HAITIAN DIASPORA UNITY CONGRESS:
BUSINESS NETWORKERS IGNORE HAITI'S RAGING CLASS STRUGGLE
By Wadner Pierre
From August 6 - 9, 2009, about 300 Haitians from different corners of Haiti's
diaspora - often called the 11th Department - gathered in Miami Beach,
Florida for the 2009 Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress. The event was
organized by the Haitian League, whose Chairman of the Board is Dr. Bernier
Lauredan. He is a Haitian pediatrician living in New Jersey, where the first
conference was held last year without, apparently, too much success.
The chair of this year's Congress was Dr. Rudolph Moise, a physician and
actor well known in Miami for his more or less conventional activism.
Several former Lavalas government officials took part including former
Minister for Haitians Living Abroad Leslie Voltaire, former minister without
portfolio Marc Bazin, former Justice Minister Camille Leblanc, former
Planning Minister Anthony Dessources, and former inspector of the Haitian
National Police Luc Eucher Joseph, now Secretary of State of Justice and
Public Safety. These officials are considered by Haiti's masses as
politically bourgeois and, excepting Voltaire, were never Lavalas Family
Meanwhile, there were also members or associates of President Boniface
Alexandre's and Prime Minister Gérard Latortue's de facto government (2004 -
2006). The most prominent of them was Bernard Gousse, the former de facto
Justice Minister, whom the Miami-based popular organization Veye Yo brands
as a criminal for his role in ordering several deadly crackdowns on
rebellious shanty towns and the first arrest of the late Father Gérard
Jean-Juste, Veye Yo's founder.
Several current Haitian government officials were present including Kelly
Bastien, the Senate's president, two parliamentarians from the pro-coup
social-democratic parties Struggling People Organization (OPL) and Fusion,
Youth, Sports and Civic Action Minister Evans Lescouflair, and two mayors
from the Center Department.
On the Congress's last day, there were also addresses by Haitian Prime
Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis and Special United Nations Envoy to
Haiti, former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Like other Haitian conferences of this sort, most of the workshops were
focused on development and investment with short shrift given to the
political struggles, coups, and military occupations that have made both
hard to achieve. There were also sessions on dual nationality, the role of
the press, the participation of Haitian youth abroad and in Haiti, and on
justice and human rights in Haiti.
In one workshop, Pierre Leger from the southern city of Les Cayes addressed
Haiti's lack of infrastructure. He claimed to be Haiti's largest vetiver
exporter, with operations based in the southern department. He castigated
Haitian President René Préval's "lack of entrepreneurial vision" and the
Haitian government's perennial begging. The current government and those of
the past have contented themselves with pursuing international aid without
really trying to promote national production, he said. Leger recounted the
troubles he had in getting fuel to his operations over Haiti's sole artery
to the south which was damaged after the 2008 storms. Building shipping
ports and airports could resolve such problems, he argued. "You need to have
infrastructure before inviting people to invest in your country, even if it
is entrepreneurs from the Haitian diaspora," Leger said.
In a workshop on the press, only conservative bourgeois media were
represented. Agence France Presse reporter Clarens Renois spoke on the press'
role in development, saying the media sometimes misused its power to defend
political causes. Of course, he did not point to Radio Métropole, his former
employer, which played a key role in the 2001-2004 destabilization campaign
"We should not give only negative news about Haiti," Renois said. "We should
also give positive news that can help develop the country."
One of the most interesting workshops was that on human rights, held on
August 7. In this meeting, Secretary of State Eucher defended harsh,
often-criticized government measures to establish a climate of security in
the country. He was also proud of his government's close cooperation with
the United Nations Mission for Stability in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as the UN's
military occupation force is called. He made no mention of the massacres or
abuses committed by UN troops or the police. "Now we have no red zones or
areas where people cannot go in Haiti," Eucher said. "The people have
regained confidence in the Police. The working conditions of our officers
has changed, and we will continue to work on the professionalization of the
Police and to purchase equipment."
Daniel Jean, Deputy Justice Minister for Judicial Reforms, said that the
government was working to build and improve courts, to better train judges,
and to improve prison conditions around the country. But, he complained,
there is a lack of funds to carry out such projects.
Prison conditions in Haiti are inhuman and have been condemned by several
international human rights groups.
Among the panelists was Evel Fanfan, an activist lawyer, human rights
defender and President of AUMOHD (Association University Students Working
for Law in Haiti). He denounced the government officials' account,
brandishing reports on several police and UN massacres against the poor, in
particular the 2005 Grand Ravine massacre in Martissant, the 2003 Beladeres
massacre by the "rebels," and 2005 and 2006 massacres in Cité Soleil. The
victims of these massacres are still denied justice while killers like
former death-squad leader Louis Jodel Chamblain and former coup-plotter Guy
Philippe still circulate freely. The police who carried out the Grand Ravine
massacre are still in their posts or living freely. "Here are the letters
sent to and received from the President of the Republic, René Préval and
members of his former and current government," Fanfan explained. "How can we
speak of Haitian law when the majority of people behind bars in our prisons
are unconstitutionally imprisoned and their prison conditions are inhumane?
For example, the National Penitentiary in Port-Au-Prince was built for
hundreds of prisoners, but now it has thousands" He also underlined the case
of Ronald Dauphin, a political prisoner and supporter of former President
Aristide, the injustice of whose case Amnesty International recently
publicized, making global headlines.
Bernard Gousse was also supposed to address the human rights workshop and a
number of people from the Miami community came to ask him hard questions.
But he never showed up that day, although he did appear the next day in a
session on dual citizenship.
The Haitian Constitution's prohibition of dual nationality remains a burning
issue for most expatriates living in Haiti's diaspora. Many have become
citizens of the U.S., Canada, or France and want the Constitution amended to
allow them participation in Haiti's political life. Haitian Senate president
Kelly Bastien said dual citizenship reform is possible. "It's an easy
battle, since your participation in the nation's social, political and
economic life will change many things," Bastien told the Diaspora Congress.
"You need to talk to other political leaders in both Parliamentary houses,
because they come here to ask for money during the electoral period. Now
it's your turn to ask something in return."
There were also moments of entertainment. On Saturday night, there was a
long awards dinner ceremony followed by a dance party with Sweet Mickey.
The last day of the Congress - Sunday, August 9 - was a day of protest.
Across the street from the Trump International Beach Resort where the
conference took place, Veye Yo rallied about 50 people starting at 7 a.m. to
denounce the participation of "injustice minister" Bernard Gousse at the
event. "Bernard Gousse is a criminal! Bernard Gousse is a murderer! He must
be arrested if the USA is against terrorism. Why is a terrorist like Bernard
Gousse here?" These were some of the demonstrators' slogans and cries.
"We are here today to demand the release of political prisoners arrested by
Bernard Gousse, and justice for all those who have been victims of the
injustice machine of the government of Gérard Latortue," said Lavarice
Gaudin, a Veye Yo leader. "We hope that President Bill Clinton, who claims
to be a friend of the Haitian people, as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary
General, will work with the government in place to secure the release of
In the background, demonstrators chanted: "Occupation, No! Democracy, Yes!
Titid shall return!"
Meanwhile, inside the hotel, amid extremely tight security, conference
members and a restricted handful of about 20 mostly non-Haitian journalists
gathered to hear presentations by Prime Minister Pierre-Louis and Clinton.
Pierre-Louis' plea, as was to be expected, was for unity. "There is not
enough debate between the different sectors for them to exchange, to
discuss, for them to arrive at what they call compromise," Pierre-Louis
said, speaking in Kreyol. " We must discover the interests of each person
and, in the end, accept to lose a little so that everyone wins... That's
what compromise means. It is an essential process and it is that alone which
can create the true unity we are seeking." How ironic, after these words,
that President Préval's still refuses to compromise and grant Haitian
factory workers a meager increase in their daily minimum wage to 200 gourdes
($5.05), insisting instead that it be raised to only 125 gourdes ($3.11).
She also decried the "colonial legacy which we drag behind us" but did not
denounce the UN's military occupation of Haiti, the most perfect expression
of this "colonial legacy."
Pierre-Louis also invoked some ill-defined unity as a way to resolve growing
conflicts with the Dominican Republic and as a means to develop the country.
"Unity means believing enough in the country to come invest," she said.
"There are lots of opportunities for investment. Creating jobs is a
Her speech had one particularly pious and politically naive remark which
will be most remembered: "We have to stop identifying ourselves as Lavalas
or as Macoutes and just identify ourselves as Haitians."
She was followed by Bill Clinton, who repeated the same themes and
platitudes he has been saying in recent weeks since his UN appointment: he
is optimistic, he sees hope for Haiti, this is a time of opportunity for
Haiti, and the nation must not fail.
He had the air of being slightly on the defensive, perhaps because of the
demonstration going on outside the hotel. He said a series of things that
are demonstrably false.
"There is no UN agenda in Haiti other than to help advance the plans and the
aspirations of the government and the people of Haiti," he said. "I'll be
working with the President and Prime Minister, with multinational donors,
non-governmental groups, philanthropists, business people, and I hope with
many of you to transform those plans into specific actions. My work is and
will continue to be in complete alignment and coordination with the Haitian
government in so far as I can do that. I will not manage the UN
peace-keepers. Nor will I be involved in domestic Haitian politics." As the
front man for the UN's military occupation, how can he not be involved in
"domestic Haitian politics"?
The Congress's organizers felt their event was a success. But for most of
the poor and working-class Haitian community in the United States and
Canada, it was a meeting of some businessmen, politicians and mostly
conservative activists, all of whom had the ability to pay the $250
participation fee (not to mention travel and a hotel). The issues addressed
were entirely traditional and technocratic, avoiding the key political
problems such as the foreign military occupation, the struggle for the 200
gourdes minimum daily wage, the crying injustice for political prisoners and
hundreds of inmates who have never seen a judge, the continued exile of
former President Aristide, and the neoliberal plan that continues to
privatize Haiti's patrimony.
"It's basically a glorified business networking conference,"said one
participant who wished to remain anonymous.
And others weren't satisfied. For example, well-known Haitian compas artist,
King Kino of the group Phantoms did not attend the conference because he
felt that the central role of Haitian culture was not on the agenda. "For
the past 20 years, Haiti has produced and exported practically nothing," he
said in a telephone interview. "It's music that keeps the country afloat.
How can we have a conference without the participation of people involved in
Haitian music? Jamaica is where it is today because of its music."
Finally, one must wonder if the Haitian government, or perhaps Washington
and the United Nations, helped to fund this meeting, especially given the
participation of Pierre-Louis and Clinton. Although Congress organizers say
it was carried out on a "shoe-string," the budget was big enough to pay for
airline tickets for dozens of guest speakers and for their accommodations at
the sumptuous Trump Hotel. Whatever the case, the 2009 Haitian Diaspora
Unity Congress did nothing to fundamentally challenge the Haitian government's
neoliberal direction and may have actually helped to reinforce it.
(Some reporting for this article contributed by Francesca Azzura and Kim
All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Liberte.
To Haiti Connexion,
The article from Haiti Connexion regarding " Le rÃ©cent congrÃ¨s de la diaspora Ã Miami" was irresponsible writing. The writer admitted to not having attended the Congres so how could he comment on it. He also mentioned it was exclusive when it was advertised on the internet, our website, radio, television, Carlâ€™s Corner, the Miami Herald, Facebook, etc
.Haitian "journalists" have to stop bashing Haitians trying to improve the community and making up scenarios that are not true to distribute to others who depend on information. I am one of the organizers of the Congress and am very disappointed to read the misinformation being passed around by Haiti Connexion.
Below is an excerpt of a rebuttal to another irresponsible reporting by a so called "journalist" remarking falsely--as HaitiConnexion--that invitations were exclusive.
Exerpt of a rebuttal From: "Josephine E. Legros"
........... In attendance, we noted elected officials, ministers, functionaries, representatives of NGOs, faith based organizations, delegations of the Haitian Diaspora from the Dominican Republic, Canada, Europe, etc., Members of civil society institutions and the private sector, labor unions and yes we also had representatives from student organizations, young US born professionals, the president of the Haitian Taxi Drivers Association, Mr. Power Meus was present as were representatives of peasant associations from Haiti. The welcoming committee consisted only of US born Haitian student volunteers.
You accuse us of failing to invite certain organizations most notably writers, artists, cultural organizations. We did send invitations to many organizations.. The majority of those who attended heard about the congress through the internet, radio, television, Carlâ€™s Corner, the Miami Herald, Facebook, etc.. The event was organized on a shoe string budget as many fu nding promises were not delivered.. Those who attended responded to the call driven by the same desire to strengthen our Diasporaâ€™s capacity to be part of the solution instead of â€œacting like crabs in a basketâ€. Those who cared did not sit by the sidelines waiting to be invited personally. They came, argued, presented their positions and made resolutions and recommendations to be addressed.
In your unfounded ire against the event you have insulted hundreds of caring and engaged Haitians from Haiti and the Diaspora, Friends of Haiti who are serious about making a difference. But we are undeterred; words of insult such as yours will not stop our desire to be of service to Haiti.
Josephine Elizee Legros
2009 Haitian Diaspora Unity Congress
Le congrès de la "Diaspora"
Une autre facon de comprendre ce congres: un certain gout d'imposture!
Par Dr Keny Bastien
Pourquoi essayer, sans meme avoir ete invite en tant que paneliste, de capitaliser diplomatiquement et subtilement sur un evenement illustrant davantage la demission des nantis que la redemption des demunis? Pourquoi sonner le clairon du triomphe et du succes pour un evenement qui ressemble davantage aux funerailles de la republique fiere d'antan et a la celebration de la decheance d'un groupe d'hommes abrutis qui ont perdu tout sens de l'orgueil national et de la fierte patriotique?
Le seul evenement heureux, c'est de voir le regroupement de tous ceux , y compris les faux experrts, qui ont choisi la capitulation et le compromis au detriment de la souverainete de la nation haitienne et de l'ntegrite territoriale. Nos ancetres ont verse la sang pour nous leguer un territoire
qu'ils nous appartient de gouverner en toute independance. Les negriers modernes et les sous-fiffres ont un compte a rendre a l'histoire et a la posterite. Je sais une chose, notre jeunesse ne renoncera jamais a l'independance politique et economique de la nation qui nous est chere. Haiti n'est pas a vendre et ne subira pas indefiniment la presence de la force etrangere sur son territoire. A bon entendeur, SALUT!
Gare aux lâches et aux faux experts vendeurs de patrie en quete de célébrité et de miettes putrides!
Dr Keny Bastien
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