Danny Glover on the Struggle for Democracy in Haiti
In the lead up to the elections on October 9, actor and activist Danny Glover talks about the two US-backed coups in Haiti and why he’s supporting Dr. Maryse Narcisse of the Fanmi Lavalas Party
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
After a long time of uncertain democratic leadership in Haiti, a new parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for October 9. While there are 27 candidates running for president, according to analysts there are only four that has a good chance of winning the presidency.
One of them is Dr. Maryse Narcisse of the Fanmi Lavalas Party, which is the party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. If elected, she would become Haiti’s first female president.
On to talk about all of this with me is Danny Glover. Danny Glover is an actor-vist who has been most passionately following Haitian politics for decades. He joins us today in our Baltimore studio.
Danny, pleasure to have you with us.
DANNY GLOVER: Thank you, Sharmini. Good. It’s good to be with The Real News again.
PERIES: And I should mention, Danny’s also on the board of The Real News Network.
Danny, you are supporting Dr. Maryse Narcisse for president of Haiti.
PERIES: And the one thing that is, of course, concerning you is that you’ve always been a supporter of the party that she’s running for, which is the party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide,–
GLOVER: Aristide. Yes.
PERIES: –the Fanmi Lavalas Party.
PERIES: And so why are you supporting her candidacy?
GLOVER: Well, certainly when we think about Family Lavalas, the party which is the party of the people of Haiti, and the enormous role that it has played in simply rebuilding itself, the role that it has played in becoming a very important voice within the Haitian political framework and the fact that they’ve more or less resurrected themselves as well, it is the people’s party. Its candidate’s Dr. Maryse Narcisse, has been an outspoken critic of the present government, the previous government. She has been an outspoken advocate for justice, for health care, for education, for allowing Haiti to independently–Haiti and its people–determine their own history and their own destiny. Certainly her career, as not only a member of Family Lavalas, but her career as someone who has administered health care, who has been there with the people in their desperate situation, this is the candidate that Haiti needs at this particular point in their history. That’s why I’m supporting them.
PERIES: Danny, as we know, there’s been a cholera outbreak in Haiti that the United Nations and the peacekeeping forces have taken actual responsibility for. In fact, Ban Ki-moon at the General Assembly just a few days ago acknowledged that this was a great failure on the part of United Nations.
PERIES: Being a physician might be good thing as far as securing the health care of the people of Haiti that’s not only suffering from this particular cholera outbreak but many other diseases as well, as a result of lack of sanitation and health care for patients. How do you think a doctor leading up the country–the impact that would have on the country?
GLOVER: I can imagine that there couldn’t be–it could not be anyone who would be as prepared, knowledgeable, and who would call to action the resources not only within Haiti, but within the world community to address the issues. As we know that under President Aristide there have been many attempts to elevate the life expectancy, the life of Haitian people, whether it’s bringing in Cuban doctors, whether it’s being supported by President Chávez and Venezuela and training doctors, training doctors to perform and work in the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities within Haiti, this was part of what the work that Family Lavalas did and responded to before the cholera outbreak, but in the general sense of elevating Haiti and bringing Haiti’s health care, educational systems to a place where the Haitian people were the beneficiaries of it, were the ones who actually were crafting their own democracy in doing that. Raising pay, you know, minimum wage, all those are things that have been carried on before.
It’s unfortunate that, one, the earthquake and the subsequent travesties around the electoral process after the earthquake is unfortunately that that work was truncated and that work didn’t continue. But then we go back to 1990, when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first elected, and the subsequent overthrow, the coup d’état.
PERIES: Tell us about that, tell us about Aristide’s coup d’état against him, who was responsible. Give us some of that history.
GLOVER: Well, I think we talk about two coups d’état. We talk about the first coup d’état. Family Lavalas came out of nowhere. The U.S. government has spent more than $11 million on their candidate, and yet got 11 percent of the votes. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a minister, a priest who had administered to his people and had become the focal point of this movement, a collection of groups that made up Family Lavalas, groups whether they came from labor, whether they came from justice organizations, all the groups that now made the election possible that elected Aristide. He was immediately overthrown by forces which included French forces and French interests, and the U.S. government as well. That’s the first coup. The first coup was led by General Cédras at that particular point. And so you have a party which is at its embryonic stage, a party which is now beginning to find its own voice.
PERIES: Danny, as you said, there’s been two coup d’états in Haiti. Give us a sense of that history.
GLOVER: The first coup d’état was almost immediately after the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And it was a military coup. It was a military coup by the old forces from the unpopular regime, the Papa Doc and Baby Doc regime. So the first thing was the military coup that happened there. Aristide went into exile. And then there was a reign of terror, where men and women, activists, were forced either to leave the country, were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. Countless people were murdered during this first coup. Aristide was in exile in the United States and gained a great deal of support. Artists like myself, Jonathan Demme, and a whole host of men and women came to his defense and came to Haiti’s defense at that particular point in time. Randall Robinson went on a hunger strike. Soon, sometime after that, Aristide was restored to complete his presidency, and certainly completed that presidency, which was very short, as I said, truncated. And yet what happened was various obstacles were placed in Haiti’s way, and those obstacles did not allow the Haitian people, those people who were the stewards of the wishes and demands of the Haitian people, to go on and create the Haiti that they envision.
PERIES: When you say “obstacles,” what do you mean by that?
GLOVER: Well, loans specifically were not received, development loans. And then I think what else that happened, we don’t understand what happens with a coup d’état and the stabilization process through fear, intimidation, murder. All those things play a role in creating an atmosphere in which the party, this revolutionary party, we might say, this new party who now represents the aspirations of the Haitian people, those things now are indeterminate now. The levels of trust, the levels of coercion, the levels of bribery, all those things now take center stage within the government that President Aristide now reassumed, the position he reassumed after that.
So he has this short period of time that he is president. He steps down as president, which was part of the agreement, step down. René Préval was elected president and fulfilled his responsibility. And certainly it was under René Préval, President René Préval, in 2012 that the earthquake happened, the earthquake occurred, if I’m not mistaken. Was it 2010? I’m not sure. I can’t remember right now.
PERIES: It was 2011.
GLOVER: Two thousand and eleven, 2011 that the earthquake occurred. And so that was after the second coup, which had taken place in 2004, the bicentennial of the Haitian revolution.
How ironic that in 2004, in February 29, 2004, there’s another coup d’état as the Haitians are celebrating their 200th year as a nation. It’s almost invalidated their existence as an independent, sovereign people, this second coup. Aristide, who had been elected, had been elected. After the first service, after his first service, then René Préval took over. He was elected again, won overwhelmingly: as much as 96 percent of the voters voted for Aristide to win this election.
Another coup has happened. And this is a coup, a different kind of coup, where no more than about 250–and I’ll use the term bandits–made their way–heavily armed with U.S. uniforms and guns–made their way from the Dominican Republic, and then offered another obstacle or presented another obstacle to the Haitian people. Aristide had disbanded the Haitian army. There was only a minimum police force that had no ammunitions, no spare parts, etc. All this was the fallacy that–certainly the instruments that were used to create the second coup. The United Nations came in as that. The U.S. called the United Nations in.
PERIES: Well, just one detail. During the second coup on Aristide, he was flown out of Haiti in a U.S. plane.
GLOVER: He was flown out of Haiti in a U.S. plane, and he sat on the tarmac for days in the Central African Republic, which was a military dictatorship. He wasn’t allowed to return to the hemisphere. And finally the South African government of Thabo Mbeki welcomed him, where he spent seven years in exile, from 2004 until 2011.
And then, in 2011, I had the opportunity to accompany him and his family, Mildred and his children, from South Africa with a small group of people to Haiti again, just before the election that resulted in the presidency of Martelly, Michel Martelly.
PERIES: Former president Aristide was allowed back into the country on the condition that he would not stand for election.
GLOVER: He would not stand for election. Yeah.
PERIES: And I remember while you and Amy Goodman and others were in flight with him returning from South Africa, you did that in order to ensure that he would safely be returned to Haiti and not flown somewhere else.
GLOVER: Yes, not flown somewhere else. And we had a very small window at that time, the small window for him to return. René Préval had made it possible by stating that he welcomed the president back, the former president back. And we had that small window between Préval’s statement and the election itself.
PERIES: And now who is behind all of this? We alluded to the fact that President Aristide, after the coup, was flown out in a U.S. plane. But the hidden hand behind all of this is the United States. That’s no secret. They have always interfered in the Haitian electoral process. What’s at stake for the United States? What is the strategic interest of Haiti, a poor nation, one of the poorest nations in the world?
GLOVER: Well, if we look at what’s literally at stake, we could say that Haiti represents access to cheap labor for industries to–and there are many industries now. There’s a whole list of industries that are popular, and certainly wealthy industries that pay the smallest amount of money per employee per hour imaginable.
But there’s something else that I think that we’ve missed the boat on in terms of Haiti. In Haiti’s peculiar history, Haiti did something in 1804 that had never been done in human history [incompr.] not just history; human history. And that was–what Haiti did in 1804 was Haiti became–a slave rebellion resulted in the first time that a nation was formed. It had never been done in human history that a slave rebellion led to the formation of a government and a state. And actually what made it so–the irony of the whole thing is that revolution took place within a historic moment in human history, where you had the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Haitian revolution. And some would argue that the Haitian revolution articulated and realized the ideals of the other two revolutions.
So I think on something Haiti perhaps has never been forgiven for that. We may say that the Cubans may never be forgiven for what happened in 1959, but Haitians have never been forgiven for that. And certainly if we look at the history of Haiti, the extraordinary, extraordinary impact that that revolution had on the abolitionist movement in the United States–the great Simón Bolivar came to Haiti in 1813, received funds, monies, and everything else, and went on to liberate South America. President Chávez always said we owe so much to the Haitian people. Frederick Douglas, the great Liberator, the great abolitionist, said we owe so much to the Haitian people. In that sense, these extraordinary men and women who have [incompr.] legacy becomes the part of their own psychic and historic memory as well.
So even as we talk about the overturning of the fraudulent elections that happened last year in November, October last year, we talk about that, it was the will of the Haitian people that made that happen. It was the will of the Haitian people, their active participation in demanding that those elections be overturned that allow us to look at October 9 as a possible moment in which they can reclaim their own dignity–dignity is the word they use–their own sovereignty.
PERIES: Alright, Danny. Let’s in segment 2 take up why you’re specifically supporting the candidacy of Dr. Maryse Narcisse.
PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. And stay tuned.
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