Political Prisoners Rot in Haitian Jails While Canadian Politicians Lie

Political Prisoners Rot in Haitian Jails While Canadian Politicians Lie

--My meeting with So Anne Auguste

by Aaron Lakoff

Port-au-Prince, January 10/06

Consider the following to be somewhat of a transcription of an interview.
These are some of the powerful words of a woman spoken from behind bars,
and I feel responsible to be a conduit to get them out – at least beyond
those prison bars.

Today I met one of Haiti's more prominent political prisoners, Annette “So Anne” Auguste. Like so many political prisoners throughout the world, So Anne isn't in jail for what she's done, but for what she represents.

So Anne is a Haitian political folksinger, and a community activist. She has been in a women's prison in Petionville (a neighborhood of
Port-au-Prince) for 18 months now, and her only crime was her words and wisdom.

There are estimated to be over 1000 political prisoners in Port-au-Prince alone (almost all imprisoned after the 2004 coup d'etat), and untold hundreds more in surrounding areas. However, most overseas wouldn't know
this, because the Haitian state and their superpower backers do a good job
of keeping the information down.

In fact, I tried to bring a camera and a minidisc recorder into the prison with me, but I had everything in my bag confiscated by jail guards upon entering. I wish so much that I could have had recorded evidence of our short conversation, but again, her words were only burned into my mind.

Upon entering, we found So Anne in a crowded visitation cell, surrounded
by bags upon bags of supplies. She explained to us that the women are
given nothing, not even food, in the prison. The inmates have to rely on
family and friends from the outside world for everything. In a country
where the unemployment rate is 80%, and the per-capita income is $200 US
PER YEAR, one could imagine not a lot of food gets into the jail.
Militant as ever, So Anne has taken it upon herself to nourish others in
the prison, and has now organized a feeding program for most of the 200
women in the Petionville jail.

So Anne is a strong and charismatic woman, and speaks with a poignant intensity. With a colourful dress and a warm smile, she greeted me
kindly. Amidst 200 prisoners who she says are dying slowly, I asked her if she's maintained hope during her time in jail.

“Of course I have!” she exclaimed. “Hope is the only way you can keep fighting in prison. If you loose hope, you die, and you can't fight when you're dead.”

So Anne is sure she won't be released anytime soon, certainly not before the presidential elections in February. Haiti's elite, the Group of 184, who are fully backed by the Canadian government, have been engaged in a
deadly campaign of political and social cleansing prior to these elections, and they know all too well of So Anne's threatening influence amongst the country's poor. And it's the country's poor who are suffering the brunt of the coup d'etat the the subsequent occupation by the UN. A close look at the women imprisoned at Petionville gives some
indication of this. Many of the inmates are from the slum of Bel Air, in Port-au-Prince. They are the wives and sisters of men wanted by MINUSTAH or the Haitian National Police (PNH), and when they kick down their front doors but don't find the men, they take the women away instead.

Finally, I asked So Anne if she had any message she wanted me to bring back to the Canadian people. Like many other Haitians I've met, So Anne gets hot with anger when talking about Canada. She says very simply, but with much emotion, that Canada needs to stop supporting the UN mission in Haiti, and stop killing people.

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has said himself that there are no political prisoners in Haiti. It's this lie, absorbed by the Canadian public, which forces So Anne and so many others to rot in prison.

Again, I wish I could have had a recorder today to make So Anne's words a historical fact on record. But instead, I offer my account of our
encounter, in the hopes that So Anne's resistance will one day trump Paul Martin's lies.

(Aaron Lakoff is an independent journalist and activist from Montreal. He will be in Haiti for the month of January, filing reports focused on the role of Canada in the country. Aaron can be reached at montrealtohaiti@resist.ca)