Saturday, June 30, 2007

An update on the situation of the Lepcha of Sikkim

While a virtual mainstream news blackout continues to exist with regards to the hunger strike of many Lepcha, the indigenous inhabitants of India’s Himalayan state of Sikkim, against a hydro power project planned along the Teesta River in Dzongu, some enterprising journalist from a website called Asian News International has shown more initiative than all my colleagues in the Western media and written a serviceable summary of the situation here.

As I wrote in response to a posting on the issue on Dilip D'Souza’s Bombay-based blog, being a working journalist who has covered economically disadvantage, politically tumultuous countries in the past (Haiti, Guatemala), I grow weary of the excuses of my colleagues that editors and the like won't "let" them cover certain stories (though I have encountered the hubris of desk-bound editors decided what stories are and aren't worth covering myself in the past).

Perhaps I grow increasingly curmudgeonly in my old age, but I think my colleagues in the international media need to show a little more enterprise and a little more backbone to make sure the stories of people like the Lepcha (or the rural peasantry in Haiti, or the indigenous communities in Guatemala, etc) are given some kind of a platform in the international dialogue, and a little less time worrying about the creature comforts of their personal lives or ease of professional advancement.

Simply put, one is worth fighting for, and one isn’t.

Friday, June 29, 2007

FRANCE: Diaspora Trade Strengthens Communities

FRANCE: Diaspora Trade Strengthens Communities

By Michael Deibert

PARIS, Jun 29 (IPS) - In the northern Paris neighbourhood of Chateau Rouge, a casual visitor could be forgiven for a moment for feeling that one had gotten off the city's storied metro and ended up in Dakar or Abidjan.

Here, percolating soukous tunes from the Congo pump out of storefronts such as that of Rythmes & Musiques while women attired in weaved damask robes and men in West Africa's traditionally colourful dashiki vest go about their business in one of the city's most vibrant open-air markets.

But, say observers, "foreign" as they may seem to some French, it is also, empathically, as much the face of modern France as any of the postcard images of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de Triomphe that tourists usually associate with the country.

Read more here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Few Concrete Steps Proposed for Darfur

My new article on the lack of detailed proposals for action coming out of the recent conference on the Darfur conference here in Paris was published by the Inter-Press Service today and can be read here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Help support the Lepcha of Sikkim

A friend of mine who worked in the Himalayan Indian state of Sikkim, an area I was not able to visit during my time in India, recently informed me of the terrible plight of the Lepcha, the indigenous inhabitants of the region.

Some leading Lepcha citizens, including members of the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), Concerned Lepchas of Sikkim (CLOS) and the Sangha of Dzongu have commenced on an indefinite hunger strike to protest against the arbitrary sanctioning of mega hydro power projects in Sikkim by the state government there.

The Lepcha's concerns have been poignantly summed up by Dawa Lepcha who noted as follows:

“The Lepchas and their distinct culture and social fabric are being threatened by these projects. The Environment Impact assessment (EIA) done by the Centre for Inter-disciplinary Studies of Mountain & Hill Environment (CISMHE) for the Panang project does not mention anything about the Lepcha tribes, save for a single line, under social and anthropological assessment. This shows utter disregard for the Lepcha people and their very survival,”

To find out more about the Lepchas and their struggle, please visit the Weeping Sikkim site here.

New Plans for Niger Basin

My new article on moves by the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) to turn the 4,100 km long Niger River into a regional economic asset was published by the Inter Press Service today and can be read here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Open letter to Louis Joinet from Charliénor Thompson

An open letter was recently sent to Louis Joinet, the United Nations' independent expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti on behalf of the victims of the February 2004 massacre that took place in the northern Haitian town of Saint Marc.

Readers of this blog will remember the Saint Marc killings as one of the most odious human rights abuses to take place in Haiti as the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide sputtered to an end that month. Following the lead of street gangs formerly loyal to the president in Gonaives (who rose up to avenge the murder of their leader, Amiot “Cubain” Metayer and drove government forces from the town on February 5), the anti-Aristide group Rassemblement des militants conséquents de Saint-Marc (Ramicos), based in the neighborhood of La Scierie, two days later took advantage of the chaos to use the weapons at their disposal—mostly light sidearms and pistols—to overrun the Saint Marc police station, where they freed all the prisoners before setting the structure on fire.

On February 11, however, pro-government forces recaptured the town, and members of the Unite de Securite de la Garde du Palais National d’Haiti and the local pro-Aristide Bale Wouze paramilitary gang set about on a multi-day mass killing of Aristide opponents, as well as politically unaffiliated civilians, during which authoritative accounts list at least 27 people as having been slain and a number of women raped. One of the leaders of Bale Wouze, former Fanmi Lavalas party Deputy Amanus Mayette, a man who witnesses in Saint Marc have charged actively participated in the killings, was freed from prison without trial last month.

The letter to Louis Joinet, written by a former Ramicos member named Charliénor Thompson, now the coordinator of the Association des Victimes du Génocide de la Scierie (AVIGES), named for the neighborhood in Saint Marc where many of the killings took place, with some cause takes the United Mission in Haiti (known by its acronym, MINUSTAH) to task for what some victims of human rights abuses during Haiti's 2001-2004 government charge is the organization's somewhat cavalier attitude when it comes to prosecuting the responsible and defending those victimized in such incidents as the killings in Saint Marc.

Thompson writes that, with Amanus Mayette and other perpetrators now walking free, “what justice can we expect? Who will be able to testify freely while the assassins are free and circulate with total impunity?" The letter then goes on to speak of the fear that residents of Saint Marc live in, afraid that now, as they have been pushing for justice for over three years, they make again become victims of those who attacked them in the past.

Holding people indefinitely without trial is wrong, but equally wrong is the denial of a day in court for people who have suffered as grievously as those of Saint Marc have. The victims of the killings and other violations that took place in Saint Marc in February 2004 deserve to have a lawful, transparent day in court with those that they accuse of such heinous crimes.

In the interest of making the ground-level perspective on this issue more widely available, below please find the unedited text of Charliénor Thompson's letter to Louis Joinet.

Lettre ouverte au juge Louis Joinet
Charliénor THOMPSON
19, Rue Briand Charles, Saint Marc, Haïti
Cell. 781 4794 E-mail :
Saint Marc, le 12 juin 2007

Monsieur Louis JOINET, Juge
Expert Indépendant Pour Haïti
Du Conseil des Droit Humains des Nations Unies

Via : Edmond MULLET
Chef de la MINUSTHA
Représentant du Secrétaire Général
Des Nations Unies.

Monsieur le Juge Expert Indépendant,

Nous vous écrivons à titre de coordonnateur d'un groupe dénommé AVIGES qui rassemble les victimes des évènements survenus à Saint Marc, au cours du mois de février 2004 sous la présidence de M. Jean Bertrand Aristide, ordonnés et coordonnés par le Premier Ministre d'alors M. Yvon Neptune. Nous apprécierions que vous puissiez nous accorder quelques minutes de votre attention, le temps de la lecture de la présente, malgré vos obligations habituelles, entre deux missions en Haïti.

De vos divers voyages, dans notre pays, nous avons retenu que la seule visite que vous nous avez rendu, a été pour soutenir la demande en récusation du tribunal de Saint Marc introduite par M. Neptune inculpé dans les massacres de Saint Marc.

Nous suivons avec attention le déroulement de vos missions dans notre pays, et nous avons noté qu'elles sont toutes de courtes durées. En lisant les comptes-rendus de la presse et en écoutant avec intérêt vos prises de positions dans les médias haïtiens, nous avons du mal à comprendre l'objet de votre mission. Nous ignorons les termes de références du contrat vous liant aux Nations Unies, aussi pour nous aider à comprendre serait-il important que nous sachions quels sont les termes de référence de vos intervention dans notre pays. Etes-vous " Inspecteur International des Geôles Haïtienne " ou " Expert chargé de conseiller et de faire des recommandations à l'État Haïtien pour la réforme du système judiciaire et le respect des droits de la personne "? La question peut paraître saugrenue mais elle est pertinente si l'on tient compte de vos déclarations, lors des entrevues que vous avez accordé en Haïti, concernant vos principales préoccupations.

Pour nous autres victimes, qui vivons en Haïti et qui avons introduit une plainte auprès du système judiciaire de notre Pays, depuis plus de trois (3) ans, nous demeurons perplexe et nous nous demandons : "Qui se soucie de notre cas ? "

Notre cause traîne, prise dans un labyrinthe de procédures. Nous nous posons la question sur ce qui peut inciter le gouvernement de notre pays à afficher un tel mépris à l'égard des victimes.

Nous avons vu et nous continuons à voir un ballet d'experts s'activer et se préoccuper du cas des bourreaux et faire fi de la situation des victimes. Leur suffit-il, pour se donner bonne conscience, de savoir que nous avons la chance d'être encore en vie après les horreurs et tribulations que nous avons vécues. Pensent-ils pouvoir se mettre à l'abri de toute critique pour avoir prononcer des phrases sibyllines du genre de celle que vous dites en alléguant que vous n'aviez par ailleurs aucune sympathie pour ce monsieur (en parlant de Amanus Mayette), tout en oblitérant les circonstances particulièrement confuse ayant entouré sa mise en liberté.

Que fait ou que devrait faire le système des Nations Unies qui vous emploie ? En quoi consiste ou devrait consister le rôle de ce système et des experts qu'il nous envoie ? De quelle type d'assistance notre Pays a-t-il besoin, dans les circonstances actuelles, particulièrement difficiles de notre vie de peuple ? A quoi sert réellement, en fin de compte toute la " sollicitude" dont nous semblons faire l'objet ? Une réponse doit être trouvée à nos interrogations de citoyens haïtiens.

Nous avons cru déceler dans vos prises de position une pointe d'humanisme quand vous compariez les prisonniers du Cap Haïtien à un tas de vers empilés sur une motte de terre. Pour que vous souciez de notre sort, au lieu d'être de simples victimes devrions nous plutôt être des prisonniers ?

En attendant une réponse nous voudrions rappeler le caractère non violent de notre action pour la justice et la paix ainsi que certains faits vécus qui sont à la base de nos revendications de notre action en justice.

Parmi les faits se rapportant aux événements de février 2004 on peut retenir, notamment :

des jeunes gens désarmés esquissant des pas de " Break Dancing Afro Américain" pour tenter

d'éviter l'impact des balles meurtrières tirées depuis l'hélicoptère du gouvernement d'alors ;

un jeune homme blessé enlever des bras de sa mère pour être jeté vivant dans un brasier ;

une jeune mère se faire violer dans le commissariat de police de Saint Marc une semaine après avoir accouché ;

des cadavres dépecés par des chiens dans les mornes de la scierie après les tueries organisées par le police national et les gangs armés aux ordres du gouvernement Aristide / Neptune ;

un jeune homme arrêté à moins de 50 mètres du commissariat de police de Saint Marc se faire arracher les globes oculaires à l'aide d'une fourchette, être invité ensuite à se mettre à table pour une partie de cartes avec ses bourreaux et être finalement tué ;

un jeune homme traîné vivant attaché à l'arrière d'une camionnette sur plusieurs kilomètres dans les rues de la ville pour être finalement brûlé vif avant de rendre son dernier soupir ;

l'incendie d'une demeure ou vivaient seul deux vieillards quasi nonagénaires qui seraient morts brûlés vif sans l'intervention de certains voisins ;

un jeune homme désarmé se faire brûler avec sa compagne enceinte de huit mois


Tous ces meurtres et crimes ont été exécutés du 9 au 29 février 2004 sous les ordres de MM. Jean Bertrand Aristide Ex Président de la République et Yvan Neptune Ex Premier Ministre d'Haïti. Nous en voulons pour preuve le fait que certains prisonniers de Saint Marc ont été conduits au Palais National ainsi que les 9 heures de conversation téléphonique du Premier Ministre, sur son cellulaire personnel, avec les criminels qu'il avait installé à Saint Marc (60% de ses appels pour la période sus cité), ceci a été révélé par l'instruction de l'affaire.

Aujourd'hui, nous, victimes des actes d'horreurs cités plus haut vivons sous la menace constante des criminels qui ont tous été libérés sous la pression, notamment, de certains organismes de la société civile internationale.

Pour arriver à leurs fins les prévenus, inculpés par le juge d'instruction, ont utilisé tous les moyens dilatoires que leur procuraient les procédures judiciaires. Ils ont aussi utilisé les pressions médiatiques et les opinions d'experts pour faire accréditer la version de la prison préventive prolongée, alors que les délais sont dus aux faiblesses et au mauvais fonctionnement de l'appareil judiciaire dont la bonne marche est une responsabilité du gouvernement.

Actuellement les criminels en liberté ne lésinent pas sur les moyens de pression sur nous autres victimes et sur les témoins de leurs actes barbares. Ils font même jouer leur accointance avec certains tenants du pouvoir politique actuel pour nous intimider.

Aujourd'hui à quelle justice devons nous nous attendre ? Qui pourra témoigner librement alors que les assassins sont libres et circulent en toute impunité. La majorité des habitants de Saint Marc ont peur. Même ceux qui ont été directement victimes des actes cités plus haut ont peur. Les victimes ont envie de fuir la ville et les témoins se terrent.

Quand l'État nous fera-t-il bénéficier des bienfaits de la justice que nous réclamons ? Dans les circonstances actuelles, sous quelle forme viendra-t-elle ?

La communauté internationale, via la MINUSTHA, s'intéresse-t-elle vraiment à voir s'établir en Haïti un état de droit ? Les préoccupations des haïtiens au sujet de la justice sont elles prises en compte par la communauté internationale ? Alors que les haïtiens perçoivent l'insécurité et l'impunité comme le plus grand mal qui ronge notre société, on croirait, à vous entendre, que le plus grand problème du pays est celui du système carcéral! Les experts de passage des Nations Unies condamnent le mauvais état des prisons ainsi que la mauvaise gestion des lieux de détentions alors que le responsable de la gestion des prisons est le gouvernement assisté par une batterie d'experts placés au sein même de ce système carcéral. Les experts de passage des Nations Unies condamnent la mauvaise gestion de la justice alors que tous les circuits de notre système judiciaire regorgent d'expert de ces mêmes Nations Unies qui sont à demeure dans le pays. Nous serions reconnaissants à qui nous permettrait au moins de comprendre.

Nous craignons d'être vu à travers un modèle et nous ne savons pas dans quel modèle l'ONU place les évènements qui se sont produits en Haïti. Nous assistons à une désagrégation de la machine étatique et plus particulièrement, en ce qui nous concerne, du système judiciaire et nous n'avons aucune idée des recommandations au Gouvernement de notre Pays ni des actions concrètes prévues pour redresser la situation. Nous sommes inquiets pour notre avenir et nous recommandons une prudence extrême dans l'emploi des modèles, et dans l'application de mesures toutes faites venant de l'extérieur : l'expérience notamment du Rwanda étant là pour nous interpeller tous.

Nous vous communiquons en annexe deux textes qui vous permettront de vous faire une idée de ce qui s'est réellement passé à Saint Marc : l'un est un communiqué de l'Associations des Entrepreneurs de l'Artibonite daté du 13 février 2004, l'autre une lettre ouverte d'une des victimes.

Nous, haïtiens, sommes familiers des paradoxes de la France éternelle et généreuse. Après nous avoir donné les grandes idées de 1789 et nous avoir envoyé le commissaire Sonthonax qui donna sont appui à la révolte en consacrant officiellement par décret la liberté général des esclaves ; n'a-t-elle pas envoyé l'armée expéditionnaire avec Leclerc et Rochambeau pour rétablir l'esclavage et capturer le Général Toussaint Louverture qui avait cru pouvoir élargir ces idées généreuses à toutes les races. Après avoir compris que Jean Bertrand Aristide était un criminel indigne de la fonction de président ; n'est elle pas devenue la terre d'asile pour deux criminels inculpés dans les évènements de Saint Marc comme elle l'est pour Jean Claude Duvalier.

Juste avant de terminer, permettez nous de soumettre à votre sagacité cette phrase de l'autre : « Eprouver dans sa chair l'injustice commise contre quiconque dans le monde est la plus belle qualité d'un révolutionnaire » En la circonstance nous dirions « de tout juge soucieux des droits de la personne ».

Nous vous remercions d'avoir pris le temps de lire cette longue missive. Nous espérons qu'elle aura la vertu d'enrichir vos réflexions de juge - expert et qu'elle permettra au système des Nations Unies de mûrir ses actions dans le monde en général et en Haïti en particulier.
Dans l'espoir de pouvoir un jour bénéficier de l'attention et de la compréhension des experts internationaux si influents dans notre pays nous vous présentons, monsieur le Juge Expert Indépendant, nos salutations distinguées.

Charliénor THOMPSON
Coordonnateur de l'AVIGES

PJ : Communiqué du 13 février 2004 de l'AEA
Lettre ouverte de Franck Paultre
CC : Le Parlement Haïtien
Le Gouvernement Haïtien
La Presse
Les Organismes des Droits Humains
Le Public

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Reports sound the alarm on global warming

A little piece that I wrote for the newsletter of the United Nations Association on the implcations of the first major global assessment of climate change in six years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been publsihed and can be read here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Golem à Paris

My old friend Aaron Diskin’s band Golem performed at the Musée d'art et d'histoire du Judaïsme last night as part of the Fête de la musique, the highly enjoyable all-day-and-all-night bout of free music that occurs here every June 21st. It was the first show in the City of Lights for the band, who describe themselves as “a 6-piece Eastern European folk-punk band” and sing in a mixture on English, Yiddish and, on this evening, French.

The music is quite a wild mixture of frenetic drumming, driving accordion riffs, trilling viola runs and Diskin’s vocals with seem to race back and forth between the singing traditions of the Lower East Side at the turn of two centuries, the largely Eastern European Jewish former and the rock music filled latter. The setting was quite a beautiful old building along the Rue du Temple and the crowds of several thousand seemed to highly enjoy themselves as the band ended up playing for nearly two hours.

While walking through the streets of Paris after the show with a retinue of friends, hearing music pouring from every street corner, we were amused to remember the floor we shared way back in our college days, which not only included myself, a journalist and author and Diskin, now the singer for this unique sounding band named after a towering Jewish Frankenstein who defended the Jews of 17th Century Prague, but also Enayatullah Qasimi, who did a stint as Afghanistan’s Minister of Transportation in the government of President Hamid Karzai. Now here, many years later, we meet in the streets of a foreign city, thousands of miles away.

Life certainly takes you to some interesting places.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Some stories coming out of Hispaniola

There is a very interesting article recently published by the Inter-Press Service by Elizabeth Eames Roebling that looks, from the Dominican side of the border, at the current debate regarding Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the country. One of my own articles for the Inter-Press Service on the same subject was recently quoted by the Boston Globe.

As if one needed any proof that the Dominican Republic is not alone in short-sighted immigration policies, the same day I read for the first time of the plight of Yaderlin Hiraldo, the wife of United States Army Specialist Alex Jimenez, who has been missing since his unit was attacked by insurgents in Iraq on May 12. Jimenez had petitioned for a green card for his wife, who came to join him without proper documentation from the Dominican Republic in 2001, before his disappearance. Ms. Hiraldo is seeking a hardship waiver to stay in the United States which the U.S. government has yet to grant.

From back in Haiti, meanwhile, one of the main gang leaders from the Raboteau district in the northern city of Gonaives, Adecla Saint-Juste, has met his end, “cut down,” Haiti’s Radio Kiskeya is reporting, in the nearby district of Anse Rouge. Many thought Saint-Juste behind the May 16 slaying of Alix Joseph, the director Radio-Télé Provinciale in the city

The offensive of the Police Nationale and United Nation’s MINUSTAH forces against gangs in Haiti’s City of Independence, which has been plagued by gang activity at least since the Armée Canibale gang of Amiot “Cubain” Metayer harassed and killed opponents of then-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from 2000 until 2003, appears to be bearing some fruit. Metayer himself was murdered, on what many of his supporters believe was Aristide’s orders, in September 2003, one of the sparks that lit the rebellion that eventually ousted Aristide five months later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Brasil's military and police and Haiti - Clearing up some confusion

As ther seems to be some confusion on the subject, I thought I would quickly post a little something to set right what appears to be a common misunderstanding about the difference between the Brazilian military and police forces.

The Policia Militar in Brasil, which has been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International among others, despite its somewhat ambiguous name, has absolutely nothing to do with the Brazilian military. They are part of the civilian police force. The Brazilian military (army) presence in Haiti is in no way connected with the Policia Militar that is involved in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. The Policia Militar in Brasil are controlled by the respective states they operate in (every state has its own force), and not by the nation's Ministry of Defense, unlike the army. They are totally separate entities.

With very few exceptions, such as in 2003 and again in 2006, since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985, the government of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been very careful not to give the military any sort of formalized law enforcement role in Brazil. In fact, members of Lula's Partido dos Trabalhadores have often been among those calling for increased accountability and transparency in the law-enforcement regime currently in place in Brasil.

Having spent time in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, I can say that, much as it has been in Haiti, the situation in the favelas is often one in which heavily-armed gang members are squaring off against an often-equally brutal police force with thousands of civilians helplessly caught in the middle.

Immigrants uneasy over proposed policies

My first article since relocating here to Paris, on some of the immigration proposals and the creation of the new Ministère de l'immigration, de l'intégration, de l'identité nationale et du codéveloppement by the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was published by the Inter Press Service today and can be read here.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Vendredi (Paris)

Though I landed in Paris at the beginning of the week, today, for some reason was the day it began to feel like a new home.

After staying up late writing and sleeping in late (which I rarely do, being a habitual early riser), a leisurely stroll around my neighborhood in the 18eme early this afternoon turned interesting when I turned down one side street to see thousands upon thousands of African and Arab men standing with their heads bowed over prayer mats, then pressing their foreheads to the ground in the direction of Mecca as the muezzin's call to prayer echoed down Paris’ bustling Friday streets.

From that auspices beginning, I strolled down past the Gare du Nord and eventually through the largely Asian and Arab quarter of Belleville, birthplace of the famous French chanteuse Edith Piaf in another era. The sky darkening, I found myself, eventually, along the Canal Saint-Martin near the Stalingrad neighborhood, where I took shelter beneath the awning of a café right on the water as the sky opened a torrential deluge that cascaded dramatically down from the sky onto the pavement and the water of the only a few feet away. With typical Parisian schizophrenia, the downpour lasted less than half and hour, and the sun was blazing again as I walked back to the 18eme, arriving home at the height of the outdoor market, where I picked up some bananas and grapes fairly bursting with flavor, and watched as the some of the local vendors took off at a mad dash when the French police showed up to question the legality of some of the watches, jewelry and assorted bling they were selling from makeshift cloth-covered tables and in some cases literally from their bare hands curbside. Arriving home, I found an invitation in my mailbox to join some friends for an apéritif on Sunday.

I think I’m going to like it here.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Radio Caracas, Kashmir and the courtship of Haiti

Continuing on the theme of free speech alluded to in recent posts here about Samir Kassir, Jacques Stephen Alexis and the film The Price of Sugar, I was struck by last week’s editorial in The New York Times by former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, who governed that Andean nation from 2001 until 2006 and is currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

The editorial, regarding the shuttering of Radio Caracas Television by the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, makes some apt and perceptive points on respect for freedom of the press and commitment to the tenants of democracy that would do well to be studied not only by Mr. Chavez himself, but also by the Bush administration and political leaders in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, to name only other three countries.

Having never visited Venezuela, I can’t claim to speak as any authority the particulars of the case, but having served as a correspondent in several highly tumultuous countries where an oligarchic elite, rancid political class and pseudo-populist demagogues often violently square off to the detriment of their people (Guatemala, Haiti and India spring to mind), it seems fairly clear to me that Radio Caracas Television, in addition to being one of the oldest television stations in Latin America and something of an institution in Venezuela itself, was also was, at least at times, a bit of a mouthpiece for anti-Chavez, seditious propaganda over the years (although judging from the crowds protesting the closure station’s in Caracas that is evidently what at least some in the Venezuelan population wanted to hear).

But, at the same time what about Mr. Chavez’s own professed commitment to democracy? This also bears serious scrutiny, and is certainly not without its blemishes. What of the Chavez-lead 1992 coup attempt against Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez, himself democratically elected? Granted Mr. Chavez's move came after the caracazo, as the Pérez government's violent suppression of anti-government rioting in 1989 became known, but does that justify overturning the constitutional order? As we have seen in Haiti, where a democratically-elected government that did not respect the rules of democracy was overthrown by extra-constitutional means, these are not simple questions.

And this is exactly the grain that Alejandro Toledo grasps in his Op-Ed.

“Presidents may be elected democratically, but it is more important to govern democratically, even with an opposing press that reports different opinions,” Toledo writes with admirable clarity. “Latin America's common enemies are poverty, inequality and exclusion — not dissident thought. Hunger is not fought by silencing critics. Unemployment does not disappear by exiling those who think differently. We cannot have bread without liberty. We cannot have nations without democracy.”

Reporting on countries where the killing of journalists is a disturbingly frequent occurrence and where, as my friend Dilip D'Souza notes on his blog, dissenting voices are often meant with violence, these words are welcome.

They are even more so, living in a country, as I currently do, where the government sees fit to fashion laws and procedures that permit withholding evidence from criminal defendants, denying defendants the right to file habeas corpus petitions, establish military tribunals, retain the right to send people to secret prisons abroad and gives immunity to government agents for acts occurring during interrogations. These are indeed not idle concerns, even if the courts do seem to be regaining some of their senses. But it is good to read clear and eloquent calls for moderation, liberal humanism, if you will such as Mr. Toledo’s.

Speaking of alternative points of view, for those interested in an authentic, objective, on-the-ground take on the struggles of the citizens of both Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, I highly recommend checking out the daily news feeds from the Greater Kashmir website. It was recommended to me one day as I sat chatting and drinking kehva with two friends at a second-floor restaurant across the street from the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, and I have been a very regular visitor to the site since then.

And finally, there was a rather interesting article by Tahiane Stochero on the political football Haiti has to some degree become in today’s Estado de Sao Paulo.

For such a small and, economically and geopolitically speaking, relatively insignificant country, Haiti has been the object of the recent attentions of not only the United States and Brasil, but also of the aforementioned Mr. Chavez's Venezuela, Cuba, China, Taiwan and Bolivia. Perhaps the vodou has finally started to work on someone with money instead of just impoverished journalists, filmmakers and anthropologists.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Please sign in protest of Du'a Khalil's murder

The below was forwarded to me. MD.

Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17 year old girl from the town of Bashiqa, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was stoned to death on April 7, 2007.

She came from a family of Yazidi faith, and was snatched from her home by Yazidi men who had discovered that she was in love with a Muslim Arab man and had visited him. In front of hundreds of people, including local police, they dragged her to the center of town, and viciously beat and stoned her to death. Towns people watched and even filmed this barbaric act. The killers, obviously well knownin the community, are still free.

Please join in signing this petition to demand that the Iraqi Governmentand Kurdistan Regional Government condemn this un-Islamic, brutal act and bring the killers to justice, and that they outlaw honor killings, as well as all violence and oppression of women.

Follow this link to sign on here.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mohammed's religion in Haiti

In the wake of the rather bumbling apparent attempts by a Trinidadian-Guyanese quartet to blow up New York's JFK International Airport, I came across an interesting piece in the New York Daily News yesterday titled Radicalism heating up in the Caribbean.

While relatively sober and well-written, two passages in the article struck me, as someone who has a bit of experience with the Muslim community in Haiti.

The first, in the text of the article proper itself, stated that "in recent years, a surprising number of mosques have sprouted up in the capital, Port-au-Prince." The second was from an unnamed Caribbean “leader” stating that "We don't understand why there are so many mosques in Haiti."

I found these statements interesting because I have actually followed the rise of Islam in Haiti in some detail over the years, and, as I wrote to the author of the article, James Meek (who sent me a quite nice and open-minded reply), I would venture that the (relatively minimal) growth of the Muslim faith in Haiti is nowhere near as mysterious (or, as seemed to be suggested, threatening) as the “leader” believes that it is.

There are not really "so many" mosques in Port-au-Prince (at last count they numbered under a dozen in a city of two million plus), but, from my research, Islam largely began to take root in Haiti in a modern context with the large-scale return of the Haitian diaspora following the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, some bringing with them the Muslim faith that they had been introduced to in the United States and Canada. A number of these converts found further succor in the presence of Pakistani and Bangladeshi international forces in Haiti following the 1994 multinational intervention. The growth of Islam in Haiti is in fact a subject I dealt with in my 2002 article, for Reuters Mohammed's Religion Finds a Place in Haiti, which can be read here.

The Haitian Muslims I know are, for the most part, decent, lovely people (like Haitians are in general), though, of course, the one Muslim who managed to get himself elected député under the Aristide regime - Nawoon Marcellus (who threatened me on Haitian radio in early 2003) - turned out to be as unsavory as any Haitian politician I've seen. But one can’t malign an entire religion for the action of one or even hundreds of people any more than one could denounce the Catholic church because Aristide himself sprang forth from its pulpits or the United Methodists because they are U.S.President George W. Bush’s denomination of choice.

I remember, one day, as we listened to the muezzin issue the call to prayer in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood or Carrefour-Feuilles, a Muslim congregant who went by the name Racin Ganga, said to me that “Allah says that if a man kills another man it is as if he has killed all humanity… Islamic people should use the weapon of their love, because violence, as we've seen here in Haiti, will not take us anywhere."

That is a sentiment one would hope that people of many faiths could agree on.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Remembering Samir Kassir

Two years ago, on Thursday June 2, 2005, the Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir was killed in Beirut when a bomb that had been placed in his car exploded as he stepped into the vehicle. He was 45 years old.

By all accounts, Samir Kassir was a dedicated and courageous journalist. A 20-year contributor to the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, Kassir founded his own monthly political and cultural review, L’Orient-Express, which published between 1995 and 1998. That year, he became an editorial writer for the daily Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar.

His editorials criticized the dominant role that Syria had played in Lebanon's convoluted and often violent political landscape, and appealed for a genuinely democratic, self-guided transformation not only for his own country but also in Syria and in the Arab world at large.

Born to a Lebanese Palestinian father and a Syrian mother, and having studied widely in France, it seemed natural that his vision of the world should be a far more broad, inclusive and sophisticated one than any mere nationalism could ever be. He was the kind a progressive, democratic liberal voice that the world needs more of, not less.

Samir Kassir left behind a wife, the Lebanese television presenter Giselle Khoury, and two daughters, Mayssa and Eliana. Take a moment today to remember him, his work and his struggle at a page that has been dedicated to his memory here.

Palabras Prohibidas

The closer they came to the promised land, the more they felt the net tightening around them.

So writes perhaps Haiti’s greatest author, Jacques Stephen Alexis, at the conclusion of arguably his finest novel, Compere General Soleil, translated masterfully into English as General Sun, My Brother by the American professor Carrol F. Coates.

Alexis was depicting the struggles against tyranny, both political and economic, of a desperately poor worker and former restavek (a child from a poor family who goes to work in rich households as a kind of indentured servant) named Hilarion Hilarius, his lover Claire-Heureuse, their young baby and their friends and relatives in 1930s Haiti and the Dominican Republic, as they are preyed upon by the ravenous opportunists of the political and economic classes that control both countries.

Alexis knew of what he wrote. A committed left-wing activist during the dictatorship of Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier (and indeed, long before), Alexis helped form the Part d'Entente Populaire (Party of Popular Accord) in Haiti 1958, serving as the country's representative to the Thirteenth Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers in Moscow the following year, as well as traveling to the Conference of Communist Worker's Parties in Beijing in November 1960, where he met the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. Setting sail from Cuba with a group of supporters on an ill-fated expedition to oust Duvalier on April 22, 1961 (the writer's thirty-ninth birthday), once ashore in Haiti, Alexis and his group were seized by Haitian soldiers, with the writer was eventually stoned to death by a group of peasants and street children at the urging of the local army and Tontons Macoutes, Duvalier's feared paramilitary henchmen.

Francois Duvalier succeeded in silencing the voice, if not the legacy, of Jacques Stephen Alexis.

In the present day, there are still those who, if perhaps not disposed to immediately take the step of publicly, physically murdering their opponents, seek to do as much through vilification and character assassination.

I have seen this first-hand in India, where supporters of that country’s hegemony in the restive Kashmir region have often sought to cast independence activists there, and indeed, most of the population, in the role of some sort of quasi-Taliban because of the unconscionable acts of a handful of violent jihadists. And, of course, I have seen it in Haiti, where individuals who have risked their lives to build a better country than the one that Jacques Stephen Alexis left behind are still regularly maligned by a privileged few with little knowledge and even less ethical and intellectual integrity,

As such, freedom of speech, especially when it’s the freedom to speak words that the powerful or the intolerant don’t want to hear, has always been an issue near and dear to my heart. And so, in that spirit, I ask you to read and meditate on a recent article I wrote for the Inter Press Service about a new film called The Price of Sugar, and a Paris conference, which deals with the state of Haitians laboring in the sugarcane fields of the Dominican Republic. It is a film that has sparked considerable controversy, and one whose message it would appear is very unwelcome in certain quarters in the halls of the powerful of Haiti’s’ neighbor to the East.

“Body blows wear them down,” a pugilistically-inclined friend once wrote to me, of those who would seek to scuttle an open and honest discussion of what transpires under cloaks of plotting and dissembling surrounding places such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “Though not as glamorous, they’re better for real challengers. Work the ribs. The arms will drop!"

While less inclined to view any discussion in terms of a take-no-prisoners kind of combat, I would just suggest that, as George Orwell once wrote in his preface to Animal Farm (which saw Orwell vilified by the British left for daring to criticize the Stalinist Soviet Union), if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.