in cases where a mother’s life was at stake. Despite what were allegations of voter intimidation in Virginia and technical difficulties elsewhere (I myself voted without incident here in Queens), it appears that America took a long look at six years of war-mongering empire-building, ceaseless scandals and attempts at far-right fundamentalist social engineering and decided that, no, they had just about enough of that.

Finally some good news.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The changing face of old Brooklyn

An interesting article in the Times today addresses the roaring (and for all intents and purposes completed) gentrification and development affecting the Greenpoint and Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where, in 1997, a friend and I split a one bedroom apartment for $600 per month, a sum that would be twice that now, and where I had probably the nicest apartment I've ever had in New York, a loft overlooking the East River in the neighborhood's (at the time) rundown Southside district, a few years later. When I first moved there, I recall the distinctly Latin flavor of the place, largely Puerto Rican and Dominican with a smattering of Mexican influence (and a large and still-remaining population of Yiddish-speaking Satmar Hassidim Jews in rather far-out traditional costumes), where a $5 plate of carne guisada with arroz and habichuelas was easy to come by, and where young folks who were actually struggling financially could afford to live.

About two years ago, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who I think has been largely a good mayor, lead the charge for a rezoning program in the neighborhood (coming in tandem with the general gentrification that really began to change the character in the neighborhood around 2000/2001), and developers began changing the once-industrial landscape with luxury apartments that continued to price-out longterm residents, falling far short of the promises of housing for low- and middle-income families. The Old Dutch Mustard factory on Metropolitan Avenue is now gone, torn down last month. The Domino Sugar refinery, which was part of Brooklyn's waterfront since the 19th century before largely ceasing business in 2003, and which I walked by on my way home for a year, will probably not be long to follow. The neighborhood that the 1937 W.P.A. Guide to N.Y.C. once described as "a virtually unrelieved slum" and which was carved in half by the building of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in the 1950s, now seems to be in danger of becoming little more than an extension of "millionaire island" Manhattan.

And my favorite Mexican grocery (Matamoros) has been replaced by a Subway. Oh well, at least Hasidic Rebel is still posting.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Amusing hypocrisy while Haiti continues to simmer

Sometimes headlines are just priceless, and a mere recitation of the facts becomes high comedy. Such is the case with the recent article on the travails of Ted Haggard, evangelist and outspoken gay marriage opponent, by Catherine Tsai of the Associated Press. Under the headline "Evangelist Admits Meth, Massage, No Sex," the article goes on the recount that "Haggard admitted Friday that he bought methamphetamine and received a massage from a gay prostitute who claims he was paid for drug-fueled trysts" and that "Haggard denied the sex allegations but said that he did buy meth from the man because he was curious."

"I bought it for myself but never used it,'' the article quotes Haggard as saying. ``I was tempted, but I never used it.''

One can only assume that Haggard's comments were delivered with a "straight" face.

In far more serious matters in Haiti, meanwhile, the terrible violence in Martissant , which seems to be on its way to matching Cité Soleil as Port-au-Prince's most brutal and unforgiving slum, marches on unabated and, again neither Haitian president René Préval nor the U.N. mission in Haiti seem to have any sort of a plan for how to definitively halt it, though they do appear to be at least engaging the gangs of various political persuasions who have been terrorizing residents there since late June.

The new violence comes after Haitian radio reports that members of the Organisations Populaires Lavalas (OPs), representing the political current of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, set up flaming barricades in the Bel Air section of Port-au-Prince, within sight of Haiti's National Palace, demanding the release of what they charged were political prisoners and the rehabilitation of thousands of employees excised from the government payroll during the interim government that ruled Haiti from 2004 until 2006, before the innauguration of René Préval this past May. In late October, Hilaire Prophète, a spokesman closely linked to the OPs, threatened to re-launch Opération Pa Ka Tan-n (Operaion Can't Wait), itself a successor to late 2004's Opération Baghdad, as a violent means to pressure the Préval government into re-integrating thousands of cashiered workers onto the government payroll, something that Préval cannot and likely does not want to do.

There are thousands of people in Haitian jails at present (just as there were under the interim and Aristide governments) who have never had the benefit of trial. Some of them - such as former Lavalas Deputy Amanus Mayette, who lead the Bale Wouze street gang in the central town of Saint-Marc and who witnesses depict helping to murder Rassemblement des Militants Conséquents de la Commune de Saint-Marc (RAMICOS) member Leroy Joseph and terrorizing his family on 11 February 2004 - no doubt deserve to spend the rest of their lives behind bars but, also doubtless, many have been caught up in police sweeps whose involvement in violence was probably marginal at best. Haiti's judicial system desperately needs reform to address this issue, but it is not clear what steps are being taken in this direction at present.

Likewise, in a country with as high an unemployment rate as Haiti's (around 80%), government jobs are often one of the few means to which the country's poor can look for improvement in their situation, a fact skillfully manipulated between 2001 and 2004 (the years of Aristide's second term in office) when Haiti's Direction Générale des Impôts ( DGI), Office Nationale Assurance (ONA) Autorité Portuaire Nationale (APN) and Teleco state industries became repositories for government patronage that was doled out and withdrawn at whim depending on how desperate those in command wanted to keep their troops in the slums. Several gang leaders I knew from Cité Soleil had government identification issued from one or more of these institutions, though there was often little work for them there as they were so far down the totem pole of people the government owed favors to. During a 2003 conversation in Guatemala City, former Secretary of State for Public Security Bob Manuel (now René Préval 's chief political advisor) stated pointedly that " Aristide (couldn't) work with someone who has a base independent of being bought by the state," which rather succinctly describes the situation that existed in Haiti between 2001 and 2004. Unfortunately, nothing has replaced the meager income that thousands derived from this patronage, and with the decision by Republican leaders in Congress to postpone consideration of H.R. 6142, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) act, our own short-sighted politicians do not seem to be helping matters.

Haiti's Ministre des Affaires Sociales, Gerald Germain, launched an appeal for calm and negotiation, but it remains to be seem what effect it will have.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


So, today is Gede in Haiti, the day when the eponymous family of vodou lwa hold sway in the cemeteries and the lanes, lead by the guardian of the cemetery himself, Baron Samedi, a.k.a Baron Cimetiere, Baron La Croix or simply Baron. The Gede lwa are believed to flow from the spirits of a group of slaves conquered and shipped to Saint Domingue from Benin, but, in Haiti, black is their color and the tomb is their favored abode. If you would have gone to the main cemetery in downtown Port-au-Prince today (as my friends Adele Waugaman, Herby, Etzer and I did in 2002), you would have seen the Gede acolytes conducting tributes and rituals amidst the half-demolished tombs. To enter within the cemetery itself, you would have had to pass beneath the sign over the entrance. Souviens—Toi Que Tu Es Poussiere, it reads. Remember you are dust.

In a slight, forward-looking change of gears (with a still Haiti-related component), for those readers in the Miami area on November 11th, I highly recommend checking out the Voces Latentes photo exhibition of my friend and colleague, the talented Haitian-American photographer Noelle Theard. Noelle, whose beautiful photo graces the cover of my first book, has crafted a presentation of underground hip-hop culture from New York to Paris to Caracas and beyond, and will be displaying the photos at Miami's Filtro photo gallery. Well worth a look see.