[News] Haiti: Hunger Sparks Growing Protests
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Feb 9 14:55:08 EST 2010
Haiti: Hunger Sparks Growing Protests
By Bill Van Auken
09 February, 2010
On Sunday, Haiti saw one of its largest protests
since the January 12 earthquake, as four weeks
after the disaster, frustration with continuing hunger and homelessness mount.
Thousands of demonstrators, most of them women,
marched through the streets of Petionville, a
Port-au-Prince suburb, denouncing the local
mayor, Lydie Parent, for hoarding food for resale
and not distributing it to the hungry.
A significant amount of food aid has been
channeled into Haitis informal markets, sold at
elevated prices and clearly yielding a profit for
some officials who are in charge of its distribution.
Congregating in front of the local municipal
building, the demonstrators chanted if the
police shoot at us, we will burn everything, Reuters reported.
I am hungry, I am dying of hunger, one of the
marchers told the news agency. Lydie Parent
keeps the rice and doesnt give us anything. They
never go distribute where we live.
Petionville, up the mountain from the capital,
has traditionally been the preserve of Haitis
economic elite. Shanty towns sprung up around the
walled mansions of the countrys businessmen and
politicians, however. Since January 12, one of
the principal watering holes of the well-heeled,
the Petionville Club, has been transformed into
the capitals biggest homeless encampment, where
more than 40,000 quake victims have sought refuge
on the clubs nine-hole golf course.
Sent in to police this yawning social divide are
360 US combat troops from the 82nd Airborne
Division, who have set up camp around the clubs swimming pool and restaurant.
Last Friday, former US President Bill Clinton was
also met by protests upon his return to Haiti.
Hundreds gathered outside the judicial police
headquarters, the makeshift headquarters of the
Haitian government, during Clintons visit there
with the countrys President Réne Préval.
Our children are burning in the sun. We have a
right to tents. We have a right to shelter, one
of the protesters, Mentor Natacha, 30, a mother
of two, told Agence France Presse.
Hundreds of others demonstrated outside the US embassy.
Clinton, who was named the United Nations special
envoy to Haiti last May, was forced to
acknowledge the failure of sufficient aid to
reach the majority of the Haitian people nearly a
month after the earthquake. Im sorry its taken
this long, he said. Im trying to get to what the bottlenecks are.
Clinton also visited the Gheskio medical clinic
in Port-au-Prince, announcing the donation of
various supplies by his foundation. However, the
clinics director, Jean William Pape, told AFP
that the facility is overwhelmed and has not received adequate aid.
It has been huge on us because in addition to
providing the care to our HIV/AIDS patients,
tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, we
have to take care of around 6,000 refugees, said
Pape. We dont have enough supplies. We dont
have tents for them and the rainy season is
coming and we live in a flood area.
According to press reports, barely 10,000 tents
of the 200,000 requested by the Haitian
government have arrived in the country. Clinton
said that another 27,000 would come in the next
week, still grossly inadequate to meet the massive need.
The ex-US president felt compelled to deny that
he had been sent in as a de facto colonial
governor of the devastated Caribbean nation.
What I dont want to be is the governor of
Haiti, said Clinton. I want to build the
capacity of the country to chart its own course.
They can trust me not to be a neocolonialist, Im too old.
Whatever Clintons personal role, his attempt at
self-deprecating humor cannot hide the fact that
Washington is playing precisely the role of a
neocolonial power in Haiti. Within hours of the
earthquake, the Pentagon launched an operation
that has thus far seen the deployment of some
16,000 troops and the assumption of US military
control over the countrys airports and port
facilities. US naval warships and Coast Guard
vessels have imposed a blockade off Haitis
shores, ensuring that any of the earthquakes
victims seeking to escape to the US will be swiftly repatriated.
Colonel Gregory Kane, the operations officer for
US Task Force Haiti, said that US troops would
remain in Haiti as long as necessary. We are in
Haiti as long as needed and are welcomed by the government of Haiti, he said.
Aid groups and government officials in Europe and
Latin America have sharply questioned the US
militarization of the response to the Haitian
disaster. Many blame Washingtons making the
deployment of US troopsrather than the provision
of desperately needed aidthe top priority in the
first critical days following the earthquake for increasing the death toll.
The militarization of aid and obsession with
security remain clearly in evidence nearly a
month after the earthquake. This was reflected in
a report by the AFP on food distributions over
the weekend. Surrounded by dozens of
heavily-armed US soldiers, old ladies and even
young men struggled under the burning tropical
sun to carry away sacks of rice, the news agency
reported. In another part of the city a
detachment of around a dozen Argentine troops,
some enclosed in an armored personnel carrier
equipped with a turret gun, escorted a small
flat-bed truck laden with food to its destination.
For its part, the Haitian government has appeared
largely powerless and has grown increasingly
unpopular with the Haitian people. Graffiti
reading Down with Préval, the Haitian
president, has begun appearing with increasing
frequency on walls in the capital.
President Préval, who has been virtually unseen
by the population since the quake hit, announced
over the weekend, while meeting with officials
from the neighboring Dominican Republic, that the
estimate of the number of people killed in the
earthquake has risen to a quarter of a million,
while 250,000 homes have been destroyed and more
than a million people are facing an urgent need
for temporary shelter with the rainy season fast approaching.
Speaking with the media on Saturday, he urged the
Haitian population to remain calm. We understand
the difficulties faced by the people who sleep
outside, homeless, we understand the frustration
about food and water distribution being
difficult, he said. But it is in discipline, in
solidarity, in patience that we will be able to
solve the problems that confront us.
The real class position of the Haitian regime was
evident in an interview given by the countrys
Prime Minister to the Colombian daily País. The
ones who lost the most in Haiti on January 12
werent the poor, it was what was left of the
middle class, he said. Because the poor didnt
have houses before, and they still dont have
houses. The middle class, which had stayed in
Haiti, which had made some effort to build a
house, a small business, lost everything.
The fact that the poor didnt have houses has
been cited by relief organizations as a
significant factor in the present crisis, in that
they have no means of rebuilding and nowhere to
go. According to the Catholic relief group
Caritas International, 70 percent of those
displaced by the earthquake in the capital did
not own their own homes before the disaster struck.
More than half a million of these people have
left Port-au-Prince, with the encouragement of
the government, to return to rural areas from
which many of the capitals poorer layers had
migrated and where they still have relatives.
The reason that people had migrated to the
capital in the first place, however, was that
they could not sustain themselves through
agriculture. Now these areas have seen a massive
influx of hungry people for which there is little
or no food. Relief supplies have yet to arrive in
the rural areas, and there is growing fear that
farmers will begin using their seed supplies for
food, endangering next years harvest and leaving even greater hunger.
Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reported Saturday
that there is a new crisis with the emergency
medical flights that bring severely injured
Haitian children to US hospitals for treatment,
and that once again it is costing lives.
Last month, the military suspended the flights
after Florida Governor Charlie Crist sent a
letter to the Obama administration questioning
whether the federal government would assume
responsibility for the costs being incurred at
the states hospitals, where most of the young
Haitian victims had been brought.
After a growing public outcry over the
suspension, the Obama administration agreed to
foot the bill through the US Department of Health and Human Services.
But now, the department has imposed such
stringent eligibility requirements for the
medical flights that few patients qualify, and
those who dont are dying in Haiti.
They want paperwork. We dont have paperwork,
Miami Childrens Hospital Dr. William Muinos, who
heads the pediatric unit of a field hospital in
Port-au-Prince told the Herald. They dont have
passports. They dont have IDs. They dont have
homes. They dont have anything.
The paper cited the case of a 15-year-old girl,
Whitney Constant, who was told she would be taken
to Florida for treatment, but then was stopped by
the government requirements. Three days after she
was to have been flown out, she contracted
gangrene, forcing doctors to amputate the lower
half of one leg and the foot of the other.
Another 14-year-old child died of a pulmonary
embolism last Tuesday. Doctors said she would
have survived had she been evacuated. She was
told she would leave, said Dr. Muinos. Within
24 hours, that promise was denied.
The Department of Health and Human Services
lifted the embargo on flights but made the
criteria so strict that you cant get anybody
in, said Elizabeth Grieg, director of the field
hospital. She told the Herald that since the
flights resumed only nine of the hospitals
patients have been accepted, six of whom had been
scheduled to go out before the military suspended them last month
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