Thursday, December 28, 2006

Haitian senator: Aristide party involved in kidnapping plague

As Haitian senator Gabriel Fortuné, speaking to Radio Metropole, fingers former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and sectors of his Fanmi Lavalas party as being behind the recent wave of kidnapping, Florida's CBS 4 aired grisly footage of several small children murdered by kidnappers after their families went to the police. Fortuné, who survived an attack that killed deputy Jean-Hubert Feuillé in 1995, was jailed without trial by Aristide for two weeks during the latter's second term in office in 2001, would appear to be responding to a threatening "message" distributed by Aristide's supporters in which the former president, with typical self-interested myopia and never mentioning the legitimate government of Haitian president René Préval, bemoaned his "presidential kidnapping" (i.e. his resignation and flight from the country) as the root of the current phenomenon. Haiti's Senate president Joseph Lambert, a member of Préval's own Lespwa party, likewise saluted the 22 December UN operation aimed at dislodging kidnappers from their base in Bois Neuf in the Cité Soleil shantytown.

Dear Haiti, may you have a better 2007.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fin de l'année review

Here is a quick review of some of the articles that I authored this year:

Accustomed to scandal in Newsday (March 6, 2006)

Drug gangs plague Rio's slums in the Washington Times (March 14, 2006)

Time to Support Haiti for the Henry Jackson Society (April 23, 2006)

Brazil stays in foreign investors’ good books in Foreign Direct Investment (August 01, 2006)

Storm of Killing in Neighbourhood Has Wide Implications for Nation for the Inter-Press Service (August 2, 2006)

As Annan Visits, UN Mission Seeks Reinforcements for the Inter-Press Service (August 3, 2006)

Underreported: An Update on Haiti on the Leonard Lopate Show (August 24, 2006)

Human rights, not politics, should be priority for Haiti for AlterPresse (September 12, 2006)

Grieving Father Takes on Police Impunity for the Inter-Press Service (September 25, 2006)

Hauling HIV/AIDS Out of the Closet for the Inter-Press Service (September 26, 2006)

Jamaicans hope to separate crime, politics in the Washington Times (October 3, 2006)

Death Penalty:Jamaicans Debate Re-introduction for the Inter-Press Service (October 6, 2006)

For U.S. Haitians, Home Is Both Near and Far Away for the Inter-Press Service (November 21, 2006)

Death Penalty: Victims' Families Weigh In on State Moratorium Debate for the Inter-Press Service (December 6, 2006)

And one article about my book:

Author gives insight into Haitian politics by Char Miller, special to the San Antonio Express-News (February 19, 2006)

Happy 2007, everyone!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

After a 2006 that was productive in many ways and left something to be desired in others, here is a wish to all for much contentment over this holiday season and much joy and fulfillment for 2007.

The world these days - in places like Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and here in the United States - is probably not the gentler, more humane, and less pointlessly brutal one that many of us had hoped for. I believe, though, that leaves us with no choice but to redouble our efforts to whatever our passions are in constructing a world that more accurately reflects the one we desire, savoring every moment as if it's our last because, as we have seen, someday it will be. You're all in my thoughts, as are the people in places like Martissant slum in Port-au-Prince, the little village of L'Estere where my car broke down in the Artibonite Valley one day and the residents of the Vigario Geral favela in Rio de Janeiro. All of them and many more have contributed to giving me a deeper, more profound appreciation for this world and the lives of those who inhabit it.

As I prepare to open up another chapter with my imminent departure to India, a sincere feliz ano novo to everyone.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Response to Roberto Alvarez, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS

(I recently had an exchange of views with Roberto Alvarez, the Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS, on the Dominican-issues discussion group moderated by author and journalist Michele Wucker. As it was an interesting opportunity to explore the thinking and rationale of the Dominican government with regards to their treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and as it took place in a semi-public forum, I thought I would re-post some of it here. While it would seem to me unfair to post Mr. Alvarez's original comments (they were, after all, made in a subscription-required-though-open-to-the-public forum), I think that I am within my rights to post my response, addressing as it does several of the contentions of the government of Dominican president Leonel Fernandez with regards to its treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian-descent in that country, chiefly that demands that the Dominican state respect the decision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I would stress, though, that I believe Mr. Alvarez is perfectly entitled to his opinions, and I, for one, would never attempt to silence them, no matter how disagreeable I may find some of their implications. Likewise, I am not casting aspersions on him as a person, but rather on the actions of the government he represents in an international capacity at the OAS. My response, with relevant links, is below.)

Michael Deibert, Journalist and Author, responds

I am glad that Roberto Alvarez - Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the OAS -has felt the need to step forward to put forth the Fernandez government's position on this issue. If Mr.Alvarez, an official representative of the Fernandez government, feels the need to respond in such a humble forum as ours, we must be having some kind of effect. Unfortunately, Mr. Alvarez's statements are but another attempt, in my view, to defend the indefensible, and to cast a sheen of legitimacy on apolicy that is not only inhumane, but illegal and detrimental to the long-term interests of the Dominican Republic to portray itself as a modern and stable member of the family of nations.

When Mr. Alvarez writes that "the IACHR did not order the Dominican government bestow Dominican nationality on anyone, regardless of what anyone may think," and then in his "summary" of the case writes that "the Dominican Supreme Courts decision of December 14th 2005 decided: first, that the Dominican Constitution does not grant Dominican nationality indiscriminately to all persons born in Dominican soil" he would appear to be trying to actually deflect attention away from the actual wording of the IACHR decision and the ways in which the government of the Dominican Republic was found in violation to an international pact - the American Convention on Human Rights "Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica" - to which it is a signatory.

As stated before, Article 11 of the Dominican constitution reads in the original Spanish as follows:

“Todas las personas que nacieren en el territorio dela República, con excepción de los hijos legítimos delos extranjeros residentes en el país enrepresentació n diplomática o los que están de tránsitoen él.”

Despite Alvarez's claims to the contrary, the actual official summary of the position of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - which can be read here -states the following:

"On July 11, 2003, the Commission lodged an application with the Court against the Dominican Republic, in case 12,189, the first one ever brought to the Court against that country. The case is that of two young girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico. The Commission is asking the Court to find that theState’s international responsibility has been engaged by the fact that the Dominican authorities refused to grant Dominican citizenship to Dilcia Yean and VioletaBosico Cofi even though they were born within the territory of the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Republic recognizes the principle of jus soli. In view of the foregoing, the Commission asked the Court to declare a violation of the right to juridical personality, the right to a fair trial, the rights of the child, the right to nationality, the right to equality before the law, and the right to judicial protection, set forth respectively in Articles 3, 8,19, 20, 24, and 25 of the American Convention, in conjunction with Articles 1 and 2 thereof. "

The Court delivered its Judgment in the case on September 8, 2005. It began by dismissing the State’s three preliminary objections and went on to declare that the State had violated the right to nationality and the right to equality before the law, upheld in Articles 20 and 24 of the Convention, in relation to Article 19 and Article 1.1 thereof, to the detriment of the two girls, Dilcia Yean and Violeta Bosico; it also found that the State had violated the right to juridical personality and the right to a name,recognized in Articles 3 and 18, respectively, in relation to Articles 19 and 1.1 of the Convention and to the detriment of the two young girls Dilcia Yeanand Violeta Bosico; it also ruled that the State had violated the right to humane treatment recognized in Article 5 of the Convention, in relation to Article1.1 thereof, to the detriment of Leonidas Oliven Yean,Tiramen Bosico Cofi and Teresa Tucent Mena."

The IACHR thus found the government of the Dominican Republic in violation of the following articles of the American Convention on Human Right "Pact of San Jose,Costa Rica" (which can be read here):

Article 3. Right to Juridical Personality "Every person has the right to recognition as a person before the law."

Article 5. Right to Humane Treatment “1. Every person has the right to have his physical,mental, and moral integrity respected. 2. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.3. Punishment shall not be extended to any person other than the criminal. 4. Accused persons shall,save in exceptional circumstances, be segregated from convicted persons, and shall be subject to separate treatment appropriate to their status as unconvicted persons. 5. Minors while subject to criminal proceedings shall be separated from adults and brought before specialized tribunals, as speedily as possible,so that they may be treated in accordance with their status as minors. 6. Punishments consisting of deprivation of liberty shall have as an essential aim the reform and social re adaptation of the prisoners.”

Article 19. Rights of the Child "Every minor child has the right to the measures of protection required by his condition as a minor on the part of his family, society, and the state."

Article 20. Right to Nationality "1.Every person has the right to a nationality. 2.Every person has the right to the nationality of the state in whose territory he was born if he does not have the right to any other nationality. 3. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or of the right to change it."

Article 24. Right to Equal Protection "All persons are equal before the law. Consequently,they are entitled, without discrimination, to equal protection of the law."

Mr. Alvarez may thus find my statement that "the decision of the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic...followed and came in direct contravention of the decision by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights Court (IACHR) of the Organization of American States(OAS) in September 2005" to be, in his words,"wrong" and "arrogant," but, alas for his argument, the evidence supports my position.

The treatment of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent by the government Mr. Alvarez represents has been not only "wrong" and "arrogant," but also brutal, stupid and against the long term interests of the Dominican Republic to establish itself as nation under the rule of law and a responsible member of the international community. It is a precedent which will be to the long-term detriment of all Dominicans,whether they are of Haitian or "Spanish" descent, ebony-hued or lily-white, rich or poor.

One need only to review , in addition to the IACHR decision, the statements of organizations such as Amnesty International, Christian Aid and Human Rights Watch over the last few years to see the effect this policy is having on an international level. In its April 2002 release "Dominican Republic: Deportations Conducted Unfairly," Human Rights Watch wrote "Targeted because their skin color is often darker, ‘Haitian-looking’ people are frequently deported to Haiti within hours of their detention,causing families to be separated and children to be left behind. Suspected undocumented Haitians -including Dominicans of Haitian descent - have no fair opportunity to challenge their expulsion." In her May 2006 open letter to President Fernandez, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan bemoaned the fact that "since May 2005, Haitian and Dominicans of Haitian descent have been subjected to collective and arbitrary expulsions by the Dominican authorities in violation of the Dominican Republic’s obligations under international standards including the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights." In its October 2006 release "Christian Aid protests human rights abuses against Haitian migrants," the UK-based Christian Aid wrote that "numerous cases have been documented in which immigration officials have broken into homes and forced people at gunpoint onto buses giving them no chance to collect documents or inform relatives. When they reach the Haitian side of the border, many have been able to prove that they were in the Dominican Republic legally.”

I fear that this issue will follow Mr Alvarez's and Mr. Fernandez's every step until the government of the Dominican Republic chooses to acknowledge the fundamental rights and humanity of all its citizens,not just those with access to the levers of power.

In closing I would like to say that I thank Mr.Alvarez for giving me this opportunity to address in some detail the Dominican government's rather tortured logic on this situation. In the face of the seemingly endless march of violence in Haiti, and the equally endless assault on the rights of the disenfranchised we are currently watching in the Dominican Republic,those of us who love those two countries can often feel powerless to effect change in the face of such brutal machinery. As Graham Greene once wrote, though, perhaps after all "a writer is not so powerless as he usually feels, and a pen, as well as a silver bullet, can draw blood."


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The passing of a tyrant

The Economist has an unusually eloquent epitaph to the life of General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, and who died last weekend. "No ifs or buts," the article states. "Whatever the general did for the economy, he was a bad man." Quite so. Read the piece here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Senator is kidnapped, then escapes

The kidnapping scourge that has plagued Haiti reached a new peak this week with not only the kidnapping of some 20 schoolchildren (nine of whom were subsequently freed) but also the kidnapping Friday night and escape of Haitian senator Andris Riché, who represent the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL) for the Grand Anse department. Riché was kidnapped off the capital's Route Nationale #1 near the Cité Soleil bidonville, reports said, and bore signs of grave ill-treatment by his captors. Two others kidnapped with Riché are said to remain missing. With the Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH) presence in Haiti now going on for three years, one wonders what if any plan the U.N. has to address this spiraling violence and insecurity, which plagues no sector in Haiti so much as it does the poor.

James Petit-Frere and his child, Cité Soleil, summer 2002.

It was the summer of 2002 and we had left a meeting of gang members working with the Aristide government in the Cité Soleil shantytown in Port-au-Prince. I was heavily dispirited by what they had to tell me about their direct and often brutal relationship with country's ruling regime at the time, a feeling that was not lifted as we walked down rubbish-strewn lanes with James to visit his wife and child.

“One day, man, I’d like to be able to give up this politics,” James told me, as we picked our way down a hill of shacks and were met by naked, laughing children. “If not, I’ll die and I couldn’t do anything for myself.”

“You know, my mother died in ‘91 and (the paramilitary) FRAPH kidnapped my father in 1994 and killed him, too,” he said, looking down at the child in his arms. “I’ve done too much work for politics. Now, too many people hate me, and they hate what I say. But it’s for this I try to help my little son, so we can arrive at a new place.”

James was a dear friend and, from all accounts, was murdered by Haitian police in 2005. Among the many human faces that the cycle of violence that is eating Haiti alive has, these are two, father and child. Once we peel off the labels - pep la or bourgeois, blan or Haitian, man or woman - this is the humanity that we all share.

A shame that we treat it so lightly.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

H.O.P.E. for Haiti

Last week, after years of inaction, the United States House of Representatives finally passed H.R. 6406, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (H.O.P.E.) Act by a vote of a 212-184. Supporters, including California Republican Bill Thomas (whose voting record I disagree with on many other issues) and Florida Democratic Representative Kendrick B. Meek (who I often concur with), say that the bill has the potential to create tens of thousands of new jobs in the Haitian textile industry, no small thing in a place where two-thirds of the labor force has no formal employment. The bill, which allows certain types of apparel assembled in Haiti to be brought into the States duty-free even if the materials originate a third country, now moves to the Senate

With support from a broad range of U.S. corporations, church groups (the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the United Methodist Church, to name a few) and the government of Haitian president René Préval, the bill nevertheless faces fierce opposition from the U.S. textile industry. My fervent desire is that this opposition will not succeed in scuttling what for Haiti is a desperately needed lifeline. H.O.P.E., which is a watered-down version of the Haitian Economy Recovery Opportunity (H.E.R.O.) Act, may be but a tiny step in the right direction of trying to revive Haiti‘s economy, but you take your signs of hope, pun unavoidable, where you can get them..

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet: Justice delayed was justice denied

The death of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on Sunday, eight years after his arrest on an international warrant in London in 1998, but before any trial where Pinochet was held accountable for crimes his government committed during its 1973-1990, was a final slap in the face of the estimated 3,000 people killed or disappeared and 28,000 tortured during the regime's tenure. The death of Pinochet, coming on the heels of the March 2006 death of former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic before a resolution in the latter's war crimes trial at the Hague for actions taken during the Bosnian wars of the 1990s, should serve as a reminder to people of the toll on historical memory when, as Chilean human rights lawyer Hugo Gutierrez, said, "(the) criminal has departed without ever being sentenced for all the acts he was responsible for."

The cases still pending are a myriad: That of Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, whose1982–1983 military regime killed tens of thousands of people, many of them from Guatemala's indigenous population, many of them civilians, and who has never seen trial for those acts; the former officials of the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who oversaw several massacres of government opponents in Haiti during its 2001-2004 existence (the most notorious being that in the northern city of Saint-Marc in February 2004), hundreds of politically-related murders and illegal detentions and the illegal arming and organizing of civilian gangs; in our own nation, officials from George W. Bush on down have yet to face trial for waging an illegal war based on a foundation of lies in Iraq, overseeing the use of torture and illegal detention and leaving the citizens of New Orleans to drown during Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005.

As I have written before, at moments like this, I recall Eric Pierre, a 27-year-old medical student from the southern Haitian town of Jacmel, who was shot and killed while leaving the Faculté de Medicine in Port-au-Prince on 7 January 2003 by attackers who fled the scene in a car with official TELECO plates. In a notebook of his thoughts Pierre was carrying at the time, there was written the following words:

Justice, quand?

Préval to return to Cuba for cancer tests

The Associated Press’ Stevenson Jacobs is reporting from Port-au-Prince that Haitian President René Préval will venture back to Cuba, from where he just returned, after Christmas for further medical tests, as blood tests conducted there have thus far shown possible signs of cancer. Saying that he felt “physically and mentally well," Préval said that it was too early to determine whether the cancer he had been treated for following the end of his first mandate in 2001 had returned. Not surprisingly, in Haiti, still wracked by bloodshed, kidnapping and environmental devastation, the news has been received with much worried speculation

For my part, honestly, the news that Préval might be ill fills me with dread, as all of the jackals waiting to feast on the meager remains of Haiti and their foreign lackeys are looking for just such an opportunity to capitalize on any perceived sign on instability, hesitancy or weakness on the part of his government.

All one can do, I suppose, is hope and pray that even Haiti’s luck is not this bad.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Death Penalty: Victims' Families Weigh In on State Moratorium Debate

My latest article for the Inter-Press Service, on the current study of and debating regarding the ramifications of capital punishment in the state of New Jersey, can be read here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Speculation grows about Préval’s health

Following an announcement by Haitian President René Préval’s advisor Fritz Longchamp that the president has returned to Cuba for an undisclosed series of medical “tests,” concern has grown in Haiti about the president’s health. Préval’s return to Haiti’s island neighbor comes less than a week after he celebrated Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday along with a host of other Latin American leaders in Havana’s Revolution Square.

Rumors of ill health have dogged the Haitian president since his return to office this May, likely linked to the fact that he was treated for prostate cancer in Cuba once before after he left office following his first mandate in 2001. One can only hope that the whispers are only the rumors of Haiti’s well-oiled gossip mill as, however effective or ineffective Préval has been since return to office, any leadership crisis in the political scene at this point could only spell more chaos and bloodshed for the long-suffering Haitian people.

The news comes the day that the New York Daily News, of all places, reported that Préval intends to marry Elisabeth Delatour Debrosse. If true, it would be the third marriage for Préval, and would not appear to be a decision taken by a man in faltering health.

Time will tell, but one must certainly wish that Haiti's old "no smoke without fire" proverb is proved fase in this case.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Haiti votes, Martissant bleeds

On Sunday, Haiti’s local elections came to pass, and, despite the ongoing march of violence in the capital, Port-au-Prince, things seem to have remained relatively peacefully in the rest of the country. Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis, though, said he was surprised by the "feeble" participation of the public in the ballot, the last of Haiti's electoral year. One person was slain in an apparently electoral-related killing in the northern town of Limonade and there were also reports of political gangs brawling in the Artibonite town of Marchand-Dessalines and the southern hamlet of Mapou.

In an act that will likely have graver implications, however, on election day André Jean-Noël, an officer of the Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH), was shot in the head and killed on Avenue Bolosse in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant, where I interviewed survivors of bloody gang warfare this past July, and where an appalling cycle of tit-for-tat murder continues to this day.

Following Noël’s killing, gunmen, evidently working at the behest of a local gang called Base Pilate and, some reports spectulate, taking retaliation for the murder, shot dead at least four people in the same area. With the war between gangs in the Grand Ravine, Ti Bois and Descartes areas of Martissant continuing, the merciless campaign for power in the neighborhood between the Ti Bois-based Lame Ti Manchèt, the Base Pilate and several other gangs in the vicinity shows no sign of letting up, in a story that is shaping up to be one of the great tragedies of René Préval’s second administration and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) . As if to complete the tableau of percolating anarchy and insecurity, over 30 prisoners succeeded in escaping from the capital’s Pénitencier nationale on Monday afternoon.

My one question to those voted into office in February’s presidential and legislative elections and those voted into office this past Sunday: Will anyone hear the cries of the victims of Martissant?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Quite a quartet...

Cuba's acting president, Raul Castro, left, brother of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, talks with Bolivian President Evo Morales, Haitian President René Préval, and Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega during a military parade along the Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006.