All posts by otabenga

Looking at Ebola from the perspective of one humanity

7-Nov-2014:   In response to the Ebola epidemic in Guinée, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the world noticed two distinctly different responses: one from the USA and France, carried out by their defense departments and the other from Cuba which demonstrated the kind of solidarity that is rarely seen nowadays, especially from the most powerful countries.   The latter seek ways of maintaining their way of living, their way of looking at humanity as a hierarchical structure.  The perspective of the powerful countries is not only a by-product of the way they look at their domination of the world during the last 500 years, and how they should benefit from the maintenance of that domination.  An understanding of what is right and just for all of humanity can be found by looking at humanity’s history from as far back as possible.   The most powerful countries and their militarized ways of responding to health issues is also related to their ways of ensuring that their view of justice, of science remains the unchallengeable one.  Shouldn’t scientific research, medical research be organized to benefit all of humanity?   If such a global approach to sharing knowledge were operational today, the response to the Ebola epidemic would most likely have been different. If knowledge about the best way of maintaining humanity’s health had been framed from the perspective of sharing, the response coming from Cuba might have been the rule rather than the exception.  The practice of keeping knowledge for a few, by a few, for enhancing their well being, to the exclusion of others, has been accepted as if that is the only way it can be done for the benefit of all.  This practice is in complete contradiction to all the utilitarian humanitarianism spread around under various names, including R2P.  Put in a different way: the Ebola epidemic is not just about a health issue.  It is about how the best knowledge can be mustered, and shared, for the benefit of all of humanity. Put in yet another way, how all of humanity reacts to a crisis like the Ebola epidemic hinges, crucially, on which narrative of its long history it chooses to accept. People of the Pyramids vs. People of the Spheres In his novel, KMT- In the House of Life –An Epistemic Novel (Per Ankh Cooperative Publisher, 2002. Popenguine. Senegal) the Ghanaan writer Ayi Kwei Armah has described this conflict between those he refers to as Sharers (of knowledge) and Keepers (of knowledge) in ways that are pertinent to how members of humanity could/should be looking at the current Ebola crisis.  This excerpt from the above book has appeared in Corinne Kumar’s edited volume Asking We Walk: Book Four: In the time of Spring. Streelekha Publications. Bangalore. 2013

Ayi Kwei Armah goes beyond questioning by imagining griots from those times battling for a different vision and, hence, a different narrative.  It is a narrative that shows an Ancient Egyptian society breathing live, seeking itself.   In the process of that search, one encounters groups that left behind the pyramids and others that left the spheres as symbols of their vision and understanding of the kind of society they would have liked to see emerge.

Confronting challenges through good and bad times, they began to understand differently how to respond to good times and bad times.  As recounted, this story that happened centuries ago in the Nile Valley sounds as if it is going on around us today.  On how to deal with the knowledge acquired through that process, two groups emerged: “Some were for sharing; they saw sharing as the solution, the way to forestall disaster.  And then there were those who did not see the need to share.  They were for keeping knowledge among those who planted it” (Armah,2002:264).

And so, it is easy to see from Armah’s KMT that the battle between those who are willing to share and those who are eager to keep all the benefits of the society to themselves is not something which started 500 years ago, but thousands of years ago.  And so the battle lines were drawn between those who looked at knowledge as power and, thus, something to keep for themselves and those who saw greater benefits for everyone by spreading knowledge:  “If all society grows in wealth, nothing prevents us from enjoying our share of the general knowledge”. (Armah, 2002:266).  The Sharers, then and now, were/are speaking the same language.

Needless to say, those who were/are opposed to sharing knowledge, food, power, –the keepers—found/find all kinds of arguments to reject the principles of sharing.  There is no need here to recount all of the arguments going back and forth.  Here is how the keepers were making the case for knowledge as a source of power: “Imagine if the entire valley obeyed one king, sustained by keepers of knowledge.  It is not only the nobles who would gain.  The people themselves would live more safely, their livelihood secure.  As for us keepers of knowledge, nothing would separate us from kings.  We shall have all the land we need, and slaves to work it for us all our lives.” (Armah: 2002, 270)

The geometrical figure that most faithfully represents the thinking and practice of the keepers is the pyramid while the one that is the most perfect figure for the sharers is the sphere.   Asked to explain how such “a balanced system would work”, the sharers responded: “It would begin with an open house, the house of life.  In that house all children would be our children, all of us.  Since the entire inheritance of society would belong to every child, no gate in our house of life would be closed against the entry of any child.” (Armah, 2002:280)

The keepers and the sharers went back and forth explaining how they would implement the kind of society they envisioned.   The dialogue is presented to us as taking place between the pyramid and the sphere.  Here is a sample:

“Air fills the world.  Knowledge is scarce.” “Sharing it creates more.” “Keeping it gives the keeper great power.” “Power unshared is unstable.” “There is sharing and sharing.  At the top of the pyramid the keepers have knowledge in pure form.  At the bottom the toilers enjoy the dregs.  That is stability.” “The deceptive stability of inert forms.  If you want stability containing life, strong enough to contain change, look away from the pyramid.  See the sphere.” (Armah, 2002:284)

Further down, the dialogue continued:

“So in your pyramid, reason will not be the guide.” “All power belongs to the king.  The valley being unified, the king of the Two Lands is the King of Kings.” “And after he dies?” “He shall  not die.” “Now here is a new song.” “Listen well to it.  We the companions who work with the warriors are not traitors.  We have gone with the men of force not because we love force but because we live by results.  The rule of the warriors can be beneficial to us if it brings the results we want, but cannot achieve on our own.” (Armah, 2002:285)

Much later the saga between Sharers and Keepers described by Armah was repeated.  It happened between those who wanted to share the commons and those who, through enclosure, wanted to keep the commons for themselves.  They would love to turn the earth into a pyramid.  The earth, because of how it was built cannot become a pyramid, no matter how hard the keepers try.   The earth is the house of life.  And as the novel KMT ends, so will the Earth: it shall keep reproducing the House of Life.*  It shall keep distilling life, sharing its treasures, make sure that all have access to them.  Earth calls for unity, sharing always, all the time. From Armah’s novel, it is possible to look at how the Ebola epidemic is being confronted through the prism of the Sharers of Life vs. the Keepers of Death.  For the Sharers of Life, healing and health are not about how quickly to accumulate wealth.  On the other hand, in spite of its humanitarian disguises, the Keepers of Death are not interested in the sharing of access to knowledge that will enhance the health of all members of humanity without exception. Despite appearances to the contrary, members of the House of Life continue to live and spread the principles of the sharers that could also be called a language.  It is much more than a language, it is a way of living life, or to quote from Armah’s definition: a way of “moving into new beginnings in hopes of creating communities walking the paths of balance, living justice.” (2002:293).  In other words, the responses to the Ebola epidemic as exemplified by the most powerful nations of the Planet, on the one hand, and, on the other, by Cuba, do go beyond issues of health.

Jacques Depelchin
Berkeley CA

10 Steps to Dictatorship: Why The Grassroots Movement in Haiti Is Taking To the Streets Against President Michel Martelly


Counterpunch:  DECEMBER 17, 2013

10 Steps to Dictatorship in Haiti

At great personal risk Haitians have been demonstrating massively in cities throughout the country for the last several months calling for President Michel Martelly to step down, including September 30 and October 17, dates of important coup d’etats in Haitian history, and November 29, the date of an election day massacre in 1987.

By choosing these historically significant dates, the Haitian grassroots majority is clearly saying they want an end to Martelly and to the 10-year UN military occupation that has followed the coup that overthrew elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. Martelly’s police force brutally broke up some demonstrations with tear gas and beatings.

Demonstrators have reported the police used a very “powerful” gas, which surprised them in its potency and aerial reach.

In late October, students in Cap Haitien, demonstrating to support teachers demanding an increase in pay, were tear gassed so viciously that 60 were injured, 4 seriously.

The next day, students in the State University of Port-au-Prince, demonstrating in support of attorney Andre Michel (see #7 below), were gassed for hours, even after they had been pushed back to their campus. The gassing went on so long that some legislators went on the radio to demand that it be stopped.

On November 6th, lawyers marched in Port-au-Prince demanding an end to threats and harassment for those willing to take on cases involving Martelly’s corruption. They also called for the resignation of the chief prosecutor.

And on November 7th, thousands marched, chanting “Aba Martelly” (Down with Martelly). Haitian police attacked the demonstration with tear gas and beatings. Three people were shot and wounded.

1. Who Is Michel Martelly?  Martelly grew up during the 27 year dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc.”  He reportedly joined the Duvalierist death squad, the Tonton Macoutes, at the age of 15, and later attended Haiti’s military academy. Under Baby Doc, Martelly, a popular musician, ran the Garage, a nightclub patronized by army officers and members of Haiti’s tiny ruling class.

After Baby Doc’s fall in February 1986, a mass democratic movement, long repressed by the Duvaliers, burst forth and became known as Lavalas (“flood”), from which emerged Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular liberation theology Catholic priest, who was elected president in 1990 with 67% of the vote in the first free and fair election in Haiti’s history.

Martelly quickly became a bitter opponent of Lavalas, attacking the popular movement in his songs played widely on Haitian radio.

Martelly “was closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” the Miami Herald observed in 1996, and ran with members of the vicious FRAPH death squad from that period, infamous for gang rapes and killing with impunity.

On the day of Aristide’s return to Haiti in 2011, after 8 years of forced exile in South Africa, and two days before the “run-off” election, Martelly was caught in a video on YouTube insulting Aristide and Lavalas: “The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like s**t. F**k you, Lavalas. F**k you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

2. The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2010-2011:   In the presidential election cycle of 2010-2011, Haiti’s Electoral Council banned Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party from participation, which de-legitimized the whole corrupt process. Voter turnout was less than 25% in the primaries and less than 20% in the “run-off.” The top two candidates announced after the sham primaries were the wife of a former pro-Duvalier president and the son-in-law of Rene Preval, the president at the time. Martelly was declared third, but his supporters demonstrated violently. An OAS commission, with the full support of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who flew to Port-au-Prince at the height of the Egyptian revolution, ruled that Martelly had finished second. He received $6 million from an anonymous donor in Florida to hire a PR firm that had worked on the campaigns of Felipe Calderón in Mexico and John McCain in the U.S.

3. Corruption – Corruption scandals have followed Martelly since he refused to divulge who funded his campaign for president.

Bribes – Award-winning Dominican Republic journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 (later reported in Time) that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican construction company would receive contracts under his Presidency.  In addition, the vote to make Laurent Lamothe the Prime Minister is known in Haiti as the “tout moun jwenn vote” (“everyone got their cut” vote).

Surcharge on international calls and money transfers for “education” – 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 by Martelly 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.

Travel Expenses – When traveling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Senator 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.

A plan to establish an illegal parallel customs system to circumvent legislative control – This allegedly involved the selling of a membership card and gun to anyone who wanted to be part of the Martelly gang. The membership privileges included tax-exempt status at customs. The program had to be scratched when US DEA complained about members facilitating drug transport on the strength of their membership.

 4. Rewriting and Undermining Haiti’s Constitution:  The overthrow of Baby Doc in 1986 led to the creation of a new democratic Constitution in 1987, ratified in a referendum by an overwhelming majority of Haitians. It recognized Haitian Kreyol as an official language, along with French, and legalized Vodun, the spiritual practice of the majority of Haitians. It provided for grassroots participation in national decision-making, decentralized the nation’s finances and political structure, and provided for protection of human rights.

On June 12, 2012 Martelly announced new amendments, which concentrate executive power and herald the return of Duvalier-style dictatorship. The new illegally amended Constitution, written by non-legislators, and never seen nor voted by the Parliament prior to its publication creates a top down method of choosing a Permanent Electoral Council to run elections, undermining grassroots participation and centralizing control from above.

It allows the president to appoint the prime minister after merely “consulting” the heads of the two chambers of Parliament instead of requiring Parliamentary ratification. In cases of “presidential vacancy,” the new amendments make the prime minister the provisional president, so presidents can resign, appoint the prime minister to succeed them, and thereby maintain perpetual control.

New amendments provide that a “general budget” and a “general expenditures report” can replace line item annual budgets, thus limiting parliamentary oversight of the budget.

New amendments return Duvalier era and other retrograde laws, including:

* A 1935 law on “superstitious beliefs,” which would ban Vodun once again.

* A 1977 law establishing the Court of State Security to increase state surveillance and repression.

* A 1969 law that condemns all “imported doctrines”, thereby attacking freedom of thought and freedom of association.  Violation of this new law can result in the DEATH PENALTY.  The 1987 Haitian Constitution had eliminated the death penalty.

5. Restoring The Army:  In one of the most popular moves of his administration, President Aristide disbanded the hated Haitian army in 1995. Since the coup that overthrew Aristide for the second time in 2004, UN troops and police, currently numbering 8,754 uniformed personnel, have occupied Haiti. One of Martelly’s campaign promises was to restore the Haitian Army, and now new Haitian troops are being trained by Ecuador and Brazil. In addition, well-armed former military and paramilitary personnel have occupied militia camps since early 2012, supported by Martelly.

6. Return of the Death Squads:  Martelly has issued pink identity cards with a photo for $30 to selected supporters, promising many benefits to those who hold them, like jobs and impunity from prosecution. During the Duvalier period, every Tonton Macoute received a card that provided many privileges, like free merchandise from any store entered, entitlement to coerced sex, and fear and respect from people in general.

Senator John Joel Joseph has identified Senators that he claims are marked for assassination. He identified the people who have been paying the “hit squads” on behalf of Martelly. He denounced one of the men as an escaped criminal who had been caught red handed with a “near death” victim behind his vehicle. Said victim sent the police to a house where two more victims could be found. Senator Joseph identified the leader of the death squad and his vehicle, denouncing the group as the one which recently assassinated a grassroots militant. He accused the president and his wife of pressuring the chief of police to remove the senators’ security detail, in order to facilitate their assassinations. He denounced a previous instance when Martelly tried to pressure former police chief Mario Andresol to integrate a hit-man into the police, to assassinate Senator Moise Jean Charles. 

7. Death of a Judge:  Martelly set up his wife and son as head of governmental projects, but with no parliamentary oversight. A Haitian citizen, Enold Florestal, filed suit with attorney Andre Michel before Judge Jean Serge Joseph, maintaining that the Martellys were siphoning off large amounts of state monies, which the Haitian Senate has no jurisdiction over. Judge Joseph moved the case to the next judicial level, which required depositions from the Martellys and various governmental ministers. Enraged, Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe called two meetings with the judge (which they deny took place) to demand he kill the case, the second on July 11. The judge drank a beverage offered him at that meeting.

On July 12 Judge Joseph became violently ill and died on July 13. Haitian police arrested Florestal on August 16 after viciously beating him, and Haitian authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of Attorney Michel, who has gone into hiding. A commission of the Haitian Parliament is now calling for the impeachment of Martelly based on illegal meetings with the judge, interference in legal matters, and threats to those involved in the case.

Since then Enold Florestal and his brother, who’s completely uninvolved with the case, have been arrested and remain in jail. On October 22, police stopped Attorney Andre Michel and demanded to search his car. He refused without a judge present to prevent tampering or planting of evidence. The action quickly turned into a standoff between police forces and a large crowd that was gathered to defend Michel. Michel was eventually summoned to appear in court the next day.

In court the prosecutor told the judge he did not have charges to file, but for Michel to  not leave the courtroom. Several Deputies and Senators who were present whisked Michel out of the courtroom and took him to an unknown location, where he remains at the time of this report.

8. Corrupting the Judiciary and Parliament:  The Martelly regime is working to establish executive control over the judicial system through the use of “controlled” prosecutors and judges. In violation of the constitution, he appointed as Supreme Court chief justice, Anel Alexis Joseph, who is 72. Haitian law says a judge must be 65 or under to be named to this position. The chief justice also leads the commission that regulates the entire judicial system, so Judge Anel Alexis Joseph is using his power to block an investigation into the death of Judge Jean Serge Joseph and to protect Martelly and his henchmen from all legal challenges, thereby granting impunity.

Martelly has also corrupted the legislative branch that could bring charges against members of the executive. He ordered the arrest of Deputy Arnel Belizaire in spite of parliamentary immunity and his legal council’s advice. He has so far failed to call elections for 10 Senate seats in January, and is trying to force the 10 Senators whose terms he says are up (they say in 2015, not 2014) to leave office. Since elections have still not been held for 10 additional seats, if these new 10 seats are vacated, it would leave the 30 member Senate without a quorum, allowing Martelly to dissolve the Parliament and rule by decree.

9. Reactionary Economic Policy:  Martelly enforces the Clinton Bush plan for economic “development” of Haiti through sweatshops, tourism, and the selling of oil and mining rights to transnational corporations. Under this plan, money donated for earthquake relief has been used to build a duty free export manufacturing zone in the north of Haiti, which was not affected by the earthquake, and several luxury hotels in Port-au-Prince. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund made a $2 million equity investment in a hotel called the Royal Oasis, to give foreign tourists and investors an “oasis” to escape the miserable conditions under which the majority of Haitians live.

At the same time, the Martelly regime viciously represses the economic activities of the poor super majority. The phone and money transfer taxes cut into their incomes. Taxes have been arbitrarily increased on imports, affecting small merchants. Thugs wearing masks have burnt markets in different cities, causing merchants to lose capital they had been accumulating for years, forcing them to raise new capital through usury loans. Street vendors are harassed and removed forcefully, then after hours, their stands are looted.

10. Duvalierism Returns to Haiti:  Martelly warmly welcomed the January, 2011 return to Haiti of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, after his decades of luxurious exile in France. Duvalier still has many supporters in Haiti, some of whom are armed and have a history of killing political opponents.

Martelly’s government is filled with Duvalierists: hardline former Haitian army officer David Bazile is now Interior Minister. Magalie Racine, daughter of notorious former Tonton Macoute militia chief Madame Max Adolphe, is Martelly’s Youth and Sports Minister. Public Works Secretary of State Philippe Cinéas is the son of longtime Duvalierist figure Alix Cinéas, who was a member of the original neo-Duvalierist National Council of Government (CNG) which succeeded Duvalier after his fall in 1986. In addition, Duvalier’s son, Francois Nicolas Jean Claude Duvalier, is a close advisor to Martelly.

Conclusion:  A major objective of the Duvalier dynasty was to institutionalize dictatorship through death squad brutality, supported by the United States and other powers. Martelly is an example of their policies having come to fruition. He’s restoring a government of impunity per the Duvalier era, building an administration of right wing ideologues who believe in dictatorship, and who collaborate to sidestep all legislative and judicial controls.

His goal is to implement extreme neo-liberal economic policies on behalf of Haiti’s less than 1% with control over all natural resources. The people will be at their mercy for factory work and other “subservient” positions, under the boot of a UN occupation force of 8,754 army and police personnel, the beginnings of a restored army, paramilitary training camps, death squads, gangs and mafias that use the cover of the corrupted executive and judicial systems to operate.

The Haitian majority does not accept this return to the bad old days, however, and has been actively and massively protesting this repression for the past year. They deserve the support and solidarity of freedom loving people everywhere.