Graffiti in Port-au-Prince
April 10, 2010
Throughout Port-au-Prince, local people are speaking the language of those whose voices refuse to be silenced. We refuse to accept illegitimate power in silence. We know what democracy means to us, even if it the concept is different in the rich countries.
And so, we speak with whatever voice is available to us. As I walk around Port-au-Prince, the walls that remain standing speak to me. The messages that Haitians write on them are not intended for foreigners. They are written in Creole. They are written for Haitians. Foreigners do not understand Creole. Many foreigners do not understand Haitians in any language. Many foreigners can hear only those Haitians who say what they want to hear.
People from all of the poor neighbourhoods express themselves with graffiti. Along the national highway by the airport, I took some pictures to share with people outside of Haiti. These writings are from the residents in a local neighbourhood that is part of Cite Soleil.
First, what do they call themselves? BAZ DÈYÈ MOG means “the collective behind the morgue.” Other Haitians know where to find their neighbourhood: dèyè mog or, “behind the morgue.” They also know what it means that they refer to themselves as baz. Baz is the term that the anti-democratic forces used to vilify the people who had voted for Aristide and Lavalas. The elite and their foreign allies used the word baz to mean a group of criminals and thugs. In order to discredit Aristide and Lavalas, the reactionary elite threw all of those who were willing to fight for their elected government into the same basket and called it a baz. When the people who live behind the morgue refer to themselves as a baz now, they mean to say that they are not afraid of the term, but that they are turning the fear that the elite tried to arouse by it back upon those who have usurped power in Haiti.
When the elite and the foreign powers declared war on democracy in Haiti, many people were killed. In Cite Soleil, many people who refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the un-elected, foreign-backed government were called members of a baz and they were targeted and often killed. In the foreign press, they were called criminals, thugs, and insurgents. Indeed, there are some criminals and thugs among the people of Port-au-Prince. But the biggest criminals are the foreigners who kidnapped the president we elected and killed those who resisted them. For us, until that wrong is corrected, there is no legitimate foreign intervention in our country. And so, BAZ DÈYÈ MOG says, VIV GOUVÈNEMAN, “Long live the government,” meaning the Haitian government that we once elected, and ABA OKIPASYON, “Down with the occupation,” meaning the continuation of foreign control of Haiti, whether before or after the earthquake.
In another location not far away, BAZ DÈYÈ MOG makes clear that they are referring to the coup d’état that removed Aristide in 2004 when they write Gouvèneman Ap Rete l ABA YOURI VIV Leta Ayisyen. “Down with Youri,” reminds readers of Youri Latortue, the nephew of the puppet president who the Americans, French, and Canadians installed in the place of Aristide. Youri Latortue was responsible for the kidnappings and murders that were blamed on the poor of Cite Soleil. “Long live the Haitian state,” he writes about the Haitian state that was not very long-lived.
BAZ DÈYÈ MOG writes VIV TiTid on walls around the neighbourhood. Titid is the nickname that the poor gave to Aristide. It means “little Aristide,” more or less. Aristide is physically small, but, more importantly, he never pretended to be better than the people that he represented. He didn’t look down upon the people. We think that was his greatest crime in the eyes of the elite and their foreign allies. We know that Titid had to compromise in the face of the foreign powers and the Haitian bourgeoisie. However, we also believe that he did whatever he was able to do for the most oppressed of the Haitian poor who counted on him.
Many stories circulated after the departure of Aristide. For instance, people said that they found huge sums of money in his house. We also knew what it was like to be vilified unjustly. They called us all criminals when we took democracy seriously: when we insisted that Lavalas had the right to govern the country, as it was elected by an overwhelming majority to do. And so it was not difficult to imagine that the same people who lied about us might also lie about Aristide. We were one and the same. When they lied about Aristide, they lied about us; when they lied about us, they lied about Aristide. It is very difficult to know the truth in Haiti. Political parties and politicians lie about their opponents shamelessly. In Haiti, the government is one of the very few ways that people can make money. And so people struggle unethically to get into government and to take their share of the spoils.
BAZ DÈYÈ MOG has no confidence in the non-governmental organizations that have come to misgovern Haiti since the earthquake. They are taking their turn at controlling Haiti. ABA ONG VOLES means to say, “Down with the NGO thieves.” (We can forgive the writer for a spelling error. After all, when the foreign powers kidnapped Aristide and attacked Lavalas, the schools that they were constructing were shut down.) The BAZ DÈYÈ MOG knows very well what happens to the aid that comes into Haiti. Some of it may get to the poor. Mostly, it profits the rich. We see it go up the mountain and come back for sale. We know that those connected to the NGOs can sell it to the Dominican Republic for a profit. It can then come back to us for sale. We know why the powerful had to get rid of the government that we supported and that supported us. That is why the spokesman writes, VIV TiTid next to his denunciation of the NGOs. They go together.
Finally, the BAZ DÈYÈ MOG writes in several places that ONG = MIZÈ. “NGOs = SUFFERING or MISERY.” As an example, they write VIV BON JAN TANT POU PÈP LA, “Long live the right kind of tents for the people.” What do they mean? If the elected government were still in place, BAZ DÈYÈ MOG believes that the priority would have been placed on tents that would have been appropriate in the circumstances. First of all, the tents that have been distributed will never withstand the rains that are starting to fall. But maybe they are what someone in some NGO from a rich country decided to buy for reasons that have nothing to do with the needs of Haitian earthquake victims. If you want to help people, you first listen to their needs. You don’t begin by what is easiest for you to give.
When people in Port-au-Prince identify with a BAZ, it is intended to instill fear. The people who undermined our democracy described us as dangerous. And so, the people of the BAZ DÈYÈ MOG play the role that was written for them in this drama. If you say that they are dangerous for defending democracy, then they will be dangerous, because they will continue to insist on their right to govern their own lives behind the morgue.
The graffiti of the BAZ DÈYÈ MOG is intended for the eyes of the people of Port-au-Prince. It is written in Creole and refers to the recent past that we understand. It is intended to raise the consciousness of all people of Port-au-Prince. It also intends to raise the level of resistance to foreign control of the reconstruction of the country.
(translated from French by Paul Jackson)