[News] Haiti: Hunger Sparks Growing Protests

Anti-Imperialist News 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 Haiti’s 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 doesn’t give us anything. They 
never go distribute where we live.”

Petionville, up the mountain from the capital, 
has traditionally been the preserve of Haiti’s 
economic elite. Shanty towns sprung up around the 
walled mansions of the country’s 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 capital’s biggest homeless encampment, where 
more than 40,000 quake victims have sought refuge 
on the club’s 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 club’s 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 Clinton’s visit there 
with the country’s 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. “I’m sorry it’s taken 
this long,” he said. “I’m 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 
clinic’s 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 don’t have enough supplies. We don’t 
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 don’t 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, I’m too old.”

Whatever Clinton’s 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 country’s airports and port 
facilities. US naval warships and Coast Guard 
vessels have imposed a blockade off Haiti’s 
shores, ensuring that any of the earthquake’s 
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 Washington’s 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 country’s 
Prime Minister to the Colombian daily País. “The 
ones who lost the most in Haiti on January 12 
weren’t the poor, it was what was left of the 
middle class,” he said. “Because the poor didn’t 
have houses before, and they still don’t 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 “didn’t 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 capital’s 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 year’s 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 state’s 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 don’t are dying in Haiti.

“They want paperwork. We don’t have paperwork,” 
Miami Children’s Hospital Dr. William Muinos, who 
heads the pediatric unit of a field hospital in 
Port-au-Prince told the Herald. “They don’t have 
passports. They don’t have IDs. They don’t have 
homes. They don’t 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 can’t 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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