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Latortue Visit Provokes Protest

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Issue: 24 Section: Canadian News Geography: Latin America, Quebec Montreal, Haiti Topics: solidarity

December 12, 2004

Latortue Visit Provokes Protest

by Dru Oja Jay

Montreal Haitians ask Canadians and Québecois(es) for Solidarity

(en français)

MONTREAL, Dec 11 -- "Latortue assassin, Paul Martin complice". This easy-to-translate chant was the charge of choice of a lively group of 100 members of the Montréal Haitian diaspora--some coming from Ottawa, Toronto, and the United States--who staged a lively, loud four hour protest outside of Montreal's Centre Mont Royal on Saturday.

Photo: Jean Saint Vil
The occasion was a visit from Haiti's de facto interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, who was in town to meet with Prime Minister Paul Martin and ranking Liberal MPs Pierre Pettigrew, Denis Paradis, and Denis Coderre. According to Team Martin, Canada has "a very special role to play" in Haiti's future. Organizers of the event, which was billed as a meeting with "the Haitian Diaspora" held to the now-common Liberal line that Canada is in Haiti for the long term, gathering aid, training judges, and organizing elections.

For the demonstrators outside, however, the focus was on Canada's complicity in what many observers call the US sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former head of Senate Yvon Feuillé are in jail. Most other party members are in hiding, and many have been murdered. By contrast, de facto Prime Minister Latortue has claimed that "there are no poltical prisoners in Haiti", though he has also publically stated that he will seek to arrest former President Aristide.

"The government of Canada has invited the illegal authorities... that they have installed, to talk about the future of Haiti without involving the Haitian people," said Jean Saint Vil, of the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network. "The people that are posing as leaders of Haiti are all unelected, and lack any legitimacy."

Protesters also point out that this view is shared by dozens of African and Carribean nations which have refused to recognize Latortue's government. In the United States, Congresspersons Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee and others signed a statement condemning Latortue a US puppet.

Photo: Jean Saint Vil
One Canadian conference organizer expressed the apparent mood of those inside: "Aristide left. That's a fact, and we just have to deal with it."

(Dominion reporters have yet to be allowed to attend a press conference held by the Federal Government.)

Colonial History, Colonial Present

The protest organizers expressed strong disagreement with the approach of sending aid to Haiti as a way to fix the country's problems, calling it "insulting" to the very real human misery that Haiti faces. Instead of aid, they say, the only just solution is to cancel the debt run up by illegitimate US-supported dictators and return the money stolen outright by the governments of France and the United States.

"Haiti is poor because we have never had the opportunity to invest in our infrastructure," said Saint Vil, citing the use of Haitian labour and resources to enrich foreign powers, but not Haitians.

In 1825, France forced Haiti to "compensate" former slave and plantation owners that had been driven out of the country by the independence movement in return for access to international markets. To make the first payment, every school in Haiti was closed. Jean Bertrand Aristide had mounted a high-profile campaign to force France to pay back this money, which is now equivalent to $22 billion. "One of the first acts of that puppet government was to declare that France doesn't owe Haiti anything anymore," said Saint Vil.

Photo: Daniel Sweeney
François-Michelet Demas pointed out that the wealth and democracy of countries like France and the United States was built with wealth stolen from colonies like Haiti.

"What is needed," said Saint Vil, "is not the hypocrisy that Paul Martin is promoting," but "tangible reparation and restitution to Haiti of what our ancestors have fought for, and our money--the 150 million francs that France collected is part of that restitution."

Instead of restitution, Saint Vil explained, Latortue and Martin are putting Haiti further into debt.

"They're making decisions to further put Haiti into debt, for generations to come."
"The 'international community' has promised to give $2 billion to the illegal Latortue government. It is not explained that at least a good billion of that is actually going to be loans, that Haiti will have to repay. They're making decisions to further put Haiti into debt, for generations to come."

The view of the Canadian government stands in stark contrast, with frequent reference to the "failed state" in Haiti, the "responsibility" of Canada to intervene, and the "incompetence and corruption" of Haitian leadership "since independence".

Need for Solidarity; Lack of Press

"We need the solidarity of Canadians and Québecois(es)," said Jean-Laurent Nelson. "It's the same planet, we all have the same problem, and there's one solution: solidarity."

Many organizers identified a similar need for Canadians and Québecois(es) to understand the situation of the Haitian people and put pressure on their government accordingly. In this context, the theme of disinformation was frequently mentioned.

"It's the same planet, we all have the same problem, and there's one solution: solidarity."
"People don't know what's going on, because the press is hiding it from them," said Nelson. "Thousands of cadavres are showing up every day in Haiti, and nothing is reported."

Demas added: "To have the the solidarity of people in Canada, they have to be informed; people are kept in total ignorance." He accused the press of demonizing Aristide in order to enable his ouster, but now engaging in the "complicity of silence."

He also pointed out the racial divide in support for Aristide. "The countries with black people, in Africa and the Caribbean, are supporting Aristide. France and the United States, with the colonialist and racist pasts, are going the other way. Canada, which has not been considered a colonialist power, has unfortunately decided to follow the latter two."

Both the racial split, and the lack of media attention were apparent throughout the day. Of a few hundred protesters, only a handful had white skin. Though 190 journalists were invited to the press conference, none came from the mainstream press, save for a cameraman who stayed only long enough to get "visuals".

Magalee, who organized the press conference, accused journalists of not paying attention while atrocities are happening. "If they had to come here and know how many people are dying in Haiti right now, they would say 'how come we didn't know that before'?" She cited the case of Rwanda, where "there were massacres going on all the time, and we only heard it at the end."

"There could be a genocide coming on in Haiti, people are getting killed. A former soldier shot a six year old girl in Haiti, and everyone knows who he is, but he has not been arrested."

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