Kevin Pina/ Marian Peleski
November 11, 2006
Documentary filmmaker and independent journalist Kevin Pina was recently interviewed by Marian Peleski about his work and current events unfolding in Haiti. Peleski is a frequent host of� “Progressive Voices” which is heard every Monday evening on WVUD, 91.3 FM from the University of Delaware in Newark.
MP:� You produced the documentary film “Haiti: The Untold Story” to tell the story of human rights abuse in Haiti.� How did you get involved with Haiti?
KP: I have been a documentary filmmaker for more than twenty-five years now. My first film was called “El Salvador: In the Name of Democracy,” and was basically a film to combat the Reagan administration’s propaganda. While they were releasing so-called White Papers purporting that the FMLN were puppets of the Soviet Union and godless communists deserving of death, I was working to bring a human face to the Salvadoran struggle for justice. “El Salvador: In the Name of
Democracy” was the result.
I then went on to work with Mark Kitchell as one of the producers of “Berkeley in the Sixties” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1990. Following that I was brought in as a producer by Glenn Switkes and Monte Aquirre to help them complete their documentary “Amazonia: Voices from the Rainforest.”��Each of these documentaries dealt with issues of social justice and human rights which over time developed into the overarching interest and theme of my documentary work.
Haiti was a natural progression. Her story first attracted my attention because of the parallels I saw between Archbishop Romero and Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, especially their adherence to Liberation Theology and working on behalf of the poor. The greatest similarity between them was their courage in challenging the status quo, taking on Washington-backed elites and Pentagon-armed and trained militaries. They also posed the question of whether free market capitalism was really free if it resulted in perpetuating economic elites whose true nature was monopolistic. How could you call it free if the end result was to entrench a social class that resorts to the use of violence to protect their wealth and privilege against competition and demands of the poor majority for justice? These were questions central to the work and legacies of Romero and Aristide and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Haiti and El Salvador.
About this time, I also began studying Haiti’s history in earnest and was struck by the depth of the historical relationship this tiny nation had with the United� States. From before Haiti’s independence, the slaves were seen as threat, and for good reason, the U.S. was a slave holding nation whose wealth and stability absolutely depended on trade in human chattel. It was in defense of this evil that the U.S. Senate of 1806 declared Haiti “the greatest threat to U.S. interests at home and abroad.” They were right in fearing the example of Haiti’s slave revolution as it inspired other slave revolts such as those undertaken by Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner and the white abolitionist John Brown. Haiti’s existence established an institutional fear in the halls of power in the U.S. that would lead to a crippling economic blockade of the country that lasted for more than half a century. Its effects were felt well after Haiti was finally recognized by the administration of President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.
Haiti is also where the longest U.S. military occupation in history occurred from 1915-1934. The point is that once I started researching this incredible history I couldn’t stop. So when Aristide became a candidate for the presidency in 1990 I was determined to make a documentary about Haiti and that developed into “Haiti: Harvest of Hope.” It was my attempt to give an accounting of the history of the movement known as Lavalas, translated as flash flood from Kreyol, that would catapult Aristide into the presidency in 1990.� That documentary covered the context of Lavalas’s formation, namely the Duvalier dictatorship and the corruption in the Catholic church, Aristide’s electoral campaign, his first six months in office and the brutal military coup which followed.
During the production of “Harvest” many people I knew personally were killed or forced into exile…it was a nightmare. In 1993 I survived an attempt to kill me that resulted in the accidental shooting of a Haitian Senator. The Cedras dictatorship then accused me of the attempted assassination of the Senator and expelled me from Haiti. I was able to return to Haiti when Aristide was restored to office in 1994.
In 1998, I decide to make a sequel to “Harvest.” I determined that to do this would require me moving to Haiti which I did in January 1999 and lived there until February 2006. I now have more that 200 hours of material I videotaped during this period including the second ouster of Aristide in Feb. 2004 and the human rights nightmare that followed. It was this latter material that became the basis of my latest documentary films “Haiti: The UNtold Story” and “Haiti: We Kill the Bandits.” The title for “Bandits” comes from a quote by a Brazilian general who was the head of the UN military mission for a time, Heleno Ribera.�
MP:� Is the UN helping to legitimize human rights violations in Haiti?
KP: The truth is that the UN’s role, following Aristide’s ouster in Feb. 2004, was to insure there was no armed resistance to the violent campaign waged by the Haitian police to repress the Lavalas movement. At the same time the U.N. did provide legitimacy to the U.S.-installed government that was responsible for that same police force as well as the judiciary that was responsible for holding political prisoners affiliated with the Lavalas movement. It became clear they were not acting as a neutral and independent force in Haiti. Quite the contrary. They took credit for training the police and reforming the judiciary at the very moment these institutions were involved in this campaign of repression against Lavalas. On the one hand they would pat themselves on the back and give themselves medals for their assistance to the police and the judiciary while on the other they would wash their hands of any responsibility for the human rights violations being committed by those very same institutions. It was the height of hypocrisy and enabled the most reactionary forces in Haiti to literally get away with murder under the cover of a U.N. mandate.
Ultimately, the U.N. role would go far beyond just legitimizing human rights violations in Haiti. The UN actually stands accused of targeting unarmed civilians in Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005. There have also been documented cases of indiscriminate shooting by UN forces in Cite Soleil since. They have denied it and have tried to spin it so as to cover it up but the evidence of a massacre committed by U.N. forces in Cite Soleil on July 6, 2005 is incontrovertible.
MP:� What about help from Amnesty International?
KP: Initially, AI was out of the picture and unresponsive to the situation in Haiti by virtue of their reliance on a partisan anti-Lavalas organization for their information on the ground. AI relied heavily upon the National Coalition for Haitian Rights or NCHR who were the same ones falsely accusing people of crimes to justify their killing and incarceration. For all intents and purposes, NCHR served as a network of rubber-stamp police informants for the interim regime of Gerard Latortue. They manufactured evidence of crimes to justify arresting and/or holding individuals in what was called prolonged detention, which was really code for locking them up without ever having an honest trial and throwing away the key. There were other politically motivated human rights “experts” like Jean-Claude Bajeaux who fed AI false information but it was primarily NCHR. When AI finally did send a delegation in April 2004 they even went so far as to use the same language as NCHR to describe the situation. I remember they used the word “chimere” in their report to describe armed groups they claimed were loyal to Aristide and the Lavalas movement. This word was a highly partisan term used by those who supported Aristide’s ouster, especially NCHR, to create a climate of terror and fear after Feb. 2004. Anyone accused of being a “chimere” was marked for death or imprisonment without trial. Yet here was AI, a purportedly independent human rights organization, using the same politically charged language.�I found it disgraceful.
I also remember challenging AI representatives to declare Annette Auguste, arrested by U.S. marines on May 10, 2004, a political prisoner one month after her arrest. They argued that they could not because they had “reliable” information she was involved in fomenting violence against Aristide opponents. I demanded to know who gave them that information and they claimed they could not reveal their sources. I knew it was coming from Pierre Esperance and Marie Yolene Gilles of
NCHR because they were making the rounds on local radio programs with the same accusations. It wasn’t until Jan. 2006 that AI officially designated� Auguste a political prisoner after she had already spent 20 months in prison. Auguste was finally released on Aug. 14, 2006 and all of the false charges leveled against her were dropped. Had AI realized earlier they had been receiving false information from politically motivated organizations and individuals in Haiti it could have made a tremendous difference.