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USF Workshop, We are All Haitians

“In memory of our dead comrades, we have to reconstruct another society.”

Camille Chalmers (PAPDA, Haitian Platform to Advocate For Alternative Development, Haiti)

Camille Chalmers, a teacher at the University of Haiti, gave a description of his country before the earthquake that happened on January 12, 2010 which reached 7.3 on the Richter Scale and was the most powerful one of the last few years. Haiti already had been a devastated country that has not had state public policies and has been ruled in an oligarchic form operated through violence. The developmental model imposed by the government has been one that excludes agricultural workers, and does not give priority to the domestic market; however 60% of Haiti’s population works in the land. Until the 70’s, Haiti was self sufficient, however they abandoned the countryside and immigrated to the cities. At present the rural sector can be credited with 1% of budget. With the wave of neo liberal politicies, the state’s function to construct houses has disappeared. Also the state is not controlling the price of land or regulating the soil, nor is it regulating the costs of rents, or the costs of construction materials. This is creating an enormous population of urban poor. Since the agricultural workers have to live in the cities, they live in the slums. Before the earthquake, there were 39 slums with about 1.5 million residents, living in conditions of great poverty- in a development model based on the economy of the tax free zones.

What initiatives were taken after the earthquake

The town of Puerto Principe began the first operations, as they could- they got organized in very difficult conditions, sharing the food and clothes that they had. Also during the first five days, they created conditions so that people could live on the streets without violence. This town responded with solidarity, and brotherhood. We saw many people show great heroism risking their lives in order to find others in the rubble.

At the same time more than 600 thousand people returned to their families and communities. They were received and fed by their families and the communities of agricultural workers grew by thousands. Also one saw tremendous solidarity and organization world-wide in order to help the people of Haiti.

Countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Puerto Rico, immediately answered with support.

The response that was visible to the world

During the food crisis, 30 boats, 126 planes of which only one boat had a hospital carried out 100 operations each day, very far from what was needed. Three war boats with nuclear arms from the United States increased their military presence in the Caribbean, in Columbia and in Curacao. It was a military response to a tragedy, 12 thousand Canadian Soldiers, 12 thousand representatives from the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) and 11 thousand from the European Union,43 thousands soldiers in total.

Haiti has lived through four food shortage crises and neither the military nor the MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) did anything. During this reconstruction process the population has been excluded, thus reinforcing Haiti’s dependence on food. The earthquake destroyed four important cities, but the most important point is that the capacity to farm was not affected. It has grown 25% and it was not utilized because there has been an invasion of genetically modified food.

What future, what strategies and reconstruction processes

The United States has stated that they are going to promote political reforms which require taking control of everything, the airport, the ports, right up to stopping planes from landing and the arrival of boats with food and medicine.

  1. A charitable response
  2. A humanitarian and sustainable response
  3. An imperialist speech that eliminates the Haitian in the process of reconstruction, a vertical vision.
  4. France donated 126 million Euros, but this includes part of their debt. Besides for each dollar, 33 cents are used by the army, nine cents go to expenses and ports, so only 50% of each dollar go to the government of Haiti
  5. There is a new offensive by international corporations that are buying land in Haiti.

Democratic Proposals

The Human Rights Platform created a front, they plunged into a reconstruction proposal for the people, outlining a proposal for reconstruction that would take into account the individual, the village, and the experiences of working class and those of the agricultural working class.

There is one basic element, the ruptures:

  1. A rupture from exclusion: The sectors of the common people have been excluded from access to basic services. There are more than 500 thousand children without schools, 45% of the population is illiterate, and there is a great deal of malnutrition.
  2. A rupture from the mechanisms of dependency : There is a complete lose of sovereignty. We are asking for the total expulsion of MINUSTAH
  3. A rupture from the model of growth: Above all with the tax-free zones as the only model for development. Greater help for the sectors of production and for the agricultural workers is proposed.
  4. A rupture from this type of State: With all the property a true urban and agrarian reform should be made, creating true spaces for humans.

The country needs a true mobilization of its social forces assembled in a National project for reconstruction because the situation is very difficult and requires immediate action. In this project all the sectors of the country have to be there: artisans, agricultural workers, artists that identify with the reconstruction because it is a very difficult situation that requires immediate action.

The project is going to work with themes of the environment, employment, sovereignty, the rights of the city, reconsider the territory, a moratorium on debt, and the agreements with the United States and the European Union.

We must mention that the earthquake had been announced by the scientific community and the government did not do anything. We have to do something for our dead comrades.

Pedro Franco (International Alliance of Inhabitants, IAI, Regional Latin Americaand Caribbean)

Help from organizations

Pedro Franco recounted how the first stage of help was given in Haiti. Since January 13 an assembly with diverse agencies such as the United Nations (U.N.), Non Governmental Organizations (N.G.O) was organized and a strategy was defined. They supplied 20 support groups with emergency help, water, food and medicine. The government of the Dominican Republic considered that the frontier was open, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have had a close alliance.

Since the IAI considered that they had contact with the Non Governmental Agencies in Haiti they saw what was their situation and they created a bridge of communication without knowing anything about the organizations, nor about their leaders. In nine days, we returned to meet with the organizations and proposed an international team made up of the groups “Via Campesina”, “Jubileo Sur”, and “Grito de los Excluidos”.

The IAI looked for international cooperation and then made an international alert about Haiti. The 12th and 13th of March, we met with 47 organizations that summarized that in Haiti they are thinking about how to consider the word reconstruction. Haitian organizations object to the word in the sense that it is understood to mean that reconstruction is to return back to the state before the earthquake, and what they want is to construct their country, and that the flag that flies is that of Haiti which was the first to announce the end of slavery in Latin America.

We call this alert from this Urban Social Forum so that Haiti is not forgotten.

Paul Maquet (AMUPAT, PERU The Association of Municipalities of Towns that were Affected by the Earthquake)

We agree that there is very little that one can say before a disaster such as the one in Haiti. It is difficult to describe with images. What is important is that we have solidarity with the people such as the Peruvian, and the Chilean. Peru also had an earthquake of 7.3 degrees. In Latin America there has always been earthquakes, these phenomena are produced in a short period of time.

We have to analyze these natural phenomena that are going to accompany us. There has to be a strategy for prevention, the impact of an event as it relates to the levels of poverty and marginality of the population. People are always being evaluated and criticized for the lack of prevention, but prevention is a fault of the authorities. The direction of the earthquake assumes a centralized form, creating investments that were donated by the private sector who believed that it was the best way to help with reconstruction. Some have come in order to outline ideas that are centralized and privatized as well.

In Peru’s experience, people and the local authorities have very little participation. The municipal authorities do not have even one resource for helping with the disaster.

From this experience, the mayors formed a coalition with the people (AMUPAT) and began to demand commitments.

We have to decentralize the process of reconstruction. The power should pass to the local and regional sector, so that resources are released from the public budget for reconstruction.

Reconstruction should be a process that is social and one where people can participate without the thought of people higher up in the government and who are from the Capital.

Reconstruction has to be part of the development and reconstruction of a society that exists in a form of solidarity and cooperation.

What has happened in Haiti, Chile and Peru, has to make us think that now we can no longer construct cities, as the present. In the middle of a perverse process that marginalizes people, those who were taken to live in camps, those who were evicted took them to live in the most vulnerable places, with an earthquake that destroys everything, the collective memory, and the future.

This forum should work out a powerful declaration before the United Nations, where the indicators of the poor quality of housing are shown, that if poverty is diminishing, we are talking about two different worlds. We have to raise our voices in order to say that the housing policies after Habitat II have failed before a subsidiary state.

Mary Bricker-Jenkins (Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, USA )

Haiti and post-Katrina USA: Some Commonalities and Lessons

Some Commonalities

  • Both experienced two interrelated disasters--“natural” and economic—and had

- pre-existing poverty

- pre-existing degradation of environment

  • History of French slave trade/slavery
  • Racist “explanations” for and response to disaster
  • Superexploitation of workers by corporations/tourist industry
  • Government response has been “relocation” of people and promotion of private property interests
  • Recovery resources” have been channeled to private sector elites
  • Military presence sent to protect private property primarily
  • Military was followed by government-corporate “partnerships” for recovery
  • Haiti and the USA share the context of

- global political economy/neoliberalism

- Privatization

- Abandonment of public responsibility to alleviate suffering, meet human needs

- Legal protection of rights of private property; ascendency of corporate “persons”

- Lack of mechanism of accountability to the people

  • Both are ruled by oligarchies under the illusion of democracy
  • Both peoples have given the world magnificent music, dance, art, and other cultural traditions
  • Both have a history of rising up to throw off the yoke of oppression and exploitation
  • We can learn from and inspire each other!
  • This is not to compare poverty in the USA to poverty in Haiti or elsewhere in the world. . .
  • It is to say that we have a common basis for struggle to end it.

Some Lessons

The people of USA can, in response to Haiti and Katrina. . .

  • Send aid
  • Go to help rebuild homes, schools, clinics
  • Monitor “aid” groups
  • Lobby the US government to meet human needs now and always
  • Investigate corporate domination

. . .and engage in many more forms of direct aid and advocacy, but most important

We must work to change the USA to a nation that protects and respects all human rights--including the rights to housing, food and clothing, health care—all around the world.

  • We know now that our current governments will not do this;
  • We know now that many, perhaps most, NGOs are under the heel of the oligarchs that fund them;
  • We know now that we must do this ourselves;
  • We know now that the “powers-that-be” will try to separate us, seduce our leaders, and turn us against each other;
  • We know we must politicize our plight, turning private pain into energy for public action;
  • We know how to build solidarity and community, how to make collective decisions, how to give and expect respect for each other;
  • We know that another USA is necessary for the people of Haiti and the USA;
  • We know that what we want is possible.
  • The future is up to us.

Place à laquelle s'applique cet article

Le Traducteur Volontaire pour le droit au logement sans frontières de l'IAI qui a collaboré à la traduction de ce texte est :

Anne Seidenberg


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