Haitian regime escalates repression

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — According to an American filmmaker and journalist living in Haiti, the country’s U.S.-installed government is intensifying its repression of supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Speaking via telephone from Haiti to a Sept. 30 meeting here, Kevin Pina stated that the regime that helped depose Aristide has arrested and detained “an incredible number” of people on false charges. It has especially targeted those who are demanding Aristide’s return to office.

Earlier that day, Haitian police had fired on thousands of unarmed demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, who had marched and called for a return to constitutional order. An unknown number were killed and injured.

Calling these developments the “next level of repression,” Pina said that, initially, the regime headed by Gerard Latortue was conducting police sweeps through poor neighborhoods and arresting all young males. “Now they are arresting labor leaders, clergy and church people.” He also stated that there are numerous reports of police and paramilitaries assassinating Aristide supporters, including burning some alive.

Asked about the whereabouts of Aristide’s cabinet, Pina said that most cabinet ministers are either in jail, in hiding or in exile.

Pina said that the U.S.-sponsored coup against Aristide has angered people. The opposition movement that overthrew the Lavalas government earlier this year is not homegrown but was nurtured by the U.S. government. Contrary to what the international press has reported, the Aristide government was supported by the majority of the Haitian people. He said there has been a campaign to demonize Aristide and cast him as a repressive dictator.

“When I read the international press, I’m not sure that I’m living in the country they are describing,” Pina said. Prior to the coup, he said, Haiti’s impoverished majority felt empowered for the first time.

Describing the Sept. 30 demonstration, Pina reported that up to 15,000 people marched, “and if police had not attacked protesters the march could have easily swelled to 50,000.”

“As pro-Aristide protesters marched past the city’s main prison,” he said, “police opened fire on the crowd, killing and wounding several people. Police then placed the bodies in a nearby truck. Then a car passed by and opened fire on the Port-au-Prince police, killing three officers. Angry protesters then burned the police vehicle.”

Pina also reported that the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) — a human rights group — is helping to foster the climate of repression by making false allegations that Aristide’s Lavalas Party is organizing armed attacks against opponents and committing crimes.

“They [the NCHR leaders] are very destructive, spreading rumors but offering no evidence to back up their claims.” Unfortunately, he said, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch get much of their information about the country’s human rights situation from the NCHR.

Describing the horrible human toll wrought by Tropical Storm Jeanne as “a nightmare, compounded by tragedy,” Pina remarked that prior to the storm the country had been prepared for such a disaster. The Aristide government set up a disaster relief network across the country, “But the events of February 29 [the day of Aristide’s ouster] destroyed all of this.”

Pina, who has lived in Haiti since the early 1990s, spoke to the meeting at the invitation of Stop War and the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Committee. His most recent documentary, “Haiti: Harvest of Hope,” describes the rise of Aristide.

The author can be reached at tpelzer@shaw.ca.