I made the initial contacts, over a period of months in 2011, that led to a partnership between WikiLeaks, The Nation magazine, and Haiti Liberte to analyze and publish the cache of secret diplomatic cables from the Port-au-Prince Embassy.
The always-excellent Public Archive invited me to compile this retrospective of the important revelations showing the scope of US influence on Haiti. Check it out.
If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”
“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
Bradley Manning, “Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Revealed” Wired (July 2011).
Alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing is expected to end next week. In what little media coverage the trial has received so far, attention has focused more on the harsh conditions of Manning’s imprisonment than the disruptive political ramifications of having exposed the secret machinations of the most powerful nation in the world.
In one of the thousands of leaked diplomatic cables, former US Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described Haiti as a “small, poor nation in the shadow of the American behemoth.” Unsurprisingly, as the Atlantic Wire put it, the cables “highlight how America has been micromanaging and manhandling the Haitian government into aligning their policies with U.S. interests.”
Consider this less-than-comprehensive overview of the profound American impact on Haiti in three key areas, as revealed by Manning and WikiLeaks:
US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables…
It’s a cold Christmas night in Seattle and I’m up at 3 in the morning. I miss the warmth of Haiti.
Readers, I have a request. Does anyone remember Rose Mina Joseph?
I wrote about her back in September after breaking the news of abuses by UN soldiers caught on cell phone video in Port Salut, Haiti. Beyond the incident captured by the video, it turned out that soldiers from the local Uruguayan UN peacekeeper battalion had had children with a number of local Haitian women. UN regulations strongly advise against this, given the “unequal power” levels inherent in any such relationship. Some of the women (photos) and their children had been all but abandoned by soldiers who had finished their deployments to Haiti. But the soldiers are absolutely forbidden from having sex with minors, much less impregnating them. The country’s legal age for sexual consent is 18.
Rose Mina became pregnant five days after turning 17 last January. The father was Uruguayan peacekeeper Julio Posse, seen in the photo below of her birthday celebration. Posse was sent back to Uruguay last summer for what the UN later admitted was a “very serious breach of the Code of Conduct.” The UN mission said:
As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby.
According to Rose Mina, her son’s father sent a small amount of money once since her story was covered in the press. A flurry of journalists visited her in those days at the tiny ramshackle home she shares with her mother and uncle. They cook under a thatched roof covering behind the house.
Apparently I’m the only one who gave her a phone number before leaving. We’ve kept in touch since then. Normally Rose Mina is reserved and soft-spoken. She doesn’t say a whole lot. But on Friday she called me and was upset that I hadn’t called her sooner. I called her back.
She immediately launched into a long, flowing tirade against “Julio.” He told her he would send money again, but has not. Recently she called him and he claimed he couldn’t talk because he’d been in an accident. He picked up again when she called another day, sounding perfectly normal, then abruptly hung up on her.
Rose Mina is infuriated that he hasn’t followed through on his promises and has lied to her. She’s decided to name her son Anderson Joseph, instead of naming the boy after his father, as she had planned. For good measure, she called all the other journalists who interviewed her “thieves.”
Here are the text messages she sent me after we talked. She’s always had a funny way of writing. A translation:
“Hi, how are you? Where are you? I’m not doing well at all because the father doesn’t ever call me, he doesn’t send money for me and the child. Merry Christmas. . .Ansel hello, it’s Rose Mina. The foreigners in MINUSTAH never sent any small amount of money for the baby. Try to call them for me so they can send it for me. Merry Christmas.”
What happened that to the “continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby” pledged by the UN in the statement above? Hasn’t one of the UN’s many humanitarian agencies partnered with its peacekeeping mission to provide Rose Mina a minimal level of support?
No. When I first wrote the story, I pleaded with the woman who sent me that statement, the UN mission’s public information officer, to follow through on the helping Rose Mina and her child. The baby hadn’t been born yet. Rose Mina worried about not having enough money to pay the only hospital in the town.
A few weeks later, not long before she gave birth, I called the the PIO back. Once again, she brushed me off, assuring me someone was following up. Rose Mina said nothing happened. So from Port-au-Prince, I wired Rose Mina some money myself.
Here finally is the request. I’d like to wire Rose Mina some money again. But I’m barely keeping up with my work in Seattle. Just last week, I wired a friend in Cite Soleil $70 USD, in part because his mom died and the morgue was about to throw her body out (here’s a photo of the transfer). For Rose Mina, I’d like to encourage you to make a donation to this PayPal link. If y’all hit $50, I’ll throw in $50 myself and we’ll send her an even $100. Maybe we can do even more than that. If anyone needs more documentation to feel comfortable about donating, let me know. The dollars that you donate to my PayPal account will simply reimburse me for $50 of the wire transfer, which I’ll send using my credit card and Western Union at a local Vietnamese market. I’ll update this post with a photo of the the transfer receipt and again when I get word that Rose Mina has received it.
That’s pretty much it. I don’t like asking for money, nobody does. But I’m just a little too upset and not quite rich enough to not try this. Especially with all the buying stuff and gift giving going on around these parts. Rose Mina deserves better.
As does another close friend, who was promised assistance from two large, well-known international aid organizations. They removed her (and by extension her five children) from a beneficiary list without informing her or apologizing. But that, like so much of what goes in Haiti, is another story – yet it’s really the same at its core. Haitians and their nation are treated as less than sovereign with rights.
Update: Wow! This worked quickly. In the seven hours since I posted this, two readers have donated $75 between them. I was expecting more of a series of smaller donations. I’ll chip in $25, save my other $25 for someone else or a future remittance to Rose Mina, and send out the wire transfer as soon as I can (photo forthcoming). Thank you Nathan Yaffe and Kathleen O’Flynn. (If you’d still like to make a donation to Rose Mina, just label it “for Rose Mina” in the purpose line in PayPal checkout.)
*Rose Mina gave me permission to share all this with you. Additionally, you or I could both try contacting the UN mission’s PIO Sylvie van den Wildenberg at 011 509 3702 9042 or email@example.com, but that’s likely to go nowhere. And please let me know if you have an idea for how to help Rose Mina in a non-financial way, such as linking her with effective legal counsel or a women’s group with a presence in Port Salut. Finally, I want to note that while I try to act in such a way that doesn’t lead someone consider me as an exploitative person or a thief, I have never given nor offered a source or interviewee money before publishing an article. On occasion, it’s something I’ve volunteered well after whatever journalistic work I’ve done involving them has been completed.
Just a few comments: I don’t think it’s all that productive to curse at the cops. I tried to be an observer – I wasn’t saying anything or holding a sign, and I complied with all police orders. Some protesters did not immediately clear the intersection once the order to disperse was given. But when the police advanced in formation with pepper spray, protesters did peacefully clear the intersection.
For all their hyperbole, the guys yelling at the cops were accurate in pointing out that people were, at that point, standing on the sidewalk. When one protester seemed to puff his chest out, face-to-face with a cop, they grabbed him behind their police line and seemed to pile on top of him. As I tried to get it on camera, I was hit with a blast of pepper spray directly to the face. I saw it as it reached my eyes.
The protesters were well organized in helping me wash my eyes out (I feel they should have been better organized in communicating the objective of occupying the intersection to the public, but if anyone forgets what this is all about, see here). I wandered in a daze over to the “triage” area, where my eyes were doused a few more times, providing fleeting relief from the pain. But I couldn’t see much of anything and my whole upper body felt like it was on fire for a good 40 minutes, with a recurrence earlier this evening. Not my best look.
I hate to imagine the suffering that this 84-year-old woman went through after being sprayed. SPD’s use of pepper spray tonight was reckless and unnecessary and it surely has the effect, whether intentionally or not, of intimidating people from joining or even being near the Occupy movement.
Seattle, I’ve missed you.
Update 11/17: A couple things to add here. The NYT Lede blog posted this video in a round-up of Occupy news with the following observation. I think they’re right.
The police spokesman’s account said: “At one point a 17-year-old female suspect swung a stick at an officer but failed to strike him. As officers moved in to arrest the female suspect the officers were hindered in their efforts. Officers deployed pepper spray to move subjects away from them so they could affect the arrest of the female suspect.”
It seems possible that the protester seized by police officers and hurled to the ground in Mr. Herz’s video might have been a young woman wearing a hooded sweatshirt, rather than a man. If that is the arrest described in the police statement, the footage does not support the written account, since there was no sign of anyone swinging a stick, and the initial volley of pepper spray was fired well before the police moved to take that person into custody. Continue reading
I’ve taken a reporting/blogging position in Seattle, my hometown, with the very cool Common Language Project. It’s a move I’ve been planning for a while.
“Ou poko ap vini?” “M poko konnen ki lè m ka vini anko non.”
That is to say, I don’t know when I can visit again or return. I am hoping it can be soon.
Upon learning of my imminent departure, another foreigner asked if I wasn’t going to have a “going away party.” The thought hadn’t occurred to me. My “party” turned out to be eating tonm tonm and diri sos pwa on a Sunday afternoon with a friend and her kids (and a “pi red blan”). Good times.
I’m going to miss Haiti.
I’ll miss folks yelling “blan,” “blanco,” “mon blan,” and “hey you,” at me in the street. I’ll miss the ability to instantly surprise and delight them by responding in their language (a beautiful one, and I don’t mean French).
I’ll miss Haitian cuisine, which kicks American food’s ass any day of the week. I’ll especially miss lam veritab, pate, mangos, zabokas, diri sos pwa, lalou and Malta H. Haiti’s bananas are better than American bananas too.
I’ll miss the near-total lack of enforced traffic laws and zooming about on a Chinese motorcycle. I won’t miss the traffic. And I won’t miss the shiny NGO-stickered sport utility vehicles and foreign military patrols that overpopulate the streets.
I’ll miss living in a football-crazy culture where everyone recognizes my soccer jerseys and interrogates me about my team loyalties. I’ll miss slipping, sliding, and falling during gravel-strewn street games, trying to prove (with mixed success) that a ti blan kap jwe too.
I’ll miss widespread class consciousness and impassioned political discussions over lunch and in tap-taps. I dread integrating back into a far more depoliticized, ignorant, corporate media-saturated society – though maybe I’m being overly pessimistic.
I’ll miss walking home, feeling reflective, and being momentarily awed by the sheer strength and dignity of the Haitian people as they go about their business: laborers, machanns, students, drivers, police, etc.. I won’t miss the first question I often I received: Can you get me a job with an aid group?
I’ll miss being useful. My conscience (stricken with credible proposition that I’m betraying Haiti by leaving now) is a little bit eased knowing I broke some important stories professionally, and on a person-to-person level, I materially helped out various friends, neighbors, and strangers alike.
This list falls well short of being comprehensive.
I will miss Weed, Elizabeth, Mark, Feindy, Claudy, Esraie, Billy, Junior, Yvon, Nesly, Jonas, Lovely, Rose-Marie, Marie-Michel, Rose Mina, Johnny’s father, and others.
Nap wè. I will be back, a harder, better, faster, stronger journalist. And I expect to keep writing about Haiti, from time to time, while lòt bò.
“The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely to impose NECESSARY ILLUSIONS to manipulate and deceive [whom THEY believe are] the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena.” -Noam Chomsky
I once argued with an Associated Press reporter about whether his bureau does more to aid and comfort foreign power-brokers in Haiti, like those who work out of the massive US Embassy in Port-au-Prince, than to investigate and hold them accountable. (I did not contend that every single AP report is slavish propaganda. They do some very good reporting at times.)
I said that the AP makes political choices to pay attention to certain stories and people, but not others (at the time, it was the remarks of Ricardo Seitenfus). On a few important issues, especially those surrounding former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his political party Fanmi Lavalas, its reporting often toes the line of the US government.
Distortions of the truth, regardless of their political slant, don’t serve the public well. Here’s an unfortunate example of exact convergence between propaganda from the AP and the US Embassy itself.
On Friday, at least a thousand people took to the streets in Cite Soleil to commemorate the bloody 1991 coup d’etat against Aristide. I’m being conservative when I say at least a thousand.A Haitian friend (not a Lavalas supporter) viewed the video and said it looked like 3000. To me, having been on the ground, it looked like 2000. The Haitian journalist who shot the video on my camera said it was 1500. Other Haitian journalists walking down the street in the afternoon said they were coming from another march in Bel-Air, apart from Cite Soleil, that disbanded before I could get there.
Trenton Daniel, the AP correspondent, appeared to arrive way late to the Cite Soleil march, after most of the marchers had gone home. He reported: “Thousands of supporters greeted Aristide upon his return earlier this year, but a crowd of only about 200 people showed up for the rally.”
This is simply factually inaccurate. The AP needs to make a correction. I’ve tweeted and emailed since Friday – no response.
But it also betrays poor editorial judgment. As a friend pointed out:
What on earth compelled Trenton Daniel to compare the turnout at Aristide’s arrival after YEARS of exile in another continent with the possibility of seeing Aristide in person to a neighborhood-organized rally based around the commemoration of the 1991 coup?! That’s the real point here–even if there WERE only 200, how can that give anyone a meaningful indicator as to the dynamics of the movement, whether support is waning, etc.?! That’s an editorial decision to link those two events to each other, and is specious.
This is to say nothing of how the AP regularly describes Aristide as being ousted by a “rebellion,” rather than using language that at least acknowledges the well-documented allegations that the US forced him from power in a second coup d’etat.
Almost two years ago, in December 2009, I covered a demonstration by Aristide supporters calling for his return to Haiti and decrying exclusionary elections. The video I shot of the protest is on a hard drive in the States at the moment, but photos can be viewed here. Reuters reported, “Several thousand protesters joined in the protest march, which marked Aristide’s rise to power as Haiti’s first democratically elected president in December 1990.”
The next day, Kenneth Merten, the current US Ambassador to Haiti, described how a “small” “crowd of approximately 150 persons marched around downtown before heading to the electoral authority’s offices” in a cable to State Department headquarters entitled “Fanmi Lavalas Fails to Mobilize Its Base.”
Maybe it’s willful self-delusion. Maybe he just showed up late. But like Trenton Daniel of the AP, Merten seized on the artificial crowd estimate to make to make political claims about Fanmi Lavalas’ lack of popularity.
“This demonstration was markedly different from the late 1990s when Lavalas could easily fill the streets with thousands of protestors, and indicates the extent to which the party has lost its power. Even two years ago, party organizers could count on two thousand supporters to take to the streets.”
At least triple of “two thousand supporters” took to the streets that day.
Videoblog sidebar: UN Troops Go After An Alleged Thief (And Their Own Interpreter)
Above, one of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyers, Reynold Georges, attempts to shout over Gerardo Ducos, a researcher for Amnesty International, as he speaks to reporters today about his organization’s call for prosecuting the former dictator.
Below, audio of a small portion of the yelling by Georges and one of his associates, along with comments from James Burke, an Amnesty International campaigner for the Caribbean, and later Georges again. (MP3)
Update: Here’s Amnesty Int’l’s official response to what happened: “Jean-Claude Duvalier’s lawyers and a dozen of his supporters tried to gag Amnesty International and Haitian journalists during the presentation of the organization’s report ‘You cannot kill the truth': The case against Jean-Claude Duvalier, on 22 September in Port-au-Prince.”
Here’s a round-up of some of odds and ends that I haven’t gotten around to posting until now.
First, there’s this piece for Haiti Liberte: WikiLeaks Reveal: Expecting Civilian Deaths, US Embassy Approved of Deadly Attack on Crowded Haitian Slum. The article describes how a top Embassy official agreed with private sector leaders like Reginald Boulos, who now holds influence over Haiti’s reconstruction, that MINUSTAH should attack Cite Soleil knowing full well that innocent Haitians would be killed by the “peacekeepers” during the operation.
For more on the Port Salut abuses, there are these interviews I did with Democracy Now!, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and if you speak Spanish, this Uruguayan media outlet. The five soldiers accused of abusing Johnny Jean in the video are reported to have been jailed in Uruguay pending sentencing. 17-year-old Rose Mina Joseph, who was pregnant with a Uruguayan soldier’s child when this was published, gave birth to a healthy boy a few days ago. She told me yesterday she hasn’t been able to reach the father in Uruguay to tell him yet, but that when they last talked he said he’d seen an article about her.
Amnesty International issued an action alert that you can participate in about the eviction threat to Camp Mosaic, which I reported on a few weeks ago. And this interview with Dr. Renaud Piarroux about cholera and its origins in Haiti is well worth reading.
Finally, I’d like to shout out this heartfelt and insightful reflection from Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera’s post-quake Haiti correspondent (check out his new film, produced in part by Haitian journalist Yvon Vilius), especially this part: “I would have liked to stay in Haiti forever. If you spend any significant time there, you will believe, as I did, that Haiti deserves to be on the front page of every newspaper, every single day. It is a permanent, urgent and unjustified humanitarian tragedy.”
I feel the same way. To me, it’s not just the humanitarian tragedy that makes Haiti worthy of front page coverage every day, but the extraordinary way that tragedy is politically and internationally maintained. There are stark political choices (some examples) that keep Haiti mired in this state which implicate a wide range of powerful groups in Haiti and across the globe. Sebastian’s team did a great job of exposing many of them while listening to and projecting the voices of ordinary Haitians.
This contrasts with some recently sloppy reporting by the Associated Press. An anti-MINUSTAH protest march last Wednesday was completely peaceful from the start, when it was confronted by MINUSTAH soldiers in a jeep, very nearly until it reached its destination in Chanmas. When the march arrived near the palace, Haitian police immediately began launching tear gas canisters, to which the protesters responded by throwing rocks. This can be observed in a video I produced.
The Associated Press team was not present at that time, to my knowledge. I saw them walking down towards the protests hours later, after many of the demonstrators had left and only a small band of rock-throwers remained. But the AP wrote that protesters had “fled into” the camps in Chanmas (they may have since improved the language from the original article), which I did not observe (one resident of the tent camp told me he did not blame the protesters for the tear gas). The AP did not even mention the peaceful march. And today, another AP article reduces all recent anti-UN protests in Haiti to “rock-throwing.” I already pointed out some serious flaws in their initial reporting on the Port Salut abuses.
They should do better. Update: One of the AP’s photographers may have been present as the march itself reached Chanmas.
Or is living with swarms of mosquitoes and an overpowering stench in the area an acceptable level of suffering for Haitians? They’re resilient people, after all.
Interviewed in the video is Dantes Eseck, whose house is directly across from the UN peacekeeping base (there are two different bases) in Port Salut. His house is visible on the left at the 16 second mark. He’s a painter and his wife is a teacher. I wasn’t able to show in the video, but the manhole seen at the beginning is one of several spaced out evenly with connecting pipes along a dirt road leading to the base, and not further.
Check out this photo gallery to get a better view.
Below is a MINUSTAH spokeswoman’s official response. Here is the UN’s response in New York.
II. WASTE MANAGMENT SYSTEM
Whenever there is a technical problem related to sanitation and waste management issues, being in Port Salut or in other areas of Haiti, MINUSTAH discusses them with the local authorities, with whom it coordinates all necessary efforts in order to solve it and keep improving the sanitation and waste management system. Important surveillance measures also exist and inspection teams are regularly dispatched to the field to monitor/test the waste and sanitation systems.
MINUSTAH is not the only player in this chain of waste management. There are several other actors, including the companies in charge of garbage, waste collection, the local authorities, the state of infrastructures in the country as well as the riverine population.
MINUSTAH is currently in the process of installing water treatment plants in its bases, in order to be fully independent in the whole chain of waste management and be able to control the process for A to Z.
I’ve been asked a number of times how I obtained the cell phone of the apparent assault by Uruguayan UN troops on Johnny Jean. The answer is simple: The video is circulating on cell phones in Port Salut. On Wednesday, after speaking with the family at the courthouse, they allowed me to make a copy off the victim’s cousin’s phone.
More interesting is how the video was initially obtained, through what local activist Ernso Valentin called, “the strategy of the population.” Yesterday evening I found the two young men who, by all accounts, swiped the video from a soldier’s phone. They explained to me what happened – about a week after July 18, they said, the date of the assault. It all started with an upbeat, pulsating Spanish song (which I stupidly mistook for Konpas at first).
Viaud Fegens: “Me and Jean-Michel were passing by the base. A soldier named Leo called out to us. I went and sat down and he to put the music on his telephone.”
Leveille Jean-Michel: “We were listening to some music and he liked it.”
VF: “We’ve passed by the base before playing Spanish music. This time, he liked it. He asked me to put it on his phone and he gave me his phone. So I went into his phone to see if it had cool things or nice videos on it. I took his phone, and I’m looking inside to see what it has on it. Then, I came upon the video! When I saw the video, I said [to Jean Michel], ‘Hey look at this!’ The soldier went to sit down. So we’re looking at the phone, and we see the video. I said, ‘Look, that’s my cousin. My cousin, Johnny.’ I’m looking at it and I see what they did. I said, ‘Oh mezami [roughly translates to holy crap]!’ I transmitted the video via Bluetooth onto this phone. I said, ‘Go give him his phone.’ So then I have the video, I’m watching it again, and it’s dominating me. It’s giving me problems [in my head]. So then later, we had a meeting across from the Commiseriat. MINUSTAH was there. We talked about everything bad that MINUSTAH does in Port Salut. They’re dumping their trash in aviation… Now when we come to the subject of what they did to Johnny, they said they don’t believe it happened. Then we showed them the proof. The MINUSTAH chief saw the video, and he’s shocked! He sweats!”
LJM: “He’s afraid. He’s afraid.”
VF: “There were three of them. The deputy was there too. He asked us to transmit it by Bluetooth for him. We did it. He looks again, he watches again, and he’s shocked, sweating.”
LJM: “It was weighing on me since I saw that. I was shocked when I was seeing it, it made me feel terrible. They committed the act but they didn’t want people outside to know about it. Yes, I thought it was rape. Because he’s yelling, ‘Help!'””
VF: “He’s saying, “Problem, problem, that he’s in a problem.” And they pulled down his pants. The video is proof. Because when they saw it, they could see what the soldiers did. Everyone who sees this video can see what happens. I heard about the protest tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll attend. But MINUSTAH represents a force in the country. It’s MINUSTAH that helped created a situation where we don’t have war or gunfire. They gave us some calm. But they violated a young man, they’re dumping trash, [AH: didn’t understand this part]… this isn’t good. We didn’t have these things in our country. It’s them who gave us cholera. We never had these things before.”
Viaud’s mother is worried. “Are they going to be ok? I’m scared. Will something happen to them?” she kept asking me. I left my number and tried to assure her that nothing bad would happen.
Update 9/16/11: After removing the photo and the boys names on the advice of some commenters, I’ve just restored them. I’m in touch with the boys and they want recognition for what they did. Viaud specifically asked that his photo and name be included. His mother never objected.