Tag Archives: Haiti Earthquake

Adoption, Sexual Abuse and Aid

I read a recent post on Women In and Beyond the Global on the forced powerlessness of pregnant women which refers to a study on

two  sets of interrelated events: [1] the effort to pass laws that give a fetus the constitutional right of a person, thus far passed in 38 states; and [2] the increased number of arrests and incarceration of pregnant women.

The study looks at the arrest and incarceration of pregnant women on which the basis of arrest was to protect the fetus.   It’s not clear what happens once the babies are born – how long do they get to stay with their mothers, what happens afterwards, are they given up for adoption, taken into foster care? Or a mix of all of these?   Being pregnant then becomes part of the regime of punishment both for the mother and child!  This is incarceration and the concept of punishment at its lowest and most obsene. It does nothing but satisfy the need for that ‘pound of flesh’.    One example of the punishment of women and young girls dates to the 1940s  when  white teenage girls being used to fuel the adoption business and Black teenage mothers were punished by denying them public assistance.

“Beginning in the late 1940s, community and government authorities together developed a raft of strategies some quite coercive, to press white unwed mothers to relinquish their babies to deserving couples” (70). Those teenagers were presented as “mentally disturbed” because they failed to have a husband to protect them, “a proof of neurosis,” making them potential bad mothers. The same authorities singled out and removed unwed Black teenage mothers from any public assistance, intensifying their already precarious situation.

Reading this report, I was reminded of the raid on Haitian children in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.  No one knows the number of  children, who were taken to the US and Europe for adoption.  In the initial period many adoptions took place without proper  background checks into prospective parents or  confirmations on the real status of the children.  There were thousands of orphans already living in orphanages at the time of the earthquake and in the first few months  5,000 of these children, were fast tracked to adoption in the US. Yet 6 months after the earthquake, families were still being reunited.

Under a sparingly used immigration program, called humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.

Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.

Often the media would report from Haiti, Ethiopia, and Guatemala about stories  of mothers and fathers giving away their children for a ‘better life in the US’.   Stories like this one from Haiti where parents decided to give up their youngest also raise questions on whether ‘orphans’ are really orphans and how much coercion takes place.   People have to do what they need to do to survive and the morality in question here is the violence of poverty which forces them to make hurtful choices.  For example in this report from Ethiopia the father believes the ‘adoption’ is temporary and that his child will return. A  recent study  found that 4 out of 5 children in orphanges actually had one living parent but this is not surprising as running an orphanage or adoption agency whether in Haiti or in the west, is a lucrative business and in many cases they are nothing more than legal trafficking agencies buying and selling children.  Right now there are  over 2 million food insecure people in Haiti.  I agree with my host, community organizer and educator, Rea Dol who believes these figures are under estimated.    Families in crisis need support to keep their children but instead of struggling with the people, saviors  assault their dignity’.  Save the Children has much to say on this and it would be interesting to know what kind of support THEY are providing in Haiti or do they just write good reports?  Rea Dol who runs SOPUDEP, a free school for 700 children and located directly opposite Save the Children can tell you a great deal about the ‘real work of that NGO

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.

The school had reopened in April under tarps surrounded by rubble  and collapsed walls.  They needed urgent supplies for the children but like hundreds of thousands of other Haitians the republic of NGOs was nowhere to be seen and even when they are they come with bags with their logos, some water treatment tablets, tarps, a few pencils and expect Haitians to sign so they can write fancy reports on how they helped this organisation and that camp – like missionaries and colonials handing out trinkets to the natives!  Arriving at SOPUDEP four months later after the school had broken up for holidays was an assault!

There were genuine adoptions both prior and post the earthquake  and the Haitian government is revising the laws.  However  laws on adoption don’t protect children in orphanages.   A number of orphanages in Haiti have been found guilty of sexually abusing the children under their care [see here and here and here and here] but these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  There is no monitoring or  control over faith based organizations  and charities who can enter the country and establish themselves at will. In a matter of days they can set up an orphanage, a church, a mission, an NGO  - whatever they want whether in the town or in the rural areas.   There have also been repeated abuses by the UN occupying force in Haiti, MINUSTAH and in some instances officers have been removed but as far as I am aware none have been punished.  According to Save the Children  sexual abuse by aid workers is significant and underreported.  These actions are not taking place in secret – people know whats going on as many of the assaults take place with groups of abusers.  Its not one aid worker or one solider its a couple of aid workers or a couple of soldiers.

Our research suggests that significant levels of abuse of  boys and girls continue in emergencies, with much of it going unreported.The victims include orphans, children separated from their parents and families, and children in families dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Its also happening to children walking on the street, going to school, running errands, vendors and so on.  The report suggests that to limit the underreporting,  parents and children need to speak out .  But as  families are afraid to break the silence  due to stigma, fear of loosing aid/food, powerlessness, there needs to be another way  of monitoring those who work at ground level.   Haitian children are  especially vulnerable to sexual abuse as the country is awash with NGOs, missionaries, faith compounds and assorted people.    Women’s organisations such as those run by the SOPUDEP, Fanm Voudou Pou Ayiti and Kofaviv  work with women victims of sexual violence but much of their work is in the camps and with limited resources  it is impossible to undertake the necessary investigative work into what is happening in orphanages and within the aid sector.   Why are aid agencies not responding to sexual abuse by their staff?   Whether Sudan, Congo or Haiti – these are all highly militarized states and in the case of Haiti, under occupation and the NGOs and aid workers are part of the militarized structure and the violence it reaps.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The strategic importance of Guantanamo is displayed both as a detention center and as a launching pad to terrorize Haiti and no doubt any other Caribbean nation that dared to create an autonomous government. But it was with the detention of HIV+ and suspected HIV+ Haitians that the Haitian Program really came into its own. As Paik points out, the detention of HIV-positive Haitians by the USA  at Guantanamo is not just part of the historical “[neo] imperialism in Haiti” but also a continuation of a racist discourse which sees migrants and in particular migrant black bodies as “carriers of contagion.” [12] The marking of Haitians as carriers of AIDS goes back to the early 1980s when the “Center for Disease Control [CDC], identified four high-risk groups, known pejoratively as the 4-H club – “homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitians” – the first time a disease was tied to a nationality but not the first time black bodies have been tied to racist notions of deviance and contagion [13] and of being a threat to whiteness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guernica – Images from Flickr via waterdotorg

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

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

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

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

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti by Jeb Sprague

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

Notes

  1. A. Naomi Paik  “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo: Legacies of US Imprisonment of Haitian Refugees, 1991-1994”  published in Radical History Review Issue 15 /Winter 2013].
  2. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation”, Pluto Press, 2012
  3. Jean-Bertrand Aristide [2011]“Haiti-Haitii! Philosophical Reflections for Mental Decolonization”, Paradigm
  4. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti-Haitii!
  5. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  6. Terry Nardin and Kathleen D Pritchard “Ethics and Intervention: The United States in Grenada, 1983” [http://bit.ly/W7MrKo] 
  7. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  8. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  9. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”
  10. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  11. Peter Hallward “Damming the Flood: Aristide and the Politics of Containment”
  12. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  13. A. Naomi Paik “Carceral Quarantine at Guantanamo”
  14. Justin Podur [2012] “Haiti’s New Dictatorship”

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

 

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

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

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

Broken Stones

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

Via Shadow and Act

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

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

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

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

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

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.
Continue reading

Haiti: “Heat under the tarps is brutal, we can’t take it any more”

Heat under the tarps is brutal, we can’t take it any more.
We have fever, we can’t take it any more.
We’re being raped, we can’t take it any more.
We have no water, we can’t take it any more.
We have infections, we can’t take it any more.”

Ten months after the earthquake in Haiti, more than a million people continue to live in a state of crisis and chaos and still the help and the money do not arrive. Refugee International reports an increase in “sexual, domestic and gang violence” in the more than 1300 camps. Internally displaced people [IDP] are being forced to live in horrendous sanitary conditions, many going a full day without food and those who complain are intimidated by camp managers and or face eviction by landowners. When evicted people have to go to other camps and try to form some kind of “home” yet again each time becoming more and more distressed. The estimates are that already some 15,000 people have been evicted and 95,000 more IDP are under constant threat of eviction.

Living in squalid, overcrowded and spontaneous camps for a prolonged period has led to aggravated levels of violence and appalling standards of living. As time goes on, landowners are increasingly threatening camp residents with eviction. Many evictions have already occurred, and with nowhere to go, these repeatedly displaced people are absorbed into existing camps or form new ones with no humanitarian assistance.

The report is highly critical of the UN and those responsible for the coordination of “humanitarian response and aid delivery” but more so of the fact that the person responsible is the same person in charge of MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeping force.]

Despite these alarming conditions, the UN coordination system in Haiti is not prioritizing activities to protect people’s rights. The current Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) — the person who should be increasing the effectiveness of the humanitarian response and aid delivery — also plays the role of ). Given the competing demands of these various roles, the coordination of humanitarian activities has suffered. There is still no effective protection and assistance delivery system in place.

Neither MINUSTAH nor the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) nor any other organisation responsible for people’s well being and safety, are giving priority to human rights issues particularly Gender Based Violence and Child Protection in the camps. Girls some as young as tens are being raped and medical units have been reporting an increase in failed street abortions and since food has become even more scarce women and girls are being forced into prostitution in exchange for food. To make matters worse those who are working on GBV in the camps and trying to protect women and girls have now also come under threat which heightens the threat of violence for everyone.

Ansel Herz speaking on Flashpoints Radio reported that one camp in CarrFour was being run by Americans and was actually charging residents a “camp tax” for permission to stay there. This report was particularly disturbing as it painted a picture of a group of people from America tyrannising the lives of some 10,000 Haitians with rules and regulations which insisted that they conduct their lives according to the organizers of the camp.

There have been some recent advances in policing of the camps, but so far they only benefit a small fraction of camps’ inhabitants, and they should be extended to community policing beyond the camps. Since July UNPOL has set up an IDP unit which currently has around 200 officers who are now providing a 24-hour security presence in six of the largest camps. They also have three mobile units that are providing random patrols in the most problematic camps. This increased level of UNPOL policing is welcome, but there is still very limited presence by HNP and the UNPOL officers cannot make arrests without them. UNPOL currently has no translators, so they cannot communicate with the camp residents, and it needs more vehicles and other equipment to increase its presence. A positive recent development is that MINUSTAH military, UNPOL and HNP are now receiving training on prevention and response to GBV. Recruiting and training new HNP officers and reconstructing the HNP women’s unit is still vital.

GBV programming lacks resources, particularly for building the capacity of local camp-based women’s groups working on GBV, who, unsupported, managed to develop self-defense trainings, security patrols, and GBV awareness-raising sessions. This work has made some of these women a target for death threats. RI was told that local agencies working on GBV in the camps had received three times the number of reports of sexual violence than pre-quake, but there has not in fact been a methodical tracking by any agency of incidents pre-or-post quake. UNFPA leads the GBV sub-cluster with only one staff member. Increased staffing for the GBV sub-cluster would enable cooperation with Haitian women’s organizations.

Continue reading

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…..

Interview with Haitian activist Rea Dol

Rea Dol is grassroots community organiser and founder of SOPUDEP school in Port-au-Prince. Shortly after the earthquake they had to abandon the school which was being used as a shelter due to the stench of dead bodies and sturtural damage which made the building unsafe.

For the school to continue it will have to relocate. A group of students and teachers are trying to design temporary classrooms on a new site which the school bought through donations last year.
Design for the new school
SOPUDEP_09-update_img_4

Here Rea speaks to Kathlene McGuinness of Ryerson University Toronto, about the aftermath of the earthquake and her hopes for the school in the future.

Interview

1. Could you take us through a normal day at SOPUDEP before the earthquake?

Rea: A normal day, all the children come to study at school, as usual, the children go to their classrooms, and when means allow, they receive a hot meal at school. The first group finishes at 1:00pm, and then in the afternoon we help street children to work hard to learn a trade skill. We work, following the pedagogical program of the National Education Ministry that they supply us with–that’s the one we use.

2. What is your vision for the new school? What would you like to see happen?

Rea: As we work with groups abroad, such as in California, with Seth (Donnelly) and the union members, we have been working to try to secure a (new) site (for the school), and we will communicate with Ryan (Sawatzky) as well. The former building, I had a 10-year contract, which is ending in 2012, and I have received many threats, so we were looking at the new school for SOPUDEP. Therefore, we were looking at the possibilities to have a new land and site for the school.

3. What materials are available to you on the ground right now?
Anything you can think of – not just normal building materials – pop
cans, cardboard boxes, etc.

Rea: We do not have available (heavy construction) materials…we can’t recuperate them. Some of the structures have been destroyed. The space where we worked with the small children was condemned after the earthquake, because it structurally cracked, and was damaged; therefore, neither children nor adults would be secure inside. The other building had some things break inside. There isn’t (heavy) material available at this point.
Continue reading

There’s always music, always hope

Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Canada
Via, Women and Beyond

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Haiti: “This is criminal”

Interview with Pierre Labossiere of Haiti Action speaking on Haiti two weeks after the earthquake.

Haiti-earthquake-SF-rally-Pierre-Labossiere-012510-by-Kamau-web

Pierre raises a number of very important points in relation to the relief itself, the many NGOs, organisations, groups and individuals that have descended on Haiti – aptly described as “social vampires”. He also speaks on the role of President Clinton in pushing neo-liberal policies on the country, such as privatization which led directly to the weakening of both Haiti’s government structures and economy.

M.O.I. JR: Since the earthquake in Haiti, 20/20 and a whole bunch of hip hop media journalists have highlighted Wyclef Jean, a popular rap artist who is Haitian, and many people are star struck into giving to his organization, Yele. Can you give us a history of who Wyclef Jean is, as well as who his family is in Haiti?

Pierre: Wyclef Jean is — everybody knows his background — he’s a talented musician, an artist with the Fugees. At the time he had a powerful message, and he has a foundation called Yele Ayiti, so he is out there. And his uncle is a person who has a different set of politics (from ours) opposed to the people’s movement of Haiti, and his uncle really did welcome the coup d’etat (on Feb. 29, 2004, that deposed democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, beloved by the vast majority of Haitians, who lives in exile in South Africa) and its aftermath. And Wyclef had taken a position in support on that as well. That is what I know about his history.
Continue reading

No donation without agitation

The process of delivering humanitarian aid and the behaviour of aid agencies are often as harmful as they are helpful as the last two weeks in Haiti has clearly shown. The militarisation of the whole process; the disorganised and incompetent delivery of food, water and medical supplies; the instant response to appeals for donations from mega charities who do not have any real sense of the local context and whose record on the amount of real money spent on aid is abysmal; have all compounded the devastation wrought by the earthquake itself.

Margaret Kimberly [Freedom Rider] provides an insightful analysis of what has taken place and the implications for the future of the Haitian people as well as the need for people to make informative choices rather than be simply led by media and celebrity hype.

A telethon hosted by celebrities succeeded in raising more than $57 million in funds for the relief of Haiti earthquake victims. Yet that sum and the many millions more donated by individuals around the world will do little to relieve Haiti’s plight…….Haitians are living in their latest hellish incarnation created by American meddling and the crushing of that nation’s democracy. As long as the United States directs Haiti’s affairs, and empowers a corrupt elite instead of the will of the masses, suffering will continue whether caused by natural or human-made disaster.

The sad fact of the matter is that individuals cannot help Haiti or end human suffering anywhere on earth unless their assistance is combined with political action. The dollars must come with demands of non-interference in Haiti’s affairs and demands of accountability to charitable organizations. If the Red Cross doesn’t even spend all of its enormous contributions, as it shamelessly did after the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the Asian tsunami, then donors must stop giving before the next disaster strikes.

VivirLatino also has a great post on the Latino media’s perceptions and responses to Haiti with Haitians being “criminalized” “infantilized” and “mamied”.

I would add that the perception of the media, English and Spanish language is that Haiti wasn’t colonized enough, meaning it wasn’t made “white” enough. All people need to do, according to the Spanish language coverage is look to the other side of Hispaniola, to the Dominican Republic, where even Sammy Sosa has learned that whiter and righter and great pains are taken to separate the Dominican from the Haitian, the “white” from the “black” even though as I told my friend the other night there is only one letter difference between “rara” and “gaga”, an Afro-Caribbean musical and religious tradition.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

When we voted for freedom

“We will bend but will not break” by Kevin Pina and narrated by Pierre Labossiere

Part 2 – Election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]