By Travis Ross, The Canada Files, June 14, 2023
“The term ‘Bwa Kale’ literally means ‘peeled wood.’ It refers to the tool used in a severe form of corporal punishment in some Haitian homes and reflects not only the will of its participants to identify, catch, and kill the violent criminals who have long terrorized the country with kidnapping, extortion, and murder, but also to employ the criminal gang’s same gruesome methods of violence against the population.”
Bwa Kale has also been successful. According to reports, kidnappings in Haiti have dropped to zero since the movement began four weeks ago. According to a recent report by human rights group the Centre d'analyse et de recherche en droits de l'homme (CARDH) Bwa Kale has “resulted in no kidnappings taking place from April 24 to May 24.” CARDH’s report goes on to point out that “the 'Bwa Kale' movement has in just one month produced convincing, visible results; fear has changed sides. Both kidnappings and gang-related killings have fallen drastically.”
While Bwa Kale is a leaderless movement, some local leaders have emerged to encourage and arm the population to form vigilance brigades and fight the gangs. Often in coordination with local police officers. Videos shared on social media show machetes being produced and distributed.
Jean Ernest Muscadin, a government commissioner in the Miragoâne commune on Haiti’s southern peninsula, is one example. Muscadin encourages citizens to arm themselves with machetes and take on gangs. He has also carried out summary executions of suspected gang members.
Other social or community leaders have begun to emerge as well. A recent Al Jazeera report identified two social leaders, Jean Baptist Kenley of the Solino neighborhood and another leader introduced as “Emanuel” from Bel Air. Both encouraged the people to join the Bwa Kale movement.
Inside Port au Prince, Jimmy Cherizier, the former cop and spokesperson for the Revolutionary Forces of the G9 Family and Allies (FRG9), leads an alliance of anti-gang armed vigilance brigades. While leaders like Muscadin have no particular political message, Cherizier has called for the overthrow of Haiti’s bourgeoisie and what he calls their “stinking, rotten system.” Instead of “5 per cent controlling 85 per cent of the nation’s wealth,” he calls for a system where Haiti’s resources are shared by all. Described as “Aristide with a gun”, Cherizier’s demands focus on potable water, food, employment, infrastructure, and education.
Cherizier was targeted by the RNDDH, FJKL, and other Washington-backed organizations in a smear campaign linking him to alleged massacres. These accusations have been thoroughly debunked in the documentary Another Vision.
The case of Cherizier shows the risk to potential leaders who will likely emerge from the Bwa Kale movement. They will be targeted by Washington-backed NGOs or “human rights groups” who disapprove of their tactics or their political ideologies.
Mainstream media (MSM) in the west is happy to consume and regurgitate simple narratives presented by U.S. - backed human rights groups like the RNDDH. Proper scrutiny of these organizations is never provided in MSM. journalists are unwilling to do the research that indicates that “human rights leaders like Pierre Espérance and Marie Yolene Gille are not trustworthy sources.
As veteran Haitian activist Andre Charlier noted, the “RNDDH is a political organization hiding behind the facade of a human rights organization.” That facade is maintained through funding from Washington.
Gilles is an ex-employee of the RNDDH who left to form her own human rights group, the Fondasyon Je Klere (The Open Eyes Foundation - FJKL). FJKL also partners with the U.S. government. FJKL is co-founded by Samuel Madistin, a politician turned human rights advocate. He ran for President during the 2016 election. Madistin is also a lawyer and represents Reginald Boulos, a Haitian oligarch. Boulos funded the Group of 184. These organizations actively disseminate misinformation for their own political ends or to serve American interests.
Other websites such as Insight Crime and Ayibopost repeat disproven allegations levied at Cherizier. Predictably, these websites are U.S. funded. Insight Crime is funded by the Open Society Foundation and the U.S. State Department, while Ayibopost takes money from the NED.
It is not uncommon to see uniformed officers cooperating with Bwa Kale activists. As Louis-Henri Mars remarked in an interview with the CBC "the police, the street officers at least, have suffered quite a bit at the hands of the gangs who've been killing them, and hiding and destroying the bodies of those they kill so that their families would not be able to give them proper burial. So the street officers are also in a lot of ways taking things into their own hands."
Cherizier has the support of many local police officers. When Cherizier first left the police department in 2018, after he and some of his colleagues were framed for a poorly planned mission into Gran Ravine that resulted in civilian deaths, Cherizier partnered with several other disaffected officers to rid their neighborhoods of armed gangs. It is unsurprising that police officers organize themselves to fight against local criminal gangs, as PNH leadership have done such a poor job of eradicating them. The similarities to Bwa Kale are obvious - Cherizier, working with other police officers operating independently from the PNH’s command structure, organized with their fellow citizens to rid their neighborhoods of criminal armed gangs.
Cherizier recently expressed his support for the Bwa Kale movement in an interview with Haiti Liberté. He was hesitant to do so, however, because he feared the movement would be targeted by Washington-backed groups like the RNDDH. Cherizier explained that:
“Many journalists are trying to make people believe that the G9 movement is behind it and that it is a bandit-to-bandit movement just so they can discredit the people’s fight. That is one of the reasons why we in the G9 hadn’t taken a public position to support Bwa Kale, because we know the system is so strong and powerful. Once we take a public position to say we support Bwa Kale, we feared they would use this to make politics with it. But we of the G9 Family and Allies, we fully support the Bwa Kale movement that the people have launched, because it brings many results. Since the Bwa Kale started, there have been zero kidnappings for two weeks, that is thanks to the people’s movement. So we in the G9 encourage the people not to let go of their Bwa Kale, not to stop, for the people to continue to maintain the movement.”
Indeed, the RNDDH’s Rosy Ducema has described Bwa Kale as a “spiral of violence”. Ducema encourages Bwa Kale activists to hand over gang members to the police, while acknowledging that “the rare times the armed bandits have been arrested government commissioners, their surrogates, and judges accept bribes to free them.” In a separate interview, Espérance offered the same advice to the population.
These interviews followed a May 9, 2023, RNDDH report that stated unequivocally that Bwa Kale “cannot overcome” the gangs and that “state authorities must immediately take the necessary measures to put an end to all forms of violence.” Including, adopting “immediate measures to put an end to the ongoing spiral of violence” in Haiti.
Espérance seems to be concerned primarily with stopping a popular movement in its tracks. He demands that Bwa Kale activists hand over their movement to “state authorities”. One must wonder how Espérance differentiates between the state authorities who actively finance or tacitly support gangs and those who do not?
Espérance and RNDDH have a record that shows they have no problem with state violence directed at popular movements. What they do take issue with is popular movements threatening the political class, of which Espérance and his cohorts belong.
It was no surprise then, that Espérance recently smeared Muscadin as being a “member of the G9 who works for the PHTK.” As usual, offering no evidence to support his claims. He is more concerned with stamping out any potential new leadership from emerging from popular movements as they potentially threaten the legitimacy of the bourgeois leadership that has been nurtured and supported by Washington.
Instead, Espérance appeals to the people who fund his organization - the U.S. government - to “withdraw their political and financial support” for Ariel Henry and those who support him once the Montana Accord is “operationalized”. In an article for Just Security, Espérance explained that the “United States and others in the international community must press harder” to bring about a “responsible transition back to democracy and sustainable security for Haiti.”
Like Saint Dic, Espérance doesn’t see the Haitian people as worthy of appealing to for support or legitimacy. The focus of these elites who back the Montana Accord is to leverage U.S. hegemony to dislodge the PHTK and reconstitute Haiti’s fractured bourgeoisie.
Can Montana change course?
The fact that many in the Haitian diaspora are only now being introduced to the Montana Accord coalition speaks to the poverty of reporting on Haiti generally in the west. It also reflects the fact that Montana’s leadership wasted months appealing to Washington in place of building solidarity in Haiti and in the diaspora as insecurity grew exponentially inside Haiti.
Could a change in leadership make a difference? Jean Hénold Buteau, one of Montana’s candidates for interim Prime Minister, inspires some in the diaspora. He is the leader of l'Alternative Socialiste (Socialist Alternative). His influence inside the Montana coalition seems insignificant, however, as the leadership’s persistent appeal to Washington for legitimacy has remained uninterrupted for almost two years. Moreover, his signature on the aforementioned open letter suggests l'Alternative Socialiste is looking outside the Montana coalition to find a solution to the crisis.
Would a return from Fanmi Lavalas (FL) to the Montana coalition help them reverse course and rebuild the broad-base? This seems unlikely. While FL was hugely influential in the past, its popularity in Haiti currently is greatly diminished as compared to the period of 1990 - 2016.
FL’s base was fractured years ago. First, the Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL), formerly the Lavalas Political Organization, separated itself from Fanmi Lavalas in 1997 due to political differences. Next, Rene Preval departed to form Lespwa.Fanmi Lavalas continued to lose higher profile members such as Moise Jean-Charles who departed FL to form his own party, Platfòm Pitit Desalin, and Jean Henry Céant who founded the "Renmen Ayiti" political party.
While Jean-Bertrand Aristide remains a very popular and cherished leader, he has made it quite clear he will not return to politics. FL's current executive committee is a shadow of its former glory, made up of bourgeois like Maryse Narcisse who have proven unable to build a larger base of supporters inside Haiti.
Furthermore, two FL ex-deputy ministers who continue to represent FL, Roger Milien and Printemps Bélizaire, have been accused of working with armed criminal gangs. Milien admitted to knowing a gang leader and driving gang members to a hospital after a shooting. Bélizaire is a suspect in the murder of journalist Vladimir Legagneur and was recorded stating in public that he “burn[ed] down police stations and murder[s] people with machetes.”
FL’s impotence as a political party was further amplified when the executive retracted their delegates from Montana’s CNT. Since then, they have not formed any coalitions or proposed any strategies that have garnered support from the population. FL regularly produces statements that are dutifully translated and disseminated by party stalwarts in western countries. These statements, however, are vague and cliched.
For example, FL’s recent statement, translated to English by the Haiti Action Committee and dated March 23, 2023, states the following:
“To produce sustainable results, any viable transition project must be decided collectively and carried out by a credible team trusted by the public. In this transition there needs to be the active participation of human resources from the diaspora, alongside local resources, so that together we can develop a project for society for the next 25 years by Haitians for Haiti.”
FL is also onboard with the strategy of tackling the security crisis by “strengthening the PNH”, insisting this must be a “Haitian initiative.”
Fanmi Lavalas’ executive seems to understand their diminished popular support. Last summer, six months after withdrawing from Montana’s CNT, they organized a press conference to encourage the population to get behind the proposal that Aristide should lead a two-year transitional government. Seemingly suggesting that Aristide dislodge Montana’s “elected” interim President.
This sparked large demonstrations in favor of Aristide’s return. Highlighting the sharp contrast between Aristide’s popularity and that of his former party’s executive. FL stalwarts in the United-States also celebrated Aristide’s seemingly imminent return, dubbing it “the second coming of Aristide.”
The most bewildering aspect of this failed attempt to get Aristide back into politics was explained by journalist Isabelle Papillon. The campaign “began immediately after the June 8 visit to Aristide’s home in Tabarre by long-time U.S. State Department official Helen La Lime.” La Lime is a despised figure in Haiti. Until recently, she was head of the BINUH, the United-Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Papillon notes that, had this campaign been successful, it would have undermined Aristide’s credibility as his ascendency to the position of interim President could easily have been interpreted as a nomination by Washington and the CORE group.
This illustrates what Patrick Elie, a pro-democracy activist who worked alongside Aristide, remarked on in a 2007 interview: “You could see how [Fanmi Lavalas] became totally in disarray after president Aristide was kidnapped. It was what I would describe as a charismatic organization, one that depends strictly on its leader and after that you have nothing in terms of structure and in terms of capacity to formulate a political strategy.” Elie explained that “Lavalas is this movement, but Lavalas and Fanmi Lavalas, although related, are different things. Fanmi Lavalas is a political organization. Lavalas is a political philosophy, not a party.”
Haitian diaspora groups in Canada: Ransoms, exactions and desperation
It is no wonder some members of the Haitian diaspora are changing their opinion and endorsing some sort of foreign intervention in their homeland. Kidnappings in Haiti have a direct effect on family members living abroad. Speaking at the protest organized by Debout pour la dignité, Pastor Joseph Jr Clorméus of the Church of God of Prophecy said the ransom demands reach relatives abroad, who must organize fundraisers. He says his followers are being asked for US$420,000 for the release of seven people. He says this is” just the tip of the iceberg.”
Solidarité Québec-Haiti (SQH) activist Jean Saint-Vil described the effects of kidnappings and ransoms on family members in the diaspora almost two years ago in a presentation posted to Facebook. Haitians in the diaspora have been forced to mortgage or sell their homes, take out loans, and empty their bank account to pay the ransom demands.
After years of extortion from abroad, and watching their loved ones being terrorized by armed gangs in Haiti, some Haitians in the diaspora feel like a foreign intervention is the only option. As Mr. Flaubert Duclair of Debout pour la Dignité explained, “we do not want a military invasion” but the “current horror leaves no other choice”.
This view is shared by others in the diaspora, and is being amplified by MSM. In a recent guest essay for the New York Times, Dr. Jean W. Page, a professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, wrote “Haitians cannot overcome this crisis … without foreign intervention.” Page explained that, from his perspective, Haitians “do not see a solution to our crisis without foreign intervention. We need experienced international forces to support and train our national police force and provide security as we work toward rebuilding our government.”
The UN & CARICOM continue to conspire to prevent Bwa Kale from succeeding
Henry recently signed a “United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework Plan” with the UN. The UN says this “joint roadmap” is “designed to improve the coherence, effectiveness and efficiency of UN support to the Government.” The agreed upon “Priority areas of work include governance, security and rule of law, inclusive economic transformation, social services and the environment.”
Helen Lalime’s successor, Maria Isabel Salvador commented on the plan, saying ominously that “the success of Haiti will depend on the success of BINUH's effort to establish this cooperation framework.” In a recent briefing at the Security Council, Salvador said “we need to find innovative ways to define the force to support the Haitian National Police.” She cited Guterres October letter, endorsing an “urgent need for the deployment” of an “International Specialized Force”
While propping up a dictator, the UN is working on multiple fronts to undermine Haitian sovereignty and impose a foreign intervention.
Upon meeting with UN Secretary-General Guterres, CARICOM announced that Haitian leaders were invited to a conference in Jamaica in mid-June. CARICOM also announced that an “Eminent Persons Group” (EPG) will be formed to lead negotiations. CARICOM Secretariat named the EPG members as former Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, the former Jamaica prime minister, Bruce Golding; and their St Lucian counterpart, Dr Kenny D. Anthony.
The governments of the Bahamas and Jamaica support a military intervention in Haiti.
Whatever individuals from Montana or Henry and his HCT are selected for the impending transitional government, Washington and the CORE group will maintain control of Haiti. The Montana coalition’s leadership is controlled opposition to Henry, who is an American government-backed dictator.
As Cherizier explained in an interview featured in episode three of Another Vision, “the traditional political class’ interest, civil society's interest, is to take power without the conditions of the poorest masses ever changing. Neither those in civil society nor the traditional political class, [who] both send their children to school overseas. They all have international health coverage, so when they get sick they get medical care abroad. Those people, both the traditional parties and civil society, embody apartheid.” Cherizier argues that “they aren’t patriots, they don’t love this country. They just see Haiti as their little store that makes them money for them to live with their family - with the political class and bourgeoisie that are just as stinking and corrupt as they are.”
Violence perpetrated by oligarch-backed armed gangs, which function as paramilitary groups, have fractured the capital of Port au Prince. The often cited statistic that 80 per cent of Port au Prince is controlled by gangs is misleading. A majority of Port au Prince is controlled by oligarch-backed gangs who often function as paramilitary groups. They oppose vigilance brigades and anti-crime groups like the FRG9 and, increasingly, the Bwa Kale movement.
These armed gangs’ function is to destabilize Haiti and create the justification for a foreign intervention, an intervention Henry requested to shore up his dictatorship.
The effect of these armed gangs and paramilitary groups now extend well beyond Port au Prince. Their reach now extends to rural areas, threatening agriculture and local food supplies. Furthermore, insecurity and the threat of violence prevents what produce is grown from being transported. With more than a third of the population facing acute hunger, access to food is vital.
The crisis is escalating. Bwa Kale is a result, in part, to the political class’ inability to organize a credible transitional government and force Henry out of office. Bwa Kale is a response, not only to the daily acts of depraved violence committed by oligarch-backed armed gangs, but to the political void that has led to Henry’s uninterrupted reign as a U.S.-backed dictator.
This political leadership void has led to local leaders like Muscadin and Cherizier rising up to defend their communities. It is no wonder, when so-called leaders like Fritz Alphonse Jean admit to spending weeks barricaded in their homes. Not only insulated from the daily acts of violence perpetrated against Haitians, but from Haitian people generally.
Violence by armed criminal gangs is experienced very differently depending on one's class in Haiti. The poor majority had no way to defend themselves before Bwa Kale. This is not the case for the small middle and upper class. Wealthy Haitians have options beyond barricading their home, including hiring security companies and paying police salaries to ensure police operate in the area.
Canadians seeking to show solidarity with Haitians have options. Haitian unions are mobilizing and are seeking international solidarity.
Labor unions met in Ouanaminthe, Haiti in January with representatives from unions from all over the world. The gathering resulted in the Ouanaminthe Declaration, which called for “international solidarity generally, and trade union solidarity in particular.” It also rejects international military intervention, stating that “any international armed intervention would go against Haitians’ right to self-determination.”
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Regional Vice-President for Quebec, Richard Delisle attended the meeting. Heeding the call for international solidarity between trade unions, Delisle said that “CUPE has written to Foreign Affairs minister Mélanie Joly calling on the Canadian government to respect Haitian democracy and self determination, and to stay away from military intervention.”
Another call to support labor unions recently came from Montreal-Based Haiti Solidarity group REHMONCO.
Canadians can also support Haiti by calling on their government to stop supporting de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and calling him what he is - a Washington and CORE group-backed dictator.
In a June 12, 2023, statement calling for solidarity with Haiti, Solidarité Quebec-Haiti (SQH) called for an end to “foreign interference [that] has been and remains the main, persistent source of violent crimes linked to political disturbance in Haitian society.” According to the statement, SQH “cautiously welcomed the Montana accord but have also been critical of it.” It is unclear what these critiques are. SQH emphasized that they “expect and encourage the signatories of the Montana accord to do more to connect with the struggling masses.” SQH also encourages allies to “listen and hear their genuine voices” of Haitians.
SQH’s support for Montana contrasts that of many Haitian Anti-imperialists such as MOLEGHAF, a Haitian anti-imperialist party who have recently partnered with the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP). MOLEGHAF’s secretary general Oxygène David is very critical of Montana’s leadership, stating that they “did nothing more than plunge the masses deeper into exclusion, poverty, and misery.” (MOLEGHAF’s reasons for leaving Montana are explained in depth here). BAP’s Haiti/America's Team Co-Coordinator Dr. Jemima Pierre has denounced the Montana group as “bourgeois opposition”.
Canadians can also actively call out misinformation and propaganda disseminated by US-funded groups like the RNDDH, FJKL, JURIMEDIA, and OCAPH. These groups operate with impunity, and are treated as legitimate sources of information and opinion by western MSM and western governments.
Canadians are not immune from US-funded propaganda. As Peter Biesterfeld explained in his article about the Canadian mainstream media’s failure to inform the public on foreign policy. He argues that “Canadian news consumers who exclusively read, watch and listen to mainstream news remain under-informed” about Canadian foreign policy. “Canadian mainstream journalism around Haitian affairs” Biesterfeld observes, “relies heavily on official narratives provided by western government officials, human rights organizations, and think tanks.” When citing sources from these “human rights organizations”, Canadian mainstream media do not mention that they are funded by the NED or regime-change foundation like the Open Society Foundation.
Haitians understand their toxic effect on the discourse in western countries, and the need to extricate them from the discourse so Haitian can speak for themselves through movements like Bwa Kale.
There are also organizations in the United States who have demonstrated their ability to effectively lobby in a multipolar world and get results.
The Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) and Haiti Liberté effectively helped to block U.S. efforts to occupy Haiti, under the guise of a “special military force,” at the UN. BAP delivered an open letter to the Representatives of the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation in October titled “No to Foreign Military Intervention In Haiti! Yes, to Haitian Self-Determination!”
Following efforts to alert the Russian Embassy on the impending move to intervene militarily in Haiti, Haiti Liberté delivered an anti-intervention presentation to the UN Security Council.
These efforts resulted in Russia and China blocking Washington and the CORE groups efforts at the UN Security Council. Supporting efforts like these on the international front can have direct, tangible effects on efforts to intervene in Haiti.
Haiti’s current system of governance, in which, according to Louis-Henri Mars,” gangs bolster politics” is self-perpetuating “because the Haitian state and society have done so little for so many neglected neighborhoods, and many young people are desperate.”
Canada’s sanctions regime, as well as PM Trudeau’s support for the PNH has only strengthened Ariel Henry’s position. Canada’s purported efforts to solve the crisis in Haiti has only increased the suffering of Haitians.
Bwa Kale shows that Haitians are trying to break that cycle.
The FRG9’s defeated blockade at the Varreaux Port underlines the profound effect an international force will have on Port au Prince and Haiti generally. Only three armed vehicles and some weapons dislodged and pushed back a group that is routinely framed in MSM as fearsome and powerful. The blockade was intended to pressure Henry to step down, one among many blockades around Port au Prince at the time. FRG9 spokesperson Jimmy Cherizier had called for Henry to resign, suggesting a transitional government of locally-elected community representatives take power. His efforts were thwarted by Canada and the UN.
This framework of supporting the PNH’s efforts to end gang violence also belies a crucial factor. Criminal gangs are a symptom, not the root cause of violence. Louis-Henri Mars, the executive director of Lakou Lapè, a peacebuilding organization, argues that “every Haitian I know is aware that, over the past 20 years, government ministers and senators and parliamentary delegates have delivered money and weapons to gangs.”
Bwa Kale’s current target is armed gangs. Andre Charlier writes that Haitians now “seem to burn with a furious desire to redo 1804”, referring to the Haitian revolution. Those in power who fund and arm gangs must wonder if, once the gangs are eliminated, are they next?
In December, Kim Ives told the UN Security Council, “the situation in Haiti cannot be resolved through foreign intervention, military force, or even sanctions. The Haitian people, acting with full sovereignty, must be allowed to sort out their own problems.” Berthony DuPont, editor of Haiti Liberté, concurs, “ it is only through their own struggle that they will defeat all the maneuvers and interference of the imperialists and their local lackeys.
Travis Ross is a teacher based in Montreal, Québec. He is also the co-editor of the Canada-Haiti Information Project at canada-haiti.ca . Travis has written for Haiti Liberté, Black Agenda Report, TruthOut, and rabble.ca. He can be reached on Twitter.
Posted June 16, 2023