I’ve had the privilege of being involved in the launch of the Seattle Globalist, a “hyperglobal” blog that covers everything international-related in Seattle (and there is a lot to cover). I designed the website and contributed some 17 blog entries about the city’s connections to the wider world – everything from the Libyan revolution to Tibetan civil disobedience, and more.
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…
On Saturday, the Filipino activist group AnakBayan Seattle will celebrate its tenth anniversary as the first overseas chapter of the democratic youth organization, which is based in the Philippines.
But the history of Filipinos fighting for dignity and respect in Seattle reaches back further to over a century ago. This history isn’t taught in schools, and there are few, if any, public monuments to its impact.
On a rainy November afternoon, Joaquin Uy, one of the founding members of AnakBayan Seattle, showed how the struggles of Filipino writers, poets, workers, and community organizers are woven into this city’s brick and concrete. The past came alive as Uy guided us on a historical tour from the International District, to a dilapidated downtown street corner, to the steps of King County Courthouse, and finally to a hilltop Queen Anne cemetery after dark. To learn this history, watch this video of the tour below.
In early March, Bill Clinton showed he is learning the lessons of Haiti’s man-made disasters. Far from natural byproducts of the nation itself, the widespread poverty, misery and deaths among Haitians have an awful lot to do with mistakes made by influential foreigners.
After the January 2010 earthquake, Clinton acknowledged that he was wrong to champion agricultural trade policies during his presidency that benefitted “some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but damaged the livelihoods of Haitian peasant farmers.
Those policies helped drive Haitians out of the countryside into overcrowded, shoddily-built urban slums in Port-au-Prince, where many of them perished in the quake. Earthquakes of that magnitude don’t kill tens of thousands of people in industrialized countries.
“I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else,” Clinton said in testimony before the U.S. Senate.
On March 7, Clinton candidly admitted to having learned another lesson from another man-made tragedy in Haiti—the October 2010 cholera outbreak which has killed more than 7,000 and made sick at least 500,000 Haitians.
At a press conference at a new hospital in Mirebalais, with United Nations troops standing guard outside, I asked him whether he agreed with recent comments by the American ambassador to the UN that those responsible for the cholera’s introduction to Haiti should be “held accountable.”
Cholera was alien to Haiti and the Caribbean prior to the outbreak. Multiple scientific studies have pinpointed UN peacekeeping troops as the definitive or most likely source of imported cholera bacteria from Nepal to central Haiti.
Clinton sidestepped the question, at one point calling that decision “above his pay grade.” He receives a symbolic $1 per year salary from the UN as its special envoy to Haiti.
But he also became the first UN representative to acknowledge the truth that’s long been in plain sight, ever since reporters captured shocking images of waste from the Mirebalais UN peacekeeping base flowing into Haiti’s waterways.
“I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera to Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” Clinton said. (It is a bacterium, not a virus.) Continue reading
With the news this morning of new sexual exploitation allegations involving minors against UN peacekeeping personnel in Haiti, I wanted to flag this follow-up ABC News piece to the story we broke last September, published earlier this month. The peacekeeping troops accused of sexually abusing the young man in Port Salut have been released from custody. The impunity I described in detail here continues:
The case against five United Nations peacekeepers caught on tape in an alleged sexual assault on a Haitian teenager has apparently stalled and the accused soldiers have been freed, a UN official has confirmed.
The men were sent back to Uruguay last summer to face trial after cell phone video obtained by ABC News appeared to show uniformed soldiers assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian as he is held down on a mattress in a UN compound in Port Salut, Haiti. The video shows soldiers in their UN uniforms, one of them with his pants down. The victim’s mother said her son was taken inside the base by five UN soldiers who accused him of making fun of them.
“They beat and maltreated him,” Rose-Marie Jean told ABC News in an interview. “Two raped him from behind.”
The release of the accused men comes at an unsettling time for the UN in Haiti, two years after a devastating earthquake rocked the struggling island nation, and three months after the grainy video of the alleged assault triggered street protests from those who believe international peacekeepers are able to abuse Haitian citizens with impunity. Since the video surfaced, more UN peacekeepers — this time from Brazil — have been accused of beating Haitian civilians. Read the rest →
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
PORT-AU-PRINCE (IPS) – Workers in Haiti’s apparel manufacturing sector charge that factory owners are repressing attempts to organise workers in the capital, after the dismissals of six of seven leading members of a new union within just two weeks of its formation.
The new union, Sendika Ouvriye Takstil ak Abiman (SOTA), is recognised by the Haitian government and supported by the Haitian union federation Batay Ouvriye, which organised the only other textile workers’ union in the country on the border with the Dominican Republic in 2006.
Judeline Pierre, a rail-thin 44-year-old mother who works at the Sonapi Industrial Park near Port-au-Prince’s airport, said she has been secretly attending union meetings organised by Batay Ouvriye for months.
In her bag, she carries a wrinkled, folded-up flyer calling for better conditions in the factories. She said she had to hide her involvement in the union, “because as soon as you start to assert your rights, they fire you. They’ve fired many operators for that.”
Textile factories in Port-au-Prince employ about 29,000 people, in a country of nine million with an estimated unemployment rate of 80 percent, according to the U.S. Embassy. The minimum wage is about five dollars per day, though some workers earn more by exceeding production quotas.
A handful of contractors run the factories, assembling and exporting duty-free garments for U.S. companies like Hanes and The Gap under the terms of a preferential U.S.-Haiti trade deal known as the HOPE programme.
Two Haitian factory owners, Charles Baker, whose factory fired one of the union-connected workers, and George Sassine, the head of the owners’ industry association and executive director of the HOPE programme, told IPS they were not opposed to unions in principle and that recent worker firings are justified.
“These incidents, they have nothing to do with people trying to form a union,” Sassine told IPS. “Now suddenly, the whole international community is on my back telling me I’m against people organising.”
Sassine said he believes Batay Ouvriye aims to completely shut down factories, rather than merely organise workers.
Stepping out of his air-conditioned office onto a buzzing, 1,640- worker-strong factory floor, Baker gestured around, “If they want to unionise, they can unionise. But they need to do it in the right way.” He said he fired a man handing out flyers during work hours and interrupting production.
Between the workers and the factory owners is Better Work Haiti, a nine-person team funded by the U.S. Department of Labour charged with monitoring labour conditions in Haiti’s textile factories. The group will issue a fact-finding report on the alleged firings of SOTA members next month.
Better Work Haiti’s third biannual report on compliance with International Labour Organisation standards was released two weeks ago. It found violations of some occupational health and safety and minimum wage regulations in over 80 percent of the factories, but in the four “core” labour standards, compliance rates are near perfect.
Richard Lavallée, Better Work Haiti’s director, said the factory owners “are fully engaged in the programme” and praised the steady improvements in compliance with core standards over the last two years.
The fourth core standard is the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The latest report identifies just two instances of non-compliance, including a 12-day-long strike in May which resulted in the firings of 140 workers.
But the low non-compliance rate is potentially misleading. “Although no non-compliance findings are cited in the current report under Union Operations,” the report notes, there are “very significant challenges related to the rights of workers to freely form, join and participate in independent trade unions”.
“If you look at the reports, in Haiti there is only one unionised factory (in Ouanaminthe) out of 23 operating factories. In the factories in Port-au-Prince, there are no unions. We don’t have any evidence,” Lavallée said.
He explained that if a factory owner fires a person for trying to organise workers, it won’t be noted in the employee records reviewed by his team. Continue reading
“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)