Haiti: Occasional Musings, 17 -evictions, hunger, continued persecutions & one victory!
Last Wednesday residents of Camp Bristou in Peguy Ville were forcefully evicted by agents of the state and local police. Bristou is overlooked by Mojub school which is part of SOPUDEP community and many of the women, men and children who attend the school and literacy classes lived in the camp and the surrounding area.
In nearby Delmas, the residents at Camp Acra & Adoquin continue to live in fear of another fire or worse a complete eviction. In addition to Esther Pierre and Elie Jean-Louis, another Chanjem Leson member, Augustin Dieudonne who lived close to the murdered man, has also begun to receive threatening phone calls sometimes 3/4 in a day. Last Thursday 7 plain clothes agents entered the camp at 11.45 pm asking for his whereabouts. Fortunately he was warned and was able to leave. His family have now left for their own safely. He is fearful as he believes the police have fixated on the three activists and will not stop until they are dead. People in the camp are afraid and many of them are hungry and sick.
Bristou camp is the third forced eviction in Petion-Ville this year. Along with the destruction of the camps is the daily harassment of street vendors and market women. The attacks are vicious as police and other security bulldoze, ransack and sometimes burn down the public spaces. Every few days agents of the mayor, young men wearing yellow or green t-shirts and armed with sticks drive up in trucks and proceed to destroy stalls, scatter food and chase the vendors up and down the streets. Many of the women from the FASA micro-credit which provides small loans to street vendors working in Petion-Ville, have lost their goods and much of their trade as they now have to hide on side streets with small baskets in case they need to run. On Saturday I learned that all vendors and kiosks selling on the only Jalouzi street would have to leave as the government planned to rebuild the steep hillside road. No one is arguing against the building of the road even though most Jalouzi residents do not have cars and the road is way to narrow for tap taps. But this development should not be at the expense of poor women who have no other way to earn a living other than to sell on the streets or kiosks.
Flaurantine Enise who has a small kiosk selling non-prescription drugs is one of the women who will loose her trade. As I sat with her, her faced taught with the strain at this latest act of violence she explained how the kiosk supports the whole family, 4 adults, 2 teenagers and her granddaughter. Her two sons cannot go to college because they can hardly afford to feed themselves let alone pay school fees. Occasionally they find work for 50/100 gdes [$1/2] Her youngest daughter has a heart condition and much of the family’s income goes on her medical expenses. And people ARE hungry. Many people who do not eat from one day to the next. People who get sick from burning in their stomachs because they have no food to eat. A man who knows my host, walked across the city to our house to ask if he could take some breadfruit for himself and his family. He said they had not eaten properly for days. Another young man sent me a text saying he was ill with a fever. I went to meet him and he could hardly stand. He eventually admitted he had not eaten for days. People are hungry everywhere and for many children, death is a real possibility. This report from Belle Anse in southern Haiti states two out of three people have insufficient and irregular food.
6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can’t afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government’s National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.
I don’t doubt these figures but the report completely ignores UN and US complicity Haiti’s present situation. For example it makes no mention of the devastation caused by cholera. It fails to adequately explain the US’s role in destroying Haitian rice and the livelihood of many farmers. It mentions the low wages but fails to make the connection with corporate exploitation being pushed by the US and Haitian elite to use Haiti as a factory outpost of cheap labour. For example many of the people who sold their land to accommodate the Caracol Industrial park have spent the money but now have no land to farm and therefore feed themselves. Others in the city want to return home to the country where at least they can grow their own food but they are stuck in a cycle of debt and very often the need for healthcare access, however limited this may be in the capital, it is far more than in rural areas.
Hunger is not unique to Haiti but set against the billions of dollars to fund an ever increasing militarization – the UN / US occupation, a newly formed para-military presence on the streets, private armed security and macoute like state thugs who terrorize market vendors and people on the streets. Everywhere there are men with pistols, automatic rifles, batons, sticks and AK 47s patrolling the streets of the central city parameters, in full combat gear, weapons at the ready. In the US surveillance is carried out through the back door collecting data on everything we do. In Haiti, surveillance of the popular masses is carried out in the open through guns and government thugs. The UN continue to deny criminal negligence in introducing cholera and NGOs, though heavily reduced in numbers, continue to plough the streets with little apparent benefit to anyone but themselves. But worst of all Haiti’s poor have been swept to the margins, their livelihoods often dependent on an assortment of religious missionaries, evangelicals and charities leaving them with very little agency or a sustainable future.
After months of promising myself, I finally started reading Jacques Roumain’s “Masters of the Dew“. I am still on the introduction which is quite long, where I came across this paragraph. Before coming to a depressing conclusion it should be noted that ‘Masters of the Dew’ could also translate into ‘master of ones destiny – of imposing one’s will on the world’ in which case being fed up with poverty may well lead to taking action to end it – personally and or politically.
They were fed up with poverty. They were worn out. The most reasonable among them were loosing their senses. The strongest were wavering. As for the weak, they had given up. “Whats the use?” they said. One could see them stretched out, sad and silent, on pallets before their huts, thinking about their hard luck, stripped of all their will power. Others were spending their last pennies on clarin at Florentine’s the wife of the rural policeman, or else they were buying it on credit, which would sooner or later catch up with them.
Fonds Rouge [the village setting] was falling away into debris and the debris consisted of these good peasants, these earnest hardworking Negroes of the land. Wasn’t it a pity, after all? [P.104]
Recently Place Boye, which up till a year ago housed a large IDP camp in Petion-Ville was opened as a new park including a basketball court. [Back story was each family was given $500 to leave, just enough for one room rent for a year. Now the year is over many are facing a second eviction from the rentals. ] On the day of the opening by President Martelly a group of women from Le Phare in Jalouzi came down and demanded they be given the job of taking care of the park. This was agreed and now there are 10 women and two youths with the responsibility of keeping the park clean and tidy. They insisted I came to see them and everyone was smiling with double kisses. A wonderful victory as a group of women decided to seize the opportunity and took action to end their misery.