HIP FLASHBACK: Kevin Pina interviews the most-wanted man in Haiti
Amaral Duclona speaks to journalist Kevin Pina in a secret location. Duclona is accused by the UN, the National Police of Haiti (PNH), and Haitian business leaders of being the top gang leader in Cite Soleil, and is number 1 on the PNH's most wanted list. Duclona described himself as a political militant, who defends the rights of the people of Cite Soleil.
February 1, 2006
HIP - Port au Prince, Haiti — Amaral Duclona is Haiti's most wanted man.
That is, the most wanted by the U.S.-installed de facto government. His name flashes across television screens throughout the capital each night along with those of twelve other men accused as "bandits" in the sprawling seaside slum of Cité Soleil.
Amaral is in fact the leader of the anti-coup and anti-occupation resistance in Cité Soleil. He has taken up the mantle of his fallen friend and comrade, Emmanuel "Dread" Wilmer, who was gunned down by U.N. troops last July.
The U.S.-installed government and Haiti's elite now charge Amaral with killing Canadian police officer Mark Bourque in Cité Soleil last December. He vehemently denies the accusation.
Cité Soleil is home to over 300,000 Haitians who live in abject poverty. Children play among mountains of garbage and open sewage canals. Most are malnourished, as their parents, unable to find work amidst 80% unemployment, try desperately to keep their families alive.
Cité Soleil is also a bastion of support for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In his first successful bid for the presidency in 1990, Aristide announced his candidacy in this shantytown. Following the violent military coup against Aristide on Sep. 30, 1991, Cité Soleil took the brunt of violence meted out by Gen. Raoul Cédras' military dictatorship. During that three year coup, the Haitian army in league with the CIA-funded paramilitary death squad known as the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH) slaughtered thousands and burned down whole neighborhoods in the slum.
After President Aristide was ousted a second time on Feb. 29, 2004, Haitian police and paramilitary units made armed forays into Cité Soleil while occupying U.S. Marines did nothing to intervene. But soon, young men formed community self-defense brigades which began shooting it out with the police and paramilitaries, effectively driving them from the slum.
Even before the deployment of the U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), Cité Soleil and other neighborhoods like Bel Air and Solino became launch pads for massive demonstrations demanding Aristide's return. The Haitian police's brutal SWAT teams bloodily repressed these protests, while MINUSTAH forces stood by.
The massive demonstrations belied mainstream press reports that Aristide had lost popular support and embarrassed the Washington-parachuted government of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and the MINUSTAH. The U.N. force's stated purpose was to restore stability and democracy to Haiti. But Haiti's poor majority increasingly saw them as an army of foreign occupation bent on propping up a client government and crushing their movement.
As gun battles intensified between Lavalas' armed followers and the Haitian police, the MINUSTAH intervened to crush opposition in Bel Air and to contain Cité Soleil. Large cargo containers and concrete barriers were placed on all of Cité Soleil's major entrances, isolating the shantytown from the rest of the capital. U.N. troops searched men, women and children entering and leaving the neighborhood.
At the same time, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) began pacification programs designed to win the hearts and minds of Cité Soleil residents and undermine their resistance.
In Bel Air, the U.N. troops crushed and bought off the armed anti-coup groups while setting up military posts throughout the hillside neighborhood. Meanwhile, the UN and USAID began sponsoring so-called community development projects, concerts and soccer matches.
The only "community development" organization first allowed into Cité Soleil was working hand-in-hand with USAID. Yele Haiti was founded by the famous Haitian hip-hop musician, Wyclef Jean. He asked residents of Cité Soleil to accept the occupation and let go of demands for Aristide's return. His call fell on deaf ears.
One of those most critical of Wyclef Jean's USAID-backed efforts was a young man raised in Lafanmi Selavi, an orphanage for street children founded by Father Aristide in 1986. Emmanuel "Dread" Wilmer led an armed force of about 150 young men in Cité Soleil determined to resist incursions by the Haitian police and what he called "the foreign occupiers." The elite-owned Haitian press, the U.S.-installed government, and MINUSTAH all condemned Wilmer as a "bandit" and "gang leader" without any political ideals. Some 400 MINUSTAH troops killed him along with four of his lieutenants in a bloody pre-dawn raid on July 6, 2005. The UN troops also killed untold dozens of unarmed residents in the attack.
In the months since Wilmer's death, Cité Soleil residents have complained of coming under constant fire by the MINUSTAH's 1500-man Jordanian force which surrounds the shantytown. The U.N. troops indiscriminately fire on the population, residents say, in an effort to terrorize and cow the community. Heavily armed Jordanian and Brazilian units escort work crews which put up posters exhorting the population to stop "associating with criminals." Nonetheless, MINUSTAH has recently admitted that the so-called "armed gangs" enjoy the support of the majority of Cité Soleil's population.
Cité Soleil has also become a large base of support for presidential candidate Rene Garcia Preval. Aristide's first prime minister in 1991 before the coup, Préval went on to be elected president from 1996 to 2001. He now commands a large lead in the polls just a week before Feb. 7 elections. Haiti's electoral council announced last week that there will be no polling stations in Cité Soleil. Residents will have to walk miles to cast their votes. Cité Soleil's armed groups have announced that they will accompany those who want to vote to the polls.
Haiti Information Project founding editor Kevin Pina recently spent two days in Cité Soleil and managed to negotiate this exclusive interview with Amaral Duclona about the current situation in Haiti.
Kevin Pina interviews the most-wanted man in Haiti: Amaral Duclona
KP: Amaral, let's start by letting people know who you are and where you come from.
AD: My name is Amaral Duclona.
I wasn't born in Cite Soleil, but I was born on a road close to Cite Soleil named Chancerel. I was born on October 20, 1979. I am currently 27 years old.
I went to school in Cite Soleil, and I went to school in downtown Port au Prince.
KP: So describe the general situation as you see it in Cite Soleil today.
AD: Today we find ourselves in a situation where Cite Soleil is full of misery.
Where they say people are killing each other in Cite Soleil. Supposedly, we are all "bandits" or "gangs."
But it is actually this misery I speak of that is destroying the people of Cite Soleil.
Today we are working with the population of Cite Soleil, to see how we can help them get out from underneath the misery that they are in. We have no problem working with the local community and we invite the international community to help us get out of this misery.
KP: But what about those who accuse you of violence? Those who say there is no role for people like you to play in helping Cite Soleil?
AD: There is a well-defined sector working for the bourgeoisie inside of Cite Soleil that doesn't want poor people to get out from underneath their predicament. It comes from the base of a real gangster who said he was Lavalas but betrayed the cause and started accepting bribes from Apaid and Boulos.
And we can understand that and now how they turn this around on us.
When Dessalines was fighting, they did not understand the fight of Jean-Jacques Dessalines.
When Toussaint Louverture was fighting, they didn't understand him. And when, by the same token, Charlemagne Peralte, they didn't understand the fight of Peralte and the U.S. marines killed more than 50,000 people who were known as Cacos opposing the American occupation of Haiti.
After many years, they came to see that Peralte, was a man of the struggle, was a man among militants, who was defending the Haitian population. For that reason the U.S. marines killed him.
It is for that reason that today, us, we are struggling, but this for a people who are in misery.
KP: The U.N. and the U.S.-installed government portray you and Dread Wilmer as unintelligent thugs and gangsters. That you are devoid of any political agenda and are merely common criminals. How do you respond to them?
AD: Today, they say that Dread Wilme and I are "criminals" without any intelligence.
And everyone must think that the death of Dread Wilme was something that would bring peace to the country.
We proved to them that Dread Wilme was never ever a bandit, never a criminal, the same way as me, I was never a bandit, I was never a criminal.
We are political militants who are struggling to defend our rights, and to defend the rights of everyone and especially the people of Cite Soleil.
In this country, in the country of Haiti, everyone who is struggling to defend their rights, they always demonize them through name-calling. They call them "criminals," they call them "assassins." Just as they did to Dread and they are doing against me and other Cite Soleil militants today.
But if we were in the interests of the bourgeoisie sector, with MINUSTAH, if that were the case, then we would be cast as "good people," we would be the "best people" for them. It's total hypocrisy and propaganda to justify the slaughter.
We are not fighting for the interests of the U.N. and the sector of the bourgeoisie they are propping up. We put the misery of the Haitian people foremost in our interests and struggle for them. It is for that reason that they treat us as criminals and assassins and are trying to destroy us.
Criminals cannot survive in Cite Soleil because an already abused people will not accept more abuse. If we are able to survive today it is because the population in Cite Soleil supports us because they know we are defending their interests. If they are calling us "poor criminals" then fine, because we are in misery, so they are right but we are not criminals. What is criminal is that the U.N. works with the very same sector of our society that created this misery in Cite Soleil in the first place. If they define opposing this crime as banditry, then we ask them to really look at Haitian history. Didn't the U.S. marines call Charlemagne Peralte and the Cacos "bandits" because they opposed the foreign occupation of Haitian soil? We, in Cite Soleil, who are fighting are trying to change the conditions of the people in Cite Soleil.
KP: What impact does the memory of the slaughter committed against the people of Cite Soleil by the military following the 1991 coup against Aristide serve today? Has it had an impact and does it reflect in your struggle today?
AD: The massacres of the military, the ex-military, the Haitian army, that were committed against Cite Soleil. That had a large impact. Because there were many people that died or lost their families.
There are many people, who have never seen justice for the acts perpetrated by military. And today people see what MINUSTAH is perpetrating as a similar thing. People are being shot and killed everyday for no reason other than to inspire terror in the population. To force them to accept the kidnapping of their president
It is for that reason that we are always demonstrating to demand justice for the people of Cite Soleil. It is only here today that people can demonstrate for Aristide's return without being killed by the police. Instead the terror of the police has been replaced by the terror of indiscriminant firing by the U.N. troops. And yet we still continue to demonstrate. It is this they fear the most.
KP: What about the Haitian elite and the role you say they have played in keeping the people of Cite Soleil in misery?
AD: Where there is Dr. Reginald Boulos today? He is now the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and yet it was he who killed close to 25 children in Cite Soleil. He made money by distributing a cough syrup that was called "Ephemil." Was he never brought to justice for the deaths of those children? No, instead he is being rewarded for his role in overthrowing our democratically elected president. This is not justice.
It is for that reason that we are demonstrating like this and accompanying the population in their search for justice and a way out of misery. And again, the bourgeoisie and MINUSTAH will label anyone who defends the interests of the people as common assassins and criminals.
And we say, we are not assassins, we are not criminals. We are political militants, who are defending the rights of the population of Cite Soleil, the rights for all of the Haitian people who are suffering in misery today.
And it is for that reason that we are struggling, but we will never be criminals, never, ever.
KP: What about July 6, 2005 when U.N. forces killed Dread Wilmer and the accusations that unarmed civilians were killed as well?
The U.N. does deny it ever happened but MINUSTAH committed that genocide inside of Cite Soleil. It is a crime worse than the Haitian army did inside Cite Soleil [after the coup of 1991 and 2004]. Now MINUSTAH blames Lavalas militants...that Lavalas militants killed people who were happy that Dread was killed or who were informants against the people's interests. That's nonsense!! We would never do that because Lavalas depends upon the people, depends upon the population. If the U.N. cannot control Cite Soleil today it is because the majority still believe in the ideals of the Lavalas struggle and that means the poor have as many rights as the bourgeoisie.
They make the incredible claim that there were people inside Cite Soleil who celebrated the death of comrade Dread Wilme. I don't believe that such people exist in Cite Soleil and it was a fabrication to cover up the slaughter by U.N. forces on July 6. Just walk around and ask anyone here and they will recite for you the good works that Dread Wilme always did on behalf of the poor in Cite Soleil.
I worked closely together with Dread, me, Amaral. We worked together to help keep the people of Cite Soleil alive.
But with the complicity of MINUSTAH along with the bourgeoisie sector, they were able to kill Dread Wilme. They were able to kill close to 60 people in Cite Soleil when they assassinated him and four other militants.
We always keep Dread Wilme alive in our memory. It is for that reason that the population accompanied us, to the point where we succeeded in inaugurating Dread Wilme Boulevard. The community worked together to dedicate a street in his name. Everyone in Cite Soleil contributed to this effort.
KP: But they continue to say Wilmer was an assassin and a criminal.
AD: If Dread were a criminal, if he was an assassin, the population would never, never, ever, have held such a beautiful funeral in his memory in Cite Soleil. His funeral reflected his life and his sacrifice. And when we look at the funeral of Dread Wilme...we saw it was an extraordinary thing [referring to the huge droves of people who attended]. It was in this same spirit of sacrifice for the interests of the poor that Dread was commemorated by renaming the street of Bwa Neuf as Boulevard Dread Wilmer. A criminal in Cite Soleil would never have been bestowed with such glory. We will continue our struggle in his memory and the U.N. nor the bourgeoisie can ever take that experience away from the Haitian people.
KP: What about the upcoming elections? Do you support them?
AD: Yes, we support them if the Haitian people support them. They will try to blame us for any violence that happens but the truth is we want this nightmare to be over. The only way to do that is through these elections. Now, Latortue and his government and the movement to oust Aristide have put many of their family members and cronies in more than 12,000 civil service jobs throughout Haiti. These were jobs that were given to poor people to give them a chance to rise above poverty under Aristide. They were fired after the coup. Those who replaced them are afraid of losing those jobs while the wealthy elite and those who participated in the kidnapping of Aristide have their own reasons to create violence to destabilize the election process. We say clearly that the people of Haiti should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to vote and participate in these elections.
We will accompany and help to protect those who wish to vote. The repression must stop and we must turn the page on this nightmare and hell for the poor in Haiti.
KP: Thank you Amaral.
AD: You're welcome.