Visti Provokes Protest
Haitians ask Candians and Quèbecois(es) for Solidarity
by Dru Oja Jay
MONTREAL, Dec 11 -- "Latortue assassin, Paul Martin complice".
This easy-to-translate chant was the charge of choice of a lively group
of 100 members of the Montréal Haitian diaspora--some coming
from the Ottawa, Toronto, and the United States--who staged a lively,
loud four hour protest outside of Montreal's Centre Mont Royal on Saturday.
The occasion was a visit from Haiti's de facto interim Prime Minister,
Gerard Latortue, who was in town to meet with Prime Minister Paul Martin
and ranking Liberal MPs Pierre Pettigrew, Denis Paradis, and Denis Coderre.
According to Team Martin, Canada has "a very special role to play"
in Haiti's future. Organizers of the event, which was billed as a meeting
with "the Haitian Diaspora" held to the now-common Liberal
line that Canada is in Haiti for the long term, gathering aid, training
judges, and organizing elections.
For the demonstrators outside, however, the focus was on Canada's complicity
in what many observers call the US sponsored overthrow of the democratically
elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Prime Minister Yvon Neptune
and former head of Senate Yvon Feuillé are in jail.
Most other party members are in hiding, and many have been murdered.
By contrast, de facto Prime Minister Latortue has claimed that "there
are no poltical prisoners in Haiti", though he has also publically
stated that he will seek to arrest former President Aristide.
"The government of Canada has invited the illegal authorities...
that they have installed, to talk about the future of Haiti without
involving the Haitian people," said Jean Saint Vil, of the Haitian
Lawyers' Leadership Network. "The people that are posing as leaders
of Haiti are all unelected, and lack any legitimacy."
Protesters also point out that this view is shared by dozens of African
and Carribean nations which have refused to recognize Latortue's government.
In the United States, Congresspersons Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich,
Barbara Lee and others signed a statement condemning Latortue a US puppet.
One Canadian conference organizer expressed the apparent mood of those
inside: "Aristide left. That's a fact, and we just have to deal
(Dominion reporters have yet to be allowed to attend a press conference
held by the Federal Government.)
Colonial History, Colonial Present
The protest organizers expressed strong disagreement with the approach
of sending aid to Haiti as a way to fix the country's problems, calling
it "insulting" to the very real human misery that Haiti faces.
Instead of aid, they say, the only just solution is to cancel the debt
run up by illegitimate US-supported dictators and return the money stolen
outright by the governments of France and the United States.
"Haiti is poor because we have never had the opportunity to invest
in our infrastructure," said Saint Vil, citing the use of Haitian
labour and resources to enrich foreign powers, but not Haitians.
In 1825, France forced Haiti to "compensate" former slave
and plantation owners that had been driven out of the country by the
independence movement in return for access to international markets.
To make the first payment, every school in Haiti was closed. Jean Bertrand
Aristide had mounted a high-profile campaign to force France to pay
back this money, which is now equivalent to $22 billion. "One of
the first acts of that puppet government was to declare that France
doesn't owe Haiti anything anymore," said Saint Vil.
François-Michelet Demas pointed out that the wealth and democracy
of countries like France and the United States was built with wealth
stolen from colonies like Haiti.
"What is needed," said Saint Vil, "is not the hypocrisy
that Paul Martin is promoting," but "tangible reparation and
restitution to Haiti of what our ancestors have fought for, and our
money--the 150 million francs that France collected is part of that
Instead of restitution, Saint Vil explained, Latortue and Martin are
putting Haiti further into debt.
"The 'international community' has promised to give $2 billion
to the illegal Latortue government. It is not explained that at least
a good billion of that is actually going to be loans, that Haiti will
have to repay. They're making decisions to further put Haiti into debt,
for generations to come."
The view of the Canadian government stands in stark contrast, with frequent
reference to the "failed state" in Haiti, the "responsibility"
of Canada to intervene, and the "incompetence and corruption"
of Haitian leadership "since independence".
Need for Solidarity; Lack of Press
"We need the solidarity of Canadians and Québecois(es),"
said Jean-Laurent Nelson. "It's the same planet, we all have the
same problem, and there's one solution: solidarity."
Many organizers identified a similar need for Canadians and Québecois(es)
to understand the situation of the Haitian people and put pressure on
their government accordingly. In this context, the theme of disinformation
was frequently mentioned.
"People don't know what's going on, because the press is hiding
it from them," said Nelson. "Thousands of cadavres are showing
up every day in Haiti, and nothing is reported."
Demas added: "To have the the solidarity of people in Canada, they
have to be informed; people are kept in total ignorance." He accused
the press of demonizing Aristide in order to enable his ouster, but
now engaging in the "complicity of silence."
He also pointed out the racial divide in support for Aristide. "The
countries with black people, in Africa and the Caribbean, are supporting
Aristide. France and the United States, with the colonialist and racist
pasts, are going the other way. Canada, which has not been considered
a colonialist power, has unfortunately decided to follow the latter
Both the racial split, and the lack of media attention were apparent
throughout the day. Of a few hundred protesters, only a handful had
white skin. Though 190 journalists were invited to the press conference,
none came from the mainstream press, save for a cameraman who stayed
only long enough to get "visuals".
Magalee, who organized the press conference, accused journalists of
not paying attention while atrocities are happening. "If they had
to come here and know how many people are dying in Haiti right now,
they would say 'how come we didn't know that before'?" She cited
the case of Rwanda, where "there were massacres going on all the
time, and we only heard it at the end."
"There could be a genocide coming on in Haiti, people are getting
killed. A former soldier shot a six year old girl in Haiti, and everyone
knows who he is, but he has not been arrested."