Tag Archives: Earthquake

Haiti: The Last Camp Standing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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 – Reframing the narrative

Peter Hallward, author of “Damming the Flood:Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment”. Reframes the narrative of Haiti as disaster and the problem as one of development. Rather he argues that the real issue is one of political sovereignty, popular power and popular powerlessness.

Read through all the reports on Haiti over the past three years and you will hardly hear the word Fanmi Lavalas mentioned so much so, its almost as if there has been a conscious decision to erase the party, the ideology and by inference, the popular masses. Hallward discusses Lavalas as a political force and speaks to the origins and growth of the movement and the attempts to break and silence the party.

Nonetheless despite the media erasure and attempts to destroy Fanmi Lavalas by the US and other foreign powers, NGOs and UN, amongst people in the neighbourhoods, activists, organizers,- the popular masses, there remains a deep desire for regaining popular mobilization. One only has to consider the silence of President Aristide and when he was summoned to court a few weeks ago on spurious charges, the judge reconsidered and decided it preferable for him to go to Aristide’s home rather than face huge numbers of popular masses demonstrating in support of the former president.

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Haiti: – People Cleansing, burning down the camps

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

UPDATED VIDEO

All photos by Chanjem Leson 

Haiti: Occasional Musings – 5

 

In writing I am mindful of finding a balance between reality and romantic notions of revolution whether held by foreigners or Haitians for that matter.  I am also aware of the difficulty in writing these pieces even where I am invited to write, it’s not always a comfortable space to be in.  I have my doubts but thank those who have encouraged me both here elsewhere – Haitians and non-Haitians.  Whatever I may observe, whatever I may know about internal politicking there are no doubt nuances that one is either not privy too or cannot grasp fully.  I am not a journalist so I dont see a need to carry objectivity to an extreme  - I have a position and thats what I bring to my writing but there still needs to be a reasoning.

On Saturday I returned to Acra camp and met with four members from the organizing committees. The camp which has 32,000 people, is divided into two sections with 13 area committees including a women’s committee.  I met the two section presidents and the president of the women’s committee and the PR person.   All officials are elected and there is an overall president, Elie Joseph,  who I immediately recognised as an experienced activist/organizer from the early  Aristide days.   A serious purposeful but witty engaging man who described the earthquake as “a criminal earthquake”.  He repeated this twice to ensure I got the full meaning.  He was not just referring to what Linda Polman calls the “crisis caravan”  or the post earthquake  ‘re[CON]struction’ but to the suspicions held by many, that the quake was man made.    In a sense he is right, the damage caused and number of dead were man made over a period of 200 years.  He also reclaimed the 1804-06 Haitian flag – not for him what he called the “colonialists” flag of red and blue. His flag was the simple  black and red  ‘flag of the empire’  - “black for the Haitian people and red to defend the blood of liberty”  [These colours were used by Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe **]   I mentioned the word symbolic. Again he agreed but added

The flag is also our language, the language of revolution which has taken us 200 years to build.  Now in Haiti if you do not speak or read French you are nothing. We need a revolution of language and tradition [history]. That is why it is important for us to have education. Not instruction but education.

He is right, the flag is more than symbolism.   It represents Joseph and the people of the camp who come from a long history of  turning against social and economic institutions of profit in favour of autonomy [Laurent Debois]

The significance of the camp is that its well organized and politicized with clear thought out practical plans for a future they want for themselves.    One could describe this as a ‘counter-camp’ system or culture where residents have been able to take control at least of some of the day to day structures and running of the camp such create spaces for schools for children and adults; organize security patrols and deal with everyday conflicts and the challenges of living without clean water, sanitation and, for many, sufficient food.   But none of this came easy as the Esther of the Women’s Committee explained

The first big problem we had was to get organized and to find people to represent us.  The camp was unsafe especially for women –  robbers, men fighting and women raped.  Everyone was afraid with after shocks and then it was hard to know who we could trust to make a representation so we could have better conditions.  We didn’t  even have tents, all we had were plastics  that we found ourselves and we made our shelters and water was and still is our big problem.  It took a long time, it was very hard. Sometimes I don’t know how we came from there to where we are today.

We met in the newest of the schools, a small hut which will be used as a school for about 20 children and adults.  They also want to use it as a computer center…

We want to train the youths to give them something to do so they dont do bad things.  In PAP it’s easy to find bad things to do. On the other side [of the camp] we have a school for art but we need more materials. Here we need benches books for the children.  We need  so many things [laughs] but we need houses too.

There are 9 similar schools on the camp all taught by volunteers. Whilst this is a great achievement by the camp organizers,  it’s a huge failure on the part of the coalition of NGOs, the Haitian government, HRF that  thousands of children are excluded from schools because their parents cannot pay the fees, not just here but across the country.   Speaking of successes and failures –  in my experience of being in the presence of  activists / community organizers here and at home in Nigeria,   I’ve  always found successes despite the failures of governments, NGOS, UN, and the rest.  Not easy successes, but a progress which defies the huge obstacles we face in the global south that have to be  side stepped if not fully overcome.

“By all means do your commerce but please spare us your advice.  We want to do things ourselves” Louis-Joseph Janvier, 1883

So you see, these are not new thoughts!

**.   [the Haitian flag has changed from blue and red to black and red  a number of times, sometimes with horizontal stripes at other times vertical.]  Interestingly Francoise Duvalier also chose the Black and Red but with the crest.

12th January, 2010

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

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

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

Build houses and clean up the streets

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

Haiti Can Hold Me

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

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

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

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

HAITI CAN HOLD ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Molosi © 2011

This post was first published on New Internationalist Blog

Haiti: Before and After – A year later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the earthquake affect you personally?

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

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

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

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

How has the earthquake affected the students and teachers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your feelings on the reconstruction plan for Haiti?

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

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

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

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

Photo © Darren Ell 2010

 

 

 

 

 

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Occupation of Haiti consolidated

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

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

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

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

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In /humanitarian aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One tyranny is the spawn of a hundred more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did she find the strength?

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

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

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

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

International Women of Colour Day: Celebrating Réa Dol

On International Women of Colour Day I celebrate all the women of colour who consistently work towards social justice across the world. In particular I would like to honour the work of Haitian community activist and founder of SOPUDEP School, Réa Dol and ALL the Haitian women and girls who have self-organised in their communities in the aftermath of the earthquake. Although initially it was thought the school would survive, two weeks after the earthquake it had to be abandoned. At the time the school was being used as a shelter but the stench of dead bodies which had not been removed together with internal structural damage meant it was no longer felt to be safe. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake Réa opened her home as a refuge and hospital to the homeless and wounded and she is now in charge of sanitization and medical distribution for a camp of 16,000 people located beside the National Palace. Altogether there are 26 locations where SOPUDEP staff have distributed food, water and medical help with very little help from the big agencies. All the food they have distributed was bought by SOPUDEP which has cost them $18,000 so far [See distribution table below].


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Negrillon: young voices from Haiti


Music from Camp Guatemala, Haiti

Walter Riley report back on the 1000s left out of humanitarian aid

Human Rights lawyer, Walter Riley speaks of about his experience of the earthquake and Haitian activist Pierre Labossiere explains that the emergency relief system put in place by President Aristide was destroyed after the 2004 US/France back coup and the trained volunteers jailed or kicked out of Haiti.

Haiti from New America Media on Vimeo.

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