Six years in the making and filmed clandestinely under the Duvalier dictatorship, Bitter Cane is a timeless documentary classic about the exploitation and foreign domnation of the Haitian people. From peasant coffee farms in the rugged tropical mountains to steamy U.S. -owned sweatshops in the teeming capital, the film takes the viewer on a journey through Haitian history to a deeper understanding of that country’s political economy. We see emerging paths of flight–industries from the U.S., refugees from Haiti – which are having profound effects on both societies.
By Roger Annis, Canada Haiti Action Network, (published on Truthout, Oct. 8, 2014)
Jean-Claude Duvalier, the tyrant who ruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986, has died in Haiti at the age of 63. His death is a huge moment for political reflection on the part of the Haitian people, including the fact that so much of Duvalier’s harsh political legacy remains alive and well in the island country. A foreign, military occupation force of the UN Security Council has entered its 11th year. It serves to bolster much of the authoritarian, Duvalier legacy, which has always, at its heart, been about excluding the Haitian people from governing their own country.
“President for Life”
Duvalier was appointed “president for life” in 1971 by his dying father, Francois Duvalier. Known as ‘Papa Doc’ for the medical education he received in his early years, the elder Duvalier muscled his way into power in 1957 and established one of the most ruthless dictatorships the world had ever known. He was 64 when he died.
“From the beginning of our century until now, Haiti and its inhabitants under one aspect or another, have, for various reasons, been very much in the thoughts of the American people. While slavery existed amongst us, her example was a sharp thorn in our side and a source of alarm and terror…. Her very name was pronounced with a shudder.”
– Frederick Douglass, World’s Columbian Exposition, January 2, 1893
As former Haitian President Aristide is placed on house arrest, supporters worldwide demand immediate halt to attacks on him and Lavalas Movement
We are no longer living in the 19th century with the specter of Haiti’s successful struggle for its freedom haunting the consciousness of slave masters across the Americas. Yet the military occupation of this country since 2004 by way of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is sending a clear message that the Haitians’ tentative step toward exercising control over the destiny in the 1990s and the early years of the new century is still “a source of alarm and terror” to imperial overlords such a Canada, France, and the United States.
The UN mission in Haiti influenced the creation of special urban police units in Brazil—and helped the Brazilian military make up for shortfalls in its training budget.
Two Brazilian experts in police work have confirmed longstanding claims that the Brazilian military and police used their leading role in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH ) as a way to train their forces for operations in Brazil’s own cities. According to Lt. Col. Carlos Cavalcanti, of the Brazilian Peace Operations Joint Training Center (CCOPAB ), the Brazilians were especially interested in the concept of permanent “strong points” in urban areas, which MINUSTAH forces used to “pacify” Port-au-Prince’s huge Cité Soleil section in 2005 and the Cité Militaire neighborhood in 2007. “Rio de Janeiro’s Militarized Police even sent a group to Haiti while these operations were still being carried out, with the object of taking in the Brazilian army’s experiences,” Cavalcanti said.
Brazil police in the Villa Cruzeiro favela in Rio de Janeiro in 2010
These experiences inspired the use of special police groups known as Pacifying Police Units (UPPs ) in controlling the impoverished urban areas in Brazil known as favelas, according to Claudio Silveira, a defense specialist at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ). The UPP in Rio was the target of repeated protests in the summer of 2013 because of unit members’ alleged torture and murder of construction worker Amarildo de Souza Lima . One advantage of MINUSTAH for the Brazilian military is apparently that it helps make up for what top officers feel is an inadequate budget for training soldiers. In Haiti the soldiers get real-life training, for which the Brazilian government has paid out 2.11 billion reais (US$923 million) since the mission’s start in June 2004; the United Nations has reimbursed it with 741 million reais (US$324 million). (Adital , Brazil, Aug. 13) Continue reading →
In this Nov. 12, 2013 photo, a Haitian man crosses into Haiti along the border with Jimani, Dominican Republic. In September, the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that being born in the country does not automatically grant citizenship, including people born to non-legal residents going back to 1929. The ruling is a reflection of deep hostility in the Dominican Republic to the vast number of Haitians who have come to live in their country, many brought in to work in the sugar industry and their descendants. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
It isn’t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic’s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore. There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.
One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.
If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that’s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States. Continue reading →
WikiLeaks public cables have showed how the U.S. Embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom to block an increase to the minimum wage for Haitian workers.
In 2009, the minimum wage was $1.75 per day. In June 2009, responding to workers’ pressure, a parliamentary bill proposed to raise it to $5 per day. Factory owners opposed it saying they would only pay $2.50 “to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica”. Backed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the US Embassy, they urged then Haitian President René Préval to intervene.
The Haiti cables reveal how closely the US Embassy monitored widespread pro-wage increase demonstrations and the political impact of the minimum wage battle. UN troops were called in to quell workers and students protests, sparking further demands for the end of the UN military occupation of Haiti.
Because of these fierce demonstrations, sweatshop owners and Washington were unable to keep the minimum wage as low as they had wanted to for long.
In August 2009, President Preval negotiated a deal with Parliament to have two minimum wages: $3.13/day for textile workers and $5/day for other workers. But Parliament also adopted a progressive increase over three years so in October 2012 textile workers minimum wage finally went up to $5/day ($6.25 for other sectors).
Imagine if a multinational company went to one of the world’s most impoverished countries and, while saying it was there to help, contaminated the water supplies, unleashing a new disease that killed thousands of people. Hundreds of thousands more develop a hideous sickness, suffering such debilitating loss of liquid their eyes sink into their face, their skin wrinkles, their body shivers uncontrollably. Then there is a cover-up as the firm evades responsibility and, when finally taken to court, it simply refuses to play ball with the legal process.
Such a story sounds like something created in the febrile mind of a Hollywood scriptwriter, which in real life would lead to a huge and justified outcry.
But this is precisely what has just happened to the people of Haiti, except with one big difference — it was the UN at the centre of events, not a multinational. And there was no furore, just a few murmurings of mild concern. Yet such behaviour is worse coming from the body that is supposed to serve as the conscience of the world rather than a profit-hungry firm. The UN purports to exist in order to guard human rights, to spread the rule of law, help the poor and defend them from conflict and disease. It has all too often fallen woefully short of these noble ideals, but rarely has it shown such wilful contempt for them in its own actions.
Consider the facts. In 2010, UN peacekeepers went to Haiti to protect stability and prevent the spread of disease following a devastating earthquake. Instead, Nepalese soldiers almost certainly imported cholera, a condition not seen in the country for more than a century, then spread it by dumping sewage into a river. More than 8,000 Haitians have died so far, with another 647,000 people infected, yet from the start media and public health investigators met obfuscation from officials. Continue reading →