Two and half months post-quake, the major media mostly ignore Haiti, the calamitous conditions on the ground, and the growing desperation of millions forced to largely endure on their own — out of sight, mind, the concern of world leaders, and UN, USAID and other aid organizations diverting most of the $700 million + donated to contractors and profiteering NGOs.
A March 11 New York Times editorial titled, “Haiti, Two Months Later,” tried to have it both ways, citing relief effort failures, yet praising the US, UN, foreign countries, and aid organizations for:
dispatch(ing) tents, tarps, food, water, medicine and doctors as they should. They have done a lot of good, particularly the United States, which rushed supplies, a troop force… and a hospital ship. Many lives were saved.
Unmentioned was the thousands of US combat troops obstructing aid, getting none to the most impoverished neighborhoods, and amounts to emergency shelters have been woefully inadequate, making calamitous conditions worse.
A March 25 Times editorial titled “Haiti’s Misery,” in fact, admitted it, stating:
The emergency in Haiti isn’t over. It’s getting worse, as the outside world’s attention fades away…. (Yet) Misery rages like a fever in the hundreds of camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of… people left homeless…. The dreaded rains have swamped tents and ragged stick-and-tarp huts. They have turned walkways into mud lakes (exacerbating the problem of) cooking food, washing clothes, staying clean and avoiding disease.
It’s the plight of around 1.3 million with no shelter, proper sanitation, clean water, enough food, or medical care. On March 4, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised concerns about a potential deadly malaria outbreak, besides numerous other diseases now spreading. On March 5, Partners in Health (PIH) called conditions on the ground “shameful… shocking, inhumane and rapidly deteriorating.”
Daily they worsen, placing millions of Haitians in grave peril of calamitous depravation, deadly diseases, greater pain and suffering, and potential mass deaths because imperial plans for Haiti are to plunder it for profit and control, not help desperately needy people, many of whom will suffer, then die.
Haiti is open for business. What was no longer exists. Reconstruction will be profit-driven, replacing former neighborhoods with gentrified ones, corporate ventures, and other upscale projects – poor Haitians being dispossessed, exploited, neglected, abandoned, and oppressed if they resist, especially if they interfere with planned plundering of Haiti’s oil and other resources.
On March 24, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited Port-au-Prince with Rene Preval, feigned concern, and participated in staged refugee camp photo-ops. Haitians reacted angrily, especially at Bush for ousting President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, exiling him to South Africa, and preventing his return, now more than ever when he’s needed.
Protestors outside the national palace burned tires and an American flag, shouting: “Return Aristide! Down with Preval! Down with Bush! The Miami Herald described the Champ de Mars refugee camp visit saying:
Quake survivors screamed at the three leaders, shouting details of the losses they suffered…. Others took a moment to criticize their own president’s leadership. ‘President Preval has never come to see us before,’ screamed Myrlande Saint-Louis, who lives in the Place Mosolee camp the presidents visited. ‘Now because Bush is here he comes. Now he wants to see us!’
The trip served two purposes:
— to increase interest for a March 31 New York international investment conference expected to approve an $11.5 billion package to solidify corporate control of the country, and
— for Preval to resolve land issues obstructing quake survivor relocations from areas wanted for commercial redevelopment, so Haitians have to go, willingly or by force.
Haitians are on their own, women and children most vulnerable, according to Amnesty International (AI). A March 25 report said:
Sexual violence is widely present in the camps where some of Haiti’s most vulnerable live. It was already a major concern (pre-quake) but the situation in which displaced people are living exposes women and girls to even greater risks.
Most victims AI interviewed were minors. “One eight-year-old girl was raped when alone in her tent at night. (A) 15-year-old was raped when she went out of the camp to urinate…. There are no shelters in the country where victims of sexual violence can be protected and have access to services.”
From March 4-25, AI assessed conditions in quake struck areas, in particular, human rights abuses affecting women and children. It reported mass displacement, makeshift camps on “every plot of empty land, public or private, and in every space, square and football pitch.” Even a golf course and secondary roads were used.
Within the camps, security is non-existant, except for scattered ad hoc efforts, leaving women and girls most vulnerable as well as everyone to theft or assaults that might cost them their lives.
AI visited camps with no emergency shelter, food, sanitation, water or medical care, saying:
“Living conditions in these camps are dire and the majority of inhabitants are deeply frustrated with the Haitian authorities and international agencies” showing no concern for their condition.
The Latin American Solidarity Coalition’s (LASC) Assessment on the Ground Pre-Quake
LASC (lasolidarity.org) “is an association of national and local US-based grassroots Latin American and Caribbean solidarity groups (for) a truly progressive Latin America solidarity movement… in support of the people of Latin America struggling for justice and a better future for their countries free of economic, military and cultural imperialism.”
From December 28, 2009-January 7, 2010 (five days before the quake), its 11-member delegation visited Haiti to investigate UN Blue Helmet (MINUSTAH) human rights abuses. On returning, it published a report titled, “Haiti: An Oppressed State,” its highlights reviewed below.
LASC met with over 70 individuals and organization representatives in Port-au-Prince and two of its most impoverished neighborhoods, Cite Soleil and Bel Air. It also spent two days in Jacmel visiting sustainable development projects.
Testimonies from MINUSTAH-inflicted violence victims were gotten, including people whose family members were murdered. Virtually everyone:
— demanded Aristide’s return;
— called MINUSTAH a repressive, criminal force;
— said international aid hasn’t reached the poor, but instead has been diverted to predatory NGOs, prison building, or stolen by corrupt politicians; and
— believed economic development is exploitive, not providing a living wage, or benefitting poor Haitians productively.
The story is long, painful and familiar. “For over 200 years (and 300 before that), the US, France, and Western Europe (actively) ble(d) and exploit(ed) Haitians and prevent(ed) the only nation born of a slave revolt from becoming successful.” It endured “military invasions, economic embargoes, gunboat blockades, trade barriers, diplomatic quarantines, subsidized armed subversions, US-armed black dictators, and finally, two US-supported coups against” its only beloved leader since liberation, twice democratically elected overwhelmingly, now exiled, and kept from returning.
Repeatedly people said:
“We want Preval to send President Aristide a passport. If Obama wants that to happen it will, because Preval takes his orders from the powerful nations.” Representing hope, Aristide “values social justice and would be an inspiration to the grassroots majority. When he was president, there were more jobs, healthcare and education for our children.” No longer since 2004 or Preval’s 2006 election.
They don’t hear our demands for better education, healthcare, better roads, and an end to malnutrition. Where does the international aid go? We don’t see it. Preval is weak and corrupt. We want him to listen to us. We want the return of Aristide, and Preval should change and not exclude Lavalas.
Preval was complicit in the 2004 coup, then allied with the Washington-installed interim Latortue government to prevent Aristide’s return after a more people-oriented 1996-2001 first term.
Post-quake, he’s been pathetic, inept, and indifferent to his peoples’ plight — largely invisible, out of sight, silent, and on the sidelines when he’s most needed. Public anger toward him is palpable. For one Haitian, he’s “the devil and we don’t want him” any more. His prospects for a third term are likely nil — he, himself, saying in a radio interview, “I don’t do politics, okey?” Former opposition figure, Evans Paul, accused him of “single-handedly show(ing) the Haitian people that he cannot lead them.”
MINUSTAH: the Problem, Not the Solution
It was established on June 1, 2004 for an initial six month renewable period to “promote interaction with the Haitian authorities as partners,” operating under the following mandate:
— “in support of the Transitional Government, to ensure a secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place;
— to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order…;
— to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; and
— to promote and protect human rights, particularly of women and children among other responsibilities.”
In fact, for the first time in UN history, a Blue Helmet force supported a coup d’etat regime, allied with imperial forces, prevented a democratically-elected leader from returning, and systematically committed human rights abuses, including, persecutions, violence, rape, and cold-blooded murder.
Haiti Liberte journalist Yves Pierre Louis said:
Since 2004, the only human rights violations are by the UN. In Cite Soleil, they break into houses and kill people. They shot into a protest by students. At Jean Juste’s funeral, the UN shot a mourner. People from the Central Plateau were demonstrating for electricity and the UN killed two of them. They commit rape and sexual abuse. They steal peasants’ goats…. They are protecting the elites by terrorizing the population.
Another Cite Soleil resident said “Now that there are no bandits, the UN are the bandits. If they search you and find jewelry, they steal it. They make women take off their clothes to humiliate them.”
Other accounts accused UN forces of shooting up a market, killing and wounding people there, Nigerian soldiers beating a man so severely he nearly died, and no investigations conducted of these or other incidents when demanded.
The case of human rights activist, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, is shocking and disturbing. After announcing his 2007 Senate candidacy and participating in sit-ins denouncing UN human rights violations, he was disappeared without a trace.
Lavalas organizer Rene Civil said “The occupation is killing and humiliating the people. At any time it could explode into a revolt. MINUSTAH has incited the people to be violent. They live and eat well while we are hungry, homeless, and without schools…. If not for the UN guns, Haiti would already have its freedom.”
Haiti’s Dysfunctional Judicial System
LASC investigated four areas:
(1) Lack of Legal Recourse
Victims of MINUSTAH violence are pressured to drop charges. Street vendors in Haiti’s informal sector report attacks that are ruining them financially, the police doing nothing to intervene or investigate. When suits are filed, the court system disadvantages the poor, including by transferring venues to distant locations, making it hard and costly for plaintiffs.
(2) Legal Limbo
Although Haitian law requires prisoner court hearings within 48 hours of arrest, delays of three months or longer are common, and according to Amnesty International, fewer than 20% of many thousands of prisoners ever get to trial, leaving innocent victims languishing under horrific confinement for years.
(3) Prison Conditions
Unconscionable describes them because of mistreatment, extreme overcrowding, prisoners forced to sleep in shifts, inadequate poor food, unsafe water, poor sanitation, little or no medical care, and no remediation efforts for change.
(4) Activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine
His prominence was his undoing, LASC is speculating that his abductors don’t intend to release him. Perhaps he’s dead, and efforts to learn the truth have been stonewalled.
The most recent April 19, 2009 one to fill 12 open Senate seats was a sham after Haiti’s Provisional Election Council (CEP) disqualified Fanmi Lavalas (FL) candidates on procedural grounds. Mass outrage showed up in pre-election polls with only 5% of eligible voters saying they’d participate.
Imagine holding a national election and virtually no one showed up. Because of clear election rigging, FL leaders urged a national boycott. They complied, discrediting the results. LASC testimonies called it a continuation of the 2004 coup, the people given no choice except hand-picked candidates they opposed.
Haiti is called “the Republic of NGOs” for good reason, with over 10,000 in the country, according to World Bank estimates, the highest per capital presence worldwide in all sectors of activity and society, many with sizable budgets and very much operating for profit.
LASC repeatedly heard complaints that they “reinforce systems of oppression and exclusion rather than ameliorate the economic and political conditions that lead to poverty and inequality.”
Common criticisms were that aid rarely goes for people’s needs or to grassroots activists who can best use it. In communities like Cite Soleil, residents get nothing — no schools, hospitals, just police stations. Organizations like Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, and many others exploit people they claim to serve, especially after disasters like wars, floods, famine, and earthquakes.
A peasant group complained that CARE International dumped cheap rice in the country that destroyed local agriculture, and ultimately Haiti’s ability to feed itself. International aid agencies divert funds for high salaries, luxury living, other business ventures, and according to Rene Civil, to co-opt social movement leaders, leaving little for poor Haitians.
After the quake, NGOs scrambled for their share of donations, over $700 million and rising, a bonanza ripe for plunder, so they’re lining up for their share, with plenty more expected to come.
Pre-quake, Haiti was heavily dependent on foreign interests, especially American, at the expense of worker rights, a fair wage, even a job with mass unemployment or underemployed for the Hemisphere’s poorest nation, 80% of its population so deeply impoverished that malnutrition is rampant.
The result is a vulnerable population, most on small, subsistence farms, others easily exploited in corporate-run sweatshops, the kinds Bush and Clinton want more of, as well as sweeping privatizations, tourism ventures, port development, free trade zones, and deregulatory freedom creating worker hell. Besides unmentioned resource development, the benefits are solely for business, not people.
Haitian oligarchs control local agriculture and industry. Cheap imports, privatizations, poor infrastructure, slave wages, too few jobs, and management co-opted unions control Haiti, exploiting people deprived of their rights.
Conditions in Haiti’s sweatshops are instructive. They’re inhumane workplaces where employees work for starvation wages, few or no benefits, in unsafe, unfavorable, harsh, and/or hazardous environments with no ability to organize for redress.
In a 1990s report (still relevant now), the National Labor Committee (NLC) explained the dark, “pernicious… US corporate presence in Haiti: that many of the companies profiting from the abuse and exploitation of Haitian workers are among the largest and most successful US corporations: Disney, Wal-Mart, Kmart, JC Penney, Sears, Hanes/Sara Lee and Kellwood,” among the many.
NLC asked why can’t manufacturers and retailers pay a living wage? Why won’t they give independent human rights monitors access to their contractors’ plants? Why do they extract the most work for starvation wages? Why is the air heavy with dust and lint with no ventilation to speak of? Why are factories hot, dimly lit and crowded? Why do workers have sad, tired faces?
Why are they forced to work seven days a week (with no overtime pay) to accommodate company order schedules? Why must they work 70 hours a week during the year’s hottest season under stifling hot conditions? Why are they treated more like slaves than human beings? Why is none of this reported publicly so consumers can decide whether or not to support these practices by buying or boycotting sweatshop products?
Haitians Explain MINUSTAH violence
An unnamed man said a neighborhood youth disappeared. Many were killed. There’s shooting every day. People can’t conduct their daily activities safely. They’re threatened by MINUSTAH. They enter the area, shoot in the air or randomly at people, terrifying everyone.
Azy Jean Delanio mentioned an August 8, 2005 incident. He was visiting another home when UN soldiers “started shooting and people were just going crazy everywhere so I didn’t want to just run because I could get face to face with them and it would be worse for me.”
Outside, a soldier pushed him down and shot him in the neck. His partner wanted to get him to a hospital. At first, she couldn’t when beaten. Finally, he was treated, asked a lawyer for help, but nothing happened. Since the incident, the bullet is still in his body. He can’t walk, care for himself, or afford surgery to correct the problem. He’s like many others, victimized by a brutal occupier.
Bernard Maudler discussed a June 22, 2009 incident involving UN forces. They shot him in the legs and feet. He still can’t move his toe. He has iron in his leg to fix the bone. He needs medical help to remove it because it’s painful. But it’s too close to his spine for Doctors Without Borders. They don’t have the proper equipment. The bullet entered his stomach causing him cramps.
Jean-Baptist Ristil explained a July 6, 2005 incident. He was sleeping, heard shooting, and went outside to check. Jordanian and Brazilian soldiers were in the street. They had tanks, an MPV, and a helicopter overhead. He heard screams. They were shooting everywhere. He saw a man struck. His mouth was paralyzed. Others were hit. Dead bodies were on the street.
“The same day an old guy was shot and before they killed him, (UN soldiers) put like doo doo fecal from a goat on bread and told him to eat it, and then they killed him.”
It was a reprisal raid. MINUSTAH later blamed gangs for the incident.
Marie Therese Gazie discussed a July 6, 2005 incident from 3AM until 12:30 PM. Gangs had nothing to do with it. A “cannon bullet” hit the side of her house and smashed it. Her husband inside was killed. She’s now a single mother on her own with three children. She can’t afford to send them to school, pay rent, or feed them properly.
Lenene Morice described a December 22, 2006 incident. There was a lot of shooting in the neighborhood. Everyone was screaming. She was by herself, went outside, and was shot in the stomach. With help, she was taken to the hospital, was in pain, spent a month there, couldn’t get food down, and thought she wouldn’t survive. She was told if she got pregnant again she’d die because of the bullet’s location.
Edline Pierre Louis discussed a July 6, 2006 incident. She was sleeping when struck with a bullet in her stomach. At the time, she was seven months pregnant. The baby was prematurely delivered but died. She was the only one hurt. Her other children were screaming but not hit.
Pierre Jean Bernard described a July 6, 2005 incident when MINUSTAH shot and killed his brother. He wasn’t a bandit, had no gun, and never owned one. He was a domestic worker, played casino in the streets, but wasn’t involved with gangs. Soldiers claimed they were after bandits, but only hurt civilians going about their activities peacefully.
His brother had four children. They can’t go to school or have the basics for daily life. They’re victims like their father.
Lumane Etienne discussed a June 7, 2007 incident. Two of her children were going to visit a cousin, were shot in the street and killed. Five others survive, but life is very hard for her with everything going on in Haiti.
Cine Mirlande spoke about two incidents — on October 5 and 15, 2008. On October 5, UN soldiers killed her father. Then on October 15, they killed her eight-year-old son en route to school. The pretext again was going after bandits.
The above incidents describe daily life for poor Haitians, especially in the most impoverished areas. US and MINUSTAH forces are in charge along with repressive Haitian police as brutal as UN paramilitaries. From one day to the next, Haitians aren’t sure they’ll survive, now more than ever post-quake.