Haitian human rights advocate goes missing, and shortly thereafter so does Canadian embassy
It is a rare day when activists ask for police protection. But in the context of Haitian politics, observers are faulting Haitian cops and international forces, including Canada, for not securing the interests of abducted dissident Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine.
Pierre-Antoine, 41, a psychologist and human rights defender, vanished on the night of Aug. 12 after wrapping up the first week in what was to be a two-week tour by U.S. and Canadian solidarity activists of Haiti. Members of the delegation learned something was amiss when the rented vehicle Pierre-Antoine had been using to guide them through Port-au-Prince was found abandoned.
Originally an outreach worker with street children, Pierre-Antoine became politically prominent when he organized a travelling photo exhibit exposing human rights abuses by the Haitian military. A member of the Fanmi Lavalas party, he directs the Fondation 30 Septembre, an organization dedicated to obtaining redress for victims of violence under the governments that followed two coups d’état, in 1991 and 2004.
Following Pierre-Antoine’s disappearance, family members received a ransom demand. Members of the Fondation 30 Septembre accuse the new Haitian government, of which Pierre-Antoine has been critical, of conducting a half-hearted investigation.
One of the Canadians in the delegation that met Pierre-Antoine was Vancouver trade unionist Roger Annis. Annis describes Pierre-Antoine as an "extremely knowledgeable person, and very well respected by the Haitian people."
After the abduction, Annis and other activists visited the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince with a request that the embassy issue a public statement to condemn the kidnapping. In a phone interview, Annis’s voice registers his disappointment at the embassy’s refusal to do so.
"Well, there’s many kidnappings in Haiti," says Annis, paraphrasing the diplomat he spoke to. "We don’t get involved in… Haitian matters concerning police and judiciary."
In Annis’s judgment, this policy of non-intervention is highly selective. "Canada is playing a very decisive role in… financing the Haitian judicial system. The RCMP are the training force for the Haitian National Police."
For informed observers, it is difficult to avoid wondering whether the Canadian government’s indifference to Pierre-Antoine’s plight is unrelated to its aversion to Pierre-Antoine’s politics. As a member of Fanmi Lavalas, Pierre-Antoine is associated with deposed social-democratic president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide’s refusal to adopt IMF-mandated structural adjustment policies led to a crisis in which Canada provided diplomatic backing to the right-wing rebels who overthrew him in 2004.
To quote Roger Annis: "When this happens to someone of the kind of profile [that Pierre-Antoine has], it doesn’t have to be a political kidnapping for people to realize that this is a very serious problem for democracy… The foreign occupiers in Haiti say that they’re there to bring about democracy, and so presumably they would be concerned about the kind of pall that this would cast over political life in Haiti.
"But unfortunately we found that this was not the case."
Readers who are concerned about the Pierre-Antoine case are encouraged to express their opinions by calling the following numbers: Department of Foreign Affairs Canada, 1-800-267-8376, and the Haitian Embassy in Ottawa, (613) 238-1628.