[News] Haiti - Six Months After the Quake

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 14 18:07:29 EDT 2010

Haiti: Six Months after the Quake

by Johnny Van Hove / July 13th, 2010

Half a year following the earthquake, conditions 
in Haiti are worse than ever. Still, there is “a 
lot to be hopeful for”, according to Robert Roth 
of the activist network Haiti Action Committee 
who recently visited the Caribbean island. An interview.

Johnny Van Hove: How are the living conditions in 
Haiti six months after the quake?

Robert Roth: During my visit a few weeks ago, I 
was struck by the absence of systematic aid for 
Haitians. The food distribution has been 
haphazard at best. Work is scarce and there are 
no massive efforts to prepare for the approaching 
hurricanes. Above all, shelter for the 1.5 
million Haitians living in the camps is hardly 
existent and highly insufficient for the rainy 
season. Haiti truly is experiencing a 
humanitarian disaster of the highest order.

JVH: In what kind of shape are the refugee camps?

RR: Most people are living under plastic, sheets, 
or tarps – not tents. There is hardly any space 
between the shelters. Sanitation is mostly 
non-existent. If you take a look inside the 
plastic tarps, people are cramped next to each 
other in narrow spaces. Some sheets are all they 
possess and these get soaked as soon as the tarp 
is flooded by the frequent rains.”

JVH: Over-crowding, bad sanitation, the rainy 
season: how do these elements affect the health situation in the camps?

RR: We spoke with a number of Haitian doctors and 
medical workers who are running clinics at the 
Aristide Foundation. There is a real fear of 
epidemics. The day-to-day health issues are 
worrying too. Children are asthmatic because of 
the dust everywhere. Eye diseases, irritations, 
rashes, and constant headaches are major problems 
too. The same goes for dysentery, as there is 
very little potable water. The general health situation is horrific.

JVH: Considering these conditions, how are the 
Haitians you have talked to responding?

RR: We visited three camps and met with many 
grassroots activists on our trip. There is a high 
level of frustration with both the Haitian 
government and the international relief effort. 
Much has been promised, and hardly anything has been delivered.

In one camp, near the airport, residents had not 
seen any aid of any kind since late February. 
When we asked them about the Préval government, 
they said it was a “zero” and did not represent 
them. When we asked about the UN, they said they 
just drive by with their guns out. They want 
food, work and shelter for their families – and they have not gotten that.

Weekly demonstrations against the Préval 
government and the UN occupation have been 
growing. One week before I was there, 30,000 
people had demonstrated in Port-au-Prince, 
calling for Préval’s ouster, democratic and fair 
elections, the end of the UN occupation, and the 
return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 
to Haiti. It’s a charged political situation right now.

JVH: In our last interview, you mentioned the 
high degree of grassroots organizing in Haiti. 
Have you seen that happening in the camps too?

RR: Yes. This is one aspect of the situation in 
Haiti that goes unreported. In one refugee camp, 
Camp Mesiane, women organizers mobilized people 
to demonstrate in front of a Red Cross center, 
since they had received no aid. They then 
continued to meet with camp residents to deal 
with security, health needs and food. This is 
happening in many camps. It is Haitians helping 
Haitians, treating each other with dignity in the midst of crisis.

JVH: Are there Haitian organizations which are 
particularly stepping up in the camps?

RR: The Aristide Foundation has been providing 
medical services and relief from the days right 
after the quake. From February on, it ran mobile 
schools in five refugee camps, reaching over 
1,200 students. The Foundation created a weekly 
health clinic that serves 1,000 patients each 
week. It also has a mental health project in 
which Haitian health workers are going into the 
camps to reach out to people who have experienced 
the most severe psychological trauma. All of this 
work – doing the maximum with the minimum amount 
of resources – has had a deep impact.

JVH: Are the camps as unsafe as a number of media 
and relief organizations suggest?

RR: Of course there are major security issues 
when 1.5 million people are living in refugee 
camps, when the infrastructure is shattered, when 
communities have been uprooted, and when massive 
poverty and hunger is the norm. But Haiti is not 
a crime scene. The vast majority of people in Haiti are just trying to survive.

The issue of “security” is highly politicized in 
Haiti. It has been used to justify attacks on 
popular organizations and communities, including 
violent assaults against community-based groups 
in Cite Soleil and other pro-Lavalas areas. When 
“insecurity” is projected as the main issue, 
rather than the undemocratic nature of the 
current government or the desperate situation 
faced by millions of people, that reflects a political agenda.

JVH: What about sexual violence, which is rampant 
in the camps according to various human rights organizations?

RR: The conditions in the camps heighten the 
dangers of sexual violence. It’s a real issue, 
one that community-based organizations – 
particularly women’s groups – are conscious of 
and working to address. At the same time, I 
believe that some human rights groups have presented this issue narrowly.

There is little discussion of the role of UN 
troops and the Haitian police force in regards to 
sexual violence. In 2007, 114 UN soldiers from 
Sri Lanka were sent home after widespread charges 
of rape and child abuse. Many people talked to us 
on this trip about how UN soldiers and Haitian 
police use access to food and aid in exchange for 
sex. This amounts to forced prostitution, 
completely linked to militarism and occupation. 
Why isn’t this being highlighted as well?

JVH: How did the Haitians you talked to evaluate the UN relief efforts so far?

RR: After distributing tarps and food in the 
first few weeks after the earthquake, the impact 
of the UN organizations is considered dismal 
since late February. The UN stopped its Emergency Food

Program in April, for instance, because it 
decided it was time to provide “cash for work”. 
The main presence of the UN is not as relief 
workers; it’s as soldiers on patrol, pointing 
guns at people. They are considered a foreign 
occupying army. Many Haitians feel that the UN is 
targeting instead of helping them. In the absence 
of an effective relief effort, the UN presence is 
a daily reminder that Haiti is being run by foreign powers.

JVH: The Haitian political class handed over a 
great deal of its powers to the Haiti Recovery 
Commission, which has a mandate to coordinate 
distribution of all aid for at least 18 months. Who runs the commission?

RR: In the commission, big international players, 
such as the IMF, the World Bank, the U.S., Canada 
and France, are represented. It is chaired by 
Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Max 
Bellerive. Supposedly, President Préval has veto 
power over any decisions, but Clinton is clearly 
running it: Esquire Magazine has just called him “the de facto CEO” of Haiti.

The Commission is in charge of doling out the 
$5.3 billion dollars which were pledged – not 
given yet, pledged – by UN members states and 
international institutions at the international 
donor conference in March. This kind of money 
will be used to reconfigure Haiti with a fairly 
classic model: low-wage factory work, a tourist 
industry, free trade zones with tax breaks for 
multinationals, open markets for U.S. goods, the usual.

JVH: Bill Clinton recently excused himself for 
the US trade policy during his presidency – which 
forced Haitian farmers off land and undercut 
Haiti’s ability to feed itself. Was Clinton’s 
move a hopeful change of heart by one of the key players in Haiti?

RR: Bill Clinton loves to apologize. While he is 
apologizing, he is committing new actions for 
which he will have to excuse himself in the years 
to come. The pressure to privatize, for instance, 
continues up to this day in Haiti. The democratic 
movements are still under attack. The most 
popular political party in Haiti, Lavalas, is 
still banned from elections. The tiny Haitian 
elite is still Clinton’s major economic partner 
in Haiti. Former President Aristide is still in 
forced exile. The apologies will have to continue.

JVH: The Haitian democratic icon Aristide still 
lives in forced exile. Did you feel popular 
demand for his return during your stay in Haiti?

RR: It is highly ironic that George W. Bush and 
Bill Clinton can travel freely to Haiti while the 
twice-democratically elected president, 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is banished. His return 
is a big issue in Haiti and a fundamental demand 
of the democratic movement. For instance, over 
20,000 women have already signed a petition demanding his immediate return.

How can free and fair elections be held when such 
a major spokesperson is prevented from even 
living in his homeland? How can the voices of the 
majority be heard when their political party is 
banned and their political representatives are 
silenced? In a period of such trauma and 
difficulty, Aristide’s return would provide hope 
and sustenance. We heard this everywhere, repeatedly.

JVH: Dramatic living conditions, a democracy 
smothered, and a two time elected former 
president banished: is the near future looking as 
bleak as this list indicates or has your trip suggested otherwise?

RR: There are two stories in Haiti which are 
happening simultaneously. One is the top-down 
reconstruction led by the US and the UN. This 
continues the elite model of development in Haiti 
of the past, repackaged since the earthquake. The 
other story involves the mobilizing efforts at 
the grassroots level. This is the hope for Haiti, 
the real democratic vision that is emerging from 
the disaster in Haiti. Numerous organizations 
responded to the quake by very visibly providing 
relief and support while continuing to fight for 
democracy. That changed the political dynamics in 
Haiti. On the grassroots level, there is a lot to be hopeful for.

Johnny Van Hove is a Belgian freelance 
journalist, a media activist, and a PhD student 
in the field of American Studies at the 
University of Bremen. He publishes for a wide 
range of critical media, such as the Belgian 
webpaper Dewereldmorgen.be. He is also the 
co-author the Belgian Indymedia reader Media and 
Racism. Read other articles by Johnny.

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