Jean Matulnes Lamy: Haiti’s ‘Peasants Built Ile a Vache!’ – Part II

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Second part of the interview of Jean Matulnes Lamy and Louis Jean Gadi, both members of the Organization of Ile a Vache Farmers (Konbit Peyizan Ilavach, or KOPI), with Sonny Esteus of Radio VKI. Mr. Lamy is currently imprisoned in Port-au-Prince’s infamous National Petinentiary, where he was taken without charge or trial on February 25, 2014. For the first part of the interview, go here. In this second part, Lamy and Gadi discuss the issues that were taken up with the Haitian Tourism Minister, the history of tourism development on Ile a Vache, the inducements and threats made to KOPI members, and the predominant perception in Haiti that peasants are ignorant. The interview was on January 17, 2014 and rebroadcast on March 10. The peasants on Ile a Vache continue to block development work on the island as part of their protests to demand the:

  • Recall of a government decree to declare the island a zone of tourism development and public utility,
  • Release of Jean Matulnes Lamy,
  • Withdrawal of 115 militarized police from the island.

Dady Chery, Editor
Haiti Chery

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Translated from the Kreyol and edited by Dady Chery for Haiti Chery

Jobs, visas, and death threats

SE – [T]he projects, up to today, based on what you see, and even what they say was done, you don’t see how the population will benefit from them?

JML – We don’t see it. Today, a major step was taken, because friends and allies gave us the details of the project. KOPI has a job it’s been doing on Ile a Vache since the Minister left yesterday. KOPI is putting this project on a big screen so that the population can see it. We must also tell you, this morning we learned about a delegation that will come to Ile a Vache: Senators Carlos Lebon, Wenceslas Lambert, together with Edo Zenny, who is president of the Senate’s Tourism Committee.

SE – But these are three partisans of power.

JML – Well, they’re the ones who’ll come. But it’s today that those senators decided to come to Ile a Vache. Here’s the problem: we were never, not one day, informed about the project. And KOPI stood up when they started to execute it. We said no. Since the island is called Ile a Vache, maybe they think only cows live here, and there’re no bulls. We had to stand up and demand an explanation. Today, we’re on the right path because Minister Balmir is changing her language to say that what she said is not what she said. You see? Governor Fritz also started to change his language today too.

Now there are threats against KOPI members. They say: they have a job for me, they have a job for Jinal, and we pay no attention. They call us on the phone. We pay no attention. They issue 17 visas for us, and we make no decision.

SE – Seventeen visas for you to go abroad?

JML – Visas for us to go away. Other things are happening: they’ve started to make anonymous phone calls to us.

SE – So, the carrot on one hand, the stick on the other.

JML – Carrot on one hand, stick on the other. Meaning, they’re making anonymous phone calls to us.

LJG – There’s something more Maltunes. It is the people who took stock of the seriousness of this project. Because the population might not have understood. Even if KOPI was doing many things, if the people were not involved, if the population was not engaged… The population took stock of the problem. Now the population will not accept anything: not from the Minister, not from the government, because the population is aware of everything. And this: even before we show the projections in all the neighborhoods. This will expand the awareness of the population about the issue. The population won’t accept just anything again from them.

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An 18-hole golf course for the people or the ecotourists?

SE – So you say there’s a decree that has declared Ile a Vache to be a conservation area. The work being done, for example for the airport, at what stage is it? Have they started to displace people? The people, have they already relocated them?

JML – Well, for this to be done, Mr. Sonny, they’d have to show some things, but instead they’re hiding them. If there’s a plan to displace the population, the first thing to do is to meet with the people, show them what kind of housing you’re going to give them and where. Today we must say that this wasn’t done. In Ile a Vache today, we say a big thank you to the government, because in the 21st century, instead of initiating us into a series of high-level things to allow us to develop, it is initiating us into slums. We say a big thank you for this. We, on Ile a Vache, we don’t live close to each other. We live like other people do in rural areas.

SE – This isn’t an advantage because it means people can’t get service. For example, there are problems with electricity, and so on.

JML – It’s not good. That’s correct. Now, for the population to get service, you say there’s a plan to move them. Nevertheless, you must show us the housing where you’re going to put us. Where are you taking us? You find beautiful Ile a Vache, what do you offer us in basic services? You see a big house on Ile a Vache today, Mr. Sonny, a house that has about four to five rooms. Well, it doesn’t have more than three people living in it. I don’t know if you understand. We’re not used to living on top of each other!

LJG – You’re going to cram these people who lived in five-to-six-room houses into a little house with two or three rooms. And then, another one next to it, two to three yards away. And these people are crowded. And they’re not used to crowding.

JML – There’s more. There’s an 18-hole golf course in this project. When we think about it, what’s a golf course? When we see this on television. I’ve not experienced this, but there are people who’ve traveled who’ve explained what a golf course is. What does it mean to put an 18-hole golf course on Ile a Vache? We quickly understood that we’re not in this. They won’t put us out all at once. But the places where they’re going to cram us, we won’t want to stay there. When the Minister says 12 beaches, we don’t see a little port for small boats for people who are coming from Aux Cayes. Anyway, they talk about maritime limits. Minister Balmir qualifies the nets as being criminal nets.

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Goodbye locals, welcome cruise ships

SE – Nets? What do you mean by nets?

JML – Nets for fishing. She says they’re criminal nets.

SE – You’re killing small fish?

JML – We’re killing small fish [they say]. If we’re killing small fish, they should give us some limits.

LJG – If the netting is too small, we should regulate it, we could expand the netting, or they could give us other nets. The majority of Ile a Vache people live from fishing. Now, when you say you’re going to put them in this little town, and these people, these are people who did a lot of fishing.

SEFishermen like to live on the coast.

LJG – And they no longer have the means to fish. And they have families to care for.

SE – Maybe they could work in the hotels?

LJG – But the hotel work will be farmed out. Do these people have the experience to work in hotels?

JML – Besides, there’s a proverb that says: “You must bring the coat all the way to the door.” Today, Minister Balmir, with all this project, we got to the doorstep. And there we saw that everything you’ve said to us before was a lie.

SE – You can’t say people are liars. You can say that what they say isn’t true, but you can’t say they’re liars.

JML – One mustn’t say someone’s a liar. What she said wasn’t true. Even today, Minister Balmir is still saying to us that we won’t be displaced. But we consider the scale of the project and can see that we’ll be displaced. Secondly, don’t forget that the decree also says that the maritime perimeter is a protected area. This means, for sure, that the small farmers, the poor, won’t be able to go out there with their small boats. Because there’s going to be a lot of room reserved for cruise ships. You see what I’m saying?

SE – For big boats?

JML – For big boats. We say: “Ile a Vache, tourist destination.” Fine! Fine. But the lives of Ile a Vache people must improve. For example, there’s another question. Thirdly, Mr. Soni, we ask: Will the population work in the hotels? But the hotels already there for decades, they haven’t hired Ile a Vache people.

SE – You mean the two hotels there?

JML – The two hotels, Port Morgan and Abaka Bay. Their workers aren’t from Ile a Vache. The project you hear that the government is doing over here, interim governor Fritz discussed on Lebo-FM. He said on Lebo-FM, in Aux Cayes: even if they’re bringing in one sac of cement, there won’t be Ile a Vache people in it. They come with their people from Petit Goave to work here. In other words, we can see it all from the way it’s starting.

SE – How do you mean Petit Goave?

JMLFor example, the engineer over there, they have the right to require him to hire people from the island. But he has his own people from where he comes from that he brings in for the work. Ile a Vache people aren’t part of anything. And we must tell you, Mr. Sonny, we in Ile a Vache have a temperament that has allowed today, for the government to move in on us the way it’s moving in. We are very gentle. I believe that in all Haiti’s history, this is the first time anyone has heard of people on Ile a Vache being part of this kind of movement.

Cornered animals do bite

SE – The way you told it, what happened to the secretary of state had no docility in it. No?

JML – Well, that’s it. And that’s why things started badly. Cornered animals do bite. Today, we’re cornered. This means that we’re clear. And we want to get their attention. They’re asking for Ile a Vache land. They want to dispossess us of this land. These people must understand that, when they want to take all the peasants’ lands, it’s easy for the peasants to forget all moral restraint. And, we wouldn’t wish for things to go that far. And they know that peasants are very attached to their lands. And that’s why we’re taking advantage of this on-air time to appeal to all tourists who plan to visit Ile a Vache. All the tourists can come. We have no problems. We’re very open with the tourists. Local tourists, international tourists, they can visit Ile a Vache in safety.

But the people who are doing the projects, who are running heavy machinery on the island, please, things are not yet settled. If an ambassador is listening in, a consul is listening in, things are not yet agreed on. All those who are charged with running heavy machinery for work on this project should check with their bosses and ask to stay at home, because the Ile a Vache population is watching them. Today, all Ile a Vache is blocked. There’s no school on Ile a Vache this morning, because we’re forced to watch them. We have nowhere else. To conclude: a little while ago, Gadi said that his father is 74 years old. Well, there’s somebody on Ile a Vache now who is 102 years old. Izane de la Hatte is 102 years old. She was born on Ile a Vache; her mother was called Izani. It wasn’t a thunderbolt that put us on Ile a Vache.

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Peasants who know the history of development on Ile a Vache

SE – Well, we’re running out of time. Now, for you in KOPI, what would make you feel that everything’s calm, the project can start, you won’t give any more objections. What would you wish to be done to put you at ease?

LJG – Well, here’s what I’d say. And I say it for Kopi, my entire family and all the residents of Ile a Vache. The population should be integrated into this project. This project cannot be done on a scale that includes all Ile a Vache. It should pick one area. It could make a tourist area out of four, five or six neighborhoods. That depends. But the project should take into account the wishes of the population. It should not exclude the population. The population might choose to give up an area for the project. There’s no problem. But to force people to leave where they are to go live elsewhere, this isn’t good. We cannot accept this. The people won’t take this either. It isn’t because they’re peasants, because in this context I say I don’t like this business about “peasants.” I remember when I was a kid in school in Aux Cayes, and they’d treat me as a little peasant, this would hurt. You’d open your mouth in the classroom and you’d hear: “Hey, over of there, peasant! Your birth certificate says peasant!” You see? It’s as if a peasant is retarded. This I believe to be wrong. It’s as if the person lives in a primitive state. Well, this is what the Minister thinks, this is what the government also thinks, and that caused them to come with this project to put out people. For them, peasants don’t know anything. They don’t know what they’re worth. They can send them away and do anything to them. But the peasant is not like that! The peasant is not what they think!

SE – And especially today.

LJG – Yes. My father is a peasant, my mother is a peasant, my grandmother, all my grandparents, they’re all peasants. But they have something. They have wisdom. You see?

SE – They believe in dignity.

LJG – They believe in dignity. They love to work. They respect people. Well, peasants respect people because they like to be respected too. Well, what they’re doing here, it shows they’ve no respect for the peasants. If you come to put out the peasant like that and tell him “you go”: where can he go? He doesn’t know where to go. And then you take the land to build hotels. You do not respect the peasants. And the peasants like to be respected. You must respect us. That’s what I say!

SE – Matulnes?

JML – Ile a Vache has already had the experience [of development]. The owners of the Abaka Bay and Port Morgan hotels, these are people who contracted with the government and came. The population gave up the sites, and they compensated people normally.

SE – You mean the two big hotels on the island?

JML – Yes. Port Morgan did not give all these problems. Abaka Bay did not either. So they must be thinking, why is the population making all this fuss? Everybody listening: Port Morgan did not give any trouble, Abaka Bay gave no problem. Meaning, if now the population is standing up, this means that something didn’t go well. And we, today, we say this project must be revised. This project must be revised! We’re not considering agricultural farms. We don’t want this. We, the people, we say: this project, to do it, they must say, this area is for hotels, and the population will keep their homes. This way, we’ll have the means to produce.

We ask the state to help us keep the means to farm and fish. To give us a boost, to brace us, because we will be a priority of the government. For us to produce the food for the tourists who will come. We can do this. This is what integration is. This is what they must do for us today. In bulk. We ask the government to take this up again. Revise the project for us. Simultaneously they must respect our traditions. They talk about all these things they’ll do, yet they haven’t built a football [soccer] field for us on Ile a Vache. And every time somebody visits, they see that there are two teams. If you see two teams, this means a football field should be built. And we say, in the South Department, Ile a Vache is an area that has great potential for football talent. We don’t have a single club, not even in the 5th division. But this hasn’t kept us from having our young men in the national championships. Today, the best left fielder in the national championships is Kismi Francois. He is from Ile a Vache. He plays in Club Victory.

Already, we can see we’re not in it. Well, the cat owner holds the cat by the head. We hold our cats by the head. We tell them: we don’t say we’re against the project. But they must revise it. The project we saw, we’re against it. This project that plans for 12 beaches, a golf course, 1,000 hotel rooms, an airport, 2,500 villas for Venezuela, agricultural infrastructure. Well, we say: this plan, the people of Ile a Vache are against it, and they must come up with another plan for us…. That’s KOPI’s final word. This plan, with all this stuff, that takes no account of the Ile a Vache peasants, we ask that it be revised. If they want to do a project for us, they must come to sit with us…. Thank you!

SE – Well, thank you Mr. Louis Jean Gadi, thank you Mr. Jean Matulnes Lami, we hope that those concerned have heard us and will reconsider the project, starting from the positions you’ve expressed in the name of the Ile a Vache population, as represented by KOPI.

Sources: Haiti Chery | Radio VKI | For a Kreyol transcript by Frantz Louis, go to Ezili Danto | Protest photos from Radyo VKM

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