Haiti: Caracol, Cholera and Dignity

Evel Fanfan is a Haitian human rights lawyer and activist.  He is the co-founder of AUMOHD [Action des Unités Motivées pour une Haiti de Droits) or Action for Human Rights in Haiti founded in 2002.   Despite constant intimidation of Fanfan he continues to speak out against the worker exploitation and human rights abuses of the poor and marginalized minorities.   Presently Fanfan is a leading figure in the campaign to obtain justice for Haitian cholera victims and workers rights [ especially those in the textile sector in SONAPI ] the form of the Caracol Industrial Park – the site of a new wave of exploitation of Haitian workers under the guise of job creation and reconstruction.

SE: Lets begin by introducing yourself and your organization AUMOHD. 

EF: First let me say thank you for this interview.   I am Evel Fanfan, a lawyer, a defender of human rights promoting the rights and the dignity of the people especially the poor people who cannot pay for lawyers fees in the goal to get justice in Haiti.

I  am Co-founder of AUMOHD,  action for human rights in Haiti.  WE founded it in 2002 and our special work is to support the people and to help them understand their rights and their responsibilities in the law and how they can campaign so that everyone respects their rights and the law.  We provide free legal assistance for workers and also training and promoting human rights for people like you see here today.  Our work also includes developing a network of different groups in  civil society and our goal is to build a new society here in Haiti.  AUMOHD has created different (in Cite Soleil, Grand Ravin, Simon-Pele, Croix des Bouquets and Bainet) communities which we call the Community Council for Human Right, CHRC.

SE: What  kind of training do you provide? 

EF: Different training, legal training on what the law is, so for workers, we provide information and training on international labour laws and workers rights.  For small businesses, we help them understand their rights and how to build their business and also leadership training. We have a  mobile education car which travels throughout Port-au-Prince, in Cite Soleil, Carrefour, Delmas, Petion-Ville and here we educate on whatever is needed at the time cholera, violence against women and we will soon do some special education on elections such as what do they [elections] mean for the people and how can they get involved.

SE:  Do you see your organisation as having a political position?

EF: The status is non political.  Our politics is to help the people get a voice – to build a network, to teach and know what the law says.  We are not involved in party politics.  Its a broad politics.

SE: Yes, but  by teaching the people about their rights, voting labour laws and so on, isn’t that subversive particularly with the present government. 

EF: Our mission is to help people understand why they should vote for a candidate and who to vote for.  By that I mean we explain to the people that they need to vote for the action not because someone paid them.  For example when someone needs help we do not care about their politics – whether they are Lavalas or some other party, if people are being abused them we support them.  Thats why in 2004/5/6 a lot of people said ahaaa AUMOHD is Lavalas because we defended victims who were Lavalas.  Then the people said we are against Lavalas.  Then with Preval it was ahh they dont agree with Preval and now its the same thing ahh we do not agree with this government.

So we promote the rights of the people and if the government promote the rights of people then we support the government.

Cholera

Misthaki Pierre cries after the burial of his mother, Serette Pierre, who died of cholera October 29, 2010 in Back D’ Aguin, Haiti. Her death has left Misthaki without a mother and father, one of the thousands of orphans from cholera. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images) #

SE:  I would like to move on to Cholera. The situation now is that the UN has refused to receive the law suit.  Where do you go from here? 

EF: First AUMOHD was not really involved with the original suit. That was BAI [Bureau des Avocats Internationaux ] and others. But we agreed with them that we needed to do something.  I discussed with Mario Joseph of BAI that the first suit was to ask the UN to agree they introduced cholera to Haiti and they must pay compensation to the victims. That was the first step. The UN have now said they will give $2 billion to eliminate cholera in Haiti. Thats a lot of money but they said this money is not for victims but to eliminate the cholera and we know they can collect this money and give it to large NGOs who will spend the money.

SE: It seems this is yet another opportunity for the water and sanitation NGOs and the private sector to make a great deal of money from Haiti.

EF: Exactly that is why we will try to oppose this through out campaign and explain to them that if they want to give money to Haiti to address this problem then we will show them the way.  You know that more than 8,000 people have died and lot of children have been left orphans.   It is a huge problem that cholera has given to the Haitian people and this is why we say cholera is a crime against Haitian humanity.  Another crime is when the UN refused to admit they introduced cholera into Haiti.  So we need to do something for the dignity of the people  because one thing we do not want to do is blame the people who introduced cholera directly into Haiti,  that is the UN soldiers.  This is not our goal. The UN is supposed to ensure that the soldiers they deploy are in good health.

SE:  Could you explain for readers why you consider  the state of Haiti also culpable in introducing cholera. 

EF: Generally the state is supposed to be sure that in the contract between the UN and Haiti,  the soldiers [staff] are in good health  and if not, the government is supposed to say no these people cannot enter. The government of Haiti have the responsibility to refuse any UN soldier or official who they think is ill or has some other problem.

SE:  So the government has also been negligent?   What was their response? 

EF:  You have to understand this government is not the state.  There is a difference between the state and the government and we are suing the Haitian state which is permanent. This government is just a temporary guardian of the state.  The present government is comfortable with the international NGOs and agrees with all the actions of these people, they do not want to clarify, by legal process, who is responsible.

SE: But hasn’t the Haitian government always been in this position of subservience to the US since the occupation?

EF: Yes historically we are supposed to be a strong people, it is really difficult to see that because of the way our government accepts anything.

SE: What are the next steps in the cholera campaign.

EF: Right now the UN has refused to accept responsibility so we need to go to the second step,  which is to go to the international or regional courts to get a redress against the UN. We are working with different civil society organizations to see how we can mobilize against the way things are going with cholera.  We want to show them how to eliminate cholera and to compensate the victims.

SE: Two things – first of all there are the damages payable to the relatives of the  dead, then there is the question of how to stop the spread of cholera which requires changes in the water and sanitation.  What kind of programme would you like to see to eliminate cholera?  

EF:  For us the first thing we want from the UN and the Haitian state is to have the participation of  Haitians in this programme especially those from  the areas where there is cholera and those who are affected. We want something that is clear, that has a structure for clean water.   A programme that includes the victims and where Haitians are able to monitor how the money is spent. We want to divide how the money is spent:  50% by the state,  25% by NGOs and 25% by the grassroots organizations.

Caracaol 

SE: I would like to move to workers rights.  Since the earthquake we have seen disaster capitalism at work in Haiti with the introduction of factories which under the guise of reconstruction, use Haiti as a place of cheap labour.  For example I just read a news report that Clintons next venture is agribusiness and the setting up of coffee plantations. I wonder what this means for Haitian farmers?   There is now a free trade zone where corporations pay no tax and workers are paid $3 per hour. 

EF: Let me introduce this policy of the international corporations who want to come to Haiti. Its  like in 1791 when we had slaves, we gave the work to the people but they worked as slaves.  Now its the same. We want to give a lot of jobs in Haiti so the question is what kind of jobs?  With the textile industry we understand there is an increase in this sector because of the cheap labour costs and abuse of workers rights.  Its a similar exploitation but its also a big dilemma because we have a lot of people who want jobs and we have these kinds of cheap labour jobs.   So people have little choice but to work.  You cannot say don’t work when a person has no job.

Now we are at a point where we can try to change our situation because with $3 a day its terrible.  People are supposed to pay for food, transport, school everything – its really difficult so we need to ask what do these corporations and organizations especially USAID mean when they want to provide jobs in Haiti?  We say, AUMOHD says,  we need decent jobs. The problem is not really the amount but what people have to do with the money.  It’s not possible and people are working for the USA .

Another problem with Caracol is they used agricultural land and this was a big mistake.  They could  have used other land so I try to understand why they used the agricultural land which could be used for farming?

Another thing is they said they will build houses for the workers, but if you go there you will see the kind of houses they built and how much money they said they spent for building these houses.  I call them tombs because they are  really really small.  These people need to review the way they work in Haiti.  I would also add that Haitians in the US need to put their hands together and understand  that we need to work together, to think of another way to develop Haiti, not this way.

SE:  Are you trying to negotiate with some of the companies?

EF:  Right now we are trying to organize the workers so they understand what the project means for them,  now and in future; what will this area look like.  Because think of it, HASCO gave us Cite Soleil, is that what we want?  We  have to explain these things to the workers so they can empower themselves.  [Cite soleil was originally built by Hasco to house sugar workers in what was known as an Export processing zone – very similar in concept to Caracol]

We have Cite Soleil today and the same thing will happen in Caracol in 10 years so thats why we need to help the workers.  The best thing is to put pressure on the companies that if they want to be positive we cannot continue to pay people  $3 a day like before.

SE:  Is it not also possible to put pressure on the Haitian government to provide fairer tax policies for these corporations who pay nothing? 

EF:  We are now in a system of domination and I don’t think the Haitian government can do anything about this.

Sexual Violence and Sexual Minorities. 

There has been much discussion and media reports on violence against women, sexual violence especially since the earthquake.  Recently BAI reported an increase in the number of successful prosecutions of rapists.  In addition Haiti is poised to make changes in its penal code which will make it easier to prosecute rapists.  However I am interested to know your thoughts on how effective the new laws will be in really making it easier for women to report rape.

EF: We need to educate women on the law itself and on how to use it to their advantage.  Another thing is we need to provide the capacity and possibility to do that.  So we need to provide lawyers who can support them and attend court on their behalf.  But still education is the most important, for example in cases of sexual harassment.  In some cases the perpetrators themselves do not know what they are doing that is harassment.  So we need a campaign of education which is for the community so everyone is clear on what is rape, what is sexual violence because at this moment it is not always clear.   Also one reason women are afraid to report rape,  especially by a neighbour,  is that they need to be sure that something will be done. So we need a good strong structure for example they don’t have to go to the police alone but with a lawyer.

SE: What is the law on sex workers and with regards LGBTI people which is not altogether clear.

EF:  Here too more education is needed but there also there needs to be a judicial review on sex workers.   But really the problem is the same,  people not understanding their rights.  For example homosexual rights, we are in a culture where homosexuality is not accepted.  We need to take the time to understand this situation.  I recently had a meeting with a gay activist and I explained to him that we need to go to slow with this issue.  Here in Haiti you cannot even go into a church with a tattoo people will say you are the devil.  In some churches women cannot wear pants, its something terrible.   So now people come from the US with tattoos and the society tries to accept these new ways.  The same thing with homosexuality;  the international situation is one thing and here the law doesn’t even recognise it.  The culture influences the law and since homosexuality is not in the peoples perception, then we have to think of [a solution] it in a different way.

Movement Building 

SE : When we first met you mentioned a desire to build a movement which suggests a particular political positioning and one that might clash with your professed neutrality as a human rights lawyer? 

EF: I resolve this problem through justice.   For example politically I can have a view such as for Lavalas but as a human rights defender I have no view other than to seek justice.

The problem is the influence of my citizenship on my human rights position and I solve this through justice.  For example, when this government agrees to send children to school,  I say bravo but when they spend our money traveling the world I say no, you need to stop this. When they agree to reduce the number of people in the jail I say yes, this is a good thing but when they arrest members of congress, I say no you cannot do that. So when they decided to arrest Aristide, I said OK let me see the case you have. If I see they have proof and evidence then go ahead and arrest him but if not then leave him alone. And not just for Aristide but for everyone, even Jean-Claude Duvalier.

I was asked to take a case against Duvalier  but  we have to be careful because if we take these cases then we need to be prepared to collect all the evidence, bring in all the people and to build a proper case.  If this happens,  then I will be there, because I do not want to begin this process if we are not going to be able to build a strong and clear case.

People have to make a commitment. Right now we have to send a sign to the people that we need to change the way we are doing things in Haiti.  People need to know where they want to go and what result they want.  Also how will this benefit Haiti?  If the prosecution of Duvalier will help Haiti then we must go ahead but if it will divide us more then I don’t want this.

Right now we cannot get a good judgement against Duvalier because they [Duvalier and the elite] control the justice system. And thats why I advise people [who want to go to court over Duvalier] that we need to have a structure that everyone agrees  that these crimes committed by Duvalier were terrible and we cannot accept this ever happening again.

This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.