Patrick Elie (who has taught me much of what I know about Haiti) was in Toronto last night giving the Toronto Haiti Action Coalition an update on what is happening in Haiti.
Patrick came in So Ann’s stead (I interviewed her in prison in 2005). So Ann needed to rest, according to her doctors, after a tremendous burst of activity following her two years in prison (trips to New York, Florida, Montreal).
Some highlights from his talk.
-The election of Preval and his accession to power were a major victory by the Haitian people against all of the foreign powers and interference stacked against them.
-Preval has been able to do a few things – free some political prisoners, though not all, but there are very major constraints on the new government’s ability to act. These are:
1. The Haitian government is very new. It was elected just over a year ago, but Preval was only sworn in months later and the rest of the government inagurated still after that. So the new government’s term can be measured in months.
2. Over the past three years – and more generally since 1995 – the Americans (and Canadians and French) have systematically taken over the Haitian National Police (PNH). The Americans are in charge of hiring, selection, vetting, training. And the PNH are in charge of everything in Haiti, from dealing with crime and security to presidential security. So not only is Haiti still occupied by most of the world’s militaries in the form of MINUSTAH, Preval also has to contend with a National Police that is under the control of foreigners.
3. Haiti, a starving and devastated country, was further starved by the cut to all aid imposed by Canada, the US, etc., since 2000. Donor countries promised to get the money flowing to the country again, but it isn’t yet. In particular, what was called the “social appeasement fund” would have reduced tensions in the popular neighbourhoods very significantly. But the donors have not come up with the money.
Patrick sees a lot of hope in the young leaders of the popular movement. These young people have taken the brunt of the armed violence by the coupsters and invaders, while a lot of the political leaders – with a large number of honorable exceptions – accomodated themselves to the coup and invasion. What Patrick is working on is a “popular university” initiative to give these young leaders what he calls “ideological armor” – some political training and capacity-building to respond to the changing situation. They have no lack of courage, but the war against Lavalas has been devastating to the people’s organizing capacity. That has to be rebuilt in a way that can withstand the sorts of attacks that are ongoing, and that are coming.
Patrick emphasized that we could learn a lot from each other – if solidarity from Canada or the US is important to Haiti, then there are also things, like Canada’s new no-fly list, quietly making its way through Parliament, that wouldn’t pass in Haiti because people would mobilize against it. It was good to hear from a real strategist. I got the feeling we could use a few more of that sort here.