THE BLOG

Don't Mistake Montreal's Mayor For a Friend of Haiti

01/30/2014 12:18 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT

A whirlwind of debate was recently created by a Dominican Republic ruling which, once implemented, will put tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian Descent in a limbo of statelessness.

This decision by the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court is seemingly pulled from the same book as the 1937 Parsley Massacre which was a government-sponsored genocide that claimed the lives of thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. For important historical context, it is referred to as the Parsley Massacre because, without any way to visually tell Haitian-descendant Dominicans apart from non-Haitian descendant Dominicans, Dominican border guards would ask people to pronounce the word "perejil" (Spanish for "parsley"). Individuals who pronounced perejil with a Creole-sounding accent were murdered.

The significant damage this genocidal massacre caused to Haitian-Dominican relations still reverberates into the present and haunts this latest ruling by the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court on the citizenship rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

The Constitutional Court's ruling has been met with much internal and external resistance. I'd like to focus on the external reaction, more precisely, the one carried out by the Haitian Diaspora.

Haitians from all corners of the globe denounced this unacceptable ruling in the form of organized campaigns to both inform the greater populations of this gross violation of human rights and to pressure the government of the DR to reverse it. In Montreal, a staged boycott campaign at the national airport garnered much international attention.

In light of these events, I couldn't help but think back to my first memory of participating in a Haitian diaspora-led political initiative to assert pressure from the outside.

It was in the early 90s. Haiti's first democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (A.K.A. "Titid"), had been deposed by a coup-d'état, less than a year after being elected. Like grass fire and to support Haitians protesting on the ground, diaspora mobilization took off in Montreal. My parents, like many others who had emigrated to Canada in the 60s and 70s, joined in, even though they had both been religiously apolitical for as long as I could remember. Adapting to the difficult realities of immigration to a foreign country and raising a family meant that being political was a luxury they simply couldn't afford. But this drastic shift in their sense of agency as it pertains to the coup was echoed throughout the diaspora. Myself and my two older siblings got front row seats to the action.

We sold chocolates (ok, ate a lot of chocolates. Sorry you had to find out this way mom, but it was always done from a place of solidarity), attended meetings, participated in rallies. I can still remember the chants:

Woy Loni!

Anmwey Loni!

Se Aristid nou te mande.

Nou pa bezwen lòt prezidan.

(United Nations, we had voted for Aristide, we do not need another president)

And this one:

Nous voulons nous voulons

Le retour d'Aristide

N'ap mande N'ap mande

Pou Aristid tounen.

(We want and demand for the return of Aristide)

Although Titid did return eventually, the rules of the game had radically changed. His capacity to carry out his initial mandates had been drastically hampered. Amongst the elements at play, Canadian NGOs played a significant role in creating division within his support base by in a sense offering financial security in exchange of their allegiance to Aristide.

But regardless of the constraints imposed on Aristide post-'91 coup, the Diaspora's actions spoke volumes. It tapped into the potential of diaspora diplomacy; a term that is used to describe the phenomenon when a highly organized Diaspora uses its presence in a host nation-state to leverage benefits their country of origin.

Through the practice of diaspora diplomacy, we see a side of the Haitian Diaspora of which the international community and Haitians across the globe need to see more. More than the $2 billion (safe estimate) that is sent back to Haiti in the form of remittances each year, the Diaspora's potential to influence the policies of their host countries (most dominantly the U.S., Canada and France) that have a direct impact on Haiti is still just that; potential. As the saying goes, "nature hates emptiness" and what it decides to fill it with is sometimes questionable. The newest mayor of the recently corruption-plagued city of Montreal, Denis Coderre, is a case in point.

Montreal's mayor Coderre has been heard in Haitian circles to refer to himself as the city's Haitian Mayor. What is troubling about his self-proclamation, is that Coderre played a key role in the normalization of the second illegal overthrow of Aristide in 2004 by a Canada-US-France backed coup d'état. Serving as Prime Minister Martin's Special Advisor on Haiti at the time, Coderre has relentlessly conjured up political fables that have hid the true motives and extent of Canada's involvement in the coup itself and the post-coup regime. Thanks to Coderre's solemn skills, gross violation of human rights have characterized the post-coup regime in Haiti since 2004, resulting in the loss of thousands of innocent lives; a tragedy that has largely gone unnoticed in Canadian media.

In the midst of all this, I dare to dream of a Diaspora that is able to actively, consistently and credibly hold individuals like Coderre accountable for their actions; a Diaspora that is in a position of preventing the many Coderre's of this world from adding insult to injury by portraying themselves as true friends of Haiti. Because with friends like these...

In February, Coderre will make his first official visit abroad. He has chosen Haiti as his destination. Coincidently, this February marks the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Coup d'état in Haiti. Events are being organized in several Canadian cities to commemorate this anniversary. Indeed, 2014 and this coming month of February will bring many historical points into full circle. As such, let us, who stand for the well-being and full liberty of the Haitian people, continue to build on past and current Diaspora mobilization efforts to amplify local mobilization and ignite critical dialogue and exchange on the potential and possibilities of diaspora diplomacy.

It is up to us to write the words of today's chants of solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Haiti.

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