“The people have spoken – the bastards!”
This tribute was first published by Haiti Support Group.
These words were muttered by a US Embassy official at the count of the Haitian Presidential elections of 16 December 1990. This was overheard by Phillip Wearne, an investigative journalist, who stood next to him. The anger of the official was understandable. Through these elections, which for the first time in the history of Haiti deserved the label “free and fair”, the powerless brought to power Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a liberation theologian, who was the product of the people’s long struggle against dictatorship.
Phillip, like so many friends of Haiti, was appalled when the results of these elections were overturned in a coup d’état at the end of September 1991 with the assistance of the US.
When, as a result of this outrage, the Haiti Support Group was launched in the House of Commons on 7 June 1992, Phillip was there to add his considerable drive and intellect to the efforts of a group of dedicated activists, launching a campaign to support the restoration of democracy to Haiti. He was a man of the first hour – and he remained committed to the cause until his last hour, which tragically came much too early, on 14 March 2018, at the age of just 60.
The HSG mourns the passing of one of its greatest advocates and activists. “Driven” is a fitting adjective for Phillip, whose journalistic and campaigning work was prolific in many countries and in many fields. His work as an investigative journalist was outstanding – from print, to radio and TV documentaries. He was an intellectual giant in his field and could have gone into the top echelons of any major media organisation but he was at heart an investigative journalist who thrived working on the ground and he was a highly skilled political campaigner. He found it hard not to get involved with any cause to which he felt he could usefully contribute. These campaigns all had one thing in common – the struggle for social, economic and political justice for those excluded by those in power. To this he devoted more and more of his life as he became increasingly disenchanted with the deteriorating investigative standards in much of the mainstream media.
When the catastrophic earthquake of 12 January 2010 struck Haiti with an estimated 300,000 people losing their lives, Phillip was in the right place at the right time. Haiti, familiar with political and natural disasters throughout its history was dealt its worst blow yet. The HSG re-doubled its efforts to amplify the voices of civil society organisations as Haitians sought to make a new start and to create a better society from the rubble of the earthquake. Just the sort of challenge Phillip thrived on! – bringing to bear his extensive experience from Nicaragua and other political campaigns he had been deeply involved in.
Haiti, or the ‘Republic of NGOs’ as it was it was referred to at that time, hosted upwards of 10,000 such organisations set to take over the reconstruction of the country, often ignoring the real needs of the poor majority. It was a true David and Goliath situation. Phillip provided much of the analysis and output of the Group at that time and within three months he was on the ground, linking up with the civil society organisations the HSG had been working alongside for many years, listening and getting the analysis from the ground and turning it into persuasive political arguments which we could take to Whitehall, Brussels – from where most of the aid money flowed to Haiti – and Washington. He was instrumental in linking the HSG with the US-based HAWG (Haiti Advocacy Working Group) and ensured that activists in Europe and the US collaborated to speak with one voice.
He was instrumental in all our campaigns during those post-earthquake years and he was the main author of our Haiti Briefing between 2010 and 2015. After UN peacekeepers introduced cholera into Haiti in October 2010, unleashing a lethal epidemic, Phillip threw himself into the campaign in support of victims and their families. He was relentless in gathering the evidence to support policy arguments which he took into the corridors of power of New York and Washington. Beyond reparation and compensation, his aim was to change the protocols for screening peacekeepers so that no other country would suffer as Haiti had suffered as a result of UN negligence. Shamefully, these protocols have still not been revised – but the UN and the world cannot say they have not been told.
It is impossible to do Phillip justice in this short tribute. He is such a massive loss – and above all to his family as well as the many people whose lives he touched directly. He epitomised the best in what a human being can be: determined but caring, intelligent but not arrogant, generous in giving to others, a true team player, always looking to foster new talent and on the look-out for those who would continue to carry the torch. We, who continue the work in the HSG, are therefore a small part of the wonderful and encouraging legacy he leaves behind. He lives on in us and in hundreds of other campaigners around the globe.
And therefore, as Phillip often signed off:
“Keep going” or in Kreyòl: Kenbe fèm, pa lage!
The Phillip Wearne Memorial Fund (Haiti Support Group)
Many supporters and members of the Haiti Support Group have asked what they can do to help us honour Phillip. With the blessing of his friends and family, we have taken the decision to dedicate our GoFundMe page to him. If you wish to make a donation, we ask that you visit the link and share a comment with us about your memories of Phillip. Thank you.
LAB adds: Phillip Wearne made an important contribution to LAB and was author of the influential LAB book Return of the Indian – conquest and revival in the Americas, co-published with Casell, 1996. We are greatly saddened by the loss of a committed and knowledgeable voice for solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.