The four dozen protesters picketing the downtown Marine Recruiting Center early Friday morning had a different message than the anti-Iraq War/anti-military recruiting demonstrators seen there almost daily since September.
“Shine a light on the role of the U.S. Marines in Haiti,” a banner said.
A large afternoon protest that police told reporters to expect later in the day failed to materialize, however. It was supposed to have spread to the four blocks surrounding the Marine Recruiting Center. The Berkeley Police Department Crowd Management Team was to monitor the protest, according to information e-mailed to reporters by the BPD public information officer.
The e-mail cited a San Francisco Indybay website listing the event without a sponsor’s name and calling for a celebration “in festivity to confuse the masses.” It was to take place from 12 p.m. to 12 p.m., leading some to believe the posting could be hoax and stated: “Let’s throw a massive party [in] a four-block radius around the station; everyone is welcome, this is the peace revolution!”
Lt. Andrew Greenwood, police spokesperson, said the department “had resources” available, but did not reveal how many officers were on hand for eventual protests. He said the preparations were not only due to the Indybay announcement, but were based on other factors such as regular Friday afternoon protests at the center.
The Haiti demonstration was part of a 56-city protest on four continents, memorializing the four-year anniversary of the Feb. 29, 2004 ouster of Haiti’s elected government.
Four years ago, with U.S. Marines standing by, U.S. government officials went to the home of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and told him he had no choice but to board a U.S. plane and leave Haiti, Pierre Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee told the crowd that gathered at the locked Marine Recruiting office at 64 Shattuck Square.
The U.S. government has made it clear to this day that Aristide, exiled in South Africa, cannot go home, despite calls for his return by the Haitian masses, Labossiere said.
After two years of rule by a U.S.-appointed government and policing by the United Nations military, which took over the occupation of Haiti from the Marines, the United States allowed elections without allowing Aristide’s return.
Voters elected President Rene Preval, who is controlled to a great degree by the U.S. government, Labossiere said, pointing to policies of structural adjustment that include flooding Haiti with subsidized U.S. products like rice, which has decimated Haiti’s rice production.
“Haiti’s a robbed state, not a failed state,” Labossiere said.
Former Marine Willie Thompson participated in the picket. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at City College of San Francisco and organizer of the Organization of African North Americans in Solidarity with African Latinos.
He said he was protesting in solidarity with his friend Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a Haitian human rights advocate who spoke out for the return of Aristide and for the freedom of political prisoners who remain jailed under the Preval government. Pierre-Antoine was kidnapped in Haiti on Aug. 12.
Thompson carried a sign saying “Accomplishments of U.S. Marines: 2004 occupy Haiti, stifle dissent.”
“The Marines were not organized to oppress the poor,” he told the Planet. “I want my fellow Marines to know it is inappropriate to occupy another country.”