Clandestine Interview from Haiti: Resistance in the Slums of Port-au-Prince
Backed by United
Nations so-called peacekeepers, the U.S.-installed Haitian regime continues
its siege of poor neighborhoods in the capital, Port au Prince, in an
attempt to crush ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide´s Lavalas
party. The following is the result of a clandestine interview with a
woman called Nancy, conducted last Sunday in the slum of Bel Air.
Nancy is a member of the Cell of Reflection of Family Lavalas. The interview
took place under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions. Nancy´s
remarks were then edited to safeguard her and the journalist´s
anonymity. BC stands behind their credibility.
First you should realize that they have been trying to starve the poor
in Haiti since President Aristide was kidnapped on February 29th. Do
you know how much rice and beans cost now in the market? Families are
starving while a few families that import goods are getting rich off
the pennies we have to spend on food. They have killed us since then
and driven us into hiding. Have you ever tried to feed your family while
you are running from the police and you have no job? They have arrested
our leaders or driven them into exile. They have cornered us and taken
our dignity away so that now we realize we have no where left to go.
We see that the situation in the streets, our situation, we who are
part of the Cell of Reflection of Family Lavalas, we see that in all
the poor neighborhoods there is not a day that goes by that the government
does not squeeze us. The repression is much worse. And now the de facto
Prime Minister [Gerard Latortue] has said he is going to sign a contract
with the former military to kill us one by one. In a secret meeting
he had with the Minister of justice, a friend inside heard Latortue
estimate that it would be necessary to kill 25,000 people in the capital,
in the capital alone to stop the calls for the return of President Aristide.
September 30th was the beginning of this initiative where Latortue unleashed
his forces that are comprised of new units of SWAT, USP, CIMO and the
police where the killers of the former military had already been integrated.
It was they who began firing on unarmed demonstrators while the Brazilians
and the United Nations stood by to let them kill us.
This was only one part of their strategy that day. On September 30th
they had extra squads of former military work hand-in-hand with these
militarized forces of the police to enter Bel Air, Cite Soleil, La Saline,
Grand Ravine, Delmas 2, Martissant and many other poor neighborhoods
to kill a lot of people. On September 30th many people were killed,
especially in Bel Air. The former military had already set up operations
in Bel Air and Cite Soleil without our knowledge before the demonstration
had started. We did not know that they had quietly entered certain houses
very early in the morning and held the occupants at gunpoint waiting
for the right moment to strike. After the killing started they broke
into many more houses shooting and beating people who had stayed at
home. They also broke everything they could and stole anything of value
while we were running from the bullets of the police. Later in the afternoon
the police entered the poor neighborhoods and arrested everyone they
could get their hands on. This is how the violence of September 30th
began and it became a question of defending our neighborhoods and our
community from the violence of Latortue´s police and the former
military. What do we have to lose by defending ourselves since they
are determined to kill us anyway?
In the days that followed we would not allow them to enter our communities
and continue the killing. They tried several times on their own and
we would not let them enter. So they set up on the outskirts of our
neighborhoods and began to arrest everybody in sight. Outside of Bel
Air we have seen them force three year-olds and four year-olds to the
ground. There are many people here who do not know where they have taken
their family members after they arrest them. All of this because Latortue
and Bush were afraid of the numbers of people they knew we would mobilize
to demand Aristide´s return on September 30th. There is no other
Since then, Latortue has made it clear we do not have the right to live
and we are no better than animals that deserve to be slaughtered. We
are not counted as human beings in Haitian society because we are poor
and uneducated even though we are the majority of the population. With
President Aristide this was not the case and for this reason we are
determined there will never be peace in Haiti until he returns. Our
brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our sons and our cousins are all
willing to die before we will accept this misery caused by a government
that was put into power by foreigners and that does not accept us as
human beings. We will never stop and there can be no peace until President
Aristide returns. They can call us bandits and thieves all they want
but they know the truth and this is why they are in a process of exterminating
Bush and the United Nations know the truth as well. They know that without
the Brazilians they could not have entered Bel Air. They know that without
the Jordanians they could never keep us from the National Palace. Without
the UN forces this phony government would not last a week. That is why
we call them occupation forces and it is criminal for them to prop up
this killing machine that is trying to destroy us. It is an insult to
see them occupying the streets in front of our National Palace to keep
in place a government that was not chosen by the people. They should
be ashamed of themselves and wonder how they would feel if the same
thing were done to them in their country. We believe that if the people
in their countries knew the truth they would ask them to come home.
We pray we will not have to fight them but they are part of the killing
machine right now and it is a question of survival for us. We have no
choice but to defend ourselves and our communities against their tanks
and their guns.
It is clear they will kill many more of us in the weeks to come. The
streets of Bel Air and Cite Soleil will turn red from all the blood
Latortue intends to spill but we will no longer just stand like zombies
and let them kill us. We will continue to demand the return of our elected
president and we will defend ourselves against them when they come to
kill us. We are not animals, we are not bandits and we did not start
this killing. They did.
Take this to the American people and let them know we think that what
Bush is doing in Haiti is criminal. He had a choice of supporting our
democracy and our votes but he chose to throw them away. He sided with
criminals and the rich against us instead of choosing dialogue and reconciliation.
We do not blame the American people and it is a lie that we intend to
harm them in Haiti. We love our children and we love life as much as
they do but we must defend our right to exist in the face of these criminals
who are determined to exterminate us.
The Black Commentator - BC
Align to Help Poor in Haiti
By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Nov. 24, 2005
Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — U.N. peacekeepers venture into Cite
Soleil with automatic weapons and armored personnel carriers. Haitian
police, fearful of well-armed gangs, avoid the dusty streets of the
seaside slum altogether.
But a new aid organization has managed to use the immense popularity
of hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean to provide badly needed help to a desperate
corner of his native country, the poorest nation in the Americas.
Yele Haiti, which Jean formed this year, has so far focused mostly on
giving out scholarships. But after a few exploratory forays, it ventured
into Cite Soleil this month to give out food – backed by the pulsating
beat of hip-hop blasting from speakers on a makeshift stage.
The music wasn’t just entertainment. It was the way the aid group
secured permission to enter the territory of gangs who dominate a slum
that is home to more than 200,000 people.
“The gangs are really into my music, so we use that to connect
with the population,” Jean said by telephone from New York. “It
helps us get in to help people that others may not reach.”
The name “Yele Haiti” comes from a popular Jean song that
has become a sort of anthem of hope following the violent rebellion
that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.
Jean, who left Haiti when he was 10 and gained fame as a member of the
Fugees, said he was inspired to create his aid group by his own bitter
memories of poverty.
“I grew up with no shoes and no pants,” the 35-year-old
musician said. “So, in the position I’m in today, I couldn’t
sleep if I wasn’t giving back.”
Most of Haiti’s 8 million people live on less than $1 a day.
Unemployment is estimated at 80 percent. Locals struggle to survive
coups, street-level justice, corrupt leaders and pervasive crime.
Kidnappings are common.
Human rights groups and international organizations say at least 1,500
people have died in the violence in the capital in the past year, much
of it blamed on the street gangs that allegedly support Aristide, now
in exile in South Africa, and his Lavalas party.
Yele Haiti so far has distributed about $1 million in grants and aid,
mostly in the Gonaives region, which was devastated last year by Hurricane
Jeanne. The organization has also taught sports to slum children and
helped clear litter from the streets of Port-au-Prince.
“What you need is for people to participate in the aid programs,
feel like human beings – not just receive food like animals,”
Dozens of aid groups operate in Haiti. What makes Jean’s unusual
is its reliance on his celebrity to gain permission from the gangs to
operate amid the violence of Cite Soleil.
“There’s always an element of risk, but the community has
a lot of respect for the musicians,” said Hugh Locke, the manager
of Yele Haiti.
A gang leader who calls himself General Toutou said he and others “have
completely lost trust in the U.N.,” whose blue-helmeted peacekeeping
troops often engage in firefights with slum residents.
Mamadou Mbaye, head of the U.N. World Food Program in Haiti, said the
agency doesn’t allow its staff to enter Cite Soleil because of
the danger – so it provided food to Yele Haiti to distribute.
Mbaye praised Yele Haiti for its ability to “take the first step
and pave the way,” for other aid groups.
“People in dangerous zones have the same right to aid and food
as the rest of the Haitian population,” he said.
But even with the gang’s permission and Jean’s popularity,
the first major food handout did not go off as smoothly as organizers
Yele Haiti volunteers and workers in bright orange and blue T-shirts
arrived with hundreds of bags of rice, beans, salt and cooking oil.
But the crowd had grown unruly under the hot sun, and people began to
scramble for the food, fearful they might miss out.
Some gangsters could be seen striking people with belts and sticks while
others ran off with food. In the distance, U.N. troops and gang members
could be heard exchanging gunfire.
Ernia Saint Louis, who lives in Cite Soleil, said gang members stole
“It’s great to bring food to the poor, but we never get
any of it. The big guys take it all,” the 26-year-old woman said
as she picked beans from the dust and collected them in a fold of her
Despite the problems, the World Food Program said it hopes to keep channeling
aid through Jean’s group.
“Yes, it was chaotic, but it was a learning process for us and
Yele Haiti,” said Anne Poulsen, spokeswoman for the U.N. agency
Jean said his group would learn from the incident, which he views as
a reminder of why Haiti needs so much help.
“We can’t just wait for things to improve before we get
involved,” he said. “It’s because we are trying that
things will get better.”
Wyclef Jean brings hip-hop hope to Haiti
By Letta Tayler | Newsday Staff Correspondent
Posted March 9, 2006, 8:51 AM EST
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — “Yo! Back up!” Wyclef Jean,
the Haitian-born hip-hop star, was shouting to a mob of Carnival revelers.
“We can’t be responsible for somebody being eaten by a lion!”
It was supposed to be the realization of Jean’s childhood dream.
Decked out as Haiti’s revolutionary hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines,
complete with a tri-cornered hat, swashbuckler’s boots, glittering
sword and ruffled shirt, the former Fugees front man would ride a float
in Haiti’s biggest festival, a real lion at his side, capping
a heroic return to his ravaged birthplace from his adopted homes of
Brooklyn and New Jersey.
But the king of beasts wasn’t having it.
Seven times a trainer tried and failed to coax Major, the 450-pound
feline, from a truck into a display cage on the Carnival float. One
foray was aborted after Major leapt into some bushes, dragging the trainer
by the leash. Eventually, the float left without him.
Seemingly impossible dreams are nothing new to Jean. With the same vision
- some would argue naiveté - that prompted him to try bringing
a contrary lion onto a Carnival float, he is vowing to rebuild his broken
country largely through the power of music, aided by Yéle Haiti,
the nonprofit group he founded last year.
“Just when you think it’s over, that’s when the lightning
and the thunder is going to come,” vowed Jean, a Nazarene preacher’s
son. “You know what I’m saying? Maybe Haiti won’t
change in a dramatic way, but it will change. It already has.”
“The wind is turning!”
Jean jumped on the float, grabbed a microphone and began to belt his
pumping Carnival chant: “Van vire! Van vire!” (Haitian Creole
for “The wind is turning! The wind is turning!”) Then he
rolled into the reveling throngs of Port-au-Prince.
For five days last week, Jean moved through Haiti at breakneck speed,
rallying support from grassroots leaders, gang members and socialites
in a country convulsed by lawlessness and divided by class and race.
But in the hours before Carnival, he was enjoying a rare quiet moment
on the sweeping terrace of a luxury hotel perched high above the stifling
capital. He wore camouflage pants and a Yéle Haiti T-shirt. His
hair was braided in immaculate corn rows. A diamond-studded medallion
of Christ’s face dangled from his neck.
Far below him stretched the capital’s squalid slums, including
the notorious, gang-ruled shantytown of Cité Soleil. “Just
to think that I went from there to here,” he said, his voice incredulous,
as a waiter in a white uniform served him pasta with julienne vegetables.
As a young boy, Jean lived in the rural counterpart to Cité Soleil,
sharing a mud hut with five relatives in the dirt-poor town of Laserre
in central Haiti. The hut had no running water or electricity.
“I rode a donkey to school. I never had more than two pairs of
pants and one pair of shoes,” Jean said. Sometimes, he added,
he had no pants or shoes at all.
The tough Marlboro housing projects in East Bensonhurst, where he arrived
from Haiti when he was 9 and spoke only Creole, seemed luxurious in
contrast. “We got yellow cheese, government cheese. I thought
I was rich - the white man be giving us cheese,” Jean remembered.
“And he was wearing a uniform!”
Worried that Jean was getting into trouble, his mother got him a guitar
to keep him busy. The family moved when Jean was a teenager to East
Orange, N.J. It was there that Jean helped form the Fugees - short for
refugees - a band that sold more than 20 million records with its innovative,
Now 36, Jean has millions of dollars, a lavish home in suburban New
Jersey - he won’t say where, wanting to protect his privacy -
and is trying to give something back.
“Yéle Haiti is about making kids feel that no matter what,
their dreams can come true,” he said. “I stand up for them.
The story of me is them.”
“Yéle,” the title of one of Jean’s songs, is
a cry for freedom in Creole. With a budget of $1 million last year,
mostly from a Haitian telecommunications company, Yéle Haiti
rebuilds schools and provides scholarships and soccer programs to slum
children. It also helps run a program to clear the mounds of garbage
that pile up everywhere by paying legions of street cleaners.
Some skeptics say Yéle Haiti’s programs are a drop in the
bucket for this former French-ruled slave colony, where half the population
is illiterate, more than two-thirds of the people live on less than
$2 a day, and more than 70 percent of the workforce is unemployed.
“These rich people come, they make big plans, and they go,”
said Jean Roland, 22, an unemployed construction worker, as he loitered
on a filthy street corner in the capital. “We’re left here
with the same old mess.”
Jean, Roland said, may be more interested in returning to Haiti to boost
his own fame than to change Haiti.
But supporters say Jean is onto something far more intangible and powerful
than cleaning a road or building a school: restoring hope and pride
in a country that has lost much of both.
“He sends an important message to Haitians of similar humble origins,
that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and if he can
make it, they can,” said Mamadou Mbaye, the Haiti director of
the United Nations World Food Program.
And one of the best ways to make it, Jean tells this country, is through
For months, the World Food Program couldn’t deliver food in Cité
Soleil because shootouts between gang members and UN peacekeepers made
it too dangerous to enter. But using his contacts in the Haitian hip-hop
community, Jean last summer enlisted Cité Soleil rappers to persuade
gang members to let local musicians truck in the food.
The shipments still are far too infrequent and some food still is being
looted as it leaves the trucks. Still, said Mbaye, “Wyclef has
opened doors for us. He can communicate with people in Cité Soleil
to gain their trust. He walks the walk. He talks the talk.”
Indeed, Jean has so much street cred that he has convinced aspiring
young slum rappers to compete for the best jingle about such socially
conscious topics as cleaning streets or protecting the environment.
He plans to record the winning jingle for broadcast on Haitian radio
and transport buses.
“Clean! Clean! If you want to build a better future, keep the
country clean!” rapped a tough young performer named Mad Ass during
an outdoor show for Jean in the impoverished neighborhood of Bel-Air.
“Pwop! Pwop!” (”Clean! Clean!”) hundreds of
spectators sang along, pumping their fists.
By returning to help his homeland after making it big - even skipping
this year’s Grammys and flying here on the red-eye to vote in
last month’s presidential elections - Jean also sends a powerful
message to Haiti’s tiny ruling class.
“He’s a thorn in the backside of the elite, a pressure on
them to help change their country,” said Robert Duval, an influential
industrialist-turned-philanthropist who runs a soccer program for slum
youths with Yéle Haiti.
Jean draws a weary world’s attention to Haiti the way that U2’s
Bono raised consciousness about developing nations’ debt. It was
Jean who wrapped himself in the Haitian flag when he went onstage in
1997 to accept the Fugees’ two Grammys for their breakthrough
album, “The Score.” It was Jean who brought Angelina Jolie
and Brad Pitt here in January to urge the world to help this country.
And it’s Jean who constantly plugs his homeland’s vibrant
culture and gorgeous Caribbean beaches, exclaiming, “Haiti is
the eighth wonder of the world.”
Their life’s work
Jean says his inspiration comes from his mother and father, who immigrated
to the United States in the 1970s to escape the Duvalier dictatorship.
(They took Jean up several years later. ) The Jeans re-established their
Nazarene church in their adopted country and made it their life’s
work to help Haitian refugees and orphans.
“My parents taught me that one of the reasons in making it was
coming back to help,” Jean said.
Sedeck Jean, a music producer and one of Wyclef’s three siblings,
said the Fugee also inherited their preacher-father’s ability
to connect. “Our dad was incredibly charismatic, and ‘Clef
is like that,” he said. “When he gets into his work it’s
So skillful is Jean at building social bridges, some Haitians wonder
if he’s angling to run for president. Jean roundly denies it.
“What I want to do for Haiti is what Sammy Sosa did for the Dominican
Republic or what Bob Marley did for Jamaica,” he said.
Perhaps Jean realizes his dreams are too flamboyant for public office.
One minute, he’s talking about buying an island off Haiti’s
coast to build his version of the Atlantis Resort, a massive, manmade
complex of waterfalls, lagoons and a casino in the Bahamas. The next
minute, he says he’ll donate two of his 36 antique cars to Port-au-Prince
slums to remind kids that they can make it out of the ghetto - undeterred
by the risk that people who must scrounge food and shelter might strip
the vintage sheet metal for roofing material.
And no matter that the lion he flew in from Los Angeles didn’t
get on the Carnival float. Jean is already looking into bringing an
entire circus to the tour the country next year.
“Ninety-seven percent of kids in Haiti have never seen a lion,”
Jean said. “We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to
open kids’ eyes, make them say, ‘Wow.’”
Jean is equally unorthodox about his security.
When he cruised with a bunch of Haitian and Haitian-American musicians
into Cité Soleil, a neighborhood where most Haitians fear to
tread, his only protector was Beast, his bearded, 6-foot-8-inch bodyguard.
But there were no guns in sight on this day, only throngs of fans chanting,
“Van vire! Van vire!”
Indeed, the event became one big love fest as the ebony Jean appeared
on an outdoor stage with Roberto Martino, the light-skinned, affluent
leader of the Haitian pop group T-Vice.
“The color divisions must end!” Wyclef shouted through a
Onstage with them were Cité Soleil gang members who’d helped
let in the food aid. “Wyclef’s visit will change things
in Cité Soleil,” said a reputed gang leader named Ti Blanc.
“The tension between the bourgeoisie and the poor will soon clear
Maybe, but not on this trip. At Jean’s next stop in Cité
Soleil, a soccer program funded by Yéle Haiti, Martino suddenly
found some of the cheering spectators stripping him of his wallet, his
sunglasses and his bandanna.
“They were even trying to steal my hair,” Martino said after
he fled into the bus.
A powerful performance
And when Jean left his float at the end of Carnival, hordes of people
stormed it, carting off instruments and a laptop. The crowds also tried
to let the lion loose. “I thought they were going to kill me,”
said the lion tamer. The looting followed one of the most powerful performances
of Jean’s career.
“Everyone who wants kidnapping to stop, raise your hands!”
he hollered in Creole as he dove on and off the carnival float. Hands
shot up among an estimated half-million revelers who’d packed
streets and climbed trees, tombstones and rooftops to catch a glimpse
of the superstar.
Crooning to the melody of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,”
Jean sang an imaginary conversation with Haiti’s President-elect
René Préval, a darling of the poor.
I called Préval before the show and I said,
Dear President, the Haitian people need food.
Dear President, the Haitian people need jobs.
Dear President, the Haitian people need security.
Jean’s band cranked up the tempo to a boisterous rah-rah, the
rhythm of Carnival.
“And the president said,” Jean bellowed, “Van vire!
"Transformation is only valid if it is carried
out with the people, not for them. Liberation is like a childbirth,
and a painful one. The person who emerges is a new person: no longer
either oppressor or oppressed, but a person in the process of achieving
freedom. It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free
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