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Kenbe La! - Excerpts
KENBE LA! - Chapter Three
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"Eternally Drowning Is Haiti's Capital Punishment," says, 60 Minutes 

My war with USAID/U.S. Embassy in Haiti, began on my very first day of work, in 1995, at the Haitian Ministry when the Haitian Minister, Jean-Joseph Exume, requested that as his legal advisor, i review this particular document just presented by USAID for his sign-off.

i examined the document.

it was a blank power-of-attorney giving USAID, and thus the U.S. government, the Haitian Minister's approval to do whatever USAID saw fit with regards to implementing judicial reform projects in Haiti.

This was routine and standard stuff, USAID reps informed me. Apparently the previous Haitian Minister of Justice, Ernest Malbranche, had signed-off already for his entire term. Since Jean-Joseph Exume had just taken over for him, he had to sign off again as a formality, i was told. USAID already had permission for the ex-Minister's entire term which Exume was taking over. So this new request was just a formality, USAID reps calmly explained. "Signing blank-powers-of attorneys over to the U.S., this is done in all of Haiti's Ministries, not just the Justice Ministry."

One Haitian lawyer and drafter of the 1987 Constitution had been shot dead right on the footsteps of the Supreme court steps. He died clutching the Constitution to his chest, just as men like Guy Malary, Yve Volel, Laraque Exantus and innumerable other Haitian lawyers who, in their own ways, had, throughout the years, worked center stage or struggled in the periphery, for the application of civil rights laws, paying the ultimate sacrifice for these efforts. Yet Haiti's sovereignty was rendered meaningless by the U.S. practice coming down in the guise of "helping Haiti." it wasn't the reps at USAID/U.S. Embassy or Department of Justice - D.O.J.- but thousands of Haitians who had died for an elected Haitian government to start the process of building democracy in Haiti. Oceans of Haitian blood had been spilled so the rule of law would sprout forth. Yet here was USAID imposing itself. Asking Haitians to forget the many Haitian carcasses left to rot on street curbs. Summarily wielding dollars and swords of intimidation with blank power of attorneys. Asking survivors to reconcile without getting any justice. Selling us what we didn't need and telling us it's "new." Point-blank asking the Haitian Justice Minister to sign-away his fiduciary responsibility. The Haitian Justice Minister simply wasn't informed about what was being planned by USAID in Haiti. USAID didn't feel the Haitian Minister should care what was to be designed as reforms, who would implement said reforms, what it would do to the country or how it would affect the people needing legal help. Wasn't this tantamount to abdicating his very position and selling out the Haitian people's electoral sanctions and authority to the U.S. government?

Foolish-me actually told them that.

Maybe i was just too stunned. it's one thing to read and vicariously experience from the cold distance of a book about how the U.S. strong-arms and destabilizes poverty stricken Haiti. But, it's quite another to sit across from the people forming the gangrene tissues across the Island's soul. Looking into their eyes. Seeing their humanity. They didn't have tails and pitchfork these people denying some of my faceless ten year old Black boys or girls in jail the right to an arraignment, a lawyer, a hearing. These U.S. reps, leaving itsy bitsy children in jail with adult criminals, malnourished, suffering with every breath; these folks using for wages and for basking at Haiti's beaches, monies that those poor little Black boys and girls, who could slide down my thigh, could use so not to go hungry, sick, without security, safe roads, clean portable water, health care, education, love, affection, dreams - a future full of reverence and splendor. These folks were so lodged within the knots of their Eurocentric comfort zones, they would feel no compunction about whispering "she's Black and not a U.S. pawn so she's not American."

*

When i strongly advised the Haitian Minister of Justice to rip that dam USAID paper right on up. Tell USAID to take a flying leap off a short peer. Next thing i know USAID/U.S. Embassy was all over me and i got a target put on my back.

But i hadn't gone to Haiti to mess around with USAID. i'd gone because Haiti is a living temple made out of the heart and sinew of Africa's soul. i was used to being an out front target. The Haiti i saw, the Haiti that ought to be, that i was, it was a place a Black mother imagines for her child. Not a wasteland where our Black mother's air and very souls are regularly snuffed-out. i didn't need any official authority's invitation to be in that Haiti. There was no distance to travel when love was present. So, there, in Haiti, after that, my first public meeting with the "Donors" and during my war with USAID, whenever i got anxious, i remembered this one old Haitian lady, named Genevieve "Kòkòt" Laguerre, and fifteen others, living in New York, who had, for three years during the Aristide exile, sat continuously outside the U.N., protesting the coup against President Aristide and U.S. complicity in it.

Kòkòt was frail, small and spoke in a whispery gravely voice. She once told me that people used to step over her thinking she was a homeless beggar while she froze out there in the American rain, sleet and snow in front of the United Nations building between 42nd and First Avenue. Kòkòt (or, "Coquote," if written in French) would, in one hand, waive her "We want Aristide back" placard, and in the other hand, be waiving her little blue and red Haitian flag. Sometimes she would simply wrapped herself up in a huge Haitian flag and just walk around at the picket lines, vigils and demonstrations. Kòkòt was a true patriot. She lived her talk.

Old Kòkòt and the other Haitian women with her, brought their rice and beans and fried plantain lunches and went everyday into the New York cold. Never missing not one day, whether it was Christmas, Thanksgiving or whatever holiday. They were there in front of the U.N. to demonstrate for Haitian sovereignty and to demand an end to the suffering of over ten million Haitian folks. They, not the twenty thousand U.S. soldiers had brought Aristide back to office in 1994.

Here i am now in Haiti to do my part. My English was not broken. i had an aunt, a relative, a surrogate mother who reminded me of Kòkòt.

Fearless Kòkòt, she would always give me big hugs at the demonstrations. Happy, she said to see a young Haitian-American person there. No one ever wrote about old Kòkòt's magnificent courage and sacrifices. She, Alina Sixto, Sò Ann, Miriam Dorisme and Farah Juste of Veye Yo when she came up to New York from Miami, where some of the Haitian women living in the U.S., the fanm vayan extraordinaire i came to know in the struggle for Haitian rights and humanity. Some, would not make it without capitulating to the terrible U.S. government persecution of "Lavalas," the way it persecuted "Communists" of Western imperialism days gone by. But i was there when when all these warrior mothers were yet unbroken.

The more elderly amongst these Haitian women like Kòkòt and her other tireless makomeres - womenfriends - would suffer permanent health problems for their stentorian efforts in front of the U.N. between 1991 and 1994. Through rain, snow, storms and sleet, demonstration permit or no permit, for three years, between 1991 to 1994, these anonymous Haitian women from the New York tri-State area, these mothers, grandmothers and wives, these simple wage laborers - just ordinary Haitian women with no titles or great educational achievements; these Haitian women the world will never know, Kòkòt, Gina, Claudette, Monique Camilien, Marie Claude Blass, Marie Yolene, Virginia (Virjini), Michelle, Yoland Willy along with Haitian men like, Yonel (who was shot dead in New York), Marcel, Forel, Ginsley, Serge Bastien, Jean Bertrand, Esnel, Claude Beaulier, Claude Moise, all, were part of a group called "Diplomat de Beton." A group of about 15 regulars who held a sit-in vigil in front of the U.N. the entire three years of the Bush coup d'etat against President Aristide, petitioning the world's most powerful to respect the Haitian majority's democratic choice in Haiti.

They give us a glimpse of the Haitian footsoldiers doing the grind work that had to be done, showing the way. They were not in it for jobs, recognition or the photo opportunities. They were "Komite Beton (Devan Loni)." Many of these women - and the men who stood with them - have passed away. They are Haitian women beholden to no-one. Diplomat de Beton - the street diplomats of Haiti - whose Anacaona, Mari Jann, Gran Toya and Cecile Fatiman-like passionate commitment and pure convictions, motivated me, or perhaps even shamed me into dropping the use of my skills only to represent wealthy hip hop artists, most of whom were not about the original element Hip-Hop built off of, which was consciousness and awareness of crimes against humanity, but all about me, materialistic possessions and whose misogyny and bling-bling vacancy provided nothing socially redeeming.

The examples they set called to me, motivated me to go to Haiti. Kòkòt and her womenfriends, told me they couldn't ever eat one meal in Brooklyn without feeling guilty about relatives in Haiti who were starving, dying and without hope. "We are their hope," she would tell me. All those Haitian women and children who where raped, killed and mutilated during Haiti's struggle for democracy since the fall of Baby Doc from 1986 to President Aristide's return in 1994: "We are their hope." i remember thinking that Kòkòt herself, like the millions of Haitians in the Diaspora, also needed some relief so that she could have some peace of mind. So she could eat a meal without feeling guilty. Accept her blessings without the traumatizing guilt. Kòkòt wanted a new paradigm. She took a stand against the coup against President Aristide, backed it up with three solid years of daily protests, even when all the "educated folks" said the return was impossible.

Haitians like Kòkòt held their stand until the world caught up to them. They were the faces of the millions of unknown Haitian footsoldiers who helped turn around the U.S.-supported 1991 coup against the people of Haiti. And now i am inside. At the power table. There to help protect and give fruition to Kòkòt's dreams, Alina's dreams, my mother's dreams, grandmothers' dreams. And the very first thing i'm asked to do is advise the Minister about this document where USAID/U.S. Embassy expected the Minister of Justice to docilely approve reform projects USAID was designing that neither the Haitian Minister, nor the Haitian President, nor even i, the Coordinator of Donor Reform, had ever seen.

When i advised against this and then appeared as the Minister's Coordinator of Donor Reform at a UNDP meeting for the donors, that's when USAID would decide to pull out legal technicalities none of their reps where subject to, using the law they owned and metered out as they saw fit to get me out of their way.

On the down-low, they would attack with innuendoes.

The wretched lives of over ten million Haitians trying to recover from the historical limitations of 300 years of European enslavement and practically 200 years of Western Hemispheric containment-in-poverty didn't seem to lance these people's nerve center, the way it had invaded and was wrecking my gut.

There wasn't a day since that first donor meeting at the UNDP office in Haiti when someone didn't ask me what i was doing there in Port-au-Prince. "i mean really" some would say, "You don't have to be here. You're beautiful," - meaning passable enough to be married or be some Blan peyi's mistress - "talented and a lawyer. Why aren't you working for the winning side?"

There's always all this politics about who you are that has nothing to do with who you are. And why, honest to the Ancestors, did i have to answer to these wretched ideological constructs at all, in the first place.

Later, pages in life later, i'd realize i had reached this psychological place in 1995 in order to squarely faced the frames and do some of my own deconstruction, right?

*

in Haiti, with so many Blacks vying to please the U.S., advising against the U.S. desires, is as close to a death sentence as one can get.

When USAID started its trial by innuendo, these particular U.S. reps, in effect, summarily put my life in danger without apology, forget a hearing.

This is how it was done: first USAID's Mission Director, had hand-delivered to me, at my hotel, after the Justice Minister had publicly introduced me at the first Donor's meeting as his advisor and Coordinator of the Donor's proposed reform projects; after this, USAID's Mission Director, Larry Crandall, had hand-delivered to my hotel, USAID's justice reform bid package. And presto, without my permission, there was my name in one of the pages. Suddenly i was listed on USAID'S Limited Bid list. This done, even though i had specifically indicated such a contract imposing "reforms" on Haiti was against my religion. Not to mention how i had, in my very first face-to-face conversation with said Larry Crandal, days before, when, to his surprise a Haitian friend of mine who knew how USAID had been avoiding me, had arranged for me to meet with the Mission Director. i met with him after a meeting he was scheduled to attend at the offices of Haiti's Electoral Committee.

At that meeting, i explained to Crandall when he mentioned USAID's proposed reforms, that i was there to push the Haitian Minister's priorities and was not in the least bit interested in independently teaming up - having my law firm win a job - with a large USAID subcontractor under a Section 8a "minority" designation. But all this was beyond USAID's scope of expertise and understanding. They saw no reason why an attorney already hired by the Haitian Minister of Justice, already representing the President of the country, they saw no reason why that Haitian attorney would find it grossly insulting to be told she needed a "minority" contractor's designation to work in the country her foreparents had put heart and sinew into for 500 years. We're trying to help you, they insisted and probably actually believed.

They simply were blithely unaware of their horribly paternalistic and racist outlook and suddenly, i was on their bid list of possible grantors to reform the Haitian justice system according to USAID's specifications. USAID knew zilch about reforming Haiti and we, the Haitian lawyers at the Haitian Lawyers Leadership had already tested their bidding process. Back in January 1995, armed with an approval letter from President Aristide's office signed by professor Renau Bernadin, i had tried to submit a proposal for the "skills-bank-project," a data-bank USAID was about to launch in Haiti that was to tap into the Haitian Diaspora as a resource for democratic changes. Back then, in January of 1995, i was still in the U.S., being deliberately ignored by USAID. But i was told, outright, with the vitriol spewing unchecked, after we submitted, that our proposal would not be considered because USAID virulently resented the Haitian Lawyers Leadership had documented approval from the Haitian government.

Check this. Egos where bruised. USAID felt "imposed" upon! They were ti, was in on USAID's review process. He was the one giving me these details of USAID's sarcastic dismissal and attitude towards our bid efforts. At that point in time, i was in contact and working closely with the Minister of the Tenth Department. We Haitian lawyers had submitted a presentation to the Haitian Independent Electoral Committee on behalf of the Haitian Diaspora urging their approval of overseas polling in the proposed parliamentary elections by Haitian citizens living abroad. We wanted overseas voting similar to that allowed by the South African Independent Electoral Council during Nelson Mandela's election. Our advocacy work was well known within the Haitian Diaspora Ministry and getting us-lawyers to Haiti was a mutual project. But we needed appropriate financial support and institutional backing and saw that if we could perhaps be assigned to develop the USAID skills bank that would be one way of getting down there to Haiti. That's why we applied, that and for testing out USAID's commitment to hiring Haitian-Americans in Haiti based on President Bill Clinton's call for Haitian technicians to become involved in assisting the U.S. in helping Haiti build democracy. The plan was to get down there, and then, we would see how to address being liaison/coordinator of the legal reform projects we had sent over to the Haitian government. That was the initial plan. So, we had DHL and presented, on January 26, 1995, to Kitty Hall, Esq. at USAID/Haiti Mission our letter proposal regarding "Liaison for Legal Reform in Haiti & Managing Repatriations of skilled Haitians of the Diaspora to Haiti." This was summarily rejected.

So then, i already knew, bidding on USAID projects as a Liaison was out of the question. That's why when suddenly, in March 1995, after i am in Haiti on my own damn steam, appointed as the Haitian Coordinator of Donor reforms, despite and un-discouraged by USAID's prior rejections; when at this point, moon-faced Larry Crandall is graciously hand-delivering things to me, i know it was total trash. it was too much, too late, too little....you know the song....to ever reverse what i had learned, in the interim, about USAID. That's why i was unmoved when i found myself a "bidder" USAID would consider for the contracts they always give out to large well-connected Washington consulting firms. As if i would voluntarily ever put our organization on their chopping block. Mama didn't raise stupid girls. i had had my test run. Saw the results and was, at that point, way ahead of their little bullshit games.

Fact is, i was skeptical enough about what i was doing in Haiti myself, in the first place, without having to witness, up front and not from the cold distance of a textbook, T.V. or news article, the USAID colonial mindset and their irreducible Euro-American craven desire to hoard information, crave other people's goods and resources, control Haiti, fan and feed their greedy white supremacist egos.

*

Nearly four years later, Mike Wallace reported on 60 Minutes that some of the white consultants USAID had hired to teach Black Haitians about the law, were not even qualified lawyers, much less have any understanding about the subject matter of judicial reform. One lawyer he identified was even disbarred and a convicted U.S. felon. i had, by then, been telling everyone who would listen what had happened to me and how under sanction of U.S. federal and military authority, these bureaucratic white boys and their government lawyer chicks in Haiti were being paid a fortune to keep Haiti in dependency and poverty. By then i had won awards, grants and fellowships for putting my experience to music in a play and a one-woman jazzoetry piece with folkloric Haitian dancing. But still, over ten million Haitian folks were suffering under American-sponsored malice. This kept on moving higher and higher towards nucleic crescendos.

The November 14, 1999 taping of 60 Minutes showed the particular homely new Mzz Career-White-Chick then in-charge, she, whose former counterpart and bosses in 1995, had put my life in danger; she who was being well-paid to head Haiti's Justice Reform sector under USAID in 1999, lied, on 60 Minutes all the while squirming because she knew that in straight-up not acknowledging USAID's limitations, competence and accountability she was wrong.

Fact is, the USAID reps i met in Haiti back in 1995, were so sneeringly cynical, none had expected those practically naked men we saw at Haiti's National Penitentiary the 60 Minutes TV footage showed, crowded and piled-up on each other like sardines in Middle Passage slave-ship fashion, to ever live under better standards. Her USAID ilks depend on America's cultural biases, just as Suzanne-Smith did. Said dowdy Mzz Career-White-Chick on 60 Minutes, she, never saw herself drowning justice for Blacks. She knows her America - an America that warehouses half its young Black men - that America is pre-disposed to buy her alibi.

When i was in Haiti, her old counterpart helped, to stop Haitian lawyers from helping Haiti -Haitians whose parents are peasants, whose parents are refugees. We, who know the pain of unrelenting injustices. She and her bosses, who are responsible for squandering billions of dollars, just squirms on National T.V. implying that Haitians are just not ready for justice. We have too many problems, don't you know, for us to grasp the finer points of democracy and the rule of law. Can you believe it? Those "they" she was blithely talking about from the distance of her well-fed self; those "they" would never grow from her curved-core and slide down her birth canal, so why should she give a goddamn?

The white boys and the Mzz White-Career-Chicks, intellectuals who had distanced themselves from the emotional core of the American self where fleecing U.S. tax-payers while depriving over ten million Haitians of life, liberty, dignity and plain civil rights. Haitians like me who tried to help Haiti institutionalize the rule of law, would be the ones their laws would placed under scrutiny.

Their ol' pattern of paternalistic arrogance was galling. These U.S. men and women slurped-up the white privilege deference like nectar, puffing out their chest around me, riding high on U.S.'s reputation for being a fair meritocracy; a torch bearer for liberty and equality, while propping-up oppression, misogyny, rape, exclusion, genocide and death.

This rank injustice, this deliberate, with malice aforethought way of depriving Blacks a justice system; this then is what the U.S. government reps down there in Haiti call being "American."

But i'm getting ahead of my tale again. Back in 1995 at that UNDP office, USAID's right hand was just beginning to talk to its left hand, metering out America's capital punishment for being Black, spewing their cultural biases, ignorances and innuendoes by asking things like "Could she be a real American?"

*

Kenbe La!: Crossings of a Vodun-Roots Woman, (c) 1998 and 2000 by Èzili Dantò. All rights reserved.

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