Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Black men face police violence north of the border too

Originally Posted on: ricochetmedia.ca
December 30, 2014

No doubt the names Michael Brown and Eric Garner ring a bell for people who follow current events. Both men were murdered by police in the United States, with grand juries declining to indict the officers responsible.

These displays of police impunity led to widespread protest throughout North America. Indeed, outrage north of the border led several thousand Torontonians to loudly demonstrate outside the U.S. consulate to denounce the Michael Brown verdict.

But what about Jermaine Carby?

Likely most Canadians have not heard of this young man’s untimely death, though his murder by Peel Regional Police parallels the better known case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The response to the deaths of local, unarmed black men such as Carby has not been comparable to the outrage and mobilization triggered by incidents south of the border. This needs to change now.

The death of Jermaine Carby

On the night of Sep. 24, Jermaine Carby was shot and killed by Peel police during a traffic stop in Brampton, Ontario. Carby was riding in a black Jetta that was pulled over near Queen and Kennedy. Within moments the officer had activated an emergency switch, calling for backup.

Eyewitnesses reported that Carby exited the car with his hands up, in what can only be assumed to be an attempt to show the police officers that he was unarmed and not a threat. As one eyewitness stated to CP24, “He had his hands up… saying ‘What?’ to the cops and he started walking towards them.” She added, “As I drove by, I didn’t get to look back but I just heard gunshots, like five gun shots.” It has also been reported that Carby’s lifeless body was handcuffed by police.

Richard Applebee, another eyewitness who spoke to CP24, heard police tell Carby to drop a knife but did not see a weapon in Carby’s hands. “He walked slowly towards them with both arms stretched,” Applebee remarked. “I was too far to see a knife. It might have been small.”

To date, the officer involved in the shooting has not been named, and information on the shooting has been scarce. Carby’s family and their legal counsel have asked for any evidence revealing that Carby was armed at the time of his death, as well as the identity of the driver of the vehicle and the driver’s current whereabouts, but these requests for information have been repeatedly denied.

In another parallel to the case of Michael Brown, instead of focusing on releasing information pertaining to the case, the media have released Jermaine Carby was posthumously subjected to a slew of negative information about Carby’s his past in an attempt to justify the actions of the officers.
But at the time of Carby’s interaction with the police, his identity was unknown; he died as a “John Doe” at the hospital. He was a young black man who was murdered by the Peel police.

Civilian oversight requires civilians

In Ontario, the Special Investigations Unit becomes active in incidents where the police are involved in the death of a civilian. Led by Paul Dempsey, the SIU was immediately called to the scene of Carby’s death.

Established in 1990 as an arm’s-length criminal investigative agency tasked with investigating alleged police misconduct in Ontario, the SIU is intended to be a civilian agency on paper, but in reality is staffed largely by former police officers and judges, who have proven to be incredibly reluctant to press charges in cases related to deaths, assaults and sexual assaults carried out by police. In 2010, the Toronto Star wrote that “Ontario's criminal justice system heavily favours police and gives officers breaks at every turn — from the SIU, which hardly ever charges officers, to prosecutors, juries and judges.”

André Marin, the Ontario ombudsman, released a report in 2011 titled Oversight Undermined, in which he called for reforms to the SIU. Marin noted “a number of serious problems affecting the SIU, including endemic delays and a lack of rigour in SIU investigations, a reluctance to insist on police co-operation, and an internal culture overly influenced by a preponderance of ex-police officers among its staff.” Further, “the SIU’s mandate still lacked clarity” and “transparency was also missing in action, as SIU reports and significant policy issues remained hidden from public view.”

“I am left with the impression that the Ministry does not want to consider any reforms that would prove too distasteful to the policing community,” stated Marin. “It is content to adopt partial solutions and ride out the media storms. The citizens of Ontario are the losers in all this. The Ministry’s stance frustrates the promise of strong and independent civilian police oversight, thereby undermining public trust in policing.”

Marin’s critique highlights the need for a truly civilian organization to oversee the police in order for justice to be served, as police will not indict themselves. Community organizations and members of impacted communities should all be able to serve on police oversight bodies, and decide whether an officer should be charged with criminal offences when they are involved in the killing, assault or sexual assault of civilians.

It’s happening here too

While Canadian outrage over recent incidents where U.S. police officers have executed unarmed black men is an important act of solidarity, we are ignoring what is happening right under our noses.
Perhaps this different response to police violence in our country is rooted in the misguided idea that multicultural Canada does not have a history of visceral racial tension and oppression like its neighbour does.

Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya, an organizer with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence, explains that “police violence in Canada is a fundamental feature of society wherein social oppression is present. Colonialism is a very violent process, and its continued manifestation as settler-colonialism is based on the need to use force and the prison industrial complex to maintain economic, social and political order.”

“It should not come as a surprise that the Indigenous peoples and Afrikans are the two groups in Canada who experience the highest levels of police violence and are the most imprisoned,” says Nangwaya.

In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the list of predominantly black and brown people who have been killed by police runs far too long.
Willful ignorance can no longer be an excuse for the systemic issues of police brutality, impunity and racial profiling in Canada. In the Greater Toronto Area alone, the list of predominantly black and brown people who have been killed by police runs far too long.

Junior Manon, Alwy al-Nadir, Reyal Jensen Jardine-Douglas, Eric Osawe, Michael Eligon, Sammy Yatim and Frank Anthony Berry are among those who have lost their lives in recent years due to police violence. A fact sheet on police violence, compiled by Nangwaya, can be accessed here.

Nangwaya argues that Canadians are losing trust in the police, and there is a need to keep educating the public about the systemic nature of police violence and “the police's principal function being that of serving and protecting the economic, social and political interests of the socially dominant groups or the ruling class in Canada.”

Christmas Eve vigil

Christmas Eve marked three months since Jermaine Carby was gunned down by the Peel Regional Police. At the corner where he was shot, a candlelight vigil was held by Carby’s family, the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee and community members.

Despite the holiday and bad weather, roughly 60 people showed up in solidarity with Carby’s family and the other individuals who have been killed at the hands of the police in the Greater Toronto Area. After a moment of silence the group managed to shut down the major intersection of Queen and Kennedy in the heart of Brampton for nearly an hour. During this time a public education action took place. Carby’s cousin La Tanya Grant and Kabir Joshi-Vijayan addressed the public via a sound system, and flyers were handed out to pedestrians and those sitting in cars.

Several annoyed and impatient individuals were vocal in their opposition, while others asked for flyers in order to learn more about the case. Community members passing by joined in the blockade, expressing frustration about how they have been treated at the hands of the police.

While the action drew the attention of the Peel Regional Police and Toronto’s CP24, the demands of the family and committee were not given airtime. The media have tried to spin the issue into a tragic, isolated incident, instead of the most recent episode of systemic racial profiling and police brutality.
The media have tried to spin the issue into a tragic, isolated incident, instead of the most recent episode of systemic racial profiling and police brutality.
Until honest discussions about police brutality and race in Canada are held, change in the status quo of injustice on the streets, within the SIU and within the courts is unlikely.

Racism and police brutality exist. History has demonstrated that institutions like the SIU have undermined progress to bring justice for victims of police brutality, whether it is Jermaine Carby or the thousands who were detained during the G20. Community organizations such as the Justice for Jermaine Committee need your support.

Please consider supporting the Justice for Jermaine Carby Committee online or in person.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ganja and Globalization in St. Vincent

Originally posted on: stabroeknews.com
December 15, 2014

20130930diasporaJanuary 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its one size fits all prescription for global trade. Despite its steadfast refusal to do otherwise, dominant economic theory must take into account the diverse realities of the countries which make up the global community. Due to matters of geography and history, no two countries are alike – and any effort to universalize a set of best economic practices is fundamentally and dangerously incorrect.

In the Caribbean context, what we have seen is that economic globalization has unfolded to the benefit of the most powerful nations and their respective multinational corporations. The resulting economic marginalization of small countries like the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent are seen as collateral damage of the liberalized global trade regime.

The statistics of economic growth reveal that contrary to the assumptions made by proponents of free trade, trade liberalization has not increased economic growth in St. Lucia and St. Vincent. Indeed in recent years one can see a trend of stagnation – if not outright decline. As Vincentian farmer Ras Jacob laments, “the IMF/WTO put them in poverty, they mash down all the EC [Eastern Caribbean] livelihood”.

At the behest of the WTO and spearheaded by the banana multinational corporations (with no less than former US President Bill Clinton as their dedicated advocate), a gradual elimination of the protected banana trade with the United Kingdom began, as it contradicted the assumptions of neoliberal economic theory. These reforms would lead to numerous negative and widespread impacts on rural communities – such as an increase in unemployment, poverty, crime and a dramatic cutback in government programs and services. Given that there were no readily apparent jobs to replace those lost in the banana industry, a great deal of the farmers took their skills, knowledge and cutlasses into the hills.

Twenty years after this economic shock, based on its size, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of the largest, if not the largest per capita cultivator and exporter of ganja in the world. During my research on the island studying the ganja trade, I have been fortunate enough to have learned from farmers, activists, smugglers and dealers – providing incredible insight into St. Vincent’s real, albeit illicit economic engine.

Presently in the Caribbean, marijuana is not legally recognized for its medicinal purposes. In March 2014, the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) established a regional commission concerning marijuana use, with the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, acting as the Chair. The two primary focuses of the regional commission are concerned with the medical use of marijuana and the decriminalization of small quantities involved in recreational use.

A July 2014 communiqué from the CARICOM conference in Antigua put forward that the “Heads of Government agreed to establish a Regional Commission on Marijuana to conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for a range of users.” Since then, not much else has been released to the public, as a search of CARICOM internet archives and requests for updated information have not produced any new information on the progress of the initiative.
(Photo: Courtesy Kevin Edmonds)
(Photo: Courtesy Kevin Edmonds)

Despite this, Prime Minster Gonsalves has tried to deflect criticism that the Commission would be an asset to his election drive, stating that regardless of the politicization of the situation, “I am hoping that we take more than baby steps in addressing the issues”

Seeking to avoid the politicization of the issue, Conley “Chivango” Rose, the Coordinator of The National Marijuana Industry Association (NMIA) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is working to get a medical marijuana institute built in St. Vincent, due to its position as the leading cultivator in the Eastern Caribbean. Rose told me that roughly “40 percent of the population are connected to the industry either directly or by accommodating it” and that an estimate that ganja contributes 30 percent to the GDP is quite conservative. Rose argues that the Caribbean must abandon current laws which are based on inherited colonial legislation, and calls for a major reform of the region’s ganja laws, arguing that they be based on “science, compassion and reason”.

The National Marijuana Industry Association (NMIA) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines states in its charter that “Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana Sales in St. Vincent and the Grenadines could generate extra revenues and taxes for the government in licenses, fees, sales taxes, VAT, excise taxes and so on, government and the people would benefit tremendously from this lucrative industry… According to Vincentian economists, financial analysts, tax collectors, bankers and professional accountants, marijuana, if regulated and taxed in the same fashion as alcohol, can bring in over $500 million dollars for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines economy between 2014-2016 ! Much needed revenue to assist in stimulating growth, creating wealth and helping to transform the economic landscape of the island”.

While the legalization of ganja would bring immediate economic benefits, it would also have widespread social consequences. Ras Andre believes that the legalization of ganja will lead to a greater transformation in the class structure of St. Vincent and the wider Caribbean, stating that “It will be a class change, you have poor citizens getting into a multi-billion industry, who is poor is now becoming rich, while people which have become comfortable in their wealthy lifestyles will get shifted… This is important for people like Rasta, who are marginalized – but with this change they will be able to handle their affairs, to many it is frightening”.

In addition to the legalization of ganja changing the island’s entrenched class structure, it would also free up a huge sector of economic activity from the criminal element.

One farmer, “Power”, highlighted that it is the criminalized status and classification of ganja as a dangerous drug which leads to crime, arguing that “In the heights we always exposed to the thief man, our investment is at risk. Very often there are rip-offs where people saying the crop bust when they made a shot [got intercepted by the police during smuggling abroad], when they really keeping it themselves. This is what gets people killed. If it was legal we could have real sales and not have to worry and hide”. Additionally, he argues that it is the hustle and profit of ganja which has led to the “baldheads going up in the hills, brining guns, cocaine, crime and robbery”.

As another planter, and a very skilled, self-taught horticulturalist, “Bongo” stated, “We need to separate ganja from the drug trade… It is unfairly attacked because of what has been colonial and cultured in the mind. Ganja has helped so many people, sent thousands of children to school and bought plane tickets for being to go foreign and better themselves. We are losing a golden opportunity, if we don’t move on this we won’t have anything. It will be turmoil”.

To Empress Modupe Olufenmi Jacob, it must also involve the “creation of provisions to compensate those who have been charged and jailed before it was legal” and “ensure that the farmers who have sacrificed for so long are the immediate beneficiaries of a regulated system to plant legal ganja”.

Indeed there was also a sharp criticism of the political leadership, with many arguing that independent governments and the CARICOM Commission were moving far too slow. While the legalization of ganja is often portrayed or presented as a panacea for much of the region’s economic woes, it would certainly go a long way in increasing respective governmental revenues, providing legal employment and sparing vast numbers of people from the prison system. For these reasons alone the individual and regional leadership must push forward with their efforts to at the very least, decriminalize marijuana and allow medicinal marijuana for compassionate and research purposes. If they continue to take a “wait and see” attitude on this issue, they will indeed see that regional competitors will have taken the lead, scrambling to justify their position to a population in a society which has no real opposition to ganja. As Conley Rose said, “Ganja is not a fad, it done been here for a long time”.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Censorship and the Need for a Freedom of Information Act in St. Lucia

December 5, 2014

It has been stated time and again that an informed citizenry is an essential prerequisite to the functioning of a democratic society. Indeed the Caribbean region is often hailed as being a bastion of democracy and stability by many academics in comparison to their Central and Southern American neighbours, where a historical cycle of coups, rebellion and dictatorships prevailed throughout the Cold War years.

In the present era, the intensification of globalization has been welcomed by the economic and political powers that be as a stabilizing force, one which brings financial, technological and information flows to all corners of the globe. Yet, despite these promises, globalization also has a much darker side, one of which outside of the threat of terrorism is very rarely discussed.

Despite the World Trade Organization promoting tourism and financial services as the saviour of St. Lucia after the enforced decimation of the banana trade, these industries have in many ways entangled themselves in a manner which threatens both meaningful development and democracy on the island. While it has been repeated ad nauseam that the forces of globalization seek to free up the restrictions former placed upon the mobility of capital, it in no way seeks to make the necessary information about these processes more accessible to the people that they purport to be serving.

A very real way in which this has manifested itself is the growing number of failed tourist mega-projects on the island and the related threats against bloggers, journalists and writers who seek to expose the realities of these deals.

Due to the efforts of the anonymous “Piton blogger”, we now know much more about the 3 failed and another stalled mega development in St. Lucia. The “Piton blogger” repeatedly pointed out that St. Lucia was witnessing the privatization of public lands with dire consequences for the local communities and environment.

Just to give an idea of the scale of the problem, a quick summary of the failed projects is as follows. The total cost to St. Lucian taxpayers to reacquire the Crown lands from the failed Ritz-Carlton development due to the 2008 economic crisis amounted to $EC 57 million. The Marquis Estate development was a multi-island development, which failed – dragging 3,000 British investors to fall victim to the $250 million USD scheme. The investigation has since been taken up by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office. Thirdly, the La Paradis resort, located in Praslin fell victim to the CLICO insurance scheme which rocked the rest of the Caribbean. As a result, the massive development appears as an open wound on the Windward side of the island, a reminder of the excesses of the international financial sector – and the resulting burden placed on the general public.

Central to this point, the “Piton blogger” also sought to bring about transparency and educate the public on the new Freedom Bay Resort development, which is being built literally at the foot of the Petit Piton, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with government approval. The “Piton blogger” had frequently wrote articles outlining that the resort development threatened the status of the Pitons as a World Heritage Site due to environmental and cultural destruction (ie. Amerindian archeological items). Additionally, local residents were being forced to sell their property to the developer. The “Piton blogger’s” desire to follow the money and openly challenge to the developers resulted in the Friends of UNESCO site getting shut down in May 2013, after four masked men, wielding automatic weapons broke into the bloggers home stealing computers, modems and phones. US Federal Agents later confirmed that there was indeed a hit out on the “Piton blogger”, but the story has not surfaced in the St. Lucian mainstream media due to the fact that it may very well lead to dangerous territory.

In the midst of this situation, enter long-time journalist Jason Sifflet, who had previously wrote for many of the island’s established media houses. Sifflet began the Flogg Blog as an independent platform to ridicule the St. Lucian political system – leaving no party or politician behind. Given this journalistic independence, Sifflet wrote that the situation “… got real in ways I could not imagine. Unshackled from advertisers, media managers and the most vile laws stifling free speech in St Lucia, I was suddenly imbued with all my natural powers. As a trained journalist, a kind of heretical activist and a consumer of history, I couldn't help but make the FLOGG grow from a joke into an investigative journalism machine that reinvents the language, ethics and methodology of journalism in the image of Negmarron.”

Behind the veil of humor and the occasional curse words, Jason countered with pointed attacks on many of the issues which people discussed privately, but rarely, if ever publicly. One such issue was his controversial (albeit accurate) comparison of the island’s tourism industry and how it increasingly resembled an apartheid system.

Not long after the launch of his blog, Sifflet wrote that “I got my first death threat and law suit threat around this time [October] in 2013” – but it would not be his last. Several months later in August 2014, after criticizing and insulting the United Workers Party opposition leader and hotelier Alan Chastanet, his blog was mysteriously shut down, with Google stating that it supposedly breached their standards of acceptable speech, thus engaging in a form of “hate speech”. While the timing of the blogs shut down was suspicious enough, Sifflet’s estranged wife would then lose her job at the St. James Morgan Bay hotel, with pundits claiming everything must have been a simple coincidence and the public should not jump hastily to conclusions. While the Flogg Blog would eventually be reinstated, the death threats continued to follow. One can read Sifflet’s investigation and account of the death threats here.

While there are indeed a myriad of issues related to these situations, a major problem with all of this is that there is no St. Lucian version of the Freedom of Information Act to back up what the journalists, bloggers and writers are putting forward. While the St. Lucia Freedom of Information Act was drafted as a bill in 2009, it has yet to see the light of day in regards to its implementation. While the draft of the Freedom of Information Act stated that it would bar dissemination of information pertaining to commercial issues if it “i) contained a trade secret or (ii) to communicate it would or would likely to, seriously prejudice the commercial or financial interests of that third party”, the importance of this is that it would set a legal precedence or benchmark from which the public could inquire about the interaction between government and investors.

At a Regional Conference on Freedom of Information in March 2013, The Saint Lucia National Trust, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Karetta Crooks Charles remarked that, “it was inspiring to see how ordinary citizens, civil society and the media from fellow Caribbean countries were utilizing the FOI Access to Information laws to hold public authorities more accountable. Furthermore, it is hoped that Saint Lucia will follow suit and ratify its draft FOI Act of 2009,as well as sign on to the LAC Declaration on Principle 10 which promotes sustainable development through access to information, public participation and access to justice.”

Yet until this curtain is pulled back, to reveal those at work behind the scenes, brave individuals working in the public interest are called conspiracy theorists, straight out liars and increasingly threatened physically, economically and electronically censored. This is not the foundation of a democratic society, but rather that of something more sinister.

Whether or not St. Lucians agree with the writings of Sifflet or those of the “Piton blogger”, the reality is that they have both literally put their lives at risk in order to inform the general public about the inconsistencies and problematic issues related to some of the island’s major tourism developments. While scandal is often the engine of St. Lucian politics as is elsewhere, the fact that both political parties have stalled in regards to implementing a St. Lucian Freedom of Information Act is highly problematic considering their supposed commitment to the democratic process.

While many would argue that every investment involves a certain level of risk, it really downplays the reality of the situation in St. Lucia. While wealthy investors can literally walk away from failed projects with bankruptcy protection, yet given that the country is so small the government does not have that option. Indeed those left behind in their wake are subjected to a stream of debt, corruption and even death.

St. Lucia’s Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott remarked that he was “ashamed of my country”, referred to the ongoing development at the foot of the Pitons as “whoredom” but conceding “… what can you do when a country approves of its own disfigurement?” Indeed Walcott’s statement is in reference the current physical damage done to the natural environment, but it can also apply to the country’s political system which seeks to maintain this troubling status quo instead of taking measures to change it for the better.

While it might seem as a naïve goal, the only way to get rid of this block in the political system is to empower and protect the individual citizens who decide to become Whistleblowers with the ultimate goal of fostering an engaged citizenry. Let the argument be settled by facts and not threats. As such, these figures and the ones who will inevitably follow them must be protected from the grudges held by the private sector and their friends and potential business partners in both political parties, as acting on behalf of the public good should not be a death sentence.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The United Nations Will Fail Haiti Once Again

October 14, 2014

Originally Published in Counterpunch

On October 15, the United Nations Security Council will meet to “debate” the extension of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) which has acted as an occupying force in the country since the summer of 2004. MINUSTAH was created to put an end to the Multinational Interim Force (primarily made up of U.S., French, Canadian and Chilean troops) which occupied Haiti after an internationally backed coup d’état ousted the democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party from power on February 29, 2004.

During these ten years, MINUSTAH has compiled a horrific record of human rights abuses, including but not limited to extrajudicial murder, an epidemic of sexual assault against Haitian men, women and children, the repression of peaceful political protests, in addition to unleashing cholera through criminal negligence which has caused the death of over 9,000 people and infecting nearly a million more. Despite these well documented abuses, the historical record has shown that the Security Council will mostly likely renew MINUSTAH for another year without any thought to damage being done to Haiti. As evidence of how little resistance there is to the renewal of MINUSTAH’s mandate in the United Nations, on August 21, MINUSTAH’s budget was extended to June 2015 – clearly signalling that the occupation is certain to continue.

When one examines the level of instability in Haiti which is used as the justification for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in the country, the United Nations’ argument of protecting the Haitian people from themselves falls flat. Despite the mainstream media portrayal of Haiti as a lawless and dangerous country, in 2012, it had a homicide rate of 10.2 per 100,000 people, ranking it as one of the least violent countries in Latin America and the Caribbean – in contrast to Washington DC which sat at 13.71 per 100,000. Furthermore, to argue that it is the presence MINUSTAH which has acted as a stabilizing force which has kept violence down, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that between 2007 and 2012, Haiti’s homicide rate doubled from 5.1 to 10.2 per 100,000.

For the fiscal year running from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, $609.18 million was allocated to MINUSTAH. In the ten years in which MINUSTAH has been operational, their total budget is over $5.5 billion. If this same amount had been applied towards human development in the form of investments in clean water, sanitation, healthcare and education – Haiti would have the potential reclaim its sovereignty and self-determination.

We must be clear, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti is not based on any principles of humanitarianism, but rather those of an imperialist occupation which seeks to make sure that the island’s government can implement and maintain repressive policies favourable to international investors. Thus the reasons for MINUSTAH’s continued presence in Haiti were confirmed thanks to revelations by WikiLeaks. In one of the most up-front classified cables, from US Ambassador Janet Sanderson on October 1, 2008, stated 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.”

The corrupt and repressive regime of President Michel Martelly has proudly boasted that “Haiti is open for business”. Indeed, this is true – however it is the people and the land that are being sold. Canadian mining companies like St. Genevive and Eurasian Minerals have taken advantage of weak laws to prospect new sites covering enormous swaths of territory (an estimated 1/3 of Northern Haiti has been granted to companies via permit), setting up the potential for substantial displacement through forced evictions and environmental destruction. Montreal based Gildan Activewear (the world’s largest manufacturer of blank T-shirts) has routinely pressured the Haitian government to block an increase in Haiti’s abysmally low daily minimum wage and have undermined unionization efforts in their plants.

MINUSTAH has carried out a series of human rights violations resulting in a loss of Haitian sovereignty, stability, dignity and life. Its record of engaging in acts of extrajudicial murder, sexual assault, suppressing peaceful political protests, undermining democracy and introducing cholera into Haiti are more than enough grounds to revoke its mandate. Yet for geopolitical and economic reasons, this does not happen.

As people of good conscience and principled internationalists, we collectively have the capacity and the resources to force an end to the military occupation of Haiti. However, we will not be able to fulfill this potential and stand in solidarity with the laboring classes in Haiti, if we don’t organize campaigns in Canada and across the world that pressure contributing states to end their provision of military and police personnel to MINUSTAH’s occupation force.

Our opposition to the military occupation of Haiti ought to take the form of grassroots-oriented campaigns that educate, mobilize, and organize membership-based organizations to add the end to the occupation to their organizational programme. It is critically necessary to reach out to the people in the spaces in which they are present, and offer specific actions that they may carry out to force the withdrawal of the occupation troops.

We have a moral and political obligation to support the struggle for self-determination by the popular classes in Haiti. The successful Haitian Revolution eliminated the enslavement of Afrikans in Haiti, and lit the fire of freedom in slaveholding states in the Americas.

The people of Haiti demonstrated their solidarity with the colonized peoples in South America by providing a place of refuge, guns, ammunition, personnel, and a printing press to Simon Bolivar’s campaign to liberate the region from Spanish colonialism. The French Revolution and the American Revolution cannot lay claim to being beacons and agents of emancipation in the Americas.

As we work to rid Haiti of MINUSTAH’s occupation forces, we ought to be motivated by the fact that we are continuing a long and proud tradition of people-to-people solidarity in support of emancipation in the Americas. Haiti is the architect and pioneer of this principled political tradition. We should remember this legacy as we call for the Security Council to pull out the occupation troops from Haiti.

Kevin Edmonds is a PhD student and member of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee and the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti.

Ajamu Nangwaya Ph.D., is an educator. He is an organizer with the Campaign to End the Occupation of Haiti, and the Organization of Afrikan Struggles and International Solidarity.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

In St. Lucia, Freedom of Speech is not All-Inclsuive

September 4, 2014

This was supposed to be an article about tourism using the island of St. Lucia as an example.  It was supposed to highlight the many valid criticisms which arose in opposition to what many consider to be the dominance of a sweatshop model of tourism, what can best be described as being neocolonial in nature. However, it has just turned into something much more troubling. It has revealed that the critique of neocolonialism on the island, particularly regarding tourism are well placed because in fact those who benefit from it in one way or another are seeking to silence one of the island’s most accomplished and outspoken journalists.

Jason Sifflet, and established journalist and the author of the Flogg Blog, which has arguably become St. Lucia’s most popular political blogs, has found himself on the wrong side of Google’s censors. Citing a breach of their terms and conditions due to what they referred to as “hate speech” his blog was taken down on August 30th.

To put things into context, Sifflet’s blog was widely popular precisely because it refused to spare any politician or industry figure from harsh criticism. While the dust is still settling on the matter, it appears that this was the very same reason why it was taken down.

A series of recent posts on the Flogg Blog sharply critiqued the St. Lucian tourism industry, discussing such topics as high level corruption, crime, money laundering and bluntly stating that it is creating an apartheid like system on the island. Heavy stuff, no doubt – but it was excellent, much needed stuff.  You do not find this kind of pointed critique in The Star, The Voice or the Mirror. This is because one would be a fool to think that the mainstream media in St. Lucia or anywhere else is divorced from power. It acts as little more than public relations for the power – allowing critique to fall within a very narrow, previously agreed upon spectrum. Go outside of that and you are in trouble. See Jason Sifflet as Exhibit A.

For example, why should the people of St. Lucia champion a political party or “leader” who seeks to grant 40 year tax incentives to the multimillion dollar corporations who dominate the tourism industry? Why is this the only option for the island? Is it based on reality or faulty ideology?  As I recall, it was not so long ago that the government of Bangladesh and its industry leaders used to boast that they had the cheapest wages in the world. The boasting lasted until the buildings started to collapse and the people started to riot, form unions and attack management. A race to the bottom is a competition St. Lucia should stay well away from.

So why is the Flogg Blog considered to be hate speech? Let’s look at the definition of hate speech to help us out. A quick search reveals that “In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group.

Normally hate speech rules have been in place to protect minorities (be it based upon race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc) within a society from attacks from the state, the powerful and extremist groups. It is obvious that the definition of hate speech covers a lot of ground. But we should be clear that criticism is not the same as hate speech. Rarely is the invoking of hate speech used as grounds to protect the wealthy and powerful – as the economic and political systems in place are already setup to take care of that.

It is common knowledge that the Flogg Blog does not go out and roast the malewe – because frankly they deal with enough shit everyday – so in many ways the Flogg Blog worked to amplify their voice and the voice of the disillusioned. What we are seeing with the case of the Flogg Blog is that the interpretation of what constitutes hate speech is actually violating freedom of speech on the island and the wider internet in general. Whether or not you agree with the Flogg Blog – that is not the point – it is that his right to say it is under attack.

An important part of the definition of hate speech is that it “intimidates a protected individual or group”. Protected individual or group? Who is being protected from who? The powerful are being protected from the people? You don’t say!
I guess it also comes down to the fact that when people Google “St. Lucia + tourism” they shouldn’t have to be confronted with the uncomfortable truths about the industry – or the perspectives of the people who reside there. Heaven forbid people connect the dots and see the historical continuation between the “subservience with a smile” of those who must work in all inclusive tourism, the hoteliers who do their best to strip the workers of their dignity and the island’s colonial past rooted in racial and class hierarchies. Aside from the brain freeze, it makes drinking a daiquiri by the pool a little more uncomfortable.

While St. Lucia does not have an official political dictatorship, the curtain is starting to fall on the economic dictatorship behind this act. Criticism of the tourism industry and the figures who dominate it is not a hateful act. What Jason Sifflet and the Flogg Blog did was to educate the people about the reality of power and the economy on the island. If that is considered a hateful act or a form of intimidation, consider the values of the current society that we live in – and what we need to do to change it. #BBFB

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Creeping Decriminalization of Marijuana in the Caribbean

May 23, 2014

While the decriminalization of marijuana has been a topic of discussion for decades, those in attendance at this week’s Jamaica Cannabis Conference are doing more than just blowing smoke—they are discussing the upcoming stages of a long-overdue and vital transformation of the Caribbean’s regional economy. Jamaica has long been associated with potent, naturally grown marijuana, but also the unfortunate social ills that have accompanied its criminalization.

While marijuana, or ganja, arrived in the Caribbean with Indian indentured laborers in the mid-1800s, it was not criminalized until 1913, when the Ganja law came into effect at the behest of the church and colonial elites. The ban was largely based on ignorant, racist perceptions of the evil effects that ganja would have on the poor black majority, and thus dealt out fines and other oppressive penalties for consumption or cultivation. During the 1940s and the 1950s, despite the cultivation of ganja for spiritual and medical reasons, it became the routine justification for government raids upon the original, self-sufficient Rastafari community of Pinnacle.

Despite Jamaica's independence in 1962, the colonial origins of criminalizing ganja were not eroded, but strengthened. When Jamaica signed the United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1964, it became obligated to treat marijuana as a harmful drug, following the prevailing attitude of the United States. Under the banner of the War on Drugs, the Jamaican government diverted millions of dollars from social development to eradicate marijuana plantations through aerial spraying. If Jamaica refused, under the conditions of the U.S. Drug Certification Policy enacted in 1986, Jamaica would risk losing access to U.S. trade, aid, loans, and visas.

There are very serious human rights issues associated with the prohibition of marijuana. Across the Caribbean, courts are backlogged with simple possession charges for small quantities of marijuana. In one case in St. Lucia, fines for small quantities of marijuana reached $200, or up to 30 days in jail. These charges in turn limit employment and travel opportunities, creating intergenerational disadvantages for those who face jail time. As a result of the overloaded prison systems across the region, the economic and social costs of marijuana are tremendous, as much needed economic resources are taken away from social development and funneled towards and endless cycle of law and order policies.

In addition, the criminalization of marijuana has also led to the unfortunate and unnecessary marginalization of the Rastafari community, which regard the herb as a holy sacrament. Last August St. Lucian journalist Earl Bousquet commented on the negative portrayal of marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s:

Marijuana was...pinned to the Rastafarian movement that started spreading to the rest of the region from Jamaica at the same time. The then leaders erroneously hoped they could easily do away with ‘Rastas and marijuana’ through new laws and armed police forces. By legally twinning Rastafarianism with an illegal substance, growth of a positive and distinctively Caribbean social movement driven by the works of Marcus Garvey, rooted in Pan Caribbean-African nationalism and advocating closer communion with nature half-a-century ago was stifled, suppressed and forced to spend more time resisting and fighting ‘Babylon’ than refining the philosophical, spiritual, cultural and political base of the only indigenous Caribbean movement of its kind in the 20th century.

As a further result of these criminalization policies, Jamaica now has to play catch up in the newly emerging legal and medical marijuana market, according to Dr. Albert Lockhart, a leading ophthalmologist and noted speaker at the Cannabis Conference, who stated that “we are 40 years late.” Dr. Lockhart has helped to pioneer medicine derived from marijuana such as Canasol (which treats glaucoma) and Asmasol (which treats asthma), but due to lack of funding their discoveries are not widely known outside of the island. Dr. Lockhart further warned that if Jamaica does not act now it would be at risk of missing the boat, losing out to countries such as the United States, where the states of Colorado and Washington have fueled the push for legalization across the region—and Canada where medical marijuana has become big business.

Phillip Paulwell, Jamaican Minister of Science and Technology, has assured interested parties that marijuana will be decriminalized by the end of the year. Paulwell remarked that “I am of the firm opinion that scientific research into marijuana, both in the very many uses of the plant as hemp, and its medical properties, is an idea whose time has come,” adding that a marijuana-based medical industry could earn as much as $5.2 billion.

So the Cannabis Conference closed with hope that Jamaica and the wider Caribbean will be able to finally cash in and create a world leading, legal industry which not only acts as a cash crop and provides much needed agricultural jobs, but also as the building blocks for the development of wide ranging medical treatments. Additionally, the new CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana Use shows a regional investigative interest. Beyond just decriminalization, the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association has been advocating for a regulatory model that will benefit small growers instead of large corporations, stating: “For the first three years of a regulated industry, licenses should only be given to plots of one acre or less.” The taxable income from the industry has the power to transform stagnating Caribbean economies and will allow them to have the self determination to rightfully produce a quality product which the world has always demanded in great quantity, but has been criminalized for far too long.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

After 34 Years, Walter Rodney's Assassination in Guyana now Under Review

May 7, 2014

Just after 8pm on June 13, 1980, Walter Rodney was assassinated by a bomb hidden in a walkie-talkie at the height of his political activism. Rodney was a bright light in a Guyana trying to navigate its way through political chaos, and his assassination ushered in a dark time for those who hoped to bring about grassroots social transformation in Guyana, and throughout the Caribbean.

2574For nearly 34 years, the untimely assassination of Walter Rodney had gone virtually uninvestigated—a coroner's inquest in 1988 concluded that Rodney had perished either "by accident or misadventure." However, while the long delay and reluctance by the Guyanese government has led to several of the most prominent figures escaping justice, it is hoped that the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which began on April 28, will provide the chance for the PNC government to finally set the historical record straight.

In his short life, Walter Rodney displayed incredible intellectual ability, earning his PhD at the age of 24 and, only a few years later, producing the classic How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, a brilliant account of how the poverty and inequality that Africa currently faces is a direct result of Europe’s colonial violence and domination. In addition to these achievements, Rodney was an individual who best exemplified the idea of praxis—linking his intellectual analysis with political activity, dedicated to organizing and empowering the masses who had historically been excluded from exercising political power. As such, Rodney has been repeatedly referred to as “the prophet of self-emancipation”—a firm believer and practitioner of People’s Power and Pan-Africanism.

Rodney’s political activism was deeply shaped by Guyana's turbulent political history. In 1950, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) started out as the first mass, multi-ethnic party in the country, running upon a pro-independence platform (at the time Guyana was self-governing, but not formally independent), stressing economic development and the creation of a socialist society. Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham were both founding members of the PPP, however in the aftermath of a coup organized by the British government in October 1953, Jagan and Burnham split—resulting in a fracturing of political representation along ethnic lines. Jagan and the PPP were largely considered to be the party of the Indo-Guyanese population, while Burnham and the People’s National Congress (PNC) became the party of the Afro-Guyanese.

During the late 1970s, Guyana’s neo-colonial political system experienced a deep crisis due to the Burnham government’s repeated electoral fraud, concentrating power through unconstitutional amendments and responding to the backlash with beatings, imprisonment, and harassment of political opponents. It was in the midst of this crisis whereby the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), a newly formed opposition political party uniquely organized along the lines of racial and economic diversity, sought to transcend the establishment tactic of ruling via manipulating the country’s racial divide. Thus due to the important origins of the WPA and their political line, party members were quickly singled out by the authoritarian government of Forbes Burnham as enemies of the state. This state of repression against Burnham's political opponents, which included Walter Rodney, continued until 1992, when Cheddi Jagan was elected president.

Aside from Forbes Burnham, the “intellectual author” of the assassination who passed away in 1985, the individual widely suspected of being the behind the assassination was an ex-sergeant of the Guyana Defence Force and electronics expert, Gregory Smith. Smith quickly disappeared after the assassination of Rodney, eventually resurfacing in French Guiana under the name Cyril Johnson. Due to the repeated dismissal of calls for Smith to be extradited back to Guyana, Smith eventually escaped justice—passing away from lung cancer in 2002.

Even the U.S. State Department “declared that from the available evidence the government [of Guyana] was involved in the assassination of Walter Rodney and the removal of key witnesses to the tragedy," according to Arnold Gibbons in The Legacy of Walter Rodney in Guyana and the Caribbean.

The current COI aims to investigate and uncover the truth behind a brutal period of Guyana's history. According to the highly contested “Terms of Reference” of the COI, the three designated commissioners will “examine and report on the actions and activities of the state such as the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defense Force, the Guyana National Service, The Guyana National People’s Militia, and those who were in command and superintendents of these agencies to determine whether they were tasked with the surveillance of, and the carrying out of actions, and whether they did execute those tasks and carry out those actions against political opposition from the period January1, 1978 to December 31, 1980.”

The WPA has disputed the narrow timeframe of the inquiry, as repression occurred over a longer period. In addition to the narrow timeframe, the Chairman of the COI, Sir Richard Cheltenham has argued that the COI “is not intended to prosecute anyone, but to bring closure to an unresolved issue in the country’s history.” This stipulation was met with resistance by the WPA and the Guyana Human Rights Association, as the initial call for an inquiry into Rodney’s death was to be a matter ultimately concerned with justice—not only as a means to reconciliation.

During the first week of the COI, several key individuals close to Rodney testified about the threats, intimidation, and acts of state terrorism routinely faced by Rodney and WPA supporters. However, and perhaps revealing efforts to undermine the investigation, Crime Chief Leslie James revealed that seven out of the ten Guyana Police Force files on the assassination of Walter Rodney have gone missing.

Despite these obstacles, there is a very strong, organized effort to make sure that the COI is conducted in a fair and transparent manner. Spearheading that effort is the Justice for Walter Rodney Committee, made up of concerned Guyanese and supporters around the world. The second nine-day session will begin on May 27.

In addition to the deep scar on Guyana, the assassination of Walter Rodney must be situated as part of a sustained effort to eradicate the potential of the new left from taking root in the Caribbean—which included the murder of Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, leader of the New Jewel Movement in 1983.
As put forward by Aaron Kamugisha in Caribbean Political Thought: Theories of a Post-Colonial State, “His assassination at 38 deprived the Caribbean and the third world of one of its leading radical intellectual voices, and for many, was one of the decisive defeats of the early 1980s from which the Caribbean left has never recovered, stumbling from structural adjustment to neoliberal globalization in the decades that followed. Rodney for many is both remembered as the most brilliant radical intellectual produced in the Anglophone Caribbean’s post-colonial history as well as a reminder of the authoritarian lengths of the elites that govern its states."

Friday, April 25, 2014

El Chapo's Arrest: Money Laundering and Mexico's Drug War

April 25, 2014

With the capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on February 21, a number of questions have surfaced regarding the association and assistance between the U.S. government, big banks, and arguably the world’s most powerful drug trafficker. Guzmán had been the head of the Sinaloa cartel, an organization with a global reach and responsible for an estimated 30% of the cross border drug trade. His takedown has been hailed as a monumental victory for law enforcement and the global War on Drugs. However, using history as a guide, it would be irresponsible to think that the arrest will make a significant dent in the drug trade or that this is a simple case of the good guys coming out on top.

While El Chapo may have risen up the ranks of the cartel, and into Forbes magazine's list of the 100 most powerful people, he did not get there just through being incredibly shrewd or ruthless. Anabel Hernández, investigative reporter and author of Narcoland, raises an important question about who are the real kingmakers in the drug trade, stating that “Semi-illiterate peasants like ... El Chapo would not have got far without the collusion of businessmen, politicians, and policemen, and all those who exercise everyday power from behind a false halo of legality. We see their faces all the time, not in the mug shots of most wanted felons put out by the Attorney General’s Office, but in the front-page stories, business sections, and society columns of the main papers.

The Mexican and U.S. governments have openly identified many other high level, influential figures involved in the drug trade. The major problem with this is that they are working for some of the world’s largest banks. It is a case of immunity and impunity for some – and incarceration for others – predominately the poor and people of color.

On January 6, the Mexican newspaper El Universal revealed that between 2000 and 2012, in exchange for information on rival cartels, the Bush and Obama administrations allowed the Sinaloa cartel to import “tons of cocaine” into the United States. The primary rival of concern was the Los Zetas cartel, whose influence extends to actual control of eleven Mexican states

The reality is one in which the line between the criminality of the drug trade and the legal economy is totally imaginary. Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, revealed in 2009 that there is evidence that the proceeds of organized crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to many banks on the brink of collapse as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, and that "Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities... There were signs that some banks were rescued that way."

In a 2010 interview with the Bloomberg News, Martin Woods, the former director of Wachovia’s anti-money-laundering unit in London remarked that “It’s the banks laundering money for the cartels that finances the tragedy… If you don’t see the correlation between the money laundering by banks and the 22,000 people killed in Mexico, you’re missing the point.” This connection becomes incredibly clear when we look to the connection of HSBC helping the Mexican cartels funnel hundreds of billions of dollars.

According to legal documents for the case filed in 2012, HSBC admitted that it failed to apply legally required money laundering controls to $60 trillion in wire transfers alone, in only a three year period, $670 billion of which came from Mexico. $60 trillion—that is approximately 85 percent the entire world's GDP in 2012. In a settlement to put an end to the probe into their money laundering activities in late 2012, HSBC agreed to pay a fine of $1.9 billion. While HSBC may have been associated with the largest money laundering operation in U.S. banking history, it is by no means alone.

In 2010, Wachovia was sanctioned for failing to apply adequate money laundering controls on $378.4 billion in transfers originating from Mexico. Until HSBC was caught, it was the largest violation of the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act—which according to the U.S. Treasury Department requires that “U.S. financial institutions to assist U.S. government agencies to detect and prevent money laundering.” However, under a deferred prosecution agreement, Wachovia only had to pay a $160 million fine for its role in laundering hundreds of billions of dollars. Jeffery Sloman, the federal prosecutor who handled the case remarked that “Wachovia’s blatant disregard for our banking laws gave international cocaine cartels a virtual carte blanche to finance their operations.”

Bank of America has also been connected to Mexican drug money, as accounts in Oklahoma City were used to buy planes to transport cocaine, according to a Bloomberg investigation. Additionally, in 2006, the Bank of America acknowledged that it had overseen the laundering of $3 billion originating from South America in a single Manhattan branch. While the monetary figure is comparatively small in relation to the scandals that HSBC and Wachovia would later involved in, when pressed as to why no indictments were sought against the bankers involved, Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau simply remarked “because we don’t want to put banks out of business.” This remark was later echoed by Justice Department prosecutor Lanny Breuer, who stated that "Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges, HSBC would certainly have lost its banking license in the United States, the future of the institution would have been under threat, and the entire banking system would have been destabilized."

It has become very clear that banks such as HSBC, Wachovia, and the Bank of America are integral components of the drug trade, which operate with impunity. While El Chapo may deservedly so spend the rest of his life behind bars, there are many more in the financial sector who have similarly profited off of crime and should be there with him. Whistleblower Martin Wood highlights this connection stating that "These are the proceeds of murder and misery in Mexico, and of drugs sold around the world. But no one goes to jail. What does the settlement do to fight the cartels? Nothing. It encourages the cartels and anyone who wants to make money by laundering their blood dollars." While pushing further on the topic of direct, multifaceted U.S. involvement in the international drug trade is a taboo subject, to ignore its role as a key source of profit for banks, prisons and the military is even more dangerous and costly.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Protest Coverage in Haiti and Venezuela Reveals U.S. Media Hypocrisy

February 21, 2014

2425The media coverage of the events unfolding in Venezuela provides a troubling example of how the imperial ambitions of the United States can magnify crises—especially when contrasted with the current political situation in Haiti.

Both Venezuela and Haiti have been facing anti-government protests, with the respective oppositions citing poor leadership, corruption, electoral fraud, and a deteriorating economy as their primary motivations in calling for change. However, the international media’s escalation of the Venezuelan crisis and their complete silence when it comes to Haiti, raises some important questions about the United States’ inconsistency in upholding the values of human rights and democracy.

Haiti has been enduring a political crisis since the highly controversial election of President Michel Martelly, who received his mandate from only 16.7 percent of registered voters, and has been running the country without a fully functioning government in order to avoid dealing with constitutionally mandated checks and balances. For the third year in a row, Martelly has promised to hold elections to fill legislative and local seats without yet following through.

As evidence of Martelly’s unbridled commitment to democracy, instead of holding elections for mayors whose terms expired in 2012, he personally handpicked the representatives, appointing them as “municipal agents.” As a result of Martelly’s political inaction on the national level, one third of the seats in the Haitian Senate remain empty. This congressional inability to establish quorum on issues of national importance has been particularly convenient for the President. In September 2013, the Senate put forward a resolution to indict President Martelly, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, and the Minister of Justice Jean Renel Sanon for high treason, lying to the public, and playing a harmful role in the death of Judge Jean Serge Joseph.

Earlier in 2013, Judge Joseph had been given the task of overseeing a high profile corruption investigation against President Michel Martelly’s wife Sophia and their son Olivier. Judge Joseph had reported receiving threats to dismiss the corruption case during a meeting with Martelly, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Justice and Public Security. Joseph refused, and two days later he died under suspicious circumstances.

Because the Haitian Senate has only 16 of 30 members currently active, the impeachment vote was not passed on a technicality. This was in spite of the decision, which saw 7 of the 16 members vote in favor of Martelly’s impeachment, with 9 abstentions and 0 voting against the motion. According to the Haitian Constitution, abstentions do not count as votes—with Article 117 stating that “All acts of the Legislature must be approved by a majority of the members present [emphasis added].” Thus, in regular circumstances the decision by the Senate would move forward with the impeachment. Therefore, this purposefully fragmented political system does a great deal to serve the interests of impunity.

This political crisis is especially worrying when the murder of opposition leaders in Haiti has gone largely unreported in the international press. Most recently, on February 8, Daniel Dorsainvil, one of Haiti’s leading human rights activists and his wife Girldy Lareche were gunned down in Port au Prince. While conflicted motives for the shooting have emerged, Haiti’s human rights community fears that the murders were politically motivated. Dorsainvil was the Coordinator of the Platform for Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights (POHDH). POHDH was established after the coup d’état of Jean Bertrand Aristide in 1991. According to POHDH’s website, “The systematic suppression of the military against the democratic and popular movement, which followed this event, and the mass amount of human rights violations in general, was the motivation for social and community development organizations to regroup with the purpose of initiating actions specifically in the field of human rights.”

A civil engineer by training, Dorsainvil had been a tireless advocate for justice, routinely speaking out against the Martelly government for its disregard of human rights, political scandals, and the consistent delaying of elections. Dorsainvil’s latest initiative was the establishment of the Patriotic People's Democratic Movement (MPDP), a group of thirty political and social organizations openly standing in opposition to Martelly’s government. While this attack is tragic on its own, it comes after numerous threats against Haitian human rights defenders such as Patrice Florvilus, Mario Joseph, and André Michel.

In May 2013, Patrice Florvilus, the Executive Director of Defenders of the Oppressed, was subjected to numerous death threats. Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law, remarked:

The targeting of Patrice Florvilus and other attorneys demonstrates a troubling pattern of state obstruction of legitimate human rights work in Haiti…The government’s use of state institutions such as law enforcement, and its failure to address judicial and extra-legal threats leave human rights defenders dangerously exposed. All sectors of the government, from the police to the courts, are responsible for safeguarding human rights. 

Due to the neglect and failure of the Haitian government to protect Florvilus and his family from attacks, he has had to relocate to Montreal in December 2013.

In October 2013, human rights lawyer Andre Michel was arrested by the Haitian National Police due to his initiation of legal proceedings against Martelly’s wife and son related to charges of corruption, which Judge Joseph oversaw before his death. Haitian human rights organizations condemned the arrest as an arbitrary and politically motivated attempt to intimidate human rights activists and members of the opposition.

Thus, while Martelly was praised by President Obama in early February for his leadership, Haiti has also seen a slew of anti-government protests due to the political crisis, human rights abuses, and economic decline. The lack of media attention regarding Martelly’s consistent attacks on popular organizations and human rights defenders in Haiti, in contrast to Venezuela is a stark reminder of how abuses of power can be marginalized if one has influential friends in the right places.

The media bias facing Venezuela—be it due to Venezuela’s fervent anti-U.S. policy and rhetoric, or the fact that it sits on the largest oil reserves in the hemisphere—allows the United States to shape public perception toward the country on its own strategic terms. In the absence of this insistence on sovereignty, human rights abuses and the suspension of political liberties can continue indefinitely in Haiti—as long as the government is set on accommodating the interests of the United States instead of challenging them.