Stalemate over Haiti’s elections continues

Haiti’s president, Jovenal Moise, and his electoral council have proposed a timeline for elections that include a referendum on a new constitution. At the same time, there is disagreement about Moise’s tenure in office, with opposition leaders and some legal scholars saying Moise should step down on February 7 this year. Moise, disagrees. The timeline his electoral council has submitted assumes he stays in office another year. 

Overdue elections

Haiti has not had a sitting parliament since January 13, 2020. Parliamentary elections, supposed to be held in the fall of 2019, were not held in time. As a result there were not enough members of Parliament to achieve a quorum (and vote on a new election law). Later in the year terms for most local officials also expired without elections to fill posts. One estimate is that there are only 11 elected officials serving in the entire country at the moment. Since January 2020, Moise has ruled by decree. 

It is important to keep in mind that massive demonstrations in the summer of 2018 brought about the resignation of the government. A new prime minister was then forced out of office again amidst protests in February of 2019. During the fall of 2019 lasting through the beginning of 2020, the country was locked down as the result of protests calling for Moise to resign. 

With U.S. backing, Moise has prevailed through it all. Over the last year, with Moise ruling by decree, there has been an increase in violence by non-state actors (evidence suggests in many cases they are aligned with police), including political assassinations. Protests have been met with state violence as well. In December Moise issued an executive decree increasing penalties for protest and initiating new intelligence services.

Opposition voices, both in the streets and among a divided political class, are demanding Moise leave – before elections and constitutional reforms proceed. Moise’s election was itself problematic. He “won” in a highly contested election – one with two rounds of balloting as the first round was cancelled due to accusations of corruption. Because there was a delay in Moise taking office, he has argued his tenure should extend another year. The opposition says no! He must leave on February 7, 2021 as originally scheduled. Moise’s predecessor, Michel Martelly, left office on February 7, 2016.

With most eyes in the country on February 7 (which this year marks the 35th anniversary of Jean Claude Dulavier’s resignation and flight from the country amidst widespread protest), Moise is looking ahead.

Election timeline

What Moise is proposing is a referendum on changes to Haiti’s constitution in April of 2021, and then to hold national elections on September 19, 2021, for parliament and the presidency. On November 21, local elections will be held, alongside runoffs (as needed) for national posts. To approve and implement this timeline, Moise appointed a 9-member electoral commission, by decree, of course. Which is to say, the whole process is already illegal, at least under the existing constitution. 

As far as the new constitution goes, it has not been made public yet. However, some of the changes possibly in-store were leaked. From the Miami Herald:

Among the biggest changes, according to an interview with Louis Naud Pierre on Port-au-Prince-based Magik 9 radio station earlier this week, is the elimination of the post of prime minister and the Haitian Senate, and the introduction of governors for each region.

The United States and the Organization of American States, which split intervention duties in Haiti when it comes to elections, have given divided messages. Both are standing with Moise, and his authority to oversee elections, but the U.S. wants those elections held immediately. The OAS agrees with a quick timeline for elections, though has, in previous statements, accepted the extended tenure for Moise. Biden’s campaign has only said he would “work with the international community” to ensure elections happen soon. What the U.S. position will be concerning the election timeline once he takes office is not exactly clear.

Meanwhile, the opposition is arguing for Moise to step down on schedule (Feb 7, 2021), to be replaced by a transitional authority that would oversee new elections. Such an exercise in self-determination is not likely to be supported by the U.S. or the OAS, but we’ll see. Perhaps the Biden administration will be too busy dealing with fallout from our own electoral crisis to weigh in too heavily on Haiti’s.

So, we wait. The days leading up to February 7th and whatever follows, could well lead the country into another lock down, and/or much more violence. Moise seems determined to hold power – for now – and has decreed himself an enormous amount of authority to use force if he decides it is necessary. The opposition is still refusing to accept a process that involves him, which for now leaves them the bully pulpit of opposition media, and the streets. For the majority of Haitians this means a good chance that there will be more disruptions to their lives and work. Even if most are sympathetic to opposition demands, people are clearly weary of the conflict.  

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Grepen Center Update

Aneus (striped shirt) & Teligene (black shirt) discuss the weevil free sweet potato program in Atrell

The Quixote Center supports the work of the Jean Marie Vinent Formation Center located in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne, Haiti. Most know of our work in relation to reforestation efforts which have led to 2 million trees planted in the area since 1999. Accompanying the tree planting, however, is work with local farmers. The agronomy team at the Grepen center, travels throughout the region, working side by side with the parish’s Karitas network, and grassroots organizations such as the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne to identify problems, and work with small farmers to find solutions. We periodically report on some of this activity.

Seed Bank

The Grepen center has organized and supports a seed bank for local farmers. The seed bank allows for bulk purchases of seeds, often “off-season” when seeds are cheaper. Farmers are able to purchase the seeds at a discounted rate and deposit them with the seed bank until needed. During the spring we launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for the seed bank to ensure that there were plenty of supplies available to farmers for the summer planting season. We also received additional funds in mid-summer from Alternative Gifts International to further support the seed bank. The following is a report from the agronomy team on use of the funds:

From August until December, local planters usually plant a lot of beans, especially black beans, and vegetables in their gardens. This year the situation facing the planters was complicated. The year began with the locked country political debacle, and then descended into the coronavirus crisis. Ongoing political instability has increased market prices, and a drought during the last spring planting season, which is the largest of the year, caused a lot of problems. The sun destroyed many gardens without the relief of periodic rain. 

All of these things put the farmers in a difficult economic situation. This created difficulties for them to be able to plant on time in the spring, and farming is their principal economic activity.  With the support of Quixote Center, our seed bank at Grepen was able to help the farmers respond to these difficulties and move forward with their gardens. We provided seeds and technical support for the farmers in order to save the spring planting season and change their lives for the better.  

For this planting campaign, we were able to support 61 farmers in the zones that were ready to plant. These farmers all have gardens near Twa Rivye, which we consider to be the boundary that separates our diverse agricultural zones. Of the seeds that we distributed to the farmers, they will have to return a certain quantity to the seed bank after they harvest their crop. This is how we are always going to have good quality seeds available after each harvest.

Goat Program and mobile veterinary clinic

Three years ago the agronomy team launched a program to distribute goats. The program involved first doing training with “cohorts” of roughly 10 families, who would then receive a female goat for each family and one billy goat for the cohort. If the female goat has a kid, the family agrees to pass the kid on to a new family. Maintaining the health of the goats is an important part of the program. Integrated into the program is a mobile vet clinic, run by Roseline. She visits the cohorts on a regular basis. Here the clinic is visiting Perou.

Yam harvest in Grepen

Food insecurity is obviously a huge issue for all of Haiti, and addressing this is the primary goal of the program at the Grepen center. Toward this end, the agronomy team works with local farmers on techniques for growing cassava, yams, and, in the past several years, planting sweet potatoes that are resistant to weevils (which have destroyed many harvests in recent years). Below Teligene and Songé  show off some healthy yams grown in gardens in the community of Grepen.

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2020 Seed Campaign: Update from Haiti

Although pandemic precautions have not permitted Quixote Center staff to visit our Haitian counterparts this year, we have kept in regular touch with our partners via virtual meetings twice a month. Because of those close connections, we were able to broadcast the need for increasing deposits in the seed bank and many of you truly delivered to meet this need. We received the report below yesterday and wanted to share some highlights with you. 

During the week of November 30, the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center visited the gardens of those who received seeds during the 2020 agricultural campaign. The campaign aimed at expanding support from the seed bank to farmers in advance of the planting season. There was, and remains, tremendous concern about food insecurity in the area due to climate change, and complicated by price fluctuations for inputs and transportation. The seed bank is able to bulk purchase seeds and provide them at a low, subsidized cost, to farmers. The program also includes training on preparing sweet potatoes for planting that are resistant to weevils – a pest that has destroyed harvests over the last three years. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation has led the way in adapting to this problem.

As part of the evaluation, everyone who planted sweet potatoes received a visit, plus 4 or 5 other planters in the zones of Ti David, Koraiy, Janpyè, Veney, and Ravin Olyadnn. One of the planters from Ravin Olyadnn is pictured below inspecting her plants.

The goal was to see how the planters are faring in the fight against the sweet potato weevil and to offer them encouragement and accompaniment for all of their garden activities. Aneus, who shares responsibility for the seed bank along with Songé, completed the garden visits and provided information for this report.

These notes are continued from an initial visit that was made to each of these gardens just after they had planted the seeds they received from the seed bank. From the time of the initial planting until now, the gardens look very green. For those who planted peas, they are growing well despite the fact that they received a lot of sun during their planting cycle. This is giving the pea planters hope, in the same way that the black bean planters have hope in certain areas.

In the four zones that were visited this week, we noticed the same thing, that people are managing to grow beans and peas in their gardens and have already started eating from the crop that they are producing. These planters have hope for the future, and they are already assured that they will have a portion of their garden harvest to feed their families.

Another thing we noted is that there are some areas, like Rivyè Blanch, where farmers are battling against new pests. In this area, cochineal insects are attacking the peas and the peanuts that the farmers planted. This is causing a lot of stress for the planters, because it puts the future of these crops, which are very important for the peasant farmers, in doubt. We have begun formations to teach the planters how they can fight against this pest, and also how to prevent the cochineal from attacking their future crops.

The beneficiaries report that they are satisfied overall with the accompaniment provided by the agronomy team. They are thankful that the support of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center has enabled them to plant more gardens.

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Updates from the agronomy team in Gros Morne

Several years ago a breed of weevil began infesting sweet potato crops in the area around Gros Morne, ruining many harvests. In response, the team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center went to work developing a weevil resistance strain of sweet potatoes, and have been introducing this to farmers. Below are some photos from a project site in Perou, a satellite nursery for sweet potatoes, Aneus (red shirt) and Teligene (white shirt) check on sweet potatoes. 

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Another program run by the agronomy team based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a mobile vet clinic. Here Songé performs a wellness check & vaccine campaign for chickens in the Family Enterprise Program, which provides trainings to families about how to treat their activities – such as courtyard gardens & raising chickens – as intentional income generating activities.

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To get a sense of where all of these activities take place, check out the project map below.

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New Hens in the Hen House

On 11 August, 2020, the hen house celebrated the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the first 1,000 hens. The hen house provides low-cost eggs to community groups for resale in the local market. The Quixote Center helped fund the solar powered water pump for the hen house. The hen house is committed to using feed that is 100% grown locally. This is a goal that is close to being met.

On October 15, 700 more hens arrived. To prepare for the arrival of the new hens, room A2 was cleaned and the hens from room A1 were moved to A2. Room A1 was then cleaned and whitewashed. Below we share some photos of the new arrivals checking out the new digs.

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Political violence and U.S. policy in Haiti

Guns handed in at the start of a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program in Port au Prince 2017 (Photo: Sophia Paris/UN Photo, Creative Commons)

The notorious paramilitaries of the past, the Tonton Macoute and FRAPH may be gone today, but the people of Haiti are once again under the threat of the presence of armed groups acting with impunity.  The use of armed gangs by political actors in Haiti (and many other places, including the U.S.) to “keep order” is hardly a new phenomenon. However, over the last several years, as protests against the PHTK government have grown, these gangs have been mobilized in what seems a coordinated fashion. They are heavily armed, and have engaged in multiple attacks on communities.

At the moment, the spotlight is on former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, who now fronts a gang confederation (the G9) that rules the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Delmas and Bel Aire. As a police officer, Cherizier was implicated in massacres at Grand Ravine and La Saline.

At Grand Ravine, in November of 2017, police attacked community members inside a school – killing 9 people. Some were killed execution style, and several appeared to have been shot in their homes nearby and then dragged to the school. The operation was supposedly launched by police in response to gang activity, but was clearly more complicated than that. UN units were present but did not intervene. The massacre was largely ignored outside of Haiti. In U.S. media, only Jake Johnston of Center for Economic and Policy Research covered the story in detail – in a piece published in the Intercept in January of 2018.  Johnston interviewed, Rovelsond Apollon, an observer with a local human rights organization working in Grand Ravine, who discussed the connection between the police, politicians and local gangs:

It’s not just that politicians exert control over the police, Apollon said — they are involved with the gangs themselves. His organization has interviewed young people with heavy weaponry that is not easy to acquire, he explained, and they said the weapons had been provided by politicians. “Politicians and authorities are not innocent in what happened, because they, too, play their part in the violence,” he said. The politicians, for their part, have not publicly addressed these accusations.

A year later, the neighborhood of La Saline became the sight of another massacre.  As in Grand Ravine, initial reports made the attack seem like an internecine battle between gangs trying to control the area. But further investigation laid out the role of the police who coordinated with gangs, allegedly operating with the support of Moise allies. It is now argued that the motivation for the attack on the community was at least in part retaliation for its mobilization in protests against the current government. According to a report on the attack following a Haiti Action Committee and National Lawyers Guild delegation, Cherizier publicly admitted taking part in the attack, with his police units blocking roads to keep people from leaving the community. The total number of people killed is not known. Many bodies were burned, some left in the street where remains were eaten by pigs and dogs. The Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNNHD) was able to identify at least 71 people murdered based on interviews with community members. 

Cherizier was forced out of the police in December of 2018. However, rather than end up in jail, Cherizier has re-emerged  at the head of the G9, a confederation assembled with the support of the current government. Journalist Etant Dupain wrote last week:

During an explosive radio interview on Radio Magik9, earlier this month, one of the most influential members of President Jovenel Moise’s commission for disarmament (known as the CNDDR), Jean Rebel Dorcénat, stated that it was his idea for several gang leaders to join together to form a federation, which has now become the gang named G9. He later walked back the statement, and clarified to say that he was not responsible for creating the G9, but he did, however, advise gang leaders to form an alliance in order to make the disarmament commission’s job easier.

When the alliance was announced, armed groups rallied in Port-au-Prince. The police were nowhere to be found – but their equipment was on display. The Washington Post reported, “When Cherizier’s men took to the streets in June, witnesses claimed to have seen them ride in the same armored vehicles used by the national police and special security forces. Justice Minister Lucmane Delile denounced the gangs and ordered the national police to pursue them; within hours, Moïse fired him.”

Dupain’s article was written in the context of the G9 engaging in massive attacks against the community in Bel Air over the last two weeks.  These attacks have displaced thousands of people, many of whom are now living in a soccer field in Solino.  Cherizier is not hiding – indeed, he regularly appears in the streets, and moves freely despite an active arrest warrant.  

Meanwhile, members of the national police have violently protested the arrest of police captain Pascal Alexandre, driving through Port-au-Prince setting cars afire, and even torching the office that archives voter registrations. This so-called Fantom 509 force has become a frightening presence in the capital, and remains unchallenged by Moise and his allies. 

For his part, Moise has responded to the moment by trying to consolidate his position. Ruling by decree since January – there are only 11 elected officials serving in office in Haiti right now – he has pressed forward with an electoral commission and set of constitutional reforms that would strengthen the presidency. The electoral commission is devoid of the usual representatives of civil society, and has been denounced by the opposition. Three weeks ago, the head of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince bar association, Monferrier Dorval, was assassinated in front of his home just hours after giving a radio interview in which he expressed doubts about constitutional reforms being proposed by the government. 

Into this setting the U.S. State Department has entered with the kind of patronizing rhetoric and threats we have come to expect. A State Department official stated “Frankly, I have to say I’m a little bit tired of every group, every opposition party in Haiti saying, ‘Well, I won’t appoint my person,’ or ‘We won’t have an election,’ or ‘We won’t run in this until you meet all of my political demands…That’s not democracy. And so we are quite insistent on this, and it’s going to start to have consequences for those who stand in the way of it.” So, the U.S. government’s position is that the opposition must allow the PHTK and Moise to consolidate its power, “or else.” The U.S. government, it is worth noting, is the chief bankroll behind Haiti’s national police: 

Earlier this month, the State Department notified Congress that it was reallocating $8 million from last year’s budget to support the HNP. Since Trump took office, the US has nearly quadrupled its support to Haiti’s police — from $2.8 million in 2016 to more than $12.4 million last year. With the recent reallocation, the figure this year will likely be even higher. US funding for the Haitian police constitutes more than 10 percent of the institution’s overall budget.

So, as thousands come to the street with vision, with hope, and, for some, in desperation, demanding a revolution of political and economic forces, they face not just the local bourgeoisie and their armed defenders, but the U.S. government, with it’s bankroll, weapons and saccharine imperial pronouncements about good government.  Pierre Esperance of the RNNDH told Etant Dupain, “The worst part is that the international community continues to support a government that is in bed with gangs and is responsible for nine massacres in the country. I have not seen anything like it since the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier.”

Finally, responding to the State Department, Bob Maguire said, “This thing about ‘It’s going to have consequences for those who stand in the way,’ well, it already has consequences….They are getting shot. They are getting beat up and they’ve been demonstrating in the streets for years about the lack of any kind of responsible democracy in the country. These are people who are already suffering the consequences of Haiti’s failure.”  This failure is bought and paid for by the U.S. government.

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Masak, Haiti: Fighting for the right to breathe

Just outside of Masak

Are we capable of rediscovering that each of us belongs to the same species, that we have an indivisible bond with all life? Perhaps that is the question – the very last – before we draw our last dying breath. Achille Mbembe, The Universal Right to Breathe (translated Caroline Shread)

Masak is a small village that straddles the border of the Northwest and Artibonite departments in northern Haiti. Over the years the division of Masak and surrounding areas across departments has underscored an intra-communal conflict going back generations. Young people today have no idea how it started, but from time to time, fighting will break out, and they get drawn in. Today, however, the intensity of the violence is magnified by the availability of high-powered weapons, and the general environment of insecurity driven by armed groups who operate in a space of impunity – often protected by political actors, or facing a police force ill equipped and unwilling to help.  

The latest round of violence was kicked off when a young woman from the north was robbed on one of the mountain trails that connect Masak to La Pierre and Mayombe in the communal section of Pendus. This was in March, and over the next several months, fighting led to the burning of nearly 50 homes in the area. In mid-August, during a particularly intense weekend, 22 houses were burned and at least five people were killed. One estimate of the total number of people killed in the recent fighting is 21. People have died from gunshot wounds and smoke inhalation. Some show signs of having been beaten. The armed groups have also stolen livestock, leaving displaced families with nothing. 

School in Masak, abadoned due to the violence

As a result of the violence, people have fled the mountain area near Masak for nearby La Pierre, the main population base of Pendus.  The refugees in La Pierre report preparing “go bags” so they can leave immediately with some basic items if the gangs come out of the mountain to attack. Father Sylvio opened St. Joseph’s Church to young people to use as a school over the summer, and has invited students to join with others at the parish grade school in La Pierre. As a result, the school has doubled the number of students in some grade levels. The school’s presence is taken as a positive sign, demonstrating Father Sylvio’s commitment to the area, and so the people are standing with Father Sylvio for now.

Three weeks ago Father Sylvio organized a conference on conflict resolution with community leaders from the mountain areas near Masak. Following the meeting, someone leaked the names of the attendees to gang leaders, and several were then attacked, including one who was shot. Many of the leaders are now ¨mawon¨ or hiding deeper in the mountains. 

Meanwhile, in early September, Father Sylvio made an official report of the violence to the local police. Geri Lanham, who works with Father Sylvio through an education program, reports, “When he described the guns that the bandits are carrying, the local PNH [Haitian National Police] said that they can’t do anything because they already know that they are outgunned.” Father Sylvio also approached a military police unit stationed in Gonaives. They were aware of the conflict, but noted the last time they got engaged, one of their officers was shot. They are said to be investigating, including links to weapons being trafficked across the border with the Dominican Republic.

St. Joseph’s Church in La Pierre

For now, the community waits. In Pendus, the sound of gunfire can be heard coming from the mountains most nights. The gangs seem to have plenty of ammunition. Meanwhile, in Pendus, as in much of Haiti, everyone else seems to be on their own.  There is little expectation that the state will step-in, and, even if it did, no one is particularly excited about inviting a large scale police operation. The struggle in Pendus is now one for recognition. For the lives lost, and more so for those that remain. A friend working in the community writes, “they want to have a resolution so that they can return to their communities up in Massak and Mawotye and not be afraid that they might have to run from La Pierre in the middle of the night under a hail of bullets. They want to be able to plant in their gardens and send their children out to play without the background noise of gunshots reverberating from farther up the mountain.” Put another way, the struggle is simply to have the right to breathe freely, to live, recognized and protected. 

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“Toto” Constant is not just Haiti’s problem

On June 23, the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Emmanuel “Toto” Constant to Haiti. Constant was arrested as he arrived in Port-au-Prince, based on a 2000 conviction for the massacre of political opponents at Raboteau, Haiti. In 1994, at the time of the massacre, Constant was head of a paramilitary organization called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which is known to have engaged in widespread human rights violations, including murder, rape, and torture. When U.S. forces reinstated president Aristide in October 1994, they allowed many leaders of the military government that had ousted him in 1991 to escape – including Constant, who eventually ended up in the United States. Constant has spent the last 12 years in a prison in New York – not for human rights violations, but for mortgage fraud. Now back in Haiti, he has the right to a new trial to challenge his in absentia conviction in 2000.  Constant is currently being held at a prison in Saint-Marc. Whether he is re-tried or released on a technicality is now a question of great concern. Constant has many political allies in the current government. The state judiciary is effectively shuttered at the moment due to a national strike. So it is hard to know when he will be brought before a judge and the process, whatever form it takes, begins to unfold. That judicial process will take place in Haiti, as it should. The 2000 Raboteau massacre trial itself provides an example of how this can be done – ensuring due process for Constant and, hopefully, justice for his many victims. But Constant’s retrial is not just Haiti’s responsibility.  Constant’s position in the coup government from 1991-1994 and the crimes for which he is responsible are hard to separate from decades of U.S. intervention in Haiti. The army itself was created by U.S. Marine commanders, for the specific purpose of quelling domestic dissent to the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. From that point until the army was disbanded in 1995 by President Aristide, it served to shield a small, United States-aligned elite and their business interests from popular mobilization. The United States trained Haiti’s military leadership throughout, including Raoul Cedras who directed the coup d’etat against President Aristide in 1991. The United States also trained Haiti’s intelligence services, and it is known that Constant was on the C.I.A. payroll until spring of 1994 when he was dropped, according to a Clinton administration official, because, “He was beginning to get involved in things that could blow back quite badly.” The Raboteau massacre happened in April of 1994. A classified C.I.A. report, partially released and heavily redacted during a 1996 civil trial against FRAPH, also indicates that the agency knew of Constant and FRAPH’s involvement in the 1993 murder of Guy Malary, Haiti’s Minister of Justice. More direct U.S. involvement in the formation of the FRAPH has been hinted at since this time. Allan Nairn, writing for The Nation in October of 1994 reported on extensive ties between FRAPH and U.S. agencies, beginning with Constant. For one, Constant was not merely an informant, but part of a team involved in training Haiti’s National intelligence Service (S.I.N.) in counterinsurgency. During this time he got to know Col. Patrick Collins, U.S. military attaché, and Donald Terry, the C.I.A. station chief who Nairn characterized as “running the S.I.N.”  According to Nairn, Constant claimed, “Collins began pushing him to organize a front ‘that could balance the Aristide movement’ and do ‘intelligence’ work against it. He said that their discussions had begun soon after Aristide fell in September 1991. They resulted in Constant forming what later evolved into the FRAPH, a group that was known initially as the Haitian Resistance League.”  Given these ties, it is not surprising that when Aristide was reinstated, U.S. forces seized documents from FRAPH headquarters and took them out of the country. From 1995 until the trial in 2000, attorneys representing the victims of the Raboteau massacre were unable to get access to these documents. When the Clinton administration did finally release some documents at the last minute, they were heavily redacted. Haiti’s National Commission for Truth and Justice, whose report was issued in February of 1996, was likewise denied access.  It is important that Constant be retried. As part of that process, however, it is equally important that the United States government fully cooperate and share documents in its possession about Constant, FRAPH, and the military leadership that oversaw the coup regime from 1991 to 1994. The United States government was, at a minimum, aware of Constant’s crimes, and continued to shield him. At worst, U.S. military and intelligence personnel facilitated those crimes. Either way, this makes Constant our problem as well. We owe the people of Haiti, who suffered under the coup regime and Constant’s paramilitary violence, a full accounting – wherever that leads. After 25 years, what better time than now?
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“Toto” Constant back in Haiti and other updates, take action

Shada Demolition

On Monday, June 15 bulldozers razed the community of Shada II in Cap-Haitien, along Haiti’s northern coast. Close to 1,500 families lost their homes as a result. Apparently none were notified in advance of the destruction, nor were any compensated for the loss. This inexplicable act was officially carried out in retaliation for a gang assault that left a police officer and five other people dead days before – but this is either not at all true, or, at best, a very partial explanation. The largest gang in Shada is assumed to be politically aligned, and thus this may well have been in part retaliation. However, that hardly suffices as an explanation for putting 1,500 families out of their homes in the midst of a pandemic.

The organization SOIL has been working in Shada II since 2004 issued a statement about the demolition (full statement here):

At this critical moment in global history, when the world is grappling with the combined public health emergencies of COVID-19 and systemic racism, we feel it is critical that we call attention to human rights issues that impact the communities we serve. There are many unanswered questions about what happened in Shada II last week, and we urge human rights groups to investigate. At the same time, SOIL stands in solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who lost their homes and belongings, and we recommit our organization to sustained social change. True change demands that all stakeholders come to the table to shine a light on the injustices suffered by vulnerable communities caught in the crosshairs of larger political, economic, and social forces, particularly at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for compassionate ingenuity and proactive support to those most at risk. 

We will continue to report on this as more details unfold and the community regroups to decide what comes next.

Toto Constant is Back in Haiti

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States to Haiti on Tuesday, June 23. Constant is the former leader of the FRAPH, a notorious paramilitary organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people while the country was under military rule following the coup against Aristide in 1991.  Constant fled to the United States when Aristide was reinstated in 1995 where he remained until this week. Meanwhile, in Haiti, Constant was convicted in 2000 in absentia for his involvement in the massacre at Raboteau. Despite the conviction, Constant was allowed to remain in the United States. Early efforts to remove him stalled, and most assume he was being protected as a former CIA asset. However, he was later convicted of real estate fraud in New York and imprisoned. For many the hope was he would remain in prison. 

After serving 12 years of a 37 year sentence, Constant was released from prison and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reports that Constant was to be deported emerged in early May. Over the course of several weeks ICE would put Constant on a flight manifest, to later remove him. Constant was finally deported this Tuesday. What does this mean?

Constant was arrested upon his arrival under the 2000 conviction which still stands. However, Constant is entitled to a new trial. Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph (both of whom were involved in landmark human rights trials in the late 1990s that led to the 2000 conviction of Constant and others) published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that explains what is at stake.

A credible prosecution of Constant must respect both his rights and those of the Raboteau Massacre’s victims, who have official status in the case under Haiti’s “civil party” system. The victims are entitled to a robust prosecution that presents all the available evidence, as well as the right to notice of hearings, to participate in some of them and to appeal rulings that infringe on their rights. The original Raboteau trial is a good benchmark: It included expert testimony from international forensic and military experts, documents from the military archives and extensive victim and witness testimony.

The passage of time since Constant’s crimes in Haiti does not prevent his prosecution. His death squad’s murder and torture of civilians were both widespread and systematic, placing them squarely within the definition of crimes against humanity, so the statute of limitations cannot apply. Constant was convicted under a command responsibility theory, and the evidence was mostly documents, which are as credible as ever.

For now, the hope is that Constant remains in custody. He has many former political allies in positions of power under the current government -and should he be released, could wreak havoc. The U.S. has a role here. In 2000 the Clinton administration stalled releasing documents related to FRAPH activity that had been taken by US forces from FRAPH headquarters in 1995 during the operation to reinstate Aristide. Once documents were released they were heavily redacted. The U.S. must support requests for evidence this time around. 

Deportation flights continue…for now

As indicated by Toto Constant’s arrival in Haiti, deportation flights are continuing. We encourage everyone to continue to reach out to members of Congress and press for an end to these flights.

If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your member of the House and ask them to support legislation to end deportations to Haiti. The Haiti Deportation Relief Act was introduced by Frederica Wilson and has the support of committee and subcommittee chairs on the Foreign Relations committee – which means it could get a hearing, committee vote and make it to the floor of the House if people show enough support. It clearly will have a hard time moving in the Senate – but we must press when and where we can!

In addition, the Quixote Center’s Executive Director, John Marchese, was one of 360+ human rights activists and other notables to sign a letter that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, including the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, last week. The letter was organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. You can read that here. You can also then print this letter, and send it with a message to your members of Congress to end deportation flights! Find their address here.

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Take Action to Halt Deportations to Haiti

One of the most obvious ways in which ICE continues to thumb its bureaucratic nose at decency and common sense is their policy of continuing deportations amidst a global pandemic. Based on information from public flight tracking websites, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has identified 330 likely deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. There were three flights yesterday – two to Mexico, one to the Dominican Republic.

We know that these flights have sent people who tested positive for COVID-19 to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, India and Haiti. Likely, people with the virus have been deported to most other places these planes fly. At this point it would be nearly impossible to assemble a flight where no one had been exposed, as coronavirus is now present throughout the ICE detention network. The testing regime is insufficient. ICE does not test everyone before they board a deportation flight, and those who are tested are given a 15-minute, “rapid test” that has been demonstrated to have a high false negative rate.

The chorus of people who have asked these flights to be halted is significant: Editorial boards, members of Congress and nearly every non-governmental organization working on immigration policy or in a country impacted by these flights. For more background on these flights and the problems associated with them you can read our reporting on this blog, Jack Johnson’s research article on the CEPR blog, or Daniella Burgi-Palomino’s opinion piece on Truthout here.

The latest effort demanding a halt to these flights is a letter to State Department officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. This letter is demanding that deportation flights to Haiti in particular be halted throughout the duration of the current health crisis. The letter was released today. From the Haitian Bridge Alliance press release:

Today Ibram X Kendi, Danny Glover, Edwidge Danticat, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Opal Tometi, Guerline Jozef, Dr. Barbara Ransby PhD, Randall Robinson, Jackson Browne, and Rainn Wilson, along with 359 other prominent human rights, humanitarian and racial justice leaders signed a letter urging the United States to immediately halt deportations to Haiti during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf states: “Deportations export COVID-19 throughout the region and put countless lives at risk….The capacity of Haiti’s health system to respond to COVID-19 cases is already at its limit,” and a spike of infections could “destroy an already weak economy and exacerbate political instability.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sent six deportation flights to Haiti since March 18, despite the serious risk of infection to deportees and transmission upon arrival. At least eight deportees who had tested positive for COVID-19 by ICE were deported to Haiti on May 26. One of them complained of symptoms the night before he was deported. Given the severe limitations on the availability of COVID testing and the unreliability of test results, “there is simply no safe way to deport persons.”

ICE told the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 2, 2020, that it does not test all detainees before deporting them. The letter notes that of the 30 Haitians deported on May 26, 14 were not tested before deportation, and the other 16 were tested with the “15 minute test” which the Food and Drug Administration considers unreliable because it gives “false negatives.” The lack of reliable testing violates explicit promises given by the United States to Haiti that it would test all deportees within 72 hours of their departure.

What can you do….

Frederica Wilson has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to halt all deportations to Haiti until the health crisis in both countries is over. You can click on the button below send a message asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor this legislation.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)