Haiti: Occasional Musings – 13,

I have been struggling for the past 24 hours with writing this piece and I just figured why – I wasn’t being honest. I just read an article on Sean Penn meeting with World Bankofficials which begins with the title “Its Time to Seize Opportunities in Haiti”.

……now is the time to seize opportunities in Haiti, a nation which can provide “incredible value” to other countries as well as to itself, especially by virtue of its private sector,

One tweet by @anthonyfenton sums up SP in Haiti

The article ends with promotional blurb on Penn’s organization. Honestly I do not know whether the claims are true or nearly true or totally false. What I do know after three years of regular visits and four months of living here, is that there is so much  bullshit   questionable assertions as to  what is supposedly happening in Haiti which bears little relationship with the Haiti I see and the people I speak with on a daily basis. Rather like Haitian politics, things are not always what they appear to be, and one needs to think dialectically.

A second article in the Guardian [2009] by Paul Collier [Clinton’s economic policy bag man] is even worse as he advocates Haiti seize the ‘window of opportunity’ by mirroring Bangladesh’s garment industry. Haiti should be running as far away as possible from the Bangladesh model which has resulted in the deaths of over 1000 garment workers over the past few years including the so far 640 people killed when a building collapsed last week – imagine the uproar if 640 US workers had died as a result of negligence.  The whole point of factories in Bangladesh and Haiti is to robotize people and bleed the workers to death. That is the cost of cheap food, cheap clothes, and expensive iPhones, workers are bled. In Caracol, farmers sold their land for $1200 and this is one of the problems in the new ‘open for business’ Haiti. Poor farmers and displaced people are being offered meagre sums of money to sell land or to move from camps. Its hard to resist and consider the long terms when you have nothing.    I attended a May day protest by some of the women workers who make t-shirts for yes, you guessed it, Walmart. Caracol is a fortress and actual looks like a detention camp.  It lies next to a small village of the same name and beyond that there are new box houses being built for workers. They complained of a wage cut from 400gds per day to 360gds and also complained of  verbal and in one case physical abuse by the  overseers.  Unfortunately due to transport issues we were unable to carry out our intended in depth interviews and had to rush back to PAP with our ride.   On the positive side they are members of the Confederation des Travailleurs Haïtiens [CTH] trade union, founded in 1998 and is particularly strong on women and youth workers rights.   It  is through them that the Caracol workers [mostly women] continue to negotiate for better working conditions. Martelly’s government has introduced some ‘social programmes known as Ede Pep, such as Ti Manman Cheri and Restoran Mobile. Ti Manman Cheri was created to provide extremely poor families, mainly mothers with 400 gds [$8] per month for one child.    Other programmes provide families with small amounts of food “Baskets of solidarity”.   News reports tell us so far there are some 100,000 beneficiaries across the country.  There are two problems with these programmes. One they are contradictory as at the same time women are being handed out free bags of food, market vendors  are being driven off the street making it impossible to earn a livelihood. Secondly,  people need to produce both their ID and voter registration cards.  The possibility then exists for the government to add the names of the participants to their party numbers.  Surely its better for women to earn a living selling in the market or having the opportunity to run small urban farms such as those planned by Growing Haiti, and basically have control over their lives than being handed out baskets of insufficient food. People have a right not to live in squalor, the problem is this right is only extended to an established elite and a small albeit growing middle class with the associated consumer dollars. Just as the infrastructural and commercial changes have become significantly visible, so too has the increase in the level of poverty.

I have no statistical facts to back up these claims but the cost of food is rising and consequently more people are hungry. Market traders mostly women are struggling to sell on the streets as they engage in a constant battle with the police. Its pathetic to see women standing in the midday sun dropping their few onions and mangoes as they run or try to hide their wares from the police. Camp Acra under attack The fundraising campaign for Camp Acra failed to reach the $3000 target with only $1115. Nonetheless I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who donated and supported the campaign. So far they have purchased one laptop and intend to buy two more plus a printer/scanner and sewing machine for the workshop.    Just before my return,  sections of the camp were set on fire after threats of eviction from one of the owners of the land.   Camp residents were protesting against the fire attacks and the threat of eviction when police invaded the camp and a number of people were beaten.  One resident, Civil Merius, was  beaten to death whilst in police custody has died. Chanjem Leson has asked for an autopsy to clarify the cause of death. The camp are fearful that they will be next in line for mass eviction such as at Canapervert. Like so many other camps in the past 12 months they may face being ransacked by the police or offered $500 and forced to relocate.

Many of those who took the $500 lare now entering their second year of renting property but face a second eviction as they cannot pay their rent. Others who were given housing also cannot pay the rent after the free period and also face eviction. Displaced people evicted from camps and rental properties are joining those surviving in Camp on the outskirts of  the city such as the one along Route Nationale 1 – Canaran.  Here on a desert hillside, 60,000 people live in make shift shacks and tarps with no running water, no delivered water, no electricity, no sanitation facilities.  There are no trees so when the rains come there is nothing to hold the ground.   I am told that  approximately 70% of families in Haiti are headed by women so when the camp evictions take place it is mostly women and children who suffer.  Rea Dol and I will start to work with a group of truly amazing women organizers from the camp and we will both visit for the first time this week. The government of Haiti and their US masters are determined to build a prosperous new Haiti – whether they succeed or not will depend on whether they are prepared to make this an inclusive prosperity or continue, as in the past leaving the popular masses behind on the physical and financial margins,  on hillside wastelands or in periphery neighbourhood such as Cite Soleil, Jalouzi, Carrefour and Caracol.   ** You might also want to check out some of @alyssa011968 tweets on Haiti and the garment industry.