Haitians confront new hardships, repression

PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of the Feb. 29 U.S.-backed coup d’etat against Haiti’s constitutionally elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian people’s living conditions and political freedoms have sharply deteriorated, eyewitnesses say.

Representatives of four delegations to Haiti held a press conference here July 28 to inform the public of the situation there.

The current regime in Haiti, headed by businessman Gerard Latortue, was formed by an alliance of Aristide’s non-elected political opposition and former right-wing Haitian Army officers and paramilitary death squads. These forces, in turn, have been backed by the U.S. and French governments.

Attorney Tom Griffin traveled to Haiti with the National Lawyers Guild in late March and again in mid-April. He and his colleagues interviewed elected officials, members of the Fanmi Lavalas Party (Aristide’s party), members of the opposition parties, police officers, and troops from the U.S., France, Canada and Chile. They also spoke with journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, community activists, religious leaders, former Haitian Army officers and ordinary Haitian citizens.

In addition to the capital, Port-au-Prince, they visited Les Cayes, Petit Goave, and Gran Goave, among other places.

Griffin said, “Overwhelming evidence shows that violence and threats are being directed at anyone who is or has been a supporter of President Aristide.”

The delegation found that the interim government has failed to establish a credible judicial system and ignores the Haitian constitution.

Griffin described a visit to the morgue in Port-au-Prince. He and others interviewed the director and workers, who revealed that 1,000 bodies were brought there in March, ten times the normal amount. Many had been shot with their hands tied behind them and plastic bags over their heads.

The delegation interviewed two Haitian human rights groups, the Committee of Advocates for Respect of Individual Liberties (CARLI) and the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR). Both proved to be closely linked to the Latortue regime and both receive funding from U.S. agencies and “private sources.” CARLI furnishes a daily list of names of Lavalas supporters to be read on radio broadcasts as “human rights abusers,” even though CARLI lawyers admit they had not investigated or spoken to the accused.

Interviews with community group leaders confirmed that Aristide supporters have been singled out to be murdered and their homes burned to the ground. Those not killed are in hiding and are pleading for protection or asylum in countries outside of Haiti. The 3,600-member “multinational military force” patrols the slum area of Port-au-Prince, but does not protect Aristide supporters.

The panelists described the new economic hardships imposed on the Haitian people. All the government-sponsored food, shelter and literacy programs ended with the coup. Unemployment, a long-term problem, has shot up to 70 percent. The average Haitian ate one meal per day before the coup, but now the prices of rice and other foods have doubled and most people, even those with jobs, are eating only about three times a week.

Dr. Frantz Latour, director of the Haitian Community Center here, said, “Eighty-nine years ago today U.S. Marines began a 19-year occupation of Haiti. But before leaving, the U.S. created the Haitian Army to enforce U.S. interests in Haiti. Today courageous citizens in Haiti, under the 33rd brutal coup, risk their lives to protest, and we will do the same.”

Similar press conferences were held in Miami, Chicago and Boston.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net.