Category Archives: Caribbean

Bernadine Evaristo – Mr Loverman

Diriye Osman interviews Bernadine Evaristo author of Mr Loverman

In a revealing interview with Salon, Donna Tartt once said, “I had a fairly well-known editor tell me that The Secret History would never be published because no successful book by a woman had ever been written from the point of view of a man, and that I would have to change it to a female narrator.”

Although it’s tricky for both male and female writers to write from the point of view of the opposite gender, there have always been a number of tremendously talented and successful female authors who have not only risen to the challenge but, in doing so, have completely demolished deeply-embedded social codes that should not have existed in the first place.

British-Nigerian novelist and poet, Bernardine Evaristo is not only a master of literary gender-bending but she’s also adroit at subverting well-worn tropes from slavery to stifled sexuality in a way that feels new, visceral, vital. Although Evaristo has always been an innovative stylist, her latest novel, the critically acclaimed, award-winning smash, Mr. Loverman, is her chef d’oeuvre; a masterful dissection of the life of a 74 year-old, British-Caribbean gay man. It is a book about secrecy and self-protection, freedom and fear, history and the future, family and faith, repression and renewal.

For Evaristo, this extraordinary act of ventriloquism was necessary. “I knew this was an explosive mix for fiction”, she says. “Not only is black homosexuality all but invisible in British fiction, but the idea that a septuagenarian is actively gay is potentially very controversial.”

“I like the challenge of writing beyond my own culture (I’m not Caribbean), gender, age, sexuality and so forth, but it does mean that I have to work hard to create authenticity with my characters. To make them totally believable and convincing.”

Evaristo, who originally trained as a stage actress, nurtured her writing talent by penning roles for black actresses “because few parts existed for us in the early 80s.” She dropped acting but fuelled the fire to keep writing. “The magic of writing,” she says, “the emotional, intellectual and imaginative connection I feel to it, is addictive. My influences are wide and varied, and certainly many writers inspired me to tell my own stories when I was very young – Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Keri Hulme, Toni Morrison, Michelle Cliff, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker.”

With the recent anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and throughout a depressingly large part of Africa, does she feel there’s been enough of a response from African writers in terms of exploring the issue of homosexuality in fiction or non-fiction?

“I’d say not,” she says. “It’s still quite a taboo subject in many communities and certainly not enough people speak out. You’re probably one of the very few writers writing black African stories with gay characters. When I chaired the Caine Prize for African Fiction a couple of years ago we shortlisted a gay story by Malawian writer Stanley Kenani. Lola Shoneyin’s super novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wivestouches on lesbianism, as did Monica Arac De Nyeko’s Caine Prize winning “Jambula Tree”, which won the Caine in 2007. But essentially, when you can list such stories on one hand, there is a problem. I wrote a piece for The Guardian about the long history of pre-colonial homosexuality in Africa when the recent anti-gay legislation was passed in Nigeria, my father’s homeland. We need more voices out there, gay or straight, writing stories that include homosexual characters.”

Aside from her work as a novelist and poet, Evaristo teaches creative writing at London’s Brunel University, where she spearheaded the creation of the prestigiousAfrican Poetry Prize, which offers a powerful platform for gifted poets on the rise.

Part of what makes Bernardine Evaristo such an important cultural figure is that she’s an intellectual who’s unafraid to take creative risks. Every book that she has written doesn’t feel so much a progression as a complete re-invention of style, subject matter and genre. Once you add a hearty dose of compassion and energetic forward-thinking to the mix, what you get is not only an artist who repeatedly resists status quos and shoots straight for the jugular but a bonafide literary rebel with a cause. This in itself is worthy of celebration.

Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman (Akashic Books) is out now as is Diriye Osman’sFairytales For Lost Children (Team Angelica Press).

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post

Mr Loverman – portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer

 

Review of Bernardine Evaristo’s ‘Mr. Loverman’ by Diriye Osman

James Baldwin once stated that “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” This is a sentiment that applies equally to anyone who has ever experienced a profound sense of difference, a secret identity that is both a source of comfort and corrosion.

One of the many challenges with settling for “living in Narnia” — the closet — is that it invalidates half of your existence without you realizing that you have consented to such a huge degree of self-erasure; and what is left is a half-life teeming with anxiety, paranoia, shame and fear. This is where the love that Baldwin discusses so eloquently retains both its balm-like and burning qualities.

Stepping out into the sun requires strength. Although the majority of us who do come out of the closet increasingly do so at a younger age there are also those late-bloomers, those beautiful, older LGBT men and women who have spent a lifetime with one foot in the shadows and the other in a state of strenuously cultivated emotional paralysis, a seemingly sunlit space peopled with straight spouses, children and grandchildren.

This concept of double-identities, of secrets and consequences, forms the crux of British novelist and poet Bernardine Evaristo’s latest work of fiction, Mr. Loverman, a dazzling, gorgeously textured portrayal of a gay, British-Caribbean late bloomer and his infectious zest for life, language and love. In fact, one of the most remarkable feats of the novel is show how a septuagenarian can possess the kind of sizzle and sexual passion that would make most millennials look like poor relations of Mary Poppins.

The septuagenarian in question is Barrington Jedidiah Walker Esq, an Antiguan-born dandy based for decades in East London, who’s deeply in love with his childhood sweetheart, Morris Courtney de la Roux. The caveat is that Barrington is married to Carmel, his wife of 50 years. Carmel suspects that Barrington, or Barry as he’s also known, is having an affair, but assumes it to be with a woman. What Evaristo does so well is not only depict the strain that Barrington’s justifiable deception places on his marriage but she also deepens the narrative to include Carmel’s side of the story. One uses the term “justifiable” deception entirely accurately here. Homosexuality is still illegal in most parts of the Caribbean and Antigua is no exception. As evinced by the attitudes of Barrington’s grandson, Daniel, this stigma has seeped from generation to generation, from one continent to the next, creating a virulent animus against gay relationships within Britain’s collective black community, and the consequence of coming out of the closet is immediate rejection or violence.

So if Barrington’s deception can be considered justifiable — even for a minute — what about Carmel’s reality? A 50-year marriage is a lifetime’s investment, and Evaristo depicts Carmel’s disappointments with earth-deep empathy, showing us her vibrant youth, her pursuit of spiritual sustenance through the Church, and her struggle with post-natal depression. It is a beautiful, touching portrait of a woman pushed to the edge of her parameters. There is no victimhood here, and that sentiment extends to Barrington’s circumstances as well. The plot fizzes in a way that enables Barrington to confront his fears and face up to the truth of his “down-low” lifestyle with results that are poignant and cathartic in equal measure.

It must be noted that by writing directly in the voice of an older, gay Caribbean man, Bernardine Evaristo, who’s British-Nigerian and a woman, has executed an extraordinary act of ventriloquism that crosses gender boundaries as well as racial, cultural, sexual and linguistic differences. The fact that she accomplishes all of this with lyricism, authenticity and compassion is not only an act of bravery and confidence but a testament to her virtuosic capabilities as a writer. If the novelist’s job is to make sense of the world, Bernardine Evaristo’s entire oeuvre attests to her desire to upend preconceived notions of what is and isn’t impossible and reflect that mirror right back at her readers. Mr. Loverman is a powerful, morally rigorous and joyful novel and Bernardine Evaristo is a writer at the height of her imaginative powers.

Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo is published by Akashic Books. You can purchase the book here.

Interview with Dorothea Smartt, Brit born Bajan literary activist, live artist & poet

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Dorothea Smartt is a literary activist, live artist, and an established and respected poet with an international reputation. Born and raised in London she is of Barbadian heritage. Described as a ‘Brit-born Bajan international’, her work typically bridges the islands of Britain and Barbados, effortlessly shuttling between local and global scenes as it weaves a diasporic web. With two full collections, Connecting Medium and Ship Shape [Peepal Tree Press] her twenty years of experience, includes been engaged by the British Council and travelling to Bahrain, South Africa, Egypt, and Hungary. In 2013 she was keynote speaker at the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the premier literary award in Barbados. She is an honorary team member and advisor to Cambridge University’s Caribbean Poetry Project. She is Co-Director of Inscribe, a national writer development programme, Associate Poetry Editor of “Sable Litmag” and guest co-editor of their LGBTQI issues, and an Advisory editor to “Scarf”, a global arts & literature magazine. In her forthcoming third collection she continues to rework standard narratives, this time examining same-sex relationships and cross-gender experiences as push-pull factors behind ‘West Indian’ émigré workers on the Panama Canal.

In this interview, Dorothea underlines her relationship to her Bajan voice as a critical medium for her poetry. She reflects on her South London birth and upbringing in a Bajan household and the process of finding her voice and creating her place in the world as a Black girl in Britain. In the course of discussing her depiction of specifically located characters and their particular voices within her poetry collections, she repurposes historical and mythological figures, from Medusa to “Samboo” whom she renames Bilal. She engages us in her practice of historical “healing, restitution, recovery, re-membering and re-calling” in the excavation of overlooked and erased voices in past and present contexts. Her philosophy as a cultural practitioner is revealed through her treatment of cultural narratives as they impact individual and collective memory and consciousness, and implicate themselves in geographical landscapes. Her work re-inscribes a gendered, multiply located, lived and mythologized individual, familial and collective healing space.

She concludes by reading the introductory poem to her latest publication, “Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On”, which was launched in Barbados at the Bim LitFest held on May 15-17, 2014.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan writer, video producer and activist with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy. Her writing has been featured in the Queer African Reader (2013), Kwani? 07 (2012), United Nations Days of Vesak/International Association of Buddhist Universities Conference Journal (2012), Yellow Medicine Review (2011/2010) Sing Whisper Shout Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World (2002), Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art (2002) and a range of other publications and multimedia productions.

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In the Heart of the Afro-Caribbean LGBTQI Communities, Call for Contributions by Cases Rebelles and Q-Zine

Focused primarily on the African continent and experiences until now, Q-Zine, the first pan-African, bilingual art and culture LGBTI magazine, in collaboration with Cases Rebelles, is expanding its pan-African horizons! In the next issue of the magazine we are turning our inquiries to the rich and complex issues of the LGBTQI Afro-Caribbean community (taken in its widest definition!). From the Bahamas to Guyana, and from Haiti to Guadeloupe to Cuba, we want to hear from you in Creole, English, French, Spanish and all the other voices of the region. We are seeking to portray the many aspects of Caribbean LGBTQIs in this edition whether living in the region or in the Diaspora.

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Colonial history, tourism and the global misappropriation of culture often reduce the Caribbean to an exotic, clichéd image. The same goes for understanding queer issues. In this co-edition by Cases Rebelles/Q-Zine, we are looking to widen our perspectives of LGBTQI identities and expressions in the Caribbean- how is it defined, called and expressed? What are the unique traditions, inventions and inspirations of queer Caribbean communities? Are there privileged spaces, moments and cultural contexts used by LGBTQI communities?  What are uniquely Caribbean characteristics of the LGBTQI identities and what influence has the global LGBTQI movement had on the ability to exist, express, define, fight and love in the Caribbean? What is the influence of migration? Of tourism and the perception it imposes on the region?

We invite you to share by writing, your opinions, essays, critiques, literature, short-stories, photo-essay, paintings, poems, music, dance, fashion, art, news or other contributions on the theme “Afro-Caribbean LGBTQI cultures” in this edition of Cases Rebelles/Q-Zine that aims to paint the queer Caribbean panorama as diverse as the Caribbean region itself- both locally and throughout its Diaspora. We also welcome your audiovisual contributions.

Cases Rebelles is a collective of Black, African and Caribbean women and men. Since 2010, Cases Rebelles seeks to challenge and shake-up thinking and perspectives about and from Afro-Caribbean through it monthly web-radio programming and publication of the same name.

Since 2011, Q-zine, the only Pan-African LGBTI art and culture digital magazine aims to create and to be a forum for any type of expression, any topic or idea, and all shades of opinion relevant to LGBTI lives.

Cases Rebelles and QAYN invite to send your contributions to the co-editors at contact AT qayn-center.org and contact AT cases-rebelles.org.

Deadline : 10 February 2014

‘Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

From the Jamaican Gleaner – Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture.

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Whenever I am in the US and  Haiti comes up in the conversation, I am repeatedly faced with varying levels of denigration about Haiti and Haitian people, many of whom are Haitian themselves.  Jamaicans are  particularly prone notwithstanding that most of the people I meet in South Florida are of Jamaican or Haitian heritage.   This piece by Carolyn Cooper challenges the negativity towards Haiti and Haitians by Jamaican and other Caribbean islanders.

Ignorance and self-hate are a terrible thing.

 

A so Mutabaruka seh inna fi im poem bout Haiti pon im ‘Melanin Man’ album weh come out inna 1994. Mi tek Muta lyrics fi di title a one talk mi gi inna Haiti dis ya month. Mi call it, ”Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

One big-big meeting did keep up fi di 25th anniversary a di Haitian Studies Association, from November 7-9. More dan 300 scholar from all over di world go a Haiti fi reason bout politics, education, health care, music, literature, language, flim show, economics, history an such di like.

Inna fi mi talk, mi consider Muta poem an one a David Rudder song pon im Haiti album, weh im put out inna 1988. A long time dem two artist a warn wi fi check wiself. Dem a cry out mek wi understand seh di people dem inna Haiti a fi wi fambily an wi no better dan dem. In fact, wi an dem inna di same boat. An if wi no mind sharp, it a go a sink. An di whole a wi a go drown same way.

See how Muta start off fi im poem:

Haiti yu goin an no one seem to care

Haiti yu goin, neighbours, beware!

Di poverty an death that haunts every day

De boat dat leave to de USA.

Same way David Rudder a warn wi inna fi im song:

We are outing fires in faraway places

When our neighbours are just burning.

They say the Middle Passage is gone

So how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives?

CHAINS DAT KEEP US APART’

Acordin to Muta, di answer to David Rudder question a one long, long story: “Haiti suffers because it made a start.” Muta dig up history fi find di root a di problem:

Yu payin for di afrikaness yu still keep

Yu payin, payin; Boukman is not asleep

Nuff a wi inna Jamaica no know bout Boukman. Im did born right ya so. An im a one a fi wi big-time hero. International hero! Im coulda read an write. A it mek dem call im Boukman. An it look like seh di book im dida read a di Qu’ran. Im a Muslim. An im dida try teach who want know fi read. Di owner fi di plantation never like dat. Boukman a mek trouble. So di owner man decide fi sell Boukman to one Frenchman weh tek im go a Haiti.

An a deh so Boukman mek trouble! When im see wa a gwaan, im couldn’t tek it. Im tek charge. An im turn voodoo priest. Pon August 14, 1791, im keep one big meeting a Bois Caiman, weh di African dem plan out how dem a go free demself from slavery. Dem draw blood an drink it an tek oath fi fight it out. An a deh so revolution start inna Haiti. Di next week, Boukman people dem burn down 1,800 plantation an dem kill off 1,000 a di owner dem.

Muta seh:

Yu gave us Haiti di strength to fight

Black people in di Caribbean, I say unite

Break di chains dat keep us apart

Haiti suffers because it made a start

Mi love di picture Muta draw when im talk bout di chain dem. A mental slavery dat. Di chain dem inna wi mind a tie wi up, mek wi feel seh wi better dan dem other one. Mi glad fi see Haiti President Michel Martelly come look fi wi. Im did come fi talk bout how Haiti an Jamaica can work together. Anywhere Boukman deh, it sweet im fi true.

  • PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

A so Mutabaruka se ina fi im pouwem bout Haiti pon im ‘Melanin Man’ albom we kom out ina 1994. Mi tek Muta liriks fi di taikl a wan taak mi gi ina Haiti dis ya mont. Mi kaal i, ”Too Black, Too Strong’: Imagining Haiti in Caribbean Popular Culture’.

Wan big-big miitn did kip op fi di 25th anivorsri a di Haitian Studies Association, fram Novemba 7-9. Muor dan chrii onjred skala fram aal uova di worl go a Haiti fi riizn bout palitiks, edikieshan, elt kier, myuuzik, lichricha, langwij, flim shuo, iikanamiks, ischri an soch di laiik.

Ina fi mi taak, mi kansida Muta pouwem an wan a David Rudder sang pan im Haiti albom, we im put out ina 1988. A lang taim dem tuu aatis a waan wi fi chek wiself. Dem a krai out mek wi andastan se di piipl dem ina Haiti a fi wi fambili an wi no beta dan dem. In fak, wi an dem ina di siem buot. An if wi no main shaap, it a go a singk. An di uol a wi a go jroun siem wie.

Si ou Muta staat aaf fi im pouwem:

Haiti yu goin an no one seem to care

Haiti yu goin, neighbours, beware!

Di poverty an death that haunts every day

De boat dat leave to de USA.

Siem wie David Rudder a waan wi ina fi im sang:

We are outing fires in faraway places

When our neighbours are just burning.

They say the Middle Passage is gone

So how come overcrowded boats still haunt our lives?

CHAINS DAT KEEP US APART’

Azkaadn tu Muta, di ansa tu David Rudder kweschyan a wan lang, lang tuori: “Haiti suffers because it made a start.” Muta dig op ischri fi fain di ruut a di prablem:

Yu payin for di afrikaness yu still keep

Yu payin, payin; Boukman is not asleep

Nof a wi ina Jamieka no nuo bout Boukman. Im did baan rait ya so. An im a wan a fi wi big-taim iiro. Intanashinal iiro! Im kuda riid an rait. A it mek dem kaal im Boukman. An it luk laik se di buk im dida riid a di Qu’ran. Im a Muslim. An im dida chrai tiich uu waahn nuo ou fi riid. Di uona fi di plantieshan neva laik dat. Boukman a mek chrobl. So di uona man disaid fi sel Boukman tu wan Frenchman we tek im go a Haiti.

An a de so Boukman mek chrobl! Wen im si wa a gwaahn, im kudn tek i. Im tek chaaj. An im ton vuuduu priis. Pan Aagos 14, 1791, im kip wan big miitn a Bois Caiman, we di African dem plan out ou dem a go frii demself fram slievri. Dem jraa blod an jringk i an tek uot fi fait it out. An a de so revaluushan staat ina Haiti. Di neks wiik, Boukman piipl dem bun dong 1,800 plantieshan an dem kil aaf 1,000 a di uona dem.

Muta se:

Yu gave us Haiti di strength to fight

Black people in di Caribbean I say unite

Break di chains dat keep us apart

Haiti suffers because it made a start

Mi lov di pikcha Muta jraa wen im taak bout di chien dem. A mental slievri dat. Di chien dem ina wi main a tai wi op, mek wi fiil se wi beta dan dem ada wan. Mi glad fi si Haiti Prezident Michel Martelly kom luk fi wi. Im did kom fi taak bout ou Haiti an Jamieka kyan wok tugeda. Eniwe Boukman de, it swiit im fi chruu.

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona.  Email feedback to 

 

Who is Michel Martelly and why is the Haitian grassroots movement protesting against him?

Today [anniversary of the Battle of Vertieres , 1803 in the war for independence] marks the second of a series of  planned street protests against the government of Michel Martelly.  The protest are organized by Fòs Patriotik ou Respè Konstitsyon [FOPARK] a coalition of pro Lavalas supporters, students, lawyers and  human rights activists.

The first march was November 7th march and ended in Petion-Ville, a bourgeois enclave in the capital Port-au-Prince.  Internataional media reported the protest ‘turned violent’ but they failed to explain the violence was initiated by pro-Martelly, macoute thugs who attacked protestors with the sole purpose of causing violence. Protesters reported at least three people were shot and taken to hospital.   On Friday 15th November at around  1pm, Inorel Delbrun, the attache and cameraman to outspoken critic and president of the senate, Dieuseul Simon Desras,   was assassinated whilst getting out of his car.

Assassinations, death by poisoning, arrests and threats to  human rights lawyers, harassment of activists are common place  actions as a desperate Michel Martelly unleashes his macoute thugs on the popular masses and human rights activists.  To consolidate his brutal repression of Haitians, Martelly is attempting to bring back the army  which was dismantled by President Aristide.   The capital is awash with private security guards many run by former military men and macoutes.   Many  carry  unregistered weapons, and in an industry without any regulation.   Full combat police roam the streets in armoured trucks along with the UN occupying force.  Pro Lavalas supporters are regularly and repeatedly threatened with violence .   Only yesterday three people were murdered in Bel Air.

On Sunday the 17th November,  the government of Martelly distributed food to people in Camp Acra and in Cap Haitian, an act typical  which is reminiscent of the Duvalier regimes when people became restive, throw them some coins or food.

And yet American liberal politicians, journalists and celebrities such as  Sean Penn, continue to give vocal support to the Martelly government.   Predators under the guise of ‘humanitarians’, filmmakers, photographers, missionaries  continue to feed off the misery of the poor.

Today’s  protests are planned in cities across Haiti.

Below Charlie Hinton of the Haiti Action Committee provides a detailed background and analysis as to why people are dissatisfied with Michel Martelly’s government.  Corruption, return to Duvalierism, rewriting and undermining Haiti’s Constitution,  nepotism, corrupting the judiciary, reactionary economic policies.

Haiti Action Committee calls for solidarity with the Haitian people and to start by seeking out the truth of the Martelly government.

 

1. Who is Michel Martelly? Martelly grew up during the 27-year dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean Claude “Baby Doc.” He joined the Duvalierist death squad, the Tonton Macoutes, at the age of 15 and later attended Haiti’s military academy. Under Baby Doc, Martelly, a popular musician, ran the Garage, a nightclub patronized by army officers and members of Haiti’s tiny ruling class.

As another way to signal their opposition to Martelly, the Haitian masses march with red cards, which, when given to a player by a football (soccer) referee, mean he’s out for that match and the next. The people are telling Martelly to get out. [Haiti Action Committee]
As another way to signal their opposition to Martelly, the Haitian masses march with red cards, which, when given to a player by a football (soccer) referee, mean he’s out for that match and the next. The people are telling Martelly to get out. [Haiti Action Committee]

After Baby Doc’s fall in February 1986, a mass democratic movement, long repressed by the Duvaliers, burst forth and became known as Lavalas (“flood”), from which emerged Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a popular liberation theology Catholic priest, who was elected president in 1990 with 67 percent of the vote in the first free and fair election in Haiti’s history.

Martelly quickly became a bitter opponent of Lavalas, attacking the popular movement in his songs played widely on Haitian radio.

Martelly “was closely identified with sympathizers of the 1991 military coup that ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” the Miami Herald observed in 1996, and ran with members of the vicious FRAPH death squad from that period, infamous for gang rapes and killing with impunity.

On the day of Aristide’s return to Haiti in 2011, after eight years of forced exile in South Africa and two days before the “run-off” election, Martelly was caught in a video on YouTube insulting Aristide and Lavalas: “The Lavalas are so ugly. They smell like s**t. F**k you, Lavalas. F**k you, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.”

Down with Martelly graffiti in Port-au-Prince [Haiti Action]
Down with Martelly graffiti in Port-au-Prince [Haiti Action]
2. The fraudulent presidential election of 2010-2011: In the presidential election cycle of 2010-2011, the Electoral Council ruled that Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas Party could not participate, which de-legitimized the whole corrupt process. Voter turnout was less than 25 percent in the primaries and less than 20 percent in the “run-off.”

The top two candidates announced after the primaries were the wife of a former pro-Duvalier president and the son-in-law of Rene Preval, the president at the time. Martelly was declared third, but his supporters demonstrated violently, and an OAS “investigation” of the elections ruled that, in fact, Martelly had finished second.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton flew to Port-au-Prince in January 2011, at the height of the Egyptian revolution, to reinforce this decision. Martelly received $6 million from an anonymous donor in Florida to hire a PR firm that had worked on the campaigns of Felipe Calderón in Mexico and John McCain in the U.S.

3. Corruption: Corruption scandals have followed Martelly since he refused to divulge who funded his campaign for president.

  • Bribes – Award-winning Dominican Republic journalist Nuria Piera broke the story in April 2012 (later reported in Time) that Martelly was alleged to have accepted $2.6 million in bribes during and after the 2010 election to ensure that a Dominican construction company would receive contracts under his presidency. In addition, the vote to make Laurent Lamothe the prime minister is known in Haiti as the “tout moun jwenn vote” (“everyone got their cut” vote).
  • Surcharge on international calls and money transfers for “education” – Questionable new taxes have also fed controversy. A $1.50 tax on money transfers and a 5 cent per minute tax on phone calls to Haiti are alleged by Martelly to support education, but the poor majority continue to face unaffordable school fees, and critics say no money from this tax has gone to schools. Moreover, Haitian teachers have been marching to demand back pay. Martelly’s new taxes were not ratified by or presented to Haiti’s Parliament, making them illegal.
  • Travel expenses – When traveling, which he does often, Martelly’s entourage receives an outrageous per diem from the Haitian government. According to Sen. Moise Jean-Charles, Martelly gets $20,000 a day, his wife $10,000 a day, his children $7,500, and others in his inner circle get $4,000 daily.
  • A plan to establish an illegal parallel customs system to circumvent legislative control – This allegedly involved the selling of a membership card and gun to anyone who wanted to be part of the Martelly gang. The membership privileges included tax-exempt status at customs. The program had to be scratched when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration complained about members facilitating drug transport on the strength of their membership.
Photo by Sokari Ekine
Photo by Sokari Ekine

4. Rewriting and undermining Haiti’s Constitution: The overthrow of Baby Doc in 1986 led to the creation of a new democratic Constitution in 1987, ratified in a referendum by an overwhelming majority of Haitians. It recognized Haitian Kreyol as an official language, along with French, and legalized Vodun, the spiritual practice of the majority of Haitians. It provided for grassroots participation in national decision-making, decentralized the nation’s finances and political structure, and provided for protection of human rights.

On June 12, 2012, Martelly announced new amendments, which concentrate executive power and herald the return of Duvalier-style dictatorship. The new illegally amended Constitution, written by non-legislators and never seen nor voted on by the Parliament prior to its publication, creates a top down method of choosing a Permanent Electoral Council to run elections, undermining grassroots participation and centralizing control from above.

It allows the president to appoint the prime minister after merely “consulting” the heads of the two chambers of Parliament instead of requiring Parliamentary ratification. In cases of “presidential vacancy,” the new amendments make the prime minister the provisional president, so presidents can resign, appoint the prime minister to succeed them, and thereby maintain perpetual control.

New amendments provide that a “general budget” and a “general expenditures report” can replace line item annual budgets, thus limiting parliamentary oversight of the budget.

New amendments return Duvalier era and other retrograde laws, including:

  • A 1935 law on “superstitious beliefs,” which would ban Vodun once again.
  • A 1977 law establishing the Court of State Security to increase state surveillance and repression.
  • A 1969 law that condemns all “imported doctrines,” thereby attacking freedom of thought and freedom of association. Violation of this new law can result in the DEATH PENALTY. The 1987 Haitian Constitution had eliminated the death penalty.

5. Restoring the army: In one of the most popular moves of his administration, President Aristide disbanded the hated Haitian army in 1995. Since the coup that overthrew Aristide for the second time in 2004, U.N. troops and police, currently numbering 8,754 uniformed personnel, have occupied Haiti. One of Martelly’s campaign promises was to restore the Haitian Army, and now new Haitian troops are being trained by Ecuador and Brazil. In addition, well-armed former military and paramilitary personnel have occupied militia camps since early 2012, supported by Martelly.

 

Photo by Sokari Ekine
Photo by Sokari Ekine

Sen. John Joel Joseph has identified senators that he claims are marked for assassination. He identified the people who have been paying the “hit squads” on behalf of Martelly. He denounced one of the men as an escaped criminal who had been caught red handed with a “near death” victim behind his vehicle. Said victim sent the police to a house where two more victims could be found.

Sen. Joseph identified the leader of the death squad and his vehicle, denouncing the group as the one which recently assassinated a grassroots militant. He accused the president and his wife of pressuring the chief of police to remove the senators’ security detail, in order to facilitate their assassinations. He denounced a previous instance when Martelly tried to pressure former police chief Mario Andresol to integrate a hit-man into the police to assassinate Sen. Moise Jean Charles.

7. Death of a judge: Martelly set up his wife and son as head of governmental projects, but with no parliamentary oversight. A Haitian citizen, Enold Florestal, filed suit with attorney Andre Michel before Judge Jean Serge Joseph, maintaining that the Martellys were siphoning off large amounts of state monies, which the Haitian Senate has no jurisdiction over.

Judge Joseph moved the case to the next judicial level, which required depositions from the Martellys and various governmental ministers. Enraged, Martelly and Prime Minister Lamothe called two meetings with the judge – which they deny took place – to demand he kill the case, the second on July 11. The judge drank a beverage offered him at that meeting.

On July 12 Judge Joseph became violently ill and died on July 13. Haitian police arrested Florestal on Aug. 16 after viciously beating him, and Haitian authorities have issued a warrant for the arrest of attorney Michel, who has gone into hiding. A commission of the Haitian Parliament is now calling for the impeachment of Martelly based on illegal meetings with the judge, interference in legal matters and threats to those involved in the case.

8. Corrupting the judiciary and Parliament: The Martelly regime is working to establish executive control over the judicial system through the use of “controlled” prosecutors and judges. In violation of the Constitution, he appointed as Supreme Court chief justice, Anel Alexis Joseph, who is 72. Haitian law says a judge must be 65 or under to be named to this position.

The chief justice also leads the commission that regulates the entire judicial system, so Judge Anel Alexis Joseph is using his power to block an investigation into the death of Judge Jean Serge Joseph and to protect Martelly and his henchmen from all legal challenges, thereby granting impunity.

Martelly has also corrupted the legislative branch that could bring charges against members of the executive. He ordered the arrest of Deputy Arnel Belizaire in spite of parliamentary immunity and his legal counsel’s advice.

He has so far failed to call elections for 10 senate seats in January and is trying to force the 10 senators whose terms he says are up – they say in 2015, not 2014 – to leave office. Since elections have still not been held for 10 additional seats, if these new 10 seats are vacated, it would leave the 30 member Senate without a quorum, allowing Martelly to dissolve the Parliament and rule by decree.

9. Reactionary economic policy: Martelly enforces the Clinton-Bush plan for economic “development” of Haiti through sweatshops, tourism, and the selling of oil and mining rights to transnational corporations. Under this plan, money donated for earthquake relief has been used to build a duty free export manufacturing zone in the north of Haiti, which was not affected by the earthquake, and several luxury hotels in Port-au-Prince. The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund made a $2 million equity investment in a hotel called the Royal Oasis to give foreign tourists and investors an “oasis” to escape the miserable conditions under which the majority of Haitians live.

At the same time, the Martelly regime viciously represses the economic activities of the poor super majority. The phone and money transfer taxes cut into their incomes. Taxes have been arbitrarily increased on imports, affecting small merchants. Thugs wearing masks have burnt markets in different cities, causing merchants to lose capital they had been accumulating for years, forcing them to raise new capital through usury loans. Street vendors are harassed and removed forcefully, then, after hours, their stands are looted.

10. Duvalierism returns to Haiti: Martelly warmly welcomed the January 2011 return to Haiti of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, after his decades of luxurious exile in France. Duvalier still has many supporters in Haiti, some of whom are armed and have a history of killing political opponents.

Martelly’s government is filled with Duvalierists: Hardline former Haitian army officer David Bazile is now interior minister. Magalie Racine, daughter of notorious former Tonton Macoute militia chief Madame Max Adolphe, is Martelly’s youth and sports minister. Public Works Secretary of State Philippe Cinéas is the son of longtime Duvalierist figure Alix Cinéas, who was a member of the original neo-Duvalierist National Council of Government (CNG), which succeeded Duvalier after his fall in 1986. In addition, Duvalier’s son, Francois Nicolas Jean Claude Duvalier, is a close advisor to Martelly.

Conclusion: A major objective of the Duvalier dynasty was to institutionalize dictatorship through death squad brutality, supported by the United States and other powers. Martelly is an example of their policies having come to fruition. He’s restoring a government of impunity per the Duvalier era, building an administration of right wing ideologues who believe in dictatorship and who collaborate to sidestep all legislative and judicial controls.

His goal is to implement extreme neo-liberal economic policies on behalf of Haiti’s less than 1 percent with control over all natural resources. The people will be at their mercy for factory work and other “subservient” positions, under the boot of a U.N. occupation force of 8,754 army and police personnel, the beginnings of a restored army, paramilitary training camps, death squads, gangs and mafias that use the cover of the corrupted executive and judicial systems to operate.

The Haitian majority does not accept this return to the bad old days, however, and has been actively and massively protesting this repression for the past year. They deserve the support and solidarity of freedom loving people everywhere.

 

For more information on the Haitian Grassroots Movement see:  Haiti Action Committee  action.haiti AT mail.com.

Charlie Hinton may be reached at ch_lifewish  AT yahoo.com.

 

 

Haiti – Feminist Series 5, In conversation with Paulette Joseph

During his campaign for presidency of Haiti, Michel Martelly made education was of his priorities.  Once elected he quickly established the “Program for Universal Free and Obligatory Education (Programme de scolarisation universelle gratuite et obligatoire – PSUGO)” PSUGO was supposed to increase access to education for millions of primary school children through the allocation of funds for first and second grades. The amounts for public schools are tiny at $6 per student and $90 for private students who are by far the majority.  However an investigation into PSUGO by Haiti Grassroots Watch found the programme seriously lacking and questioned the figures claimed by the government.

Book supplies, food and other resources have not been forthcoming. Rea Dol of SOPUDEP school explained that even where funds have been received, it is only for the first two grades and only for a selected number of children rather than all of primary school as promised.   Compounding the problems with resources is the postponement of school until October, made just  a few days before September classes were due to start thereby putting even more pressure on teachers and students to complete the curriculum by the end of the year.

Many schools, both free and private are struggling with decrepit buildings and minimum resources.  The majority of parents are struggling to pay fees and in schools like SOPUDEP which provide free education they are over subscribed despite the lack of resources with class sizes as much as 60/70 children and some as high as 100.

Prior to the now extended summer holidays I spoke with educator and community activist, Paulette Joesph at the Excelsior School which she founded in 2003.   Since then, Haiti and Paulette have gone through numerous crises. The 2004 coup in which President Aristide was forcibly removed and flown to Central African Republic. The  violence unleashed against members of Lavalas in which hundreds were murdered and thousands went into exile or hid in the countryside.  Those like Paulette who remained in the capital did so with fear in their hearts.   Then in January 2010, the  earthquake struck, and soon after the cholera epidemic, floods and hurricanes. In spite of all of these challenges she has managed to remain strong, the school is still going and she continues to work with women in her community.

Paulette, like her friends, Rea Dol of SOPUDEP and Roselaine Derival Fabre of Mojub, an adult literacy and kindergarten school,  began as ca community activist working with women in their communities many of whom including Rea and Paulette were or are single mothers raising children on their own. 

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How and when did you become involved in community work.

PJ: I first started working with both men and women in my community when we organized as KADSK, a commune or  village solidarity to keep our community clean and campaign for clean water and electricity.  This was in 1991.  At that time  President Aristide and Preval were in government and they helped us a lot in our commune.  After the coup against President Aristide things were very difficult for all of us.

SE: Why did you move from a mixed community organization to working solely with women?

PJ: You know in Haiti many working class women don’t have money to send their children to school.  They don’t have jobs or business yet they have to take care of their children by themselves. 70% of Haitian women are raising their children on their own as so many men do not take responsibility for their children.  But there is a paradox because the men leave when the child comes and then the women look for another man in the hope that he will change their life and bring them out of misery.  But in most cases this does not happen.

I saw the way women were living miserable lives and said, we need to start an organization where women can defend themselves and create something for themselves.  This was in 1996 and we called ourselves Organization Fanm Vanyan [OFAV] meaning organization of strong women.   And you know women work hard and they  know how to work together but they need to have respect and dignity. One day a women in the organization told me her husband had punched her in the face.  Her eye was swollen and I said no this is not right so it was the organization’s work to explain and to educate women on their rights in the house and what to expect.   We were able to come  together as women and speak about many things but always we found that it was our children that were our  greatest greatest concern as many of them did not have fathers.  So it is from here that I had the idea to open a school for poor children and those being raised without fathers, that is for the women in our organization.

SE: Before we go on to talk about the school, can I ask you to tell us a little more about yourself?

PJ: Well we are talking about women living on their own,  I was married in 1980 but have been divorced since 1990.   I have two sons, my first son died when he was six months.   Now I live with my mother and my youngest son and my only focus is my work. I think this is important for my son because  I don’t want him to grow up with violence in the house, I don’t want him to have to live with someone who disrespects his mother.   So I  take care of my family by myself and spend time with my son.  Every time President Aristide asks me, how is your son, and in this way he gives us some advice and focus on him  because in Haiti it is hard to stay on your own.

I believe some women feel they need to have a man to take care of them but I do not feel like this, I am not afraid to stay on my own.  Our organization meets every last Sunday of the month and I always try to tell other women that they don’t have to depend on anyone but themselves, they can live by themselves.  No women has to accept violence. If you have 100 $Haitian [500gds or $11] you can make something for yourself.  You can survive.  But let me say this, one problem we have in Haiti which we have to be careful is HIV, I think this is very dangerous for women and  children because of the men who do not protect themselves.

SE: Speaking of health, what about cholera in your community and the school?

PJ: Cholera in Haiti is now the biggest problem.  We have had a lot of cholera amongst our children.   But we also have to talk about MINUSTAH [UN force in Haiti] who are responsible for cholera in Haiti.  It started in their camp by the Artibonite River which was contaminated by the shit. This is how cholera spread in Haiti.  Imagine please if the Haitian army went to the US to help them and the Haitian army then spread a sickness like cholera. What do you think the Haitian government is supposed to do if not to take responsibility.  So the UN must take responsibility  and compensate all the victims of cholera.  But you know we are a Black nation and they think they can forget us.  We were the first black country to get independence and we are still paying for that.  But you see also our government is silent, they say nothing about cholera or MINUSTAH.

SE: Can I ask you about the present government in Haiti?

PJ: [Laughs... If you have a good government. A government which represents the people then for example if you are a business and you come to my country you must pay tax.  If you come to my country and you want to employ people you must pay them a good wage like $8 /9 a day.  But here nobody pays tax,  nothing, The government gives them the freedom to do what they want.

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SE:  I would like to end by asking you specifically about the school.

PJ: I started the school in 2003 with 50 children most of them the children of the women in OFAV.  We have kindergarten aged 3-5 years and primary from 6-12 years.  Now I have 500 children altogether.  As you can see our building is very small and very crowded and we need so many repairs especially when it rains, it is terrible.    But this is Haiti and that is how things are [laughs] we struggle but we have hope.

We had to end our conversation rather abruptly as children were changing over classes and it was no longer possible to hear ourselves speak amidst the chatter and laughter of 500 3-12 year olds!

 

 

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

Haitian Literature in English

From Tande – Haitian fiction translated into English

I’d been thinking about doing this post for a while, but there was always another priority on my to-do list. A couple of days ago I finished reading Americanah. I really enjoyed it and it got me thinking about how good it feels to find a book that you can really fall into, whether as an escape or to expand your knowledge.

Books have always had a special place here at Tande. A couple of years ago, we even had a debate about translation, about making works available to Haitian Americans and others who might not be able to read them in the original. So, I thought I’d draw up a quick list. I hope that you’ll find the same joy and excitement reading them that I did with Adichie‘s latest.

Classics:

chauvet
Jacques Roumain’s Masters of the Dew.
For Jacques Stéphen Alexis, both General Sun, My Brother and In the Flicker of an Eyelid are available.
Love, Anger, Madness by Marie Vieux-Chauvet and René Philoctète’s Massacre River are both favorites of mine. Although I don’t know if the Philoctète, first published in 1989 qualifies as a classic yet. What’s the timeframe on that? Oh, and let’s add René Depestre’s  The Festival of the Greasy Pole.



 

Haiti: The Last Camp Standing

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On Monday 19th August 4 residents of Camp Acra & Adoquin and their lawyer Patrice Florvilus were summoned to court following criminal charges laid by  Reynold George, the claimed owner of a section of the camp land,  devotee and lawyer of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The residents included Camp Acra coordinator and founding member of the housing action  group, Chanjem Leson,Jean-Louis Elie Joseph, Darlin Lexima who had previously been detained and beaten by the police following a protest in April this year and the family of Civil Meril who died whilst in police custody.   

Reynold Georges had previously visited the camp in April threatening to set it on fire if residents did not leave what he claimed to be his section of land.  In the period since his threats, members of Chanjem Leson  have been living in fear  sometimes having to go into hiding following visits from unknown plain clothes men and threatening phone calls.  So it was with great apprehension that the residents prepared to attend court on Monday 19th August.  Fortunately for everyone, and through the hard work of human rights lawyers, Reynold Georges was forced to withdraw his charges.

There have been a number of reports on specific persecution of human rights activists in the US mainstream media [here and here] and on Twitter by members of the foreign media and human rights community in Haiti.  However it is unfortunate that in these reports the voices of camp residents, who are far more vulnerable to the threats of from power elites, are erased from the story which becomes one about the human rights lawyer and western human rights activist.  Even the protestors, it is claimed, where there for the lawyer rather than stating they were there to save their camp!

This is not to fully recognise the importance of the legal profession in defending people’s rights or  to dismiss their excellent work.  However there is once again an erasure of the voices of the popular masses.    For example Darlin Lexima, Elie Joseph, Esther Pierre and other vocally visible camp activists do not only have to contend with living in fear and in hiding from  the likes of Reynold George and having their property and lives at risk from fire, they also have to contend with living in deplorable camp conditions for nearly 4 years, unemployment, sickness and sickness of relatives – in short living with the worst aspects of structural violence.    

There are two related issues in this matter.  One that of  Reynold Georges, is about evicting specifically 300 families from an area of Camp Acra & Adoquin with a view to evicting all 32,000 residents [6000 families] plus the fate of all remaining camps and this is where the focus needs to be.  As Chanjem Leson write on their website,  they have a plan for the housing of all camp Acra & Adoquin and a means for them to create their own income generation projects. The second issue is that of persecution of human rights lawyers and camp activists.

The erasure of the voices of popular masses is how the western media works – it selects a name and runs with that name at the expense of everyone else and western human rights activists on the ground are complicit in this formula.   In addition to ignoring the voices of those actually living the human rights abuses in the camps,  missing from the commentary is a critique of the role of the  US as the puppeteer pulling the strings behind the  Haitian government or of corporate interests which seek to exploit the labour of Haitians at the cheapest rate possible.   Although the UN occupation forces, MINUSTAH are mentioned failure to consider the US influence over the UN ends up with only half the story.  The failure to critique US foreign policy and call for an accountability from  the US government  is a frequent omission by western activists working in the global south who speak of rights as simply a local politic.   Ezili Danto is one of the most articulate voices speaking the truth of western involvement in Haiti as she explains in this piece on the US “rewriting the Haitian Constitution to better serve the one percent”..

As long as white supremacy paints Haiti as a failed state because of weak public services, when Haiti is prevented by US unfair trade and World Bank/IMF structural adjustments from investing in its own local economy and paints the Clintons, Paul Farmers, UN, World Bank SaveFrom.net, the NGOs and their three-piece suited Eurocentric-Haiti collaborators with the mark of international distinction and service to humanity, Haiti’s pains will continue to be their cash cow. (Conflict of Interest: World Bank to Rewrite Haiti Mining Law, while Invested in Mining in Haiti, through the IFC.  US mining companies – through the World Bank/IFC – are writing Haiti mining laws to mine Haiti’s 20billion in gold while the people are disenfranchised under the US occupation behind UN guns.)

Again as evidenced in the support of Trayvon Martin family, activists from Chanjem Leson recognise the injustice they face here in Haiti is closely connected to the injustice faced by black youth like Oscar Grant,  Marissa Alexander, Travyon Martin and Jordan Davis.   I would go further in saying that human rights violations in Haiti should also be seen in the context of US human rights violations in Guantanamo, targeted assassinations and drone killings of civilians in Yemen and the harassment of US journalists and their families by US immigration and their allies. It is therefore hardly surprising that the US government doesn’t just close it’s eyes to the gangsta politicians and elites in Haiti, it protects them in so far as it’s main interest is in acquiring Haiti’s natural resources and using cheap labour to drive US and other international corporate interests.

There is presently a call to support Haitian Frontline Defenders – namely the human rights lawyers, their workers and families…

Front Line Defenders fears for the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Patrice Florvilus, DOP staff members and their families in the light of the previous threats against them. Furthermore, Front Line Defenders is concerned at the precedent that the summons may set in undermining the independence of the legal profession

Not a mention of the front-line defenders at the Camp in Delmas 33!   Let their voices be front-line news, their faces circulated so everyone knows who they are.   IReynold Georges has announced on the radio that he will surely remove everyone from  Camp Acra & Adoquin.  It’s hard to imagine anyone including the Mayor of Delmas standing in his way and it’s hard to imagine that 2014 will not mark the end of camps at least the large two in Delmas which sit on prime real estate.

Below are my notes from Saturday’s conversation with Chanjem Leson members.

We are happy the criminal charges against made by Reynold Georges has  been withdrawn and we are thankful to our lawyers especially Patrice Florvilus. But right  now many camps have faced evictions  – in Place Boyer, Champ de Mars, Acra 2, St Pierre, Tabarre and so many others and this is still going on every month there is one camp less.  Where are the people going? Many come to the remaining camps, some to their families and some rent a house if they are lucky to get compensation.  What will happen after that we do not know. We do not want this to happen to us here at Delmas 33.

Reynold George has dropped the charges but we do not think this is the end of the matter as he wants what he is claiming as his land.  Possibly he will go to the courts and try to get an eviction order for the 300 families in the section of the camp he claims is his, then they will have maybe  three months to leave maybe less.   There is a [back] story to this land.  Before the earthquake the land was designated as public by Wilson Jeudy, the Mayor of Delmas. [Note, Jeudy is no friend of camp residents for whom he has shown nothing but disdain.  He has only visited the camp once plus he has been responsible for violent evictions in other camps in Delmas]   He went to court with people who claimed the land was their including Reynold Georges. There was a plan to build a commercial complex  for Delmas on this land.  If the eviction process is successful this will benefit the mayor who may then return to challenging George and others  claiming the land.   As you know the camp is huge and you can imagine what they can do with this land so possibly they will end up fighting each other once they have evicted us but I believe it will be very difficult for  Reynold George to acquire this land.  In the camp at Delmas 40b where there were maybe 9,000 families there are already evictions and I believe some people have received compensation so this eviction threat is a very real one.

As you know we have had a plan including an architect design to provide houses for all the families who wish to go with us. The land was given to us in 2011 but now we are having to fight for this again as the NGO is saying they know nothing about this.  But we have evidence.   Once we have the land we have to find money for the notary then  we have to find an organisation willing to build homes for us on credit.  It is a huge struggle for us.  We will start with 1,500 families or those who are willing to join us.  This is our  focus at this time because we want to leave the camp, we are tired of living in tents.  By January we have been here four years. This is too long and we are all very tired and many of us are getting sicker and there is no employment. The stress is too much.

 

CatchAFyah – Caribbean Feminist Network Call to Action

CatchAFyah has a Call to Action directed at CARICOM across the Caribbean  including organisations in Haiti  [Kouraj, SeroVie] Jamaica, [CVC COIN, Jamaican’s For Justice, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica,]  and Pan Caribbean – [CARIFLAGS,  Caribbean DAWN] denouncing recent transphobic and homophobic acts of violence in the region.  In Haiti two gay men were murdered following a religious anti-gay demonstration and a further 47 gay men were beaten in the past two weeks.

CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network is a collective of young, passionate Caribbean activists and organisations. We span the Caribbean, representing such nations as Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We are farmers, social workers, artists, social entrepreneurs, counsellors, researchers, teachers and students. We believe in everyone’s right to a good life and everyone’s right to be.

CatchAFyah calls on African feminists on the continent and in the African Diaspora to join their Caribbean sisters and brothers to take a position on homophobic and transphobic violence by blogging tweeting sharing whatever  – you can  Sign on to the Call to Action here

Haiti: Missing healthcare on the frontline of HIV

Long before 9/11 and the subsequent incarceration of hundreds of so called “terror suspects” in Guantanamo Bay, thousands of Haitian refugees fleeing the military junta in the early 1990s, were detained on the US base. Many of those were detained because they were suspected of being HIV Positive [+].

The marking of Haitians as carriers of AIDS goes back to the early 1980s when the Center for Disease Control [CDC], identified four high-risk groups, known pejoratively as the 4-H club — “homosexuals, haemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians”.  This was the first time a disease was tied to a nationality but not the first time black bodies have been tied to racist notions of deviance and contagion and of being a threat to whiteness.  [1]

The first documented case of HIV in Haiti was from the Clinique Bon Sauveur in the Central Plateau in 1986. Within two years the clinic had introduced a programme of free testing, counselling, condoms, HIV education and prevention.  By the early 1990s 25% of admissions were related to HIV and by 1995 this had risen to 40%. Two other medical centres have been at the forefront of HIV/AIDs and TB in Haiti; the GHESKIO Centre in Port-au-Prince, a global pioneer in HIV/AIDS research and treatment, and Partners in Health, which has run an extensive preventative and treatment programme for the past 25 years.  Both must take considerable credit for the massive decrease in the HIV+ rate from 9.4% in 1993 to 1.8% in 2011, an estimated 51% of whom are women and 12% children.  Even with the disruption to treatment caused by the January 2010 earthquake the infection rate continued to decrease.

The underlying and most significant contributory factor to both the spread and death from HIV/AIDS and TB in Haiti is not lack of awareness or failure to follow medication regimes as policy officials tend to argue, but life-shortening conditions, that is the material conditions and structural violence under which people become infected.  Paul Farmer writing on Haiti describes structural violence as
……..one way of describing social arrangements that put individuals and populations in harm’s way… The arrangements are structural because they are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world; they are violent because they cause injury to people … neither culture nor pure individual will is at fault; rather, historically given (and often economically driven) processes and forces conspire to constrain individual agency. Structural violence is visited upon all those whose social status denies them access to the fruits of scientific and social progress.[2]

After talking to dozens of patients, nurses, doctors and health officials over the past six months, I am very much aware of the violence of poverty which impacts on people in multiple ways.   Rosi-Ann, Gustave and Emile and their families are just three of millions.

I met activist and youth worker Maxo Gaspard on 31st May during a protest march against the lack of support for cholera victims and the UN’s refusal to admit responsibility.  Maxo is a former restavec and now runs ARDTA,* an organisation working with restavecs, street children and teenage sex workers. Many young girls are trafficked to the Dominican Republic and part of his work is to try to educate families in rural areas on the dangers of giving their children away, and to find homes for the girls.
One of the girls, Rosi-Ann, is 15 years old and lives in the Nazon district of Port-au-Prince [PAP]. Rosi-Ann is a child.  She is beautiful, shy and at first she feels too full of shame to speak.  We spend hours talking; the conversation is slow at first but eventually it breaks free and is interspersed with smiles and laughter as her confidence grows.

Rosi-Ann was a restavec child originally from a poor family near Les Cayes in the south of the country. When she was four her “godmother” brought her to PAP where she suffered 10 years of physical and sexual abuse. About a year ago, Rosi-Ann met another young girl who was already working the streets after her father had died and her mother threw her out. She told Rosi-Ann she should leave her godmother and join her on the streets. Now she lives in a “Chambre Garson” [room or house of men] with a 19-year-old man. She uses the room to work and gives the man some of her earnings. Rosi-Ann says she always wants to use a condom but sometimes the men are violent and beat and / or rape her. She is not HIV+ but is aware of her extreme vulnerability and the repeated vaginal infections, which are often left to fester before being treated, are a warning of what could happen.

The hope is that Maxo can first find a family to care for her and then take her back to her village to search for her family. She knows she has two older sisters but does not know if her mother is still alive as she hasn’t seen her for 10 years. Maxo had a similar experience: he was rescued by someone who came to visit the woman he was working for and ended his misery. Now he wants to do the same for Rosi-Ann. But there are thousands of young girls on the streets of Haiti’s cities and with no support from the government or NGOS, people like Maxo and his colleague Kethia, become despondent.

It’s like looking at a 10ft wall and wondering how to climb to the other side. After so many jumps no one can blame you for giving up.

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Gustav Renaud was born in Port de Paix in the north, not too far from Cap Haitian. He is 30 years old and came to PAP six months ago after falling ill. He lives with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and their three children in Camp Acra at Delmas 33. His mother, Gustave Taliette, was the first to move to PAP two years ago to look for work and was followed a few months later by her son-in-law, Jonas, and then his family; altogether they are seven. The family was given the tent by someone who moved out from the camp. This was better for them as there is no rent to pay. Since arriving Jonas has only managed to find a few weeks’ work here and there and much of the burden for feeding the family has fallen on Mdm Taliette, who occasionally finds work washing clothes in the city.

Like the dust in the camp, hunger is ever present in their lives. There is nothing to do except to sit and sit some more as the day passes into night. The day I first met Gustave he was sitting in front of his tent with his mother and some neighbours. On the ground in front of Gustave’s tent are a few very old dusty shoes and bags laid out for sale on a piece of equally old plastic. They reminded me of a piece of still-life art moulded into the ground.

We were meeting to talk about his TB. However, during the nearly two hours we sat outside his tent, he hardly coughed, although he was visibly very ill. His hair was thinned out, and he was covered in dried sores. He complained of feeling dizzy with headaches, diarrhoea, vomiting and pains in his legs. Gustav said he left his wife and two children in Port-de-Paix because she threw him out when he became sick. I found myself wondering if he was really HIV+ and possibly the TB story was a cover. Since arriving he had been to two hospitals, Petit St Luke in Tabarre and Kings Hospital in Delmas33, but he said he did not know what was wrong with him. Although the consultations were free, patients have to pay for the test results and since he had no money he could not get the results. I asked him why he thought he had TB? “Because I am coughing and I am tired, also my chest hurts.” He had been given some medication but he didn’t know what it was and anyway it was finished and this was months ago. It was difficult to really assess what was happening. I explained to him that in Haiti everyone who has TB is also tested for HIV and asked if he had had either test. He said no, he did not think so.

As we sat and talked neighbours passed by along the narrow path between the tents. Some kept walking, others stopped to listen until asked to please move on. At one point, Mdm Taliette got up and began walking away. A while later I noticed her return with a bucket of water. She then sat down on a bench in front of the adjoining tent and proceeded to undress to her underpants and bathe herself. I watched briefly as she stared straight ahead and despite the circumstances of bathing in the public glare, there remained a dignity and a defiance in her actions. I looked at the others; no one was watching. There is no privacy in the camp. No privacy to speak, not even for a 50-year-old woman to bathe. She must do so in front of her grown son, her son-in-law, neighbours and strangers like me.

Later, Mdm Tailette returned from bathing with a smile and a photo of Gustave taken about a year ago. In the photo he is a tall, 6ft. 5in heavy-set young man, far removed from the wafer-thin, balding, aged person sitting next to me.

I was concerned that Gustave might be HIV+. I asked Gustave, his mother and brother-in-law what they were going to do as clearly he needed to see a doctor quickly. They said they wanted to go to a doctor but they had no money so they had no choice but to sit and wait. No need to wait, I thought, there is Dr Coffee!

036

A few weeks earlier I had gone to meet Dr Megan Coffee, an American infectious disease specialist and a truly amazing woman. She had come to Haiti a few months after the earthquake and stayed. Dr Coffee runs a TB clinic in the grounds of the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti [General Hospital] in downtown PAP. Her clinic consists of three permanent tents laid out on concrete under the glaring 95° degree heat. The first tent is for in-patients, who are extremely sick and near dying of TB and/or HIV+. The middle tent, which is the smallest, is a meagre office consisting of a desk with an assortment of drugs, papers, masks etc; a second desk with more assorted bits and medical files; a camp bed behind a curtain and a wardrobe. There was also a group of four Haitian nurses who are paid by the General Hospital to assist in her clinic.  She volunteers alongside the infectious disease nurse and they survive on donations, as does the clinic. Food for patients is donated by various charities. The third tent, which is really just a piece of tarpaulin giving shade, is for outpatients and family.

This is the only dedicated TB clinic in PAP. On the day of my first visit I arrived around 11am.  There were six people crowded into the small office tent and the one fan blowing hot air did little to relieve the heat. Dr Coffee hadn’t yet arrived so I took the opportunity to speak to the other volunteer, the infectious disease nurse who had been here for a few months. As we spoke she continued to work, emptying the contents of various capsules into a mortar and mixing away. I was fascinated and wondered if this was what chemists do behind pharmacy doors or was this part of the make-shift world of healthcare in Haiti? The nurse explained she was mixing the cocktail of drugs into individual dose bags to make it easier for the patients to take. The bags were for newly discharged out-patients to take home.

Soon Dr Coffee arrived in her usual outfit of long-sleeved t-shirt, overshirt and broad-rimmed hat to protect her from the glaring sun. Patients immediately surrounded her as she spoke in an impressive accented but fluent Kreyol. Eventually with a few minutes to spare she turned her attention to me and I rushed through my interview, not wanting to take time away from very sick people.

The clinic started with just three patients and now treats 800 annually. At present she has 70 bed-patients, four of whom were near death. I asked Dr Coffee what were her biggest challenges?

“Ensuring the patients take their medication. The patients have their own challenges such as food and surviving so I have to stress the pill is their life… missing it will lead to death.”

TB patients burn excessive calories and they need a great deal of food but at the same time they don’t feel the need to eat. Even when they are eating they are still thin. This is additionally problematic when people are hungry and those coming to Dr Coffee’s free clinic are the very poor. One positive system she has managed to create is a “buddy” system where cured patients give back by returning to support sick patients. This could be by helping to exercise patients, helping to feed them or just keeping up their spirits.

Another problem is due to the poor material conditions under which patients live; they wait until they are really ill before attending the clinic, thereby reducing their chances of full recovery.
The majority of sick people I have met over the past six months have been ill for weeks or months before they went to a clinic and often pregnant women will only attend the hospital after they have gone into labour. Even when hospitals are free people are still reluctant to go for fear of being presented with a bill they cannot pay.

I told Gustave and his family about Dr Coffee. I explained she was a TB specialist and all the treatment would be 100% free. All they had to do was to get to the hospital by 10am and she would see them. I explained that he would have a TB and HIV test and then wait and see what happens. Everyone was happy with the suggestion and we said our goodbyes. The next day I learned that Gustave and Jonas had gone to the clinic but were unable to register. I frantically tweeted direct messages to Dr Coffee who responded saying they must return immediately.

This time I decided to go with them. We all met at the hospital and Gustave registered, saw Dr Coffee and had his tests.  It took a few more visits but finally he received the news that he was HIV+ but did not have TB. Now he has transferred from Dr Coffee’s clinic to the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti as an HIV+ patient. At one point he was going to the hospital a couple of times a week. Attending the hospital has been extremely difficult for Gustave. He is weak from the illness which is exacerbated by food insecurity and poor diet. It takes two buses to get to the hospital which costs 100 gds which is 100 less to spend on food for the family. The choice often becomes either the hospital or food to eat. One day he was so weak he collapsed on the street and Jonas had to carry him by motorcycle taxi. At this point it was hard to persuade Gustave to return to the hospital as he said he no longer cared if he died.

If Gustave was HIV+ then it was very possible his wife was also positive and possibly their three-year-old son. When I asked him whether he had told his wife, he replied she was positive and she had been taking medication even before their son was born, who is also positive.  However, he continued to insist that he did not know he, too, was HIV+.  His wife remains in Port-de-Paix so there is no way for me to follow up on her and the baby’s present health status.

Emile Charles is 16 years old and is HIV+. His whole family have died of AIDS-related illnesses. First his younger sister, then his mother and finally his father. I had seen Emile many times during my visits to the workshop at Delmas 33. He was one of the many young boys and girls who made the shoes and jewellery for the camp shop. I was told he might be HIV + and may also have TB as he was coughing a great deal. He is a thin, intense young man with a soft, gentle, inquisitive face. He doesn’t smile often but when he does, it’s like a burst of light.

Emile’s family were from Hinche in central Haiti. He is not sure but thinks he was six when his father died and he came to live with his uncle in PAP. His uncle did not allow him to play with his own children and Emile had his own food utensils. In 2008 or 2009 he became very ill and was taken to hospital where he ended up spending a year. As a minor, Emile’s uncle would have been told his status and it would be up to him to inform the child. He did not do this. After he was released from hospital he was given a patient card, medication and an appointment. But his uncle never took him back and soon after that Emile was adopted by a neighbour, Jean-Louis [Elie] Joseph who is now one of the main organisers of the Chanjem Leson movement at Camp Acra.

Elie had complained to the uncle about his treatment of Emile and in the end the uncle told him to take the boy but he did not tell Elie about Emile’s medical history. Soon after Emile moved in with Elie and his wife Esther, the earthquake happened and they all moved to Camp Acra.   Emile was constantly sick and at one point was very ill with what Elie believed was shingles. It seems that everyone involved suspected Emile was HIV+ but no one made a decision to take him for a test, the main concern being cost.
At the time I formally met Emile he had again become ill with fever and night coughs. It was at this point that the uncle, who also lives in the camp, finally told Elie that Emile’s family had all died of AIDS-related illnesses and Emile told us he had spent a year in GHESKIO hospital so it made sense for him to return there and continue his treatment. However the hospital had no record of him ever being a patient.

To understand some of the confusion — how was a six or eight-year-old child supposed to know which hospital he had attended, how long he had stayed or what medication he was given? The uncle, possibly not wanting people to know about his nephew’s status, was not forthcoming with information. Despite the decrease in HIV/AIDS and increase in awareness and prevention, there remains a high level of stigma around the illness. Eventually Emile’s guardians found out he had been in a hospital run by nuns in Delmas 18 but the uncle could not remember the name.

By this time four weeks had passed and Emile’s health was deteriorating rapidly. Soon after I received a text message from my interpreter, Serge Supre, saying he was going to Delmas 18 to try to find out the name of the hospital and to collect Emile’s records so they could treat him again or refer him to the Hopital l’Universite d’Etat d’Haïti. The hospital turned out to be run by the Sisters of Mercy of Mother Teresa fame. But it was not a good ending.

The overall context in which Gustave and Emile are trying to live with their illnesses is compounded by the general insecurity and fear in the camp itself. In April someone claiming to be the owner of the land threatened to burn down the camp unless everyone left. The following day a fire broke out in one section which everyone took as a warning. Camp residents reported the fire and threats to the police who said there was nothing they could [would] do. They then decided to protest against the threats and lack of police action during which two men were arrested and one died in custody. Chanjem Leson activists worked with the family of the deceased and reported the police in question to the Inspector General of Police. Since then they have faced daily phone threats from unknown men, including repeated night visits to their tents.

The whole camp is nervous and fearful of being evicted at any moment. Emile’s adoptive parents, Elie Joseph and Esther Pierre have gone into hiding and he is being cared for by Esther’s cousin Serge Supre. Serge is unemployed except for the little he earns from interpreting, and worries about how he will pay for his 18-year-old daughter to finish high school. Regular evictions have begun to take place around the city and each night people go to sleep wondering if this will be their last. This has also meant disruptions to the small craft and art workshop and the school.

Gustave has started ARVs and although the family is happy with his treatment they want more than anything to return to Port-de-Paix – “if we have to be hungry better to be hungry at home than in PAP!”
For the first few weeks Gustave responded positively to the medication and even planned to find work and try to visit his wife and children. However over the past two weeks he has deteriorated, becoming aggressive, removing his clothes and disappearing for days and worst of all, he has stopped taking his medication. The stress of caring for him has taken its toll on his family especially his mother for whom this is one burden too many.

For the past month, Rosi-Ann has stopped working and is being treated for a vaginal infection whilst staying with her youth worker Kethia. The plan is for her to travel to Les Cayes with Kethia and Maxo to begin the search for her family but going home brings with it another set of problems. Recently Maxo returned two teenager sex-workers to their families in Jeremie but their families are extremely poor. Millions of Haitians, especially in rural areas, are without food and adequate shelter and the chances of the young girls staying is in the balance – will they stay and remain hungry or try to return to the city forced again to sell their precious bodies? Altogether there are nine girls waiting to return to their families.

Statistics tell us the numbers of people living with HIV and dying of AIDS / TB in Haiti has decreased dramatically over the past 10 years due to a policy directed at prevention based on education and increased access to treatment. But there are other realities excluded from official reports and statistics. Rosi-Anne, Gustav and Emile, and millions like them, are forced to struggle to receive the most basic healthcare. Emile has spent two months trying to get treatment and he’s still waiting. It is hard to say no one cares and even though I have followed him through the repeated hurdles and I know we, his family and his friends care, but without money and without agency people like Emile and his family are regularly treated with disdain. You attend the hospital and people don’t even look you in the face, preferring to watch TV or chat with their colleagues. People treated as “expendable non-persons”!
And Emile is doing badly. The hospital run by the Sisters of Mercy is now in Carrefour but they refused to see Emile because “his uncle gave trouble”. Serge tried to appeal to their “mercy” but in vain…

“They said they will do something for the poor but they cannot help Emile because his uncle brought trouble. I would like to know who are the poor – are we not poor, is Emile not poor and sick and a child? Something must be done for him. He cries at night and I don’t know what to do. On Monday I will return to GHESKIO and hope they will help. If not we have to go back to Dr Coffee.”

Emile didn’t get to GHESKIO. Through a “friend of a friend” he is now waiting for an appointment at Dikini hospital in Kafou where they receive HIV+ patients. I hope he finally gets the treatment he needs.

UPDATE: After visits to numerous hospitals and clinics in PAP, with the help of Dr Coffee, Emile finally started on ARVs at the end of September 2013. He is still very ill but we are hopeful he will be included in a special programme for orphaned children to receive food, school fees and text books.

1] A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo: Legacies of US Imprisonment of Haitian Refugees, 1991-1994”  published in Radical History Review Issue 15 /Winter 2013].
2] Castro, Arachu and Paul Farmer, “Infectious Disease in Haiti” EMBO Reports 2003.
[3] ARDTA – Asosyasyon Respekte Dwa Timoun – Ans Wouj [Association for the Respect for the Rights of Children]
* I have changed the names of Emile and Rosi-Ann because they are minors.

 

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

“what a friend we have in jesus” by Mark Jacobs

 

What a Friend we have in Jesus, by Mark Jacobs
The only thing a lot of us know about Haiti is that in many instances, were it not for Haiti, Guyana would be the worst place in the Caribbean. And that Haiti is supposed to be a pretty depressing place with voudou.

A minority of us might know about the Haitian revolution and so on, but it does not mean much to those of us who are not really interested in revolting.

Mark Jacobs was born and raised in Guyana and went to live and work in Haiti and this book of 17 pieces of writing show insights into Haiti which might still leave us not having any different views of Haiti.

This is probably the first book ever written by a Guyanese about their own travels in the Caribbean (and the diaspora) – and it is refreshing that Mark Jacobs seeks to put this Guyanese visitor gaze on Haitian life. So often people have come to Guyana and written about their time here, that it is a relief to see this reversed gaze (One day we might get best sellers who return to India and to United Kingdom and USA and write those nice kind of patronising travelogues).

The first story is ‘black woman and child’.. Mark writes about black woman in Haiti and in Guyana beating/threatening to beat a child. In ‘madame’ about love Guyana style with Haitian overtones. The other vignettes (I cannot find a better word) are short incisive reflections, moments in time about the experiences in Haiti.. about police who beat people and police who give people a lift on the road ; about magic and about reality. Some of the stories are funny, but the laughter is a kind of alternative reaction to anger . Creole and Kweyol are used to tell the stories and there is no insistence on correct English or French or Creole.

The last story, with its irony though.. is a bit of history.. about God, the loving and suffering Christ who died on the cross (as many of the slaves were probably thought they had to suffer too and accept their lot since heaven was waiting). The litany “the god of the slaver is not to the god of the slave” is repeated in the end of this book and I remember the Easter Sunday 7am service with the Pastor talking about how the youth rebelling (and remembering the middle finger protests ) and then in the same sermon Pastor trying to remind the congregation that the people laid down their robes and so on in protest at the Romans for Jesus to come in riding on his donkey. But in Haiti and in Guyana, saviours come in air conditioned SUVs with dark tinted windows.

Growing Haiti – Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.

Growing Haiti is a South-South collaboration which focuses on strengthening Haitian women and families via sustainable micro gardening initiatives.   With the support of friends and family, Mark Jacobs- a Guyanese farmer, writer, and educator has been working with Haitian people growing vegetables and other sustainable agriculture related initiatives. One of the main focus is income generation from selling excess produce. The second is training in sustainable urban [micro] gardening including working with children in schools and neighborhoods.
School garden, Port-au-Prince
Building raised beds for planting
Getting ready for the market
In Guyanese Creolese or Haitian Kreyol, the message is the same: Love and liberation- yesterday, today, and forever. Wan wan dutty build dam. Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li. Little by little, the bird builds its nest.

Occasional Musings – 12, tap taps, okada and guns

I’m visiting Florida for a couple of weeks, and if I am to be honest, I needed a break to get my bearings and to refresh my energy.  PAP is sapping of energy:  heat, noise, people, market – here its difficult to know who occupies the greater number, buyers or sellers.   Every few yards women and men stand  in groups each group selling the same item – onions, bags, pens, avocados.   If I shut my eyes I could be in Lagos or Port Harcourt, everyone is on a hustle, a struggle.   My own personal  nemesis is the Tap Tap.   I try to sit on the edge seat, exposed to blazing heat stuck in the blokese [go slow, jam,] for hours but at least I am not squashed between two elbows and backsides at least as large as my own. .Now I’m away I can admit to becoming frustrated, jumping out and catching an okada [motorcycle taxi]. My most traveled journey is the couple of miles from Frere junction to Penier where I have become so familiar to the Frere drivers, they call me “Penier Ven Sis”.
The dangers of this form of transport were evident when one crashed into a truck I was traveling in.  Neither the driver or passenger fell off but I know for sure I would have gone flying.   One thing PAP has taught me is that I have no balance.    On another occassion a family member  returned with cuts and bruises after a crash in which she fell off the bike.  Still the calling is too great when faced with the choice of arriving in 10 minutes versus 90 minutes. Whatever bumps and dust I experience is better than been squashed and burned in the midday sun. I do try whenever possible to take the Tap Tap front seat.  For this one needs to dress appropriately so the driver notices you whether out of pity or becuase he believes you a potential attractive proposition.  Alternatively, and my preference, is to  take control and assertively open the door with a bonjour or bonsoir and climb in.   Even here you run the risk of having to share your seat with one other person though not quite as bad as sitting in the back.    If I had the money and the courage I would buy my own scooter or bike and have the freedom to roam, weaving in and out of traffic at will.   Really thats a fantasy, there are too many steep hills for me to brave motorcycling the streets. Even as a passenger I am fearful of some journeys,  so lacking confidence in gravity,  its difficult to know which is more frightening, going uphill or downhill.
Still I miss PAP, solidarity house, the family and look forward to returning at the end of the month.  The night before I left a friend visited to say goodbye and as we sat down he asked a profound question.  How optimistic was I about Haiti?  I thought for a while and I guess I took too long because he interrupted my thoughts with “I’m not optimistic” “We’re are near finished”.  I know what he means.  The popular masses had their moment in the 80s and 90s when Lavalas was indeed a revolutionary flood but things are different now.  USAID, Clinton and their Haitian puppets are busy consolidating their power.  Many of the  missions and NGOs have gone or stripped down to the bare bones. Those that remain maintain control of their sector which does not include the poor neighbourhoods.  Millions of PAP residents are not even on the margins, they are forgotten, hidden from view in Cite Soleil, Carrefour, Jalouzi or in camps on the outskirts of town or off the dusty beaten paths.  Yes there are pockets of support – the odd clinic staffed by 10 people and catering to 50,000 is so far off the needs that its hardly worth mentioning except for those that can attend it is literally a life saver.
One visible sign that raises alarm bells along with the presence of police armed with automatic rifles, the ubiquitous  security guard also armed with automatic weaponry. MINUSTAH automatic weapons, trucks, tanks. Police Nationale d’Haïti  pistols, rifles, batons, para military. Private Security – rifles, sticks, iron rods
Every gas station has at least two guards and of course those shops, grocery stores, cafes, hotels frequented by middle class Haitians and foreigners.  The presence of these forces give us the impression we are in the midst of  danger. Watch as three or four people gather on the street and within minutes the police will intervene, so assembly in public becomes a  de facto civil disorder.  Granted these exist in other countries but Haiti’s uniqueness lies with the concerted government policy to disenfranchise and exclude the popular masses from society and governance.
It’s the private security that I find most worrisome given the history of the para military in Haiti [See Jeb Sprague: "Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti"].  Questions such as Who runs these companies?  What kind of training to officers have?   I am told ex Haitian military,  Duvalierists, or Haitian elite – are all three in one. Are these private security firms really militias in the making to be used against the popular masses?  Or is this just a business strategy whereby  the threat of violence is being hyped up to encourage businesses to employ armed security?   I grew up surrounded by guns.  I am used to living under military governments with armed soldiers on the streets, at checkpoints, in doorways and markets.  I do not feel  intimidated by armed men of the state on my streets but I am wary and  I certainly don’t feel safer.
Yesterday Thatcher died – people sang and danced on the streets of Brixton, rather perverse but I had a quiet drink myself to the 80s, the women and black and brown folks who sank into deeper poverty, the miners, the workers movements decimated, public housing sold off so that today millions more are homeless and jobless, support of apartheid and thats for starters.  Bottom line – Good Riddance, she’s dead the rest of us are still living the price of her actions!
 In months to come expect to hear more of the “Haiti is Rising” “Haiti is open for Business” [see "Africa is Open for Business, Rising" for what to expect] etc etc – there are more Porsche  Cayanne’s on the streets of Petion-Ville today than three years ago.  There are now at least 6 new multi millionaires in Haiti since 2010! Possible investigative reporting project – how much money has been made by independent contractors and Haitian businessmen as a result of the earthquake and disappearing aid money.

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.

Haiti: No Doctor Available

In writing this piece I searched the internet for definitions of ‘access’ and came up with a range of gobbledygook that really says nothing.  So I came up with my own simple definition in relation to healthcare for poor and low income women.    It has to be free or minimal cost;  it has to be located in the neighbourhood; it must be  community focused;  it has to provide a range of services;  it has to have a referral system for specialist care which is also free and or minimal cost; it has to be welcoming and patient orientated;  it has to provide primary health care including education on reproductive health, sexual health, maternal health, nutrition and mental health support.

Unfortunately this is an ideal which probably doesn’t exist anywhere in the global south with the exception of the two pariahs of global capitalism, Cuba and Venezuela. It isn’t that Haiti is exceptional, its most certainly is not.   According to a recent Ted X talk quoted in ThoughtLeader,  – one new born baby dies every 10 seconds which is 10,000 babies a day. Every day some 800 women die in pregnancy or giving birth and 10 million a year, suffer from injury and or infection.  It’s the normalcy of death at the time of birth for women in Haiti and elsewhere which is most shocking.

Contrary to some media reports Haiti is far from being on the road to recovery.  Stories of camps being shut down, people being rehoused, factories opening, and a general air of what the President calls ‘Open for Business” are greatly exaggerated.  Behind the new factories there is a struggle for fair wages,  decent accommodation and healthcare.  There are struggles for compensation for land seized as people are left destitute without a means to make a living.  Cholera remains an emergency whilst the level of healthcare provision decreasing.

No amount of paintwork and covering of the structural and systemic cracks can hide the truth.  Over the past few months I have spoken to dozens of people, visited clinics and hospitals, observed patient / doctor visits, witnessed medical crisis and listened to the stories  told to me  by nurses, community organizers, and patients, most of whom are from the community of Jalouzi and Camp Acra in Delmas 33, as well as Haitian health officials and staff of Medicines Sans Frontier [MSF]

Jalouzi is a hillside neighborhood of about 200,000 people overlooking lower Petion-Ville.  Although it was not damaged by the earthquake many of the residents were still affected from being in other areas of the city in those moments.  It is accessible from two roads, one at the top and one below.  The view from the top is stunning. From here you can see  Port-au-Prince [PAP]looking east to the sea and north to the mountains.  You can also see clearly the newly built Clinton Oasis luxury hotel and of course those guests in rooms facing the mountain can see Jalouzi.   Jalouzi is one of those cracks which must be painted over and I am told this is being done through the curtesy of one of the newly opened Petion-Ville supermarkets who it is rumoured are painting the hillside houses.  The government may not feel it imperative to provide healthcare for the the poor but it is prudent to paint their houses, so at least from a distance, everything looks oh so quaint.

The only way to travel  through Jalouzi is by foot through a series of alley ways and narrow paths of gravel, stones or the occasional step, and for those like myself who are challenged by gravel and stones on slopes, difficult to negotiate.  The promised building of new steps has begun but is proving a slow process.  I am with Flaurantin Marie Anise, a community activist and founder of Le Phare [the light] which works with the most vulnerable women in the neighbourhood.  We had driven to the top so she could she could walk me down the hillside neighbourhood.  Flaurantin lives midway, where in addition to her home she has a small meeting room and clinic for dispensing over the counter medication.  She also runs a kiosk on the lower Jalouzi road and is the Jalouzi coordinator for Fam SOPUDEP an Aksyon [FASA]. 

It took us over an hour to walk down the hillside, largely due to my constant stumbles and fear of breaking a limb or two and needing rest periods from the associated anxiety.  Once down we had another 20 minutes walk to the FASA shop where we relaxed with sodas and warm bread.

There are no clinics in Jalouzi and the nearest truly free hospitals, are between 1 and 2 hours away by public transport and foot.   The nearest emergency maternity center is the Centre de Référence en Urgences Obstétricales (CRUO) run by MSF [1].    Most babies in Jalouzi are delivered either by the 150 Matwons living in the neighbourhood or women like Flaurantin who have no formal training but are regularly called to help with childbirth and other medical emergencies.  As we sat and discussed the difficulties of negotiating the hillside in a medical emergency we heard a commotion outside on the street and seconds later two men rushed into the shop carrying a pregnant woman.  Flaurantin immediately ushered them to the rear and brought out a stretcher for the woman who looked in her 50s and  appeared weak and confused.   She made no sound as if her body did not have the energy even to cry out.  Her breasts which should have been heavy were soft and clung to her chest.   A large sheet was found to provide some privacy as Flaurantin eased on  rubber gloves and proceeded to examine her.  She determined she had a few hours to go so it was decided to try to get her to the MSF CRUO hospital in Delmas 33. This required her being carried up a steep path, then across Petion-Ville into a tap tap taxi for a journey of about 40 minutes, then a further tap tap before reaching the MSF hospital.  She was lucky, her child, a boy was delivered safely and the two are now back home.

Everyone I have spoken to in PAP on health issues always mentions and speaks highly of MSF so I decided to visit the CRUO at Delmas 33 which opened two years ago. The hospital, a free emergency referral center for the whole of  PAP, admits  pregnant women who are “gravely ill’.   The MSF maternity project has a six year history which began in at the Maternity Judan Hospital in Delmas 18 and was open to any pregnant woman who was sick.  This was the first truly free hospital in PAP.  Although public hospitals are designated as free, in reality patients have to pay for medication, drips, sometimes even gloves and consultation.

“Before being admitted the hospital will present you with a list of things you have to buy but sometimes you buy everything but they don’t give you what you bought. For example there is a hospital ‘Community hospital’ which is cheaper than a private hospital but this hospital is very expensive. When you arrive they give you a prescription which you pay for but you never see all the drugs.   I was very upset as my brother was sick and I paid a lot of money but I don’t know what they did with the money I paid. “ [Resident]

Because the MSF was free, women from all over the city were attending the clinics and eventually they had to introduce specific criteria for admissions. They also moved to a new larger location near the airport which was called ‘Lopital Solidarity ‘.  The earthquake destroyed the hospital and two years ago  they moved to their present location where they only receive pregnant women who are in ill with complications like Eclampsia which is extremely common.

The nurses and women in Jalouzi had explained that Eclampsia was probably the most common pre-natal complication, an acute life-threatening illness which in its final stages causes convulsions followed by death.  Eclampsia develops from untreated high blood pressure, and is entirely preventable with proper pre-natal care.   Because of costs and other poverty related access problems including a lack of education on what services are available and where, many women do not attend pre-natal clinics therefore  illnesses including hypertension cannot be detected.  With poor nutrition, hunger, lack of clean water and repeated pregnancies due to marital rape,  lack of access to healthcare information, pregnancy becomes a life threatening condition.  But as one resident explained, everyone in Jalouzi is living in a life threatening environment as there is no emergency service.

“Last Saturday a neighbour of mine died.  She had an asthma attack but we could not find a way to bring her to a hospital.  I have been traumatized this past three days as this woman died in my presence because there is not even a clinic here. There is no emergency service here.  These kinds of emergency deaths are happening all the time.

Even now across the street there is a woman who is in a bad condition vomiting and we do not know what we can do. ” [Pastor Remy]

There is an emergency ambulance service operating in PAP [115/116] and some of the women had tried using it but never managed to get a response and even if they did they still had to get up or down the hill without proper steps and pathways.  Flaurantin explains one response from a doctor and from 116.

“ A woman was near to delivery and I called the doctor. He told me to give the woman Buscopan but I could not.  So I called the emergency 611 but they said they were in Carrefour and could not come now.   I managed to find some people to carry the woman up the hill and we took a tap tap to MSF CURO at Delmas 33.   The service is a good idea but there is not enough, they need more before they can call it a service for PAP. When we arrived the doctors told us the woman was very sick with high blood pressure and eclampsia. ”

As I understand it Buscopan is a drug to reduce muscle spasms of the gastrointestinal tract and according to my google search not recommended for pregnant women.  A strange medication to suggest to a woman in labour and disturbing disregard for patients.

The reliance on CURO and MSF  across the city was enormous.  The MSF manager of CURO* explained that the capacity in the public health system did not extend to  more complicated illnesses which is where MSF is now focused.  Nonetheless he admitted that it was not always easy in an extreme situation to define ‘emergency’.   The risk factors designated as emergency complications by MSF ranged from  multiple partners [increasing risks of STIs], poverty [poor nutrition and food security],  and age related risks, that is girls under 16 who were rape victims and are referred by MSF France which runs a programme to support rape victims in Cite Soleil.  And cholera remains a significant health issue so much so that MSF has a dedicated cholera facility at the emergency center as well as a separate hospital.  On a positive note MSF is predominantly staffed by Haitian doctors, nurses as well as auxiliary staff and most importantly is staffed 24 hours a day.   The day I visited there were three sets of tiny premature twins who were being cared for under a system called “Kango” where the baby is placed skin to skin on the mother’s stomach.  The very premature babies were in incubators and their mothers were allowed to stay until they reached full term weight which could be as long as three months.  On average they deliver 600 ‘at most risk’ babies per month.

In addition to  the risk factors mentioned by MSF,  women complained that quite often there were no doctors available in the public hospitals, a fact supported by a health official I spoke with.

“Sometimes there are no doctors or they have no medicine or there is no electricity. Sometimes it is all of these.” [Anon official]

Another pediatrician described the General Hospital and other public hospitals  as ‘very sick’ often decrepit with no anesthesia, no ER and no supervision.  Both Rea Dol and Flaurantin Ansie spoke of their experiences of being turned away from hospital during labour because there was no doctor.  Flaurantin explains as follows

“ I took a pregnant woman to one of the hospitals the Ministry of Health said we can use free of charge. When we arrived, the hospital told us we have to pay 4,500 goudes and if it is a complicated birth then it’s 10,000 goudes.  I told them they are thieves because it is supposed to be free for poor women.   I then took the lady to Petit Frere near Tabarre where she gave birth.”

“In another case a woman had a breech baby but by the time I arrived the baby had died.  I was not able to deliver the baby so I took the woman to the hospital.  They said there was no doctor.  I went to another hospital and again I was told no doctor.  I then took the lady and laid her on the street and covered her.  She was in labour even though the child was dead.  I stood up on the street and said who will help this woman.  I blocked a passing car and asked the driver, a man to  look  at this woman.   So he drove us to Delmas 18 MSF where they accepted the woman and gave her the treatment she needed. “

Another woman reported going to five hospitals when she was ready to deliver and being repeatedly refused until she found one that was willing and able to accept her.  Women also reported that many private hospitals refuse emergency patients if they cannot pay and in one instance a woman was turned away because she was short of 100gdes and later died.   The family sued and the hospital ended up having to pay US$36,000 in compensation.

MSF is not the only medical NGO used by Jalouzi residents. St Luc and Petit Frere et Soeur in Tabarre are also free but are even further away than the MSF facility.   However many of the faith based hospitals have come under threat as the Haitian government makes it more and more costly for them to operate by for example having to pay astronomical sums for importation of drugs and other medical equipment.  Some of the nurses I spoke with said their salaries had already been cut by  as much as 19% and there were threats of redundancies in nursing and administrative staff plus a reduction of beds in some of the hospitals.

Because these are the only entirely free hospitals and generally with good care, they are over subscribed serving hundreds of thousands. Any reduction in services would entirely undermine the already inadequate health service for the majority of PAP residents.

As one health official put it to me – for the rich, Miami can as well be included as part of Haiti’s healthcare provision.  The time it takes to fly to Miami International and drive to Memorial Hospital is probably less than the average waiting time of between 5 and 7 hours at any of the free hospitals.  But for most other people just getting to hospital is physically exhausting not to mention being sick at the same time.

[1] In PAP, MSF has the following medical centers in addition to CRUO;  2 MSF general emergency hospitals,  1 emergency stabilization center and 1 emergency Cholera response.

Interviews conducted with nurses from various public, private and faith based hospitals in PAP.  The nurses wished to remain anonymous.

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

BAYAKOU: – Why I’m talking shit & cholera on World Water Day*

We are born, we eat, we shit. And so it continues till at the end we  pass on. We talk about birth, about maternal health, choices we have or don’t have on birthing methods, on reproductive rights.  We most definitely talk a great deal about food which if you stand on most streets and look around, seems to be in abundance even though in Haiti and other parts of the global south, millions,  are food insecure, an easy to manage way of saying at risk of  death from hunger.

The Silence

But when it comes to shit, there is silence.  Where does it go, how is it removed, what happens to it.  In this instance I am talking about Haitian shit but shit is shit as they say. The only difference from country to country is what happens to it after we have, at least metaphorically, flushed the toilet.  I don’t know where Haiti falls in the hierarchy of shit management, say compared to my own country Nigeria which I don’t think  is that great.  I suspect that most of the global south remains challenged by  sanitation as well as food and water.

We know that in certain situations shit can kill and the poorer you are the more likely you could die of a shit related illness CHOLERA is a prime example, so shit is a poverty issue and a class issue.  We know there are issues of privacy, access to ‘toilets’ especially at night and sexual violence in unlit densely populated urban areas, so shit is also a gender issue. We know that some people risk physical violence or are refused entry into toilets such as a proposed ban in Arizona where transgender people would not have the rights to choose the toilet of their choice so shit is also a transgender issue. With shit playing such a prominent part in our lives, why is what happens to it so mysterious?

In 2009  DINEPA [1] was created to take control of the management of water and sanitation in Haiti.  Prior to that, the management of water  was minimal with little regulation.  Various initiatives had been created in the past such as  CAMEP, set up by Francois Duvalier in the 1960s and much later the neighbourhood water committees created during President Jean-Bertrand’s first presidency.  Sanitation management though was close to zero.  The earthquake changed everything though not for everyone!  There are still only 6 people to service the sanitation needs of 10 million people. Seriously how is that possible?

2010 Earthquake

The earthquake changed everything because at that point water and sanitation became a crisis issue which was again taken to another level with the October 2010 outbreak of cholera.  The cholera outbreak  has now been proved to be a direct result of  cholera infected shit from a UN camp being introduced into the Artibonite River which is a source of water for thousands who live in the area.  8,000 people have died from Cholera – a shit and water related bacterial infection. Thousands of children were made orphans during the earthquake and more thousands have been orphaned through cholera.  Families left destitute as the main breadwinner has died from cholera.  Shit kills!

Since the 2010 earthquake the role of DINEPA has become more crucial as it forms a major part in the management of the prevention of cholera and other illness.  This is done through its camp monitoring work consisting of : Data collection – information gathering of water, sanitation and hygiene; municipal coordination mechanism which analyses data – water supplies, number of working toilets, desludging [nice word for shit removal].  All of these are crucial in a country with a cholera epidemic that could get out of control at any given moment particularly as the rains begin next month.  The danger was put to me by Oliver Schulz of MSF

 “My personal fear is that things will get worse before they get better.  The structures are weaker today than in 2011/2012.   Every year the structures deteriorate.  There is no plan for cholera and without a WHO supported comprehensive national health care plan with clear directives, clear action plans and milestones then it will not get better. Also many of the big agencies have left and there are too many unknown NGOs, charities and faith groups”

Crisis of Cholera

At this moment, cholera is a crisis.  Access to clean water is a crisis and sanitation levels are a crisis.  The refusal to see these as crisis is a major contribution to the crisis itself.  Despite these crises the United Nations which has refused to receive the claims of Haitian cholera victims for compensation claiming immunity  under the UN’s 1946 Convention is suggesting that 99% of the cholera elimination programme  be funded by the private sector.  Read Haitians will have to pay and pay hard for clean water and sanitation. As one official said to me, private companies are always ready to cut corners for profit so you cannot trust them.    The Haitian government and its partners in exploitation – The Clintons, USAID, Canada, France, Corporations,  have two solutions for Haiti and neither have the interest of the popular masses who make up 80% of the population.  The first is charity which is invariably unsustainable and merely papering the gaps.  The second is to privatize Haiti so even the supply of water becomes an opportunity to profit from earthquakes and disease.

Removing the shit

To return to the shit situation, there are two ways of desludging, mechanical and manual.  The former uses a truck with a pump which extracts the shit from the septic tank which if you can afford it, is made of blocks and cement.  This is the system I grew up with in Nigeria and remains the way it is done.  The shit is then removed  but no one ever  talks about where the shit goes.   In Haiti the mechanized method is also used in the camps. In Port-au-Prince [PAP] the pumped  shit is taken to one of two newly built treatment plants.  The plants provide 500 cubic meters for 500,000 people which means the two plants are only meeting treatment needs of 1/3rd of PAP’s population.   Although the camps have the benefit of a mechanized system the rest of the city does not.  And here lies one of the problems. The post earthquake crisis has meant the focus for water provision and sanitation [as well as rape and other forms of sexual violence] has been concentrated on the camps leaving millions living in poor neighbourhood with minimal or no support.

However the majority of desludging is done manually in the depth of the night by BAYAKOU  - men who literally stand in the pits and remove the shit.   Unfortunately rather than get respect for doing the worst job imaginable,  Bayakou’s are stigmatized which might be why they work at night.  Once exposed, they are often victims of violence so very often they live secret double  lives.  Bayakou’s  do not live long.  Imagine you are in the pit and cut yourself, the wound soon becomes infected plus your liver is compromised after regularly drowning yourself in alcohol to remove the smell and taste.  BAYAKOU are unregulated and no one asks where the shit goes.   The government has been trying to formalize manual desludging and provide the men with proper protective clothing and regulate the disposal and to some extent this has been started in the Cap.  But when there is so much anti-shit bias where no one wants to discuss any aspect of shit management, it is a slow process.

SHIT is the dark side of life, and until it is cool to brag about how my shit is removed and treated or recycled and used for compost or we begin to look at shit as a health issue, change will be slow.  Along with access to clean affordable drinking water, management of shit are central to healthcare and the prevention of cholera.

The Last Word – The UN is responsible for Cholera

The NGOs and International aid agencies came and now most of them have left.  Many of those that remain are scaling down their services of water, sanitation, healthcare provision.   DINEPA itself is now sure how long it will be fully funded and inevitably something or someone will loose and it wont be the UN or the private sector.  To quote Oliver Schulz again there is simply no plan.

In the hope of obtaining justice and reparations for the thousands of cholera victims, the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux [BAI] and Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti [IJDH] filed a groundbreaking suit against the UN on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims.  In addition to insisting on accountability the suit  demands that the UN

  • Install a national water and sanitation system that will control the epidemic;
  • Compensate for individual victims of cholera for their losses; and
  • Issue a public apology from the United Nations for its wrongful acts.
After the demands were dismissed by the UN Haitian Civil Society will proceed with their campaign to for the UN to meet their demands.   In a joint action CSOs, released the following press statement on Cholera in Haiti in which they  demanded the UN pay reparations for the 8,000 dead; demanded the UN / MINUSTAH admits to its responsibility in introducing Cholera;  develop a sustainable programme with consultation from the population for elimination of cholera; Present an apology to the Haitian people worthy of  the greatness and pride of the First Independent Black Republic in the free world

Par devant cette situation inacceptable, nous, AUMOHD, Erzili DLO, BAI, Batay Ouvriye, SOFEJH, CCDH, FEHATRAP et des d’Organisations de la Société Civile, des Organisations populaires, des Organisations des victimes comptons lancer un appel à la mobilisation générale et de faite lançons un appel patriotique, humanitaire et de dignité au nom du PEUPLE Haïtien à l’ensemble de la population mondiale pour :

1.- Forcer aux autorités Onusiennes/MINUSTAH de RECONNAITRE leur faute relative au cholera en Haïti.

2.- Réparer dignement les 8.000 victimes et autres

3.- Eradiquer de manière réaliste avec la participation citoyenne l’épidémie du cholera en Haïti

4.- Présenter au Peuple Haïtien des excuses dignes de sa grandeur et de sa fierté de la Première République Nègre libre et Indépendante du monde.

There will be a protest march to  the UN / MINUSTAH headquarters at 10am – starting at ‘Carrefour l’Aéroport to the l’Aéroport route and UN HQ.

 

 

[1] National Directorate for Water Supply and Sanitation in the Ministry of Public Works

*The blog post is based on a series of conversations over the past two months with MSF staff, human rights lawyer, water and sanitation official, camp and neighbourhood residents.  The conversations are ongoing.

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

Women’s History Month – Olive Morris and Black Women of London

I first came to London in the mid 1980s so no, I don’t remember Olive Morris and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) took place in the early 80s just before I arrived. Olive Morris was a founding member of OWAAD and part of the Brixton Black Panther Party.

Olive Morris

Olive Morris was a key figure in Lambeth’s local history. She worked with the Black Panther movement; set up Brixton Black Women’s Group, was a founder member of The Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) and was central to the squatter campaigns of the 1970s. She died tragically young in 1979 at age 27.

The aim of this weblog is to create a collective portrait of Olive Morris, bringing together the personal memories of those who knew her, and publishing online information and materials relating to her life and work. Lambeth Council has one of its main buildings named after her and yet there is very little information about Olive Morris that is publicly available, especially on the Internet.

By the mid 80s police racial harassment along with the “sus — stop and search” laws contributed to the Brixton riots of 1981 and 1985; the Handsworth riots of 81 and 85 and Broadwater Farm riot in 1985.  For me the mid 1980s marked the beginning of  my awakening with the now historic community organizing from Camden Black Sisters, Camden Black Parents and Teachers Group and Camden Black Workers. None of us had heard of ‘intersectionality but thats what we were all living in our daily struggles across race, sexual orientation, gender, class. We read Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Bell Hooks, Zora Neale Hurston,  and much more.    We walked in solidarity with  our sisters and brothers in South Africa and Grenada, with miners and other unions being torn apart by Thatcher.  We struggled  against  police harassment especially  - stop and search of Black  youth, the institutional racism in our schools leading to the exclusion and pathologizing  of our children,  and for our rights in the work place.     Now most of us have dispersed to various parts of the world, our children grown, our lives moved in new directions but all of US were brave.

Camden Black Sisters is part of Black Women’s History in Britain, the sisters themselves are part of  the black struggle in history. I too am part of that history and I celebrate myself for coming this far.

 

 

 

Haiti – Cholera still an emergency issue

From Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) a report on the deplorable condition of cholera related healthcare in four departments in Haiti.   Part of the problem is that increasingly over the past 18 months cholera has been downgraded to a ‘development’ issue rather than an emergency one.  However as the report states there has been an  increase in mortality rates  in part of the country of 4%  towards the end of 2012.  Another factor which has the potential to exacerbate the cholera situation is the downsizing of DINEPA staff responsible for all aspects of monitoring water and sanitation in the ‘official’ camps.

A lack of funds and supplies has crippled cholera treatment programs in Haiti, leading to unnecessary deaths and increasing the risk of greater outbreaks during the upcoming rainy season, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

In recent evaluations of public health facilities in four Haitian departments–Artibonite, Nippes, Southeast, and North–MSF found that the quality of cholera treatment declined significantly in the last year due to funding shortfalls.

“Some of the staff at the cholera treatment centers have not been paid for several months,” said Dr. Mamady Traoré, MSF deputy medical coordinator, who participated in the Artibonite assessment in late December 2012. “Infrastructure and equipment are worn out because they haven’t been maintained and there are frequent shortages of medical supplies. As a result, hygiene precautions that are essential to limiting the spread of the disease are no longer enforced. Sometimes patients are left without treatment or must pay to obtain it. That is intolerable.”

Cholera-related mortality has risen since late 2012 in Haiti’s North Department. “The mortality rate exceeds 4 percent in certain treatment centers–this is four times the acceptable rate,” said Joan Arnan, who was in charge of the evaluation. “This reveals the shortcomings in treatment. Cholera is not difficult to treat if it’s done promptly. But sometimes there are only two nurses to manage 50 patients. That’s not nearly enough to ensure quality care.”

In December 2012, the United Nations launched an appeal for $2.2 billion to fund a plan by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP) to eliminate cholera by 2022. The plan is yet to be funded, leaving many current cholera patients without adequate treatment.

“Cholera now appears to be seen as a development issue to be resolved over the next 10 years, whereas the current situation still calls for an emergency medical response,” said Duncan McLean, MSF program manager in New York. “The necessary resources for such a response are becoming increasingly scarce.”

The deplorable state of the treatment centers suggests that the worst is yet to come with the looming rainy season. In 2011 and 2012, rains led to sudden localized epidemic spikes between May and November. MSF responded within the limits of its resources.

“Prevention–by improving water, sanitation, hygiene conditions and vaccinations–is obviously the long-term solution, but sufficient resources are still needed today to treat patients and prevent deaths,” said Oliver Schulz, MSF head of mission in Haiti. “The priority today must be to strengthen the treatment centers and the early warning and rapid response systems. The Haitian government and international donors need to ensure that existing treatment sites are equipped and staffed before the rains. That means as soon as possible.”

Since the cholera outbreak was identified in late October 2010, MSF has treated nearly 200,000 patients at a total cost of approximately $60 million and with a mortality rate below 1 percent. During 2011, MSF gradually handed over responsibility to Haitian health authorities for treatment centers outside the area affected by the January 12, 2010, earthquake, after training Haitian staff and donating supplies and equipment. MSF continues to provide cholera treatment in Port-au-Prince and Léogâne, with 23,000 patients treated in 2012.

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

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 12 , Solidarity House Update

It’s been a hectic three weeks with lots of visitors, an earthquake scare that shook Petion-Ville, and a trip to a mountain village to meet potential barefoot solar warriors who will return on Tuesday.  There have been various illnesses including me loosing my voice and after two months my back went into crisis on Wednesday but now seems to be ok.  On the same day someone had an Okada accident that fortunately only resulted in a damaged toe.

Its been raining mostly at night but there’s a  sense that the rains are on their way and with that the possibility of floods. For those living in camps, floods or not, the rains bring pools of stagnant water, mosquitoes, mud, streams of running water between  and in the tents.

Two criticisms of aid and charitable support to countries in the global south, are the problem of inappropriate technologies being introduced without local consultation or participation. The other is sustainability of projects.  During this extended stay I’ve come across a number of  these development nightmares. For example the compost / eco  toilet sounds like a brilliant idea for a country like Haiti where there are no sanitation structures.  Whilst in many cases they are appropriate such as private homes and emergency situations,  they are not always the best solution.   First of all unlike ‘Haitian’ toilets which can easily be cleaned with water and disinfectant and which work with a underground cesspit  emptied every 10 years or so, compost toilets need daily care of emptying and separating urine from poo.    Then there is the collection of the poo which is placed into drums for collection.  For an institution like a school with 700 children or a mountain village with poor access,  the compost toilet becomes an additional burden and the end result is it doesn’t get used.

Another idea that was suggested to me was using ‘bricks’ made of twigs, leaves and newspaper instead of charcoal.   A great idea except  when you consider the time it takes to collect the material for the briquettes and make them.  For example SOPUDEP school cooks rice and beans every morning for nearly 700 children, and for many it is their only meal.  The cooking process starts at midnight with the soaking of the beans by one of the women who has to sleep at the school.   The other  4 cooks arrive at 5am to begin the actual cooking. The food is ready around 10.30 and takes a couple of hours from start to finish after which they need another two hours for the clean up.   By the time the women finish it is near to 3pm.  It is therefore totally unrealistic to expect them in addition to everything else, to begin to search for twigs etc and make brickettes which unlike charcoal have to be constantly monitored.  It is possible of course to employ someone to make the briquettes but where does the money come from to pay them?  These are just two examples but there are many more, especially water based solutions, that are not appropriate or turn out to be white elephants sitting in an overgrown field.    The lesson is work with the people who are going to use the technologies and they will tell you whether they are appropriate or not.  People have enough work to do plus the time it takes to get to and  from work without having extra work being dumped on them because you have a great idea on how to produce this or that.   And if you still want to implement your idea make sure you have the funds or the project is sustainable to pay for workers – people cannot afford to work for nothing.

With these factors in mind, I would ask readers to support the Camp Acra enterprise and training project which is sustainable through the enterprise programme.  They need two specialist machines to enable them to cut the shoe soles themselves rather than outsource the process which cuts into their profits.   They will need some additional funding at some point for an inverter and battery but they can and have been working without these.  And of course if the $3,000 target is not met this will undermine their plans for the future.

Camp Acra & Adoquin  - The Chanjem Leson committee and camp residents are an amazing group of people who have spent the past three years building a community out of the informal post-earthquake settlement camp.  They have created a support network for the protection of women, care of cholera victims, built schools and an enterprise workshop.  They need now solidarity support to help them move forward with their enterprise activities.  For more information and to support the Indiegogo Building Back Fundraiser see here. All funds go directly to the camp with complete transparency.

Facsdis Haiti - A LGBT organization which also works with sexworkers and people living with HIV/AIDS in Port-au-Prince. Due to my lost voice I wasnt able to attend their IWD event but managed an initial cafe meeting with two members. They expressed isolation and the need to connect with family from Africa, the Caribbean and the Diaspora.  I will be meeting with a larger group next week to talk about some of the challenges they face in Haiti and from me, an overview of whats happening across the continent.  Its a beginning and hopefully this will lead to them making new allies and friends.

 

Growing Haiti [Haiti Micro Gardens]  - is a South-South collaboration which focuses on strengthening Haitian women and families via sustainable micro gardening initiatives.   With the support of friends and family, Mark Jacobs- a Guyanese farmer, writer, and educator has been working with Haitian people growing vegetables and other sustainable agriculture related initiatives. One of the main focus is income generation from selling excess produce. The second is training in sustainable urban [micro] gardening including working with children in schools and neighborhoods.

Barefoot Solar Engineers – Two weeks ago, along with Rea Dol, Flaurantin Anise and Paul Christian,  I visited Fon Batis, one of the two villages [Archaie] that will benefit from the Barefoot Solar Engineers projec.   Four women [two from each of the villages] are attending a six months training at the Barefoot College in India after which they will then train and assemble solar panels for households in their respective villages.  They return on Tuesday so more next week on their experience and on the project as it develops.   The project is partly funded by the HLLN/Ezili Network.

 

 

African Literature - thanks to a donation of some Kindle Readers and Amazon we can now go ahead with the classes starting next week though I’m still trying to decide where to start so any feedback would be welcome.

English lessons - after a two week downtime between the Los Altos visit and my lost voice, classes are back on track with a solid group of 7, the majority of whom decided to place a temporary ban on all drifters and chatterers.  They are not happy of course but it’s out of my hands but I hope they will return when the next session starts at the end of April.

 

FASA [Fam SOPUDEP an Aksyon (Women of SOPUDEP in Action) is not just about micro-credit.  Its about progress, enterprise, social responsibility, organizing and most importantly it is rooted solidly in community solidarity.     The next step is FASA Mamba – watch this space for more on this new venture.