Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Bitter Anniversary: Remembering the Invasion of Grenada

1339 October 22, 2012

The second half of October is always a time of reflection amongst progressive forces in Caribbean, but especially so in Grenada. This is because October 19 marked the 29th anniversary of the death of Maurice Bishop, the Prime Minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government of Grenada. In addition, October 25 will mark the 29th anniversary of the invasion of Grenada—where the United States attacked the island’s population of 110,000 with 7,000 troops via land, sea, and air.

The right wing Heritage Foundation described the 1983 invasion as “The Reagan Administration's bold action to restore democracy and a free market economy to Grenada.” Ronald Reagan himself stated that it was “no invasion; it was a rescue mission.” Guyana’s Stabroek News was more precise, calling it “one of the most egregious examples of asymmetrical warfare in modern times, the United States of America, the world’s most powerful state, invaded Grenada, one of the world’s weakest mini-states.”

Given the context of the Cold War, the United States under Reagan had been busy undermining the revolutionary government in Nicaragua, aiding the right wing paramilitaries in El Salvador, and destabilizing the progressive government of Michael Manley in Jamaica. Reagan was also eager to score a military victory and restore the confidence that had been lost after the Vietnam War and the overthrowing of the Shah in Iran. This victory was to come at the expense of the Grenadian people, and the wider hopes of the Caribbean, in constructing a model of society based on social justice.

The Grenadian Revolution began on March 13, 1979, when the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare Education and Liberation, or the New Jewel Movement, overthrew the corrupt and increasingly oppressive government of Eric Gairy. Bishop described life under Gairy as one of “a total dependence on imperialism, a reality that meant extreme poverty, characterized by massive unemployment, with more than half of the work force out of work, high malnutrition, illiteracy, backwardness, superstition, poor housing and health conditions combined with overall economic stagnation and massive migration.”

The role of the Grenadian Revolution, its importance to the wider Caribbean, and the threat it posed for the United States was best summed up by Bishop who remarked in 1980 that “We are obviously no threat to America, nor is Cuba for that matter. I think Washington fears that we could set an example for the rest of the region if our Revolution succeeds. In the Caribbean region you’re talking about small countries with small populations and limited resources, countries that over the years have been classic examples of neo-capitalist depend­encies. Now you have these new governments like Nicaragua and Grenada that are attempting a different experiment. They are no longer looking at development as how many hotels you have on the beach but in terms of what benefits people get. How many have jobs? How many are being fed, housed, and clothed? How many of the children receive education? We certainly believe in Grenada that the people of the English-speaking Caribbean want to see an experiment like that succeed. They want to see what we are trying to build come about. America understands that and obviously if we are able to succeed where previous governments following different models failed, that would be very, very subversive.”

According to Jorge Heine, the Grenadian Revolution “stands as the single most advanced effort to bring socialism to the English speaking Caribbean, regionally the Grenadian Revolution stands only after the Haitian Revolution of 1804, and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 in the scope and degree of change brought to political institutions.” As such, the Reagan administration had to figure out a way to portray Grenada as an immediate threat to the world’s preeminent superpower.

This was done by portraying the construction of the Port Salines International Airport as the latest Soviet attempt to launch an attack on the United States. Despite the airport being a project planned by the British and Canadian government, assisted by Cuban construction workers and a Miami-based dredging firm, Reagan spun the project as something much more sinister, calling Grenada “a Soviet-Cuban colony being readied as a major military bastion to export terror and undermine democracy.”

In 1982, Bishop invited Congressman Ron Dellums to Grenada on a fact-finding mission. Upon his return, he told Congress that "Based on my personal observations, discussion, and analysis of the new international airport under construction in Grenada, it is my conclusion that this project is specifically now and has always been for the purpose of economic development and is not for military use.... It is my thought that it is absurd, patronizing, and totally unwarranted for the United States Government to charge that this airport poses a military threat to the United States’ national security."

October 19, 1983 marks the date when a personal and factional rivalry began between Bishop and Bernard Coard. Bishop was regarded as being more pragmatic, while Coard on the other hand was seen by many as being much more “Stalinist” and doctrinaire in character. Coard’s ultra-left counter-revolution was extremely bloody, killing Bishop, his pregnant girlfriend, and many of his supporters in the Revolutionary cabinet. With the killing of such a charismatic and visionary leader, this was the date when the Grenadian Revolution was dealt its hardest blow; the invasion simply finished things off.

Before this could happen, one of the most vital elements which helped Reagan build his case for invasion came in the form of a request by the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to invade Grenada to restore democratic institutions. The OECS leader and Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, made the request. William Blum argued about the controversial nature of this request for intervention, remarking that “Even if the fears were valid, it would constitute a principle heretofore unknown under international law, namely that state A could ask state B to invade state C in the absence of any aggressive act toward state A by state C.” Declassified records have since shown that the CIA had given Charles $100,000 for making the request to intervene in Grenada.

One year after the U.S. invasion and the deaths of hundreds of Grenadian people, the World Bank hypocritically argued that the lack of an international airport “was the most limiting single factor in achieving the island’s growth possibilities.”

The Grenadian Revolution was notable in the English speaking Caribbean for its firm declaration of anti- imperialist politics and the advancement of grass roots democracy, economic self-reliance, and agricultural cooperatives. Fidel Castro referred to it as both “a successful Moncada” and “a big revolution in a small country.”

In many ways, the Grenadian revolution was also traumatic blow to the wider Caribbean left, revealing sharp warnings about ideological factionalism and ever-present U.S. destabilization campaigns and military intervention. It was a violent reminder that broad societal change would not occur easily or without repercussions. That said, we can see signs of hope. As a sign of the transition towards recognizing the good of the Revolution, in 2009, the Point Salines International Airport—the target of so much U.S. propaganda efforts—was renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport. The move was significant after so much time and money had been spent to demonize Bishop and the revolution since the invasion.

With the deterioration of living conditions and limited opportunities for so many people in the Caribbean, the words of Bishop and the positive lessons from the Grenadian Revolution are now more important than ever. While August 2012 marked the 50th Anniversary of independence for Jamaica and Trinidad, the current levels of poverty, inequality, violence, and lack of opportunity across the wider Caribbean, reveal that political independence is often a hollow prize if not reinforced by efforts to remake society along the lines of greater equality and justice.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

MINUSTAH’s Upcoming Renewal: A Setback for Democracy in Haiti

Originally posted: October 11, 2012

Despite widespread opposition from the Haitian people and many of their political representatives in parliament, the renewal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)’s  mandate is set to occur on October 15.

Supporters of MINUSTAH, such as the International Crisis Group’s Mark Schneider, argue that “when I recently met with government and business leaders and their adversaries, everyone acknowledged one simple fact: Haiti’s limited police force—in numbers and capacity—cannot protect its citizens without UN backing. Until Haiti builds a stronger, more capable law-enforcement structure—and one hopefully is in the making—the resulting vacuum would almost inevitably lead to spoilers seeking to secure their goals through gun barrels rather than ballot boxes.”

Standing in contradiction to this, a January 2012 study by Mark Schuller showed little popular support for MINUSTAH, stating that “the sur­vey of over 800 house­holds through­out Port-au-Prince shows that less than a quar­ter of respon­dents con­sid­ered that the pres­ence of the U.N. Sta­bi­liza­tion Mis­sion in Haiti (or MINUSTAH) is a “good thing” while a major­ity feel that the troops aren’t pro­vid­ing ade­quate secu­rity. A large per­cent­age (43.9%) of respon­dents believed that MINUSTAH agents are or have been engaged in crim­i­nal activ­i­ties such as vio­lence, theft, and rape.” Additionally, the study revealed that “More than a fifth of sur­vey respon­dents (21.2%) said they wanted MINUSTAH to leave Haiti 'now,' while an addi­tional 22.2% would like to see the troops leave within a year. Only 5.9% of respon­dents said they do not think MINUSTAH should leave Haiti.”

Furthermore, a February Security Council Report argued that Haitian “Parliamentarians shared frank and mostly critical views on MINUSTAH. They called for the mission to compensate cholera victims and to swiftly punish those within MINUSTAH responsible for incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse of Haitians.”

While strengthening the rule of law and establishing a civilian police force are certainly necessary steps for Haiti, MINUSTAH is supporting the establishment of a system in opposition to the popular demands of democracy and inclusion.

At his last address to the United Nations Security Council in April 2011, former President Rene Preval stated that the dangers of violent confrontation in Haiti were over and that "peacekeeping operations did not quickly enough adapt to the new situation" and questioned the need for an additional renewal of a military mission in a country that has had no war. He went on to argue that "Tanks, armed vehicles, and soldiers should have given way to bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors, and experts on reforming the judicial and prison systems.”

While MINUSTAH justifies itself by claiming to protect the Haitian people from violent criminal gangs, they often confuse them with student groups. WikiLeaked cables from 2006 revealed that “MINUSTAH had focused over the past several weeks on attempting to identify elements among [a student] group that posed a threat to its mandate.”

On May 25, 2010, after MINUSTAH troops used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up anti-MINUSTAH protests by university students, they quickly entered the university to arrest student leader Frantz Mathieu Junior. The student hid in a washroom, but the soldiers chased him and kicked down the door. According to investigative journalist Ansel Herz, “Junior said he was forced to the ground and kicked repeatedly, then taken away. He says he was force-fed while in detention.” The rubber bullets and tear gas were also fired into camps of the internally displaced peoples, resulting in injuries of several women and children.

On September 14, 2011, MINUSTAH tear gassed another student demonstration in Champs de Mars. The students were calling for an end to MINUSTAH’s occupation and also for an end to the mission’s impunity in regards to ongoing charges of sexual abuse and for introducing cholera to the country.

Most recently, on June 15, 2012, MINUSTAH soldiers tried three times to enter the School of Humanities (FASCH) of Haiti’s State University, which left several people wounded by gunfire and many other students assaulted with teargas grenades.

In addition to attacking and suppressing student protests, we are seeing President Michel Martelly follow a slippery slope towards dictatorship with MINUSTAH standing right beside him. In October 2011, Martelly ordered the illegal arrest and imprisonment of Deputy Arnel Bélizaire, an outspoken critic of the President, after he returned to the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport. At hand to help with the illegal arrest were members of the Haitian National Police (PNH) and MINUSTAH soldiers.

MINUSTAH's strong support for Martelly goes back to the earliest moments of the presidency. While MINUSTAH’s mandate outlined in Resolution 1542 states that one of its primary goals is “to support the constitutional and political processes; to assist in organizing, monitoring, and carrying out free and fair municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections,” it raised no objections to the well-documented electoral irregularities during Martelly's election in November 2010. Despite the UN’s wish for “transparent and credible elections,” MINUSTAH’s blind eye towards the exclusion of political parties, voter fraud, and counting irregularities provided political legitimacy in what amounted to the systematic exclusion of a majority of the electorate.

On September 28, 2012, the Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Sénatus, publicly discussed his dismissal by the Ministry of Justice because he refused to implement an order to arrest 36 political opponents, including the lawyers Mario Joseph, Newton St-Juste, and André Michel. Mario Joseph is one of Haiti’s most prominent human rights lawyers who is currently involved in a lawsuit against the UN for their alleged involvement in introducing the cholera epidemic to the country. He is also a leading prosecutor in the case against former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier. Newton St. Juste and Andre Michel have respectively brought up corruption complaints aimed at the President, his family, and members of his administration. When questioned about the threats and political intimidation aimed at Joseph, the United Nations remained silent on the issue, only stating that "we're certainly aware of the report... if I have anything further on that, I'll let you know."

It is troubling that while MINUSTAH calls for the rule of law to be implemented in Haiti, they are silent when one of the legal system's strongest advocates—Mario Joseph—is threatened. Furthermore, instead of encouraging democratic expression by students—the future leaders of Haiti—they allow MINUSTAH to silence them with tear gas and bullets. The reality is that if Haiti did have a strong judicial and democratic system, MINUSTAH would not be able to get away with the routine human rights abuses they commit. MINUSTAH has had over 8 years to strengthen the judicial system in Haiti and reform the Haitian National Police, but instead it has spent the majority of its money on bullets, not books and education.

We should not be surprised with this hypocrisy however, because MINUSTAH has been exposed as being opposed to the establishment of genuine democracy in Haiti. As Mark Schneider candidly admitted in an earlier quote, Haitian business leaders (and not the people) are strong supporters of MINUSTAH. In October 2008, WikiLeaks cables revealed that former U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson saw that “A premature departure of MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] government...vulnerable to...resurgent populist and anti-market economy political forces—reversing gains of the last two years,”  and that MINUSTAH “is an indispensable tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

While indispensable for the U.S. government and local business interests, it remains diametrically opposed to any effort on behalf of the popular democratic movement. Thus the renewal of MINUSTAH's mandate on October 15 should not be regarded as a step towards increased security and stability in Haiti but rather an investment in the suppression of popular pro democracy forces.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Welcome Back? Martelly Returns to Widespread Protests

1280 October 4, 2012

Given the waves of anti-government protests which have recently engulfed Haiti, one would have thought that Haitian President Michel Martelly would have found refuge from controversy while visiting the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Yet this was not the case. While the past several weeks have seen protests spread throughout Haiti, from Port au Prince to Cap Haitien, Gonaives and La Cayes, they have even followed Martelly to Brooklyn, New York.

The protest, consisting of several hundred Haitians marching to Brooklyn College, where they demonstrated across the street from the Walt Whitman auditorium, the site of Martelly’s speaking engagement. The primary reason for the protest had to do with allegations of corruption due to mismanagement of funds raised by a controversial tax on money transfers and phone calls. Marlène Jean-Noel explained that “One month after he came to power, Martelly put a $1.50 tax on every money transfer Haitians send back to their families in Haiti. He also put a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls. You can’t call Haiti anymore. When you do, your calling card finishes almost immediately. And what does he do with the money? He gives it to his wife and his son to do baloney projects. Meanwhile, the Haitian masses are dying of hunger.”

The purpose of the new tax—which was implemented in June 2011 but not presented to the Haitian parliament for ratification—was to raise funds for an accessible national education program which would waive all of the registration fees for primary students. At the time it was hailed as an innovative way for cash strapped Haiti to raise funds for much needed public services and by September 2011 it was announced that the fund had raised roughly $28 million. However, the promise of the program was short lived, as Martelly came under fire from Digicel Director Dennis O’Brien, who requested an audit of the National Education Fund in January after hearing that Governor of the National Bank of Haiti, Charles Castel, announced that only $2 million remained in the fund. The man responsible for administering the failed National Education Fund was then Foreign Minister, and current Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe.

Inside the venue at Brooklyn College, Martelly wasn’t shaken by the allegations of corruption related to the failed National Education Fund but revealed his impressive level of denial by stating that “Rebuilding Haiti is not just about the physical buildings, it’s about having the people who can lead and manage the projects… It’s about the freedom of the people. How can someone be free if he can’t eat… if he doesn’t have access to health care, to a good education?”

In an effort which would only prove his critics right and fuel more allegations about the mismanagement of funds, Martelly flew to the General Assembly in New York with an enormous entourage consisting of 78 people.

Back in Haiti, there is no single identifiable cause of the widespread protests. A variety of groups are taking to the street to voice their frustration with the previously mentioned ineffectiveness and corruption of the Martelly administration and as well as to voice outrage stemming from an emerging judicial crisis and rising food prices.

The judicial crisis began on September 27 when former Chief Prosecutor for Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Senatus, stated that Haiti's Justice Minister Jean Renel Sanon fired him for his refusal to execute an order to arrest 36 government opponents. Among the government opponents were Newton St. Juste and Andre Michel, who have respectively brought up corruption complaints aimed at the President, his family, and members of his administration. Human rights attorney Mario Joseph was also amongst those targeted for illegal arrest and detention. In response to this, the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­a­tion of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an inter­na­tional alliance of pro­gres­sive human rights lawyers, jurists, law stu­dents and legal work­ers, issued a statement which denounced the move and expressed deep concern for the safety of Joseph—known for his tireless representation of political dissidents and the poor.

La Cayes and Cap Haitien have both been the site of popularly supported strikes in September and again this week. In Gonaives, protests erupted due to the poor conditions of the local university on September 24. On October 1, thousands of supporters of former President Jean Bertrand Aristide marched through Port au Prince. For more information and analysis on these and many more protests please read this article by Dady Chery.

In regards to the rising food prices, AlterPresse reported that “Since August the price of a 25-kilogram sack of rice has risen from 900 to 1,150 gourdes ($21.35 to $27.28), the residents said; a sack of flour went from 1,100 to 1,300 gourdes ($26.10 to $30.84); and a gallon of cooking oil rose from 300 to 450 gourdes ($7.12 to $8.07).” Rising food prices toppled the Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis in 2008, and unless meaningful steps are taken to secure the local food supply and lower prices, given all the additional controversies, it is not an unrealistic prediction that something similar could happen again.

Former Presidential candidate and head of the Assembly of Progressive National Democrats (RNDP by its French acronym), Mirlande Manigat, highlighted the importance of the protests, stating that “These developments show that now the people are no longer just talking; they are acting.” As such, it is a very real possibility that the Haiti that President Martelly returned to on Sunday is different from the one he left. Perhaps he will take the protests as a wake up call. It remains to be seen if Martelly will actually seek to address the issues or suppress them along with the protestors. But from all appearances, whether Martelly chooses to solve the problems the people are demanding or not, the people are wide awake.