Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Illegality and immorality of Guatemala´s election process

(This is an important commentary on an upcoming election in a country that has virtually been forgotten by the international media, but where I have watched a fragile civil society struggle against organized crime and drug traffickers since my first visit there in 2003. Some of my own articles on Guatemala can be read here, here and here. MD)

Illegality and immorality of Guatemala´s election process

By Barbara Schieber in the Guatemala Times

March 2011

(Read the original article here)

The long expected and for some dreaded announcement of the divorce proceedings of the Guatemalan Presidential couple came today. The divorce is a strategy to legalize the candidacy of First Lady Sandra Torres de Colom according to the Guatemalan constitution. For many months now, there have been constant violations of the constitutional laws of Guatemalan by the political parties. All parties have violated the law in one way or another; there are no innocent politicians in this election year. Our question is what is illegal and what is immoral or is it all the same in politics?

Today in Guatemala, the most frequently used description for the divorce strategy is that it is immoral. The churches, catholic and evangelical mega-churches (both a very powerful influences in Guatemalan politics) have already declared that the divorce is to be condemned and immoral. It is unacceptable before the Catholic Church.

Since last year there have been constant violations of the constitutional laws of Guatemalan by the political parties. All parties have violated the law in several ways, illegalities and disrespect for the law has been the main signature of the election year so far. It is feared it will only get worse. There are no “innocent” politicians in this election year.

The gravest violation of the laws have been:

1. Promoting anti- constitutional candidates, or promoting changes to the constitution to change the laws stipulating the presidential candidate’s requirements, which is a crime according to the Guatemalan constitution.

2. Election propaganda before the commencement of the legally established election period (May 2011).

3. Refusal of political parties to disclose their financial records.

There are and have been several “illegal” candidates this election year

1. Mayor of Guatemala City, Alvaro Arzu, ex-president of Guatemala. Article 186 of the Guatemalan Constitution states that the person who has been president by democratic elections or coup d'état, can not be eligible as presidential candidate. His decision to run for the presidency caused alarm in the right wing sectors of Guatemala. After a “no” answer to his inquiries at the Guatemalan Congress to legitimize his candidacy, Alvaro Arzu has now decided to promote his wife Patricia de Arzu as the presidential candidate of his party. The PR campaign is up and running, the picture shows Patricia de Arzu alone now (a week before it was the couple) with a slogan of kindness and order.

She is still the wife of Alvaro Arzu, meaning a relative of a Guatemalan ex-president, maybe they will decide to get a divorce too? Patricia de Arzu is a prominent member of Opus Dei (Catholic Church sect); they have a very powerful and rich constituency.

2. Parliamentarian, Zury Mayté Ríos Montt Sosa de Weller is the daughter of ex- military dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Se was proclaimed the official candidate for president of the FRG party in October 2010. She is legally barred as a candidate according to the Guatemalan Constitution that bars presidential family members from running. Her brother, ex-military Enrique Rios Sosa has been found guilty of serious crimes and is currently in jail. She has very powerful friends in AIPAC, Washington. D.C.

The decision to determine the legality of a candidate rests in the hands of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, a court that once ruled that Efrain Rios Mont had no legal impediment to run for presidency. A decision that later was overturned. General Efraín Ríos Montt seized power in a coup d'état in 1982.

Illegal Propaganda Activities

Basically all the legally registered political parties are guilty of early promotion of their political parties and presidential candidates. The official date to start election propaganda by law, according to the Supreme Electoral Court of Guatemala, is in May 2011. Several parties have been fined because they infringed the law. Some candidates publish paid pages of informative messages in the printed press and spots on national TV, cable and radio stations. The printed press, Cable, TV and radio stations accept these payments. The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court claims that their budget is far too small to monitor and detect all the illegal political propaganda activities.

The political propaganda issue shows that none of the political parties or candidates have respect for the law. It is a mayor issue of show of character and probable future attitudes towards respecting any law of the country. Every party accuses the others of infringing the law that includes the official party UNE.

Is this illegal or immoral?

Lack of transparency in the financing of the political parties

The law of political parties in Guatemala is obsolete; it has a series of flaws that impede the possibility to seriously audit the parties’ sources of income. Since large amounts of cash transactions are possible, the books that the parties keep to comply with the law of political parties can in theory exclude the cash transactions and therefore may not be a reflection of the reality of financing. The date to present the most recent financial statement of the political parties came and went without any of them presenting the required information, including the ruling party UNE.

In our perspective, this is the most serious and ominous infringement of the law. Money is the determining factor in this election as in most elections. The persistent lack of disclosure of the origins of the financial support to the political parties is the greatest danger to Guatemalan democracy.

Is this illegal or immoral?

The Narco scenario

It is no secret that 60 % or more of Guatemalan territory is in the hands of the narco business. Guatemala has been invaded by narco - gangs and drug lords, also drug money, a consequence of the drug war strategy of the US, not noticing that Guatemala and Central America have to exist between Colombia’s and Mexico’s war on drugs. As an exact replica of the cold war period, now the superpowers realize that if Guatemala goes, all Central America goes as a narco - region. Such was the saying during the cold war such is the saying now in the “war on drugs”.

From our perspective all political parties in Guatemala have committed numerous, repeated illegal and immoral acts. There is no “better” political party, there is only “worse”. The political parties have no ideology except power. Left and right does not exist anymore, it is power for power sake. This is a struggle for the economic resources of the country. The elections are a pretext to see who will keep what is left over from Guatemala, which is not much. Democratic principles have nothing to do with it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Note on Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return to Haiti

As questionable friends of Haiti such as Amy Goodman, Danny Glover and others celebrate the return to Haiti of a man as politically and personally corrupt and ruthless as any that I have ever reported on, it seems only fitting that, if they don't have the dignity or respect to do so, some foreigner should write a note of apology to the many Haitians who fell opposing the man's rancid and despotic regime, or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So here it goes.

On behalf of all the misguided and ignorant foreigners who still act as apologists for a man who did as much to impoverish Haiti and destroy its fragile institutions as any ruler in its history (and this is by no means a complete list), I would like to apologize
  • To Marie Christine Jeune, the courageous young female Police Nationale d'Haïti (PNH) officer who had publicly criticized Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s attempts to link the police force with armed gangs and was found, raped and mutilated in March 1995
  • To Yvon Toussaint, opposition senator for the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL) party, gunned down in March 1999
  • To the thirteen people murdered in the Fort Mercredi slum in June 2001 by the forces of gang leader Felix “Don Fefe” Bien-Aimé, whom Jean-Bertrand Aristide had appointed as director of the Port-au-Prince cemetery as a reward for his loyalty
  • To Brignol Lindor, the journalist murdered by the pro-Aristide Domi Nan Bwa gang in Petit-Goâve on 3 December 2001
  • To Ramy Daran, assistant to the Mouvement Chrétien Pour une Nouvelle Haiti's Luc Mesadieu, burned alive by a pro-Aristide gang in Gonaives on 17 December 2001
  • To Eric Pierre, the 27-year-old medical student from Jacmel, was was shot and killed while leaving the Haiti’s Faculté de Medicine in January 2003 on a day of planned anti- government demonstrations, with witnesses saying attackers fled the scene in a car with official TELECO plates and even providing license numbers
  • To 25-year-old Saurel Volny, shot and killed by police during an anti-government demonstration in Gonaives in January 2003.
  • To Ronald Cadet, a student activist who was shot and killed in Haiti's capital in February 2003 after being forced to live in hiding since November 2002
  • To the eleven people, including Michelet Lozier, mother of five, killed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s security forces as they raided the Gonaives slum of Raboteau in the early morning hours of 2 October 2003
  • To the fourteen people, including seventeen-year-old Josline Michel and the month old baby girl of Micheline Limay, also killed by Jean-Betrand Aristide’s security forces when they again raided Raboteau on 27 October 2003
  • To Danielle Lustin, the university professor, feminist activist and expert in microfinancing murdered on 22 October 2003 and whose memorial mass at Sacre-Coeur was interrupted by a gang of young mean descending from a white pickup bearing “Officielle” license plates, who pummeled them with rocks and bottles, crying “Viv Aristide” and threatening them in the most base, misogynistic terms
  • To Maxime Desulmond, the well-known student leader from Jacmel, killed when pro-Aristide gangs fired upon an anti-government demonstration in Port-au-Prince on 7 January 2004
  • To Leroy Joseph, Kenol St. Gilles, Yveto Morancy and the rest of the at least 27 people who were murdered and the women raped by a combination of PNH, Unite de Securite de la Garde du Palais National d’Haiti and Bale Wouze forces in Saint Marc between 11 February and 29 February 2004.
  • To my dear friend James "Billy" Petit-Frere, and his brother Winston "Tupac" Jean-Bart, and all the other young men used as cannon fodder by Aristide and then abandoned to their fates or their lives extinguished (such as Roland François) when they were no longer of use
Also on behalf of we foreigners, I would like to apologize to the Haitian constitution, shredded like Lyonel Trouillot's "faded piece of cloth fought over by dogs" by Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the following manner:
  • By a demobilization of the Haitian army in April 1995, which was illegal without a constitutional amendment, as the army was still enshrined in Article 263 of the Haitian constitution.
  • By his violation of Article 7 of Haiti's constitution, which states that "the cult of personality is categorically forbidden. Effigies and names of living personages may not appear on the currency, stamps, seals, public buildings, streets or works of art." Jean-Bertrand Aristide placed hagiographic billboards bearing his image throughout the country, and the state television station TNH showed ceaseless homages to the president.
  • By personally and directly blocking the investigation into the murder of Haiti's foremost journalist, Radio Haiti Inter owner Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint - as attested to by the staff of Radio Haiti Inter, investigating magistrate Claudy Gassant and now-PNH chief Mario Andresol - and and by pressuring Justice Henry Kesner Noel, to sign a re-arrest warrant for Prosper Avril in April 2002, among other acts, Jean-Bertrand Aristide violated Article 60 of Haiti's constitution, which delegated firmly the independence of the executive and judicial branches of government.
  • By attempting in September 2003 revive a presidential decree passed by Jean-Claude Duvalier on October 12, 1977 ("broadcast information must be precise, objective and impartial, and must come from authorized sources which are to be mentioned when broadcasting. Those who are responsible for the broadcasts have to control the programs to ensure that the information "even when it is correct ”cannot harm or alarm the population by its form, presentation or timing. The broadcast stations will provide a channel for the broadcasting of official programs, if so required by the public powers .") which was a naked assault on articles 28-1, 28-2 and 245 of Haiti's constitution, which forbids censorship and protects free speech and journalistic practices.
  • To say nothing of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's arming of a generation of desperately poor street children which violated Article 268 of the Haitian constitution whereby the PNH were to be the only body with the right to distribute and circulate weapons in the country.
Haitian people, you deserve better foreign friends than those who touch your soil today with the man who victimized you so. Perhaps some day you will have the foreign friends that you deserve. Until then, I know you will persevere. You are the children of heroes, after all.

Kenbe fem,


Monday, March 14, 2011

Note to the Corbett List

I confess some surprise that a single article of mine on Haiti’s former president has sparked such debate as the country confronts its first presidential vote in five years, a vote during which neither Mr. Aristide or any member of the interim government that followed him are candidates. But perhaps in the long run it is useful as it seems to be sparking a needed re-examination on some important aspects of Haiti’s recent history. If such examination would help even in the smallest way for the people of St. Marc who still wait for justice to achieve their aim, then it will have been mightily worth it.

1. Further on St. Marc

It is easy for those who were not in Haiti at the time to mock and dismiss the wrenching first-hand accounts of the survivors of the February 2004 Aristide government assault on St. Marc, or the first-hand accounts of journalists such as myself and the Miami Herald’s Marika Lynch who visited the town shortly thereafter. But one is reminded one of the sage words of the British academic Stephen Ellis who, when describing the incredulity that some ascribed to accounts of Liberia's civil war, wrote that "while descriptions (of the civil war) are routinely dismissed as sensational journalism by high-minded academics, it would be foolish simply to scoff at the opinions of correspondents who glean their impressions at first hand. Journalists acquire detailed knowledge, and an appreciation for the flavor of events, which can escape distant observers."

Simply put, the hypothesis that the reporting of many journalists, local and foreign, in Haiti at the time, the testimony of dozens of witnesses, the research of both Human Rights Watch and the Reseau National de Defense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), all working autonomously, is all part of a seamless, coordinated conspiracy is not a hypothesis that can be accepted by any rational person.

The best quote I’ve ever heard about Haiti’s justice system came from RNDDH’s director Pierre Esperance, who said to me, in connection that the to St. Marc case, that “in our system, the criminal becomes a victim because the system doesn't work.” That is what we saw with relation to the St. Marc massacre. Rather than having a transparent trial to hold the perpetrators accountable, they were sent to sit in jail without any conclusion to the official investigation, like almost every other high-profile case in the country’s history.

A word in defense of the RNDDH, an organization that I have seen do the most important human rights advocacy in Haiti, both in its present incarnation and as the Haiti-branch of the NCHR, since I first began visiting Haiti now nearly 15 years ago.

Though their critics like to bray about RNDDH’s 2004 award of C$100,000 (US$85,382) from the Canadian International Development Agency, most of the group’s funding in fact comes from organizations such as Christian Aid, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Lutheran World Federation. As part of its vitally important work, since that grant, RNDDH has consistently advocated for justice on behalf of a number of Fanmi Lavalas members who it says were victimized under Haiti’s 2004-2006 interim government, including Jean Maxon Guerrier, Yvon Feuille, Gerald Gilles, and Rudy Heriveaux.

RNDDH has shown a commitment to a non-political defense of human rights that a group like the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), under the sway as it is of Mr. Aristide's Miami attorney Ira Kurzban (one of the IJDH’s founders and chairman of its board of directors), or the IJDH’s Haiti partner, the the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), which receives “most of its support from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti,” have never risen to.

[With the IJDH’s 2005 annual report listing Mr. Kurzban’s law firm in the category reserved for those having contributed more than $5000 to the organization, the group’s 2006 report lists the firm under “Donations of Time and Talent,” and the American Immigration Lawyers Association South Florida Chapter (for which Mr. Kurzban served as past national president and former general council) in a section reserved for those having donated $10,000 or more. Simply put, the IJDH is a creature of Mr. Aristide’s attorney, a man who has a financial stake in rehabilitating the former president. Their work in Haiti should be seen in this context.]

I would like to give the last word on the St. Marc killings to Charlienor Thompson, the coordinator of the Association des Victimes du Genocide de la Scierie (AVIGES), whose feelings of abandonment by the international community in general and the United Nations in particular were summed-up in a heart-rending 2007 open letter to Louis Joinet, the United Nations' independent expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti at the time. In that letter, Thompson wrote of how “we, the victims, who live in Haiti and who have lodged a complaint with the judicial system of our country for more than three years, remain confused and ask ourselves who cares about our case?"

Thompson goes on to ask:

How can we expect justice? Who can testify freely while murderers are free and move with impunity? The majority of people in Saint Marc are afraid. Even those who were direct victims of the acts mentioned above are frightened. The victims are eager to flee the city and witnesses to hide. When will we enjoy the benefits of justice that we demand? In the present circumstances, in what form will it come?

2. Further on Martissant

As happened with regards to the killing of St. Marc, a handful of advocates for Haiti’s former president living in North America have made it their goal to attempt to deceive people that violence in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Martissant came only from one side, that of forces hostile to Haiti’s former president. They seek to convince people, despite the evidence gathered by Haiti’s own journalists and foreign reporters such as myself, that gangs formerly allied to Haiti’s former president did not play an enthusiastic and blood-soaked role in the killings there. Put simply, this is false.

Consider the following:

- A 23 August 2005 broadcast from the capital’s Radio Kiskeya stated "inhabitants of various districts of Martissant (a southern slum of Port-au-Prince) launched an S.O.S to the authorities on Monday so that they would forcefully intervene in a zone infested with heavily-armed gangsters. These inhabitants, the majority of them young people coming from 4th and the 5th Avenue Bolosse, describe the reactivation in the district of groups armed under the regime of Jean Bertrand Aristide which have made their residence in the Grand Ravine zone of Martissant."

- The 19 November 2005 article "Nouvelle montee de tension a Martissant" from the Haitian media outlet AlterPresse stated "The tension went up of a notch these last days within Martissant, in the southern sector of the capital, where confrontations have occurred between rival bands, residents told AlterPresse. Clashes have occurred on several occasions during the last 8 days between the armed bands from Grande Ravine and the Lame Ti Manchet, leaving at least 2 dead and several casualties by bullets."

- A 6 November 2006 statement by the president of Haiti’s senate, Joseph Lambert, himself a member of the Lespwa party of Haitian president Rene Preval, where Lambert directly referred to the violence in Martissant as being part of "Operation Baghdad II," in reference to a fall 2004 explosion of violence by Aristide partisans, and went on to say that "Operation Baghdad 2 takes the form of a means for a sector to politically pressure the executive (branch) in order to find employment." [Note: Despite statements to the contrary, Operation Baghdad was called just that by those carrying it out, as can be heard in this 2004 report from National Public Radio's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro]

- A 4 December 2006 broadcast from Radio Kiskeya which stated that "according to residents (of Martissant) a local gang called Base Pilate was responsible for four murders. The leaders of this armed group are insane with rage after the death of a police officer considered to be one of their allies...The Base Pilate is committed, under the umbrella of the armed gangs of Grand Ravine, to fight without mercy against the Lame Ti Manchet, another rival band based within Sainte-Bernadette lane."

- An 8 December 2006 broadcast, again recorded on the ground in Martissant, from Radio Metropole, stated "Heavy shooting was recorded in the zone of Martissant yesterday ; witnesses confirm that gangsters of Grand Ravine associated with the gang Base Pilate tried to launch an attack against the districts of Descartes and Martissant 1. Residents of Descartes and Martissant 1 affirm that 2 people were killed and several others wounded yesterday evening. "

- A 19 January 2007 broadcast from Radio Kiskeya, which stated that "A wild war has been underway for several months among gangs called Base Pilate and Lame Ti Manchet, which imposes the law of the jungle on Bolosse, Grand Ravine and Ste-Bernadette."

3. Further on Nanoune Myrthil’s infant

Like any other observer, I do not feel that I yet know the full story of the fate of Nanoune Myrthil’s infant, nor have I ever stated otherwise. However, given the statements of Nanoune Myrthil herself, the focus on the case by Radio Haiti Inter (arguably Haiti’s most independent and respected radio station when it was still broadcasting) and Radio Metropole during 2000/2001, and the separate (yet highly similar) declarations of Johnny Occilius, Jean-Michard Mercier and Sonia Desrosiers, it certainly, to me, seems a case worth investigating and by any standard rises to the level of something that is newsworthy. Can one imagine such a case in the United States or Europe, with individuals similarly close to the seat of power making such declarations and the charges not receiving media attention or a thorough investigation? I certainly cannot.

4. Reporting ethically from Haiti

Most journalists I know, whatever other criticisms I may have of them, would never knowingly print information that they knew to be false. This cannot be said for those seeking to deny justice to the victims of St. Marc and Martissant today.

In 2006, Jeb Sprague and Diana Barhona attacked the press solidarity group Reporters sans frontières (RSF), for supposedly receiving money from the International Republican Institute (IRI). When Sprague and Barhona were unable to produce proof of this claim, RSF News Editor Jean-François Julliard responded succinctly "We do not receive any funding from the International Republican Institute. This is a pure figment of the authors' imagination. Your readers can check our certified accounts on our website, rsf.org. "

Also, in 2006, Jeb Sprague attacked the Haiti Support Group, a London-based solidarity organization that has been working at a grassroots level in Haiti since 1992. In an article co-authored with Joe Emersberger and which appeared in the magazine Counterpunch, Sprague claimed that Haiti Support Group head Charles Arthur encouraged people to harass a researcher who had published highly controversial human rights study in the British medical journal, The Lancet (link). Arthur later wrote that "The statements about me in the Counterpunch piece are pure fiction. " Arthur’s full response to Sprague’s allegations can be read here.

In his 2009 article, “Calls Mount to Free Lavalas Activist," Wadner Pierre (along with Sprague one of the co-editors of the Haiti Analysis website) described Ronald “Black Ronald” Dauphin - a man identified by survivors of the February 2004 pogrom as one of the chief members of the group that carried out the massacre - as “a Haitian political prisoner,” attacked the RNDDH and quoted the IJDH which also, curiously, described Ronald Dauphin in a June 2009 press release as “a Haitian grassroots activist, customs worker and political prisoner,” language mimicked closely in the Sprague/Pierre article.

Wadner Pierre, who recently wrote a rather un-gentlemanly piece mocking Haitian presidential candidate Mirlande Manigat on the basis of here age wrote his laudatory article about those accused in the St. Marc killings having never mentioned that he had been described as working for the IJDH’s Haiti affiliated, the BAI , or that he had previously contributed text and photographs to the IJDH website lauding the April 2007 release of Amanus Mayette, another suspect of the St. Marc massacre, a photo essay that since appears to have been removed from the IJDH site.

Given such a record, I am not surprised that Sprague, Pierre, etc would continue their rather fevered attacks against reporters against myself (which I largely responded to in a blog posting here) and against the victims in Martissant and St. Marc.

Our first and only duty as reporters is not to those abroad who have profited from Haiti’s ongoing misery, it is to the suffering in Haiti themselves. Whatever discomfort that causes in powerful circles beyond Haiti is not only deserved, but welcome and necessary if the cycle of impunity that is killing the country is ever to be ended.

With my best regards and hopes for a peaceful election,


Saturday, March 12, 2011