Category Archives: Occasional Musings

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: 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: Photo journalism or poverty porn

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and hungry, sick or dead in a photo album on a desk in New York, sold  for $10 a piece?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing  and desperate and needy, to be pitied or saved.   Take my bible and I will feed you the bread?

To be poor in Haiti: is to be reformatted as ‘troubled’ and to feed the pockets of foreign NGOs and journalists.?

To be poor in Haiti: is that to be nothing and no one of value and dignity and meaning and sacred potential? Accountable for in the story of this country?**

Brad S Workman - Turning World
Brad S Workman – Turning World

 

I was alerted to the website Turning World - @Turning_world – by some friends here in Haiti. The site is run by photo journalist, Brad Workman who has an ongoing photo documentary in Haiti.  I took issue with his language, the project, the fact that there is no acknowledgement let alone giving back to those whose lives he invades under the guise of social documentary.   The books and prints are for sale on the website.  and  previews here.   There  are different ways to tell a story without invading peoples lives and assaulting their dignity – see here and here the photos chosen by the Camp Acra residents on their blog which should be a lesson on what Haitians see for themselves.   Teju Cole’s 7 point tweet analysis of the   “White-Savior Industrial Complex”  is a must read for any white saviors or potential white saviors embarking on a savior mission..

4 – This world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs of white people and Oprah

7- I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an ey on it, for you know it is deadly.

The story be dammed – people are more important.  Enough already!

My email only begins to touch on the whole issue of the  ethics of disaster photo journalism and the white saviour mindset.  Two well known examples of disaster voyeurism are the  one of a  young Haitian girl, Fabienne Cherisma, who was photographed dead having been shot by a policeman after the January, 2010 earthquake.  The accompanying text states that looters then ‘went through her pocket to steal what they could” meanwhile  all 14 photographers stood by her body adjusting their lens for further shots- a kind of double shooting, one causing death and one prolonging death as imagery forever.   Two of the photographers won an award for the series.

A second even more disturbing photo is one of a Sudanese baby dying of hunger whilst a vulture  waited in anticipation of  her death.  The photographer, Kevin Carter, who also won an award, waited 20 minutes before chasing it away.  Journalists in Sudan had been told not to touch famine victims so instead of,  at the very least holding and caressing the child to at least give human comfort or try to get her to the nearest field hospital and treatment she was left alone.

There are  also many questions around  the unequal power relations between photographer and their subjects, objects. Photos rarely come with context beyond what was in the photographers lens at that moment and their decision to click.  We the observer are left with the photograph and our imagination to interpret what we see and if this is to influence thousands of white saviours to invade Haiti then I see that as problematic.  A question that constantly returns is why is it that so many white Americans, the majority who have no contact with Black people in their own country,  feel the need to spend their life saving the people of a Black nation?

In the case of Workman, the idea of photo journalism as non-interventionist is serialised across the global south under a guise of non-partisanship,  shooting people in distress and  ‘enmeshed in political or social change’ and for his own material gain as well as satisfying   ‘emotional needs’ and white privilege.  It’s certainly not driven by notions of solidarity and struggle for justice but rather flowing from sentimentality and who knows what other emotions are carried behind the choice to avoid the words ‘slavery’ and describe structures of violence as ‘troubles’!

 

Mr Workman

I am writing in response to your description [Turningworld.org] of your photo journalist project in Haiti where I note  you have visited 20 times.   Specifically I wish to respond to the your presentation and thereby engagement with Haiti based on the language used in the description which I find highly disturbing.

Firstly without text and context photos do not tell the story that needs to be told. So even before your photos are presented, the text you write is a shadow of the reality behind the story – So how will the truth be told?

You use the words ‘human bondage’ and Haiti’s resistance to this.  Why not simply be clear and upfront by using the word slavery and writing that Haiti has a history of revolution beginning with the only slave revolution which led to the first black independent nation?  Instead you imply that this ‘human bondage’ is not only continuing but you erase the very resistance you attempt to speak of.    Presumably after 20 visits you have an in-depth knowledge of Haiti’s history, culture and politics?   Incidentally are you aware that after Haiti’s independence many enslaved people who escaped managed to travel to Haiti to live as free men and women?  Are you aware that Haitians including the revolutionaries fought on the side of the Americans against the British. Are you aware that Haiti’s debt is a direct result of being forced to pay reparations to France for ending slavery and then being punished for demanding the return of these monies which have contributed to the impoverishment of the Haitian economy?

You write that ‘Haiti is a deeply troubled country’ and go on to speak of poverty as if poverty happens outside of the socioeconomic and political regional and global landscape. How is Haiti troubled in ways that other countries are, by implication not troubled?  This kind of Eurocentric exceptionlaism is counter productive as first of all it ignores the underlying systemic structures of capitalism which perpetuate poverty from Guatemala to India to Nigeria to Haiti to South Africa.   Secondly it singles out Haiti as being somehow different to other sites of poverty in for example the above countries which are at the very least as poor!  One just has to know and understand the racism  that underpins the US’s  relationship with Haiti, something I note completely ignore by those who come to ‘publicize and save’ Haiti from all manner of ‘misery’ to question a simplistic statement on poverty in Haiti.

You talk of hunger, child labor, street children, environmental degradation, limited health care, cholera as  ‘troubles’ ..  These are not TROUBLES, they are acts of violence and the direct effects of colonialism, elitism, occupation, capitalism and rampant disaster capitalism and what Paul Farmer calls structural violence for which western nations, the US, France etc are the driving force.    Attempting to de politicize Haiti in view of presenting a non-partisan perspective just doesn’t work because it erases the  proud history of this country, it erases the destructiveness of US and French imperialism, it erases the truth behind the poverty, the street kids and the non existence healthcare and the fact this present government is systematically disposing of the popular masses to the extremities of the city and the country.

You speak of MINUSTAH but only in half truths i.e. you fail to explain why they are in Haiti or the violence they have committed  in poor neighborhoods plus their responsibility of cholera.  You fail to mention the militarization in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake which added to the trauma of people’s lives.

I have viewed the first stage photos and I am deeply concerned at showing photos of wounded, hungry, sick vulnerable people.  This is a objectifying and insulting and pure pornography of poverty.    So the world will see these photos and the false narrative that Haiti is a poor diseased violent country is perpetuated.  Yes this I know to be the narrative.  It is one told to me regularly whenever I visit the US and mention Haiti, the one the media loves to describe as ‘the poorest country in the western hemisphere’  as if that is the sum of 10 million people and 300 years of history! .How on earth does this help Haiti?  And why do you feel you need to publicize the struggle rather than support or come in solidarity.   Whats the response OMG,  how awful these poor people are suffering, lets make way for more of the  faith based missionary and the NGO industrial complexes to save Haiti.

How about giving Haitians cameras and letting them take their own photos; how about providing equipment for Haitian photographers to train youth and kids so they can document their own lives as they see fit instead of a self-centered careerism on the backs of the poor people!

You mention ‘promotional’ photos on your web page without giving some proper explanation on the monetary value of these and what you intend to do with monied raised from this and the rest of your work.  I see no where  you explain how you will give back to the communities and people who will be come subjects [objects] of your work?

His reply which I  will leave for readers to interpret…

Dear Sokari Ekine:

Thank you for taking time to write such a thoughtful e-mail! I hope to
have additional contact with you as I work to complete (and possibly
expand) the “Embracing Haiti” project.

For now, I must go but will remain

Sincerely Yours,
Bradley S. Workman

 

 

** From from DMKW and from June Jordan

Haiti: Occassional Musings 21, A brief encounter with King Henry!

The Citadelle Henry
Citadelle Henry

A week ago, 17 of  traveled to Okap [Cap Haitian] for a few days vacation.  Apart from reunion with family, the center piece of our visit would be a trip to the Citadelle and Sans Souci, palaces built by Henri Christophe, [King Henry] one of the three revolutionary heroes of Haiti.   I’d seen photos and paintings of the palaces but as these can often be deceptive, I  didn’t have great expectations.   By 11am we were still not ready to leave and there were concerns that the climb would be too much under the midday sun.  Because no one could agree on what to do, the final decision on whether to go or not was placed with me.

My response was I had just traveled some 10,000 miles from Port Harcourt, Nigeria for the sole purpose of visiting the Citadel so not going was not an option – rain, sun, hail and unbelievably steep road!.  Not quite true but that’s how I felt at the time and used this as my argument for going.     The first part of the journey was by truck, up and up the steep winding cobbled road and still the palace was in the distance.  We arrived at the car park where we were harassed by tens of  souvenir hustlers and young men trying to get us to rent one of the small skinny horses all of whom we  ignored and began the long climb.  The initial half mile or so was so steep I honestly wasn’t sure I could make it and being surrounded by horse hustlers trying to get me to hire one didn’t help.  My legs moved in slow motion as if tied to chains and cannonballs.  One of our group tried to sit on one of the horses but promptly jumped off as the horse skipped precariously near the edge of the path.  Eventually the hustlers gave up and we were left in peace and sweat to make the climb in our own time.

Citadelle

The kids raced ahead whilst I and the rest of the old adults made the climb in just over 30 minutes.  As we got closer and closer we began to feel the grandeur of this magnificent palace, now a world heritage site, built on a foundation of rocks atop the highest point from which even the hills of Cap Haitian are over looked.

King Henry was born in Grenada in 1767.  According to a Haitian historian friend, at the age of 12, Christophe joined a ship’s crew and set sail for Saint-Domingue.   He worked as a waiter before joining the French army in Saint Domingue.   At the time the Americans were still fighting the British and had called upon the French for support.  In a  twist of irony,  Henry Christophe, soon to be Black revolutionary hero,  was one of 500 Haitian soldiers – the Corps de Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue,   who fought alongside  the Americans against the British at the Battle of Savannah in 1779.  I doubt many in the US today are aware of the role of Haitians in securing their own freedoms.   Another lesser known fact is that after Haiti’s independence  in 1804, many Black Americans began emigrating to  the island.

christophe

On his return, he left the French army and eventually joined with the revolutionary leaders, Janjak Desalin [Jean Jacques Dessalines] and Tousssaint L’Overture in the hills of Cap Haitian in the war to free Haiti from France and slavery which would lead to the country being the first Black independent nation in 1804

More on Henry Christophe at Kreyolicious

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.

 

Haiti: Occasional Musings, 20 – Further attacks on LGBT community in Port-au-Prince

446px-LGBT_flag_map_of_Haiti.svg

On May 17th  I attended a public gathering of LGBTI activists and friends in a downtown hotel in Port-au-Prince as part of a weekend of IDAHO events.   There were workshops, testimonies song and dance and a short play demonstrating street harassment and violence against LGBTI people but nothing on the scale of what has taken place in a short space of 6 weeks following a faith based anti-gay protest on 19th July.  2 murders, 47 people beaten with machetes, sticks and rocks and last weekend two further attacks. 

On Saturday in the areas of Morne Lazard in Petion-Ville a private house party was attacked by unknown people carrying machete, knives and stones.   They also carried Molotov cocktails which they threw into the house where a British and Haitian gay couple were celebrating their engagement. The police did try to intervene but either they didn’t try hard enough of the crowd was too large and no one was arrested.    On Sunday in the area of Delmas,  Marjory Lafontant who is the coordinator of lesbian organisation, FACSDIS,  was harassed and attacked with stones and bottles by a crowd…..

” They said they do not wish to have an LGBT activist living in their neighbourhood – this is very serious for the community”

Although President Martelly has condemned the violence, his words have clearly not reached local police as no one has been arrested for any of the above crimes.  The attack on Ms Lafontant in the vicinity her own home is  a further escalation in the violence against the community.    And because of the relative openness in the past LGBT people are extremely vulnerable at this time leaving everyone in a state of fear and anxiety over what will happen next!

 

 

Haiti: Occassional Musings 19 – Bondye from the mountain top

Last Sunday I took a trip up to the highest point overlooking the city of Port-au-Prince and took a few photos – it wasn’t particularly inspiring

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until I saw this little girl in luminous green – I missed the full body shot

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whilst being harassed by street vendors all selling the same old same old except for these fellows on sewing machines.

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This is Haiti so it was no suprise to come across a bus of white saviours – they are everywhere, sent to Heal Haiti which assumes she is sick

 

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An overheard abusive comment directed at a young white woman goes something like this – ‘please marry me so I can have babies that look like you and I will never be hungry again’ – the damage though not altogether irreparable is severe enough to elicit rage in side of me and the heroes of the past become meaningless caricatures amongst the endless parade of white and black faith healers calling for the heads of queer folk, upholding biblical patriarchy and responding to poverty as some biblical pestilence due to sin and human failings.

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I learned that there is an organisation in the US called Feed my Starving Children supported by corporate sponsors including the Minnesota Vikings football team. They raise tens of millions to feed the poor in Haiti and 74 other countries -Their website has a photo of two young white well fed children full of cheer as they bag up cups of dried soya, this juxtaposed with photos of a Haitian toddler sitting on a dirt floor eating the reconstituted packed food and a smiling Guatemalan boy holding a pack of Manna [as in manna from heaven] Rice. FMSC hopes to put an end to starving children by the miracle of compassion

With God’s help Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) will strive to eliminate starvation in children throughout the world by helping to instill compassion in people to hear and respond to the cries of those in need.

Manna from Corporate Heaven and providing a great deal of people with the feel good factor that they helped feed God’s starving Haitian and Guatemalan children.

Feeding hungry children is laudable but if you have been doing this for the past 25 years and people in the same towns and villages remain hungry then clearly this is no solution to liberating people from the prison of hunger unless of course you believe the poor exist in order for you to feed them thereby ensuring your ascendency to heavenly glory! I lament over the fact that FMSC raises tens of millions every year to feed hungry kids in dependent perpetuity but a project like Growing Haiti to provide commercially viable and sustainable urban farming cannot even raise a few thousand – a project that would initially provide jobs for 150 women so they could feed their families fresh nutritious food rather than dried up rice and soya nuggets melted in boiling water. Maybe Oprah could help out now she missed out on the $38,000 bag in the ‘you cant put a price on racism’ drama!

I left the hilltop and stopped off at St Joseph’s Mission in Delmas rebuilt after the earthquake – my friend sits and contemplates the day and plans for tomorrow – I walk around taking more photos only to later discover my battery died which could be a metaphor for something .

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Haiti: Occasional Musings, 18 – climbing mount Canaan with a mobile clinic

On Sunday a dream came true.   Organized by Rea Dol, women from Le Phare in Jalouzi and SOPUDEP including volunteer nurses  came together to provide the women of Canaan with their first mobile clinic. One hillside community coming to support women from another hillside community and together they climbed mount Canaan or as Jacques Roumain puts it

Today I work your field, tomorrow you work mine. Cooperation is the friendship of the poor [Masters of the Dew]

and Jean Bertrand Aristide

That [this] is the force of solidarity at work, a recognition that we are all striving towards the same goal, and that goal is to go forward, to advance, to bring into this world another way of being…………  I live in Haiti [In the Parish of the Poor]

There is no clinic in the whole of Canaan, a IDP camp of somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000 so for this group of women, members of Aide Humanitarian, Sunday was a special day.  The first tasks was registration and then on to receiving patients and handing out medication.

7 nurses attended 48 children 90% who had infections, flu and malnutrition. Of the 40  women who came, the majority had  vaginal infections and many also had eye infections from the dust plus 4 women were pregnant.  It was really an amazing day.  None of the women or children would otherwise have received treatment and even if they could have afforded to pay it would have taken them hours to reach the nearest clinic.

Over 300 women came on Sunday to attend the clinic and due to the nature of the illnesses, Rea and the other volunteers will try to return next weekend with another clinic.

Sorting out the medication in Solidarity House
Sorting out the medication in Solidarity House

 

Enough for the next few mobile clinics
Enough for the next few mobile clinics

 

Women in Canaan 1 waiting to receive treatment
Women in Canaan 1 waiting to receive treatment

 

Volunteer nurses
Volunteer nurses

 

Nurses and patients
Nurses and patients

The plan is to try to hold the mobile clinic at least once a month but though it will be a huge challenge to find ways to purchase medicines and vitamins and to sustain the clinic, I have no doubt a way will be found.  If  anyone is interested in working in solidarity with this project and wish to know, more please email me at sokari AT blacklooks DOT org.

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

Haiti: Occasional Musings, 17 -evictions, hunger, continued persecutions & one victory!

 

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Last Wednesday residents of Camp Bristou in Peguy Ville were forcefully evicted by agents of the state and local police.  Bristou is overlooked by Mojub school which is part of SOPUDEP community and many of the women, men and children who attend the school and literacy classes lived in the camp and the surrounding area.

In nearby Delmas, the residents at Camp Acra & Adoquin continue to live in fear of another fire or worse a complete eviction.  In addition to Esther Pierre and Elie Jean-Louis, another Chanjem Leson member, Augustin Dieudonne who lived close to the murdered man,  has also begun to receive threatening phone calls sometimes 3/4 in a day.     Last Thursday 7 plain clothes agents entered the camp at 11.45 pm asking for his whereabouts. Fortunately he was warned and was able to leave.  His family have now left for their own safely.  He is fearful as he believes the police have fixated on the three activists and will not stop until they are dead.   People in the camp are afraid and many of them are hungry and sick.

Bristou camp is the third forced eviction in Petion-Ville this year.  Along with the destruction of the camps is the daily harassment of street vendors and market women.  The attacks are vicious as police and other security bulldoze, ransack and sometimes burn down the public spaces.  Every few days agents of the mayor, young men wearing yellow  or green t-shirts and armed with sticks drive up in trucks and proceed to destroy stalls, scatter food and chase the vendors up and down the streets.   Many of the women from the FASA micro-credit which provides small loans to street vendors working in Petion-Ville, have lost their goods and much of their trade as they now have to hide on side streets with small baskets in case they need to run.  On Saturday I learned that all vendors and kiosks selling on the only Jalouzi street would have to leave as the government planned to rebuild the steep hillside road.   No one is arguing against the building of the road  even though most Jalouzi residents do not have cars and the road is way to narrow for tap taps.  But this development should not be at the expense of poor women who have no other way to earn a living other than to sell on the streets or kiosks.

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Flaurantine Enise who has a small kiosk selling non-prescription drugs is one of the women who will loose her trade.  As I sat with her,  her faced taught with the strain at this latest act of violence she explained how the kiosk supports the whole family, 4 adults, 2 teenagers and her granddaughter.  Her two sons cannot go to college because they can hardly afford to feed themselves let alone pay school fees. Occasionally they find work for 50/100 gdes [$1/2]    Her youngest daughter has a heart condition and much of the family’s income goes on her medical expenses.   And people ARE hungry.  Many people who do not eat from one day to the next. People who get sick from burning in their stomachs because they have no food to eat.   A  man who knows my host, walked across the city to our house to ask if he could take some breadfruit for himself and his family.  He said they had not eaten properly for days.   Another young man sent me a text saying he was ill with a fever.  I went to meet him and he could hardly stand.  He eventually admitted he had not eaten for days.  People are hungry everywhere and for many children, death is a real possibility.  This report from  Belle Anse in southern Haiti states two out of three people have insufficient and irregular food.

6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can’t afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government’s National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems.

I don’t doubt these figures but the report completely ignores UN and US complicity Haiti’s present situation.  For example it makes no mention of  the devastation caused by cholera.  It  fails to adequately explain the US’s role in destroying Haitian rice and the livelihood of many farmers.   It mentions the low wages but fails to make the connection with corporate exploitation being pushed by the US and Haitian elite to use Haiti as a factory outpost of cheap labour.   For example many of the people who sold their land to accommodate the Caracol Industrial park have spent the money but now have no land to farm and therefore feed themselves.   Others in the city want to return home to the country where at least they can grow their own food but they are stuck in a cycle of debt and very often the need  for healthcare access,  however limited this may be in the capital, it is far more than in rural areas.

Hunger is not unique to Haiti but  set against the billions of dollars to fund an ever increasing militarization – the  UN / US occupation, a newly formed para-military presence on the streets,  private armed security and macoute like state thugs who terrorize market vendors and people on the streets.  Everywhere there are men with pistols,  automatic rifles, batons, sticks and AK 47s patrolling the streets of the central city parameters, in full combat gear, weapons at the ready.   In the US surveillance is carried out through the back door collecting data on everything we do.   In Haiti, surveillance of the popular masses is carried out in the open through guns and government thugs.   The UN continue to deny  criminal negligence in introducing cholera and NGOs, though heavily reduced in numbers, continue to plough the streets with little apparent benefit to anyone but themselves.    But worst of all Haiti’s poor have been swept to the margins, their livelihoods  often dependent on an assortment of religious missionaries, evangelicals and charities leaving them with very little agency or a sustainable future.

After months of promising myself, I finally started reading Jacques Roumain’s “Masters of the Dew“. I am still on the introduction which is quite long, where I came across this paragraph.   Before coming to a depressing conclusion it should be noted that ‘Masters of the Dew’ could also translate into ‘master of ones destiny – of imposing one’s will on the world’ in which case being fed up with poverty may well lead to taking action to end it – personally and or politically.

They were fed up with poverty.  They were worn out. The most reasonable among them were loosing their senses.   The strongest were wavering.  As for the weak, they had given up.  “Whats the use?” they said. One could see them stretched out, sad and silent, on pallets before their huts, thinking about their hard luck, stripped of all their will power.   Others were spending their last pennies on clarin at Florentine’s the wife of the rural policeman, or else they were buying it on credit, which would sooner or later catch up with them.

Fonds Rouge [the village setting] was falling  away into debris  and the debris consisted of these good peasants, these earnest hardworking Negroes of the land. Wasn’t it a pity, after all? [P.104]

Recently Place Boye,  which up till a year ago housed a large IDP camp in Petion-Ville was opened as a new park including a basketball court.  [Back story was each family was given $500 to leave, just enough for one room rent for a year.  Now the year is over many are facing a second eviction from the rentals. ]     On the day of the opening by President Martelly a group of women from Le Phare in Jalouzi came down and demanded they be given the job of taking care of the park.   This was agreed and now there are 10 women and two youths with the responsibility of keeping the park clean and tidy.    They insisted I came to see them and everyone was smiling with double kisses.  A wonderful victory  as a group of women decided to seize the opportunity and took action to end their misery.

 

 

 

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 16, Willgesta’s hole in the heart surgery

 

Recently I passed through the high security zones of Petion-Ville and Delmas on my way to Cite Soleil where policing is limited to the neighbourhood parameters. It’s very possible I was missing something and the police were hiding at the ready as the tap tap driver complained that he did not like coming to CS because there were bad people here.  Unfortunately with my limited Kreyol I could not understand the reason for his nervousness.   I had gone to visit with Dr Carroll at the  pediatric clinic at the ‘House of the Sisters’ * where he has worked for many years.  The clinic is set in a large tranquil compound with a school, a sewing training center for women and a nutrition center for underweight babies to attend with their mothers.  There are two security guards at the entrance but thankfully they are not armed.   As usual the shaded courtyard was filled with mothers, babies and toddlers. Many more  waited patiently inside in the large airy waiting room.

Lunch at the nutrition center for babies

It was already 11am and  Doktor John’s morning clinic had been running for a few hours.  I opened the door hesitantly and entered. He immediately greeted me and began to tell me about 11 month old baby Willgesta Pierre who needs hole in the heart surgery.  A previous patient, baby  Elie Joseph who at the time was living in the one of the worst camps in PAP, Aviation City  [a shameful reminder of the assault on human dignity and the failures of post earthquake humanitarianism]. Baby Elie needed similar treatment but died after his mother failed to get her passport to the Dominican Republic for the operation.   Dr Carroll described Elie’s death as a series of failures including his own

Big mistakes plus little mistakes plus big negligence plus little negligence all adds together and equals death. Just because his parents don’t know how it all works, doesn’t mean people aren’t at fault.

And we are all failing the hundreds of thousands of innocents living in the tents now. There is no urgency for the poor. There never has been.

I imagine Elie’s death was foremost in Carroll’s eyes and the need to ensure that baby Willgesta did not die through a similar set of failures.  Repairing a hole in the heart [ventricular septal defect] is just a 15 minute operation but it requires sophisticated medical technology to keep the blood pumping whilst the heart is being repaired, high medical expertise in a specialist pediatric heart surgeon, and reliable electricity, a combination not present in Haiti at this time.    Willgesta was admitted to hospital in April but needs her surgery quickly.  Already the pressure is building up around her lungs and if this continues she will need both lung and heart replacement which is not going to happen.  So now he has to sell the surgery to his local hospital in the US, find a surgeon willing to operate for free [this is the easiest of his tasks] and get visas for baby and mother all in the next few weeks.    In his words

There is absolutely no excuse for this baby to die – ZERO!

One of the biggest problem in providing appropriate and timely treatment is clinic hopping  Patients go from one clinic to the next  often without a clear knowledge of the diagnosis and or forgetting the treatment they received.   The lack of documentation is time wasting and patients are retreated for the same problems whereas with documentation the doctor would be able to see a particular patient has repeated problem and look for an underlying problem.   Willgesta is an example of this.  She has been to five clinics and all she she has to show is a bag full of payment receipts but nothing has been done for her daughter.  Now she is critical with fever and sweats and worse, possibly TB which is rampant throughout Haiti.  How does one begin to understand any of this when the struggle to pay for doctors is pitted against the struggle to eat. Three, four hours spent traveling from clinic to clinic, each time waiting in hope that someone will care enough to do something.

Earlier I mentioned the root cause of illness amongst Cite Soleil residents is structural violence – those social conditions which determine   ‘who will suffer abuse and who will be shielded from harm‘ and their discriminatory affects. [Paul Farmer**]. Lets take as one example the  cost of maintaining the 2012-13 UN occupiers which is  $648,394,000.   In contrast the World Bank just announced $70 million for maternal and child health in Haiti. We are told that 1.8 million  women, children and vulnerable families will benefit though we are not told the quality and quantity of that benefit and more importantly how much of that money will go towards operational and staff costs?    But its deeper than that as whilst any improvement in the access and use of health services is of course  a positive step, the real cause of illness in Cite Soleil and elsewhere, is due in large to living conditions and since  the World Bank money will not be used to improve these in any way,  then the programme ends up as a bandaid used to cover a bullet wound.

 

* The Rosalie Rendu Pediatric Clinic in Cite Soleil is run by the Daughters of Charity. The Daughters are Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul which

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

Haiti: Persecution and death threats to camp activist & human rights lawyer

Following the death in police custody of camp resident, Civil Meris on April 15th 2013, Jean-Louis Elijah [Elie] Joseph and Esther Pierre of Camp Acra and Adoquin in Delmas 33, along with the camps lawyer, Patrice Florvilus of Defenders of the Oppressed are now living under threat of arrest and believe their lives are in danger.  It seems pertinent to now ask the question:  When President Martelly tells us Haiti is open for business, does he mean the business of commerce or is he referring to the business of bullying and repression from para military police many of whom are drawn from the ranks of the old Haitian army, well known for their violence towards civilians.

 

Esther Pierre & Jean-Louis Joseph

Background

Within 24 hours of the January 12th earthquake, people seeking refuge began to arrive on the land that is now home to  32,000 people [52% are women], known as Camps Acra and Adoquin. For the first three months there were no tents.  People made shelters from what they could find on the streets, pieces of wood, plastic, zinc. There was no water, no sanitary facilities and though food was provided by Oxfam there were just too many people so eating was irregular.   For women and children the camp was a dangerous space with people stealing, fights, beatings and rapes.

After living like this for three months it became clear to many of the residents that they needed to organize themselves so they could make representations to NGOS for tents, water, sanitation as well as arrange security patrols particularly at night.  The camp along with other camps across Port-au-Prince, is now represented through the Chanjem Leson movement  Two of the camps founders and committee members are Elie Joseph and Esther Pierre.

April 13th

On April 13th the camp residents received a visit from Reynold Georges who claimed to be the owner of the land and of note is also the lawyer for Jean-Claude Duvalier.   He threatened to burn and bulldoze the camp if they did not leave the camp.  The following Monday a section of the camp was set on fire by two motorcyclists, possibly in the hope of keeping Reynold Georges promise to destroy the whole camp.   Some of the residents went to report the fire to the Commissariat  at Delmas 33 which is next door to the camp but  were told there was no petrol for police vehicles and there was nothing they could do.  More and more people began to gather and proceeded to block the road outside the Commissariat to protest against the fire and the police’s refusal to help.  The police arrested two camp residents, Meril Civil and Darlin Lexima who was released after 24 hours.   Lexima reported to the camp lawyers that he was beaten and that he believed Civil was also beaten.  According to the police, Civil was taken to the hospital but died.  However,  Lexima believes he was killed in the police station and was already dead when he arrived at the hospital.

The families of Lexima and Civil have taken advice from a number of people including Elie Joseph, and the camps lawyer Patrice Florvilus.  They have made representations to the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police including the names of the six Delta  officers [a special armed unit attached to many of the police stations] attached to Delmas 33 Commissariat.  In addition Esther Pierre went to the hospital to view the body of Meril Civil and took the photos showing he was beaten.

It is because of these actions that the three activists – Jean-Louis Elijah [Elie] Joseph,  Esther Pierre and human rights lawyer, Patrice Florvilus are now in hiding and in fear for their lives.    Elie is well known to the Commissariat Delta Force as he was arrested in August following floods brought about by Hurricane Sandy.  The camp residents were protesting about the flooding in the camp, the lack of water and the many tents which were destroyed.   Elie spent three days in police custody during which time he was severely beaten.  He was released after the court threw out the case for lack of evidence.    He believes the police and particularly the Delta force have a vendetta against him.   Plain clothes police are walking around the camp asking people if they have seen Elie and Esther.   Residents are fearful and rightly so.  Only a few months ago in February, Camp Acra 2 in nearby Petion-Ville was set on fire  and ransacked by security forces leaving thousands once again homeless.  Camp Acra and Adoquin residents now live day by day wondering if and when this will happen to them.

The Camps are part of the Chanjem Leson movement set up after the earthquake to campaign for better conditions in the camp and ultimately for housing for all the residents.   I asked Elie and Esther what they would like people to know and to do..

 Esther:  We are not asking the government to give us houses as a charity. We want to pay for our houses over 25 or 30 years.  We have the land which has been given to us but we need $10,000 to pay for the papers and either the government or NGOs to build the houses for us on credit.   This is our struggle. We do not want to stay on this land in this camp so there is no need for this man or anyone to come and threaten us.  We will leave when we are given homes. This is our right under the Haitian constitution. The people in the camp are nervous and afraid as we do not know what will happen next.  You remember how they destroyed the camp Acra 2 at Petion-Ville?

 Elie:  We would like all militants  from across the world to come together in solidarity as right now we are all separated here and there.  This is one solution to the problem we have in Haiti and in the world – we are not united.  People should also know that in Haiti there is a history of persecution of activists and people who advocate for human rights.   People get shot and disappear.  One day I feel I will also get shot or disappear. These are the ways of Haiti under repression by the government.

In Haiti there are two problems : everyone wants to be a Chief and secondly the white man has too many interests in the country so if they don’t kill you for the power, they will kill you for the interest of the blan [foreigner]!

Personally I am not afraid because I grew up in Cite Soleil and everyone in Cite Soleil is an activist from when they are born.  I have been in exile after the first coup against President Aristide. I lived in the Dominican Republic which is where I met the human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre Antoine who disappeared in 2007.   I have been arrested by the police when I was living in Cite Soleil. These are not new to us in Haiti but we are told this government is a democratic government so this is how democracy is in Haiti.

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 15, Camp Canaan

 

Women of Aide Humanitarian – Canaan 1

 

This is not a story of great revolutionary heroes nor  is it a story about Haitian elections, political parties, NGOs, the UN or even cholera though no doubt many of the residents  have suffered from the illness directly or through the death of relatives and friends.   In the scheme of Haiti’s big stories this is a small story .  Its  a short story of a group of very ordinary Haitian women and their children  who came to live on the top of a desert mountain which is aptly named Canaan 1.    Ilioma Valceus se Claudette moved to Canaan 1, a few months  after the January 2010 along with tens of thousands of other displaced Haitians, the majority women and children.   In the past year more and more people have moved to the mountain, some evicted from city center camps, others recently evicted from rental property having taken the $500 to voluntary move, only to realize a year later they can no longer pay the rent.

 

Canaan

Se Claudette and the women in her community live at the top of Canaan, a 30 minute walk downhill to the tap tap and market below and 40 minutes back up the hill.  There are few vendors here just the occasional kiosk.  No electricity and most of the time no phone signal. Water for bathing and washing is delivered every few days and sells for 7gds a bucket.  In the day the sun burns on the unprotected landscape but still the air is fresh,  free from the toxic fumes of the city below.  There is a kind of peace on top  of the mountain, if only it wasnt so dry and full of stones, the women could grow some their own food as land is plentiful.    The arrival of the rains has meant the unpaved, pot holed, rocky road have become even more perilous as with each daily rain, the direction and surface change.  For women and girls the quiet peace of the day turns into nightmare threats of violence in the night from rapists and sexual harasment.

A stadium is being built and rumour has it that there will also be a new luxury hotel – Haiti is going through a phase of building luxury hotels and repaving roads.  For some reason these are seen to be a priority over providing houses, clinics and free education.   Across the city, the residents of Camp Acra in Delmas 33 are now on constant alert, waiting, watching for the arrival of eviction squads – what is the point of providing the city with parks and roads if people do not have houses which they can afford?  As there are more and more evictions so too will the number of people surviving in Canaan grow.

Camp Bakery? 

Camp Acra Bakery

I first met se Claudette briefly some months ago when she visited Solidarity house.  She wanted Mdm Rea and myself  to visit Canaan and at least give some encouragement to the women and youth.   They are presently trying to start a much needed  adult literacy class   but also need to generate income.  At present a few of the women have small enterprises and are able to help take care of those with no employment but  this is not sustainable long term.    One sustainable idea we had is for a bakery.  I had visited the two bakeries at Camp Acra and this is probably the best solution for income generation at this time.   A bakery would provide employment for at least 10 women and as  there is no bakery in the area,  I see no reason why it would not succeed.   Based on the costs of the Camp Acra bakery, the start up costs would $1,500 – $3000 depending on the number of ovens and the cost of building a small structure from zinc and wood.   The money could be repaid in 6 months to a year and would also enable the women to begin literacy classes and as well as support the weekly Kids Club and monthly youth clubs.

If anyone wishes to donate to the bakery start up please do so via SOPUDEP’s website, with the subject  ‘Bakery for Canaan’.

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 14, “the wasps have been knocked out of the nest”*

UPDATE
President Aristide today held a press conference in which he announced that Lavalas’s participation in the next elections – mobilization begins!

Two years after his March 2011 return to Haiti, former President and Fanmi Lavalas leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide made his first appearance in public. President Aristide had been called to court by the investigative judge, Yvickel Dabr̩sil, to answer questions around the April 2000 assassination of of his friend and fellow Lavalas member, journalist and activist Jean Dominique. Full details of the events surrounding the murder of Jean Dominique and the search to find those responsible has been well documented Рsee here and here. The assassination of Jean Dominique should be read as part of an historical silencing of human rights and Lavalas activists such as Father Jean- Marie Vincent, murdered in 1994; Father G̩rard Jean-Juste who died in 2009 of cancer believed to have been contracted during his imprisonment on false charges in 2005; and Lovinsky Pierre Antoine who disappeared on the 12th August 2007.

The court’s imposition on President Aristide as well as former President Rene Preval, again requires a closer reading to understand it as a political act and part of an ongoing attempt by the present ‘Duvalierist government of President Michel Martelly to discredit and once again prevent Fanmi Lavalas from participating in Haitian politics and in particular from the forthcoming elections. It was therefore not surprising that TV National Haiti [TNH] could only file a 60 second report that mentioned the reasons for the hearing but with no commentary and no mention of the thousands who accompanied President Aristide to and from the courts.

Yesterday”s massive outpouring of the popular masses, in many ways marked an important juncture in Haitian politics vis a vis Fanmi Lavalas’s continued importance and strength. Aristide’s supporters, many who slept outside his house throughout the night of the 7th / 8th May, ignored the government’s ban on holding a protests to which they responded, its not a protest its a march! With cries of “bare pa bare n’ap pase” barrier or no barrier we will pass, and “Aristide se wa nan peyi a” Aristide rules”, tens of thousands reclaimed the streets. People also marched in Gonaïves, in Cap Haitian, and in Les Caye. I’ve been on probably hundreds of marches in my life but the sheer spontaneous joy expressed by marchers was incredible and inspiring. Yes, there was anger at the present administration, at the UN and the discrediting of Lavalas but the overwhelming feeling was one of commradship and joy. From around 8am crowds began to gather near the courthouse in Champ Mars which had been condoned off by police. At 10am, when I entered the courthouse, there were perhaps a few thousand supporters scattered around the nearby streets. By the time Aristide left the court house some 2 hours later there were tens of thousands lining the streets as far as one could see. As the motorcade exited the courthouse premises, Aristide made the first of two surprise but brief appearances from his car, and greeted the crowds. Instead of returning directly to his home in Tabarre, President Aristide moved slowly through the surrounding streets and onto Champ Mars and then to Bel Air neighbourhood where he made a second stop standing on the car roof to greet the crowds. Yes, this was about a beloved hero , but to dismiss this as simply about President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is too miss the symbolic meaning which he embodies, that is a different Haiti to the one designed by the USA and the present administration which is essentially a factory of cheap labour and cheap resources for global capital, to one of hope, dignity and independence. Fanmi Lavalas is a movement of people and as such it is not dependent on any one individual.

The title for this piece is a quote by one of the marchers reported in the Washington Post.

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 13,

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

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

One tweet by @anthonyfenton sums up SP in Haiti

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

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

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

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

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: 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Haiti – Feminist Series 4, In conversation with Flaurantin Marie Enise

Looking up into Jalouzi

Jalouzi is a hillside neighborhood of about 200,000 people overlooking lower Petion-Ville.  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 looking east to the sea and north to the mountains.  The only way to travel 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 sloppy paths, difficult to negotiate. 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 small kiosk on the lower Jalouzi road.  The following are excerpts from conversations over the past 6 weeks between myself and Flaurantin and which are published with her permission.   Originally from Jacmel she began her community work in 1990.

I started working in the community in 1990  working with women.  We had a small school and mobile clinic where we would offer support and medicines to families.  Sadly I had to leave to come to Port-au-Prince 15 years ago with my husband and children.  I would love to return to Jacmel and even now there are women waiting for me to return but unfortunately my house was destroyed so it is not possible.  The community of Jalouzi is extremely poor with some of the most vulnerable women and children.  In 1999 I  decided to start the organization Le Phare [meaning Light] so I could participate in my community by  providing support and education to women and children and yes everybody who needs my help.  [FME]

Flaurantin Marie Enise

Le Phare is now part of the SOPUDEP community and the micro-credit project, Fanm SOPUDEP en Aksyon [FASA].   FASA began in March 2010 after the earthquake.  Rea Dol of SOPUDEP had been using donations to buy and distribute food and supplies to women however she saw that this was just not sustainable.  The next money she received she called a meeting with a group of women and explained they had a choice. Buy food with the money or try something more long term and sustainable such as a micro-finance scheme.  Everyone agreed on the latter and FASA cooperative was born.  Le Phare then became part of the  SOPUDEP  and FASA family.  Flaurantin is the Jalouzi sector coordinator which has  75 active members.  It is also in Jalouzi that  FASA recently opened a store for the programme.  They buy food in bulk and each week the women collect supplies to sell in the market.  Recently police have been driving street traders off the streets of Petion-Ville where all of the Jalouzi women sell their market.

More than 20 of our members were affected by these raids. They lost all their market, everything.   If they cannot sell on the streets in Petion-Ville what are they supposed to do?   Now each day the women go on the streets to try and sell but it is hard as they have to hide all the time from the police. It is too much stress but there is no other way to feed themselves.

As well as the micro-credit programme we now have cooking and sewing classes for young women and we hope this will help the women find ways to generate income once they have completed their training. [FME]

Women of FACE

Jalouzi was miraculously not affected by the January 2010 earthquake but nonetheless the residents like in other PAP neighbourhoods, face major challenges such as lack of access to healthcare, food insecurity, unemployment, lack of water and gender based violence.  Although there are some 100 matwons [midwives] in the neighborhood, community leaders like Flaurantin find themselves attending to various health crisis, intervening and supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence and generally helping those living in extreme poverty.

I delivered a baby at the weekend and the mother did not even have anything to cover where she was sleeping, it was terrible.     The women prefer to deliver their babies at home  but there are often problems such as breech birth and  pre-eclampsia is a very big for the women as they cannot attend pre natal clinics so those with high blood pressure end up very ill.  They are the ones who need emergency treatment but the nearest emergency  [free] hospital is the MSF in Delmas 33 which is far from here. There are a lot of women with HIV and recently gonorrhea has become a problem, which if the woman is pregnant can also be passed to the child. [FME]

Whilst many of victims of gender based violence including rape,  in the the post earthquake camps, have benefited from interventions by local and international NGOs, neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil and Jalouzi seem to be off the NGO radar and as Flaurantin remarked “The NGOs dont come here. We see them driving up and down in their cars but they never stop”.

We try to give the support for women who have been raped or beaten by their husbands but it is not easy as we do not have any resources only ourselves.   There is a lot of domestic violence but rape is not too much. The most difficult thing is getting women to make police reports even where children are the victims and this has happened in our community even recently.    We try to educate and it is important to give support and to participate [in the community] to know what is happening. That is all we can do keep talking about the problem.  Another problem more often than rape is forced sex in marriage and the women end up getting pregnant over and over which, with the poverty leads to women always being sick.   We do advise the women on birth control and there is ‘depo provera’ and one injection lasts for three months.  We also have female condoms but these are more expensive than male condoms. One of the forgotten groups of women is the elderly. Of course many are cared for by their families but many either have no family or their families are too poor to care for them.  These are probably the most vulnerable with street children –  many also live on the streets.  It is important that we include them in our work.   [FME]

The levels of poverty in neighbourhoods like Jalouzi are massive.  The people who live here  the cost and consequences of global capitalism and as Mahmood Mamdani states the actions of brutal regimes all over the global south break the backs of the poor in the interest of their imperial masters and capital.  And it is poor  women who are criminalized, disenfranchised further pushed to the margins of margins having to deal with multiple acts of violences.

Jalouzi sits next to the elite neighbourhood of Petion-Ville but the distance in the reality of lives is a thousand miles.  Whilst we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in all manner of ways,  its worth considering the question:  what we mean by  sisterhood, whether global or local.. what does it really mean?  In Haiti the media have gone, many of  the NGOs and UN agencies are gone and those remaining are scaling down.  For them the crisis is over, earthquakes and cholera, stories from yesterday.  Voices like Flaurantin’s, which speak to the many violences of poverty but also to the frontline work of women activists and their  commitment to movement building,  don’t get heard.

A last word from Flaurantin

The levels of poverty are so great [that] sometimes we cannot see our way out, we just survive.   But what is good about our organizing is though there is much misery, there is solidarity amongst us. [FME]

 

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

Haiti: Occasional Musings, 11 – International Women’s Day

I have a general wariness around national and international days which are set aside to remind us of a particular issue or celebration such as the Day of the Child, Human Rights Day, Water Day, Day Against Homophobia and International Women’s Day [IWD]. There seems to be something condescending about such designations not least of all because we often have no historical or other context for such days. I had thought to mark IWD 2013 with a profile of four Haitian women activists, three I have known for a number of years and one I just met this January. However after talking with each of them and considering the impact of their work in their communities I felt I needed to bring something deeper to my understanding of the relationship between IWD, feminism and activism in an Haitian context.

I started by reading on the history of IWD which I had always believed to be a post WWII creation along with the various declarations around human rights. Not so. IWD was born within the European and Russian socialist politic of the late 19th century along with May Day, as a celebration and recognition of working class struggles including ‘universal women’s suffrage’. In other words IWD was created out of the the intersection of class and gender and was formalised at the August 1910 at the “International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen”.

“In agreement with the class-conscious political and trade organisations of the proletariat in their respective countries, the socialist women of all nationalities will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to socialist precepts. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully. Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker, and other comrades

In her lecture “Wars Against Women” Angela Davis points to the multiple origins of IWD so in addition to the 1910 Socialist International there was the

“ Russian women’s strike for bread and peace in 1917 against the wishes of the revolutionary leadership which [later] helped to bring down the Czar. There was the triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911 during which 140 women, mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants were killed. There was also a 1857 strike on March 8th in New York by women in the garment and textile industry, in which they demanded, better wages, shorter working hours and generally better working conditions.”

The first IWD was in 1911 under the banner of ‘equal rights, protection of working woman and women’s suffrage. The ideology behind the early IWD was driven by a desire to end capitalism which was seen as the barrier to equality, to internationalize the struggle of women and workers and to oppose the impending war in Europe [WWI]. By the 1970s, IWD, which grew out of a socialist workers international was appropriated and incorporated into global capitalism through the institution of the UN, which despite the tensions of the east west cold war period, was always leveraged as an instrument of global capital. The first global recognition of IWD and women’s struggles, was through the UN Commission on the Status of Women which held a series of ‘internationals’ in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

Another interesting  example of the early IWD socialist connection took place  following the first UN  sponsored international in Mexico which designated March 8th as IWD.

“Cuba marked the occasion by launching it’s attack against the second shift – the shift women do when they get home from work and began to address some of the major issues that confront working women within a feminist framework.” [Angela Davis]

Davis also asks us to recognize the importance of the global in “recognizing the recognition of women’s pivotable role” in creating hope for a better future. I would add that these internationals also led to  the recognition of the ‘pivotable role’ played by women from the global south in the independence movements in the 1930s onwards and of course in post-colonial struggles. It is within this international or global history as well as Haiti’s own revolutionary history that I would like to view the activism of the Haitian women. Each of the four women’s organizing grew out of the struggle of the popular masses against the subjugation and brutality of the 1930s US Occupation, Duvalierism, militarisation and the desire to reclaim the revolutionary narrative which had long since been appropriated by Haitian elites, imperialist forces as well as local patriarchies.

Each of the women prioritise women’s struggles in the context of a broader activism of an inclusive movement of the popular masses.  So water rights, land rights, food insecurity, an end to the UN occupation, an increase in the minimum wage, free accessible education, sit alongside issues of gender discrimination, sexual violence, domestic violence, imprisonment of girls and women for extended periods often with delayed trials or years, access to healthcare,  and adult literacy.

Globalised Women

The clothes we wear the majority of which are made in China or the global south by women are invariably manufactured under extremely exploitative labour conditions. Even in Europe and the US, it is immigrant and often undocumented women’s labour that is used.   The food we eat.  Most of the sugar imported into the US comes from the Dominican Republic where Haitian men, women and children many of whom have been trafficked across the border,  work in slavery conditions on huge plantations.  The conditions are horrendous, there are few schools, clinics or access to alternative employment.  The petrol we use to travel has destroyed the livelihood of women in rural Niger Delta.

At the beginning of this post I said I was wary about the ‘celebration’ of designated international Days though I wasnt sure where or why my ambivalence.  But understanding the history of IWDs particularly learning the socialist history has given IWD a much needed context.

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 10, Doctors for Liberation

Solidarity Visit

Last Thursday we visited the Medical School of the Aristide Foundation [UniFA] and had the privilege of an audience with former first  lady, Mdm Mildred Aristide.  She spoke about the history of the medical school which though it was started in 2002 can be traced back to 1996 when Haiti restored diplomatic relations with Cuba which had been ‘ruptured’ through the years of Duvalier rule. In 1997 a medical cooperation began between Haiti and Cuba which enabled Haitian students to study medicine.   However President Aristide felt that even more students could benefit from the cooperation if Cuba doctors came to Haiti and trained students in their own country.   The school was then established ‘as a cooperation amongst the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, the Haitian government, the Taiwanese government and the government of Cuba.   In 2003 there were 247 medical first and second year students.

Following the 2004 US supported coup  against President Aristide, the school was completely trashed, shut down and many students and staff forced into hiding or exile.  The school compound was then occupied by the US and used as a military barracks until 2007 when it was finally returned to the Aristide Foundation.  Following the coup, many of the staff and students had to flee into hiding or exile for their own safety.  Others went to the Cuban embassy and were able to secure passage to Cuba to finish their studies.

After the 2010 earthquake the compound became a refuge for thousands of quake survivors from the neighbourhood of Tabarre where the Foundation is located.   The Foundation was able to explain they needed the grounds to rebuild and reopen the medical school and it was on this basis that residents voluntary left the camp.  Prior to returning to Haiti in March 2011, President Aristide reiterated his commitment to working in education and reopening the medical school was seen as the first step in this direction.  The school reopened in September 2011 with the help of Partners in Health and a group of Cuban doctors who remained in Haiti a year after the earthquake.  The first intake was an evenly divided 126 women and men and is now in its second year with 254 students.  By the second year, realising the school was not a political space they were able to attract Haitian doctors to the teaching staff and a nursing programe with 73 students was introduced.  Students are chosen strictly on merit but recruitment is encouraged from those living outside the capital particularly in rural areas and from poor families who would otherwise not have an opportunity to study medicine.

Madam Aristide went on to explain that despite the advances made by the foundation, the programme is

‘merely  a drop in the bucket, because every year Haiti graduates in terms of high school students taking the baccalauréat there are between 55,000 and 60,000 students who pass.  But when we look at the number of university seats in Haiti there are maybe 6,000 places available if you include the technical schools, so you can see right there a gaping hole. Again the concentration of university places are in the capital so its a tiny drop and a tiny drop in terms of Haiti’s medical needs when there are only 1.5 doctors to 11,000 people.  In terms of the Cuban relationship, since 1997 they have trained about 750 doctors, which is huge….So we have a lot of  challenges in the medical sector and we know our contribution is going to be a tiny drop but if we don’t start then further down the road we will face more difficulties.”

She went on to explain that though foreign doctors, were without doubt essential in the post-earthquake period,  the solution to a  sustainable healthcare programme in Haiti is to train it’s own doctors rather than continue to depend on  intermittent clinical care from overseas.   With this in mind the school works with for example,  Physicians for Haiti who provide a rotation of visiting doctors for up to two weeks in a training capacity.

The school also works within the medical schools immediate community,  Tabarre, where there are over 400 schools on education and healthcare through programmes on Radio TiMoun and a clinic serviced by the staff and students of the medical school.   These are some of the Foundation’s contribution to education and healthcare in Haiti where the challenges are huge ..

Its impossible to think you can construct a country and build and really go forward when you have the youth as a number one goal is to find a foreign visa and travel.  But that unfortunately is the reality because of the economic situation. We think we can train these medical professionals to work and stay in Haiti. That is part of the job, the second part is now  making sure they will be able  work and not only in the capital but in the countryside.   We also have to work with Haitian society so these students are not picked up by the US and Canada.  We already have an agreement with the new Partners in Health hospital at Mirebalais which is where our students will do their clinical training.

Just to bring the Haitian healthcare system into perspective, on Wednesday I witnessed a pregnant woman – a mother of 7 children, being carried down the hillside of Jalouzi by two men.  It had earlier taken me over an hour to stumble down the steep gravel, stone laden path and only with the help of two hands prevented me falling and seriously wounding myself.  So I imagine it most have taken them at least half that time if not more.   She was then rushed into the SOPUDEP micro-credit store where we immediately laid her on a camp bed and covered the space with a cloth.
Looking up from the bottom of Jalouzi
About a third of the way down in the distance you can see the yellow awning of the micro-credit store
Flaurantin Marie Enise of Le Phare, a women’s organisation based in Jalouzi, put on her gloves and proceeded to examine the woman. From this she estimated she had about two hours before giving birth.  Flaurantine  said she was concerned about whether to try to get her to the MSF hospital, about an hours journey, or to wait for her to go into the final stages of labour.  The woman was very weak but in the end Flaurantine decided there was time for her to get to the hospital and she was carried out onto a stretcher up another very steep hill that climbing makes one consider the marvels of gravity, and onto a tap tap to the MSF hospital in Delmas 33. A journey, at that time of the day, of at least one hour on foot and by tap tap.  She had a baby boy and he is fine.
On the way down Flaurantin had introduced me to the two other women whose babies she had helped deliver.  There are a number of ‘matrons’ and nurses in Jalouzi but with a population of about 200,000 its really only with women helping each other that crisis such as these don’t end up in  deaths.  I was also reminded of the time my mother delivered a baby after a woman had gone into labour outside our house at Ikeja in Lagos.  Someone told my mum what was happening so she went out and brought the woman into the house where she gave birth with mums help.   It was a girl and they called her Florence after my mum.

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

Haiti: Occasional Musings 9, Solidarity

And when this freedom is finally won, what will we do with it? Build castles in the mountains?  Talk of empowerment or look for others to oppress and to kill?

If you come only to help me, you can go back home.
But if you consider my struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together.
Australian Aboriginal woman

It was with this in mind that 25 Los Altos high school students arrived at Solidarity House on the 18th February.    The group are supported by Haiti Action and SOPUDEP Haiti which is their sister school, and make twice yearly visits.  Visits last for eight or nine days but students are actively fundraising and attending regular study circles throughout the year in preparation for their visits.   Although the visits are short the students still managed to pack an enormous amount of work into the time including holding discussions with a range of grassroots organizations within the SOPUDEP community as well as political and social justice activists.   For example they spent two long mornings working on the construction of the new SOPUDEP school and during one of the breaks were able to hold discussions with a long time political activist.   Another day they spent at the present school introducing the chemistry equipment they had fundraised and bought for the school.  Here they were able to interact and build mutually beneficial relationships with the Haitian students.

The  importance of the visit was not just the material necessities they were able to provide directly to people on the ground  or having a fuller understanding of the nature and impact of US / European imperialism in Haiti.  Their presence  required a long term commitment to grassroots struggle in Haiti – they discuss the short and long term needs of those they are working with and then together develop a plan on how to achieve their goals. This in turn required dealing with reflective questions such as what is their role in this struggle, what is the goal of the group and how does their struggle connect with the struggle of those they meet? What is the difference between charity and solidarity and how do we maintain the latter?

I have to admit to a slight skepticism about the visit but the students were  amazing in their commitment and hopefully by meeting so many organizers and activists they will be able to go home and speak about Haiti and Haitians in a different way.  They were quite young, 15-17 and these were first steps,   I wonder  how they will be able to translate their experience here outside of the emotional,  towards the reality of their lives in the US ,  their own relationship with US imperialism, racism and other struggles at home and abroad.  One thing they did learn, and I learned when I first came here to Solidarity House and I guess everyone who comes gets to learn the real meaning of love and family and thats a huge lesson to learn.

Back to English classes after a two week break for carnival and the delegation, everyone very enthusiastic and excited to talk about the visit. A couple of students have really come a long way in just 6 weeks, they’re pleased, I’m pleased. Another 4 weeks before I leave for a month so I hope we have less of the drifting.

Last Word

I just finished watching Democracy Now Black History Month special which featured the film  ‘King:  A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis.  James Earl Jones read the Langston Hughes poem, ‘Who But the Lord’ – A good poem for thinking about solidarity  and which remains relevant today.

I looked and I saw
That man they call the law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.

I said, O, Lord, if you can,
Save me from that man!
Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!
But the Lord he was not quick.
The law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!

Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.

Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?

We’ll see.

Final last word – some mix up on the last two OMs which originally started as one post and somehow OM 10 published before 9.