Haiti: repression drops, but not poverty

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — While the people of Haiti have experienced an improvement in the country’s political atmosphere, their economic situation continues to deteriorate, said Roger Annis, a representative of the Canada-Haiti Action Network.

Annis visited Haiti from Aug. 5-20 as part of a seven-person human rights delegation sent there by Haitian-American organizations. Among other things, he wanted to observe the changes that have occurred since the re-establishment of democracy last year.

“Life has improved for the average Haitian in the political realm,” he told the World in an interview here. “The worst of the repression that occurred in the two years following the coup against the elected government [of Jean-Bertrand Aristide] has eased.”

He said the current government, headed by President Rene Preval, has put an end to the Haitian National Police (HNP) force’s murderous attacks against poor neighborhoods, where it killed and wounded many people. In the Port-au-Prince area alone, the HNP and the UN Stabilization Force (Minustah) killed 4,000 men and women during the two-year period in which the interim government of Gerard Latortue ruled the country, he said.

On Feb. 29, 2004, U.S. Special Forces backed a coup against President Aristide, seized him and flew him to the Central African Republic. The United States, with the assistance of the UN, Canada and France, then set up a new interim government headed by Latortue.

Despite improvements in its conduct, the HNP is still operating outside the law, Annis said. Two commissioners appointed by Preval to oversee the HNP and the justice system in two of Haiti’s 10 districts told his delegation that Haitian police are still making illegal arrests and are still not following the constitution.

Noting that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began training the HNP three years ago, Annis said, “One has to ask the question: what has three years of training led to if Haitian government officials are saying that the HNP refuses to recognize constitutional authority?”

While there has been progress in releasing political prisoners, several hundred still remain in jail, according to Annis. His delegation met with Justice Ministry officials who complained that a lack of court facilities and judges who could review the cases has prevented the release of the country’s remaining political prisoners.

While Minustah acts in a less brutal manner against the population, UN troop violence is still a problem, too, Annis said.

The overall political climate still remains fragile, he said. For instance, his delegation suffered a disaster when their guide, well-known human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre Antoine, disappeared during the second week of their tour, leading to the cancellation of scheduled meetings with Preval and others. Lovinsky is still missing, and Annis fears that right-wing forces are responsible for his disappearance.

“What hasn’t improved is the overall economic and social situation of the country, which continues to deteriorate,” he remarked. Between 70-80 percent of the labor force is unemployed, and the money that Haitians living abroad send back to their families is a key factor in keeping the economy afloat. “Basic services like education, health care, electricity and clean water do not exist,” he said.

“The Preval government doesn’t have the resources to tackle the acute economic and social needs, nor the ability through taxation to raise those resources,” commented Annis. “There has been no willingness and no programs from the [UN] occupation authority to address the social and economic calamity.”

He said that only Cuba and Venezuela are helping Haiti by building schools and hospitals there, among other projects.

Annis said Haitians also recognize that the Preval government is not a sovereign government and that it is constrained by the UN occupation authorities and foreign powers. Furthermore, Preval has to contend with a National Assembly and Senate dominated by right-wing parties.

“What is disturbing is that the Preval government has embarked on a program to privatize the country’s remaining public enterprises,” he said, citing the government’s sale of the national telephone company and the planned privatizaation of the electric company, customs service and national airport. “This is of great concern to the trade unions and popular movements in Haiti.”

Haitians need worldwide solidarity more than ever, Annis said.

tpelzer @shaw.ca