U.S. Out Now!
Haitians Demonstrate for Rights and Against Foreign Occupation
On Monday, May 17, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Port-au-Prince to demand their right to decide the future of the country and demand the resignation of President René Préval for violating the 1987 Constitution. They opposed the “state of emergency law” passed which extends Préval’s term and submits Haiti to foreign domination, primarily by the U.S. Protesters also again demanded that democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide be allowed back into the country. He was forced into exile by a U.S.-organized coup d’etat in 2004. The U.S. insists that Aristide not return and Préval submits, just as he has submitted to foreign domination. Demonstrators are also opposing the rigging of elections taking place, in part through blocking participation of the Fanmi Lavalas party of Aristide.
Voice of Revolution salutes the struggle of the Haitians to defend their rights in the very difficult conditions imposed since the hurricane. The U.S. is attempting to re-enslave the country, using military occupation and dictating reconstruction that does not serve the Haitian people. We say U.S. Out of Haiti Now! The fight of the Haitians for sovereignty and for building a people’s Haiti free of foreign domination is a vital part of the struggle for a new world — where the rights of the people are at the center. The Haitians are making clear that they can and must be the decision-makers.
The May 17 demonstrators stepped off from St. Jean Bosco, Aristide’s former parish, marched down Grande Rue, took Rue St. Martin up to Belair, then came down Rue Montalais to rally in front of the National Palace. All along the march, demonstrators held up posters and banners calling for Préval’s resignation and for a passport or laisser-passer for President Aristide to return to Haiti.
“The emergency is not an emergency,” demonstrators chanted, rejecting the use of their difficult conditions as an excuse for foreign enslavement. The demonstrator made several laps around the Champ de Mars, the capital’s central square, despite the metal barriers police had erected. In confrontations between the demonstrators and the police’s Company for Intervention and the Maintenance of Order (CIMO), a crowd control unit, the barriers were swept aside.
René Civil, one of the founders of the Heads Together of Popular Organizations (Tèt Kole) coalition which is one organization spearheading the protests, said that “All of society should enter into the struggle being waged, a struggle for a new electoral council, for everybody to participate in the anticipated elections, the struggle to get people out of tents, to give them food and healthcare, to put them in decent provisional housing. It is everybody’s battle to denounce the emergency law, to fight for young people to go to school, to college, to find work. That is why people are mobilizing today, it is a sentiment which is sweeping the country…”
On May 10 outside the ruins of the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, protesters also denounced the inaction of President René Préval in response to the January 12 earthquake and demanded his immediate resignation and Aristide’s return. The protest, called by nearly 40 political parties and other opposition groups, was met with trucks filled with riot police who fired tear gas, while a U.S. Army helicopter circled overhead.
Haiti was scheduled to hold presidential elections before February 2011. However, also on May 10, a quorum of the 29-member Senate voted to extend Préval’s term up to 96 days due to the emergency situation in the country. The 99-seat lower chamber approved the measure the week before. Those who oppose the extension say the extension or any delay in the vote is unconstitutional. It should be noted that since the 2004 coup which ousted democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, supporters of Aristide and his party Fanmi Lavalas, have been blocked through bureaucratic or even violent means from participating in elections.
A May 10 news report from the Al Jazeera underscores the serious problem the Haitian people are confronting, namely, being blocked from exercising control over their destiny by those who would have them as a subject people:
“[As of midnight on May 10, t]he entire lower house and one-third of the senate are no longer sitting because the earthquake prevented February’s legislative elections from taking place. ‘Effectively the parliament is ceasing to exist as a governing body and the people on the streets are pretty concerned about that,’ Al Jazeera’s Seb Walker, reporting from Port-au-Prince, said. ‘It concentrates power in the hands of the president and the international commission that has been set up with former U.S. president Bill Clinton as a co-chair. ‘The people say that this means the day-to-day running of the country is now out of their hands.’”
The commission, which also includes Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, will oversee $9.9 billion in foreign reconstruction money pledged at an international donors conference at the end of March. This amount is 40 percent larger than Haiti’s entire gross domestic product. Many of the protesters said Préval has sold the country to foreign powers, while the commission violates Haiti’s sovereignty. “Préval should leave power and he should be arrested,” Maxime Geffrard, one of the demonstrators, shouted. “He is a traitor because he wants to sell the country to foreigners.”
Demonstrations have been continuing.
(Press TV, Al Jazeera, Associated Press, TML Daily)
“We Want Our Voices to Be Heard”
“ We are living in the mud. We are wet and we are hungry. Those in charge have left us without hope. If they have a plan we do not know it. We are asking about the future. And we want our voices to be heard, “ Suzette Janvier a resident of St. Martin (a neighborhood of central Port-au-Prince)
Each Saturday for the past two months a thousand or more Haitian earthquake survivors have met in the auditorium of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy to talk about the future of their country. Since its founding in 1996 the Aristide Foundation, whose auditorium seats up to 3000 people, has provided a place for grassroots activists and ordinary Haitians to come together to debate and discuss national issues. In response to the earthquake the Foundation is sponsoring weekly public forums in which participants tell their stories, talk about the conditions of their lives, and describe their needs; they receive training or information on the current situation and on their rights under the Haitian constitution, and the United Nations principles on Internally Displaced People; and together presenters and participants brainstorm and discuss actions that can be taken to make their voices heard. Each forum has drawn between 900-1500 participants; the majority of those attending are living in spontaneous settlements across the earthquake zone — as are the majority of the citizens of Port-au-Prince. Delegations come from other parts of the country as well, particularly the South and Southeast — Jacmel and Les Cayes — which were also hit hard by the quake.
Participants at AFD forums have offered vivid testimony about conditions of life in Port-au-Prince since the earthquake. Now that the rains have begun, people describe spending the nights “domi pandeye,” (sleeping while balancing upright), standing under their plastic sheeting because there is no room for everyone to be sheltered and lie down, and because water floods the tents. During the rainy season, which has already begun, but will intensify in May, it rains nearly every night. In the morning the sun blazes, the heat under the plastic sheeting — which is all most people have to protect themselves — is stifling. They are now living in “labouye” (the mud) 24 hours a day, in camps almost uniformly lacking in latrines, or other sanitation.
They describe the struggle to feed their families. The price of basic foodstuffs (rice, beans, cornmeal, cooking oil, and charcoal for cooking) have risen 15-30 percent since the earthquake, while incomes have all but disappeared. Only those receiving funds from family overseas are able to purchase food. For those dependent on international aid, finding food for their families is an unending labor. Coupons for food might be distributed in the camps once a week, though not to everyone and not with predictability. Women who were able to get the coupons must then go to a different site, often miles away, and line up long before the sun rises. If they are lucky, by noon they might receive a 50-pound bag of rice, which must then be carried or transported back to where they are living. The next day the same struggle might begin again this time to find cooking oil — one day spent in line waiting for the coupons, another day to travel to where the oil is being distributed, in a completely different location than the rice. Often these ventures yield nothing: there are not enough coupons to go around, the rice runs out, the distribution center has been relocated, or it does not open due to security concerns. And with the rains bags of rice get wet and spoil.
Participants describe with horror a dramatic rise in prostitution — young women and girls selling their bodies to feed themselves and their families.
They describe the dire health conditions in the camps where infectious diseases are poised to run rampant. Each Wednesday since March 10, 2010, the Aristide Foundation has held a large free clinic in the auditorium of the Foundation, providing primary care services to 1,200 people every week. What AFD doctors see and hear from patients in the clinics confirms the testimony in the forums — that is, high rates of illness that result from the conditions in which people are living: malnutrition, diarrhea among children, urinary tract and other infections.
The first demand of those who have gathered at the AFD in the forums is for temporary housing in safe and sanitary locations. The second is for food. Beyond this jobs, education, healthcare, and — despite the fact that most of the participants are urban — they are demanding real investment in agricultural for food production that can one day offer food security to the country.
Underlying all of this, participants in the forums are asking to participate in the planning of the nation’s future — the necessary precondition for real recovery. Those gathering at the AFD, feel more intensely than ever before, a profound sense of exclusion.
Certainly there was no attempt at consultation or participation with Haiti’s vibrant and engaged grassroots organizations in the preparation of the PRND (the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment) put forward by the Haitian government to the international donors conference on March 31st. On the eve of the donor meeting, on March 27, over 1,200 people met at the AFD for a debate focused on the constitution — specifically the constitutionality of the creation of the 20-person Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, dominated by foreigners, which will oversee all international funding. The next, even larger, forum focused on the GOH plan to extend its emergency powers for 18-months in order to allow the Interim Commission to be created and to exercise extra-constitutional powers. Fourteen hundred people gathered, and most expressed deep concern over the repercussions for Haiti’s sovereignty. This was followed by three days of sit-ins of 500-600 people, at the Haitian parliament, to protest the passage of the law.
In addition to preparing the plan and creating this Interim Commission without participation, there has also been almost no communication about what might be in that plan. People coming to the forums at the Foundation have all heard there’s a plan. They have no idea what is in it. They hear billions of dollars were pledged in New York. They have little faith this money will be given, and no faith that what is given will be spent in their interests.
The issue at the top of everyone’s mind is the question of temporary resettlement, of moving people out of the way of the clear and present danger that the coming more intense rains represent. But three months after the quake, no clear message or plan has been articulated by the Haitian government or international NGOs.
In early April, there were several reports of forced removals of people encamped on the grounds of private schools, private property, and from the soccer stadium. At some sites bulldozers arrived without notice to tear down shelters and families were left with no a place to go. To date it appears the only voluntary relocation which has had any success is at Corail, where over the last week or two the Haitian government in collaboration with international NGOs has begun to move people from the Petionville golf course (where more than 45.000 people are encamped) to a relocation center at Corail, but this camp is only intended to hold 7,500 people.
Over one million people are estimated to be homeless in the metropolitan area. If there are plans for temporary shelter for anyone other than those on the Golf Course they are not being communicated to the general public. Those gathering at the AFD express fear that they will be forcibly evicted from the camps where they are living. They are also skeptical about plans to relocate people to remote areas, which would leave them cut off from the economic life of the city, meaning cut off from the mutual aid provided by families, communities, neighborhood associations etc, and the informal economy.
Mutual aid and the informal economy are the only things that keep Haitians alive. That was true before the quake and it is still true. Efforts to assist must empower Haiti’s powerful networks of mutual aid and the informal economy — not dismantle, not ignore them.
What would it mean to empower them? Community kitchens in the camps, loans to women to restart “ti komès” (informal sector commerce), relocation for those in imminent danger with their participation, finding ways of keeping people close to the city if that is what they desire. And if, as we hear, decentralization is a goal for Haiti’s future, then who is talking to the residents of Port-au-Prince about lives they might imagine outside the city? And why out of $12.2 billion dollars requested in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (the plan) was only $41 million, or .3 percent, allocated for agriculture and fisheries, i.e. for local food production?
Forums at the Aristide Foundation, held on March 13, March 20, March 27, April 3, April 17, and April 24, along with the International Women’s Day event on March 8, 2010 (attended by 3000 women) represent the largest indoor gatherings of Haitians to discuss and debate the country’s future since the earthquake. We are not aware of any occasion since January 12 where the Haitian government, the UN or any international NGO planning Haiti’s future and the distribution of aid funds, have brought large groups of Haitians together to ask for their opinions, their input, or their stories.
Finally, those attending the forums at the AFD are unanimous in their call for the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti. It is best summed up by Jean Vaudre, a community organizer from Bel Air, who said at the forum on April 17, “If Aristide were here even if he had no money to help us, he would be with us, in the rain, under the tents. If he were here we might believe, we might have hope that we will be able to participate in the future of the country.” Hope is a commodity in short supply right now in Haiti. Is there some way of rebuilding the country without it? (For more information see www.AristideFoundationforDemocracy.org)
For $10 billion in Promises,
It was fitting that the March 31 “International Donors Conference Towards a New Future for Haiti” was held in the Trusteeship Council at the United Nations headquarters in New York. At the event, Haitian President René Préval in effect turned over the keys to Haiti to a consortium of foreign banks and governments, which will decide how (using the conference’s principal slogan) to “build back better” the country devastated by the January 12 earthquake. This “better” Haiti envisions some 25,000 farmers providing Coca-Cola with mangos for a new Odwalla brand drink, 100,000 workers assembling clothing and electronics for the U.S. market in sweatshops under HOPE II legislation, and thousands more finding jobs as guides, waiters, cleaners and drivers when Haiti becomes a new tourist destination.
“Haiti could be the first all-wireless nation in the Caribbean,” gushed UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton, who along with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, led the day-long meeting of more than 150 nations and international institutions. Clinton got the idea for a “wireless nation,” not surprisingly, from Brad Horwitz, the CEO of Trilogy, the parent company of Voilà, Haiti’s second largest cell-phone network. Although a U.S. businessman, Horwitz was, fittingly, one of the two representatives who spoke for Haiti’s private sector at the Donors Conference.
“Urgent measures to rebuild Haiti are only sustainable if they become the foundation for an expanded and vibrant private sector,” Horwitz told the conference. “We need you to view the private sector as your partner, to understand how public funds can be leveraged by private dollars.”
“Of course, what is good for business is good for the country,” quipped one journalist listening to the speech. The other private sector spokesman was Reginald Boulos, the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Haiti (CHIC), who fiercely opposed last year’s campaign to raise Haiti’s minimum wage to $5 a day, led by unions and students. He convinced Préval to keep it at $3 a day. He also was a key supporter of both the 1991 and 2004 coups d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now exiled in South Africa.
In counterpoint, the only voice Aristide’s popular base had at the conference was in the street outside the UN, where about 50 Haitians picketed from noon to 6 p.m. in Ralph Bunche park to call for an end to the UN and U.S. military occupation of Haiti, now over six years old, and to protest the Haitian people’s exclusion from reconstruction deliberations. (New York’s December 12th Movement also had a picket at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street).
“No to neocolonialism,” read a sign held up by Jocelyn Gay, a member of the Committee to Support the Haitian People’s Struggle (KAKOLA), which organized the picket with the Lavalas Family’s New York Chapter and the International Support Haiti Network (ISHN). “No to Economic Exploitation Disguised as Reform. MINUSTAH [UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti], Out of Haiti!
“The exclusion of Haiti’s popular sector was masked by the inclusion of other “sectors” in the Donors Conference, although their presentations were purely for show, with no bearing on the plans which had already been drawn up. Joseph Baptiste, chairman and founder of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH), and Marie Fleur, a Massachusetts state representative, spoke on behalf of the “Haitian Diaspora Forum.”
Moise Charles Pierre, Chairman of the Haitian National Federation of Mayors and Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay spoke on behalf of the “Local Government Conference.” Non-governmental organizations had three spokespeople: Sam Worthington for the North American ones, Benedict Hermelin for the European ones, and Colette Lespinasse of GARR, for the Haitian ones.
Even the “MINUSTAH Conference” had two speakers. Michele Montas, the widow of slain radio journalist Jean Dominique and former spokeswoman for Ban Ki-Moon, spoke in English and French on behalf of the “Voices of the Voiceless Forum” which held focus group discussions with peasants, workers and small merchants in Haiti during March. “A clear majority of focus group participants,” she said, “from both rural and urban areas, strongly believe that there is a critical need to invest in people. Focus groups highlighted five key immediate priorities: housing, new earthquake resistant shelters for displaced people; education, in all of the school systems throughout the country; health, the building of primary healthcare facilities and hospitals; local public services, potable water, sanitation, electricity; communications infrastructure, primarily roads to allow food production to reach the cities... There seemed to be unanimity on the need to invest in human capital through education, including higher education.”
“Support for agricultural production,” Montas continued, “was stressed as a top priority... Agriculture, perhaps more than other sectors, is seen as essential to the country’s health, and the prevailing sentiment is that the peasantry has been neglected.” Even Préval has recognized this neglect, but he got in trouble last month when he called on Washington to “stop sending food aid” because of its deleterious effects on the Haitian peasant economy (see Haïti Liberté, Vol. 3, No. 36, 3/24/2010).
The U.S. responded that there was “severe corruption” in his government. Préval fell back into line. His government prepared a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report (PDNA), the conference’s reference document, with “members of the International Community.” Of the $12.2 billion total it requested for the next three years, only $41 million, or 0.3 percent, would be earmarked for “Agriculture and fishing.” The centerpieces of the Clinton plan are assembly factories and tourism (see Haïti Liberté, Vol. 3, No. 36, 3/24/2010). But the former president still pays lip service to agriculture. In the hallway outside the Trusteeship Council, Haïti Liberté asked Bill Clinton what had led him last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to renounce his policies as U.S. president of dumping cheap rice on Haiti. “Oh, I just think that, you know, there’s a movement all around the world now,” Clinton responded. “I first saw Bob Zoellick, the head of the World Bank, say the same thing, where he said..., starting in 1981, the wealthy agricultural producing countries genuinely believed that they and the emerging agricultural powers in Brazil and Argentina... that they really believed for twenty years that if you moved agricultural production there and then facilitated its introduction into poorer places, you would free those places to get aid to skip agricultural development and go straight into an industrial era. And it’s failed everywhere it’s been tried. And you just can’t take the food chain out of production. And it also undermines a lot of the culture, the fabric of life, the sense of self-determination... And we made this devil’s bargain on rice. And it wasn’t the right thing to do. We should have continued to work to help them be self-sufficient in agriculture. And that’s a lot of what we’re doing now. We’re thinking about how can we get the coffee production up, how can we get ... the mango production up, ... the avocados, and lots of other things.”
In other words, the U.S. and other “agricultural powers” would provide Haiti food, “freeing up” Haitian farmers to go work in U.S.-owned sweatshops, thereby ushering in “an industrial era,” as if the cinder-block shells of assembly plants represent organic industrialization. Now Clinton, sensitive to the demands of Montas’s “focus groups,” promotes agriculture, but as a way to integrate Haiti into the global capitalist economy.
Many peasant and anti-neoliberal groups see agricultural self-sufficiency as a way to disconnect and insulate Haiti from predatory capitalist powers. At a 5:30 p.m. closing press conference, Ban Ki-moon announced pledges of $5.3 billion in reconstruction aid for the next 18 months, exceeding the Haitian government’s request of $3.9 billion.
The total pledges amount to $9.9 billion for the next 3 years “plus” — a significant detail given how notoriously neglected UN aid promises are. Bill Clinton announced that only 30 percent of his previous fund-raising pledge drive for Haiti had been honored. Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive and President Préval played only supporting roles at the Conference, requesting support at the start and thanking nations at the end.
The essence of this conference was summed up by Hillary Clinton. “The leaders of Haiti must take responsibility for their country’s reconstruction,” she said as Washington pledged $1.15 billion for Haiti’s long-term reconstruction. “And we in the global community must also do things differently. It will be tempting to fall back on old habits — to work around the government rather than to work with them as partners, or to fund a scattered array of well-meaning projects rather than making the deeper, long-term investments that Haiti needs now.” So now, supposedly, NGOs will take a back seat to the Haitian government, but a Haitian government that is working with the NGOs and under the complete supervision of foreign “donors.”
Under the Plan, the World Bank distributes the reconstruction funds to projects it deems worthy. An Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (HRIC), composed of 13 foreigners and 7 Haitians, approves the disbursements. Then another group of foreigners supervises the Haitian government’s implementation of the project. The only direct support the Haitian government got at the Donors Conference was $350 million to pay state salaries, only 6.6 percent of the initial $5.3 billion pledged. This came after the International Monetary Fund warned that the budgetary support was necessary to keep the Haitian government from printing money, thereby risking inflation.
“We trust that the numerous promises heard will be converted into action, that Haiti’s independence and sovereignty will be respected and ennobled, that the government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive will be facilitated to exercise all its faculties, and that it will be able to benefit, not the white and foreign companies, but the Haitian people, especially the poorest,” said Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parilla at the conference. “Generosity and political will is needed. Also needed is the unity of that country instead of its division into market shares and dubious charitable projects.”
Indeed, there are some interesting ideas in the Haitian government’s Action Plan, also presented at the conference. It calls for 400,000 people to be employed, half by the government and half by “international and national stakeholders,” to restore irrigation systems and farm tracks, to develop watersheds (reforestation, setting up pastureland, correcting ravines in peri-urban areas, fruit trees), to maintain roads, and to work on “minor community-based infrastructure” (tracks, paths, footbridges, shops and community centers, small reservoirs and feed pipes, etc.) and urban infrastructure (roadway paving, squares, drainage network cleaning) ... and do projects related to the cleaning and recycling of materials created by the collapse of buildings in the areas most affected by the earth-quake.” All that sounds nice, but unfortunately, now the decision is up to the strategists at the World Bank. (See: www.haitiliberte.com.)
The Bolivarian Alternative for Our Americas (ALBA for its Spanish initials) pledged $2.42 billion in reconstruction aid to earthquake-torn Haiti between the years 2010-2016 during a United Nations donors conference held in New York City in March. Venezuela also called for Haiti’s foreign debt to be forgiven and advocated direct aid and services, not loans, for the Caribbean country.
“We are at the United Nations to re-affirm the commitment of the government of President Hugo Chavez Frias with coordinated and impactful action in Haiti,” said Venezuelan Vice Minister of Foreign Relations Francisco Arias Cardenas, representing the eight-member ALBA bloc.
ALBA was formed as a solidarity-based alternative to profit-driven free trade pacts. Its members include Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.
The vice minister said half the money would be given as direct aid to Haiti, while the other half would be rendered in services to Haiti’s devastated housing, infrastructure, waste management, energy, education, health care, and agricultural systems. The majority of the money will come from Venezuela, he said, along with smaller contributions from the other seven members.
Much of Venezuela’s contribution will be financed through the Petrocaribe trade group, in which Venezuela exchanges discounted oil for goods and services from Caribbean and Central American countries. Venezuela will reinvest the proceeds from the oil it sells to Haiti into reconstruction projects in Haiti.
Cuba will manage ALBA’s contributions to Haiti’s health care system, which include the construction of more than 100 public health clinics that will provide primary care, emergency room, midwifery, vaccinations, physical therapy and rehabilitation, public health education, and other services, according to announcements on Wednesday by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez.
Venezuela has already sent hundreds of thousands of tons of food, 225,000 barrels of fuel, thousands of tents, water purification systems, and heavy equipment to remove rubble in Haiti. It has also donated $37.2 million in aid to Haiti as part of a pledge by the twelve-member Union of South American Nations. Since 2007, Cuba, Venezuela, and Haiti have built houses, free health clinics, and electricity generators in Haiti through a tripartite commission.
During the UN conference, Arias Cardenas also advocated full debt relief for Haiti. He pointed out that Venezuela already forgave Haiti’s $295 million in debt following the earthquake and urged richer nations to “consider the quality and the proportion of the donation in relation to the size of the economy of the donating country.”
Furthermore, the ALBA bloc denounced the influence of the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the UN’s Haiti reconstruction fund, arguing that the policies of these entities contributed to Haiti’s economic devastation in the 1990s.
“We do not think that in these moments we should give priority to recuperating the profits of private companies, nor that those who come to speak and direct things should be the World Bank and the IMF,” said Arias Cardenas. These entities “should come and say, ‘We forgive all of Haiti’s debt,’ but instead, they come to say that there will be more funds so that [Haiti] may become more in debt.” […]
When asked about Venezuela’s motivation for donating to Haiti’s reconstruction, Arias Cardenas said, “First, because we believe in international solidarity, and then, because we have a debt to Haiti that we will never be able to pay back ,” referring to Haiti’s donation of rifles to assist with Venezuela’s war of independence from Spain two centuries ago.