"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, April 08, 2011

Requiem For A Dream

Mozart - Lacrimosa

Le preghiere della nostra fede: PADRE NOSTRO

Verdi: Requiem

America's War On Democracy

The Denial of Self Determination: The International Community and Haiti

If any nation in the history of humanity has been terrorized by the naked brutality and hypocritical logic of modernity, it has been Haiti. One would assume that the Haitian Revolution in 1804 would be looked upon as a pivotal moment which helped to shape the ideas of freedom, equality and justice. This was not the case. Haiti has been the victim of both history and hypocrisy, since it’s independence in 1804 as the small nation who fought for the freedom, dignity and justice has been met with a nightmarish hell of slavery, genocide, racism, isolation, extreme oppression and economic terrorism exercised in the name of modern civilization that has not disappeared in the 500 years since Christopher Columbus first landed on the island. The recent turmoil surrounding the Haitian elections on November 28th must be seen as an extension of international support in the undermining of the Haitian people’s right to self determination.

During the 18th century, Haiti, then known as Saint Domingue, became France’s most valuable colonial possession. By the mid 1700’s Saint Domingue became the most lucrative colony in the world, producing more wealth than the 13 colonies of what would eventually become the United States of America[1]. This relationship of exploitation would continue until 1791, when a slave uprising led by Toussaint L’Ouverture began. This thirteen year war led Haiti to become the second independent country in the hemisphere, and the first black republic in the world

In response to the new constitution, France and the United States decided to bleed Haiti to death in a slow and agonizing process. The international powers of France, the United States, England and Holland put aside their colonial rivalries and were determined to strangle this revolution in its infancy, as it had the potential to bring down the whole system of slavery and colonialism. Haiti would not be allowed to become a success, as it would turn the racist, capitalist global order on its head. The only way Haiti could exist was if it was turned into the basket case of the hemisphere. The “failed state” of Haiti that we read about today has been consciously constructed over 200 years by the world’s industrial powers.

In exchange for diplomatic recognition after 21 years of isolation, Haiti agreed to take out a loan from a designated French bank and pay compensation to French plantation owners for their loss of “property,” including the freed slaves – in effect Haiti was paying twice for its freedom; one time with blood the second with money. The amount of the debt totalled $150,000,000 Francs. Today that amount would equal $21 billion dollars[2]. No mention was ever given to the fact that the land and people were both stolen to begin with.

If the economic stranglehold imposed by the international community was not enough, Haiti happened to be the leading target of US intervention in the 20th century. The United States was determined to make sure that Haiti’s economy complemented their own. Haiti was to engage in export agriculture, producing coffee, sugar, cotton and tobacco for American consumption. The US invasion of 1915 brought back slavery to Haiti in all but name and rewrote the Haitian constitution of 1804, giving US corporations free rein.

Haiti may have been the first nation to escape colonialism through revolution, but Haiti also became the first “third world” nation in the traditional sense, as they were poor and overburdened with debt. The Haitian government could not build schools, hospitals or roads because nearly all of the available money went to pay France. In 1915, for example, 80% of government revenues went to debt service[3]. Haiti did not finish paying the loans that financed the debt until 1947[4]. Over a century after the global slave trade was recognized and eliminated as the evil it was, the Haitians were still paying their ancestors’ masters for their freedom.[5]

As Haiti was in a desperate financial position due to economic blackmail, the United States saw it as a potentially dangerous hotspot for “communist subversion”. Under the dictatorship of the Duvaliers (1957-1986), notable public assets such as the railroads, public utilities and the Haitian National Bank were auctioned off to Citibank and the Haitian Corporation of America for next to nothing.[6] When Jean Claude Duvalier was forced into exile in 1986, he reportedly landed in the French Cote d’Azur he had a comfortable net worth $1.6 billion.[7]

It was within this debt riddled framework of the new global economic order, fighting against the unjust demands of the IMF, World Bank and the United States, that led a Roman Catholic Priest named Jean Bertrand Aristide to become Haiti’s first democratically elected president in 1991. Aristide’s grassroots support among the poor of Haiti led to his landslide victory with Fanmi Lavalas receiving 67% of the vote[8].

Aristide led calls for reparation of Haiti’s odious $21 billion debt to France, and was against further rounds of privatization of the Haitian economy. These concerns did not sit well with the United States or France resulting in a coup in September 1991. Due to international as well as internal pressure, Aristide was placed back in power by the Clinton administration but was not allowed to complete a full 6 year term or run for re-election in the next available term. In 2000, Aristide was elected once again, with 91.8% of the vote[9].

Instead of the aid being channelled to the state, the funding was shifted to anti-Aristide NGOs and business organizations like the Group of 184 which operated in the Haitian civil society. Much of the money went into funding anti-Aristide militias – known as “democracy enhancement groups”, who would replace the disbanded Haitian army as a tool of the rich.[10] In February 2004, Aristide was overthrown again by American, French and Canadian backed forces, and sent into exile. The nation was ripe once again for the picking by American corporations.

According to Peter Hallward “the period that began with the military coup of September 1991 is best described as one of the most prolonged and intense periods of counter-revolution anywhere in the world. For the last 20 years, the most powerful political and economic interests in and around Haiti have waged a systematic campaign designed to stifle the popular movement and deprive it of its principal weapons, resources and leaders.”[11]

The devastating earthquake on January 12th and the tragic aftermath is being used as a backdrop of excuses to mask the engineered irregularities of the recent election. The November 28th election is the most recent step in the international community’s attempt to stifle the demands of self determination by the Haitian people. Fanmi Lavalas, by and large the nation’s most popular political party has been banned in every election since the overthrow of Aristide in 2004. The exclusion of Lavalas continued into the November 28th elections based on the party failing to meet last minute technicalities invented by the highly controversial Haitian Provisional Electoral Council – heavily influenced by current President Rene Preval. Fanmi Lavalas and 14 other political parties were excluded from participating in the November 28th elections without any transparent reasoning.

Ignoring reports highlighting the irregularities of the November 28th election from civil society organizations both domestically and abroad, the international community continued to support and finance the highly flawed process. As early as June, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti issued a comprehensive report titled The International Community Should Pressure the Haitian Government for Free and Fair Elections (
http://ijdh.org/archives/13138) but the international community did not pay attention to the warnings of political turmoil resulting from their backing of highly flawed elections.

The reasoning behind such vehement support for Haiti’s current flawed elections is simple. There is over $10 billion in reconstruction contracts[12], an amount too large to be trusted to any independent, or heaven forbid progressive candidate who would channel the money into the building of much needed public services and infrastructure which served the Haitian people. What the international community demands from these elections is a President which will rubber stamp any of their self serving development projects. An article in the Washington Post titled “Would be Haitian Contractors Miss out on Aid” further demonstrates the self serving nature of aid to Haiti stating that of every $100 of US contracts, only $1.60 makes it into the hands of Haitian contractors.[13]

There must also be a movement away from the further “NGOization” of the nation, and a strong movement towards the development of public institutions which will serve the most poor and vulnerable. Public health, education and water systems should be priorities for any reconstruction effort – however the plans outlined by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Committee (chaired by Bill Clinton) simply call for more of the same failed policies which have devastated Haiti. The IHRC is intent on enforcing policies which will turn Haiti into a protectorate of offshore slavery for American garment manufacturing corporations.[14]

The engineered collapse of Haiti through both economic and political action offers an important example of how power shapes relations to the benefit of stronger party through both conditionalities and military intervention. Haiti stands as a devastating example of what is wrong with the current economic order. Haiti has paid the costs over and over again, simply for its people wanting to exercise their right to self determination – whether through rebellion against slavery and colonialism, or through the demands to participate in a free and fair election. All the Haitian people have demanded is freedom and respect – and they have been punished without an equal for these demands ever since.

- Kevin Edmonds is a freelance journalist and graduate student at McMaster University's Globalization Institute in Hamilton, Ontario.

Article written for ALAI's magazine América Latina in Movement, December edition, No. 461, titled: "Haití a un año del terremoto: deudas pendientes"

[1] Bellegarde-Smith, Patrick. “The Context of Haitian Development and Underdevelopment”. In Haiti: The Breached Citadel. (Canadian Scholars Press, 2004.)

[2] “Building on the foundation of democracy: an overview of the first two years of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's presidency”, February 7 2001-February 7 2003 Embassy of the Republic of Haiti in Washington D.C., 2003

[3] Farmer, Paul. “Haiti: Short and Bitter Lives.” Le Monde Diplomatique. June 2003.

[4] Regan, Jane. “Haiti: In bondage to history?” NACLA Report of the Caribbean, Feb. 2005, Vol.38, No. 4

[5] Phillips, Anthony. “Haiti Needs Justice, Not Charity.” The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. July 24th, 2006

[6] Miles, Melinda. Let Haiti Live: Unjust US Policies Towards it’s Oldest Neighbour. (New York, Educa Vision, 2004).

[7] Lundahl, Mats. “History as an Obstacle to Change: The Case of Haiti.” The Journal of InterAmerican Studies and World Affairs. Vol. 31. No 1. 1989.

[8] Farmer, Paul. Getting Haiti Right This Time: The U.S. and the Coup. (Monroe, Common Courage Press, 2004).

[9] Eberstadt, Nicholas. Haiti in Extremis, The Weekly Standard, Oct 9th, 2006, Volume 12, Issue 6, pg. 23

[10] Griffin, Thomas M. and Irwin P. Stokzky. Haiti: Human Rights Investigation: November 11th – 21st, 2004. (Center for the Study of Human Rights, The University of Miami Law School, January 2005)

[11] Hallward, Peter. Haiti 2010: Exploiting Disaster.

[12] Kim Ives. International Donors Conference at the UN: For $10 Billion of Promises Haiti Surrenders it’s Sovereignty. Haiti Liberte. April 12th, 2010. Available Online: http://www.haitianalysis.com/2010/4/20/international-donors-conference-at-the-un-for-10-billion-of-promises-haiti-surrenders-its-sovereignty

[13] Mendoza, Martha. Would be Haitian Contractors Miss out on Aid. Washington Post. December 13th, 2010. Available Online: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/12/AR2010121201566.html

[14] Maxwell, John. Shameless and Graceless. The Jamaica Observer. February 14th, 2010. Available Online: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Maxwell-Feb-14


"My Name is Juliano"

The Sudden Death of Juliano Mer-Khamis

The last time I spoke with Juliano Mer-Khamis was exactly five years ago. My companion, Christiane Passevant, and I were in Haïfa to meet with him and others in connection with a project on dissident women in the Middle East. Juliano didn’t arrive for the interview after having told me the previous evening he would spend the day in Jenin and then see us in Haïfa. When he didn’t show I began leaving him messages on his cell phone. We were perturbed because the appointment had been made well in advance and we had meetings in the West Bank and could not linger in Haïfa. Finally we made contact late in the evening: “Larry, Larry,” he said, “I’m stuck at a checkpoint, it’s raining like mad and,” he laughed, “the soldiers are quite nervous. They think I’m a suspicious person.”

All this and more instantly came to mind when I learned that Juliano had just been assassinated in his car upon leaving his Freedom Theatre in Jenin on April 4 with his son and the boy’s nanny. Juliano reportedly received five bullets fired point blank at his head by one or two men with hoods who just walked up to the vehicle and let loose through the window. The woman accompanying Juliano and his son was shot in the hand.

I didn’t know Juliano all that well, but I felt I did, for with him there were never formalities. He was like that—open, friendly and confident. He took things as they came, often giving the impression of being volatile and even superficial. After all, as a friend and long-time activist in Haïfa once told me: “Juliano is an artist and, moreover, an anarchist.” As if the observation explained everything. Maybe it does, but my friend, I am sure, would agree that there was much substance behind his devil-may-care personality. Juliano was a fearless and uncompromising activist against the Zionist state and its colonial oppression.

The first time we met Juliano was in late May 1992 in the northern Palestinian town of Jenin. We went there to work with Juliano’s mother, Arna Mer-Khamis, to help in the preparation of a children’s theatrical production. The event was staged by Arna’s association—Care and Learning—a initiative carried out also in Gaza that sought to help Palestinian children traumatized by the colonial occupation and the struggle against it accompanying the first Intifada (1987-1993). Arna’s idea was that the previous four or five years of strikes, military curfew, repression and uprising had deprived the children not only of educational continuity but also of the stable family relationships necessary for healthy development. Not only was the image of their parents demeaned by the occupier’s brutality, the uprising instilled the idea that only violent retaliation was a respectable response. She saw her role as providing outlets for the rage pent-up in the children because of shattered homes and weakened social bonds. The objective was not to dilute the will to resist Israeli occupation and domination, but rather to strengthen it by helping the children to counter oppression with more reflection and with confidence in themselves and their society. The danger, according to Arna, was that Palestinians would enter increasingly into armed struggle thus allowing the Israeli state to justify its own violence in the use of armed force impossible to compare with that of the occupied and colonized Palestinians.

At the very moment we entered Jenin, we were confronted with a slight taste of what she was talking about. Arna arrived at our meeting place in the midst of a general commotion caused by an Israeli garbage truck driver coming from a nearby Israeli settlement. About a hundred yards from us, some kids had apparently thrown rocks at the truck, and the driver had stopped and climbed down from his seat brandishing an automatic weapon with which he began sweeping the area, although not yet shooting. Arna, seeing that Christiane was carrying a camera, immediately pushed her into the street telling her to take pictures of the man, which she commenced to do. Once having perceived Christiane, he returned to his truck and drove off. Arna explained that seeing someone clearly not Palestinian taking pictures probably stopped the man from shooting. We then introduced ourselves.

The following day we helped in the physical preparations for the children’s play, clearly a great event in the lives of children from the enormous refugee camp in Jenin. We met Juliano two days later when the children gave their grand performance, for which they had rehearsed for weeks. He came and filmed the whole thing. In the evening we all went to Haïfa where we ate with Arna, Juliano and one of his brothers, Spartacus, before leaving for Jerusalem.

Juliano, artist and activist, was born in 1958 into an extraordinary family. Arna Mer, born in 1929 and raised in a Kibbutz, fought with the Haganah and the Palmach in the 1948 war and even figured on a propaganda poster driving a jeep. But she quickly saw the colonial reality and the racist mentality implicit in the Zionist enterprise. Already in 1949, she agitated against the newly created Israeli state. In the 1950s she met and then married Saliba Khamis, against the will of her family. He was a Palestinian intellectual and member of the Communist Party. Anti-Zionist, Arna was a well-known activist throughout her adult life and experienced imprisonment and beatings at the hands of the Israeli authorities. Her creation of Care and Learning and the children’s theatre was the logical continuation of her activities.

When Arna Mer-Khamis died of cancer in 1995, Juliano continued his mother’s work, an effort made difficult by the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002. The military blitzkrieg destroyed the camp and massacred many of its inhabitants—a kind of dress rehearsal of the Gaza “Cast Lead” bombardments in 2008. It also left the children’s theater demolished. But in 2004 Juliano brought out his documentary film, Arna’s Children, about his mother’s work with the children and what happened to the children in the interim. A good number of them had become martyrs to the cause. The film was acclaimed and, in 2006, Juliano created Freedom Theatre in the rebuilt Jenin camp.

When asked about Arna’s goals and his efforts to perpetuate them, Juliano explained in 2010: “All our energy is devoted to creating something that doesn’t yet exist. These workshops are perhaps the solution to war.” When people of different cultures and backgrounds can live together and, especially, create together in order to overcome the intolerances that isolation and its enmities that it engenders, the rest is not essential. For us, he insisted, “There is no religion, no identity, nothing, we are just human beings, that’s all. My name is Juliano.”

But the theatre did not please everyone, and Juliano was an easy target. His life was structured by his acting career and, especially, the direction of the Freedom Theatre. He was back and forth between Haïfa and Jenin on a regular basis. And although he had received threats, and arson was attempted on Freedom Theatre on two occasions, he did not allow such intimidation to limit his activities.

Juliano responded to criticism of Freedom Theatre in a declaration made on April 19, 2009. Anonymous leaflets distributed within the Jenin camp, he said, claim the theatre is against religion. On the contrary, responded Juliano: “We respect all religions and the traditions in the Jenin refugee camp. We are not here to take religion away, but to fight the Israeli occupation unconditionally and create an independent Palestinian state. We are here to arm young people with knowledge, values and respect for their history, their religion and their families.” He also accused the detractors of the theatre of only “pretending to protect our children when, in fact, they are ready to sacrifice them for their own interests. In constantly fighting every cultural project in the Jenin camp, they indirectly collaborate with the Israeli occupation.”

Targeted assassinations of activists are, of course, nothing unusual in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. After all, an elite corps of snipers is a permanent and unconcealed fixture of the Israel army, and bothersome individuals are regularly “taken out”. What is unusual in this case is that Juliano was a well-known personality. His acting career was substantial. Beginning in the 1980s, he acted in many films in and out of Israel, notably, but not only, in some of Amos Gitaï’s films, such as Esther (1986), Yom Yom (1998), Kippur (2000) and Kedma (2002). His murder will be controversial in Israel, as was that of Rachel Corrie. But in this case the assassination will be attributed to Palestinians.

Whether the Israeli state, Jewish fundamentalist nationalists or their mirror image—theocratic Muslim fanatics—killed Juliano makes no difference in the end. In the Palestinian context, the latter are creations of the former.

The future of Palestine and the whole Middle East depends on people like Arna and Juliano, those who reject intolerance in the struggle for justice. And their time is coming, as revealed by the Intifadas breaking out everywhere in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.

As for Israel and Zionism, their time is running out. Zionism is now on the ropes. More settlements will be built, but facts on the ground can also be uprooted. The wall can be torn down. The economic and ideological foundations of this pariah state are cracked and breaking apart. The day can be foreseen when a re-structuring of power in the whole area will occur. The US Empire must recede, and along with it will go the fatally flawed Zionist project, no longer buoyed by the atavistic nationalist trends of the early twentieth century. The building of theocratic political entities and “ethnically pure nation states” is not the future of humanity.

By Larry Portis