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Resistance to Martelly regime grows in Haiti

November 16, 2012

by Ben Terrall

The family of Haitian President Michel Martelly – Olivier, Malaika, First Lady Sophia, Yanni and Sandro – stand tall for his inauguration in May 2011. Since then, during their frequent travels, the per diem they are paid by the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is $20,000 for Martelly, $10,000 for his wife, $7,500 for each of his children and $4,000 for others in his inner circle daily, according to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles. – Photo: Bossip
Haitian President Michel Martelly has managed to inspire popular opposition to his regime almost since his election in May 2011. Martelly, who came to office in a grossly unrepresentative process which excluded Lavalas, the country’s most popular party (see http://sfbayview.com/2012/haitis-constitutional-horror-show/), has been closely linked with figures around former dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.

That in itself is enough to garner distrust among the majority of Haitians. Martely warmly welcomed the January 2011 Haitian return of Baby Doc, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, after the despot’s decades of luxurious exile in France.

The demobilization of the widely feared Haitian military was probably the most popular act of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was twice ousted in U.S.-backed coups which Martelly supported. Martelly’s announcement in September 2011 that he intended to bring back the Haitian military was the first of many unpopular moves. Martelly also sang the praises of well armed paramilitaries who emerged in militia camps in early 2012.

In October 2011, Martelly ordered the arrest of a sitting member of Parliament, Arnel Belizaire. The president targeted Belizaire after a verbal altercation. Two of Martelly’s government ministers roughed up Port-au-Prince airport security employees after an unauthorized entry into a high-level security area during Belizaire’s arrest, in a manner reminscent of Duvalier’s Ton Ton Macoute death squad. The illegal arrest and violence resulted in popular opposition which forced Martelly to let Belizaire go free.

In early February 2012, just before carnival, Martelly marched with a band in the streets and then decided to crash an international conference at the State University’s Ethnology School. Denied entrance, Martelly’s thugs attacked students, arresting and wounding several. University property was also damaged.

Martelly’s announcement in September 2011 that he intended to bring back the Haitian military was the first of many unpopular moves.

In early 2012 popular sentiment grew against the announced reinstatement of the military, along with opposition to forced evictions of earthquake survivors in refugee camps. In the community of Jalouzi, impoverished people who had been living in the neighborhood for generations were given notice to leave in order to create a more pristine view for a new luxury hotel. Opposition to bulldozing of these residents led to a number of demonstrations between May and July of 2012.

Also in July 2012, veteran activists with MOLEGHAF (Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity), an organization spearheading Port-au-Prince demonstrations, were arrested on dubious charges. One of the activists was subsequently transferred to the extremely overcrowded and inhumane national penitentiary.

Martelly compounded these insults to free speech with his behavior toward reporters. In a September 2012 report, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti documented “intimidation, threats, destruction of their media equipment and retaliation by President Martelly and his administration against progressive journalists for critical reporting, which has created an atmosphere of fear and a chilling effect on journalists’ freedom of expression.”

Haitians have been on the march to show their opposition to current President Martelly and their support for former President Aristide.
Corruption scandals have bedeviled Martelly. Award-winning Dominican journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 – later reported in Time Magazine – that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican Republic construction company would receive contracts under his presidency.

When travelling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, Martelly gets $20,000 a day, his wife $10,000 a day, his children $7,500 and others in his inner circle get $4,000 daily.

Questionable new taxes have also fed controversy. A $1.50 tax on money transfers and a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls to Haiti are alleged to support education, but the poor majority continue to face unaffordable school fees and critics say no money from this tax has gone to schools. Moreover, Haitian teachers have been marching to demand back pay. Martelly’s new taxes were not ratified by or presented to Haiti’s Parliament, making them illegal. Critics also charge that these funds are being managed by a firm owned by Martelly and his close associate, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe.

Combined with popular outrage at Martelly’s proposed changes to the Haitian consitution and the oppressive cost of living, strikes and other actions spread throughout Haiti in September and October of this year. On Sept. 30, the anniversary of the 1991 coup d’etat against democratically elected President Aristide, large crowds took to the streets in protest against Martelly’s policies and his support of that coup.

On Oct. 10, Haiti Liberte reported, “Large crowds are now calling on President Martelly to step down, accusing his government of embezzlement, waste, corruption, nepotism, drug trafficking, lying, bluffing and failure to keep its promises.” Cap Haitien, Gonaives, Nippes, Jeremie, Les Cayes, Petit Goave, Trou-du-Nord, Fort-Liberte, Belladere and Port-au-Prince all experienced anti-Martelly demonstrations, some swelling to thousands of protesters, in early October.

One such action occurred Oct. 4 in Petit Goave, when President Martelly inaugurated 1 km of road funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Martelly’s security guards clubbed protestors, burned motorcycles and fired tear gas, which killed an octogenarian Haitian.

Haiti Liberte reported, “Large crowds are now calling on President Martelly to step down, accusing his government of embezzlement, waste, corruption, nepotism, drug trafficking, lying, bluffing and failure to keep its promises.”

More recently, in reaction to the government’s lackluster aid after widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy, activists in Grand Goave barricaded roads to show their outrage. The Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity has been holding weekly demonstrations for social justice in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs.

On Thursday, Nov.8, that group joined four other grassroots organizations – Platform de Employees des Enterprises Publique, Fanm Geto Leve, Rezistans Neg Geto and Debats Jeunes – in staging a mass protest against the Martelly government. The demonstration brought thousands into the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Protestors demanded an end to waste and corruption, rehiring of public employees sacked through privatization of state run enterprises, and “aba gran gou woz” or “down with pink hunger’’ – pink being the color of Martelly’s political party, hunger being the chronic state of Haiti’s masses. The protesters united in marching against the entire neoliberal agenda, which Haitians have been calling “the death plan” since the late 1980s.

While anti-Martelly demonstrations have rocked Haiti, right wing pressure on human rights activists has escalated.

Mario Joseph heads the International Lawyers Office (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux) in Haiti.
Along with pressure on journalists, among those targeted by rightists have been Mario Joseph, Newton Saint Juste and Andre Michel, three Haitian attorneys who have been outspoken in their defense of human rights. The Haiti Action Committee recently released an alert in support of the three embattled lawyers. (See below.)

An Amnesty International alert called Joseph “a prominent human rights lawyer who is involved in sensitive judicial cases such as proceedings against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, complaints against the U.N. for their alleged involvement in spreading the cholera epidemic in Haiti, and cases of forced evictions of people made homeless after the earthquake.” The Amnesty report continues, “As head of the International Lawyers Office (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux), he addressed the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights last July, requesting to visit Haiti to investigate human rights violations.”

When a Haitian judge dismissed political violence charges against Jean-Claude Duvalier on Jan. 30, 2012, Attorney Joseph held a press conference denouncing the judge’s order as legally baseless and politically motivated. After the press conference, which was attended by many journalists and widely reported in Haitian media, Joseph received regular violent threats on his telephone.

The caller never gave identifying information, and always called from lines that could not be traced. The caller said, “We are going to kill you,” “We are going to put a bullet in you,” “We are going to burn down the BAI office” or similar threats.

While anti-Martelly demonstrations have rocked Haiti, right wing pressure on human rights activists has escalated.

Joseph is now the leading lawyer for victims in the prosecution of Duvalier. The Duvalier regime killed or imprisoned tens of thousands of political opponents, while stealing hundreds of millions of dollars designated for development of Haiti’s infrastructure and economy. When Duvalier returned to Haiti in January 2011, Joseph began representing victims of Duvalier’s bloody regime and working with international human rights groups to develop international support for the prosecution.

Duvalier still has many supporters in Haiti, some of whom are armed and have a history of killing political opponents. Many Duvalier victims contacted by Joseph and his colleagues, even some living in the U.S., refuse to testify out of fear of retaliation. In September, a group of the former dictator’s supporters and lawyers closed down a press conference in Port-au-Prince, where Joseph’s clients and other Duvalier victims were scheduled to speak in support of an Amnesty International report calling for Duvalier’s prosecution.

Saint Juste and Michel are, with Joseph, among the most outspoken critics of the Martelly administration. They have also been targets of death threats at their homes and offices.

On Oct. 17, Michel, representing 77 grassroots organizations, wrote to the U.N. peacekeeping head, Mariano Fernandez, denouncing the presence of the U.N. mission in Haiti. The letter read that the 1987 Constitution has been put on hold “because the presence of U.N. troops is a hindrance to its application.”

Michel and Saint Juste recently traveled to Washington to describe the situation in Haiti to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Haitian human rights attorneys Newton Saint Juste and Andre Michel testify in the U.S. to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October.
The two lawyers also met with human rights organizations, members of Congress and the State Department on the issue of corruption in the presidential family. Together with American lawyers, they plan to initiate prosecutions for money laundering against Martelly’s family.

Saint Juste and Michel have been key figures in attacking alleged schemes by which Martelly set up his wife and son as head of projects syphoning off large amounts of state monies and over which the Haitian Senate has no jurisdiction. Saint Juste has sued the Martelly family, saying they are wasting government money without any accountability.

Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee told me: “Our sisters and brothers in Haiti need international solidarity as they stand up to continued attacks on popular democracy. The Martelly regime has shown what it is about, and, as the Occupy Movement would put it, the 99 percent in Haiti have had enough of the 1 percent elites around Martelly.” Labossiere urged concerned readers to stay in touch via www.haitisolidarity.net.

Ben Terrall is a San Francisco writer who works with the Haiti Action Committee. He can be reached at bterrall@gmail.com.

Stop the attacks on attorney Mario Joseph and other human rights advocates in Haiti

by the Haiti Action Committee

The Haiti Action Committee denounces the attempts to silence and threaten Mario Joseph, Newton Saint Juste and Andre Michel, three Haitian attorneys who have been outspoken in their defense of human rights.

Mr. Joseph, Mr. Saint Juste and Mr. Michel have been targeted for arrest by the Minister of Justice in Haiti and have received numerous death threats at their homes and offices. We fear for their safety.

As Haitians stand up to demand food, decent housing and an end to the inhumane conditions within the tent cities still dominating the landscape of Port-au-Prince, the government’s response has been repression and threats.

As Haitian children face the prospect of losing a year of school while public funds are diverted to support the extravagant lifestyle of the president and his family, the government responds by trying to silence opposition. And when human rights attorneys defend the right to peaceful protest, they are faced with death threats and government attack.

The United States government and the United Nations occupying force (MINUSTAH) bear great responsibility for this situation. Both the U.N. and the U.S. State Department put their weight behind a farcical, illegitimate electoral process that propelled Martelly into the presidency while denying the right to participate of Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political party in Haiti. Now we see the bitter fruit of that undemocratic process.

Mr. Joseph, Mr. Saint Juste and Mr. Michel have been targeted for arrest by the Minister of Justice in Haiti and have received numerous death threats at their homes and offices. We fear for their safety.

The Haiti Action Committee stands with attorneys Mario Joseph, Newton Saint Juste and Andre Michel at this critical moment. We urge you to do the same.

Please send letters or emails to the following Haitian authorities:

  1. Minister of Justice and Public Security (Ministre de la Justice et de la Securité Publique) Jean Renel Sanon, 18 Avenue Charles Summer, Port-au-Prince, Haïti, secretariat.mjsp@yahoo.com
  2. Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince (Commissaire du Gouvernement de Port-au Prince) Me Gerald Norguaisse, Parquet du Tribunal de Première Instance de Port-au-Prince, Palais de Justice, Boulevard Harry Truman, Port-au-Prince, Haïti, parquetpap@yahoo.fr

Please send a copy of your email or letter to Haiti Action Committee at action.haiti@gmail.com.

This story first appeared on Haiti Solidarity.

 

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11 thoughts on “Resistance to Martelly regime grows in Haiti

  1. Serge Fouche

    As a native haitian,I just came back from a 3weeks trip in Haiti ( Oct 1 to Oct 22) I didn't see the Lavalas
    propaganda you are talking about.I visited the country from the border town of OUanaminthe to the Artibonite region,a visit that I have done every year since the fall of the Duvalier I did not see anything that resemble your article.I was in Cap-Haitien ,my birthplace,on Oct 17 I saw the anty Martelly manifestation there were less than a 1000 people in a city with a population of over 250.000. I am sorry to let you know the only way Lavalas can put people on the street in Haiti is to pay them for their services.Serge Fouche

    Reply
    1. @seanmichael2007

      I was thinking the same thing. I just recently came from vacation in Haiti for a week. I stayed in Croix-Des-Bouquets and traveled to the south for three days. The only things I saw was the steady improvement the govt is making and a few hundreds students protesting the killing of a fellow student by the police. Other than that, the country was for the most part very calm. I sometimes wonder if these writers are paid to further tarnish the little of what is left of Haiti's image, because this article does not reflect the reality on the ground. My guess is this so-called regime rise against the govt is being made in secret. Anyway, I give the Martelly administration 7/10 job approval. Things can definitely be better. I just hope both the parliarment and the executive put politics aside and do more to develop the country.

      Reply
  2. Concerned Haitian

    This article is complete fiction. Those of us familiar with Haiti do not see what this article talks about on the ground. The idea that there are "large crowds" against Martelly are absurd. They pale in comparison to the crowds at the end of Aristide's presidency for example. The fact is, although Martelly's government is far from perfect, it has done more for Haiti on the past couple years then Haiti has seen in the past two decades.

    Reply
  3. ali

    You need to "fact check" your statements. It seems you are just dumping ideas and rewriting history. This is a mix of true and false statements.

    Reply
  4. mac

    do you guys stand by your comments as of today 11/29, that the article lied about Martelly? Haitians are dying on the high seas, thousands of Haitians are taking to the streets, the justice systems stops working, education systems stops working (teachers are not paid despite taxes being levied for that purpose), police brutality, healthcare systems stops working (have you visited the state hospital lately?) Do you still stand by your accusation that the article lies?

    Reply

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