Total Pageviews

Haitians in Flight: A TV Script

Produced, written and narrated by Claude Adams
Co-producer and cameraman: Reed Lindsay
Aired: September 28, 2008, on Our World with Brian Stewart

Stanley Desmoulins should be a model for Haiti’s future. He’s young, politically active, an electronics engineer who speaks three languages.

Stanley lives in a nice apartment overlooking Port au Prince, and drives a late-model SUV. He earns $1000 US a month. By Haitian standards, he’s part of the country’s elite.

But Stanley, 29, is unhappy. He’s applied for a visa to live and work in Canada. As soon as it’s approved, he will leave.

He’ll be joining Haiti’s Brain Drain, a phenomenon that makes a poor country even poorer.

CLIP (Stanley) “When I look to the future, it’s important for me to go outside to try to have more knowledge and to make some money and after come back to help the country. If I work hard I will have a future in Canada.”

Stories like Stanley’s are repeated many times, every day—an exodus of an entire educated generation to countries like Canada and the United States.

(Jean V.Geneus, Minister of Haitians Living Abroad) “It is a hemorrhaging, a bleeding we cannot stop.”

(Patrick Elie, adviser to Haitian President) “I am seeing a drain, a massive drain.”

(Wilson Laleau, university vice-rector) “It’s a catastrophe for the country, it’s a waste of resources”

We call it economic immigration. In Creole, the term is “li chape”—someone who escapes, who breaks out, as if from prison.

Haitians have been escaping since the Duvalier dictatorship in the 1950s and 60s, —escaping from violence, from political instability, but mostly from a crushing poverty that never seems to end, despite billions in foreign aid.

More than two million people have fled, mostly to the United States. But in recent years, the cream of the crop—the best doctors, teachers, engineers and other professionals—have come to Canada.

You see them lining up every weekday morning, documents and bank statements in hand, in front of the Canadian Embassy on Rue Delmas.

(ADAMS): Canada makes no apologies for the fact that it welcomes the best and the brightest of Haitian immigrants. The free movement of people, it says, is one of the hallmarks of a democratic system. That may be true, but there’s a terrible contradiction at play here: because the brain drain is helping to turn Haiti into a beggar state, even while Canada pours in millions of dollars to put the country on its feet.

Patrick Elie is an adviser to Haitian President Rene Preval. He likes Canada. He spent several years here as a political exile.

But Elie is furious at the Canadian government for what he calls an intentional policy to extract the best Haitians—especially in recent years.

“We have more Haitian doctors in North America than we have in Haiti and the vast majority of them studied here in Haiti, were fed by their family, went through the school system and that did not cost the US or Canada a penny.”

Cabinet Minister Jean Geneus also points an accusing finger at Canada.

(Geneus): “For the past 8 years I can tell you that the Canadian government has attracted thousands of Haitians . . . the best ones, doctors, engineers. What’s wrong with that? The state of Haiti spent millions of dollars to form these people and now they all gone. And what do we receive in return?"

What Haiti receives in return is foreign aid. Lots of it. Canada sends more money to Haiti than to any other country in the world except Afghanistan. The Harper government has pledged half a billion dollars up to the year 2011.

That seems awful generous. But how much of that money actually gets to the poor who really need it?

Consultant Jean-Sebastien Roy has worked 25 years in development projects, including a number of Canadian ones.

(Roy) “My opinion is that about 10% of any budget of a developmental program actually reaches what we call the ground, the field . . . “

This makes people like Patrick Elie wonder how humanitarian donors like Canada and the US really are.

“Every time this country is in turmoil people leave, every kind of people leave, but then the US and Canada throw back those that do not fit their need, but accept and entice those that fit their needs.”

(SU from English classes)

Learning English is a priority for any young professional in Haiti—the first step to leaving. At the Haitian-American Institute in downtown Port-au-Prince, hundreds come out every Saturday morning to learn what they need to know to integrate into North American society.

“Which city has the highest population?”

Emile Dorismond is 23. He wants to study medicine or music overseas— he’ll do almost anything to escape.

Emile “The real problem is Haiti . . . that’s my opinion. You can see that when you go somewhere in Haiti . . . that’s really really ugly, a lot of garbage in the street, insecurity, gunshots everywhere . . . “

Many of the young people we talked to mention violence. In reality, Haiti is less violent today than two years ago, thanks to the efforts of 9000 UN peacekeepers. Nevertheless, these Haitians have lived almost their entire lives amid political and social chaos. A sense of insecurity has become part of the fabric of their lives. And they want to be free of it.

Director Philippe Mantas says 80% or more of these students will leave Haiti at the first opportunity.

My question: “Does it not concern you that most of these people will be lost to the country?

Answer: “In a sense it would concern me, but the problem is that there are no facilities here for them to have an opportunity to reach their potential. So you might even say they were lost anyway.”

Many of the students we talked to were torn between self-interest, and concern for their country’s future.

David Jonathan: “It’s important to sacrifice, I think it’s difficult but we must sacrifice just to start, to try to develop it. I know it’s difficult, but we must do it. Q. Would you be willing? Answer: I would like to try, I don’t know if I can resist, but I would like to try .”

Gary Narcisse: “In Haiti, our nation, our people don’t respect us. When you go overseas you study and make some experience and come back, they have more respect for you. Q. So you want to get more respect? Answer: “Exactly.”

Herve Denis, Haitian Canadian Chamber of Commerce: “You have to put that in perspective. Those people, they are young, they have nothing to do, they have no money, so what they have to do? And when they look at TV they see something that looks like paradise for them. Put yourself in those situations, in their shoes.”

Stanley Desmoulins takes little comfort in his own relative affluence. His car may be comfortable, but the roads are dreadful—there’s no money in the treasury to even fix potholes.

SU Radio newscast

When he turns on his radio on his way to work, the news is almost always bleak.

And the cost of living is going through the roof: Gasoline approaching $7 a gallon. Stanley worries endlessly about making ends meet.

Stanley“What will happen if I lose my job, if my wife loses her job? And in the future I will have to have my own car, my own house. With the money that I have I cannot build a house or buy a house. I think that if I have more knowledge, if I have a Masters (degree) I could find a better job and I could earn more money. And this could help me build a better future.”

(demonstrators shouting “a bas MINUSTAH”)
It’s a vicious circle. Just as Haiti seemed to be on the road to political stability, a food crisis erupted earlier this year over the rising price of rice.

This kind of violence accelerates the brain drain, which brings more poverty, which in turns causes more people to leave.

Haiti’s extreme poverty also leaves it highly vulnerable to natural disasters, like the recent hurricanes that killed hundreds of people in flooding.

STANDUP (Adams): There ARE some ideas for reversing the brain drain. A few years ago, for example, the Cuban government took hundreds of young Haitians, trained them in medicine and agronomy, and sent them home. That program has worked pretty well.

Dr. Michel Maxene spent 7 years studying medicine in Cuba. Today, he sees patients in a bare-bones office that doesn’t even have proper hinges on the door.

He earns about $300 US a month, but he says he has no plans to leave Haiti.

CLIP Maxene (translation from Spanish) “It’s true, we could be more comfortable in another country. But we have to think of our people. I think it’s a huge crime to leave these people, to stop helping them in order go to another land, in spite of all our difficulties.”

Dr. Maxene embodies what’s missing in Haiti: a sense of civic responsibility.

Of course, it’s hard to have much faith in an economy notorious for its sweatshop labor. The country has many factories like this one. There’s not much scope here for ambitious and educated young professionals.

Planners say that what Haiti needs is a lot more large-scale development, financed perhaps by Haitians living in Canada and the US. And at the same time, Canada could open vocational schools in Haiti. That way these people now taking English courses might be encouraged to train for the kinds of jobs this development would produce.

Because Stanley Desmoulins would love to find a reason to stay at home. On his morning drive to work, I asked him what he will miss most about Haiti when he leaves.

 Stanley: “I will miss the people, the smell of the land. When it is raining, our land has a special odor.”

It’s an odor, and a way of life that he’ll likely never find in Canada. Like tens of thousands of other Haitians who are the Brain Drain, Stanley only wishes he had a choice.

The Pitfalls of "Official" History

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”

W. H. Auden “September 1, 1939”

For 14 years, there has been no history taught in Rwandan schools. In a sense, the 1994 genocide that wiped out more than 800,000 people also effectively erased the available records (or at least, scrambled the prevailing notions) of a people’s past. The genocide obliterated memory.

Soon that will be corrected. Within the next few weeks or months, new history textbooks will be introduced in Rwanda’s schools. This is a vitally important event for the Central African country. After all, says Deo Byanafashe, the Rwandan professor largely responsible for the reclamation project, “history is where we find our identity.”

This should be cause for celebration. But is it? Will Rwandan schoolchildren be getting an authentic history text that honestly traces the roots of the ethnic violence that tore their society apart? Or will the New History be just another official mythology, a narrative born of political expediency, or political necessity?

The government, controlled by the minority Tutsis (who make up less than 15 per cent of Rwanda’s population), argues that an agreed-upon history is critical to reconciliation. Indeed, the slogan of the new history program is “Education for Reconciliation.” This offers a clue to the question of authenticity: Can history be “used” as a remedy for social disharmony? Aren’t we talking here about “designer history” as a form of therapy?

To its credit, the government brought in outside experts to help. A group of American researchers, working under the auspices of the University of California/Berkeley Human Rights Centre, proposed a secondary-school curriculum that would “invite discussion and debate so students can think critically about competing views of history and ethnicity.”

The New Orthodoxy

It’s a brave and brilliant idea. It recognizes there is no last word in history. Re-analysis, and re-reframing of the past, is a never-ending process, and so it should be. And if it is to function, this process requires absolute freedom of investigation and interpretation. It requires the right to dissent. In Rwanda, however, there is little or no open discussion and debate about things like history and ethnicity. For example, Rwanda’s new orthodoxy, enforced by Tutsi law, is that there are NO separate ethnicities at all. Tutsis, Hutus and Twa—the old groupings that became so critical in determining who would live and who would die in the genocide-- no longer exist. Rwandans have, in a sense, been “de-ethnicized” by government decree. You can go to jail (and people do) for insisting otherwise. Any dissent from this orthodoxy violates the laws against “divisionism” and “genocidal ideology.”

Historian Marian Hodgkin, writing in the Journal of International Affairs, argues that this is wrong. Efforts by the government to impose what she calls an "official" truth are actually "harmful to the building of sustainable peace and a meaningful reconciliation process."

"The creation of a single narrative and interpretation," she continues," will in affect deny or repress the memories of each subgroup within Rwandan society.”

What the Kagame government is trying to do is not new. It’s a political fact of life, as old as Machiavelli, that governments, whether in Russia, Rwanda, or Rhode Island, are in the business of monopolizing “knowledge construction.” He who writes the history is assured of the most favorable storyline for posterity. Those who control the past determine the future. In Rwanda, it obviously serves the interests of President Paul Kagame and his Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to obscure, and even eliminate ethnic distinctions. This disguises the "problem" of Tutsi minority rule, and the fact that 85 per cent of the country’s inhabitants are poorly represented in government, and in the legal system.

The government would like to retroactively remove ethnic politics from Rwanda’s history. It’s part of the new national mindset (and it will presumably be part of the New History) that Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutus lived in Arcadian harmony until European colonialists arrived at the beginning of the 20th Century. These intruders proceeded to drive a socio-economic wedge between them, elevating the Tutsis into the ruling class, downgrading the majority Hutus, and instituting the notorious identity-card system.

But this version of history is disputed. “Overt ethnic friction may not have existed at the close of the nineteenth century,” writes European anthropologist Johan Pottier, an African specialist, “but the ethnic divisions and . . . (the Hutus’) ‘obvious hatred’ toward the Tutsi overlords, were well entrenched by 1898, the time Germany colonized Rwanda.”

As in many other African countries, ethnic rivalry figured prominently in pre-colonial Rwanda. In spite of a common language and a shared religion, a Tutsi king, and a Tutsi aristocracy, had long ruled over a Hutu majority. There was, admittedly, some mobility between the two groups, but, by and large, the Hutus remained peasants. This rivalry was exacerbated by German (and then Belgian) colonialism, but by no means did the Europeans invent the ethnic division.

Will this subtlety be reflected in Rwanda’s revisionism history? It’s not likely, given the Kagame government’s self-serving narrative of “no more Hutus, no more Tutsis.”

History as Propaganda

The new non-ethnic orthodoxy borders on propaganda, or what one writer calls “normalising the abnormal (and) naturalising the perverse.” How do you tell the Hutus their shared memory is no longer valid, and their group identity was fabricated or falsified by outsiders? “History,” writes Marian Hodgkin, “has been experienced very differently by different groups within society.” In 1959, when the Tutsi aristocracy wanted independence, but refused to extend full democracy to the Hutu majority, the Hutus revolted, overthrew the monarchy, and reversed the power balance in the country. At a stroke, the Tutsis became the underclass.

How will this event be framed in the New History? Will it be portrayed as a people rising up against the yoke of oppression to institute majority rule (the Hutu view) or as an act of violent “political change” that presaged the 1994 genocide (the Tutsi view)? Or will it be painted as a bloody eruption of black-on-black bloodletting inspired by the evil Belgian overlords? Even today, each of these scenarios has its proponents. Reconciling these points of view in one narrative will be a daunting task.

“Change doesn’t necessarily mean revolution,” says Deo Byanafashe, the man putting the new historical text to paper. Given this belief, how “neutral” can the New History possibly be? How will it be received by the post-genocidal Hutu majority?

Hutu Massacres

There are other hard, and more immediate questions. For example, there is considerable evidence that in the months before, and after the 1994 genocide, many thousands of Hutu noncombatants--men, women and children--were killed by the Tutsi rebel army, the so-called Rwandan Patriotic Front. (Some put the figure in the hundreds of thousands.) These revenge massacres, corroborated by eyewitnesses, Western investigators, and assorted human rights organizations, took place both inside Rwanda, and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. In some circles this has been called Rwanda’s “second genocide."

There is a danger that these travesties will slip through the cracks of history, that what New York Times correspondent Howard W. French calls the "wild adventurousness" of Tutsi leader Paul Kagame will never be acknowledged, because it does not fit his accepted profile as a politician whom Washington can work with. In his book A Continent for the Taking; The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, French points an accusing finger at Kagame, charging that with his insurgency from Uganda starting in 1990, Kagame "primed a country that had already long been an ethnic powder keg for a sharp escalation in violence and hatred."

The Rwandan government vehemently denies that the massacres of Hutus ever took place. Foreign journalists who publish such stories (like Peter Verlinden of The Netherlands) are forbidden entry into the country. European judges who seek to bring indictments against Tutsi military officers for their role in these massacres (like the French Judge Jean-Louis Brugiere, and the Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu) are roundly vilified by Kagame’s cronies. And high-profile Rwandan expatriates who demand that ALL of Rwanda’s human rights violations should be investigated and prosecuted (like Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero of the film Hotel Rwanda) are called traitors and revisionists.

When, in the spring of 2007, I put the question of RPF massacres of Hutu civilians to Prof Byanafashe (who, it should be said, insists he is completely neutral and objective in his evaluation of Rwandan history), the esteemed academic answered this way: “If you look at the region where the war started (in northern Rwanda, near the Ugandan frontier) it’s a region populated almost 100% by Hutus. But they were not killed systematically. It was those who tried to stop the (Tutsi) rebellion from advancing who were killed, militant supporters of the government were killed, those against whom (the RPF) were fighting. That can be verified.”

This, of course, is the official government line.

The professor went further, giving his version of the familiar Fog of War. “When you fire a bullet, how does it choose? When soldiers fire their weapons, it is always civilians who die. But this is not genocide.”

In other words, uncounted thousands of Hutus perished in an accidental crossfire, collateral damage in a rebellion. There were no acts of deliberate large-scale vengeance. It is a view of recent history that flies directly in the face of credible contrary evidence.

Professor Byanafashe, the Dean of the School of Arts and Letters at the National University, concluded our interview by insisting there was not the slightest taint of political coloration in the New History text. “If the politicians meddle in this, we will not accept it. They can publish a history in their name, but not in our name.”

The Case of South Africa

History as a means to social cohesion is not necessarily a bad thing. It worked, to a degree, in South Africa, largely through the efforts of Nelson Mandela. He understood that if the country’s post-apartheid society was ever going to cohere, the worst excesses of white rule would have to be, if not forgotten, then at least relegated to deep memory where they could not longer be allowed to impose themselves constantly on the present. Michael Chapman, a professor of English in Durban, South Africa, has written that the healing process required citizens “to infuse with new contexts of complexity our ongoing interpretations and reinterpretations of memories.”

Benedict Andersen put it less academically: If a nation is to stay together, it must learn not only what to remember, but also what to forget.

However, this is not quite the same as the truth-shaping that is taking place today in Rwanda. There, the government seems to be deliberately misrepresenting important events in its recent history, in an apparent effort to consolidate power, and to put a new, and unreal, face on Rwandan society. In so doing, it glosses over the terrible emotional complexity and confusion one still finds among survivors of the genocide. It ignores the fact that many Tutsis and Hutus still view one another with dread and suspicion--feelings that will not be expunged with a new, selective history.

As Rene Lemarchand has written, reconciliation in Rwanda will not be possible without a nuanced, shared understanding of history. The key words here are “nuanced” and “shared”—characteristics that can only be achieved through a prolonged national dialogue involving all Rwandans.

To be fair, Rwanda’s new history text has not yet been published. But given the government’s very tight control on information and the media, given Kagame’s determination to somehow force his version of reconciliation and ethnic harmony through the school system, and given his impatience with political opponents and dissenters, it’s hard to imagine the government approving a neutral, balanced account of Rwandan history.

A history in the service of a political goal is propaganda by another name. And if this is what Rwanda’s next generation of schoolchildren can expect from their new history curriculum, they, and the generations after them, will be the losers.

Must-Bleed TV

June 25, 2000
MUST-BLEED TV; The Limits of Reality

To the Editor:

Several years ago I worked as a contract videographer for a segment of ''Trauma: Life in the E.R,'' a show mentioned by Craig Tomashoff in his June 11 article [''When the Reality Is Inside the Body'']. What surprised me more than anything else was how readily accident victims allowed their private pain to be submitted to public scrutiny (often with as many as three videographers jockeying for space in the overcrowded and blood-stained emergency room); we were instructed by the producers to have the patients sign waivers as soon as they were well enough to hold a pen and, with rare exception, they signed.

But don't kid yourself. There are limits to this so-called reality television. The team of videographers, awash in blood and gore, worked under strict orders: under no circumstances were we to film a victim's face at the moment of death (even though it happened every day) and there were to be no shots of bare breasts or genitalia. These rules came not from the hospital but from the producers: they argued that spilled brain matter and horrific knife wounds made for great television, but viewers would just not accept death and private parts.


Subverting Fidel

                                          Thanks to Mother Jones Magazine

Havana—Mixing tourism and politics is rarely a good idea. The traveler usually doesn’t have the language, the cultural sensitivity, or the familiarity with a country’s history, to make value judgments about how a society should be run. So better to stay on the beach, and out of the barrio, and leave revolution to the locals.

Cuba, however, may be an exception to the rule. Fidel Castro’s illness creates a wonderful opportunity for change on an island that’s in a deep economic (and social) malaise. There’s not much that Cubans can do—Fidel’s security apparatus is still a powerful disincentive to dissent in the Western Hemisphere’s only Communist state. But tourists can do a lot with their dollars: tourism is fast becoming Cuba’s most important industry, and the government will bend over backwards to keep visitors feeling secure and happy.

Thus, how you spend those dollars, and how you manage your contacts with ordinary Cubans, can make a difference. I recently spent a month in Havana, where $1 a day is the average wage, and found there are all kinds of opportunities for creatively undermining a tough, one-party regime. Most of the suggestions in my Handbook for Subversive Tourism are risk-free, and of benefit to Cubans. Besides, Fidel himself has always been a proponent of social activism. Why shouldn’t foreign visitors take him at his word?
With that in mind, here are some things that tourists can do:

1. Pass out subversive literature

At a second-hand bookstand in the Plaza de las Armas, I found an English-language copy of George Orwell (Inside the Whale, and Other Essays), and a wrinkled paperback of Alexander Solzhenitzyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Both are classic anti-totalitarian texts that, if read carefully, have pointed things to say about Communist regimes like Castro’s. When I handed them to Marta, my Spanish tutor (not her real name), she couldn’t believe that they had escaped the notice of Fidel’s Interior Ministry snoops. I made sure to underline relevant passages. Excerpt from Orwell: “The highest state of totalitarian organization (is) when conformity has become so general that there is no need for a police force.”
The best part of the deal is that, once Marta has absorbed (and hopefully photocopied) the books, she can sell them back to the Old Havana booksellers and earn enough to eat for a week or more. Talk about recycling revolution!

2. Eat local

As a grudging (and temporary) concession to entrepreneurship, Castro has allowed families to open restaurants in their homes, and even to advertise. I ate at these so-called paladares as often as I could because, in spite of crushingly high taxes, they put money directly into the pockets of Cubans. You also meet real Cubans here, and the restaurants have a homespun character. My favorite paladar was a joint not far from the Havana Libre hotel in Vedado called El Jinete (The Horseman). It has a Wild West theme, with Clint Eastwood posters on the wall, and even a hanging noose next to the front door, and it sold a decent red snapper filet, with rice and salad, for $15.

Most paladares have a short life span because they pay a set monthly tax, whether they have customers of not. Bruno, for example, has to pay Fidel $3000 a year for the right to feed people in his home in the middle-class Vedado district, and many nights in the off season, his six tables sit empty. Also, sale of beef, lobster and shrimp, for example, is strictly prohibited because of a state monopoly; however, most paladares flout the law by offering lobster because of a higher profit margin. So, do your bit for the people, and order the under-the-counter lobster!

3. Sleep local

The subversive tourist will avoid the money-sucking hotels, and stay with Cuban families who operate what are called casas particulares (private rooms.) Fidel tolerates this form of private enterprise only because of a chronic shortage of hotel rooms, and he’ll probably shut them down as more rooms are built. (Canada is a major foreign investor in hotels and resorts.)

As in the case of the private restaurants, the tax on these rooms is prohibitive (about 40%) whether they are occupied or not. Still, they’re a useful source of hard currency for middle-class Cubans (if there is such a thing.) I negotiated a month’s stay with Yamila and Mario for under $1000 CDN, with $5 extra per day for breakfast. I got a bed, air-conditioning, a private bathroom with hot-and-old water shower and a sitting room, with a private entrance. No mini-bar, but a small functioning Russian fridge.

4. Learn local

Many long-term tourists take Spanish lessons in Cuba. You can do so at the University of Havana, or through an authorized tutor. If you do so, you’ll be subsidizing Fidelismo. On the other hand, you can ask around and find a private teacher who needs the money a lot more than El Jefe. I found Marta, a former university chemistry professor who charged $6 an hour to teach me Spanish irregular verbs. “Please don’t tell anyone about this,” she begged, “or they’ll force me to teach at government rates (about 60 cents an hour.)” While she taught me, Marta was her family’s main breadwinner: Her son, an anesthesiologist in a major hospital, earns $25 a month.

5. Be discriminating about what you buy

Don’t buy that Che Guevara T-shirt. His authorized photograph is striking, but Che is an over-heated, over-hyped propaganda icon who, as a member of Fidel’s regime, achieved almost nothing of value. It’s ironic that this mythic, vain anti-capitalist is now Cuban’s hottest commercial item. Every T-shirt perpetuates the bloated myth and fattens Fidel’s treasury.

If you must buy a souvenir, buy some local art (and try to buy it directly from the artist, rather than the shop) or better yet, buy on the street. Alberto and Teresitta, a retired Havana couple, make their living by introducing themselves to likely-looking tourists, and selling pirate CDs of classic Cuban music, for $10 a pop. If they sell one or two a week, that’s enough for groceries and rent.

I found a stunning piece of copper sculpture in an Old Havana handicraft shop. But the price was too high. So I spent two days tracking down the artist—a sickly-looking underfed 27-year-old too poor to afford a studio—and he recalled it from the shop. I bought it directly from him at a discount. He even found a local carpenter to build me a shipping carton. I figured both the artist and the carpenter needed the money more than Fidel.

6. Look “behind the façade”

One of the most impressive things about Havana is the reconstruction of the historic old part of the city—a stunning reminder that in the 17th and 18th Century, Havana was the leading city, culturally and economically, in Latin America. The rebuilding program is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and it’s a major draw for tourism. But, warned my Spanish teacher Sonia, “you have to look behind the façade.” Those old buildings have people living in them. Many of them are poor, and some are squatters. And when Fidel’s demolition teams move in, the residents have to move, and most of them are being shipped out to drab housing developments away from central Havana.

Tourists owe it to themselves to stray from the main tourists routes, like Calle Obispo in Old Havana, to take a first-hand look how Cubans really live. Only a couple of blocks away, people still have to carry their water in buckets up three flights of stairs, and they live in crowded squalor. “Sure, Cubans dance and sing a lot,” said my guide Jorge, “but look at their eyes. What you see there is not happy.”

7. Spread the news

Cubans have little if any access to uncensored news from the outside world. There are no foreign newspapers, access to the Internet is strictly limited, and Cubans are not allowed, under pain of arrest, into the hotel rooms of foreigners who can watch CNN on television.

But for about the price of what a Cuban doctor earns in a week, I could access Google News for an hour a day at most of the major Havana hotels, and then prepare a synopsis of world news for Marta, Jorge and anyone else I might have contact with during the day. Then we could contrast those stories with what appeared in the weekly Granma, the official Cuban Communist Party organ. (A sample Granma headline: “In case of hurricane, it’s 15 times safer to live in Cuba, than in the U.S.”)

8. Hire local

You can pay an authorized tour guide, who’ll help you spend those Convertible Pesos. Or you can find an out-of-work Cuban, like Jorge, who, for $20 a day, will take you to all the same places and who, as a bonus, will tell you what life is really like in Castro’s Cuba. He may even show you his squalid overcrowded apartment building just off the tourist track, which has no running water.

Be forewarned: What Jorge is doing is illegal. So, as he guides you through Havana’s streets, he will ask you to walk 10 paces behind him. Otherwise, the police may arrest him for illegal fraternizing with foreigners. Second warning: On the day before your return flight home, Jorge will ask if you can leave him your clothes. Modern clothes and shoes are prohibitively expensive in Havana because of the American embargo.

An Assault on Sovereignty--Four Years Later

                                                     Photo by Kim Ives

Four years ago this month, Canada supported a discreditable act of regime-change in Haiti – a chain of events that ended with the removal of a legitimate head of state. It’s a useful incident to remember as politicians and military men put on their most earnest faces to justify Canadians dying for freedom and democracy in Afghanistan.

Here is what’s happening in that re-configured Haiti today:

• According to the United Nations, half of all the young women in the country’s shantytowns have been raped or sexually assaulted. At least a third of them are under 13.
• Haiti's National Penitentiary has 3,200 inmates. It was built to hold 1,200. Many prisoners are held for months, even years, and only a tiny percentage are ever convicted. Some jails are so crowded that prisoners must sleep standing up or in shifts.
• Some Haitians, mainly pregnant women, are so hungry and under-nourished that they eat “mud pies” made mostly of clay, salt and vegetable shortening.
• Recently, mobs attacked two suspected kidnappers in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and stoned one of them to death. Vigilante justice is not unusual because authorities are powerless to prevent kidnappings. In the first 11 days of February alone, there were 15 abductions.
• Last August, a noted Haitian human rights activist, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, met with a US delegation. After the meeting, he was kidnapped, and nothing has been heard of him since.
• Keeping the alleged “peace” are nearly 9,000 foreign troops and policemen. In the eyes of some critics, they’ve become a permanent fixture. The monthly health-care bill for this UN contingent is greater than the annual health budget for Haiti’s 8.7 million people!
• Meanwhile, Haiti’s most popular politician by far remains in exile thousands of miles away, and Canada, along with other countries, is actively lobbying to keep him there indefinitely, a violation of Haiti’s constitution.

Canada has never revealed its full role in the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The sins of commission (or omission) happened below the radar. Thus, Canada can argue that it is blameless in the continuing deterioration of the Haitian economy. It can point to the aid money it spends on Haiti—more foreign aid, in fact, than any country except Afghanistan. We have police there; we’re helping with the justice system; we’re supporting social programs.

The truth is that Canada helped set the stage for Aristide’s removal, and one can make the case that the social dislocation caused by his departure cannot be fixed until he is back on Haitian soil. Right or wrong, Aristide and the political movement he represents are still at the core of the Haiti’s aspirations. Twice, in 1990 and in 2000, he was elected by overwhelming margins. Twice he was removed from office, and the masses who voted for him were effectively disenfranchised.

It begs the question: How is it that our government can have “constructive engagement” with a never-elected Fidel Castro, but not with a popular leader who respects the ballot box?

Aristide's Last Day

The story of the last Aristide “coup” is worth retelling:

On the morning of February 29, 2004, in a scenario many believe was choreographed by the U.S., France and Canada, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife fled Haiti on a private jet. It was made to look like an abdication: A president running away as the country teetered on the edge of catastrophe.

But it was more than that. In fact, Aristide was told in the middle of the night if he didn’t leave, and right away, Port-au-Prince would be convulsed in a bloodbath. American officials told him that he, his family, and thousands of Haitians were in imminent peril. So in the early morning hours, under armed guard, and quite probably seized by panic, Aristide signed a resignation letter, boarded a waiting jet and was flown to exile in Africa. Canadian Special Forces troops were on duty at the airport, part of what Aristide would later call “an illegal foreign occupation which was ready to drop bodies on the ground.”

I happened to be in Haiti in February, 2004, and I met some of the people who were said to be ready to instigate this “bloodbath.” They were anything but a realistic military threat. In fact, they were a pack of swaggering well-armed cutthroats who had had some success terrorizing villages and killing policemen in the Haitian countryside, and who were slowly approaching the capital. Their leader was Guy Philippe, an ex-policeman who'd been trained in counter-insurgency at the School of the Americas. His deputy was a notorious right-wing killer, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, suddenly thrust into the international limelight. (Rumor had it that the guns and spending money for this ragtag rebel “army” came, circuitously, from the US government.)

The "Opposition"

Complicating matters in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, was a growing “peaceful” opposition to Aristide led by Haiti’s bourgeois elite – the sweatshop owners like Andre Apaid. Apaid was a high-strung colorful character. When reporters came to visit, he would rattle a glass jar on his desk full of machine-gun bullet shells. “Look,” he would say. “These bullets were fired just outside my office window by Aristide’s hired guns.” True or not, it made for great television and served the narrative of a president losing control.

Apaid and his business colleagues—part of an organization called The Group of 184 – hated Aristide. They called him a dangerous hypocrite and demagogue. But what they hated most was Aristide’s determination to double Haiti’s minimum wage, and to resist the privatization of Haitian industries. Simply put, Aristide stood between them, and unlimited plunder. And while Aristide, his back to the wall, was ready to compromise, they resisted all calls for power-sharing.

This convenient convergence of anti-Aristide rebels and robber barons gave Washington (along with Canada and France) the pretext to shoehorn the president out of office. The three governments would have to hold their noses and make common cause with scoundrels. And that’s exactly what happened.

How Much Did He Know?

I visited Aristide in the National Palace 11 days before his overthrow. On the wall hung a portrait of Toussaint l’Ouverture, the father of Haitian independence. Near his desk sat a bust of Robert Kennedy. Both men had died violently. Aristide liked to surround himself with the icons of idealistic struggle. In our interview, he was clearly nervous about what might happen if the paramilitaries—he called them “terrorists” – tried to enter the capital. He didn’t seem to be aware that much larger forces were arrayed against him. In asking for help from his “friends,” including Canada, Aristide believed that a small complement of well-armed peacekeepers, even a few dozen, would be enough to keep the rebels at bay.

But Washington and Ottawa had other plans. With Aristide gone, their formula for “fixing” the Haitian economy would be much easier to implement. And his removal, they thought, would bring calm to the streets of Haiti during a uneasy time.

As we now know, the exact opposite happened. Haiti slipped deeper into chaos. According to the respected British magazine Lancet, in the 18 months that followed Aristide’s expulsion, an estimated 8,000 Haitians were killed in violence—at least half of them by the paramilitaries who leapt in to fill the political vacuum. Aristide’s slum supporters, dismayed at the sudden departure of their leader, also cranked up the violence. It took 9,000 peacekeepers to bring some order to the streets. And they’re still there. Four years later.

From his exile at a university in Pretoria, South Africa, Aristide told writer Naomi Klein that Canada has “blood on its hands” for its part in his overthrow.

Even today, the country we helped “liberate” from Aristide is listed, by Forbes magazine, as one of the most dangerous destinations in the world, along with Somalia and the Congo. Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre calls it a “fake democracy”— a country that serves only the interests of a small bourgeois elite. “Today,” Pierre writes, “we must eat dirt to let the mansions grow . . . Pregnant women eat mud cookies.”

Clearly, something happened on the way to nation-building!

Why did Aristide have to go?

It’s simple, says Peter Hallward, the author of a dense and meticulously researched new book called Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment. Aristide had to go because “the movement he led (Lavalas, the Creole word for ‘flood,’) posed an intolerable threat to Haiti’s comfortable ruling class.”

Haiti’s poor have been raped, plundered, trodden underfoot, exploited, lied to and cheated almost without surcease since 1804 when they defeated Napoleon’s army to become the world’s first black republic. Lavalas, says Hallward, gave Haiti’s poor an historic opportunity to get off their knees. After 200 years, they had finally found a political voice. But that didn’t fit in with Washington’s hemispheric plans.

Canada’s Liberal government, still doing penance for not joining the US military adventure in Iraq, was happy to lend its support. Along with many of the 80,000 Haitians living in Canada, official Ottawa was displeased with Aristide, saw him as corrupt and increasingly dictatorial, and believed he could never reconcile the various levels of Haitian society. (As Hallward points out, Aristide’s so-called “dictatorial” behavior was the result in no small part of an aid embargo, again the work of Washington and Ottawa, that made it near impossible to lift Haiti from the economic trough.) Because of his massive popularity among Haiti’s poor, however, the Canadian and American governments realized there was no legitimate way to remove him.

Five months ago, I submitted Freedom of Information requests to both Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defense in Ottawa, asking: What, and why? What role did Canada play in the planning and the execution of Aristide’s demise? And why would we dirty our hands, and risk alienating millions of Haitians who voted for Aristide time and time again? Ottawa hasn’t offered any answers yet.

In Damming the Flood, Hallward, a British academic, puts February 29, 2004, in stark terms: “The effort to weaken, demoralize and then overthrow Lavalas in the first years of the twenty-first century was perhaps the most successful exercise of neo-imperial sabotage since the toppling of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas in 1990.”

Strong language. Little wonder the Canadian government would rather the whole sorry affair be forgotten. But 8.7 million Haitians deserve better. Theirs is a history of more than 30 successive coups d’etat over two centuries. Aristide and Lavalas broke the depressing pattern, and opened the door to real representative government.

They, the Haitian people’s voice, deserve a chance to govern.

"Tears Flow Within"

       Photo By: James Nachtway 

Last spring, after a five-week visit to Rwanda, I produced two television news pieces for the CBC. Together, the stories challenged the prevailing view about healing and reconciliation in that Central African country, 13 years after the genocide. 
(You can find my documentary Rwanda: Out of the Darkness here.)
The stories were anecdotal. They featured two Tutsi women and one Tutsi man who survived the slaughter, and one Hutu man who had killed a dozen people with a machete, and was now free. I used their stories as a frame for my thesis:  that Rwanda was far, far away from healing, despite the platitudes of the government. My script said that for the victims I had met (and by extension, for all the survivors of the genocide), the memory of the slaughter was still too fresh to expect them to forgive the people who had carried out the killings.  
This thesis flew in the face of official orthodoxy, but the final edited stories did not quote a single high government official. In fact, there was only one pro-government voice: A low-level village-level functionary who echoed the official line on ethnicity in Rwanda, namely, that henceforth, there were "no more Hutus, no more Tutsis, no more Twas (Rwanda's third ethnic group)" in the country.
I realized, after the stories aired, that my journalism could be viewed as being unbalanced, unsupported, polemical. Where were the voices of the Rwandans who insist that they have indeed forgiven their tormentors? Where were the stories of the Rwandans who were hunter and hunted in 1994, but who in 2007 had reconciled, and now live as neighbors?
Had I not crossed the ethical line by focusing on the negative? Indeed, some Rwandan officials could even argue that I had left myself open to criminal prosecution, under Rwandan laws against “negationism” and “divisionism.”
On the surface, these criticisms are valid. But they fail to take into account the extraordinary realities on the ground in Rwanda, and the obstacles that are placed in the way of a Western reporter trying to understand the social dynamics.  I don’t say this lightly: If ever there was a story that required the application of “situation ethics” in reporting, that was it.

The Problem of Forgiveness

The essential reality of Rwanda, I believe, is obscured behind a carefully calibrated campaign based on the mantra of reconciliation and forgiveness. Survivors are expected to put the past behind them, to “make peace” with the confessed killers, even when the killers hide behind moral alibis (i.e. they were “provoked” into committing genocide by ghostly voices.)
To work effectively in Rwanda, you need special strategies, special filters. My first concern, when speaking to survivors of the genocide, was: How open will they be with a Western journalist? How honestly will they respond to my questions? In my preliminary research (while preparing for my trip, I reviewed dozens of academic papers, read scores of newspaper articles, and several books dealing with reconciliation and forgiveness) I came across a poignant Rwandan expression about how “tears flow within.” In Rwandan culture, one survives sorrow if one has a certain inner strength. Grief is often internalized, and not openly expressed, so it is traditionally understood that one can help someone by genuinely listening to his or her suffering.
In Rwanda, I met a European academic who was doing field research on the social effects of the genocide. She told me, on deep background (since she wanted to protect her sources), that Rwandans who lived through the trauma of the genocide spoke about their experiences with two different voices. The external, public voice said, “I forgive.” But the deeper voice, the soul’s voice, often expressed much more negative emotions. (My source insisted I not use her name, or even the town where she was working, lest somebody identify the people she was studying. There would be reprisals, she said.)
I spoke to students at the National University of Rwanda. They struggled with the idea of forgiveness and reconciliation. One young man, whose family was wiped out in the slaughter, said he understood why the government wanted Rwandans to forgive. But he himself could not. Why? Because he had never learned who killed his family. Until he looked the murderers in the eye, he could not even think about forgiveness.  Nor could be ever marry a Hutu woman, he said through clenched teeth. The killing, for him, had created an impassable ethnic divide.
A Rwandan psychologist told me the government was wrong when it urged genocide survivors to forgive before they were ready to do so: Forgiveness had to come in its own time, on its own terms, without compulsion.
At the same time, academics are casting a critical eye on the Kagame government's policy of de-ethnicization. Writes Andrea Purdekova of Oxford University: "Today, the Rwandan government tries to impose co-existence by pretending that there
is no reason not to coexist. The government tries to attract to the pole of unity by prescribing its own vision of it and by forbidding anything that runs against. It thus creates a ‘false togetherness’ by swamping individuality and discouraging dissent." (January 2008)

Words Behind Words

All of this information came into play when I met survivors, and turned on the camera. It cast a special light on their answers, and how I framed these answers in my script. It informed my reaction when one of my interview subjects, Pelagia, told me, with downcast eyes and a halting voice, that she had forgiven a notorious killer, Eric, who was now her neighbor. “We are like brother and sister,” she told me. But her demeanor projected an altogether different message; she seemed perplexed, afraid. I was convinced she was saying the very things that local officials wanted her to say. It was Rwanda’s “culture of obedience” prompting her public voice.
Was it presumptuous or paternalistic of me to characterize her answer this way in my script? I don’t think so. A reporter in the field, especially in a post-conflict zone, must be more than a stenographer. It’s our job to give context, to paint the grey zones, to listen and observe with our hearts and a quality of discernment. Had I just recounted the words verbatim, I felt it would have been a lie. Context is the deep tissue of journalism.
Another possible criticism of my journalism in Rwanda is that I did not spend enough time getting the official version of things. I didn’t interview the president. I didn’t interview the official survivors’ organization. I made no effort to counterbalance the negative things I was hearing from survivors.
This is true. And intentional. The government’s position is well known, and didn’t need me to amplify it. Kagame’s information machine (some critics would call it a propaganda machine) is very effective. He controls the print and broadcast media. When the New Times newspaper published a photograph of Kagame that he found unflattering, the reporter was summarily fired, and the staff put on notice. The relationship between the government and the newspaper, they were told, would be like “husband and wife”. An editor who published an article highly critical of “Tutsi justice” was jailed for a year. Reporters critical of the government have been badly beaten.

News and Guilt

Meanwhile, his government’s warm and fuzzy message of reconciliation between Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutus has gotten wide international press, in a West still burdened by guilt for its indifference to the 1994 genocide when it was happening. Well hidden behind Rwanda’s new, modern image, are some harsh realities: Overcrowded prisons, a limping economy that cannot help many of the 300,000 genocide survivors, a Hutu majority that is woefully under-represented in government, and lingering distrust between the two dominant groups.
Against this backdrop, how would I apportion the few minutes of air time the CBC was giving me? What would stay? Who would I leave out? In a choice between the official with his polished message, and the broken widow struggling to keep a family alive on $30 a month, it was an easy call. There wasn’t room for both. My guiding principle in difficult parts of the world has always been this: To follow the humanity, to value the Anecdote over the Big Picture.
And it’s not only a journalist’s social sensitivity that leads me to this principle. It’s also practical. The Big Picture stories, the ones that carry the voice of authority alongside that of the victims, are often complex and difficult to verify. The small stories, the tightly focused human narratives, are far more reliable guides to the truth.
Is this classic “balanced” journalism as we know it? Perhaps not. But I believe that in the final analysis, it is just as valid. Because it relies on the journalist’s most important skills: discernment, integrity . . . and the ability to verify from the gut.

 NOTE: The Rwandan proverb is: "les larmes coulent dans le ventre" which translates literally to "tears flow in the belly".
I found this in an academic paper written by Deogratias Bagilishya, a psychologist at the Transcultural Psychiatry Clinic of the Montreal Children's Hospital. The paper is personal testimony from a Rwandan father whose son was killed in the Rwandan genocide and is titled "Mourning and Recovery from Trauma: In Rwanda, Tears Flow Within."