Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kashmiri separatist seeks end to armed struggle

My recent article from Kashmir examining the complex political situation there and interviewng Kashmiri political leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mehbooba Mufti was published in today's Washington Times and can be read here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Why do I bother with these morons?"

While perusing the Hindustan Times over chicken vindaloo and mineral water in one of my favorite Muslim restaurants here in Mumbai this afternoon, I found an excellent article reprinted in the editorial section from Guardian columnist George Monbiot. The column was a follow-up to the volcanic and verbose response (777 posts on the Guardian Comment is Free website) that Monbiot’s review of the film Loose Change, which he panned as part of a "virus sweeping the world (that) infects opponents of the Bush government, sucks their brains out through their eyes and turns them into gibbering idiots," elicited some days earlier.

Monbiot, a writer of long-standing left-wing credentials, takes issue, to put it mildly, with the film’s contentions that, on September 11th, the Pentagon was not hit by a commercial airliner, but by a cruise missile, that the twin towers were brought down by means of "a carefully planned controlled demolition," that Flight 93 did not crash, but was redirected to Cleveland airport, where the passengers were taken into a NASA building and never seen again. After their voices were cloned by the Los Alamos laboratories and used to make fake calls to their relatives. Naturally

Having seen the film, I can say that it is a breathy, near-hysterical of hodgepodge of conspiracy theories, attempting to cover all bases by stringing together everything from Bay-of-Pigs era Cuba to a caricature of the gasping Jewish landlord to the neo-conservative agenda of more recent times, repeating groundless allegations as facts, libeling the dead, and wrapping it all up with incredibly irritating, whiny narration and terrible background music that sounds as if it was composed on a $20 Casio keyboard.

"I believe that George Bush is surrounded by some of the most scheming, devious, ruthless men to have found their way into government since the days of the Borgias," Monbiot writes acidly and accurately. "I believe that they were criminally negligent in failing to respond to intelligence about a potential attack by al-Qaeda, and that they have sought to disguise their incompetence by classifying crucial documents….I believe, too, that the Bush government seized the opportunity provided by the attacks to pursue a longstanding plan to invade Iraq and reshape the Middle East, knowing full well that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Bush deliberately misled the American people about the links between 9/11 and Iraq and about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."

"But none of this is sufficient," Monbiot concludes, referring to the deluge of often highly abusive responses he received after discounting the farcical conspiracy theory at the movie's core.

"To qualify as a true opponent of the Bush regime, you must also now believe that it is capable of magic. It could blast the Pentagon with a cruise missile while persuading hundreds of onlookers that they saw a plane. It could wire every floor of the twin towers with explosives without attracting attention and prime the charges (though planes had ploughed through the middle of the sequence) to drop each tower in a perfectly timed collapse. It could make Flight 93 disappear into thin air, and somehow ensure that the relatives of the passengers collaborated with the deception. It could recruit tens of thousands of conspirators to participate in these great crimes and induce them all to have kept their mouths shut, for ever. "

As one of the millions of people who was in Manhattan on that terrible September day, now over six years ago, I applaud Monbiot for standing up to a negligible if shrill minority and pushing for honesty in accountability, both from government and in public discourse.

"Why do I bother with these morons?" Monbiot asks, as a handful of readers post comments accusing him of being an agent of MI5 and a "political whore."

Monbiot’s response?

"Because…those of us who believe that the crucial global issues - climate change, the Iraq war, nuclear proliferation, inequality - are insufficiently debated in parliament or congress, that corporate power stands too heavily on democracy, that war criminals, cheats and liars are not being held to account, have invested our efforts in movements outside the mainstream political process. These, we are now discovering, are peculiarly susceptible to this epidemic of gibberish."
As someone who has seen similar phenomena transpire with regards to debates regarding global issues that I have covered over the years (Haiti, in particular), I think that Monbiot is highly correct in saying that unexamined extremist theories, spun by those with little first-hand knowledge or expertise of the issues they are debating, actually serves to undermine long-term, progressive structural changes rather than contributing to it. Rather than a careful examination of the facts and causes of inequity and injustice, these theories instead seek solace in a feeling of powerlessness, of the inability of the individual to hold governments accountable for their actions. In short, defeatism, which helps nobody.

So, thanks, George Monbiot, for pushing for genuine accountability and debate and not helpless flailing and wild accusations.

The windows are open here in Colaba and it smells like my neighbors have begun burning something again, it’s about that late-afternoon time. The sounds of “Throw Away Your Gun” by Prince Far I are emanating from my laptop speakers and the sun will set in the next few hours on the other side of Bombay island. Time to investigate.

Oh, and if anyone has time, I highly recommend checking out my friend Jens Glüsing's very interesting article, Carnival of Death, in the new edition of Spiegel online.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

India begins dispensing justice for 1993 deaths

I have a new article about the Bollywood gangster Dawood Ibrahim in the Washington Times. You can read it here. Ok, so maybe it's not exactly "new," being two weeks old and all but, hey, it's been a busy reportorial season here in India, so cut me some slack.

I walked from the Fort Area all the way home to south Colaba today, always an experience. I also had the pleasure of some fantastic spicy Goan food this evening, which only seemed appropriate give Goa's Portuguese heritage and it being the end of Carnaval and all.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A response to Tom Luce

Recently, I was forwarded an article written about me by Tom Luce, a man who runs something called Human Rights Accompaniment In Haiti, Inc. (Hurah). Generally, I don't respond to these sorts of things. While fringe dwellers and organizations can be an interesting subject in and of themselves, indicative as they are of the often smug condescension and paternalism that wealthy foreigners feel about poor people the world over, an entire article examining them, and their habit of haunting the internet day and night, spoiling for a fight and libeling people, would be an esoteric and tedious undertaking indeed. However, I felt that it might be worthwhile for readers if I took some time to respond to some of Mr. Luce's egregious misstatements and outright fabrications.

Accusing someone of "contributing to a proxy war" is a serious charge, Fortunately, judging by Mr. Luce's ponderous and slanderous diatribe against this member of the press, it evidently does not come from a very serious individual. When Mr Luce writes that my article is supporting "the prolongation of this proxy war, poor people killing poor people, as a way for the more affluent and powerful to keep their hands clean and keep hold of their power," he exposes both an appalling ignorance of the situation on the ground of Martissant and of the article he sets out to critique.

Apparently the statement in my article that "all armed groups in the neighborhood have been implicated in the grossest human rights violations by residents," followed by "the international community must demand human rights for all in Haiti, without distinction for political affiliation, as it is truly the only way forward," suggesting as it does one standard of human rights for all groups to adhere to (echoing my November 2005 Newsday editorial, "Ballots instead of bullets"), isn't explicit enough for Mr. Luce, so I will try and hold his hand a little further.

Visiting Grand Ravine, Ti Bois, and Déscartes with two other journalists in the summer of 2006, we came upon a scene of desolation of violence as bad as anything I have ever seen in Haiti. My colleague Thos Robinson shot hundreds of photos as I interviewed dozens of people (including Esterne Bruner) in all three areas of the community in Kreyol (the tapes are still in my possession). I suppose there is some other explanation for what we saw in Ti Bois - the hundreds of burned homes, the hundreds of people fleeing down the hillside with their meager belongings on their heads and the people who grabbed hold of my microphone to tell the story of rape, murder and arson that Grand Ravine gang leaders such as Wilkens "Chien Chaud" Pierre (whom I also interviewed, and is now deceased) and Dymsley "Ti Lou" Milien (wanted for alleged involvement in the slaying of Radio Haiti-Inter's Jean Dominique) were bringing to their district - so perhaps Mr. Luce should return to Haiti and lecture those poor people on how they are bringing a bad image to the "movement" he holds so dear, to stop spreading these vicious lies and to go back to the ruins of their homes and live quietly so that they do not complicate the rigid ideological view of the world people like Mr. Luce cling to from a safe distance. Are these the "affluent and powerful" people Mr. Luce had in mind? Likewise, when Luce writes that there was "no proof" of inter-gang warfare in the region in 2006, he ignores (or perhaps is unable to read?) the extensive listing of Haitian radio reports I provide in my article, all recorded on the ground, in Kreyol, which attest to the very war whose existence Luce tries to hide.

Luce's reference to "violence on the part of alleged Lavalas people" is pure proof of his intellectual dishonesty. If there was violence committed in the name of the Fanmi Lavalas party, it was by "alleged" affiliates because, naturally, no affiliate of the party whose supposed purity Luce fetishizes to such an extent could ever be guilty of violence. To write that "some Lavalas adherents did take up arms in defense of their lives and property before and after the 04 coup" is a nice way of sanitizing what I and others on the ground during the 2001-2004 era saw: A government policy and program of arming young men, some of them barely into their teens, as a means for one political party to bully and terrorize its opponents into submission. I know this because some of those young men were my friends, and, despite their often violent behavior, I had far greater respect for them and the honor with which they conducted themselves than the rancid politicians or their cynical foreign advocates like Mr. Luce who so used them and continue to do so. As we can see, Mr. Luce continues to use the bodies of those young boys as currency to score political points even today.

Likewise, I am rather sure the courageous priest Max Dominique, whose funeral oration for Pere Adrien in May 2003, where Dominique denounced the repressive system Jean-Bertrand Aristide had put in place and likened the chimere to the attachés and Macoutes of yore (and which resulted in political thugs arriving at his door that night screaming for his head) , must be rolling over in his grave at Luce's attempt to evoke his name to bolster his dishonest and highly partisan attempts to excuse the murder of the residents of Ti Bois because, unlike some of the equally long-suffering residents of Grand Ravine, they were not members of the "correct" political movement. It is a shame that Tom Luce wasn't on hand, as I was, one morning in January 2003 when Dominique delivered the funeral oration for three brothers from Carrefour murdered with impunity by the police, their coffins soon to be taken to the front of the National Palace in protest, and where Dominique thundered "No to impunity! No to insecurity! We demand justice!"

That was a rallying cry worth following.

Michael Deibert

Friday, February 16, 2007

Carnaval from afar

So this marks the first time in two years that I will not be seeing Rio de Janeiro’s just famous bacchanalian Carnaval celebrations first-hand.

It’s hard to describe the cumulative effect of days upon days of events such as participating in the city's blocos (street parties) as they parade through Rio’s sun-soaked avenues. Some of my favorites, such as the journalist’s bloco Imprensa que Gamo, the Escravos de Mauá that cavorts around the Praça Mauá near the docks, the Cordão da Bola Preta ("Black Ball Krewe," so named because its members had been kicked out of all the other samba associations) concentrated in Cinelândia and the Banda de Ipanema with its outrageous drag queens would each easily qualify as “party of the year” in any normal city, but for Rio, they are just part of two weeks’ worth of steam-letting that has a transformative and joyous effect on an often embattled and joyous populace unlike anything else I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world.

But of course all is not joy in Rio, one of the most violent cities in the world, and I spent a good part of last week one year ago speaking with members of the Comando Vermelho drug cartel in the Zona Norte's Vigário Geral favela, and this week tragedy befell one of my favorite escolas de samba, the Acadêmicos do Salgueiro . In the fall of 2004, I spent many nights watching Salgueiro’s incredible percussion section and dancers (and thousands of supporters) practice in the run-up to Carnaval in a working-class neighborhood in northern Rio. That year, the group’s patron, Waldemir Paes Garcia, known as Maninho or “Little Guy,” a fellow who ran an only semi-legal gambling empire in the city, exited this world in a hail of bullets from (at the time) unknown gunmen. This year, Paes Garcia’s cousin, Guaracy Paes Falcão, was killed in similar circumstances.

Though Rio de Janeiro can often seem like a violent, brutal place (and, having lived basically in a favela for a few months, I can tell you that it certainly is), the cariocas that inhabit the city have a true genius for forgetting about their troubles, living for the moment and savoring what pleasure life has to offer. So, in honor of them, of Rio, my favorite city, and for Thad Blanchette e Ana, Roberta Lemos, Gustavo Pacheco, Carlos Pontual and Mia Tuttavilla, I am posting the lyrics (in Portuguese) of Gilberto Gil’s immortal hymn to Rio, Aquele Abraço.

O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo
O Rio de Janeiro continua sendo
O Rio de Janeiro, fevereiro e março
Alô, alô, Realengo - aquele abraço!
Alô, torcida do Flamengo - aquele abraço!
Chacrinha continua balançando a pança
E buzinando a moça e comandando a massa
E continua dando as ordens no terreiro
Alô, alô, seu Chacrinha - velho guerreiro
Alô, alô, Terezinha, Rio de Janeiro
Alô, alô, seu Chacrinha - velho palhaço
Alô, alô, Terezinha - aquele abraço!
Alô, moça da favela - aquele abraço!
Todo mundo da Portela - aquele abraço!
Todo mês de fevereiro - aquele passo!
Alô, Banda de Ipanema - aquele abraço!
Meu caminho pelo mundo eu mesmo traço
A Bahia já me deu régua e compasso
Quem sabe de mim sou eu - aquele abraço!
Pra você que meu esqueceu - aquele abraço!
Alô, Rio de Janeiro - aquele abraço!
Todo o povo brasileiro - aquele abraço!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine’s Day, Bombay-Style

There is a rather droll editorial by Sujata Anandan in today’s Hindustan Times (sadly not available online as of yet) regarding the frothing reaction of some members of the xenophobic Shiv Sena party - whose personal lives are apparently barren, romanceless, joyless husks of existence - to the arrival of that epochal event of whoredom and Western decadence, Valentine’s Day.

Apparently having graduated from days when they dismantled and burned people to burning people’s property and belongings, on Monday, hundreds of “Shiv Sainiks,” as they refer to themselves, ran amok along the Senapati Bapat Road, trashing a shop that sold Valentine’s Day cards and setting much of the merchandise on fire. Later, evidently still high on the adrenaline rush of their good showing in last month’s municipal elections here in Bombay, the saffron-identified gang them moved on to Deccan Square where they pummeled a large billboard put up by the Indian cell phone giant Hutch which advertised Valentine’s Day with a host of balloons.

"Valentine day like celebrations are all western concepts and has been forced on our society for the commercial purpose,” a Sena youth leader was quoted in the times as saying in the paper. “Shiv Sena will never allow the commercialization of Indian feelings.”

This devotion to the tenderest of human emotions might be more convincing were it not coming from a party the built itself on hate rhetoric to rival anything heard in the segregation-era United States. The party exists more or less exclusively to promote the idea that native Maharashtrians (those born in Maharashtra state of which Bombay is a part and speaking the Marathi language) deserved greater rights here than "foreigners," which in this case means basically Muslims and "southerners" (those from south India). Following the 1993 riots here which killed over 2,000 people, the Srikrishna Commission Report on the violence stated plainly that “from January 8, 1993 at least there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organizing attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several ."
So much for the sacredness of Indian feelings.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that a nation which constructed the 800 year-old erotic temples at Khajuraho as well as composed the Kama Sutra could feel at all threatened by such an innocuous holiday, however commercialized, as Valentines Day and, indeed, virtually no one on the streets today seemed bother, with Bombayite gals in fact looking particularly fetching (or perhaps it was just that the perpetually brown, polluted air had cleared enough so I could see them). So it came as little surprise when, in her column, Anandan reveals that the Sena protests against the Valentine’s Day stem not from some deep-seated belief in the sacredness of Indian traditions, but rather in the fact that the party’s boss, Bal Thackeray, had evidently once approached one of the greeting card companies here to sponsor an event for his daughter-in-law, and was curtly rebuffed. Thackeray, not a man to forget such a slight, swore revenge, and thus we have the yearly protests at Valentine’s Day.

For me, my favorite piece of art themed around the day has nothing to do with amour or even India, but is in fact the Australian director Peter Weir’s fantastic and forbidding Picnic at Hanging Rock, which tells the story of three Australian schoolgirls who disappeared on a school trip to that eponymous geological outcropping on Valentine’s Day, 1900. It was the beginning of a roll of terrific films by Weir, including The Last Wave two years later, Gallipoli in 1981 and The Year of Living Dangerously in 1982. But there remains something uniquely great and strange about Picnic, with its strong undercurrents of euphoria, sexuality, mystery and horror. It remains a film that evokes strong emotions in people even though not all that much actually happens in it and people are often hard put into words exactly why the react they way they do. It is just a sensation. As mystery and the unknown are two of the great drivers of romance, it seems like an appropriate note to close on.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Haiti : The terrible truth about Martissant (Op-Ed version)

Haiti: The Terrible Truth About Martissant, an expanded Op-Ed version of a post that originally appeared on this blog, has just been published by AlterPresse and can be read here.

Arrests in Martissant and a Haiti file goes “missing”

In what may be a hopeful sign (although in Haiti these days, it’s sometimes hard to tell), 31 presumed bandits and gang members were arrested over 10-11 February in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant in a joint Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haïti (Minustah) and Police nationale d’Haïti (PNH) operation. Having allowed the terrible violence in Martissant to fester almost unchecked for nearly eight months, it’s good to see some action being taken to protect the innocent population there from further murder and mayhem, however it remains to be seen whether or not arresting those who were picked up this weekend will actually stem the tide of killing there. And then there is also the matter of the relationship between the police and judicial institutions responsible for actually hearing charges and conducting trials. But one can hope.

Mary Anastasia O'Grady had an interesting piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about the disappearance of “a government file pertinent to two civil law suits alleging bribery…(involving) politically influential individuals on both sides of the aisle and a notoriously corrupt former Haitian president that the U.S. supported for a decade.” Readers of this blog will no doubt be able to surmise which individuals and which president she’s referring to. Subscription required by those ruthless capitalist types to read the article at the Journal’s website, I’m afraid, but a free version can be read here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Families of the disappeared

Yesterday marked the second day here in Srinagar of the hunger strike of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKFL) chairman Yasin Malik, and a sit-in protest against extrajudicial executions and disappearances by Indian security forces. Since the beginning of the conflict here in Kashmir in 1990, an estimated eight thousand people have been “disappeared,” some of them later found buried in unmarked graves far from home, falsely labeled as foreign militants. The draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, first enacted in 1990 and still in effect, authorizes the state government, governor, or Indian government to declare any part of the state to be a “disturbed area” and empowers the armed forces to “for the maintenance of public order, giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable as being used as weapons or of firearms, ammunition or explosive substances.”

Underneath a tent in the Lal Chowk neighborhood, festooned with images of the dead and greeting passerby with flowing Urdu script reading “Allah loveth not the shouting of evil words in public speech except by one who has been wronged for Allah is he who heareth and knoweth all things,” Malik, once a violent rebel who turned into a Ghandian non-violent leader in 1995, lay on a blanket, his lips chapped, and weakly recounted to me why he had initiated his three-day strike and why dozens of members of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons had gathered in the tent, as well. In addition to those I met in the village of Ganderbal and elsewhere, the number of people I have met in Kashmir missing family members or friends now numbers about 50, and that is just from a casual visit. Malik, who ends his hunger strike today, has vowed that, if the human rights situation in Kashmir does not improve within 45 days, to fast unto death in protest.

These faces were among those searching for their loved ones.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Strike Day, Kashmir

A seriously cold day here in Srinagar, made even more so by the ride in an open autorickshaw to the village of Gandarbal, some 30 minutes to the north. Today is the first day of a three-day strike here to protest the disappearances of locals and the multitude of false “encounters,” the euphemism that the Indian military gives to the killing of suspected Islamic militants. Recently, the Senior Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of Ganderbal were arrested for their alleged roles in a rogue army and police ring that was responsible for multiple staged killings of non-combatants and disappearances in the district.

One gets the feeling, when leaving Srinagar, of the wildness of Kashmir, the rushing mounatin streams, the snow-covered hills looming over the valley, the horse-drawn carts pulling fire wood and produce down the lanes. And what is also stunning, when speaking to the local Kashmiris, is that virtually everyone knows someone was has either disappeared after contact with the security forces or been murdered. As we paused before a shop selling provisions, men milling about wearing the region’s distinctive flowing faran gown and taking turns smoking the hookah-like jajir, the stories came quickly. Of laborers summoned to police stations, of electrical linemen disappeared without a trace. The security forces are friendly enough to my friend, a Kashmiri attorney, and I, as they sip tea and adjust their AK-47s, but then again there is little danger that we will be fingered as suspected militants, liable to execution by the security forces, or as informers, and thus at risk for murder by the militants themselves.

It has been an eventful trip thus far, meeting with Parvez Imroz, founder and president of the Jammu & Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society (JKCCS), All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and dozens of others, and I feel lucky to have the chance to glimpse this complex and beautiful land.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Kashmir, 6:24pm

We were sitting, three Kashmiri men and I, in a small tea shop on the Dal Lake, as the sun began setting behind the hills and a damp chill crept into the air that would last well into the next day. I had arrived only that morning, flying over the snow-dusted Himalayas from Bombay by way of New Delhi, to find the brisk air of Srinagar awaiting me after the sometimes choking pollution of Bombay.

The brisk air. And soldiers, everywhere soldiers. Standing in threes and fours at intersections, lackadaisically carrying their weapons as they walked down the street, peering out at the vaguely Persian-looking Kashmiri populace from behind sandbags and barbed-wire. The hotels along Boulevard, once full of tourists in what had been one of India’s tourist hubs, had vacancy after vacancy, the houseboats on the lake that used to attract honeymooning couples bobbed empty on the small waves caused by the mountain winds. The conflict here, which pitted a small but determined group of Islamic militants largely supported by Pakistan against the Indian army, with the vast majority of peaceful Kashmiris - many favoring independence from India - caught in the middle, has killed some 90,000 people in the last 17 years. With both the army and the militants committing awful human rights violations (with those of the army on a far more massive scale), Srinagar has the melancholy feel of a city left to its own devices amidst some terrible brutality. The Indian intellectuals in Delhi and Bombay for the most part aren’t interested in the problem, preferring instead to focus on safer subjects, such as Iraq. It was left to these men, as dusk gathered, to try and count the cost, and wonder why the world isn’t interested.

“There was a garden in a park that the local people in the municipality wanted to make into a graveyard to show the world what is happening here,” said one man, chain-smoking cigarettes. “To show how many people are dying, you see. When one Gujarati laborer was shot by police during a demonstration - he was caught in the crossfire - the people were happy, happy so that they could invest a body in the graveyard and have some kind of claim on it.”

“Me, I was weeping.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

The terrible truth of Martissant

In Haiti’s senate, not even a year old, senator Gabriel Fortuné of the Union party, following up on his promise to elaborate on the corruption which he says is bedeviling the body, accused one of the main shareholders of the Société Caribéenne de Banque S.A. (SOCABANK), Haïtel chairman Franck Ciné, of bribing Haitian senators to vote (18 in favor, 16 opposed) for a negotiated resolution to a complex financial squabble between SOCABANK and the de la République d'Haïti (BRH). Thus far, the response from the executive branch of Haitian president René Préval to the uproar has been muted, but one hopes that a thorough and transparent investigation will soon follow.

In perhaps even more grim news, the Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix released a report covering the human rights situation in Haiti from October until December 2006 and therein concluded that 539 people were killed by violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan region alone in 2006, especially singling out the region of Martissant, where citizens have been at the mercy of warring gangs with varying political affiliations since June 2006. Freelance journalist Jean-Rémy Badio was murdered in his home, evidently by gang-affiliated gunmen from the area, last month.

There have recently been attempts to exculpate one of the street gangs in Martissant - the Baz Grand Ravine loyal to the Fanmi Lavalas party of former Haitian president Jean-Betrand Aristide - from involvement in the appalling violence terrorizing the community there, instead attempting to suggesting the bloodshed comes only from one side, the Lamè Ti Machet (The Little Machete Army), affiliated with the Ti Bois and Déscartes districts of the neighborhood, and said to be loyal to former Haitian police official Carlo Lochard and other political elements. Simply put, this is total, intentional fabrication and ignores the fact that, since June 2006, all armed groups in the neighborhood have been implicated in the grossest human rights violations by residents fleeing attacks speaking to Haitian and foreign journalists brave enough to venture there.

Last summer, the American photojournalist Thos Robinson, a Haitian radio reporter (whose perilous work dictates that he remain nameless) and I spent several days traveling through and interviewing residents of Martissant, during which time we were subject to extremely aggressive and unpleasant questioning by the gangs. The terror we saw that had been created by all the gangs, regardless of political affiliation, killing and burning the neighborhood, was truly an outrage to behold, and we left convinced that the Baz Grand Ravine, like the Lamè Ti Machet, was just another group cloaking their criminality and disregard for the community in the thinnest veneer of ideology, and were guilty of terrible human rights violations.

Those of us who have followed Haiti for many years recall that from 2000 until 2002, the most powerful gang in Martissant was run from Grand Ravine by Felix “Don Fefe” Bien-Aimé, an Aristide loyalist who orchestrated the murder of at least thirteen people when his faction conducted a ghastly all-night siege of the neighboring Fort Mercredi district in June 2001. Following the murders, Bien-Aimé met with Aristide at the National Palace along with what was left of a local Fort Mercredi gang. Under Aristide’s gaze, the gangs signed a joint statement declaring their conflict over. No one was ever arrested for the killings. Bien-Amié eventually scored a patronage job as the director of Port-au-Prince’s main cemetery, and was also said to have been involved in the disappearance of the newborn baby of Nanoune Myrthil from Port-au-Prince General Hospital on February 29, 2000. In September 2002, apparently having outgrown his usefulness (a pattern that would be repeated many times) Bien-Amié was arrested by Haitian police officers and "disappeared," his abandoned car later found burned out at Titanyen, once one ofthe favored dumping grounds for victims of political murders by Haiti’s previous dictatorships.

Though I generally refrain from posting graphic photos on this blog, respectful of the dignity of the human body in death as I am of the sensibilities of readers, I believe that the attached photo, taken by Thos Robinson and chronicling the aftermath of an attack by the Baz Grand Ravine on the neighborhood of Ti Bois, says a whole hell of lot with regards to whether or not the group is involved in violence. There are many more photos just like it. Now, more than ever, I am convinced that human rights must for all in Haiti, without distinction for political affiliation, is the only way forward. It is what we who genuinely care about Haiti, not guided by narrow political ends nor co-opted by the extravagant financial largess of Haiti’s various political actors, need to keep pushing for.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

ACM calls for action on Badio killing

January 30, 2007 - The Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) is calling on Haitian authorities to move swiftly to bring the killers of Jean-Rémy Badio to justice and wants the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to do more to end the isolation of this Member State.

Mr Badio was a freelance journalist and photographer and member of SOS Journalistes with which the ACM has communicated in the recent past. He was shot to death at his home on January 19.

It is especially distressing to note that that Mr. Badio’s murder results from his work in reporting on the operations of organised gangs in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Martissant.

This killing suggests that changes in political administration in Haiti have not served to reverse a tendency by criminal elements with political agendas to target journalists and media workers. Firm and decisive action against such acts was recommended by the ACM following our mission to Haiti in 2002 while the murder of Jean Dominique in 2000 was still being investigated without success.

We are concerned that this specific feature of the Haitian landscape has not been suitably addressed by the country’s CARICOM allies, despite representations made on the issue by the ACM.

For example, as far back as January 24, 2002 we informed CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, in writing, that “our Haitian colleagues have stressed the urgency of getting their information out to the rest of the region because there is a belief that the international media have neither paid sufficient attention to nor displayed a high level of sensitivity to their plight.”

We have also used other fora to express concern that while Haiti is being used in the public relations ofthe CARICOM Secretariat as a valuable member of the Community, it continues to be treated as a population of “outsiders” by CARICOM Member States.

This continued isolation even within the CARICOM system can only embolden elements bent on acting with impunity against journalists and media organisations.

In this regard, we call on CARICOM to take measures to bring some relief to this situation.

Dale Enoch

We acknowledge the assistance of Michael Deibert in the shaping of this response from the ACM.

Association of Caribbean Media Workers
www.acmediaworkers. com
Dale Enoch, President: (868) 628-4955
Peter Richards, First Vice-President
Bert Wilkinson, Second Vice-President
Wesley Gibbings, General Secretary
Nita Ramcharan, Asst. General Secretary
Michael Bascombe
Canute James