Thursday, February 23, 2012

ALBA Expands its Allies in the Caribbean (Part 2 of 2)

Originally posted on NACLA.org
February 23, 2012

When looking at the vast array of reconstruction plans and promises of aid to rebuild Haiti, the old cliché "actions speak louder than words" rings true. Two years later, the failed reconstruction of Haiti has shown that a great deal of the international community’s optimism which emerged after the earthquake was simply that—talk. While this may be a harsh criticism of seemingly well-intentioned efforts, when contrasted to the actions of a small but determined group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, the majority of international efforts in Haiti are shameful.

The countries which comprise the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) have always regarded Haiti as an important sister nation and partner in the fight against imperialism and neoliberal globalization. At the inauguration of President Michel Martelly last May, Héctor Rodríguez, vice-president of the Social Area Council of Venezuela wasted no time in renewing ALBA’s cooperation to Haiti, stating, “We have a historical debt to pay to our brothers and sisters in Haiti, because they helped us liberate our Latin America.” Rodríguez’s remarks referred to the assistance of then-Haitian President Petion to Simón Bolívar during the independence wars against Spain, where newly liberated Haiti provided soldiers, financial aid, and political asylum to the Latin American revolutionary.

The first week of February saw the 11 summit of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) convene in Caracas, Venezuela. With Haiti in attendance as a permanent observer, Martelly’s attendance at the summit was a surprise to many, due to his reactionary political program domestically, his close relationships with the Haitian elite, and his determination that Haiti will achieve real and sustainable development through neoliberal policy and the construction of low-wage sweatshops.

Despite Martelly’s political positions, the impact of ALBA’s assistance to Haiti (primarily via Cuba and Venezuela) is too powerful for him to ignore—doing so would discredit him in the eyes of the Haitian people. At a regional summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, which was founded last December, Martelly confirmed the vital role Venezuelan aid is playing in Haiti, saying that "The cooperation with Venezuela is the most important in Haiti right now in terms of impact, direct impact... We are grateful to President Chávez for helping us from the bottom of his heart.”

The principal reason why Venezuela and Cuba have been so effective in delivering assistance to Haiti is their engagement in developing infrastructure and professional capacity prior to the earthquake. These countries had spent tremendous time and resources developing networks, relationships and infrastructure which would prove critical to the relief effort, and they had a proven capacity to work constructively with the ministries of the Haitian government and organizations of civil society.

Perhaps the most important example of solidarity in Haiti has been the deployment of Cuban medical brigades. Cuban medical assistance to Haiti began after Hurricane George in 1998. An agreement to establish a sustainable model of public healthcare was initiated between Fidel Castro and President René Préval. The model would focus on the immediate provision of services and the construction of medical clinics throughout the country, and the beginning of training of Haitian doctors, nurses and technicians, both domestically and at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba (ELAM). Seventy Haitian students were enrolled per year at ELAM; the first year of graduation was 2005.

By 2007, eight years after the Cuban medical cooperation began in earnest, Cuba had become the primary healthcare provider for nearly 75% of the population which has access to healthcare services, with over 14 million medical consultations. Statistics from the Pan American Health Organization in 2007 indicated that the presence of the Cuban doctors had led to several dramatic improvements in several key public health indicators.

Improvements in Public Health in Haiti, 1999-2007

Health Indicator 1999 2007

Infant Mortality, per 1,000 live births 80 33
Child Mortality Under 5 per 1,000 135 59.4
Maternal Mortality per 100,000 live births 523 285
Life Expectancy (years) 54 61

**Figures taken from Emily J. Kirk and John M. Kirk’s One of the World’s Best Kept Secrets: Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti

On the eve of the earthquake, Cuba had trained 550 Haitian doctors at no cost, with another 567 medical students enrolled in Cuba. These doctors, in addition to Cuban medical personnel, would provide the most widespread and successful medical campaign in post-earthquake Haiti. In an incredibly important gesture at the United Nations Donor Conference in March 2010, Cuba pledged to rebuild a sustainable, public healthcare system in Haiti—over ten years and at a cost of $690.5 million. Not wanting to be outdone by small, socialist Cuba, this ambitious and deeply needed plan for Haiti was virtually ignored by the international media. Despite the rejection by the United Nations, Cuba’s medical efforts in Haiti continue, with collaborative assistance from Venezuela, Brazil and Norway.

Notwithstanding the cholera epidemic (introduced to Haiti due to the negligence of United Nations troops), many non-governmental organizations have left the country as their funds dried up. Cuba is once again leading the charge to save lives. Its medical brigades have established 44 cholera treatment units and 23 cholera treatment centers. They have achieved a mortality rate of just 0.36% in the areas they serve, four times lower than the national average. Cuba’s medical assistance to Haiti was chosen by Project Censored as one of the top 25 underreported news stories in 2011.

With the signing of agreements with Venezuela in 2007 during President Hugo Chávez’s visit to the country, a series of significant projects were ushered in, including US$80 million for an oil refinery, US$56 million for three electricity plants, US$4 million for a liquid gas plant, and US$3 million for a waste collection program.

Venezuela has also provided significant financial assistance to Haiti through the terms of the Petrocaribe program. Under the program, Haiti became a participant in a preferential trade agreement, where they could pay for Venezuelan oil over a 25-year period, with 1 % interest rate.

After the earthquake Venezuela once again stepped up to help Haiti, by pledging US$2.4 billion in reconstruction and relief aid, the largest financial contribution among 58 donors, according to the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti. In another significant act of solidarity, in June 2010, the Venezuelan government also cancelled all of Haiti’s debt with Petrocaribe—amounting to the cancellation of almost US$400 million.

The February 2012 ALBA summit in Caracas produced a further roadmap to Haiti’s recovery, focusing on Haiti’s sustainable reconstruction, building infrastructure, and increasing independence in the areas of energy, agriculture, healthcare and education.

Due to decades of unfair trade and aid policies, Haiti currently imports nearly 80% of its main food staple, rice. Venezuelan assistance is helping to restore the devastated rice industry in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley by providing technical assistance and financial aid to Haitian farmers. According to President Martelly, the benefits of Petrocaribe include, “a deal where we repay the amount owed with rice, so this is good for us. Because the main thing for us is to create jobs.”

Implementing assistance programs which develop rural linkages in Haiti and encourage domestic industrial growth is something that is unfortunately missing from many of the reconstruction plans of non-ALBA countries. For example, despite many announcements of reform, current USAID food assistance policies prohibit the procurement of foodstuffs from local sources. This means that US food aid (food grown and subsidized in the United States) is dumped into Haiti, destroying the agricultural industry. By comparison, Venezuela is creating incentives for Haitian farmers to cultivate rice once again in an effort to develop food security and employment opportunities.

In contrast to the aid provided by the United States and other major donors, President Martelly has stated that Venezuela’s aid comes without excessive conditions and bureaucratic controls. "Sometimes for a simple project, it might take too long for the project to happen," he remarked. "If you're asking me which one flows better, which one is easier, I'll tell you Venezuela."

The foreign ministers of ALBA countries will meet at a summit to be held in Jacmel, Haiti in March. It would be naive to assume that the United States will let Haiti join ALBA or establish deeper ties without a fight. U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks have revealed that the United States government and the large oil companies fought to prevent Haiti from joining Petrocaribe under the administration of President Préval. The United States and big oil exerted significant political pressure upon Préval, fearing the loss of traditional geopolitical dominance, not to speak of handsome profit margins from fuel delivery. (Haiti received its first shipment of Petrocaribe fuel in March 2008.)

Haiti’s entry into full membership of ALBA would unleash untold pressure upon whatever Haitian government attempts to do so. Whether President Martelly’s gestures are acts of political posturing or a signal of genuine intention to join ALBA, it is too early to tell. What is clear is that ALBA has offered extensive and unconditional support to the Haitian people, in contrast to many hollow promises of the international community. It has provided a model of solidarity and sustainability which should be emulated in the reconstruction of Haiti.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The other crime epidemic: Domestic violence in the Caribbean

Originally Published: Stabroek News
February 20th, 2012

It is no secret that the Caribbean has a serious problem with crime. In 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report which gave the Caribbean the unwanted distinction of being the “most violent region on earth.” Without a doubt, the ravages of the drug trade are shockingly visible throughout the region, from the inner cities to the smallest of villages. The violent crimes associated with the drug trade are often blatantly public, a reminder to friends and foes alike that a twisted order of power and money prevails. Yet despite the international and regional attention to the drug trade, a second crime epidemic is too often marginalized and even dangerously trivialized. I’m talking about domestic violence.

On the ground, the Caribbean has been undergoing an immense and traumatic economic transformation according to the logic of market liberalization which has been dictated from comfortable offices in Washington, Brussels, and Geneva. Studies are emerging which have solidly linked the rise in the drug trade with the coinciding collapse of Caribbean economies, primarily the agricultural industry.

The economic reforms have triggered a massive spike in unemployment and underemployment and an overall decline in opportunity, a dangerous combination in the face of making quick and easy money in the drug trade. A 2009 study by Fairtrade concluded that of the 25,000 Eastern Caribbean banana farmers who had been actively growing in 1993, only 5,000 remained – a drop of 80 per cent. When the devastating effects of hurricane Tomas in 2010, a steady decline in market access and the ongoing battle against leaf spot disease is calculated in, the unemployment figures are undoubtedly higher – most certainly reaching past the 90 per cent mark.

What has been given less insight and/or context is the relationship between the same economic decline and escalating rates of domestic violence throughout the region. Does the loss of men’s livelihoods instigate violence as a way of re-establishing dominance and control within families? We need to think of this in ways that do not further result in victimizing women; that somehow they are to blame for these upheavals that are leaving whole communities scrambling to make a living. We must also recognise that by and large women have been and continue to be economically marginal, despite the fact that through the daily work in the home that unfortunately continues to be seen as only women’s work, they provide the most important foundation of society. And we also have to address what some are calling a crisis of masculinity and how it relates to the violence, while also confronting head on those who would advocate that the best model of masculinity for our young boys and men is one that puts men in charge and that celebrates men’s dominance over women and children as normal and acceptable.

A huge part of the problem regarding domestic violence is the fact that it is not taken seriously in the eyes of many who have the authority to implement meaningful and lasting reforms – particularly the police and politicians. A case in point was made in January, when Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education of St Vincent and the Grenadines Mrs Girlyn Miguel chastised the island’s women by asking them “to dress themselves properly” so that they “do not give temptation to our men.” Miguel continued by issuing more of an observation than a condemnation of domestic violence stating, “we need to educate our girls, give them a chance… if they make any mistakes, if they do not do the things which are right, we do not have to kill them, we do not have to chop them, we need to have that love in our hearts.”

The fact that these comments were made by the island’s Minister of Education, who also happens to be the lone female cabinet member and parliamentary representative, is bad enough. However, considering that St Vincent has also become the femicide capital of the Eastern Caribbean makes Miguel’s lack of sensitivity and insight all the more inexcusable. In the first three weeks of 2012 alone, St Vincent—a country with a population of roughly 120,000—tragically lost three women to domestic violence. In the same 2007 UN report, St Vincent was documented as having the third-highest rate of reported rapes in the world.

This has always been an area of concern in measuring incidents of domestic violence, as even in the United States the Department of Justice estimates that over 60% of rapes go unreported. For example, reports by the Professional Organisation for Women in Antigua and Barbuda reported that in many instances police officers do not wish to get involved and overstep boundaries in what is traditionally considered as a “familial dispute.”

All of the Caribbean islands have higher rates of sexual violence than the world average. For example, it was estimated by Caricom gender advocate Dr Rosina Wiltshire in 2010 that one in four women in Guyana has been physically abused in a relationship.

A recent letter to the Stabroek News by Red Thread pointed out that by February of this year already five women have been murdered for 2012. Another regional victimization survey published in 2003 revealed that 48 per cent of adolescent girls’ sexual initiation was “forced” or “somewhat forced” in nine Caribbean countries.

This crisis is neither new nor exclusive to the Caribbean – as domestic violence has been a seriously underreported and under examined area across the world. Nor do I intend to imply that domestic violence is only experienced by those who have suffered most from the dislocating effects of global and local economic shifts. This is simply not the case. To see the extent which violence against women plagues the region, one only has to look again at St Vincent and the Grenadines, where the current Prime Minister has been accused of sexual assault, once by a policewoman and once by a Toronto lawyer. Both charges have since been withdrawn, but not without controversy. Recently released WikiLeaks reports have highlighted that Prime Minister Gonsalves allegedly offered $185,000 for the policewoman to drop the charges. And examples like this, in which those with power abuse women in public and private with seeming impunity, could be repeated across the Caribbean, including in Guyana where one case in the public eye at the moment involves the allegations that the police commissioner himself sexually assaulted a woman who was apparently under investigation on an extortion matter.

Indeed, many important initiatives are taking place and being implemented in several Caribbean countries, to develop community awareness of domestic violence and strengthen the laws against it in many cases. However, the fact that violence against women continues and appears to be on the rise despite the establishment of stricter anti-domestic violence initiatives across the Caribbean, raises crucial questions about the effectiveness of legislative measures in the absence of an uncompromising approach to enforcement, one moreover that does not end up going after everyone but those with the power and money to ‘buy’ their own justice. Without that unwavering commitment to significant resources and attitude shifts, it will be hard to make these initiatives anything more than window dressing. Nor should we ignore the larger context, and the fact that in the face of few alternatives, many women may not follow through on charges, not because they believe they deserve the violence as Miguel’s reckless comments suggest, but in part because they may fear losing whatever economic support their abuser might be providing them and their children.

The comment by parliamentarian Girlyn Miguel that ”if they do not do the things which are right, we do not have to kill them” reflects the idea that domestic violence is a response to bad behaviour on women’s part, that it is a way to keep them in line. It is a shallow, one way stream of thought which further punishes the victims, and without seeing domestic violence as an issue which affects not only women, but families and entire communities. Attitudes such as hers will unfortunately foster a repetition of violence against women, as it continues to be something which is both learned and socialized as normal. Only by confronting the traditional marginalization of the discussion as something “private” or a “family matter” will it be possible for governments and organizations to effectively tackle the roots of the problem, and to address how it relates to wider economic, social and political structures and processes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

ALBA Expands its Allies in the Caribbean (Part 1 of 2)

The weekend of February 4th and 5th saw the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) convene their 11th summit in Caracas, Venezuela. ALBA began as an alternative vision to the reckless neoliberal agenda promoted by Washington throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2004, Venezuela and Cuba sought to establish a regional alliance which would be committed to an agenda of poverty eradication, sustainable development and social justice founded upon the values of co-operation, equality, and solidarity. The regional integration promoted by ALBA importantly stresses policy flexibility, fair trade, and recognition of the unique circumstances faced by the small Caribbean economies.

765 As many expected, the weekend summit contained the standard denunciations of American imperialism and the need for deeper economic integration – but surprisingly ended with St. Lucia and Suriname expressing their desire for full membership in the organization, with Haiti also joining ranks as a permanent observer.

While St. Lucia and Suriname cannot fully join the organization without following the necessary political processes in their respective countries, the two nations were admitted to the meeting as “special guest members”— a prior step to their full entry. St. Lucia, Suriname, and Haiti would join their fellow CARICOM neighbours Dominica, who joined the regional organization in 2008, and St. Vincent and Antigua who became members in 2009.

Professor Norman Girvan of the University of the West Indies, a leading scholar in Caribbean political economy sees the recent regional shift towards ALBA as the result of the organization providing a more dynamic alternative to CARICOM, remarking that “(ALBA) poses the urgency of revitalising CARICOM and if CARICOM continues to be relatively moribund in its economic integration aspect then inevitably ALBA will become an attractive alternative for more and more CARICOM states.”

Furthermore, Petrocaribe— an alliance which allows Caribbean nations to purchase oil from Venezuela in a preferential agreement, has proved to be an attractive option for the cash strapped governments. The oil can be paid for over a 25 year period, at a 1 percent interest rate.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, in comparison to the traditional methods of purchasing oil in the region, Petrocaribe provides significant savings to the participating countries, providing an importance source of finance which respective governments can use to invest in social development programs. David Jessop, the Director of the Caribbean Council stated that “If it were not for the energy lifeline that it [Venezuela] has provided to every Caribbean nation other than Trinidad and Barbados, much of the region would by now be in economic free fall.”

It is precisely because the Caribbean has been hit so hard by the forces of globalization that many CARICOM members are looking to establish deeper alliances with Caracas and Havana instead of Washington— and for good reason.

The forceful intervention by Washington on behalf of the financial interests of multinational fruit companies like Chiquita in the nearly 20 year long “banana war” at the World Trade Organization fundamentally changed the economies of St. Lucia, Dominica and St. Vincent for the worse. Furthermore in Haiti, the reintroduction of a sweatshop model of development called HOPE II, is little more than a recycled version of Ronald Reagan’s failed Caribbean Basin Initiative of the 1980’s which perversely sees the country’s poverty as its greatest asset. Based upon the poverty inducing actions of the United States in the region, it makes one wonder how the Caribbean did not explore this alternative alliance to neoliberal globalization earlier.

Speaking on the economic realities which sparked St. Lucia’s decision to explore membership in ALBA, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony stated that “It is going to be critical and crucial that St. Lucia look for new opportunities of support and in particular for governments who are willing to assist the development of the country…So we have to be busy, we have to search for new sources of funding and it is in that context that we have to look at organisations like ALBA as an option.”

According to Professor Girvan, this makes perfect sense as ALBA is “mobilising resources on a much more significant scale... The ALBA bank and Petrocaribe funding are much larger than those mobilized by the CARICOM Development Fund and ALBA is moving ahead they keep launching into new projects for example food security and agriculture that CARICOM has been talking a lot but doing very little.”

Looking at the record of assistance ALBA has already provided to its three initial Caribbean members, it provides a strong incentive to other CARICOM nations looking to join the bloc pragmatic reasons.

  • In Dominica, the government reports total financial assistance of $119 million East Caribbean dollars for 26 projects in housing, infrastructure, security and agriculture; benefitting over 1,000 families and 34,000 individuals; the latter figure being approximately 45 percent of the national population.
  • In Antigua, ALBA provided a $7.5 million U.S. dollar grant to refurbish the V.C. Bird International Airport, and another US$8 million to finance a major water infrastructure project. During 2011 Antigua and Barbuda had 125 students on scholarship in Cuba.
  • In St. Vincent, $10.275 million U.S. dollars has been provided as a grant by the government of Venezuela to finance housing for low-income or no-income beneficiaries, and $1.85 million East Caribbean dollars has been given for rural development projects related to eco-tourism, sporting facilities and fishing.

Figures taken from: Is ALBA a New Model of Integration? Reflections on the CARICOM Experience by Norman Girvan.

Despite the many successes of ALBA in the Caribbean so far, the future of the organization hangs in a precarious position, as the October elections in Venezuela will do a great deal to determine both its strength and durability. Nevertheless, the expansion of the group’s membership in the Caribbean, in addition to the newly formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean States signals an important shift away from American hegemony in the region – that it is no longer Washington’s “backyard” anymore – but rather a region which has been taken for granted and is now looking to put their priorities first for a change. It is a change which is long overdue.

(The second part of this will focus specifically on the relationship between ALBA and Haiti).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Dangerous Precedent: Why Haiti Must Try Jean Claude Duvalier for Human Rights Abuses

The recent announcement by Judge Carves Jean that former Haitian dictator Jean Claude Duvalier will stand trial for corruption charges related to his embezzling of millions of dollars, but not for his role in the murder, disappearance and torture of thousands during his presidency has sparked outrage throughout Haiti and from human rights advocates across the world.

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"Photo Credit: Gaetant Guevara/Let Haiti Live"

Without question the announcement sends the wrong message to a nation looking to rebuild and restore confidence not only in its public institutions, but also to demonstrate that the rule of law does indeed stand for something, signalling that no individual is beyond justice—no matter how powerful. If Haiti is to move forward, and have a chance to overcome the injustices of history, the prosecution of Duvalier for the many horrific human rights abuses against the Haitian people must occur.

Judge Jean’s decision to drop the most serious charges against Duvalier was based upon his reading of the Haitian constitution, which cited that the abuses fell outside of the 10 year period outlined in the statute of limitations. This has led to a situation whereby both parties are appealing the decision of Judge Jean—the dozens of plaintiffs are protesting the exclusion of their testimony, and the defense is calling for the embezzlement charges to be dismissed as well.

Mario Joseph, an attorney with the Bureaux des Advocates Internationaux challenged the decision on behalf of the victims, reminding Judge Jean that he “cannot decide only on the financial crimes committed by Duvalier. He should also be tried and sentenced for rapes, torture, disappearances, assassinations, and crimes against humanity his regime has been responsible for.” Joseph also criticized the professionalism of the investigating judge, saying that he "made so many errors" and also disregarded the testimony of eight people who wanted to file complaints against Duvalier, and made it clear that “We have witnesses now from when my clients were beaten and tortured, witnesses who saw them being beaten and arrested, who saw what happened in the prisons.”

The sharp criticism by Joseph not only highlights the problematic nature of how Judge Jean came to his decision, but also that international law prohibits charges related to human rights abuses from being dropped. In May 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a statement highlighting that “the tor­ture, extra­ju­di­cial exe­cu­tions and forced dis­ap­pear­ances com­mit­ted dur­ing the regime of Jean-Claude Duva­lier are crimes against human­ity that, as such, are sub­ject nei­ther to a statute of lim­i­ta­tions nor to amnesty laws.” According to Amnesty International, what categorizes the crimes committed by Duvalier as crimes against human­ity and not as routine criminal charges, is that “they were com­mit­ted as part of a sys­tem­atic or wide­spread attack against the civil­ian population.” For a partial chronicle of the extensive human rights abuses linked to the Duvaliers see here.

There are also many actors that are arguing that the reasoning for Judge Jean’s decision is politically motivated, and that a more detailed explanation must be given in order to clarify and justify his reasoning to dismiss the most serious charges. On February 1, the IACHR provided the gov­ern­ment of Haiti a request of infor­ma­tion regarding the judi­cial decision. Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti also remarked on the role politics played in Judge Jean’s decision, stating that “When you look at the fact that a prosecutor under President [René] Préval instructed the judge to aggressively investigate the case, after which a mountain of evidence showing Jean-Claude Duvalier's responsibility was introduced, and then a new prosecutor under President [Michel] Martelly ruled without an adequate explanation that there is not a case, it’s a fair assumption that this dismissal was politically motivated.”

A deeper examination of Martelly’s statements reveals that the assumptions of these human rights organizations are well justified, as Martelly has expressed several times his intention to pardon Duvalier. In a pre-inaugural interview with the Montreal daily La Presse on April 18 Martelly proposed a plan of national reconciliation that would include granting amnesty to Duvalier. More recently, when asked about moving forward with the Duvalier case, Martelly told The Washington Post this January that “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward . . . It is time to unite the country, show tolerance, show compassion, show love for everyone . . . [we need] to reconcile the factions that have been at war.”

Martelly would go on to quickly retract both statements, but clearly revealed himself to be in favour of amnesty. Despite Martelly’s intentions, the established norms of international law make it very clear that no statute of lim­i­ta­tions may apply to crimes against human­ity and the alleged per­pe­tra­tors can­not ben­e­fit from amnesties, even in the case of for­mer heads of state. Regardless of Martelly’s belief that reconciliation instead of a trial will help heal the nation, the experiences of nations as varied as South Korea, Peru, Argentina, and Chad show that the trials of former dictators do more to close wounds than to re-open them.

The present failure on behalf of the Haitian government and the international community to push for more serious charges sets a dangerous precedent for Michel Martelly and all future Haitian heads of state to avoid consequences for abusing their power. The recent statements by Martelly concerning the reestablishment of the Haitian army raise serious concerns about this, as the Haitian army has always been used as a tool of brutal internal repression. It would be naive to assume that the latest reincarnation would be any different. Concannon goes on to explain this more fully, remarking, “The prosecution of Duvalier is a once in the life time opportunity to establish deterrence for political violence and corruption. Passing up this opportunity confirms the precedence of impunity for large scale killings and theft. This is one of the reasons Martelly wants this, he does not want the precedent of consequences for leaders in Haiti.”

Concannon’s remarks confirm that the outcome of this trial weighs heavily upon Haiti’s near future. If the appeals of Duvalier’s victims are not taken into consideration, the maximum penalty under Haitian law for misappropriation of funds is five years. On the other hand, a conviction for human rights abuses could potentially put him away for life. The third alternative of the case being dismissed altogether is too outrageous to imagine. Despite the outcome, it can be assured that the decision would ripple throughout all strata in Haiti, for better or worse. This long term and far reaching impact is precisely why observers like Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch have remarked that “The Duvalier trial could be the most important criminal case in Haitian history.”

The trial of Jean Claude Duvalier carries both significant concrete and symbolic value for Haiti. Looking at the recent history of Haiti, there have been some significant legal trials (Les Cayes Prison trial this year and the Raboteau trial of 2000) which have helped to restore a level of confidence in the justice system. The most serious problem is that the restoration of confidence has not been a continuous process. It has been interrupted too many times, most notably by two coup d’etats, the 2010 earthquake which destroyed most of the government infrastructure, and also the deeply flawed elections that brought Michel Martelly to power.

While the process of strengthening the rule of law and institutions has been violently interrupted many times and in different ways, the conviction of Duvalier would provide an important psychological boost to the country, and show that reconstruction is not simply a bricks and mortar issue. Yes, buildings can be rebuilt, but what is more important is that the ideals and values housed in these institutions are of great importance as well. This is why it is critical for those concerned with justice in Haiti and abroad to demand that the Haitian justice system regard lives taken by Duvalier during his rule as much more valuable than the money he stole. To do otherwise is to deeply insult the Haitian people by letting Jean Claude Duvalier literally get away with rape and murder.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake Book Launch

Book Launch - Tectonic Shifts: Haiti After the Earthquake



Details:

Date: Thursday, February 16th @ 7pm

Location: A Different Booklist - 746 Bathurst St Toronto



Contact: (416) 538-0889

From Kumarian Press:

Tectonic Shifts offers a diverse on-the-ground set of perspectives about Haiti’s cataclysmic earthquake and the aftermath that left more than 1.5 million individuals homeless. Following a critical analysis of Haiti’s heightened vulnerability as a result of centuries of foreign policy and most recently neoliberal economic policies, this book addresses a range of contemporary realities, foreign impositions, and political changes that occurred during the relief and reconstruction periods.

Analysis of these realities offers tools for engaged, principled reflection and action. Essays by scholars, journalists, activists, and Haitians still on the island and those in the Diaspora highlight the many struggles that the Haitian people face today, providing lessons not only for those impacted and involved in relief, but for people engaged in struggles for justice and transformation in other parts of the world.

Tectonic Shifts contributors Nicole Phillips of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and Kevin Edmonds of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee will be on hand to discuss the state of current events in Haiti including: The role of the United Nations in human rights abuses, grassroots efforts to combat gender based violence, the ongoing housing emergency, and the predatory role many NGO's have had on the ground.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Canada: A Late but Eager Partner in Policing the Caribbean


(Photo Credit: Corporal Roxanne Shewchuk, PEI Guardian)

Originally published on NACLA.org
February 2nd, 2012

Since 2006 Canadian Forces have participated in numerous counter-narcotics missions in the Caribbean basin called Operation Caribbe, as part of the wider U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force-South. Arguably the most visible, and perhaps the only example that the Canadian people have had of their armed forces patrolling international waters in the Caribbean occurred with the recent disclosure on January 16. According to the report, between October and November 2010, the HMCS St. John’s Canadian naval ship intercepted a self-propelled semi-submersible submarine filled with 6,700 kg of cocaine, with a street value of $180 million.

735 (Photo Credit: Corporal Roxanne Shewchuk, PEI Guardian)This announcement might come as a surprise to many Canadians, but the Canadian Naval Review revealed that in October 2010, U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments began operating on Canadian warships, with an authorization of specialized boarding, search and seizure capabilities, and a legal mandate to participate in and enforce U.S. counter narcotics laws in the open ocean. The same review went on to state that these operations “enhance Canada’s efforts to promote stability in Latin America and the Caribbean – a region increasingly important to Canadian trade and security”.

Upon the return of the fleet, which included the HMCS St. John's, Athabaskan, Algonquin, the submarine Corner Brook, several CH-124 Sea King helicopters and CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, Minister of National Defence Peter Mackay proudly remarked that “During the past three months, our Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force crews have continued to provide crucial support to the law enforcement interdiction and counter-drug surveillance missions alongside our U.S. and multinational allies on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts . . . Their commitment to the ongoing efforts to suppress the illegal trafficking of drugs by sea is of great importance to our citizens in communities across North America."

Such Canadian collaboration with the United States in the “War on Drugs” raises important concerns about both the growing presence and militarization of Canadian forces in the Caribbean. In June the Canadian government announced the opening of a military base in Jamaica, under the justification that the base would provide a strategic staging point from which they can assist Caribbean nations in a speedy manner in the unfortunate occurrence of a natural disaster, such as the devastating earthquake which hit Haiti in 2010.

Historically speaking, Canadian-Jamaican military ties are not new. Canada has maintained an active role in providing training and equipment to the Jamaican Defence Forces for over 40 years. More recently, special security teams from Guyana and Trinidad have been trained in methods to “maintain security and stability” at new military facilities located in Moneague, Jamaica.

These facilities are the new home of the Caribbean Junior Command and Staff College, which was financed in part by the Canadian government, and provides a home for elite training that focuses on the development of “Caribbean-centric” tactical operations, including Jungle Warfare, Air Operations, Urban Warfare, and Internal Security Operations. Furthermore, the Canadian Military Training and Cooperation Program has also revealed the creation of a Counter Terrorism Capacity Building Project in Jamaica, with the goal that it will “eventually become a regional Special Operations Force centre of excellence for training their Caribbean allies.”

The question is: how closely are these humanitarian/security operations in the Caribbean related?

As a student of international intervention in the Caribbean, it would be naive to assume the opening of a Canadian military base in Jamaica is simply for potential humanitarian purposes and is not connected to anti-narcotics operations or to maintain the wider Canadian economic interests in the Caribbean (e.g. Alcan Aluminium Limited in Jamaica).

A closer examination of history reveals that during the 1970’s, the Canadian military presence and training operations in Jamaica were for that exact purpose. Learning from the experience in Guyana when the government of Forbes Burnham nationalized Alcan properties in Guyana in 1971, Canada launched operation NIMROD CAPER in Jamaica with the objective of "securing and protecting the Alcan facilities [in Jamaica] from mob unrest and outright seizure or sabotage.”

Looking at the training operations undertaken by the Jamaican Defence Forces, it is relatively safe to assume that counter-terrorism, internal security operations, and urban warfare training is very closely related to the increasing influence the drug trade has had on Jamaica and the Caribbean as a whole. The violent saga to apprehrend Christoper “Dudus” Coke in the summer of 2010, revealed how entrenched drugs and gangs are, not just in the streets, but also in the highest political offices. WikiLeaks has added to the analysis by revealing that the U.S. government has deep fears that Jamaica may be on the verge of falling into the category of a failed state. The shift of Canadian troops into Jamaica may be the first step in a wider effort to protect foreign assets while much needed development assistance to the Jamaican government is replaced with military cooperation.

It is of vital importance to remember that Canada’s actions in Jamaica are not an anomaly. Canadian foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean has been increasingly focused on security with an overall militarization of its relationship with the region. The Canadian government’s recent funding of controversial Latin America and Caribbean security forces also follows a pattern of increasing security where the economic interests of Canadian firms are very high.

Most recently, last November the Canadian government announced the distribution of $7.1 million Canadian dollars to strengthen the law and security (i.e. police and military) establishment in Guatemala. Canadian mining corporations such as INCO, HudBay Minerals, and Goldcorp all have major interests in Guatemala, and have previously employed police and military to intimidate and physically attack indigenous communities who are against the projects.

Secondly, Haiti stands out as the most prominent example of this new change towards militarized objectives and tactics, as the Canadian military directly participated in the 2004 coup of Jean Bertrand Aristide, who proposed policies which would be directly at odds with the interests of many Canadian corporations. After the coup, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police helped to train the Haitian National Police, which was systematically purged of Aristide supporters. A recent analysis has revealed that a concentrated effort was made to staff the new police force with right-wing paramilitaries and former Ton Ton Macoutes. Since the 2010 earthquake, the Canadian government has stated that its priority in Haiti is the funding of security, primarily the training and equipping of police and prisons.

With the growing influence of the drug trade, will this lead to more visible forms of intervention in the Caribbean? What impact will this have on Caribbean sovereignty? As it stands, only time will tell what direction the Canada will take toward Jamaica and the wider Caribbean. What has become more clear however, is that the declining influence of the United States in the region has coincided with the increasingly militarization of Canadian-Caribbean relations. Whether this shift is on purpose, or coincidental remains to be seen, but based upon the history of foreign powers intervening in the region, it is something to keep an eye on. The presence of foreign troops in the Caribbean has hardly ever been for the protection of people, but rather profits.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

HAITI: SOLIDARITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE - FREE PUBLIC FORUM

HAITI: SOLIDARITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE


Public forum hosted by:

Internal Education and Political Development Committee and the International Solidarity Committee of the Greater Toronto Workers Assembly; Toronto Haiti Action Committee; and Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network

Date: Friday February 17, 7pm

Location: Steelworker’s Hall, 25 Cecil St.

  • Updates on the ongoing legal efforts to try Jean Claude Duvalier for human rights abuses against the Haitian people and the strong legal action against the United Nations on behalf of 5,000 victims of cholera for its role in the introduction of cholera into Haiti.
  • Evaluation of the aid and recovery effort in Haiti, two years following the earthquake. Has it met the expectations of the Haitian people, and if not, why not?
  • What is Canada’s role in aid and recovery in Haiti?
  • The future of the United Nations police and military occupation force in Haiti.

SPEAKERS:

  • Nicole Phillips, staff attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, adjunct professor at University of San Francisco and assistant director for Haiti programs at the university.
  • Roger Annis, coordinator of the Canada Haiti Action Network in Vancouver and director of a ten-day fact-finding and solidarity mission to Haiti in June, 2011

FOR MORE INFO:

· Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly: http://workersassembly.ca/

· Canada Haiti Action Network: www.candahaitiaction.ca

· Toronto Haiti Action Committee: www.thac.ca

· Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network: http://lacsn.weebly.com/

· Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti: www.ijdh.org