Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 21.15.09Every single magazine we submitted our Haiti work to refused to publish it. In fact, they spent more time mocking our efforts to reveal a mostly unspoken aspect of the toppling and kidnapping of the democratically elected Haitian leader Jean-Bertrande Aristide in 1994. So it was with some pleasure to read this piece in The Public Archive that in fact echos so much of what we had been trying to argue and reveal.

As Jemima Pierre writes:

The second occupation began June 2004 and was established under the pretext of “stabilizing” Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored ouster of the country’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the 2003 “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” France, Canada, and the US hatched a plot to overthrow Aristide. The following February their plan was implemented. Aristide was kidnapped by US marines and sent to a military base in the Central African Republic. US President George W. Bush announced afterwards that he was sending US forces to Haiti to “help stabilize the country.” As Peter Hallward documents, the invading “Franco-American” force targeted and killed Aristide supporters, installed a puppet Prime Minister, and enabled the formation of a paramilitary force that organized anti-Aristide death squads. The United Nations, then led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, then cleaned up. According to Hallward, UN Security Council voted unanimously on April 29, 2003 to send, “an 8,300-strong UN Stabilization Force from 1 June, under the leadership of Lula’s Brazil.”

Writer Malcolm Garcia and I had travelled – at our own expense and based on our own research, to Port Au Prince to document the targeting and killing of Lavalas activists and Aristided supporters under cover of a UN mission, and with the support and collusion of the USA and France. In the introduction to the photo essay I had put together – and that was generously exhibited by Jean-Francois Leroy at Visa Pour L’image – an act for which, despite the criticisms I have had of some of his recent statements about photojournalism, I will forever be grateful for – I had written that:

The international community had welcomed Aristide’s removal and promised much needed financial and political support. In the aftermath of the chaos that had gripped the nation during the rebellion, there seemed to be a genuine promise of change. This was not, however, the reality that I found.

Instead, I witnessed an ongoing campaign of violence and repression by Haiti’s new leaders to eliminate the still popular Lavalas, pro-Aristide movement, and its supporters. Hundreds of Lavalas activists were jailed without charge, while hundreds of others were killed protesting in the streets. Entire communities suspected of pro-Aristide leanings were surrounded by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), as well as Haitian National Police (HNP) checkpoints, and residents were killed during HNP raids.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 21.24.51Pierre further points out in her piece that:

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is a multi-billion dollar military occupation that has had in any given year between 6000 and 9000 military troops and police in addition to thousands of civilian personnel.  While there is no civil war in Haiti, and while crime rates are higher in other nations in the Western hemisphere – including Jamaica and the U.S. – MINUSTAH has had its illegal mandate renewed and extended every year. During this second occupation, the US and its allies, France and Canada, have been able to install another puppet government, the neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly. Martelly, who has been ruling by decree since January 2015, has opened up Haiti to radical economic fleecing, including the giveaway of land and the Republic’s gold and mineral resources. He has also diligently worked to reinstate the Haitian military. And in a horrific parallel to first US occupation of Haiti, MINUSTAH has committed numerous acts of violence against the Haitian people – including rape and assassination. MINUSTAH is also responsible for bringing cholera into the country, a disease that has killed more than 9000 Haitians and infected hundreds of thousands. Despite the deaths, and despite the evidence proving their culpability, the United Nations has enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

This was something that we had witnessed with our own eyes, and I too had raised it in my introduction

MINUSTAH had been given a ‘peacekeeping’ task for which it was clearly undermanned and unprepared. And yet, further pressure was being put on MINUSTAH to use greater force, compelling the Commander of the UN forces, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, to complain that ‘We are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence. I command a peacekeeping force, not an occupation force.’

Malcolm Garcia eventually published a personal piece in The Virginia Quarterly Review about our work there, pointing out in a piece called Descent Into Haiti that:

A Harvard Law School report issued just before I left, however, suggested that with support from the UN they might not. The report found that “MINUSTAH has provided cover for abuses committed by the HNP [Haitian police] during operations in poor, historically tense Port-au-Prince neighborhoods such as Bel Air, La Saline, and lower Delmas. Rather than advising and instructing the police in best practices, and monitoring their missteps, MINUSTAH has been the midwife of their abuses. In essence, MINUSTAH has provided to the HNP the very implements of repression.”

All this – backed by research reports from law school research teams and human rights organisations both within Haiti and outside Haiti, were simply dismissed as nonsense. None more so that Time Magazine who not only refused to discuss the work, but within weeks of my return, embedded a ‘famous’ photographer with the MINUSTAH forces to give us an official view of the progress of the ‘new Haiti’ and the ‘liberation’ that the ordinary people were celebrating. I remember well my frustration, anger and disbelief at the way editors had responded to our work. I remember the realisation that this was not just about reporting, nor even about wanting to know. This was mostly about an iron-clad commitment to the narratives fed by power. And if you dared – as a journalist and photographer, you would simply be shut off and dismissed.

The hard facts and the ugly truths are difficult to face. Not the least because of the compliance and comformity of mainstream journalism. This isn’t, I believe, simply ideology. Many other factors come into play, including politics, shareholder value, conformity and fear. And they all interplay. But Haiti – and the silences of our media, remain for me one of those transformative moments. And had it not been for Jean-Francois calling me and asking me for this work, and taking the time to hang it in one of the exhibitions at the festival that year, it would have simply disappeared. And perhaps I would have to, because after the risks we took, the reseach we did, and the on-the-ground work we did, I wasn’t sure what more I could do other than to simply stop.

Jemina Pierre’s piece was a pleasure to read because even after all these years, those days of silences, rejections, mockery and humiliation, remain stark. I remain proud of the work we had done. And grateful that we refused to bend to the dictates of the editors, despite the financial and other consequences.