Category Archives: Earthquake

Haiti: Occasional Musings 21, Environmental cost of construction boom [Photo Essay]

The construction boom in Haiti driven by Diasporan money, UN [MINUSTAH] and government funds is destroying the local environment around the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Hillsides are being cut away and river beds decimated to feed the huge demand for rock and gravel for personal homes, warehouses and post earthquake reconstruction by the government – in short everything but low cost housing.

I took these photos of the river Grise at Fatimah on the edge of Pernier where I live. In 2010 you could cross the river and take one step up to the village which you can see in the distance. Now the river bed has been dug as much as 30ft deep in some places forcing villages to make a steep perilous climb after negotiating the river which at times can be deep and fast flowing [See last photo]. Neither the government nor the companies have bothered to build steps or a platform for local people to access their village.

The mining of the river bed takes place 24/7 and there are four companies operating in this location. They pay a government tax for the privileged of destroying the river. The construction boom has also brought an influx of monster trucks in various states of disrepair plowing the narrow streets and blowing out thick black smoke.

Earlier this year local residents, mainly small family farmers who rely on the river for their irrigation and water for animals, held a series of protests against the mining of the river and the trucks which operate day and night. One person was shot and killed by the police which for the moment ended the protests.

In years to come Haitians will again be blamed for destroying their rivers and hills much in the same way they are blamed for destroying the trees but when you investigate it is not the people but big business and corrupt governments who are to blame.   Writing in 1968,   Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s [born in 1916] “Love Anger Madness: A Haitian Trilogy”, describes how foreigners, forced Haitian peasants to cut down their trees for sale or starve.  We don’t hear this story.    Rather its always poor Haitians cutting trees for firewood whereas thousands of trees were cut by corporate greed and government corruption.  The farmers knew this would destroy their land and tried to protest, but their lives were worth less than the trees!   Then charities arrive with food, clothing and the bible to save those whose land and livelihood were destroyed.

The irony is that whilst the real river beds are being eroded, the construction of roads which usually lasts for a cycle of two or maybe three weeks is making the roads into river beds with deposits of silt and pebbles mixed in with flood water such as the road from Frere to Clericine via Tabarre.

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Grise at Fatimah

Farmland at Grise

Grazing goats at Grise

Village access to river
This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.

Haiti: The Last Camp Standing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

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.

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Haiti: – People Cleansing, burning down the camps

Last Saturday, Haitian police burned and broke up Camp Acra 2, at Petion-Ville.  The destruction of the camp and forced removal of people is part of the people cleansing  which has included removal and destruction of the mostly women  market vendors in Frere, Petion-Ville and Delmas 33.    Camp Acra has been home to 15,000 people since the 2010 earthquake.  It seems to me that the government is purposely targeting camps and markets in those areas they have designated for ‘urban renewal’ and gentrification. The story that the numbers of people in camps has been reduced to about 250,000 is completely false as I explained in this previous post and no doubt the numbers will now be minus another 15,000 people who they will try to make invisible by driving them to unseen parts of the city or beyond the city walls.

UPDATED VIDEO

All photos by Chanjem Leson 

Mambu Badu – A New Way of Seeing [Photography]

Mambu Badu is a photography collective founded in 2010 by Allison McDaniel, Kameelah Rasheed, and Danielle Scruggs.

The collective’s mission is to find, expose, and nurture emerging self-identified woman photographers of African descent.

“Mambu Badu” is an adaptation of the Swahili phrase “Mambo Bado” which is loosely translated as “the best has yet to come.” At this moment, we dwell in an exciting space of possibility where we can grow as artists. We invite other Black/African American female photographers to join us in this journey. We are approaching our art and this collective with a with a humble heart, a curious nature, and a persevering spirit.”

I am privilleged to have my work “Grand Cimetière, Port-au-Prince, Haiti” [a selection here] from October/November 2011 included in the Winter issue.  I am just beginning on my photography journey .  I have finally managed to move beyond structures to people and would love Black Lookers feedback.

 

To received a copy of this edition please visit the Mambu Badu website.

Mambu Badu Issue 2 Volume I – Winter 2013

Haiti: From AIDS to Aid, an [Un]Humanitarian Story

The third anniversary on January 12, 2013 of the earthquake in Haiti was marked yet again by a flood of new reports, opinions, facts and figures: a repetition of the past two years in terms of the lack of progress in reconstruction, the use and abuse of Haitian people by NGOs, failure to provide housing and other basic amenities for the hundreds of thousands who remain in the camp and the exploitation of workers in the new “open for business Haiti” proclaimed by President Martelly.  To try to understand the logic of the present Western [imperial] relationship with Haiti it is necessary to go back to 1804 and the founding of the Republic. Readers might well say that was 208 years ago and surely irrelevant now but a close examination will show a surprising consistency in the subjugation and exploitation of Haitian people underpinned by blatant and paternalistic racism and overall fear of the power of the black masses.

The story begins in 1825 with France’s demand for an indemnity payment of 150 million gold francs as recompense for the loss of  its plantation economy, including slaves, in  exchange for diplomatic recognition and thereby the ability to trade .  The debt, which was not fully repaid until 1947, cost Haiti as much as 80% of its national revenue.  Debt continued to pile up as a result of borrowing to pay back the French debt, and new debts were incurred during the US occupation from 1915 to 1934, a  period which consolidated the USA’s imperial domination of the country. A new constitution  abolished a law prohibiting foreign land ownership and thereby allowed US companies to purchase huge tracts of land, displacing an estimated 50,000 peasants. [1] In addition a  $40 million loan was provided along with the takeover of the national bank and treasury. The cycle of new debt for old has continued to the post-earthquake period. In 1934 the USA ended its occupation but not before it had created two militarized forces, the National Guard and the gendarmerie which would be used to keep the population under tight control by successive dictatorships until the brief presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. [2] Further loans of $250 million were provided to the Duvalier regime, and $158 million to the US-backed government of Henry Namphy, both by the World Bank. The Inter-American Development [IDB] bank also lent $110 million to the Haitian government prior to Aristide’s presidency yet only agreed to lend his government a mere $12 million. [3] This clear distinction between democratically elected leaders and US-backed unelected leaders has persisted: in 2003 the IDB agreed a loan of $200 million, the majority of which was only disbursed after the kidnapping of President Aristide on February 29, 2004.  Aristide puts it like this: “The reason is very clear: when it’s people who are serious, who will spend money for the country, these foreign banks hold on to the money. when it’s thieves who will misuse the money, with their acolytes, no problem.” [4]

Haiti was not the only Caribbean island subjected to US intervention and imperial power. Nearby Cuba was briefly under direct US control and Cuban independence was only granted on condition that the USA retained rights to operate a military base at Guantanamo Bay. In fact, since the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898 US policies towards Cuba and Haiti have been intertwined in a mix of human subjugation, material exploitation and vagrant disregard for international law.  [5]  Much of this has been couched in the language of humanitarian intervention,  similarly to the post-earthquake period.  Who can forget the audacious US invasion of Grenada in October 1983 which was preceded by various attempts at economic strangulation? Again, the justification was a “rescue” mission as well as a pre-emptive strike lest Americans be taken hostage even though there was no evidence to suggest this might happen. [6] The three Caribbean nations which have either attempted to set up or have successfully established autonomous governments for and by the people have been victims of US terror.  A. Naomi  Paik also makes the point that the “simultaneous renewal of the Guantanamo lease and the end of the Haitian occupation [in 1934] are not isolated events.”  On the one hand the USA required a permanent naval base in the eastern Caribbean and on the other an assembly line of cheap resistance-free labor and for this a pact was made with Jean Claude Duvalier and subsequently his son “Baby Doc.”  The result of the violent regime of Duvalier was thousands of refugees fleeing to the USA.   Paik explains the logic behind the USAs hostility towards Haitian refugees which was a double-edged sword, i.e. thousands of black bodies on the shores of the USA and the fact of its own “friendly” self-interested relationship with a brutal dictatorship. The USA attempted to shy away from this fact by claiming the refugees were “economic’ rather than political – in reality a meaningless distinction.

” This distinction, no matter how specious, nevertheless legally justified US nonrecognition of Haitian refugees, a nonrecognition that essentially made the Haitian refugee into a political impossibility. The United States could not sustain its relationship with the regimes that fostered political and economic violence and simultaneously acknowledge the fact that thousands of Haitians feared for their lives in their own country. Its action in dealing with Haitians in Haiti and in its own territory, and in the waters between the two countries, were rooted in a logic of self-interested violence that disregarded Haitian lives.” [7]

1992 — Haitian refugees wait in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba while being processed to return to Haiti. — Image by © Bill Gentile/CORBIS

The specific policy towards Haitian refugees was known as the Haitian Program and entailed “multiple state agencies collaborating” to deport Haitians already in Florida and discourage others from leaving Haiti. In her essay,  Paik cites a number of legal petitions by the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami which expose blatant disregard for international and humanitarian laws and the biased decisions by US courts. Haitian refugees were singularly excluded , being described as a threat to the community’s [USA] well-being. Eventually, during Reagan’s presidency, the Haiti Program was extended to include “interdiction” of refugees by the US coastal guard in international waters, which is illegal, and later detention without due process at Fort Allen in Puerto Rico. The justification for the illegal interception of Haitian boats in international waters was configured as a humanitarian intervention that would save Haitian lives.

“Interdiction exemplifies how human rights advanced US nationalist and imperialist interests. A Janus faced policy, it utterly denied Haitians the possibility of finding refugee from violence while simultaneously casting its mission as humanitarian investment in saving Haitians from the dangers of open waters.” [8]

Though the USA made it plain its 1915 invasion was to protect its financial interests, such as the Haitian American Sugar Company, HASCO, [9] subsequent interference, occupation and policies towards Haitian refugees have been presented under the guise of “humanitarian” intervention. Saving Haitians from the open seas, from disease [HIV/AIDS] and from themselves has hidden the truth behind,  on the one hand, the fear of thousands of Haitians “invading” US shores and, on the other, the opportunity for a cheap labor force just a few hundred miles away. It was only during the democratically elected presidency of Bertrand Aristide that the number of Haitian refugees significantly decreased, only to rise again after the September 1991 coup which forced him into exile in the USA. It was at this time that thousands fleeing Haiti were sent to Guantanamo Bay and again Haitian boats were intercepted in international waters and forced to return. Those who refused were hosed down and forced off the boats. [10]

Working in parallel with the Haitian Program, the USA was also busy supporting the military junta of coup-maker General Cedras and inventing and facilitating ways to suppress Lavalas, the party of Aristide, and prevent his return. The suppression was brutal from the start.

“…to steady their nerves, ordinary soldiers received up to $5000 a piece. As crowds gathered in defense of the government [Aristide] the army opened fire, and kept firing…..’the soldiers shot everything in sight . They ran out of ammunition so fast that it seems the US had to re-supply them with night-time helicopter flights from Guantanamo. At least 300 people were killed in the first night of the coup, probably many more.” [11]

The strategic importance of Guantanamo is displayed both as a detention center and as a launching pad to terrorize Haiti and no doubt any other Caribbean nation that dared to create an autonomous government. But it was with the detention of HIV+ and suspected HIV+ Haitians that the Haitian Program really came into its own. As Paik points out, the detention of HIV-positive Haitians by the USA  at Guantanamo is not just part of the historical “[neo] imperialism in Haiti” but also a continuation of a racist discourse which sees migrants and in particular migrant black bodies as “carriers of contagion.” [12] 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, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians” – 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 [13] and of being a threat to whiteness.

The justification for imprisonment of HIV-positive Haitians was humanitarian – to provide them with “shelter, food and medical care.”  In reality they were being detained in dehumanizing conditions such as inadequate water,  maggot-ridden food and forced to take  blood tests.  Those diagnosed as HIV Positive were isolated and often men and women were misdiagnosed.   Women were forced to have birth control injections and in some instances their children were sent to the US whilst they remained in the camp.  Other illness reported identified were, trauma and many detainees were found to have head injuries from beatings.  One US official on hearing complaints about the appalling conditions responded that they were going to die anyway.

The immediate reaction of the USA following the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent “restoration policies” need to be seen in the above historical context of exploitation, subjugation and US domestic immigration policy. The decision to prioritize security over real humanitarian need saw the deployment of troops throughout Port-au-Prince in the immediate days after the earthquake; the consolidation of NGO rule [they provide 80% of basic public services] [14]; the consolidation of the Free Trade Zone and  the creation in January 2011 of a mega assembly line in Caracol [PIRN].   The deal was signed by the “Haitian government,” the US Secretary of State [on behalf of US taxpayers], Korean textile manufacturer, Sae-A Trading, and the IDB. With the sweep of a pen, 300 locally owned plots of land were converted into an industrial park. A report by Haiti Grassroots Watch provides some of the reasons behind PIRN which also affects US workers.

“Ultimately, in the case of the PIRN at least, US taxpayers are making it easier and cheaper for foreign and local clothing and textile companies firms to set up (sweat-)shops in Haiti, lay off better paid workers in the US and other countries, and increase their profits. If Levis and the GAP can get their clothes stitched in a place that pays US$5.00 a day rather than US$9.00 an hour (approximately the lowest wage paid in US-based clothing factories), with new infrastructure, electricity, UN peacekeepers to provide security, and tax-free revenues and other benefits, why not?”

What’s in it for the main investor , Sae-A Trading?  Massive profits from the HELP Act which allows textiles to enter the USA from Haiti, tax-free, and a USA-Korea Free Trade Agreement giving new meaning to the manufacturing methods of JIT [just in time].  The location of the industrial zone at Caracol also has serious environmental impacts, as explained in a report by Alter Presse. Apart from the loss of farming livelihood to some 1000 farmers who now constitute cheap production labor, archeological sites will be destroyed, “water appropriated polluted and made more expensive,”, and destruction of farmland means the workers will be forced to ” buy subsidized US food.
Most recently there have been a number of  mining contracts issued to multinational mining corporations [These have just been rejected by the Senate who have asked that the companies 'cease exploitation'.

"We can't sit and just say everything must stop. We must take a resolution to tell the Executive this is the position of the Senate of the Republic, the Haitian Parliament on this issue. Everything must be done within regulations. We can not resolve a wrong with a wrong but in the meantime..."

We would like to know the value of the mines in Haiti, we must get this, because we must know what we have - because it's everyday that they are telling us that this country is a poor country, their presence here is humanitarian but there is nothing being done and then, all this time, we are full of resources. And the people who are principally concerned don't have any information on this.

In “Haiti’s Gold Rush” [Guernica Magazine]Jacob Kushner writes that “mineral explorers have long suspected Haiti could be sitting on a large gold deposits.”  A number of Haitians interviewed, however, say the local people in the northern mountains and elsewhere have always known there was gold in the ground and US and Canadian mining exploration companies have been testing the region on and off since the 1970s.   Permits have been given to two Canadian companies, Majescor (to explore 450 sq kilometers), and Eurasian (1,770 sq kilometers).   Two US companies are also involved: VCS Mining have rights over 700 sq kilometers and Newmont Ventures have the largest share.  As of December last year mining permits were given to Majescor and VCS Mining.  The deal for the mining corporations is the gift from Haiti to multinational capital…

Since 2009, Haiti’s government ministers have been considering a new convention. This would allow Eurasian, Newmont’s business partner, to explore an additional 1300 square kilometers of land in Haiti’s north. But according to Dieuseul Anglade, Haiti’s mining chief of two decades, unlike previous agreements, this one doesn’t include a limit–standard among mining contracts worldwide–on how much of a mine’s revenue the company can write off as costs. Without any cap, a mining company can claim that a mine has an unusually low profit margin, allowing it to pay fewer taxes to the Haitian state; Anglade opposed these terms, and was fired in May.”

Kushner also points to the poor environmental record of Newmont. For example, in 2010 a cyanide spill in Ghana killed fish and destroyed drinking water. There are also questions around the number of possible employees and the conditions under which they would work.  Given the environmental and social devastation  of other resource-rich regions such as the Niger Delta, DRC and Ecuador,  and the weakness of the Haitian government, rule by NGOs and an overall carpetbagger mentality,  it is hard to imagine mining bodes well for local people.    An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch found that behind the mining contracts lay

“backroom deals, players with widely diverging objectives, legally questionable “memorandums”, and a playing field that is far from level.”

Guernica – Images from Flickr via waterdotorg

The hills in the Cap Haitian region are the hills of the revolution.  They are also the hills where the indigenous people of Haiti, the Taino,  were slaughtered by Christopher Columbus and other white settlers.  These are now the hills owned by foreign multinational mining corporations. President Martelly’s slogan “Haiti is open for business” should include the line  “going for a song.”  Humanitarian aid in Haiti has always been aid in the interest of the donor country, whether it be to keep out Haitians from US soil or to exploit their labor on Haitian soil and make even more money for companies in donor countries.  It has never been about the Haitian masses.

I have very briefly attempted to outline a few complex historical events in the hope that those interested will seek out further reading such as the following sources used in compiling this piece:

Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, The Earthquake and the UN by Justin Podur 

Haiti – Haitii? Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization by Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti by Jeb Sprague

Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward

Notes

  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. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation”, Pluto Press, 2012
  3. Jean-Bertrand Aristide [2011]“Haiti-Haitii! Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization”, Paradigm
  4. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti-Haitii!
  5. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  6. Terry Nardin and Kathleen D Pritchard “Ethics and Intervention: The United States in Grenada, 1983” [http://bit.ly/W7MrKo] 
  7. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  8. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  9. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”
  10. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  11. Peter Hallward “Damming the Flood: Aristide and the Politics of Containment”
  12. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  13. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  14. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”

This post was also published on Pambazuka News – 25/01/2013

 

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

12th January, 2010

Tuesday 12th January 2010 began like all other weekdays in the Dol house hold.  The children, all in their teens,  woke at 5.30am and in the half sleep readied themselves quietly and left for school in the truck. By the time they reached the main road at the bottom of the steep hill they were wide awake.  Much later Rea and her husband Bato woke and they too readied themselves with Rea giving instructions and answering the never ending phone calls all the way to the school which at 9am was in full swing.  600 children K-12 children the youngest 3 years and the oldest 20+. For so many children, the school, in the which is housed in the former home of a Tontons Macoute, is a small space.  The front compound is just large enough to kick a ball around. The space is shared with Rea’s truck and the three or four women traders selling ice pops and sweets.  At the rear there is another smaller play area and what was once a swimming pool now filled with packed dirt.    The building is on two floors with most of the classrooms upstairs arranged in a maze of large and small rooms, all open to the elements and each other.  On the ground floor there are the staff rooms, the main office and a large temporary extension which houses the kindergarten classes. 
The constant low buzz of 600 children reaches a crescendo at 11am when the school breaks in relays for lunch of beans and rice.  For many this is their one meal of the day.   The lunch is cooked by four women who arrive at the school at 5am. The beans are left to soak overnight and then cooked in a stew with vegetables in huge pots along with the rice.   The whole feeding process is takes about an hour from start to finish.  The children line up, youngest first, to wash their hands then turn left and pick up a spoon and plate. The food itself is eaten in about 10 minutes. Those not in line or eating play screech, jump and teachers shout instructions and beware anyone who gets in the way of the whole process.  Rea is on constant call to visitors and students with various requests, dealing with mishaps, arguments and enquires.   Most days she leaves the school between 3 and 3.30 pm.  On the 12th January she was late, very late and being late no doubt saved her life. 
SOPUDEP school is in the Morne Lazarre area of Petion Ville which was hit badly by the earthquake.  However  the damage to the school building was  minimal relative to other buildings in the area as only the font wall collapsed.   There are three streets by the school.  On the left and right and along the front.  To the right and along the front, buildings collapsed.  As Rea and her eldest daughter, Tamara felt the tremors which only lasted 35 seconds, the houses opposite the school began to crumble and the front wall of the school collapsed onto the street below.  They heard cries and screams in the distance and ran onto the road where they immediately  saw five people crushed to death from the collapsed school wall.   As they walked to the corner to make a left turn more homes were collapsed. There was dust and debris everywhere.  The road by the school is unpaved and narrow running along a very steep hillside. To the right the houses were all large homes built into the the hillside. Most of these  collapsed so the road was unappeasable by foot or by car.  They turned back and took the road to the left which ran down the hillside and was in tact.   By the time they reached the bottom of that hill and hit the main road, 40 minutes or so had passed.  They walked holding on to each other. All around them were fallen buildings, the injured, the dead, people crying, bleeding. There was panic everywhere.  Vehicles abandoned as traffic built up and hundreds of thousands of the living tried to figure out what had just happened as thousands and thousands more lay dead and injured.   

Rea kept trying to get through on the phone but the lines were also dead. They had no idea if the other children who left earlier on the tap tap buses had arrived safely or even if their own house was standing.  They walked fast at times running the 10 kilometers through the horror and panic of the streets. They did not stop. Pennier is a long walk from Petion Ville on a good day and this was a day of terror that would stretch out into months ahead. 

As they turned into the steep narrow  lane which led to their  home, their hearts pounded.  There were collapsed houses here too.   The lane is cobbled and uneven, not an easy walk and very steep.  They climbed but you cannot see the house until you are actually in front of it. They walked as fast as they could. People were walking and running in both directions it was hard to fathom out what was going on.  Eventually they reached their home which was still standing.   As they entered everyone rushed to greet them collapsing and crying and just holding on to each other in shock and relief that they were all alive.  In the next 24 hours they would learn that  200,000 people were dead and millions injured and homeless.  24 of her students and two teachers were also dead.  Many were injured and lost family members – they were all  traumatized. Everyone at the school was affected by the earthquake.  By the end next day  there were 63 people camped at the home of Rea Dol and Jean Jacques Bataille and the long road to  recovery began.  Initially it was hard to know what to do beyond tend to those who had begun to gather  for medical care, safety and solace at the house.   The next day she got a  gallon of Betadine disinfectant and some gauze and went out into the street and started to clean wounds, spoke to people and tried to give comfort to survivors.  The recovery work had begun. 

In the ruins of the majestic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L’Assomption

Destroyed on 12thJanuary, 2010, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de L’Assomption remains majestic, it’s pink and cream walls towering over the city of Port-au-Prince. The Cathédrale is now open to the sky – a direct view to the mythical heavens. It remains a place of refuge to thousand of Port-au-Prince residents.  In December 2010, I walked through the ruins where the rubble remained scattered in small burial heaps and note most of the rubble has now been removed.   I had not knowingly walked on the dead before and it left me with a disturbing feeling. Later I realised  I needed to create a more intimate and healthy relationship with death and dying.

Broken Stones

The oldest neighborhood of the city of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Quartier Cathédrale (Catheral Quarter) was the most devastated sector in the city, it is also where the bulk of the documentary Broken Stones was shot. With its erected columns and open air, the ruins of the cathedral resembles an amphitheater where the daily realities of Haitian life unfolds. Amidst the vestige of what was once the most beautiful cathedrals in the entire Caribbean, children play, women pray, some carry pails and jugs of water from the nearby tap, a white man dressed in black hooded priest garb appears out of nowhere, followed by a cameraman, foreign missionaries snap pictures as they pray for lost souls in a house of worship, men and women roam almost aimlessly in this post-apocalyptic decor…. These images are amongst the impressionist moments interwoven into the narrative fabric of this captivating documentary.

Via Shadow and Act

Haiti January 12, 2010 revisited – where disaster is profitable for some.

I have had two visits to Haiti in the past 12 months, for a month in November/December 2010 and a week in October/November 2011. Nearly a year apart in time but with very little improvement. Ah yes, a three mile stretch of the road to President Martelly residence is now paved and parts of the market area in Petion-Ville has been torn down presumably for “urban renewal” otherwise known as poor people removal. So it comes as no great surprise to learn that the largest receipient of Haitian earthquake funds is the US government followed closely by International NGOs.

One. The largest single recipient of US earthquake money was the US government. The same holds true for donations by other countries.

Right after the earthquake, the US allocated $379 million in aid and sent in 5000 troops. The Associated Press discovered that of the $379 million in initial US money promised for Haiti, most was not really money going directly, or in some cases even indirectly, to Haiti. They documented in January 2010 that thirty three cents of each of these US dollars for Haiti was actually given directly back to the US to reimburse ourselves for sending in our military. Forty two cents of each dollar went to private and public non-governmental organizations like Save the Children, the UN World Food Program and the Pan American Health Organization. Hardly any went directly to Haitians or their government.

The Save the Children compound lies directly opposite SOPUDEP free school for poor children through grade school. The school is so oversubscribed they now run morning and late afternoon sessions and every day cook for over 400 children. The women who cook start work soaking beans at 4am in the morning. For most of the children this is their meal of the day. Prior to the earthquake, as far as STC were concerned, SOPUDEP might well have been on another planet. Post earthquake a small offer of funds was made which was refused – what you just discovered we are here and now you want to put me on your list? A gift of school supplies for the children was accepted.
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Build houses and clean up the streets

A two-bed house built in Nigeria by DARE out of recycled plastic bottles filled with sand and plastered with mud and cement with the additional benefit of being earthquake resistant. More here….

Haiti Can Hold Me

In remembering and honouring all those who died on January 12th 2010  I would also like to honour those who have  survived the awfulness of this past 12 months.   Quite rightly blogs and some media are  full of stories of the terrible things which Haitians especially in Port-au-Prince have had to endure, the betrayals, the negligence, cholera [There is serious evidence that this was brought into the country] and disrespect for their lives. Those responsible need to be called to account over and over till they begin to see change their way of doing things.  We should also be wary of those who appear to be acting in the interests of  ordinary Haitians but in reality have been co-opted by the interests of the Haitian elite and international corporations and governments. A friend of mind put it this way

The only way clear of this mess is to leave the twentieth century’s greedy, self serving corporate rules and enter a world of a generous self powered equality.  Things grow so quickly here it continues to astonish me.  My hope and work revolves around trying to have human beings grow as quickly as the nature around them.

But there are also other stories which need to be told. The stories, for example of the thousands of women  and men who have used their survival of the earthquake to envision a different Haiti and have, with total commitment and determination,  chosen to make positive transformational changes to their own lives and that of their communities. Those bypassed by NGOs and government officials.    The teachers who work for next to nothing to rebuild their schools and to create new educational and economic opportunities based on mutual support and shared reward.  Women who have taken charge of their situations, supported each other and called their abusers to account for their actions.

Che Guevara once said “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.” When I first read this I thought it poetic but never ridiculous. Now I have experienced this kind of love – I know it to be true.  It’s one which keeps everything ticking and touches everyone physically and emotionally and is based on sharing and collective action.  And unlike others who do not believe this possible, does not attach material value to everything.

HAITI CAN HOLD ME

my eyelids press mercilessly, too tightly upon my eyes.
i fall, stumble and falter; quake and stop to look:
observing the end. wishing i could finger my tarnished rosary beads.
it is as though somebody else closed my eyes for me
for the darkness in its finality is solid enough to touch.

solitary silences. jolting tremors.
behind hidden eyes i watch wisps of clouds
scatter, and the clear blue sky stand firmly behind the sun;

and i marvel when dusk fans the smoldering coals in
the dusty horizon and – JOLT!- again darkness plants itself in the path of the sun:
observing the end. observing the end.

ashen cement has choked the tears in my eyes. behind choked eyes i see
tropicbirds in angelic white fly with wild abandon, and palm trees sway
carelessly with a new air of sureness.
saints right then tell me about this land. that it is big and strong from being fed the blood and
water of rebellious slaves. and for that it held firmly our bare and blithe feet as the first black-led
republic. for that, Haiti can hold me, too.

i stop pushing; i. stop. the land can hold me.
i will not spend my last moments crying behind a painted face, a face whitened by dusky
crumbled cement. i know i am pressed against the same gritty earth that held Toussaint upright.

and so behind useless eyes i see Port-au-Prince as it was. i see Hotel Montana in its white
grandiosity; i see myself two hours ago serving rum and coke to rich white people who speak
through their noses. i watch the smiling sun part the clouds and break the unsuspecting dawn,
commanding my Haiti to rouse, to do, to pray.

Donald Molosi © 2011

This post was first published on New Internationalist Blog

Haiti: Before and After – A year later

I recently finished my second reading of “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work”
[Excellent Review here] I consider Danticat to be a courageous writer. She is not afraid to expose her vulnerability, her self-doubt, her longing to be included whilst recognising that she is outside of Haiti – the place she knows so intimately and so desires to be and is part of.

On the anniversary of the 12th January earthquake she once again commits her “one thousand words or less” [Create Dangerously] to Haiti. In one of her essays from Create Dangerously, “Our Guernica” she writes about her first visit after the earthquake and her cousin, Maxo who was killed in the earthquake along with his ten-year old daughter, Nozial in the rubble of their family home in Bel Air. At one point she suddenly realises that the Haiti she is witnessing is like a “historical novel”…

Suddenly, this stunning chronicle of a homecoming to a very recent Haiti feels like a historical novel. Then it hits me. From now on, there will always be the Haiti before the earthquake and the Haiti after the earthquake. And after the earthquake, the way we read and the way we write, both inside and outside Haiti, will never be the same”

Danticat’s essay in yesterdays New Yorker ” A Year and a Day” is mostly about death and there is much death in Haiti both before and after but after is a different kind of story. Even the national anthem declares “Mourir est beau” – to die is beautiful. Haiti is also about ancestors who are now gone but remain very much alive through their spirtis.

“In Haiti, people never really die,” my grandmothers said when I was a child, which seemed strange, because in Haiti people were always dying. They died in disasters both natural and man-made. They died from political violence. They died of infections that would have been easily treated elsewhere. They even died of chagrin, of broken hearts. But what I didn’t fully understand was that in Haiti people’s spirits never really die. This has been proved true in the stories we have seen and read during the past year, of boundless suffering endured with grace and dignity: mothers have spent nights standing knee-deep in mud, cradling their babies in their arms, while rain pounded the tarpaulin above their heads; amputees have learned to walk, and even dance, on their new prostheses within hours of getting them; rape victims have created organizations to protect other rape victims; people have tried, in any way they could, to reclaim a shadow of their past lives.

The statues of the Black revolutionaries remain standing amongst the rubble of Champ Mars, rising above the tented camps and fallen palace. For me there were a number of possible reasons for their refusal to die…

Rising above the devastation of Port-au-Prince in twisted irony, the heros of the revolution remain standing — Toussaint L’Overture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Do they speak of a fallen people or to a people on the verge of rising once again? The weirdest structure also still standing is the “2004” cone tower soaring above the whole city and built by President Aristide. No one seems to know what exactly it represents but I take it to be a symbol of the “2nd Haitian revolution” — the flood of Lavalas. It speaks, you are trying to kill us but we are not dead yet, there is a 3rd revolution to come…….

Haiti: “Foul water is killing people” and we need to think of new ways of giving

Haitians are now dying of dirty water and insanitary conditions which they have been forced to endure for the past 10 months.  Over   250,000 Haitians have already died as a result of the earthquake and now thousands more are going to die because of failures by Bill Clinton, George Bush, the UN, the Red Cross, US and other governments,  and hundreds of NGOs  who  received $millions in donations and or are responsible for distributing the monies.     For months and months questions on where is the money have been fobbed off  leaving people to languish in increasingly more horrible conditions and still nothing happens.     Meanwhile Bill Clinton is not in Haiti at this time of crisis.  He is on his way to visit Jamaica.  Norman Given who writes the Caribbean Political Economy Blog”   Bill Clinton is coming to Jamaica  to speak about “humanity”  and people are being asked to pay  “$13,000.00 for the opportunity to hear this at a posh Hotel in Kingston”.  How disgustingly obscene is that?

It is even more revolting to remember that millions of dollars and tons of equipment were being deliberately withheld from suffering Haitians in need and perhaps still lie idle in banks and on the ground in Haiti now while the people die.   It is further distressing to remember that P.J. Patterson was also named by Caricom to manage the region’s input in helping solve the crisis in the country and clearly that has also been a failure.

Perhaps, the most revolting outcome however is that Bill Clinton is supposed to be coming to Jamaica to tell us about our common humanity and people are being asked to pay some $13,000.00 for the opportunity to hear this at a posh Hotel in Kingston. I call upon all decent human beings in Jamaica to boycott Bill Clinton’s visit and those who would wish to foist this hypocrite upon us at this time.

Former President Clinton’s history with Haiti is an unsavoury one as is the entire policy of successive American Presidents. Remember Aristide was evicted from office at gunpoint and the threat of being shot by goons sent by George Bush to bring democracy to Haiti.
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Fundraising appeal for SOPUDEP school, Haiti.

Fundraising appeal for SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville) in Port-au-Prince.

The school was started in 2002 by community activist Rea Dol to provide education for children from the poorest families – those who could not afford to send their children to school. Ironically the school is housed in an old building which once belonged to Tonton Macoute Lionel Wooley and the torture chamber he used, now sealed, remains in the compound.

Lionel Wooley was an assassin for the regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. In exchange for killing opponents of these repressive regimes in Haiti, he was allowed to steal the property of his victims and claim them as his own. In late 2000, Lionel Wooley died in exile in Miami and the government expropriated the properties he had stolen.

SOPUDEP were able to secure the lease of the property through community and private donations and start renovations. At the time I visited the school in August 2007, whilst a great deal of work had been done, large sections of the school remained in disrepair and open to the sun and rain. SOPUDEP is a community school in the truest sense, which provides education for those who would otherwise not receive one. It also provides hot meals for all the children so at least everyone gets one good meal a day.

Video on the work of Rea in Morne Lazarre district of Port-au-Prince

Post Earthquake
28 children died in the earthquake and three teachers
Initially the school was being used as shelter but eventually it had to be abandoned due to extensive structural damage from the earthquake. However the school was already in the process of purchasing land for a new building. Desperate to bring some semblance of normality and routine for the children who were completely traumatised, the teachers created a school under tarp using what equipment they could salvage from the abandoned school.
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What happened after the earthquake: Interview with community activist, Rea Dol

Rea Dol is the Director and co-founder of Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville (SOPUDEP), a grassroots organization in Haiti offering education for children and adults and a micro-credit program for women. Her work in the aid effort following the January 12th earthquake in Haiti was the subject of a New York Times documentary. While in Haiti in July, Montreal freelance journalist Darren Ell asked her about the impact of the earthquake.

What happened to the community of Morne Lazarre, where your school, SOPUDEP, is located?

The community of Morne Lazarre was devastated by the earthquake. I was in the school when it happened and I cannot describe the horror around me. The school was empty and did not fall, but the neighbourhood collapsed. Five people were crushed to death just meters from me when one of the outer walls of the school grounds collapsed. My first responsibility was to my family, so I had to get home, but the streets were chaotic. People were panicking and screaming. I had to run home ten kilometres through those streets to find my family. The phones weren’t working. It was horrible.

In Morne Lazarre as in many areas of the city, it’s hard to say who died and how many because in many cases, the only people who knew who was in a house were the inhabitants themselves, and they died. Many are still under the rubble. Extracted bodies were rapidly buried, and now people are displaced throughout the city, so it’s impossible to get accurate numbers. We know Morne Lazarre intimately though. Three thousand people lived here prior to the earthquake, and we estimate that 65% of them died and 95% of their homes were destroyed.

How did the earthquake affect you personally?

On a personal level, when the earthquake happened, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t die. Where I was, many of the people around me died. It affected my profoundly, but I knew I had to overcome my feelings. I had to join in the struggle. I understood quickly that I had a mission. At first, I felt unable to offer support, but I had to do something, so I got a gallon of Betadine disinfectant and some gauze and went out into the street. I cleaned wounds wherever I could. After three months, I finally took a break. But during those first three months, I had boundless energy. So much needed to be done. I spent a lot of time in the camps with my staff and students. They really needed our solidarity. No other schools were doing this, going out into the city to find their people and reconnect with them.

I couldn’t have offered support to anyone with out the support of the Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF), the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), the Haiti Action Committee, special friends of SOPUDEP and individuals donating through the SOPUDEP website. They were always there for us. The work I did during the crisis built my credibility in the city as well to the point where people were consulting me on questions of the credibility of various organizations. But it was more than that. People began staying with me in my home! They kept coming and we cared for them, and we still do.

What has been the impact of the earthquake on education in Haiti?

25% of our schools were destroyed, 50% were seriously damaged and another 25% are standing, but staff and students won’t work in the buildings, so classes have resumed under tarps, but at least 50% of the students haven’t returned. Many died, and others have been dispersed throughout the city now in the tent cities, often far from their schools. It’s a very difficult time for education.

How has the earthquake affected the students and teachers?

We did an assessment of students after the earthquake. Some children who had an average of 80% prior to the earthquake scored 40%, a serious decline. There are several reasons for this. One is the living conditions they now find themselves in. When they had their homes, they could find a place to study, but in the camps, it’s hot and crowded in the tents. What’s more, kids are running around the camps all day, so students are distracted and can’t get their work done.

The trauma of the earthquake has diminished their capacity to retain information and learn. In April, when we reopened the school, we didn’t get into the regular curriculum at all. We did some cultural activities, sang songs and danced, but nothing else until May. We asked students to write about the earthquake. They all said it was the worst moment of their lives. They said they’d never recover from it. They added though that school was like medicine for them. Coming back to school was like life beginning again for them.

When we reopened, the teachers weren’t up to it. They were traumatized and asked for psycho-social assistance because they didn’t feel stable. Imagine how awful the students must have been feeling if the adults themselves needed help! We found a specialist in the city to help teachers get back to work. The assistance was successful, and yet when a truck rolled by and the school shook, it was total panic in the school and the teachers were the first ones out. We told the teachers they were supposed to be the last ones out of the classroom! They said, “We like our life too!” But I understood. They had to run. They were too traumatized. Everyone was.

After the quake, many teachers were living in very bad conditions. Some were sleeping in cars or public squares because they didn’t have tents yet. So we got tents for everyone so they could have some stability in order to work and prepare their classes. Today, six months after the earthquake, their situation has somewhat improved but it’s still difficult.

Many NGO’s were criticized during the earthquake. What was your experience of aid from large organizations?

The number of NGO’s in Haiti has ballooned again in Haiti. Are they going to change things fundamentally? We don’t think so. Without generalizing to all the cases, and without saying they haven’t helped, we believe they could do more. As far as organizations that could have helped SOPUDEP, there is Save the Children who sponsored a lot of organizations. They’re located right next door to us and they never helped us at all. They had a cash for work program for rubble removal, but I had to pay out of pocket to arrange rubble removal. When they finally came six months after the quake, they asked how they could help us and said they could fix the roof and clean out the toilets. But we didn’t see these as problems. We had more urgent needs related to our classrooms, but that assistance wasn’t there.

What we really needed – financial assistance – came from our regular donors and via our website. The big organizations offered only a small amount of material support: 100 tarps from the Red Cross, plus Save the Children eventually brought in some chalkboards and other school supplies. But the direct aid we gave to families, over 2957 families in 32 areas throughout the city, came from the SFF. It is the engine of SOPUDEP. With the SFF, we have a stable budget and we can plan. Teachers can also plan their lives now knowing there is a paycheck coming.

On a more global level across the country, aid was a disaster in terms of helping families. NGO’s decided to disburse assistance to women only. This led to the abuse of women. They would wait four hours under a hot sun, they’d get beaten by guards. This was shocking to us. They should have chosen Haitians to manage this. The voucher system for aid was abused. Vouchers were hoarded and given to friends while others got nothing. In the camps it was a mess. People with the vouchers were demanding sex for vouchers. Women’s organizations were very upset. Women’s desperation was being used as leverage for sex. What’s more, in order to get help, you had to demonstrate you were in absolute misery. How poor do you have to be to get help? For example, to get a tarp, you had to prove your ripped bedsheet was inadequate.

What does the near and long term future hold for SOPUDEP?

Our current school building is problematic. For years, we’ve received threats, sometimes armed, from a corrupt mayor. For this reason, we were already taking measures prior to the earthquake to find another location for the school. The earthquake made this move imperative. No one trusts the old building and the community is in ruins. We’ll be moving from Morne Lazarre to Delmas 83, quite far away, and this will cause problems for many of our students. Nonetheless, we want to offer all the help we can to keep everyone in our program.

We also want to help other schools in the area. Whenever we receive support, we offer supplies to other schools as well. SOPUDEP includes our main K-12 school, adult education, and a street children education program. We are reflecting on the problem of access to university as well, a huge problem in Haiti. We’ve received a proposal on this matter, and it could be an area for growth in the future. We have a larger vision in the field of health. Anything that represents a major roadblock for the population is where we put our energies. Another problem is unemployment, so we created a micro-credit program for women. Not being able to help your children yourself is awful, so we’re offering women the means to generate income and feed their families.

When we began, we had a small group of adults. It was a community organization that came together to discuss the problems of the country. While doing that, we saw more important problems. We started with activities for children every Saturday. Former President Aristide eventually integrated us into the field of literacy. Today, we have 58 people running our various programs. We are planning the construction of a new school, but our teachers need ongoing help for salaries. We also need assistance integrating our other projects into the SOPUDEP program: our micro-credit program and the elementary school in Boucan La Pluie neighbourhood.

We have grown a lot, but always one step at a time. It is very difficult to build organizations in Haiti. There are few means and we can’t know if we’re going to succeed. Things are shifting and changing all the time, and now things have been degraded to the lowest level possible. They say this is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It doesn’t have to be that way. If we unite, a lot can happen. Working only for your own well-being will get us nowhere. Because of the terrible things that have occurred in our past, trust is an important issue. You absolutely need the trust of those around you in order to accomplish anything. What’s more, the systems in this country are deeply problematic and we need support and solidarity to change them.

What are your feelings on the reconstruction plan for Haiti?

The Government of Haiti should have taken the responsibility to rebuild many of the affected areas. Instead, construction was chaotic and anarchic with no oversight. As a consequence, people are currently living with significant physical dangers and many have already been victims of these dangers. The big question is: “Who is responsible for the reconstruction plan and will ordinary people be allowed to participate in it?” Thus far, we don’t see this at all.

An example is what we see across from the National Palace. This is the face of the country, a symbol of Haiti. And what do we see six months after the earthquake? Thousands of people living in absolute squalor in tents. Many people believe that reconstruction will not be possible with the current government, and many are concerned about who will be in the next government. Electing our own representatives is a sacred right and part of the solution we need. We are however in doubt about many things. Lavalas is there as a popular organization but there are several leaders, each one of them wanting to become the leader. Banning Lavalas from elections has only complicated things. What’s more, past choices were poorly done. For example, the people chose René Préval as someone who could represent them, but the opposite has happened.

Six months after the quake, nothing serious has been done. The first phase is over: everyone has shelter. We should have seen a second phase of more permanent shelters, but this hasn’t happened. The third phase should have been the rebuilding of the country, but we don’t see how this can happen with the current government. It’s abdicated it’s responsibilities. We’ve seen no results and I’m very concerned. Haiti needs to change. Otherwise, why would we keep working? All Haitians need to be very conscious right now, otherwise we won’t get anywhere.

Originally from Saskatchewan, Darren Ell is a teacher, photographer and freelance journalist residing in Montreal. Between 2006 and 2008, he documented the legacy of the 2004 coup d’état in online publication with theCitizenshiftThe Dominion and Haiti Action. His photographic installation on this subject, Haiti Holdup, was exhibited at Concordia University in Montreal.

Photo © Darren Ell 2010

 

 

 

 

 

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Occupation of Haiti consolidated

Beverley Bell explains that in “ceding it’s independence”, the Haitian government and the US led [re]construction has allowed the Haitian earthquake to be used to consolidate the foreign occupation of Haiti which is led by the “Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (CIRH).

The CIRH’s mandate is to direct the post-earthquake reconstruction of Haiti through the $9.9 billion in pledges of international aid, including approving policies, projects, and budgeting. The World Bank will manage the money.

The majority of members on the CIRH are foreign. The criterion for becoming a foreign voting member is that the institution has contributed at least $100 million during two consecutive years or has cancelled at least $200 million in debt. Others who have given less may share a seat. The Organization of American States and non-governmental organizations working in Haiti do not have a vote.
Now they’ve developed the CIRH, which has moved the military occupation we had to a new level of economic and political occupation, though we already had an economic occupation with the lowering of trade barriers and the destruction to local production.

“The CIRH only gives power to the Haitian executive branch and the international community. This doesn’t respond to constitutional norms; it’s illegal. The constitution talks of three branches, but only one is involved in the CIRH. Only those close to the president, plus a commission of which majority power is foreign, have power. This has made Haiti a rèstavak [child slave] and opens the doors for the dictatorial powers we used to have to return. This is not the path to democracy. Continue Reading…..

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In /humanitarian aid

This afternoon I got soaked in a  torrential down pour in South Florida.  First thing I thought about was all the people living outside or in tents in Haiti.  After I got myself nicely showered and dry I sat down and read this post from Carole DeVilliers on her second trip to Haiti in which she stresses the point that three months on and people still remain without “the most basic necessity – a roof over their heads”

Rains have started early and downpours are frequent. Again and again I hear the same comment “The government doesn’t do anything for us”. I cannot stay doing nothing, even though my modest means may provide only a patch on the wounds of destitution and distress. Through PATCH-Haiti (Photography in Aid To Children of Haiti), a program I started long ago, and with the proceeds of a photo sale fund raiser I organized in Albuquerque, I was able to buy and bring eight dome tents to provide emergency shelters to the most needy I meet on my visits………….People are excited and another woman asks me to come and see where she lives “It’s as bad as her” she says, talking about Lavilia. I go and look. Indeed, a small and flimsy tarp is attached on poles no higher than three feet. “When it rains I sleep on the small table with my daughter, underneath the tarp. Otherwise I sleep right there on the pavement.” she explains to me. She sells some small items such as candies and cookies, displayed in a flat basket on an bucket.

Adeline Gaspard and her daughter Judeline show where
they live – under the small blue tarp.

One of the most recurring themes in the reports from Haiti is that thousands still remain without shelter, food, medical help and for women vulnerable to rape as they sleep.   The question “where is the money” keeps cropping up.  Take this investigative documentary on the work and monies collected by the American Red Cross [ARC]  in Haiti “How did the Red Cross spend $106 million?”

The American Red Cross issued it’s three month report on expenditures in Haiti recently, but people are asking, where’s the American Red Cross in Haiti? After a recent trip to Haiti, Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida also had her doubts about Red Cross efforts in Haiti. “The lack of a visible presence of the Red Cross even prompted the congresswoman to question whether she could recommend that citizens donate to the group. ‘I wouldn’t say that,’ she said when asked if the Red Cross was the best place for [people] to donate.”

The ARC has collected $409 million.  They claim they spent $110 million on food shelter  and health and reached 2 million people.  But Haitians say they do not see evidence of this money being spent eg no shelter, food etc has been received by many people.    Three questions arise.  Where is the remaining two thirds of the money collected and why have only half those in need of shelter received anything.   And why are  people are receiving vaccinations  for illnesses they may never contract when emergency medical health should be the priority?   The video report is essential viewing and goes into detail about claims and realities on the ground.  The ARC also came under harsh criticism for it’s handling of emergency relief during the Hurricane Katrina  and elsewhere and there is a possibility of a class action suit being filed by the Friday Haiti Relief Coalition.
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UN figures on aid to Haiti dont add up

I made a serious error on the title of this post – it should read UN and not US.
The UN’s claim that three months after the earthquake it has reached most of the one and half million displaced is misleading…..

One tyranny is the spawn of a hundred more

Kali Akuno critiques the notion of ‘humanitarian interventionism” which he describes as an ideological and strategic tool of neoliberalism…..

a tool developed through the auspices of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), under the guiding hand of the US government, to be executed through the UN to allow the imperialist powers to legally and morally interfere in the domestic affairs of weaker nations. Stated plainly, it is colonialism dressed in fine linen. As a practice it gained legitimacy after the imperialist-induced atrocities in Rwanda, Burundi and the former Yugoslav republic in the 1990s to allegedly put an end to crimes against humanity such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. In the wake of these atrocities the UN, under the direction of the US and its European allies, has executed the doctrine of humanitarian intervention in all of the aforementioned countries and the DR Congo, Iraq, Somalia and Haiti

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“They would not help me before the quake. Why would I bother to ask them now?

Haitian community activist Rea Dol talks about SOPUDEP the school she started in 2000, the struggles to keep it going and surviving the earthquake… without the help of the “Republic of NGO’s”. This is what happened to Rea and thousands of other Haitians who acted to help themselves. They knew that from past experience that to wait for help was a waste of time – and she was right, still they have not come to help!

When the quake hit and Rea realized she was still alive, her first instinct was to get to work.

“I knew many of my kids were buried under the rubble. I felt I could not stay in my house. My mission was to help the kids. I tried to do my best. I’m not a doctor; I’m not a nurse, but I tried”

Rea strapped a gallon of the surgical disinfectant Betadine to her back and climbed through the devastated hillsides, washing the wounds of the injured as best she could. When possible, she arranged transport for the broken bodies that still held a flicker of life.

How did she find the strength?

“I have gone beyond what I was the day before the earthquake,” is all she will say.

And so Save the Children has done nothing to save Rea’s children. But she continues to try, against all odds.

Needs are many. Temporary classrooms are a must, but tents are impossible to come by here. The current school will never be used, but the field is secured at 83 Delmas Road. She needs $20,000 to pay it off completely. Haitian officials have promised tents, but it is doubtful they will arrive……….Continue Reading

Links: Haitians still not receiving aid – corporate scramble , missionary scramble
Dont feed the Haitians, they already got one meal a day.