Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Haiti Stories / Istwa Ayiti

(Please come hear myself and others discuss Haiti at the Haiti Stories/Istwa Ayiti conference at UCLA this week. MD)

Conference: Haiti Stories / Istwa

Saturday, January 29, 2011

1-6 pm

Free program

In a series of discussions moderated by author and journalist Amy Wilentz, scholars across several disciplines examine how Haiti is narrated and presented in the world, and how storytelling, in the broadest as well as narrowest senses, affects the country in general and in the aftermath of the earthquake. Speakers, from 1-4 pm, include:

Donald Cosentino, scholar of Haitian art, professor of world arts and cultures

Mark Danner, writer, journalist, and professor of journalism

Michael Deibert, writer and journalist

Jonathan Demme, filmmaker

Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health

Axelle Liautaud, designer and art collector

Bob Maguire, professor of international affairs and director of the Trinity Haiti Program

Michele Voltaire Marcelin, poet and artist

Catherine Maternowska, anthropologist, co-founder of Lambi Fund of Haiti

Jocelyn McCalla, senior advisor to Haiti's Special Envoy to the United Nations

Claudine Michel, professor of black studies

Joe Mozingo, writer, Los Angeles Times

Madison Smartt Bell, novelist and writer

Deborah Sontag, investigative reporter, New York Times

Maggie Steber, photojournalist

Loune Viaud, director of Strategic Planning and Operations, Zanmi Lasante

Damon Winter, photojournalist, New York Times

A reception from 4-6 pm closes the program.

Please note: seating for this conference is first-come, first-served.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A monster returns to Haiti

19 January 2011

A monster returns to Haiti

By Michael Deibert, Special to CNN

(Read the original article here)

Editor's note: Michael Deibert is a visiting fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of "Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti" (Seven Stories Press).

(CNN) -- The return to Haiti this week of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the scion of a family dictatorship that misruled that Caribbean nation for 29 years, is a sharp reminder of how impunity remains a significant stumbling block as Haitians try to construct a more just and equitable society.

Returning to the same airport from which he fled in 1986, Duvalier (popularly known as "Baby Doc" to distinguish him from his more unhinged dictator father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier), looked stunned and confused, as if the Port-au-Prince to which he returned -- still leveled from a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people -- had changed beyond recognition.

Unfortunately for Haiti's people, however, some things about the nation -- which produces sinuous music, acidly brilliant novelists and stunning art, along with grinding poverty and political unrest -- have yet to change.

Though Duvalier presided over his sputtering police state without the gleeful ruthlessness of his father, his tenure in Haiti's presidential palace was nevertheless perhaps best summed up by a prison on the outskirts of the Haitian capital called Fort Dimanche, where enemies of the state were sent to die by execution, torture or to simply waste away amidst conditions that were an affront to humanity.

The figure of the rotund Duvalier -- who was questioned yesterday by a Haitian judge about a few of his government's many transgressions -- and his spendthrift wife presiding over such a desperately poor country might have been farcical were the results not so grim.

Haitians' great hopes after Duvalier's flight were sobered considerably amidst ever-greater bloodletting, as pressure groups such as the Duvalier's former paramilitary henchmen, the army, the country's rapacious elite and others vied for the spoils of power.

The election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide at the head of a broad-based coalition in 1990 was followed by a coup only seven months after his inauguration. Three long years of paramilitary terror followed before Aristide was returned by a U.S.-led military mission to Haiti in 1994. The leaders of the regime that oversaw the terror, again, fled to their comfortable repasts abroad.

But happy endings are hard to come by in Haiti. As Duvalier whiled away his time, using his ill-gotten fortune in Europe, the newly returned Aristide set about creating a thuggish style of governance that the younger Duvalier's father would have found very familiar.

Corrupted elections in 1997 and 2000 favored Aristide's loyalists, and important statutes of Haiti's 1987 constitution -- such as those forbidding the cult of personality and protecting the independence of the judiciary -- were trampled.

By the time Aristide returned to Haiti's national palace in 2001, a network of armed partisans reminded many Haitians of the ruthless methods of rulers past. Then, 18 years after Duvalier's flight, Aristide followed him into exile in February 2004, amid street protests and a rebellion spearhead by formerly loyal gang members.

The grotesque excesses of Duvalier are perhaps the most well known, but to date, none of these men have seen the inside of a prison cell for the actions of their respective regimes. Victims of the Duvaliers' network of enforcers -- the Tontons Macoutes -- have waited in vain for justice and even seen former Duvalierist officials recycled in succeeding, supposedly "democratic," governments.

Nor has anyone yet been held accountable for several large-scale killings by government security forces -- or the slaying of at least 27 people in the town of St. Marc in February 2004 that occurred as the Aristide government drew to its inevitable denouement .

Frustratingly for the people of Haiti, far from being supported in their calls for justice, the abuses they have experienced have more often than not become a political football among international actors.

During the height of the excesses of Duvalier fils, Ron Brown, then acting as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee and later serving as Bill Clinton's secretary of Commerce, lobbied the U.S. Congress on behalf of the dictator, pocketing more than half a million dollars for his efforts.

In the present day, a U.S.-based organization called the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, linked at the hip with Aristide's U.S. attorney, Ira Kurzban, has worked to discredit the calls for justice of the survivors of the massacre in St. Marc. Kurzban's law firm made millions representing the Aristide government.

Like Duvalier before him, Aristide continues to enjoy a gilded exile, this time in South Africa, where his comfortable lifestyle is bankrolled by South African taxpayers.

And now Duvalier, one of Haiti's waking nightmares, is back in his native land. Will he face justice? What will that justice look like in a place where recently political actors saw fit to rig an election amidst the ruins of a country that has yet to even begin to recover from last year's apocalyptic tremor?

The aforementioned great writers of Haiti no doubt find it all bitterly symbolic.

Out of the ruins of the Duvalier torture prison, Fort Dimanche, now abandoned, grew a slum. Its residents called it Village Demokrasi. Democracy Village.

It is here where, as Duvalier returns from 25 years of exile and Haiti marks as many years of the international community's questionable ministrations, that residents try to stave off hunger pangs with cakes made out of clay and seasoned with cubes of chicken or beef bouillon.

There is symbolism in that, too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guatemala: Caught in the crossfire

18 January 2011


Caught in the crossfire


The Miami Herald

(Read the original article here)

My friend -- from an eastern region of Guatemala that empties into the Gulf of Honduras -- spoke in hushed tones as we met in a coffee shop in that Central American country recently.

One of the region's wealthiest families, whose interests run to transportation and construction endeavors but also to more illicit forms of entrepreneurship, had recently received an offer that they couldn't refuse.

Called to a meeting in the jungle-covered department of El Petén, the family's scions found themselves face to face with members of Los Zetas.

Originally members of a Mexican army unit, the Zetas (named after a radio code for high-ranking officers) defected from the military to become enforcers for the Cártel del Golfo in the late 1990s. Subsequently jettisoning their new employers to become an international organized-crime entity in their own right, in recent months the two groups have waged a brutal battle for control of drug-smuggling routes in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León.

The Zetas' message to their erstwhile Guatemalan competitors was clear and chilling: Join forces with the Mexican cartel or make a $1.5 million down payment and deliver monthly payments in the sum of $700,000. There would be no negotiation.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared war on that country's drug cartels in late 2006, two of Mexico's largest cartels, Joaquín ``Chapo'' Guzmán's Cartel de Sinaloa and the Zetas themselves, have sought the path of least resistance, filtering through the 541-mile border that Guatemala shares with its northern neighbor.

Though the presence of Mexican drug-trafficking organizations in Guatemala is nothing new -- Guzmán was arrested there in 1993, and Guatemalan soldiers have joined the Zetas in the past -- the intensity of the groups' invasion of the country over the past two years has been unparalleled.

In Guatemala, the cartels have found a country with a state designed to be weak and ineffective by a rapacious oligarchy. Only 15,000 solders and 26,000 police patrol its rugged terrain, though there are more than 100,000 active private security personnel. Scaled down after the country's 1996 peace accords following decades of atrocities, today's numerically small and poorly trained Guatemalan security forces have made way for the armed enforcers of the country's various criminal monarchies.

This past November, the government of Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a state of siege in the department of Alta Verapaz, a stronghold of the Zetas. In response, men claiming to be from the cartel took to the airwaves of three radio stations and threatened to attack shopping centers, schools and police stations if government pressure did not cease.

Further afield, the region between the border town of Tecún Umán and the Pacific coast municipality of Ocos has become a no-man's land, the redoubt of Juan Alberto ``Chamalé'' Ortiz López, an alleged Guatemalan drug kingpin who is said to have been the first person to bring the Zetas into Guatemala in 2007.

Unexplained assassinations, such as that of former government deputy Obdulio Solórzano this past July, have once again become the norm, and a United Nations-mandated commission tasked with looking into criminal entities and their links to the state can barely keep up with its ever-expanding caseload.

With multiple-casualty shootouts occurring throughout the country, Guatemalans could be forgiven for looking to their politicians for protection. However, the wide perception in Guatemala is that the major political parties have been so deeply penetrated by organized crime that they themselves are part of the problem.

``You have no idea what kind of power they have,'' a former Guatemalan official told me recently, speaking of organized crime's influence on the upper echelons of the Guatemalan political establishment. Faced with such violence, a social movement to demand effective, capable law-enforcement and a transparent, non-corrupt judiciary has yet to emerge from Guatemala's fragile civil society.

Fourteen years after the end of Guatemala's civil war, successive governments have failed to break the stranglehold of corruption and impunity on the country. For many poor Guatemalans who survived that conflict, the very concept of Guatemala as a country at all was mostly a theoretical one until the army came calling.

It is an equal tragedy to see them once again victimized by today's conflict, a war in all but name.

Michael Deibert is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University and the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Douze janvier

As we approach a day when I am sure every do-gooder, opportunist, crank, cynic and other assorted character will be weighing in with verbose and sanctimonious tomes on this melancholy anniversary, I just wanted to keep things brief.

Haitians, to the many of you that toil everyday for the necessities of life with so little reward to show for your efforts, I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that you have been dealt such a cruel hand by nature and fate, and I am sorry that your own leaders and ours have failed you so miserably time and time again. Thank you for the kindnesses, small and large, that you have shown me during the long time I have spent traversing your city lanes and your country roads. I really do hope, to the bottom of my soul, that 2011 is a bit kinder to you, and I will do my best to contribute what I can.

With love,