Returning to Haiti a year later, Sokari Ekine hopes to see ‘some positive change in the lives of people’, but instead she finds a ‘continuation of the slow and aggressive violence against the 99 per cent.’
Almost a year has passed since my last last trip to Haiti. I so much wanted to see some positive change in the lives of people but instead what I witnessed was a continuation of the slow and aggressive violence against the 99 per cent. The tent camps remain as they have been for nearly two years and evictions are becoming widespread with no alternatives made available. The official figures on cholera are 500,000 infected, 6,000 killed and 600 new cases registered daily. The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti [IJDH"> reports on that 5,000 Haitian cholera victims have started legal proceedings for damages from the UN and MINUSTAH for the introduction of cholera into the country.
‘The victims’ petition explains that the UN and MINUSTAH are liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for: 1) failing to adequately screen and treat peacekeeping soldiers arriving from countries experiencing cholera epidemics; 2) dumping untreated wastes from a UN base directly into a tributary of Haiti’s longest and most important river, the Artibonite; and 3) failing to adequately respond to the epidemic.
‘The cholera victims demand individual compensation, an adequate nationwide response by the UN, and a public apology. They insist that the nationwide response include medical treatment for current and future victims and clean water and sanitation infrastructure, the only solution to the cholera epidemic.’
Following the renewal of the MINUSTAH mission for another year, The Haitian Blogger, Chantal Laurent, has an excellent report on MINUSTAH record in the country and the growing movement to end the UN occupation which costs US$2.5 million a day to maintain.
‘An in-depth overview of MINUSTAH’s history on the island, however, depicts a security force systematically serving foreign interests over those of the Haitians. Local residents are indignant because they see MINUSTAH as a tool of the United States’ self-interest in the region, and because the U.N. forces repeatedly have suppressed democracy, failed to address authentic humanitarian concerns, and have at times even perpetrated mass violence against Haitian citizens.’
In the camps and most of Port-au-Prince, millions remain without water, sanitation and electricity. NGOs display the worst excess of ineffectuality and disconnection from the Haitian people in what Grace Everest describes as an ‘aid worker bubble’:
‘Since the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the development sector has been engaged in debate concerning the failures of the NGO response. NGOs have destructively transplanted a parallel system of governance, often being caught up within an aid worker bubble which has stood between the Haitian state and its citizens and thus undermined the symbiotic nature of their social contract.’
The premise on which many, though not all, enter into an engagement with Haiti and Haitians is one whereby the global capitalist system is seen as unproblematic against a country which is viewed not only as a failure whose people are incapable of developing in their own interest but also as if the situation is unconnected to the rest of the world. Rather than working with either the government or the people, NGOs operate on the one hand as a separate government and on the other as corporate entities competing with each other in a frenzy of disaster capitalism. And still the question remains – where has all the money gone?
‘The extent to which NGOs have adopted a universalist standpoint in relation to Haiti, one which is rooted in a “view from nowhere” in abstraction from the concrete characteristics of human communities (Young 1995, p.528), is exposed by the angry reflections of a Haitian advisor to the UN; “every day I go to meetings, I’m the only Haitian there, and I have to tell them, ‘Your perception is not right.’ I feel that it is a lost battle.” Haitians have their own systems of survival, she said, but instead of tapping into that creativity, aid groups come in thinking the country is a “clean slate” (O’Connor 2011, p.1). This statement is striking in its similarity to Pouligny’s damning critique of the “liberal messianism” of NGOs who “falsely behave as though the date of their arrival was year zero for the country, as though nothing had happened before them” (2005, p.502)’
Along side the ‘liberal messianism of NGOs’ there are the hundreds of evangelical missionaries who themselves operate without regulation holding people to religious ransom in exchange for food and shelter. Finally there are the investors many of whom are simply carpetbaggers looking to make some easy money skimmed off the top of the government, NGOs, missionaries and grassroots groups and anyone who lets down their guard.
Construction work and the removal of rubble is taking place but these are the homes of the wealthy who can afford to rebuild and a couple of roads have been repaved. The misguided priorities of those in charge of reconstruction can be seen in the completion of the 130-room Oasis Hotel, which has been made possible by a US$2 million donation from the Clinton Bush fund which in their words sends a message that ‘Haiti is open for business’ – and indeed it is. However it is highly questionable that this is the right business for the 99 per cent!
‘“The Oasis Hotel symbolizes Haiti ‘building back better’, and sends a message to the world that Haiti is open for business,” Clinton Bush Haiti Fund's vice president of Programs and Investments, Paul Altidor said. “For Haiti's recovery to be sustainable, it must attract investors, businesses and donors all of whom will need a business-class, seismically-safe hotel.” In addition to sleeping rooms, Oasis will have significant meeting space and other business amenities.’
One of the kinds of investment Bush and Clinton are referring to is the introduction of a mortgage market. With an unemployment rate of 80 per cent and the majority of those on very low incomes it is hard to see the benefit to anyone except of course the banks. Whilst in the US and UK low and middle income families are being strangled by high repayments or worse, being forced out of their homes millions of dollars have been made available by the Clinton Bush Fund and the World Bank to finance these schemes.
So far there has been little enthusiasm for the prefabricated homes (between US$15,000 and US$50,000), which cost 30 per cent more than if people were to rebuild or repair their damaged homes. Nonetheless there are a number of small projects aimed at using sustainable strategies in providing ecological rental housing such as one being designed by World Hands Alliance for United Methodists. Initially 40 homes will be built in Carrefour and Leogane for those who lost their homes in the earthquake. Eventually they hope to design and build a village for 40,000 families.
Under the new government of Michel Martelly, Haiti IS open for business; a small group of people are making a huge amount of money in the predator economy that dominates the country. At the same time, Martelly’s government has become increasingly dictatorial, backed by an intensive return to the militarisation of the past. A massive recruitment of Haitian police is taking place alongside the president’s plan to reinstate the Haitian Army [FAdH"> which was disbanded under President Aristide.
‘I promised to return the army on November 18 and there are already people that are scared, who are not happy... while they are not happy, it is an indigenous army that created this country. So you can't be ashamed to call it an army and want to call it by another name...
‘During the campaign I invited people to discuss what we would call it because I did not want to create a tumult, everyone was in agreement that it was a necessity to have a Haitian force to defend the interests of the country.’
‘Well the president, himself, has taken the final decision. The indigenous army created this nation so we will call it “army”...’
As one person commented would it not be preferable to create an army of sanitation workers to clean the streets and construction workers to build homes for the half million who are forced to live in horrendous inhuman conditions in the tent camps and the millions in poor neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil. Martelly has now toned down his promise to reinstate the army by saying he will instead create a ‘public security force’. What that means is not clear but still sounds ominous. He is now facing criticism from a pro-military group called the ‘Organisation of Demobilized Soldiers for the Reconstruction of Haiti’ for failing to keep his campaign promise.
A further example which highlights the misuse of executive power was the arrest of Depute Arnel Belizaire on his return from France. Belizaire had supposedly escaped from prison during the earthquake but was elected as Depute for Delmas and Tabarre in the recent elections. One would have thought that if there were questions as to his criminal record or escape these would have been raised at the time of the election and not following an altercation with the president as outlined by Belizaire in a letter to Martelly detailing the conversation and his position.
‘The President replied "ki kaka sa, nou konen mwen menm, mwen pa gen moun ki ka enpoze m'anyen, mwen gen yon gwo zozo nan boudam ki two lou pou mwen nou pa ka fe'm anyen e pa gen anyen m'ap pedi, nou menm si nou vle fe yon bagay avem'm, nap dim Preziden men sa nou ta renmen epi map gade sa'm ka fe" ("what sh*t is this, you know me, no one can come and impose anything on me. I have a big d*ck in my a*s that is too heavy for me that you can't do anything for me and there is nothing I am going to lose. You all, if you want to do something with me, you will ask me, President here is what we would like to do, then I will look and see what I can do.")’
Fortunately for Belizaire, his arrest, which was judged to be ‘illegal and arbitrary‘ (see Article 115 of the Haitian Constitution), so he spent only one night in prison as other Depute’s came to his support. It is also worth noting that Belizaire’s party, Veye Yo is closely aligned with the Lavalas party of President Aristide and thus in direct opposition to Martelly’s government. As Haitian journalist and blogger, Wadner Pierre commented, the personal nature of the events surrounding the arrest of Belizaire does not bode well for the country’s future:
‘Belizaire released after he spent his night and part of his day at the National Penitentiary, the biggest prison in Haiti. Whether Beliziare was at fault or not, his arrest did not follow the legal procedure of how to arrest an elected member of the Haiti's Parliamentary. The Deputies and Senators said that the process was unconstitutional. The lawmakers could consider to interpellate some of the members of the newly installed government.
‘Can the President use his executive power to solve his personal quarrel with another elected official or individual? Not sure that the ongoing Haitian gives him this right. What would be the next step and Beliziare-Martelly's fight? Whatever the next step that Belizaire-Martelly's affair would take, one thing is clear for both elected officials is that the country cannot handle this.’
According to the US embassy the unemployment rate in Haiti is 80 per cent. The minimum wage is US$5 per day but with only 20 per cent of the population in employment this is a shamefully inadequate sum. One of the main avenues for employment is in the textile factories owned by a few Haitian elite businessmen producing clothes for US companies such as The Gap and Hanes
Ansel Herz (Media Hacker) reports on the preferential treatment [duty free exports"> of the ‘US-Haiti trade deal known as the HOPE programme’ and attempts by some factory workers to improve their conditions by unionising. Herz’s writes that the US backed ‘Better Work Haiti’ recent report on compliance, found some violations in health and safety and minimum wage but overall praised the compliance standard. However he states this is misleading:
‘The fourth core standard is the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The latest report identifies just two instances of non-compliance, including a 12-day-long strike in May which resulted in the firings of 140 workers.
‘But the low non-compliance rate is potentially misleading. “Although no non-compliance findings are cited in the current report under Union Operations,” the report notes, there are “very significant challenges related to the rights of workers to freely form, join and participate in independent trade unions”.
‘If you look at the reports, in Haiti there is only one unionised factory (in Ouanaminthe) out of 23 operating factories. In the factories in Port-au-Prince, there are no unions. We don’t have any evidence,” Lavallée said.
‘He explained that if a factory owner fires a person for trying to organise workers, it won’t be noted in the employee records reviewed by his team.
‘Asked if Better Work Haiti isn’t really measuring anything when it comes to conditions for labour organising, because there are almost no unions, Lavallée responded, “Exactly.”’
Much of the ‘waste free’ work to rebuild Haiti is being undertaken by small groups of individuals donating time and funds on small grassroots projects unseen by the media and really not receiving the recognition and support they deserve. SOPUDEP free school has started work on building the new school designed by Constantine Alatzas of World Hands Alliance, but it is a slow process and may take another 24 months before funds can be raised for completion.
Ecole Mixte Doux Jesus is a free school in Cite Soleil which has 250 students from 1st to 12th grade but no books or other resources. The school building which is 21 years old is made of corrugated zinc with a now flooded dirt floor and has had to be abandoned. Guyanese agriculturalist, Mark Jacobs has taken on the personal responsibility of raising funds for books, filling in the school yard and eventually he hopes to raise US$10,000 to construct a new sustainable low-maintenance school and community building which will include a vegetable garden, solar power and rain collection deposits.
Mark has also developed a number of city gardening schemes using small pieces of land and rooftops where he has maximised production through the use of high grade compost – coffee bean waste, human waste and other materials. He is hoping to extend this work on a larger scale if support can be found.
Ezili Danto recently launched the ‘Zili Dlo: Free clean water for everyone’ with the donation by the Nation of Islam of a mobile water processing plant – photo stream. The distribution of the water is run by two grassroots women’s organisations: SOPUDEP and Fanm Voudou Pou Ayiti. However in order for the project to be a success, donations towards purchasing water trucks or the trucks themselves are desperately needed.
Finally, although President Aristide is back home and remains silent, Lavalas continues to have popular support amongst Haiti’s 99 per cent. To remind us of his period in office filmmaker, Kevin Pina (Haiti Information Project) has published a series of video interviews with Father Jan-Marie Vincent between 1991 and 1994. In the first of the series, Father Jan-Marie reinforces, but is critical of Martelly’s point that the army has held the power in Haiti for generations pointing out the terror and consequently the damage they unleashed on the people. He makes the point that in the past the army and the police were one and the same and if you remove the army from the equation there is nothing for them to do. The only reason for reinstating the army is to police and prevent the power of the Haitian people from creating change in their interest.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS