[News] Haiti Five Months After the Quake

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 18 10:41:23 EDT 2010

June 18 - 20, 2010

"We Are Motivated"

Haiti Five Months After the Quake


  “We have all suffered. But we are motivated 
right now to help our people.  That makes us strong. That allows us to go on. ”
- Teacher at a mobile school/ Aristide Foundation for Democracy

It is now more than five months since the January 
12th earthquake devastated Haiti. Over 200,000 
people have died, and1.5 million are still living 
under sheets, tarps and plastic in internal 
refugee camps. An Interim Reconstruction 
Commission headed by former U.S. President Bill 
Clinton has promised that at least $5.3 billion 
is in the “pipeline” destined for relief.  Even 
though the rainy season is here and hurricanes 
are on the way, the UN’s World Food Program 
announced in April that it was “winding down” its 
initial emergency food distribution program in Haiti.

What is most shocking when one travels to Haiti 
is how little aid is visible in the earthquake 
zone.  Where is all the money?  Members of our 
delegation visited three different refugee 
camps.  We heard the same story over and over 
again during our visit in late May: no food, poor shelter and no work.

In one camp, close to the airport, 5,000 people 
were living with no sanitation, little protective 
shelter, and no consistent food distribution.  It 
had rained the night before, and the tarps had 
flooded.  One woman told us, “We are not treated 
as human. We have seen no relief since 
February.”  When asked about Haitian president 
Rene Preval, a man sitting nearby said, “He may 
be the president of the republic, but he is not 
our president. We have never seen him.”

This sentiment is widespread in Haiti. A week 
before we arrived, large anti-Preval 
demonstrations in Port-au-Prince (estimated by 
independent observers at 30,000) and other parts 
of Haiti called for true democratic elections, 
full participation by grassroots organizations in 
relief plans, and the return of former President 
Aristide to Haiti. Concerned about the rise in 
protests, the UN decided to send 600 additional 
foreign police officers to augment its force in Haiti.

In a parallel initiative, over 20,000 women have 
already signed a petition to President Obama 
urging him to end opposition to Aristide’s return 
from forced exile in South Africa.  Their 
argument is compelling: continuing to banish a 
major spokesperson for the poor in Haiti signals 
that development and reconstruction will take 
place without respecting the voices of those most impacted by the quake.

There is strong evidence that they are 
correct.  On June 1, at the most luxurious resort 
in the Dominican Republic, Bill Clinton headed 
yet another planning session to bring an elite 
vision of Haiti to fruition. The “new Haiti” 
means Coca-Cola with its Haiti Hope drink. It 
means the Royal Caribbean Tour Lines planning a 
massive expansion – in coordination with U.S. AID 
- of the tourist industry in the north of Haiti. 
It means an ever-growing and ongoing UN military 
occupation (at latest count, over 13,000 troops 
and police).  It means high-powered NGO’s 
creating even more infrastructure in the NGO 
capital of the world, and corporations lining up 
to establish a low-wage assembly sector in Port-au-Prince.

This vision seeks to marginalize the popular 
movement that is the real engine of social change 
in Haiti. It does not include free and democratic 
elections in which all parties – including the 
most popular political party, Lavalas (banned 
from the last elections) – can participate. That 
is why so many Haitians are raising their voices 
right now. The earthquake has unleashed a dynamic 
grassroots process and highlighted the critical 
connection between democracy and development.

Haiti is alive with activity, alive with young 
and veteran activists struggling to rebuild while 
refusing to accept any limitations on their 
democratic or human rights. Take, for example, 
the work of the Aristide Foundation for 
Democracy, created in 1996 by Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide after the end of his first term as 
president, a term shattered by a U.S.-supported 
coup. Despite a second coup against President 
Aristide in 2004 and the repression that 
followed, the Foundation is still there. With 
limited funding, it has been able to create 
mobile schools in five refugee camps, train a 
small cadre of Haitian mental health workers who 
offer mental health support to those who have 
suffered so much in the camps, run a mobile 
clinic staffed by Haitian doctors and medical 
personnel, develop micro-lending projects for 
market women, and support local agriculture with 
loans to peasant farmers in the Port-au-Prince area.

The efforts of the Foundation and other dynamic 
popular institutions and organizations are tied 
to a broader vision, one of real 
self-determination and a long-term effort to regenerate democracy.

Haitians know that the “official story” is all 
about Bill Clinton and the NGO’s, but they are 
writing their own story. It is time we pay attention.

Robert Roth is a co-founder of the Haiti Action 
Committee and a board member of the Haiti 
Emergency Relief Fund. He most recently traveled to Haiti in late May, 2010.

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