Our guest this morning is Dr. Reginald Boulos. He is the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIH). Good morning, Dr. Boulos.
(Boulos) Good morning, Rotchild, and good morning to all the listeners of Radio Metropole.
(Rotchiled Francois) We will talk about the insecurity issue, which remains a major concern for the people here in Haiti. The insecurity situation has got a lot worse in the metropolitan area in recent weeks. We can say that all sectors are affected by this situation. Would you say that it is the same for the members of the CCIH?
(Boulos) Not only are we worried, but we are also very concerned about the problems related to insecurity and the impact they have on the holding of credible and honest elections in the country. All sectors of the population are affected by all of the kidnappings that are taking place here every day. These kidnappings take place in certain lawless areas, where the national and international authorities, unfortunately, have no control. The thing is that the authorities know where the problems are, but they refuse to act.
I want to seize this occasion to pay tribute to Mrs. Valme, a kidnapping victim who was tortured to death recently. I also want to pay tribute to Francillon, a member of the CCIH, and all the other people who are victims of criminal acts every day and right in front of the senseless passiveness and indulgence of the military contingents of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). And this is what worries us the most now. Almost eighteen months ago, the United Nations created a peacekeeping force for Haiti with two major goals, which were to restore security and to lead the country to honest, credible, and acceptable elections. But it is clear now that MINUSTAH and the government are now failing in these two issues, because we just do not see how we are going to organize honest, credible, and democratic elections in this insecurity climate, especially in the lawless areas, which have tens of thousands of voters.
(Francois) I talked with the director of the national police, Mario Andresol, yesterday, and he acknowledged the complexity of the situation and clearly said that the police cannot deal with situation that prevails in Cité Soleil. He said that they cannot go to Cité Soleil and that this can only be done by the MINUSTAH soldiers.
(Boulos) I believe that it is the duty of both of them. From a viewpoint of the national sovereignty, it is the duty of the government of the Republic to make sure that the national police has the necessary equipment and material to fulfil its mission, which is to protect and to serve. But we know that the police are under-equipped and do not have the necessary protective gear to enable them to carry out the necessary operations in Cité Soleil. I believe this job should be done first and foremost by the MINUSTAH soldiers. Besides, the MINUSTAH was created in the first place because our institutions here were weak, because we had a police force that was corrupted by the National Palace authorities from 2001 to 2004, and because it was necessary for the police to be purged of all the criminals that were in it.
Actually, we hail Andresol’s effort and encourage him because he has proved to be courageous so far. But he cannot do it alone. He cannot do it without the support of the government and especially without the participation of MINUSTAH. And yet, for months now, we have heard that MINUSTAH had worked out some plans to resolve the problems in Cité Soleil and in the other lawless areas. Information is available, just like the plans to besiege this neighborhood. And all that is lacking now is the political will on the part of Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdes, who has so far preferred to adopt a passive position in the face of this situation. And now he is to be held responsible for the climate of insecurity that still prevails in this country and for the fact that elections cannot be organized.
(Francois) As we all know, the situation is extremely complicated in Cité Soleil, with all of the kidnapping cases and with all of the violence that is taking place there. There is also all the lobbying that is being done by members of the former regime on foreign lands to say that each time operations are carried out in Cité Soleil, people are massacred and so forth. Do you think the situation has reached its highest point now and that something should be done quickly?
(Boulos) We are not international officials. So, we really do not care about what certain international human-rights-defense groups may say. What we know is that each one of us?whether you are a worker, a businessperson, or an unemployed individual?whenever we are at home or when we are leaving our home, we wonder whether or not we will still be alive the next day. So, I do not want anybody to tell me that because there is pressure at the international level, the authorities here should not fulfil their duty, that they should not do what is required of them. If they are afraid of what these international human-rights groups may say, then they do not have a place in the political leadership of MINUSTAH in this country. We cannot continue to accept our businesspeople being looted, held for ransom, and robbed. We cannot let our workers be kidnapped every day.
Kidnappings take place in all sectors of society and for different prices. The people are now living in an unacceptable climate of terror. This is why this morning the chamber of commerce and all the other associations of the employers’ sector have issued a call for all political parties, the business sector, the workers, and the public-transportation sector to go on strike on January 9 to honor the memory of all the victims of this insecurity, to protest against it, and to declare to Valdes that we are waiting for him to give clear instructions to the troops under his command to cleanse Cité Soleil of the criminals, as they did in Bel-Air, so that the people of Cité Soleil may be free to go about their activities. The residents of Cité Soleil are the ones who are suffering the most. We are asking and demanding Valdes to order his troops to accompany the PNH (Haitian National Police), to collaborate with them, to go after the scoundrels, arrest them, and neutralize all the armed criminals and terrorists who are terrorizing the metropolitan area.
We must not forget that MINUSTAH’s mandate is to create and guarantee a secure and stable environment to facilitate the organization of elections that should lead the country to another regime. So, the Haitian people should ask the United Nations to respect its commitment to this country.
(Francois) This means that you have issued a call for all sectors to go on strike on January 9. People are very concerned anyway about school reopening next week due to the degradation and deterioration of the security climate in the capital. How do you see this situation?
(Boulos) This call is issued to all sectors, including the education sector, so that together we may make it clear to Valdes and the government of the Republic that we do not want to send our children to the slaughter, that we do not want to send our workers, our businessmen, and our employers to the slaughter. All sectors, including the press, are concerned about the insecurity issue. We must stand together to combat it. Therefore, for this reason, we are calling on the workers, the business sector, and the public administration sector, in particular, and all other sectors to participate in this day of protest, this day of general strike, this day of mourning, so that the national and international political authorities pay attention to our situation. We are now begging the ambassadors of France and the United States to transmit the plea of the Haitian people to the U.N. Security Council so that they may order Valdes to do what is necessary to ensure that security is restored in Port-au-Prince.
(Francois) Actually, the Security Council will hold a major meeting on Haiti tomorrow, and they are going to emphasize the elections. But are we now witnessing a degradation of the security climate?
(Boulos) I believe that this is taking place at the right time. We hope that the Security Council will listen to the cry of the Haitian people. We are inviting all political parties to support this movement. We are particularly inviting René Préval (former Lavalas president) to do something because we personally saw the key gang leader of Cité Soleil on a French television station, and he was wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Préval on it. He claims to be the political operator of Préval’s election campaign. We would like to know if Préval’s electoral campaign, which is being carried out by armed gangs, signals a return to the past, or is this the kind of future they are preparing for us?
(Francois) You are right. We were all able to see this on TV5.
(Boulos) Yes, we could all see Amaral Duclonat, the main gang leader of Cité Soleil, explaining that he was conducting Préval’s political campaign. How can we have honest and credible elections in the biggest shantytown in Haiti when the people have to go vote under the watchful eye of armed and criminal gangs? And yet, other political parties are not able to campaign in this area. The election-monitoring organizations are not able to send observers or representatives in these places. So, these elections just cannot take place now. And Valdes must know that elections cannot take place in an insecure environment.
(Francois) Another thing that people have noticed is that some sectors of the international community always seem to blame the violence and crime in Cité Soleil on the people’s poverty. But I know that you have worked in Cité Soleil as a physician for a long time. What is your opinion on this?
(Boulos) Actually, I can say that Valdes is also responsible in part now for the misery of the people of Cité Soleil. Eight months ago, in conjunction with several countries of the international community, we worked to create a social program that would cost more than $12 million and that would be implemented in Cité Soleil once security was restored in this area. It was going to be a program in which all the streets of Cité Soleil would be paved and the area cleaned up. It was going to be a job-creation program and one that would give financial assistance to schoolchildren to allow them to go to school. We collected about $12 milllion from the United States, Canada and the European Union. But we have not been able to use this money to benefit the people of Cité Soleil because MINUSTAH never wanted to establish security in Cité Soleil.
(Francois) But another group claims that this government and the other concerned sectors should show they care about these people.
(Boulos) I believe that our past is there to prove how much we care about these people. As you said, I have worked in this area as a doctor. For years, it was the Haitian private sector, myself included, that offered health care and education to the people of Cité Soleil. And we did this until 1996, when the National Palace orchestrated the cancellation of all these programs. I think it is easy for people to criticize us now. Those who are doing so were never involved and they earn lots of money. I do not dare say how much they are getting. These people will leave in two or three months and be appointed government ministers in their own countries. They would never accept this situation of insecurity in their own country, but everything is acceptable in the case of Haiti.
(Francois) You have issued the call for strike on January 9 to force the government and MINUSTAH to take action to create a climate of security in this country. Do you think this is the right means of pressure today, in light of the extremely grave situation?
(Boulos) This is just the first step of a mobilization of all sectors of this country that are going to say no to insecurity, no to barbarity, no to terror, no to terrorism. It is also the first step of the mobilization in which they will say yes to credible, honest, and democratic elections. Once again, I want to ask the Haitian people as a whole, all the sectors, to stay home on January 9 to honor the memory of all the victims of insecurity. Today, we remember all the people who are dying of hunger because Haiti cannot have a security climate in which elections can be held to facilitate the country’s progress. We say that we will not allow people to continue what they are doing now to our country. We want everybody to stay home on January 9. This is just the beginning of a mobilization. Other actions will be taken, and they will be announced gradually. We will not stop until the problems are resolved.
(Francois) Concerning the negative impact that the kidnapping issue has on businesses in general, for instance, people who are getting loans to pay ransoms, businesses that have to close their doors, and so forth, can you tell us how you see this situation, personally?
Business sector suffering
(Boulos) Rotchild, I cannot tell you how many calls I receive every day. For instance, I got two calls early this morning from two businesspeople complaining that they lost their trucks, that they had to pay ransoms, and that their guns had been confiscated. This is still a major problem for us today. MINUSTAH was quick to seize the nine-millimeter gun of Dany Toussaint (presidential candidate and former army major) and they are ready to seize the weapons that we use to defend our businesses, but they refuse to disarm the gangs that are now spreading terror. It is true that the business sector is experiencing a lot of suffering. But I can tell you that this is nothing compared with the suffering of the Haitian people as a whole, of the Cité Soleil community, in particular, who are victims of rapes, of the terror of the armed gangs on a daily basis, who cannot go about their activities, and where children are dying everyday of malnutrition, malaria, and tuberculosis for lack of health care.
(Francois) So, if I understand it very well, you are now sending this message to MINUSTAH Chief Juan Gabriel Valdes, who might be in New York tomorrow to give an account to the members of the Security Council about the insecurity issue that prevails in Haiti?
(Boulos) I just hope the Security Council will hear our plea this time because, unfortunately, the Security Council normally listens to the reports by those it supervises. The report that is given always shows that things are going well in Haiti. Actually, we had several meetings with Ambassador Valdes. But each time, he just told us that the problem would be dealt with in two weeks. We do not want to wait any longer. As in all other countries in the world, when somebody is in the highest position of the hierarchy, this person should also be held responsible for failures. Today, Valdes has two choices in front of him. He can choose to be held responsible for the failure of the elections that he was sent here to ensure the good working of, or he can choose to be responsible for the success of his mission here just because he will be able today and tomorrow, who knows, to make the courageous, the intelligent, and necessary decision to put an end to this climate of insecurity in the metropolitan area.
(Francois) To be clear, the private sector and the civil society actually support any action that MINUSTAH would undertake to restore order and bring peace in Cité Soleil?
(Boulos) I want you to know this: You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. We think that MINUSTAH’ s generals need to make plans to limit collateral damage. But we in the private sector are ready to create a social assistance fund to help all those who would be innocent victims of a necessary and courageous action that should be carried out in Cité Soleil. We have seen this in all countries of the world. When terrorists occupy some lawless zones, there are always innocent victims. We are really sorry to even think about this, but we have no choice because we have innocent victims in all areas of the capital. I want to recall the barbaric act committed against Mrs. Valme the other day. Innocent victims are found in all the popular sectors, as well as in all the social sectors of the capital. So, how many more dead bodies should we count? How many kidnappings should occur before Valdes can say enough is enough? We are now telling him enough is enough, and we want him to take on his responsibility.
(Francois) Thank you very much, Doctor Boulos, for being our guest this morning. We want to remind listeners that you are the president of the chamber of commerce and that you have issued a call for a strike on January 9 to force the government and MINUSTAH, in particular, to take action to create a climate of security in the metropolitan area, in the areas of Cité Soleil and Drouillard in particular. Thank you very much and see you soon.