As Haiti gears up for its forthcoming elections, Jean William Jeanty decries the complete absence of transparency in the country around post-earthquake reconstruction and the ability of foreign companies to usurp Haitian law. With the country gripped by cholera (the ‘natural indicator of underdevelopment’), Jeanty stresses that Haiti’s leaders ‘are trying to rush the elections so that they can perpetuate things the way they are’.
No major decisions have been made by the Haitian people about their lives or futures since the American invasion of 1915. Our first major problem, therefore, is a total absence of sovereignty. The French Revolution marked the moment in which sovereignty was passed from the king to the majority of the people, but Haitians lost this right when the Americans invaded in 1915. Since that date, nothing has been done in our country that was chosen by the people. A lot of our current problems wouldn’t exist if we had been able to make our own decisions. Our president, René Préval, has been an important figure in the government for the past 20 years. The UN has occupied our country since 1994. Nothing has been managed since this date without the presence of the UN. As president, Préval has never done anything without the UN. The last moment in which we attempted to exercise sovereignty as a people was in 1990 when we elected a president who was thrown out seven months later by the United States.
Our second major problem is degradation of the environment. This situation is currently threatening the continued existence of our territory. We all have worked on these issues before and I won’t go into great detail about it because we know about it. We have rivers that used to flow year round that now dry up for months at a time. If things keep continuing this way we will have to start importing all of our drinking water. Haiti has less that 2 per cent of its original forest cover standing and this has changed all of our seasonal cycles. This is why now a little tropical storm can come and flood us out. This is one of the problems that cannot wait regardless of the crisis because if we don’t do something soon the land that we live on will wash into the sea.
The third fundamental problem, which is linked to the absence of sovereignty, has to do with the fact that 80 per cent of our population is living on less than US$2 a day and 40 per cent of our population is living on less than US$1 per day. They have to eat with that, pay for their healthcare and so on. All of the international organisations recognise that anyone living on less than US$2 per day is poor regardless of what country they are in and that anyone who lives on less than US$1 per day is living in sub-human conditions. 70 per cent of Haitians currently suffer from malnutrition. This means that we can’t get the number of calories that we need. There are probably people right here in this room who have this problem. Nine out of every 10 Haitians are out of work, not engaged in any revenue-generating activity. How many Haitians are working right now? You have a majority of the population living without dignity, begging, so can you really call this a society where you have people who are 60-years-old with children and grandchildren who are still living in their parents’ house? Can we really talk about a state and human rights in this situation?
We have a government that has been in power for 20 years – the same team – and they have never been able to address these issues. It’s the same people who have been in power since 1990 and they’ve done nothing. The consensus is that that this team, along with the international community, has failed. The UN has been here since 1994, so when we say failure we are talking about them as well as the government. What were they doing before the earthquake? They were organising fraudulent elections so that they could stay in power.
These were the conditions before 12 January. We all lived that day intimately and it has destroyed the country, even physically in the proper sense of the word. As we speak today, it’s like the government has never existed. Nobody in the US, the UN or the government has been able to tell us who left the city or the country and how many houses were destroyed. Nobody can tell us scientifically how many people died. Some people are saying 300,000 – others are saying 400,000 – but we don’t know. We know that it destroyed the three biggest institutions in the country, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of power. It destroyed the churches and the schools and now there are more than 2 million people in the streets, some in Port-au-Prince in camps and tents and others who left and went back to the countryside.
So we have a situation in which what was already a wound before the earthquake has begun to fester. Now many people are saying this could be an opportunity because finally we will now be able to remove the blinders that were over our eyes that had enabled us to live in the situation in which we were living. It’s not the earthquake that caused the disaster. A 7.3 level earthquake would not kill 300,000 in a normal country. The death toll was related to the way that the physical space in this country has been managed.
In Port-au-Prince you find 10,000 people living on a square kilometre of land without any sense of territorial structuring. You find the only minimal presence of the Haitian state in Port-au-Prince so everyone who has to do anything, even get an ID card, has to come here. It’s linked to a concept of government that was imposed during the American occupation from 1915–34. At this time everything was concentrated in one place because the US wanted to be able to easily control everything.
The current disaster was exacerbated by a concrete policy from the past. We hoped that this disaster would result in different behaviour based on the idea that we can’t keep living this way, but unfortunately nothing has happened so far. People needed to put their heads together to create a national spirit of solidarity so that when the international community arrived they would find a people standing on their feet who knew what they wanted, so that they could support our decisions.
Unfortunately the government didn’t even react. President Préval spent 15 days after the quake without uttering a word. We could have saved 100,000 people if the government had acted but we didn’t have any support. There were young men pulling people out of the wreckage with sledgehammers but they didn’t have the right equipment. The state had rescue equipment in storage but they refused to let us access it. The government didn’t act while the foreigners came in quickly and took over all of our structures. They moved so fast that some people believe it was planned beforehand because we had 60,000 marines show up as if they were just waiting nearby. So they took advantage of the situation and put their hands on the country.
When the government finally started to act everything had already been taken over. When I met a minister two weeks after the quake he couldn’t even tell me how many troops were here. All they knew was that there was a lot of movement. We decided to try to take charge so that we could show the international community what we saw and what we needed. Rather than enabling this to happen the president and his team decided to legalise this invasion without making any kind of appeal for Haitian solidarity. Rather than calling on the strong forces of the nation, this was the first time in our history that this type of thing happened without the standing president calling out to any of the sectors of society for solidarity.
On the other hand he actively received the international community and even travelled during the moment of the crisis to embrace foreign leaders. He ignored the Haitians and pulled in the foreign community. The biggest way he did this was through enacting the National Emergencies Law which clearly states that the government now has unlimited power that will last 18 months with no kind of oversight mechanisms. This means that they can bring in and spend money and take all kinds of decisions with no way for the people to question what they are doing with the money and with no accountability.
After passing the law they introduced the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, establishing it as an organ that will take over all the initiatives related to the Haitian reconstruction. It is a mixed commission led by a foreigner and, as we all know, he is the ex-president of the United States, Bill Clinton. The way that the law is written means that the commission will have as many foreigners in control as there are countries that give at least US$100 million. Nobody knows who is in it exactly, but it has a lot of foreigners and the Haitians have no decision-making power. The one with the power is Bill Clinton. There was a minority in the Senate that worked to prevent this law from being passed, but unfortunately we lost. So now we are in a situation where Haitians don’t have any right to see what is going on with the reconstruction. We have no instruments to call the minister to understand what is happening. Every month there is a meeting which goes on with the commission and we choose which project will be financed, but we have no way of knowing what the content of these projects is and if they are needed or not.
One month after it was created, the president issued decree articles 12, 13, and 14, which grant the commission the power to reclaim any land in the country, no matter where and for whatever reason. They have the authority to take any land that they want, and the same decree gives the Ministry of Finance the ability to guarantee that whatever Clinton wants in this regard has to be implemented within 15 days. In the constitution of 1987 Haitians took great precaution to guarantee that no foreigners could own land in this country, but today the president has given the power over to the foreigners instead of protecting the sovereignty of our nation. Unfortunately all of the political battles we mounted were unable to stop this. The president’s job is to protect the sovereignty of the country, but he has committed a crime of treason. The parliament has the responsibility to try him for this in the Supreme Court, but they are afraid to do it. Nevertheless, history will judge him for this.
They are trying to rush the elections so that they can perpetuate things the way they are. Everyone is saying that we shouldn’t have elections because of the emergency and that we should focus on putting transitional power together to address the fundamental problems of the country, address the environmental problems and reintegrate the population. Instead of this Préval is focusing on the elections because he is worried about protecting himself from the crime that he committed. He wants to protect himself by organising these fraudulent elections to take over parliament so that he can’t be convicted of treason. We had protests for several months in the streets but we were unable to mobilise people to prevent the elections and they are now going on in a few days, and there are a lot of political forces that are against them for the reasons I just mentioned. The material and political conditions are not conducive because a lot of people who died are still on the voters list. It is clear that these elections will not be democratic, but they are going on anyway.
We are going to try to see how we can prevent this current government from continuing, and that is why some factions of the opposition are participating to prevent the reconstruction from happening the way that it is now. Préval’s team is trying to avoid being judged and continuing with humanitarian aid as a business. Some people have been able to reap huge benefits from this international solidarity – the fraudulent Clinton family who are now able to award no-bid contracts, for example. According to Haitian law any contract over US$2,250 has to be awarded through a bidding process, but the Clintons have overridden that with the emergency law.
There is a foreign company that was given US$400 million through a no-bid contract to remove all of the rubble from Port-au-Prince. The contract was signed and the money was transferred but nobody is removing the rubble. There are a lot of companies that have contracts in their hands from the Clintons and this is the game they are playing to continue, avoiding all of the national institutions. The ministries have had their power stripped due to the law.
There is complacency between Préval and the international community because they have their own personal interests at heart. Three things that raise a lot of money are selling bonds, selling drugs and humanitarian aid and there is an entire mafia in the international community that has positioned itself to eat away at this US$10 billion that was raised. If we don’t start fighting to prevent this nothing will be done in this country, as we see by looking around today.
We are in this cholera situation now and there are other problems coming on the way because the stage has been set. Cholera is a natural indicator of underdevelopment. We don’t have to look at the numbers on this. Even the bourgeoisie in Haiti don’t have drinking water because it doesn’t exist. In Haiti you either have to buy it from a private company or you have to import it. The water sources are all polluted. All water sources are surrounded by shantytowns with open sewage. All of this shows the total failure of the international community and the state. My position is that we have to stop everything so that we can fight the cholera situation because the state is too weak to manage three crises at the same time. We should stop everything to mobilise the nation as a whole. We should find a common understanding. Unfortunately they have forced us to have these elections. This is the situation today.
The international community and the government have ousted us from this country and we no longer know what is even happening. Money is flowing in, money is flowing out and being spent but there is no Haitian who knows what is happening with it. They are saying that 30 per cent of the money that was pledged has come in, but nothing has happened yet. As a people there are 10 million ways that we can ask them to be accountable. We can go in front of the palace. They don’t want transparency because it will stop them from doing what they want. We are living in the territory but in reality we have been ousted from our own country. We have to organise ourselves to see how, little by little, we can rebuild our nation, but this cannot happen without the participation of the population. We are the ones who need to impose this because freedom is never given as a gift.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* This article comprises a speech made by Haitian social movement activist and senator Jean William Jeanty at a recent ActionAid event in Haiti.
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