Category: Latin America

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

By admin, August 29, 2011 12:57 pm

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

Last year, over 150 migrant workers and their allies made history by marching over fifty kilometres, an equivalent of 12 hours, from Leamington to Windsor, Ontario demanding justice, respect and dignity for the hundreds of thousands employed under the auspices of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs. After years of harassment, intimidation and exploitation, migrant workers organized and took to the streets to stand up to these abuses.

The march called the ‘Pilgrimage to Freedom: Breaking the Chains of Indentureship’ ended in Windsor at the Tower of Freedom that is dedicated to those who travelled the underground railroad. The monument was chosen as the ending point to reflect on the connections of past and the present to slavery, indentureship and statelessness that renders racialized peoples as non-citizens. Over the last year, thousands of people have heard the testimonies and the stories that led to organizing the march. Permanent residency and citizenship status, an end to repatriations and deportations, labour law reform, equal access to social entitlements and an end to the coercive role of recruiters and contractors has inspired many others about the realities faced by migrant workers in Canada.

Migrant workers and members of Justicia for Migrant Workers have continued to organize in rural Ontario and are once again demanding that the chains of indentureship in Canada must be broken. This year the pilgrimage continues as a form of a caravan across rural Ontario.

J4MW is requesting the support of community, religious, labour and allied organizations to join us for this year’s action. Migrant workers and their allies will be calling community meetings, and organizing meetings across south western Ontario. This year’s actions will take place across several communities.  If you are interested in further information feel free to contact Justicia for Migrant Workers. Tentative dates for stops on the caravan include

September 4, 2011
Niagara on the Lake, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls
For more details on the Niagara Action click here

September 25, 2011
Windsor, Leamington, Chatham and Dresden

October 2, 2011
Simcoe – Brantford – Hamilton – Toronto

Updates will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks describing greater details the actions and what support we are asking for this event. We are seeking financial and in kind support but mostly your presence during these dates and communities.

Background Information

More than 20, 000 migrant farm workers from Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the Caribbean arrive in Canada to work in our fields, orchards and greenhouses every year. Many workers pay thousands of dollars in fees to recruiters to be able to work in Canada, sometimes for jobs that do not even exist.   Once they arrive, many workers face dangerous working conditions, sub-standard housing and employment standards and human rights violations. As farm workers and migrants, they have little recourse to assert their human and labour rights and are constantly faced with the threat of deportation if they voice their concerns.

Justicia for Migrant Workers is an award winning volunteer-run collective that strives to promote the rights of migrant farm workers by creating spaces for workers to lead their own movement and articulate their own voices in a country that makes renders them invisible.

Justice for Migrant Workers!
Got food? Bought local? Thank a migrant farm worker!

Background on the Pilgrimage:
Call out for last year’s march
Message of solidarity from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers


Labour Start’s International Photo of the Year, Pilgrimage Photo Won!
Tumblr Multimedia snapshots

Toronto Star
Windsor Star

Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace

By admin, August 26, 2010 3:57 pm–peace_7832155


Thursday, August 26, 2010

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After 95 years, the last of which were spent in the fog of unknowing, this great but simple man died in July. He trekked through the jungles with Mondlane, Machel, Cabral and Neto, and now he has joined them in that immortality of the spirit created for those who rebelled, who said no to tyranny and oppression. Before his African odyssey he had evaded Nazi storm troopers hunting Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.

As a son of the privileged, a European whose forebears were members of the imperial navy, he could have become a member of the aggressors who benefited from the labour of masses oppressed by colonial Europeans. But in a rejection, later described by Cabral as “committing class suicide”, Davidson gave up a future assured him by his membership in the ruling class, and joined his fate to that of the oppressed.

In this he was following in a long line of “rebels’”who believed that the future belonged to those whose prospects had been blighted by the nihilism of their ancestors – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Chou, Gandhi, Nehru. Later Garvey, Du Bois, Castro, Guevara, Mandela, Nkrumah, Fanon, Mondlane, Neto, Cabral and Machel joined the ranks of those who preferred the terror, risks, uncertainties and loneliness of rebellion to the comforting illusions of the certainties of the predators.

Literature on freedom fighters was rare, and Basil Davidson’s works were a welcome contribution to understanding why it was the children of the oppressed, offered the opportunity to join the party of their parents’ oppressors, had turned to lead rebellions. In the Caribbean it had been slaves, given rare benefits in the system, such as Toussaint, Sharpe, Bogle and Nanny, who had sacrificed themselves for their comrades who remained in shackles.

In the mid-1970s when the Angolan war against Western imperialism was at its height, I received a warm letter from Davidson, congratulating me for an article I had written in The New Nigerian. Davidson was in Kano working on the great series on African civilisation he was making for British television. I was impressed because at the time he was someone who had been in the struggle for decades, and had acquired fame even among his enemies, and I was an obscure young lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University.

When I was abducted and expelled from Nigeria by Ibrahim Babangida in 1988, I received a sympathetic note from Davidson, while many of my “comrades” in Nigeria were oiling the nether regions of the “Maradona of the Niger” with fulsome praises. Davidson kept in touch, until he was struck down by Alzheimer’s, never afraid to stand up and be counted among those who defended principles and fought against corruption and barbarism.

As many of my former students who have remained faithful to these principles, and some who have not, will remember, Davidson’s books were required reading for those who wanted to understand the dynamics of neo-colonialism and decolonisation. If they had continued to follow the path of his thinking, they would not now preside over a country noted for poverty, disorder, kidnapping and advanced-fee fraud.

Without Davidson’s works it is unlikely that the world would have become acquainted with the lives and struggles of men in the obscure colonies of the most backward and dictatorial of European colonial powers. Western imperialism regarded these Portuguese colonies, Namibia, and apartheid South Africa as part of its “sphere of influence”, which had to be protected from communism by armies, air forces and navies. Portugal was a member of NATO, and its troops were equipped by factories in the USA, Britain, France and Belgium.

Apartheid and colonialism were sanctified as part of the West’s “civilising mission”, and freedom fighters were defined as “terrorists” , “dupes of communism”, and “rebels” against democracy, who deserved to be exterminated. Davidson’s works helped to transform this dominant perspective of imperialism, which glorified the assassination of Lumumba, Mondlane and Cabral as victories against communism, and would have justified the massacres of Sharpeville and Luanda as necessities for imposing order.

For those who still have copies of Davidson’s works, and the works of Fanon, Cabral, Guevara and others, it would be useful to look again on their analyses of why the people fought, and made the necessary sacrifices against an imperialism which condemned them and their children to perpetual slavery. The people fought not for ideas which existed in the heads of individuals, but to improve the conditions of their lives.

The people in the slums of “independent” countries did not fight to destroy British, French, or Portuguese oppression, to replace European masters with African ones. In a sense, Davidson was lucky to have spent the last years of his life unable to see what had become of the countries he helped to “liberate”. The slum dwellers of Luanda and the victims of narco-dictators in Guinea (Bissau) cannot appreciate the anti-colonial rhetoric which was used to mobilise them in the struggle. Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace when he surveys the mass suffering which persists amidst shameful, European-style excess.

Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN. He’s a visiting professor at Ahmadu Bello and Jos universities in Nigeria.

Haiti: Hanging with Rea Dol at the site of the future Sopudep School

By admin, August 2, 2010 12:58 pm
May 18, 2010

by Wanda Sabir

Building the wall of the new school – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Rea Dol and Dodo were at the airport with a sign with my name when I arrived. We then headed to the building site, where a wall is going up around the perimeter. [Rea is the principal of SOPUDEP School in Port au Prince, founded as part of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s National Literacy Project, and she’s building a new school to replace the one that was damaged in the earthquake.]When I left six days later, it was about a third completed. Students and family members, as well as employees, are up early at the site working. Occasionally volunteers and other important visitors like former mayors also drop by to speak to this wonderful, dynamic woman, Rea Dol.

If the last earthquake was 200 years ago, then it seems like it marked the end of slavery and the beginning of a Black nation. Does this earthquake signal something similar?

There’s no active government in Haiti. President René Préval is missing, and the people are on their own, literally, which could be a good thing, until one sees nude madmen walking down busy streets.

“What would happen if the person threatened someone’s safety?” my friend asked Thursday when we saw another nude man sauntering down the busy evening street. Just around the corner we saw a policeman. Would he have the training to handle such an incident? I can recall so many times in the San Francisco Bay Area where the mentally ill were beaten and sometimes killed because police used excessive force in responding to calls for help.

What systems are in place in Haiti to handle the obvious shock and post-traumatic behaviors victims have experienced now that family and friends are lost, homes and possessions destroyed in an earthquake of a magnitude not seen in 200 years?

The Association of Black Psychologists made a recent trip to Haiti to take emergency relief supplies, but what of the short and long term psychological assistance to help the country heal? Are such conversations taking place and who will implement the resolutions?

California has earthquakes. Japan has earthquakes, Mexico has earthquakes, but not Haiti. Not in a long time. People didn’t know what to do: run outside or stay inside? Many ran indoors, while othesr already outside and clear of any falling masonry ran indoors to their deaths.

The structural integrity of a house and the safety of those inside also depended on whether or not one’s neighbor’s house was also stable. Many people I spoke to lost family to apartment buildings or houses nearby collapsing on them.

As we drove along Delmas 33, a busy thoroughfare in heavy traffic, a man stood on a leaning building relaxed, his arms holding a collapsed roof, his legs spread, feet on the porch just below – the entire structure, caved roof and housing tumbling down the side of the hill. It looked really unstable, yet there he stood, casually observing the traffic below on the street.

Driving along, Yvon looked up and asked the rhetorical question: Doesn’t he realize what danger he’s in?

In Cap-Haïtien I met a man in a store, a friend of my new daughter, Monica, who spoke of arriving home and evacuating his wife and two daughters. Afterwards the children were afraid to be indoors. They wanted to leave the country, so when he was able, he put his family on a plane to New York. Now he is alone working and sending them money.

Abel spoke of not having any money to go anywhere, living in his car until he got money for gas to drive to Cap-Haïtien where he is now working. He gave his wife’s car to a NGO working on earthquake relief.

Yvon said he’d put his car in a shop and the garage collapsed and there went the car. Insurance?

I could see the anguish in Abel’s face as he relived those moments. He spoke of how loud noises made him jump and how he often woke up from nightmares. When asked if he’d gotten any psychotherapy, he didn’t know where he might get such help. I told him I would connect him with some people I know in New York who might be able to help.

OK, so maybe mental health is not an immediate priority, because if it was there would be systems in place with access. On the other hand, perhaps mental health is a priority, but in a situation as chaotic as a country without leadership can be, perhaps folks are just trying to stay afloat until immediate needs like housing and food and water are met.

Rea Dol at the site of the new SOPUDEP School – Photo: Wanda Sabir

My hostess, Rea Dol, has teachers who are living on the streets and in their cars since the earthquake. I was happy I could leave my tent and sleeping bag, Imodium and toilet tissue. It wasn’t a lot, my resources are limited, but every little bit certainly helps.Tuesday evening Rea and I went over to a collective consisting of nonprofit organizations like SOIL, which puts in toilets for people free of charge, and connected with Paul, a Haitian American, who brought her tents for those staff members who are homeless, along with shoes and a ball. He’d just arrived from Ft. Lauderdale that day. He spent the night with us.

I took some of the shoes the next day to Cap-Haïtien with BC or Junior, who lives with Rea’s family, Wednesday morning on the bus. BC’s from Cap-Haïtien and was excited to see his mother and brothers.

My daughter sent bubbles and Mardi Gras beads, necklaces and rings and crayons and coloring books and spinning tops and balls and tablets and pens and playing cards. The adults liked the party beads. We just wanted to take a little something to lift people’s spirits.

Considering the large amount of funds raised here in America, I expected people to have tents and support services three months after the earthquake, this Monday, April 12, 2010. How long does it take to put such systems in place?

In many neighborhoods, teams of people in yellow t-shirts sweep the streets, but to clear the debris one needs bulldozers, the kind that unconscionably are used to demolish houses in Gaza. In Haiti, though, the tractors and other heavy equipment would help people move on with their lives.

I have never lived in a place where the government supports random gunfire on citizens who do not support current leadership, but such happened in Cité Soleil in 1999 and again in 2004. It’s a community located on Haiti’s waterfront, what one might call prime property, yet there is no investment in the people before or since President Aristide. His government built a school and nearby started construction of apartment buildings which are standing. We didn’t know if they were occupied when we drove by, but they certainly did not suffer any damage.

The home of sugar plantations, the major factory was bought out a company which then closed it down and started importing the crash crop in the 1970s. At that time the company was a major anchor in the economy of the area. One can imagine the hit the community felt once it closed; also affected were the railways which transported the goods.

This reminds me of what happens throughout America when urban removal is the goal – urban removal a code word for Black removal – something that has been going on since 1865, the legal end of slavery. The only thing is, Haitians don’t leave their land or communities; they just hang on.

Cité Soleil, the infamous city – one of the largest ghettos in Haiti, with perhaps the country’s largest population in such a small geographical area – is also the place that has a love for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas movement, measurably so great, it makes the knees of the political machine quake. Target of raids where children, elderly and adults were killed, their bodies covering the sidewalks and hallways and staircases, bedrooms and homes.

The buildings looked like loofah sponges, bullet holes covering the entire surface, like pock marks. The holes were so distracting and distressing recent attempts to spruce up the neighborhood has had crews filling in the holes – I hear it looks better. Hm? But if one knows where to look, evidence of the war is still there.

It is here where infrastructure would be a good thing. However, if the political system is apathetic and ineffective, then complaining about the health and welfare of the economy and community would do nothing because the citizen’s review or complaint department is run by the very people committing the crimes.

For many Haitians it’s almost like, hm, I’ll do what I can without access to resources because I can’t wait for help, help is too unreliable, too costly – not just monetarily; it could be too time consuming – and too slow.

Rea Dol is rebuilding her school, Pastor Frank is rebuilding his school, one of 15, Regine Zamor is getting ready to open her center for street kids next week, Jean Yvon Kernizan is expanding his afterschool program from 86 to 300 served, So Anne prepares a meal for her community daily, people who are homeless and hungry.

Making do in the rubble – Photo: Wanda Sabir

I only saw one line for a food giveaway the entire week I was in Haiti. I saw a lot of people going for water at the spigot or creek a few times a day, young and old, with different size containers. Most folks didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, but they were making do and doing very well at that.I saw huge blocks of ice, yes, for ice boxes. I’d heard of ice boxes, but hadn’t seen one before. The charcoal I’d heard about, its use for heating homes and for cooking food, and the soil erosion from cutting down the trees to make the charcoal came to mind.

There are things good government supports like public education, public safety and public health. The Haitian government is falling down on all of these things; is this the reason why former U.S. President Bill Clinton is in charge of rebuilding Haiti?

Why can’t the grassroots organizers get the funds so they can mobilize their communities and rebuild Haiti themselves? How would Clinton know what Haiti needs or wants? Give the people the money and leave them alone.

The money will create jobs and provide incentives to those without hope.

Many of the people I spoke to mentioned how President Aristide’s presence would do much to lift the spirits of his people. If people knew President Aristide were coming, Jean Ristil, Cité Soleil activist, journalist, said, they would start cleaning up the streets now.

In a large field in Cité Soleil, earthquake displaced residents are swatting on privately owned land. If there were an infrastructure in place, government could compensate the landowner, so that he wouldn’t make the temporary residents on his land feel unwelcome – dumping mounds of rocks in the middle of fields near people’s tents – aesthetically uninviting and humiliating.

Did I mention the tents? More correctly all the people donating money to “worthy causes” like the Red Cross etc. – do not think for a moment I believe the Red Cross is a worthy organization, certainly not the United Nations – should have been told that the tent is a piece of plastic held in place with sticks in all for corners. I have never seen a shanty town, but I think Cité Soleil (Kreyol: Site Solèy, English: Sun City) qualifies.

“The vast majority of residents of Cité Soleil remained loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas movement. Unlike Haiti’s unelected past governments, Lavalas governments invested money into parks, literacy programs and medical centers in Cité Soleil,” says Wikipedia.

This is a running commentary. I kept a daily journal and will post the day’s musings and photos here as well. The huge tent city is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Young girls might get accosted by predators, which has been documented by visitors.

I was heartbroken to see so many children trying to make a buck for a meal – washing cars as they waited at a traffic light. I am glad there are so many people, like Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste, 29,, and Rea Dol,, who care about these children, many in Cité Soleil, orphaned when the shootouts occurred and their parents were killed.

As I stood in line at Immigration once we’d landed in Ft. Lauderdale, I was talking to Sam, who was in Haiti to check on his family in Jacmel. He was telling me that he lost I think eight relatives in the quake and was looking at rebuilding the family home at minimally $40,000. I told him about Constantine Alatzas, Institute for Creative Evolution: Tools for Peace, who is working with Rea Dol in designing a sustainable structure for her new school. The key is AERBLOCK, a light weight material which is earthquake and flood or hurricane resistant used in the designs proposed by Alatzas.

As we speak, I happen to mention the people I visited this past week, one of them Jean Yvon, and Roselene in the line just ahead of me says, Jean Yvon is my cousin. I’m like wow. Well, Yvon is Rea’s friend. Both Sam and Roselene know Yvon, but not each other. I give both of them Yvon’s information as well as that of Constantine. Sam also knows Jen and the project she has with kids with cameras.

Talk about small world. As I travel the African Diaspora, I am finding my role as facilitator of collaborations clear. It happened in Haiti, it happened in Dakar and The Gambia to a lesser degree, and it always happens here. I see connections which might not be obvious and easily connect the dots between people, organizations and projects. Not everything is followed up on; the people I am joining are very busy and always short staffed. But sometimes they do … at least I hope they do. However, even if they don’t, the idea that they are not alone in the community building processes is I’m sure a boost to morale.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at Visit her website at for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network, at

The betrayal of Haiti

By admin, August 2, 2010 11:07 am

: Ashley Smith

Conditions in Haiti are still appalling six months after the quake, reports Ashley Smith.

August 2, 2010

SIX MONTHS after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, the promises of the world’s most powerful governments to provide billions in aid to one of the world’s poorest and weakest governments have been betrayed.

There was an immediate outpouring of solidarity after the quake struck Haiti on January 12–people from the U.S. to Palestine and beyond gave to NGOs and charities, even when they couldn’t afford much themselves.

At the end of March, the United Nations held an international conference for donors to fund the rebuilding of Haiti, where dozens of countries promised almost $10 billion over the next few years and more than $5 billion for the first 18 months of emergency reconstruction.

But the record of the world powers is a stark contrast to the generosity of their citizens. The U.S., France, Canada and the UN–not to mention a range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with connections in high places–have done next to nothing to provide alternative shelter to refugees. They have failed to remove the rubble, let alone begin reconstruction, and they reneged on their pledges to deliver aid.

Instead, Haiti’s earthquake is being used as an excuse to ratchet up a neoliberal economic plan for the country and to bolster the now 6-year-old UN occupation to repress any resistance.

Meanwhile, the situation in Haiti remains dire. The earthquake killed some 300,000 people, including an estimated one-quarter of government workers. It destroyed countless houses, leaving 1.5 million people homeless, and it collapsed the National Palace and wrecked a majority of other government buildings. Overall, the Inter-American Development Bank estimates that the quake caused between $8 billion and $13 billion in damage.

Six months later, those 1.5 million people are still homeless, struggling to survive in 1,300 refugee camps. Astonishingly, 232,000 of these homeless are still without tents or tarps, according to reports. Only one-quarter of the camps are managed by the either the Haitian government or aid organizations.

According to the Montreal Gazette’s grim account [1], Port-au-Prince:

still looks like a war zone…The camps erected by hundreds of thousand of Haitians in the hours after their lives were shattered are becoming permanent slums.

Late afternoon torrential rains soak belongings and leave lake-size puddles in which mosquitoes breed, then spread malaria. Deep, raspy coughs can be heard everywhere. Scabies and other infections transform children’s soft skin into irritating red bumpy rashes. Bellies are swelling and hair turning orange from malnutrition. Vomiting and diarrhea are as common as flies.

While injuries from the quake have healed into scars, there are countless accidents from the chaotic living conditions–toddlers falling into vats of boiling rice or beans, people breaking limbs on chunks of concrete and wire, entire families poisoned by carbon monoxide as they cook in their tents. Around the city, the stench of rotting bodies has been replaced by the stench of rotting piles of garbage.

Neither governments, international institutions nor NGOs have made a dent in constructing alternatives to these camps. Indeed, the one major alternative camp that has been established exposes how the Haitian elite is exploiting the crisis for profit.

The Haitian government, in cooperation with the U.S. military, began construction in Corail Cesselesse, nearly 15 miles from Port-au-Prince with the aim of building a new city of 300,000. It appointed Gerard Emile “Aby” Brun, the president of Nabatec Development, to oversee the transfer of some 7,000 people from a squatter camp on the Petionville Golf Course to the new location.

According to the Associated Press’ Jonathan Katz, Brun “is also a lead negotiator with South Korean garment firms to build factories that Haitian officials say will likely go into Corail Cesselesse. The camp he set up is a potential source of workers for those factories, which can take advantage of generous U.S. import laws for Haitian-assembled textiles.”

However, the camp is located on a flood plain with no vegetation to provide shelter from the scorching sun or the torrential storms of hurricane season. An Oxfam worker told the New York Times that the plan for Corail Cesselesse “does not represent clear strategic thinking on the part of the government. It’s like Sudan. There’s not a tree in sight. And people feel marooned. They are having issues finding income-generating activities, and soon, they are going to have trouble feeding themselves.”

Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince and its surrounding towns, despite the promises, ruined houses, hospitals and buildings remain as they were the day after the earthquake.

So far, only 5 percent of the estimated 26 million cubic yards of rubble from the earthquake has been removed. The New York Times reports that “experts say it would take a thousand trucks three to five years to clear away the wreckage, though fewer than 300 trucks are hauling now.” Donor countries, NGOs and the Haitian government have only managed to build 5,500 hurricane-proof shelters.

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LEADING FIGURES in the relief effort–like Bill Clinton, co-chair of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC)–claim that the failed promises of reconstruction are the result of the enormity of the disaster and the international economic crisis that depleted resources available for Haiti.

But these are excuses. If Haiti were a priority, the great powers would find the money. Since it isn’t, they have only promised the paltry sum of $10 billion. Compare that to the amount the U.S. spends on its real priorities–for example, the Pentagon, which is $663 billion for 2010. And the scale of the disaster, rather than being an excuse for inaction, should be the reason for a massive mobilization of resources for reconstruction.

Rather than step up the relief effort, donor countries–with the help of the Western media–are scapegoating the Haitian government to deflect attention for how little they’ve done.

For example, they blame Haitian President René Préval for failing to overcome problems with land tenure and to secure plots for new housing. But most of the big landowners are allies of the U.S. Thus, the U.S. government is in a better position than the powerless Préval administration to compel landowners to donate for new construction.

This isn’t to leave Préval off the hook. He has been a pathetic figure, disappearing in the wake of the earthquake and, despite grumblings about violations of sovereignty, providing Haitian cover for imperial betrayal.

For example, on the July 12 six-month anniversary of the quake, while the capital city sat in ruins–and its people in vast new tent slums–Préval gave out medals to honor representatives from countries and NGOs that have done so little to rebuild Port-au-Prince.

But to blame Préval as the primary reason for the dysfunctional condition of the Haitian state is absurd. The U.S., France and Canada as well as the UN are directly responsible for undermining the capacity of the Haitian state to coordinate reconstruction, let alone future development of the country.

The betrayal of Haiti began centuries ago. After Haiti’s successful slave revolution won independence from France in 1804, European powers undermined every attempt by the country to chart an independent course of development in the interests of its people. Famously, France demanded that Haiti pay–in today’s dollars–$21 billion in reparations for the French slavemasters’ loss of their property–that is, their slaves.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has imposed neoliberal policies–what Haitians have called the “Plan of Death”–that compromised the state’s ability to run the economy. For example, the U.S. compelled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his then-ally Préval to privatize state-owned companies and cut tariffs on rice imports. These policies increased unemployment among urban workers and undercut Haitian rice production to the extent that the country today is dependent on subsidized American rice. As a result, per capita income has fallen by one-fifth–from $600 in 1980 to $480 today.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its international allies collaborated in neutering every attempt to use the Haitian state to improve the conditions of impoverished peasants and the urban poor. For example, Aristide was forced out of his elected position as president twice by coups in 1991 and 2004–to prevent social reform in the interests of Haitian peasants, workers and the poor.

Since the second coup, the Haitian state has not been in control of the country in any way. The U.S., other imperial powers, and international financial institutions are running Haiti’s economy, and the UN, through its misnamed United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), has occupied the country since 2004, ruling it in traditional neocolonial fashion.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

NOW THESE powers need a scapegoat because, after all the fanfare that accompanied the donor conferences, they have failed to deliver.

Only Brazil, Norway, Estonia and Australia have submitted all their promised donations to the IHRC. The Washington Post reported that donors have only supplied 2 percent of the $5.3 billion promised for the critical first 18 months of emergency reconstruction. According to the UN Human Development Program, the IHRC itself has only dispensed $506 million–only 9 percent of the funds budgeted for 2010 through mid-2011.

The U.S. has played a central role in obstructing aid to Haiti. The Senate held up the U.S. contribution of $2.8 billion, with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar playing a key role in blocking this aid package. Lugar insists that until Préval can ensure free and fair elections–translation, ones that pro-U.S. candidates are sure to win–and reduce barriers to private investment, the U.S. should not release its full contribution to the IHRC.

As a result of such maneuvers, the IHRC has only $90 million in its coffers. No one should be holding their breath until more arrives. The world’s main governments have a dismal track record on fulfilling humanitarian promises for Haiti. A previous UN donor conference for Haiti in April 2009 got pledges of $400 million, but only 15 percent of the funds ever materialized.

What money has been spent by the IHRC shows that the world’s most powerful government care more about padding the pockets of their own corporations. Beverly Bell of the Institute for Policy Studies found that huge sums of money have:

gone right back to donor nations, as with the $0.40 on every U.S. government aid dollar that paid for the U.S. military presence in Haiti for, at least, the first two months after the quake. Untold dollars go to U.S. firms, like the agribusiness corporations, whose surplus rice is being purchased by USAID to deliver as aid…

There are the fees paid to a small army of consultants working for foreign governments and international agencies…Then there is graft, corruption and poor planning, all of which further redirects aid dollars away from desperate earthquake survivors.

The UN has also failed Haiti through the crisis. UN officials live apart from the Haitian masses in relative luxury. In a revealing public relations disaster, the UN spent $10 million to rent two cruise ships, the Ola Esmeralda and the Sea Voyager–dubbed the “Love Boat” by UN staff–to house officials from the World Food Program and MINUSTAH.

Edmond Mulet, the former Guatemalan diplomat who heads the UN mission, told reporters that the ships are a reward for the UN staff’s hard work. “It is the least we could do for them,” he said. “They are working 14, 16 hours a day. The place was pulverized. Living conditions are really appalling.”

Richard Morse, the Haitian American musician and owner of Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Oloffson, captured the message that the UN is sending in a statement to reporters:

If the UN is living on a cruise ship, it is a perfect metaphor for how they are viewed in the country. If they think that quake refugees should be living on cruise ships, then they should get cruise ships for the Haitian people, that’s all I’m saying. Unless, of course, I’m misinterpreting this, and they really are better than the Haitians.

MINUSTAH, meanwhile, has been occupying the country since 2004, with forces drawn from Brazil and several other countries, including Israel. Between them, Mulet, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Brazilian Gen. Luiz Guilherme Paul Cruz have increased the UN occupation force to 8,940 soldiers and 4,391 police officers.

The UN occupation costs more than $51 million per month. UN troops don’t speak Haitian Creole. In concert with the U.S.-trained Haitian police, they patrol poor neighborhoods, seizing political prisoners and repressing dissent.

Just as they did in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, foreign governments and the media have played up the threat of violent crime in the refugee camps to justify the increased troop presence. Instances of rape and sexual violence against women are undoubtedly a real problem. But neither the UN nor the Haitian police are capable of solving them.

In fact, a variety of human rights investigations have documented human rights violations by both the Haitian police and MINUSTAH forces. As recently as 2007, MINUSTAH expelled 114 Sri Lankan soldiers after allegations of rape and child abuse. In the current crisis, Haitian women have complained that UN soldiers and police have demanded sex in exchange for food and aid.

To really address the causes of violence and rape in the camps, the international powers would have to address the horrific living conditions in the camps–the very thing they have avoided. Spending $51 million a month on soldiers and cops will only increase violence–the violence of repressive forces used against desperate poor people, especially when they protest their deteriorating conditions.

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IN JUNE, protests swept Haiti in opposition to the MINUSTAH occupation and the Préval administration. Graffiti spray-painted on the ruins of Port-au-Prince denounces the UN, the U.S., NGOs and Préval.

Many of the protests and much of the graffiti calls for the return of Aristide. They also object to Preval’s handpicked electoral commission, which is expected to ban the most popular political party in the country, Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas, and thereby rig the election scheduled for November 28.

MINUSTAH officials have made it clear that their main worry is the growing resistance, and their soldiers have attacked demonstrations. For example, on May 23, UN soldiers went on a rampage in the massive refugee camp opposite National Palace, firing tear gas and rubber bullets for hours. On the same day, MINUSTAH soldiers stormed the University of Haiti, firing more tear gas and rubber bullets into a student protest.

The hope for Haiti lies in this renewed resistance to colonial occupation. Only resistance can compel international forces to deliver on promised aid–and make sure that aid serves the interests of the Haitian peasants, workers and urban poor. As Jacqueline Cherilus, a 22-year-old medical student at Université Lumière, told a reporter:

Americans and everyone who’ve sent tents: We’re tired of that stuff, those same tents and tarps. We need construction. You see how strong the rains are becoming? Tents can’t resist that rain. How long can we live in tents and tarps. You can’t live for two or three years under a tarp. We need houses. We’re going to have hurricanes soon and flooding.

The aid is poorly organized and poorly divided. There are lots of people who don’t receive anything. To have real aid, we need social change.”

Outside of Haiti, activists must stand in solidarity with the emerging protest movement against the occupation and for development in the interests of Haitian peasants, workers and urban poor.

We must make several demands. First of all, we should support Haiti’s right to self-determination. Haitians and their government should be in control of the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country, not the imperial powers, their corporations, the UN and the NGOs.

We should call for the promised aid to be immediately released to the Haitian state so that it can improve its capacity to deliver housing, health care and education. We must also call for an end to the UN occupation of Haiti and for an end to its ban on the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Moreover, Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political force in the country, must be allowed to participate in upcoming elections.

On top of the pittance of aid, they have promised, the U.S., France and Canada should pay reparations for the damage they have done to Haiti. France can begin with repaying $21 billion it extorted from the country when it won independence.

Only when Haitians are allowed to determine their own destinies in economics and politics will Haiti be able to develop in the interests of its people.

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Partners In Health Testifies in Washington, July 27 2010

By admin, July 27, 2010 5:37 pm

Read this report on the CHAN website at:

WASHINGTON DC–Today, Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health and Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Loune Viaud, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning of Zanmi Lasante (ZL), the Haitian sister organization of Partners In Health, testified at a Capitol Hill hearing hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus, “Focus on Haiti: The Road to Recovery – A Six Month Review.”

Below is the text of their testimony. You can also read the testimonies by downloading each one as a Pdf:

Pdf of Paul Farmer testimony

Pdf of Loune Viaud testimony:

Testimony of Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer: Co-founder of PIH, Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti at the United Nations

1. Acute-on-chronic

The six-month anniversary of the earthquake, which many Haitians have taken to calling, simply, “the catastrophe,” will cause soul-searching in some circles, grim determination in others, and bitter recriminations from still other quarters. I will not contribute here to these veins of commentary, although we all know they’re important and inevitable. Instead I will use my time to comment on a few large but soluble problems now before us and to make two distinct and complementary recommendations. Indeed, most of these problems have long faced all those of good will who seek to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people, which is why, as physicians, we know that what happened on January 12th is aptly described as an “acute-on-chronic” event.

Though by some reports and some “macro” indicators there had been slow improvements in Haiti in the year prior to the quake, the problems we’re struggling with today are longstanding, if much aggravated by the worst natural disaster to befall the world in recent centuries. Whether we look at health, education, potable water, or safe, affordable housing, we can draw similar conclusions: first, great weakness in the public sector makes it exceedingly difficult to deliver basic services at significant scale; second, not enough of the pledged earthquake relief has reached those in greatest need.

Although Haitians are rightly tired of having their country labeled “the poorest in the western hemisphere,” it is nonetheless true that the country has poor health indicators, was a few years ago deemed the most water-insecure nation in the Americas, has low levels of literacy, and now, with up to 1.6 million in IDP camps, has enormous, almost overwhelming, housing instability. Into the breach have come a large number of well-intentioned NGOs, which have sought, with some local success, to provide basic health and educational services, and, on an even smaller level, access to potable water and improved housing. I am myself from this sector, since I’ve been a life-long NGO volunteer and work for a U.S. medical school as a teacher and clinician. But I would like to argue here that my own earnest engagement in this arena has taught me that one of the primary tasks of development assistance, including that delivered by NGOs, must be to strengthen Haitian public-sector capacity, especially in the arenas of health, education, water, and housing—which some refer to as basic social and economic rights. Our historical failure to do so is one of the primary reasons that trying to help the public sector now is like trying to transfuse whole blood through a small-gauge needle or, in popular parlance, to drink from a fire hose.

Why the public sector? Before answering, I’m not suggesting here that NGOs and the private sector are not part of the solution; far from it. But there is a pragmatic and humble point to be made here: the profusion of NGOs—and some have estimated that Haiti, a veritable Republic of NGOs, has more of them per capita than any other country in the world—has not led to adequate progress in provision of basic services to all who need them nor to a functioning safety net for the poorest. Case in point: over 85% of primary and secondary education in Haiti is private, and Haiti is, as mentioned, plagued by illiteracy; over 500,000 school-age children were not in school prior to the earthquake.

There are transient ironies, too. Sometimes bursts of attention can improve a terrible situation; some blood does get through the too-small needle. Take water insecurity: by some reports, it has lessened since the earthquake led many groups to focus on bringing clean water to the displaced. One survey in Port-au-Prince suggested that diarrheal diseases had by last month dropped 12% below the pre-earthquake level. But is the massive importation of bottled water readily sustained? Is it the way to improve water security for all?

There is also a more philosophical point behind a plea for attention to the public sector: How can there be public health and public education without a stronger government at the national and local levels?

2. Why?

I have argued that the quake dramatically worsened a bad situation. I could focus on statistics, noting that some 17-20% of federal employees were killed or injured in the quake, or that 27 of 28 federal buildings were destroyed. And I would note that few public personnel were able to perform well within the buildings prior to the earthquake. Some of the best doctors and nurses I know are struggling to perform in the public sector without the tools of our trade—diagnostics and medications, for example, but also anything approaching adequate salaries. In a hearing like this one, it is important to ask why this is so, and I have previously done so before both houses of our Congress. It is not a pretty story, for the decline of Haiti’s already feeble civil service is tightly tied, and has been for a century, to internecine strife but also to U.S. policies. Other powerful countries have played unhelpful roles, too.

Let me take only the last decade. Beginning in 2000, the U.S. administration sought, often quietly, to block bilateral and multilateral aid to Haiti, having an objection to the policies and views of the administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected by over 90% of the vote at about the same time a new U.S. president was chosen in a far more contested election. How much influence we had on other players is unclear, but it seems that there was a great deal of it with certain international financial agencies, with France and Canada; our own aid, certainly, went directly to NGOs, and not to the government. Public health and public education faltered, as did other services of special importance to the poor. I noted in a book written in those years that the budget of the Republic of Haiti, nine million strong, wasn’t much different from that of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 100,000 citizens; neither amounted to a quarter of the budget of the Harvard teaching hospital, a single one, in which I trained and now work.

Without resources, it was difficult for public providers to provide; many left to work in NGOs, which did not have a mandate to serve all citizens, and others left the country altogether. Choking off assistance for development and for the provision of basic services also choked off oxygen to the government, which was the intention all along: to dislodge the Aristide administration.

But the coup, simply denied as such by some in the so-called international community, did not really take. The U.S.-selected caretaker government was unpopular, unrest continued to grow, and Port-au-Prince became the kidnapping capital of the world in spite of a very large U.N. presence. Again, the so-called forces of order, the police, were weak or corrupt—as pale a reflection of what the force should have been as were public health and public education.

Some efforts to reverse this ruinous policy of squeezing the public sector, which was often and correctly denounced by Congresswomen Lee and Waters and many other members of the CBC, have been palpable over the past year, although progress has been slow. And then came the earthquake, which further decreased the capacity of the public sector to provide meaningful services, leaving once again a growing number of NGOs and other non-state providers to fill the breach. Allow me to give two more data points: on January 27th, it was noted in the Washington Post that less than 1% of all U.S. quake aid was going to the Haitian government. (Almost as much went, even, to the Dominican government.) My colleagues at the U.N. are tracking these numbers, and also pledges made and disbursed, and here’s one of the latest: of $1.8 billion for earthquake relief sent to Haiti, less than 2.9% has so far gone to the government.

I argued here in 2003, in testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, that it is difficult, without real and sustained commitments to strengthening the public sector—including its regulatory and coordinating capacity, so that the quality of the services offered by NGOs and others will not be all over the map—to monitor funds and to use them efficiently. This remains true today. Thus are the Haitian people still tasting the bitter dregs of the cup we prepared for them as we weakened, or failed to strengthen, the public sector over the past decades.

During these years, unfair international trade policies cut Haitian farmers off at the knees, accelerating the complex and vicious cycle of urban migration and deforestation that set the stage for the food insecurity that was to follow, for the extreme vulnerability to heavy rains and storms, and for the massive overcrowding and shoddy construction revealed to all late in the afternoon of January 12th.

3. What is to be done?

This is where we are at the six-month mark, as hurricane season approaches. Less than five percent of the rubble has been cleared. People are going to camps for shelter and for other services that all of us humans need to get by. Gender-based violence worsens the “structural violence” to which the poor, in general, are subjected. The good news is that the enormous generosity and solidarity of the world after the earthquake was and is real: it’s estimated that more than half of all American households contributed to earthquake relief. Speaking as a volunteer for PIH, I can proudly announce that we have, along with the Ministry of Health, already broken ground on a huge new teaching hospital in central Haiti. We know from experience, as my colleague Loune Viaud will report, that it’s possible to get a great deal done in rural Haiti, and these services and jobs will also pull people out of the city and contribute to the decentralization so desperately needed.

But there needs to be a shift, especially in how we plan and deliver basic health, education, and other safety-net services: a commitment to move at least some of the assistance (including private money) into public hands, which has not been at all the favored approach to assistance to Haiti. This is increasingly recognized as the right thing to do, as Paul Weisenfeld, Haiti Task Team Coordinator for USAID, who reported the falling rates of water-borne diseases noted above, observed recently: “I think it’s key to us that if we’re going to have sustainability we are going to have to work through Haitian institutions, which requires strengthening them. Obviously [they’ve] been weakened tremendously by this earthquake, so at the same time that we implement reconstruction programs, we need to strengthen government institutions so that we can work through them.”[1] We have also just worked with the American Red Cross to support performance-based financing of medical and nursing staff in Haiti’s largest public hospital. These efforts will not be easy, but they are necessary.

This shift will not be a panacea for Haiti but could be coupled with a powerful and complementary focus on another movement of capital, this time from public to private and from wealthy to poor: a focus on job creation and on strengthening the hand of those trying to farm (and reforest) the land and also on young people, especially young women, living in poverty. We need a greater sense of urgency. And the most urgent task of all is the creation of jobs that will confer dignity to those in greatest need. As FDR said early in the Depression, “The Nation asks for action and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”[2]

As it was during the Great Depression, there are innumerable public-works jobs imaginable, from reforestation and rubble removal to preparing for back-to-school (la rentrée), which must put kids back in schools, safe schools, with the books and uniforms they need and a nutritious lunch during the day. As for health, Haitians need a real health system. This will require a massive investment in new clinics and hospitals, staff to run them, and health insurance at a time when only 300,000 families have it. These are indivisible tasks, as FDR noted at the outset of the Depression: “Public health . . . is a responsibility of the state as [is] the duty to promote general welfare. The state educates is children. Why not keep them well?”[3]

Job creation and improved health and educational services, with greater investment in the public sector: this should be a big part of the mantra. I do not mean to suggest that this transfer of capital, resources, etc., is easy. We know it’s not, because we’re in direct contact with the representatives of large multilateral and bilateral agencies, which have to follow laborious processes in order to disburse funds. But let us ask, in the face of urgent need, if we are well served by the fetishization of process now retarding the flow of capital into the hands of families in greatest need. The International Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, which is now being born, needs to be swift and nimble; the rules of the road for development assistance need to be rewritten, not to favor contractors and middlemen and trauma vultures, but to favor the victims of the quake. Right now there are shovel-ready projects, which could create tens of thousands of jobs and perhaps more. There are plenty of people living in poverty, including the market women who have never had access to capital or financial services and who have been working against an undertow of unfair trade policies, who are as entrepreneurial as anyone else in the world. Projects of all sorts can be greenlighted, but will move sluggishly if the funds seep into the ICRH too slowly and if projects cannot be moved forward because of strangling strictures on how the money is to be used.

People in this country know it’s possible to move forward with a sense of urgency. During the Depression, job creation and improved services from health care to education to rural electrification were the focus of many efforts. FDR, then the governor of New York, called for “workfare” and welfare through the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). This call was made on August 28, 1931, and it was up and running by winter:

The crisis had finally imposed some discipline of responsibility even on the Republican legislators, who with uncharacteristic docility did what the governor asked. (The New York Voters would overwhelmingly approve the bond issue in November 1932.) Faithful to romantic notions of rural life, Roosevelt had TERA subsidize the resettlement of as many unemployed as possible on marginal farmland, with tools and instruction on how to cultivate it. In six years TERA assisted five million people, 40 percent of the population of New York State, at a cost of $1,555,000. At the end of the period, 70 percent of these were no longer reliant on government assistance.[4]

Later these lessons were taken to scale in many programs, including the Civil Works Administration, which created millions of jobs and moved billions into the public sector through public works and into the hands of the previously unemployed.

Certainly Haiti’s need is no less great than that faced by the States during the Depression. Let us hope it can build a more just tax base, even though its IRS, like its Ministries of Health and Education, has been destroyed. In the meantime, the world has responded generously and now it is incumbent upon us to move these resources into the hands of the Haitian people, especially those directly affected, in these two complementary ways. Again, this is not a choice between public and private sectors, any more than this is a choice between strengthening local agriculture and rebuilding infrastructure, but rather a plea to focus resource distribution on the poor and displaced by providing basic services and through job creation. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is an impossible mission.

Notes: [1] Remarks by Paul Weisenfeld, USAID Haiti Task Team coordinator, at a media roundtable on July 19, 2010. Available at:


[2] Roosevelt, Franklin D. First Inaugural Address. March 4, 1933.

[3] Black, Conrad. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Page 194.

[4] Black, pages 216-217.


Testimony of Loune Viaud

Loune Viaud, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning for Zanmi Lasante

Chairwoman Lee, esteemed members of the Congressional Black Caucus, thank you for inviting me to testify here today. My name is Loune Viaud, and I am Director of Operations and Strategic Planning for Zanmi Lasante, an organization devoted to providing a preferential option for the poor in rural Haiti. Zanmi Lasante is the partner organization of Partners In Health, an organization which also advocates for and provides a preferential option for the poor around the world. On behalf of Zanmi Lasante and Partners In Health, I want to thank the members of the Congressional Black Caucus for arranging this hearing, and for ensuring that the voices of Haitians are heard.  Today I will address the current situation and needs of the Haitian people, the needs of vulnerable children, the status of the healthcare system, and the need for decentralization and job creation.

The Current Situation and Haitian Priorities

On one visit to Port-au-Prince—even without venturing far from the airport—one will see that little progress has been made to date. I am going to talk about priorities—in any case, what we see as priorities on the ground. I see healthcare, employment, decentralization, protection of children, women, adolescent girls, the elderly and the most vulnerable members of the population. What happened to us the afternoon of January 12 changed everything. The way we live, the way we see the world and the future.

What happened to us is beyond words. So many people died. There are so many new people with disabilities, orphans, unaccompanied and displaced children, elders and women left vulnerable and at a loss. So much despair.

Despite this despair, we also feel grateful for the solidarity around the world. Immediately after the earthquake, a great number of people wanted to help, and many came to Haiti to do so. But now, six months later, we still need solidarity, and we need those who want to help to work in cooperation and partnership with and for the Haitian people. Rather than charity, Haiti needs partners. Haiti needs jobs. In particular, I see decentralization in the form of job creation outside of Port-au-Prince. Jobs will stabilize other parts of the  country, empower the communities, and save lives.

We need Haitians to lead the reconstruction efforts. We need our partners to take a rights-based approach in the construction of a new Haiti. This means supporting the capacity and the leadership of both the Haitian government and Haitian communities; it means deferring to the experiences of Haitians and guaranteeing our participation in the rebuilding of our country; it means unconditionally respecting all of our human rights—including the right to food, the right to decent housing and sanitation, the right to health, the right to potable water, the right to education and the right to security.

Zanmi Beni and Protection of Vulnerable Children

We at Zanmi Lasante (ZL) are doing our best to protect the rights of some of the very most vulnerable members of our population: orphaned and abandoned children, many of whom are mentally and physically disabled. Child wellbeing has long been one of Zanmi Lasante’s central concerns, as children are often the most vulnerable to sickness and deprivation of rights in the communities we serve. Following the earthquake, there was a desperate need for refuge and support for children affected by the quake.

In partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Operation Blessing International, among other organizations, ZL is working to fill this gaping void. We opened Zanmi Beni, a home just outside of Port-au-Prince for abandoned and disabled children. Zanmi Beni, which means “blessed friends” in Haitian Creole, now provides shelter, education and love for over 48 children. We need more places like Zanmi Beni or at minimum, more children’s shelters. In challenging times and impoverished settings, children are often the most at risk, in part because they are not as able to advocate for themselves.

Countrywide, the protection of children continues to be a priority as we work to improve the humanitarian situation in Haiti. Children were particularly affected by the earthquake: in the six months following the quake, of the almost 147,000 patient encounters logged at the clinics set up in the four settlement camps in Port-au-Prince, 40 percent were patients under age 20. Half of those patients were under five years old. Thousands more children were injured, traumatized, displaced, and orphaned by the earthquake. Children in Haiti, particularly homeless, disabled, and orphaned children, still desperately need shelter, care, and protection. We must make sure that their fundamental rights are protected, and that the government of Haiti is empowered to fulfill these rights.

The Health Sector

Together, the international community and people of Haiti must also work hard to ensure that the right to healthcare is being fulfilled for all. Strengthening of the healthcare system is essential to the restoration of Haiti.

On July 3, in partnership with local government, the Haitian Ministry of Health, Harvard, Duke, and Dartmouth Medical schools, and a variety of private and public organizations, Zanmi Lasante broke ground to begin building an innovative referral and teaching hospital. Mirebalais, where the hospital is being built, is about 35 miles north of Port-au-Prince, and is known as the “gateway” to the Central Plateau Department. The hospital perfectly embodies our commitment to Haiti in that it integrates research, teaching, and service, and is the result of a broad coalition of public, private, and government organizations, in both the U.S. and Haiti.

Prior to the quake, our plan was to build a 108-bed teaching hospital offering comprehensive, community-based primary and prenatal care as well as treatment for TB, HIV, malaria, and malnutrition. However, the destruction of 80 percent of Haiti’s healthcare infrastructure on January 12 made the need for a hospital in Mirebalais more urgent than ever. Thousands of people have traveled to, and are still journeying into, the rural Central and Artibonite Departments from Port-au-Prince seeking desperately needed healthcare. Additionally, the earthquake badly damaged the country’s only teaching hospital, and destroyed most of its educational facilities. The state medical and nursing schools were particularly hard hit, and the Port-au-Prince nursing school, where an entire class of nursing students died, was completely demolished. After the earthquake, at the request of Haiti’s Ministry of Health, we expanded our vision for the hospital.

The new hospital will be 180,000 square feet and have 320 beds, in addition to state-of-the-art infection control, wall-mounted oxygen and medical gases, improved diagnostics (digital x-ray and ultrasound), and increased space around the beds to accommodate teaching rounds for medical and nursing students. The hospital will include the technological and logistical capacity to support educational exchanges, distance learning and remote collaborations. It is our hope that it will serve as a model for Haiti’s national healthcare system, a place where Haitian doctors and nurses can be trained and empowered to take care of the  country’s people. In this way, it is our greatest hope that the Mirebalais hospital will strengthen healthcare throughout Haiti and help solve Haiti’s healthcare human resource crisis.

We are employing local people to build the hospital that will serve them and their communities. This hospital will be our flagship, equivalent in capacity to all of our current facilities in Haiti. Perhaps more importantly, the Mirebalais hospital is a symbol: a symbol of our commitment to public partnerships and infrastructure, healthcare as a human right, and the people of Haiti. It is our commitment to “building back better,” hand-in-hand with the government and people of Haiti.

Simultaneously, we are working to restore the devastated General Hospital in Port-au-Prince—l’Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haiti (HUEH), the largest medical institution in the country. The General Hospital was nearly destroyed by the earthquake, and in the days that followed, surviving staff members and volunteers—over 370 in total—worked to treat thousands of badly injured patients. Over the course of days and weeks, electricity and running water were restored. In addition, along with numerous partners, ZL was there and helped staff 12 operating rooms, where staff members and volunteers performed surgeries 24 hours a day.

More than six months after the earthquake, there is still much to be done, and ZL’s focus is changing from the immediate to long-term strengthening and care. The hospital staff has resumed responsibility for most clinical services, and so we have shifted to increased training, capacity, and professionalization of the nursing staff. We have also worked to establish a Friends of HUEH Foundation to build partnerships and financial support for rebuilding and strengthening the hospital.

As with the Mirebalais Hospital, we are committed to cross-sector partnerships and long-term planning. We have found that the best way to ensure that access to these services is both universal and sustainable is by partnering with Haitian public institutions that are ultimately responsible for ensuring that Haitians have the right to health, water, food, and education.  These partnerships ensure that the capacity of the government is enhanced, and that the assets we are creating—crucial infrastructure and services—are ultimately owned by the Haitian people.  Our partnerships have been successful because our goal is to support our government in doing its job – to fulfill all Haitians’ right to health.

Job Creation and Decentralization – Aquaculture Project

In addition to focusing on protection of children and on Haiti’s health sector, a main priority in improving the humanitarian situation in Haiti is the creation and decentralization of jobs. This is essential if Haiti is to stabilize and prosper, and to ensure that the human rights of Haiti’s people are fulfilled.

Haiti, like many countries, has historically seen in-country migration from its rural regions to Port-au-Prince, its capital city. Many moved to the city in search of employment opportunities. However, the January earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, and set in motion a reversal of this trend. In the past six months, hundreds of thousands of people have moved to the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite, areas where Zanmi Lasante has worked for over twenty years. Initially, most of these migrants were in need of immediate medical care—2,961 earthquake victims were treated at ZL health clinics in the first month after the quake. While many migrants continue to need healthcare, many moved in search of employment, stability, and survival. Decentralization of employment opportunities has become essential.

ZL and Partners In Health, in partnership with the UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti and the mayor of Boucan Carre, a region in the Central Plateau of Haiti, are working on a tilapia-raising aquaculture project. This project will bring jobs to hundreds in the region. It is again our hope that this project will also open up the region for development and investment on a larger scale.

In addition to the decentralization that is essential to Haiti’s recovery, the aquaculture project will help to fulfill other fundamental rights for people in the region. Currently, the region, two hours from Port-au-Prince, does not have access to fresh fish, a highly nutritious source of local food. The fish that is available is dried and is prohibitively expensive for most of the rural population. This project will both increase the amount of fish available, and at the same time decrease the cost to the rural population. In addition to providing food security, which is incredibly important, the aquaculture project will provide food sovereignty for a large segment of the population, enabling them to control food production for themselves and their community. In my humble opinion, we need more projects like this in the countryside of Haiti, especially where there are large rivers, which, instead of swelling during the rainy season and killing people in the region, they could be used  to feed the communities.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of food security and food sovereignty. Particularly for a marginalized and under-resourced population, food security and sovereignty will be transformative. Any industry, development, investment, and employment that this project brings to the area could similarly transform hundreds of thousands of lives. It is long-term development projects and meaningful investments like this that we would like to focus on, in addition to dealing with more immediate needs.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Moving Forward

On all fronts, there is so much to be done.

I want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to each and every one of you, venerable members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for all you have done for Haiti. Your work does not go unnoticed, and we are deeply appreciative. However, I am afraid that we still need you to do more.

Both the service and advocacy work will be long-term. Continued discussions and advocacy will be needed for bilateral and multilateral donors to encourage actual disbursement of the nearly US$10 billion committed at the 2010 Donor Conference at the United Nations in March. Working with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, we proposed a rights-based framework for transparency and accountability to, international donors, implementers, and NGOs.   Along with the UN Office of the Special Envoy and other partners, we will continue to advocate for better implementation of foreign aid-funded projects and to channel more aid through the Haitian government in order to strengthen their systems and their ability to fulfill their citizens’ human rights.

We in Haiti appreciate the U.S. government’s commitment to partnering with our government and our fellow Haitians as we rebuild. We hope that this commitment will come with the tools needed to facilitate our participation. Central to our meaningful participation are transparency mechanisms that will help Haitians across the country track U.S. government funds at the local level and be able to provide feedback on projects as they’re being planned and implemented, and most importantly in the event that they do not have the desired outcome.

An immediate priority is the passage of the Supplemental War Funding Bill (H.R. 4899), which contains $2.9 billion in aid to be released for Haiti’s reconstruction. We need your help to protect the 425,000 or so families that are living in the internally displaced persons camps. These camps are crowded, ramshackle, unsanitary, and insecure – women and young girls are gang raped every night. The best possible solution is to build permanent housing to, among other things, decrease the gender-based violence, as well as create jobs and services. As the supplemental bill languishes, people are dying, and reconstruction is struggling. We need you to help us keep up the pressure to pass this bill.

We also need you to keep the attention on Haiti. Though the people of Haiti have long suffered at the hands of cruel dictators, brutally destructive international policies, and natural disasters; in the past, this suffering has often been ignored. However, immediately following the earthquake, the world’s attention turned to Haiti. Our work has been assisted by the massive outpouring of support and solidarity from people around the world and from the contributions of donor countries. However, we need to maintain this focus. Two weeks ago, on July 12, we marked six months since the earthquake. Unfortunately, this was met with only passing attention by the U.S. media and populace. However, for those of us in Haiti, we are confronted by the effects of the earthquake everywhere, every moment of every day. We are surrounded by evidence that there is so much more we can do to restore Haiti, and to fulfill the human rights of all in Haiti. Despite many challenges, there is much hope… I want to believe that with this administration, this Congress, those great friends of Haiti, there is hope and possibility for Haiti, if the right choices are made and the right actions are taken.

I don’t expect miracles. I expect there will be many challenges ahead both political (i.e. the elections) and by natural disaster (hurricane season and the risk of more earthquakes).  But I also expect your help, solidarity and partnership for the right choices and the right actions to be taken in favor of Haiti, venerable members of the CBC.

Mèsi anpil. Wout la long men avèk anpil men epi bòn volonte, chay la pa dwe lou…

Thank you very much.

Partners In Health Breaks Ground on World-Class Teaching Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti

By admin, July 13, 2010 3:54 pm

For Immediate Release

July 12, 2010

Contact: Andrew Marx, 617-432-1976,

Meredith Eves, 617-998-8945,

Partners In Health Breaks Ground on

World-Class Teaching Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti

320-Bed Hospital Will Be Flagship of PIH’s Response Efforts to January 12 Earthquake, Will Offer Clinical Facilities Not Available at Any Public Site in the Country

BOSTON – On July 3, Partners In Health (PIH) and our Haitian sister organization, Zanmi Lasante (ZL), broke ground in Mirebalais, Haiti, for a world-class teaching hospital. Mirebalais will be a national referral facility, the flagship of our efforts to help rebuild Haiti’s health sector. By the first anniversary of the earthquake—January 12, 2011—the seven buildings of the main hospital campus, comprising 180,000 square feet, will be standing, with work on the interiors begun. Plans call for the hospital to be accepting patients by the end of 2011.

The new hospital will have 320 beds—equivalent in capacity to all 12 of the sites in which PIH currently works in Haiti, combined—and will offer clinical facilities not available at any public site in the country, including an intensive care unit and an operating theatre complex with six operating rooms equipped for thoracic surgery. The original plans for a 108-bed referral hospital for the lower plateau, offering comprehensive, community-based primary and prenatal care as well as treatment for TB, HIV, malaria, and malnutrition were expanded at the request of the Ministry of Health following the January 12 earthquake.

Dr. Alex Larsen, Minister of Health, said “What Haiti needs now are true partners to help us build back better by strengthening our country’s public infrastructure.  The new teaching hospital at Mirebalais will be a model for our national health system, offering high-quality medical services, a place for our clinicians to study and train, and hope and dignity to all who will seek—and offer—care there. We look forward to building upon our long-standing partnership with Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante with this desperately-needed facility.”

Mirebalais Hospital will include not just more beds and operating rooms, but state-of-the-art infection control, wall-mounted oxygen and medical gases, improved diagnostics (digital x-ray and ultrasound), and increased space around the beds to accommodate teaching rounds for medical and nursing students. Partnerships with leading universities and teaching hospitals will support the medical training and education of Haitian clinicians, as well as that of visiting international clinicians.  The hospital will include the technological and logistical capacity to support educational exchanges, distance learning and remote collaborations.

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-Founder of PIH, Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, calls the Mirebalais hospital project “exactly the sort of building back better in Haiti that also seeks to improve the very nature of development assistance. Too often, NGOs and research universities do too little to help create a strong public sector, without which public health and public education will always be anemic.

“For some of us, this hospital is the culmination of a dream dating back a quarter-century, and underlines our commitment to the country and people of Haiti, which is stronger than ever after the earthquake.  It is also a manifestation of our integrated model of research, teaching and service, and will serve as a site for all three. Mirebalais is being developed by a broad coalition which includes hundreds of individuals, several foundations, private corporations, Harvard teaching hospitals including Brigham and Women’s, Harvard Medical School, and of course our Haitian colleagues at ZL and the Ministry of Health. We are fortunate to be building upon the lessons learned in ZL’s long experience of building infrastructure in Haiti, and to have the support of many old and new partners in this essential effort.”

Dr. David Walton, PIH’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Haiti and a physician at Brigham and Women’s, is leading the project together with Jim Ansara, founder and Chairman of Shawmut Design and Construction: “We are proud to be building a hospital that will offer all Haitians the care they deserve, as well as a place to learn and practice medicine at the highest level. I am grateful for the many partnerships that are making this project possible, and to the many experts and companies offering their skill and materials.  It is a privilege to work with the community of Mirebalais, the Government of Haiti and our many partners to make this shared vision a reality.”

About PIH: PIH works in 12 countries around the world to provide quality health care to people and communities devastated by joint burdens of poverty and disease. PIH has been providing vital health care services in Haiti for more than 20 years and is the largest health care provider in the country, working with the Haitian Ministry of Health to deliver comprehensive health care services to a catchment area of 1.2 million across the Central Plateau and the Lower Artibonite Valley. PIH had 5,000 staff in Haiti before the January 12 earthquake.

To speak with PIH physician, David Walton about the new hospital in Mirebalais, please contact Andrew Marx, 617-432-1976, or Meredith Eves, 617-998-8945,

West still ‘undermining Haiti’

By admin, July 12, 2010 1:46 pm
By Yves Engler
Six months after the earthquake, about 1.3 million Haitians still live in tent camps [GALLO/GETTY]

Six months ago a devastating earthquake killed more than 230,000 Haitians. About 100,000 homes were completely destroyed, alongside 1,000 schools and many other buildings.

The scenes of devastation filled TV screens around the world. Half a year later the picture is eerily familiar.

Destroyed during the earthquake, the presidential palace remains rubble and a symbol of the vast destruction. Port-au-Prince is still covered in debris. About 1.3 million people live in 1,200 makeshift tent camps in and around the capital.

According to one estimate, less than 5 per cent of the earthquake debris has been removed. Of course, with 20 million cubic metres of rubble in Port-Au-Prince alone, removing the debris is a massive challenge.

If 1,000 trucks were working daily it would take three to five years to remove all this material. Yet, there are fewer than 300 trucks hauling debris.

Political roadblocks

The technical obstacles to reconstruction are immense. But the political roadblocks are larger.

Immediately after the quake $10bn in international aid was pledged. As of June 30, only 10 per cent of the $2.5bn promised for 2010 had been delivered. A lot of it has been held up in political wrangling.

The international community led by the US, France and Canada demanded that the Haitian parliament pass an 18-month-long state of emergency law that effectively gave up government control over the reconstruction.

Holding up the money was a pressure tactic designed to ensure international control of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, which is authorised to spend billions. These maneuvers were met by protest and widespread hostility in Haiti, which forced the international community to back off a little.

Initially, a majority of seats on the commission were to represent foreign governments and international financial institutions. That has been reduced to half of the 26-member committee, but the money is still to be managed by the World Bank and other international institutions.

Bill Clinton, the former US president, and Jean-Max Bellerive, the Haitian prime minister, co-chair the reconstruction commission, which met for the first time on June 17.

Undermining Haiti

The strong-arm tactics by the Western powers to determine the make-up of the commission signify a continuation of longstanding policy to undermine the Haitian state’s credibility and capacity.

For two decades Washington and its allies have deliberately weakened Haiti’s government. Citing neo-liberal theories they demanded the privatisation of a number of state-owned companies and the reduction of tariffs on agricultural products.

This devastated domestic food production and spurred an exodus from the countryside to the cities, which exacerbated the destruction and death toll of the earthquake.

Washington also destabilised governments that put the interests of the poor over foreign corporations. On February 29, 2004, the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by the US, France and Canada. This ushered in a terrible wave of political repression and the ongoing UN occupation.

Since that time Aristide has been in forced exile in South Africa and his Fanmi Lavalas party has been barred from participating in elections. They are again being blocked from participating in elections taking place on November 28.

All of this has created a situation in which there is no institution in Haiti with the credibility or capacity to undertake reconstruction.

The NGO republic

Haitians not NGOs must be equipped to rebuild their country [GALLO/GETTY]

President Rene Preval’s government has lost the support of the country’s poor majority because of its subservience to Washington and the local elite. Preval recently defended the move to ban Fanmi Lavalas, which is still the most popular party in the country.

The 10,000-member UN “peacekeeping” force is widely disliked. In the two years after the 2004 coup, UN troops regularly provided support for the Haitian police’s violent assaults on poor communities and peaceful demonstrations demanding the return of the elected government.

UN forces also participated directly in a violent political pacification campaign, launching repeated anti-”gang” assaults on poor neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince.

The two most horrific raids took place on January 6, 2005, and December 22, 2006, which together left some 35 innocent civilians dead and dozens wounded in the densely populated slum of Cité Soleil – a bastion of support for Aristide.

In April 2008, UN troops once again demonstrated that their primary purpose in the country was to defend the massive economic divide in the country. During riots over the rising cost of food they put down protests by killing a handful of demonstrators.

Foreign-funded Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are widely discredited for contributing to a two-decade long process that has undermined Haitian governmental capacity. Sometimes dubbed the “republic of NGOs”, in Haiti these organisations have a great deal of influence and are promoted as agents of relief.

In some circumstances, they are. But, how would we like it if all our schools and social services were run by private foreign charities?

In Port-au-Prince there is graffiti stating “Down with NGOs”.

Two weeks ago Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre complained that “NGOs continue to humiliate and discriminate [against] the poor and respected Haitian citizens by assuming they are all dangerous, violent, or savage people, and they do not know anything, even how to put a tent up while ignoring the strength and courage of these people”.

Over the past two months there have been a series of major demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. Demonstrators have called for Aristide’s return and an end to the exclusion of his Fanmi Lavalas party.

Of course protesters are also angry about the slow pace of reconstruction and the six-year-old foreign occupation.

How to help

So, what should be the response of people who want to help?

Firstly, any serious reconstruction must build the Haitian government’s capacity to provide housing, education, healthcare and other social services.

Aid must be directed away from neo-liberal adjustment, sweatshop exploitation and non-governmental charity, and towards investment in Haiti’s government and public institutions.

Secondly, massive investment must be made in Haiti’s countryside, where farming has been effectively destroyed. Haitians are poverty stricken partly because foreign aid policies favour sweatshop labour over agriculture.

For example, the US dumps rice on the Haitian market. Thirty years ago, Haiti produced 90 per cent of its own rice; today it is less than 10 per cent.

Thirdly, Fanmi Lavalas should be allowed to participate in elections and Aristide to return from exile.

Only when Haitians are allowed to run their own affairs will real reconstruction begin.

Yves Engler is the co-author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority. His most recent book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. Click here for more information.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

An Open Letter on Haitian Agriculture to the CEO of Monsanto

By admin, July 5, 2010 10:20 pm

Crossover Dreams

A blog on migration by writers for IPS, a global non-profit newswire

Posted: July 5, 2010 07:32 PM

By Peter Costantini ~ Seattle

Mouvman Peyizan Papay demonstrators at Hinche June 4,  2010.jpg
Mouvman Peyizan Papay demonstrators at Hinche June 4, 2010. Photo credit: La Via Campesina

To: Hugh Grant, President and CEO, Monsanto

As you are no doubt aware, your offer to donate hybrid corn and vegetable seeds has stirred up quite a controversy in Haiti.

I’d like to call your attention to an article I wrote on this issue recently for Inter Press Service. While I was in Haiti for the month of May, I had a conversation with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the head of a major Haitian peasant organization and a leader of the international confederation La Via Campesina. He criticized your donation from a perspective on seeds and agriculture based on a very different world view that might be worth your time to understand.

Your company blog says that the idea to donate seeds to Haiti came to you and Executive Vice President Jerry Steiner at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. As you worked the crowd at that upscale ski resort, the place must have been crawling with Corporate Masters of the Universe and Brilliant Thinkers, who congregate yearly there to deliberate on the world’s problems and how to solve them. But – going out on a limb here – I’m guessing there were not many Haitian Peasant Farmers.

While I’m sure some of the ideas on Haiti discussed there are worth pursuing, if you want to understand what Haiti’s farmers need in the wake of the January 12 earthquake and the hurricanes of two years ago, I highly recommend going to Haiti to talk to some of them and to people who work closely with them. Travel in most rural areas is excruciatingly difficult on the ground, which is a reality farmers have to live with, but you could always rent a helicopter. I expect you would encounter a very different range of perspectives.

Your communications people say you did contact the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and got their approval to donate seeds. That’s a good first step, but it doesn’t take a Macarthur Grant to figure out that even the best-intentioned people behind the desks in a ministry, especially one that has just suffered heavy losses in an earthquake, might not always represent the final word on what impoverished farmers deep in the countryside are thinking. And perhaps they wouldn’t want to offend a corporation as wealthy and powerful as yours.

The U.S. Agency for International Development says they are going to use the seeds for a project called WINNER. They may have some interesting ideas on how to use them. Perhaps they have found some Haitian farmers who are willing to try them. But they are an arm of the U.S. State Department, and they ultimately represent the interests of the U.S. government, not Haitians.

Fortunately, though, it’s not hard to find a wide range of opinion in the Haitian countryside. During my time in Haiti, I encountered large, sophisticated organizations of peasant farmers there that were very happy to talk to me. And there are plenty of smart, experienced Haitian agronomists and economists who are in intimate contact with realities in the fields. I spent a week outside of Port-au-Prince and more time in the city interviewing farmers, agronomists and others. I’d be glad to put you in touch with some of them.

Even if your travel budget is a little thin after those outrageously overpriced hotel rooms in Davos, I want to reassure you that right on the Internet you can find some excellent information from these people and organizations.

Jean-Baptiste’s group, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP – Peasant Movement of Papaye), is one of the biggest peasant organizations and has a web site that talks about its philosophies and practices. Having survived decades of political violence and the recent destruction by the 2008 hurricanes and the January earthquake, groups such as the MPP and Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together Small Haitian Farmers) remain among the strongest democratic grassroots organizations in the country.

Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA – Haitian Platform to Argue for Alternative Development) is a coalition of many urban and rural groups. Surfing its site, you can find articles on agriculture, economic development and democracy from a range of Haitian and international perspectives.

A non-profit that has long worked closely with small farmers’ groups, Grassroots International, has done a sad but compelling documentary on the destruction of Creole pigs at the behest of the United States and international financial institutions in the 80s: Haiti’s Piggy Bank. You should really watch it if you’re interested in avoiding the mistakes made back then that helped to cripple Haitian agriculture.

For a thoughtful outline of agricultural policies that would benefit the majority of Haitians, read: A Future for Agriculture, a Future for Haiti by Beverly Bell of Other Worlds, who has decades of experience with Haitian popular organizations.

A macroeconomic and historical perspective on how to correct some past mistakes is offered by Tim Wise, the Deputy Director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in Medford, MA, in Aiding Haiti: Let’s get it right this time.

And if you’re looking for a model of how to do a detailed on-the-ground study of agricultural needs, try Edward Walters & Dina Brick’s study, A Rapid Seed Assessment in the Southern Department of Haiti. It’s the kind of data you should have collected before deciding to make a donation of seeds.

Bill Clinton recently apologized before the U.S. Senate for the U.S. trade and aid policies that led to the destruction of Haiti’s capacity to feed itself. Monsanto is a charter member of the industrial-agricultural complex that has long driven those policies in the U.S. government and international institutions, exploiting every opening to break down local agriculture and open the floodgates for subsidized U.S. products and technologies. The large-scale export agriculture model imposed on Haiti then seems to be exactly what you are promoting with the donation of hybrid seeds. Or can you propose a way Haitian farmers could use them that would not ultimately end up costing most of them more than they can afford and driving them off the land?

Unfortunately, Monsanto’s own corporate history doesn’t inspire a lot of trust, and Haitian farmers are not alone in their skepticism of your model and embrace of alternatives.

Beginning with its production of the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, Monsanto has been a lightning rod for criticisms by environmental, agricultural and public-health groups. In a more recent example, your company reportedly provided the potent herbicide Roundup Ultra to the U.S. government for anti-drug fumigation efforts in Colombia, drawing criticism from community and human rights groups there that the chemical destroys their food crops, poisons their water, and has led to increases in cancer and birth defects.

Your lawsuits against small farmers who protest that their fields have been contaminated by neighboring Roundup Ready GMO crops have not made you a lot of friends. Monsanto’s genetically modified alfalfa has been challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, with mixed results, and will no doubt face further opposition.

Perhaps you’d like to put all this behind you. So would small farmers around the world, who can’t afford to forget that history because it frequently comes back to bite them.

The question is not ultimately how productive your hybrid corn seeds are, whether they can be used without manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, or whether they can be saved and reused under some circumstances. You are not, as your donation suggests you believe, sending those seeds into a vacuum full of ignorant, benighted people looking for any kind of help you decide to offer them.

Most of the Haitian countryside was not directly damaged by the earthquake, but rather has been ruined and impoverished over decades by human practices and human-made disasters, many of them imported. Haitian farmers, along with small farmers in neighbor countries like Mexico, have a deeply rooted culture of peasant agriculture. They have agronomists and scientists to back their efforts with research, and they have networks to share knowledge and best practices around the Haitian countryside and across the globe.

The peasant organizations at the demonstration in Hinche weren’t simply rejecting your model of agriculture: they are proposing an integrated one of their own. After burning the batch of Monsanto seeds, they handed out native Creole seeds to the farmers there.

Straw hats and burning hybrid seeds
Straw hats and burning hybrid seeds. Photo credit: La Via Campesina
Haitian small farmers have centuries of experience breeding and saving seeds that grow well in the Haitian climate and their own local ecosystems. To measure their value, you have to take into account the environmental, economic and social externalities that imported hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides often introduce.

To increase their productivity, Haitian farmers need virtually everything except imported seeds: hand tools, locally produced fertilizer, machinery, livestock, irrigation, storage and processing facilities, roads to get their products to market, and reforestation to reduce flooding. From a macroeconomic point of view, Haiti desperately needs to grow its domestic markets and suppliers, not import new products, such as your seeds, that they previously produced themselves.

Volny Paultre, the chief agronomist of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Haiti, could offer you the benefit of decades of knowledge of these issues at a scientific and policy level. I did an interview with him in May. The FAO has been working effectively all over rural Haiti for years, and many of their representatives are Haitian agronomists. Before trying to do anything to help Haitian farmers, you should talk to them at length about their programs.

The deep roots of peasant agriculture are not restricted to Haiti. In a recent article in The Nation, Retreat to Subsistence, Peter Canby describes how the indigenous small farmers of Oaxaca, Mexico are defending their ancient corn culture and the biodiversity of their seeds and milpas, and resisting being driven off the land. Sister cultures survive in many parts of the world, but many others are also endangered.

Beyond places with strong indigenous peasant cultures, alternative models of agriculture are attracting interest around the world. Just in the past few months, two important academic studies have been published that provide some data on the value of organic, small-scale farming methods.

A study of potato farming published in Nature by Washington State University scientists found that organic methods did a better job of reducing pests and increasing plant size than conventional ones using pesticides. In another paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Michigan found that in tropical regions, small-scale family agriculture can be equally or more productive than industrial farming, while doing a better job of preserving biodiversity in the face of deforestation.

As you also may have learned, the protests against your seed donation weren’t limited to Hinche. In cities across Haiti, the U.S., the Dominican Republic and Brazil, supporters of the Haitian farmers, including international environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Organic Consumers Association, reportedly demonstrated in solidarity.

“With their deadly gift … Monsanto and its accomplices are worsening the situation of the Haitian peasantry. This is a new earthquake,” declared La Via Campesina, a confederation of peasant organizations in 70 countries to which the march organizers belong. “While this move comes at a time of dire need in Haiti, many feel it will undermine rather than bolster the country’s food security,” the group said in a public statement. Clearly, if you go ahead with your current policies you will have a tough row to hoe with this movement and its supporters.

If Bill Clinton can apologize for his role in destroying the capacity of Haiti to feed itself, can you take a cue from him and reverse your course in Haiti before Monsanto compounds the damage?

Sincerely yours,

Peter Costantini

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U.S. Social Forum a Mechanism for Change

By admin, July 1, 2010 7:18 pm

Written by Marc Becker
Tuesday, 29 June 2010 10:27
Fifteen thousand social movement activists descended on Detroit during the fourth week of June for the second United States Social Forum (USSF) to discuss and debate proposals for how to build a better world. The slogan for the forum added “Another Detroit is happening” to the previous USSF slogan “Another US is necessary” and the standard World Social Forum (WSF) insistence that “Another world is possible.”

The structure of a social forum originated a decade ago in the global south as a response to the exclusionary and militaristic policies of the World Economic Forum (WEF) that meets at the end of January each year in Davos, Switzerland. From its first meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the idea of holding social forums quickly caught fire and spread across the world. This organizing strategy effectively shifted the terms of debate regarding the Washington Consensus away from social, economic, and political policies that benefitted a wealthy elite.

While the rest of the world seems to have moved on to other issues and strategies, and the political environment in Latin America that initially gave rise to the need for social forums has shifted significantly to the left, the social forum process continues to gain force in the United States as a mechanism to struggle for social justice.

WSF founder Chico Whitaker observed that Detroit had a similar ambience as Porto Alegre had at the first forum in 2001. People began to organize both forums without a clear idea about what they would find, but they realized unprecedented success in launching a new and innovative process. The challenge, Whitaker said, was to create spaces, to create a new political culture.

Similar to how the global south originally gave rise to the social forum process, marginalized peoples and those representing the south in the United States have taken key leadership roles in organizing the USSF. These include African-descendants, Latinos, Indigenous peoples, and poor people.

Although apparently not intentionally planned and organized as such, similar to how the initial WSFs were originally held opposite the meeting of economic elites in Davos, the USSF was held at the same time that the Group of the 20 largest global economies (G-20) met across the border in Toronto. Participants began to talk of the meetings as a tale of two cities, one with a heavy police presence while the other presented peaceful and positive alternatives.


Over the course of five days of meetings, activists in Detroit participated in more than one thousand self-organized workshops. Heavily influenced by critical pedagogy, the USSF attempted to move away from a standard conference model of panels with “experts” presenting their knowledge to a passive audience. Instead, organizers urged a more participatory model of collaborative workshops to bring people together to solve common problems together.

An innovation of the USSF was an emphasis on People’s Movement Assemblies (PMAs) that were intended to bring activists together around common issues and concerns. During the process of the Detroit forum, participants organized almost one hundred PMAs, 45 in the lead up to the forum and 52 during the forum. Summaries of the resolutions from the PMAs were presented in a National People’s Movement Assembly on the last day of the forum, and are posted to the website

A summary review of the resolutions indicates the broad array of topics and issues discussed at the forum, including worker struggles, gender justice, transformative justice, poverty, immigration, environment, media, and militarism. One group gave a passionate call for the independence of Puerto Rico. PMAs are a key feature of the USSF that will be contributed back to the broader WSF.

Most social forums begin with a march through the streets of the host city, and Detroit was no exception. On Tuesday, June 22, between seven and nine thousand participants paraded to Cobo Hall along the river front that was host to the meetings. Placards along the march pointed to the typical array of demands of social forum participants, while feeders that joined the main march emphasized more local concerns such as utility turnoffs. Detroit has a long history of radical labor union organizing, and is often the case the presence of the forum encouraged a heightened level of activism. Various marches and protests popped up during the week’s events, culminating with another massive march for clear air, good jobs, and justice at the world’s largest incinerator on the final day, Saturday, June 26.

Even though the Detroit forum was significantly smaller than the largest WSFs that have ranged up to 150,000 people, it was still massive enough that it remains difficult for one person to comprehend the entire event. Three blind people alternatively describing an elephant as a tree trunk, a wall, or a snake is a common analogy to explain how an observer’s position can influence perceptions of the event.


Latin American solidarity activists held a minor but impressive presence in Detroit. The Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC) pulled together an impressive listings of events at the meeting. Together with other groups such as the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) and a variety of Venezuelan and Cuban groups, solidarity activists had a notable presence at the literature tables. At the same time as the forum met in Detroit, the SOAW organized a parallel meeting of Latin American activists in Venezuela to strategize on shutting down United States training of repressive Latin American militaries. The two events set up a video link to share their common concerns between the two meetings on the two continents.

Participants at the forum were also fortunate to be able to take advantage of a special preview screening of Oliver Stone’s new documentary “South of the Border” in which he examines the recent left-ward shift in Latin American politics. Participants jammed the theater to almost triple of its capacity. Most of the film focused on Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and the Wayuu Indigenous activist David Hernández and a Venezuelan representative from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) participated in a question and answer session after the film.


The Cuban Working Group of the Black Left Unity Network (BLUN) presented a fascinating workshop on African Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution. Efia Nwangaza from the Afrikan American Institute framed the conversation with the observation that Cuba was an ally of African people on the continent as well as in the US. “We as African people have a long standing debt to Cuba,” she stated. Nwangaza read a March 10 statement that they presented in honor International Women’s Day to the Cuban Women’s Federation that declared that the revolution “remains a hopeful beacon in the western hemisphere that humane societies can be constructed that provide the basis for the elimination of all forms of discrimination, exploitation, and oppression.”

Tony “Menelik” VanDermeer from U-Mass Boston described a trip to Cuba that he took in March on a replica of the Amistad, the famous slave ship. In contrast to a recent trip to Nigeria, VanDermeer said that Cuba is much better organized, and that if Africa was 25 percent as organized as Cuba it would be a power house. Saladin Muhammad from Black Workers for Justice presented a thank-you Cuba campaign that they had initiated to highlight Cuba’s role in a struggle against racism. They want people to express their thanks to Cuba by signing postcards, holding events, and organizing other actions.

A common theme throughout the panel was how important it was that people need to travel to Cuba themselves to witness firsthand the advances in the revolution. What is happening in Cuba that the United States does not want us to see, panelists asked? An African-American woman in the audience said “it’s hard to find the language, something that you’ve never felt before in your own country” as she urged people to travel to Cuba “if you want to know what freedom feels like.” She pointed to her time in Cuba as a life changing experience, as a validation that she never felt or saw in the United States. Another audience member observed that the same people who maintain us in poverty in the United States also want to maintain Cuba in poverty. The only way we can make a revolution is to break that oppression, he said.


In the aftermath of the January earthquake, Haiti also became a common theme at the forum. The Haiti Action Network, for example, organized a “Dialogue with Activists from the Haitian Popular Movement” that brought together a variety of leaders as well as the widow of CLR James, the famous author of The Black Jacobins. Panelists repeatedly complained that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were making money off of the crisis in Haiti. One participant related that donated aid for the hurricane several years ago is still sitting unused on the loading docks. A main demand for those on the panel was a return of the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Walter Riley from the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund noted that every U.S. president including Obama have opposed the forceful symbol of an independent Haiti. The session approved a final document “Support the Call of Haiti’s Grassroots for the Return of Aristide and the end of the UN Mission.”

Indigenous peoples

Despite their demographically small presence in the United States, amounting to about 1 percent of the population, Indigenous peoples had a notable presence at the forum. Indigenous representatives led the opening march, and a drum group and dancers initiated the opening ceremonies. George Martin from the Ojibwa nation invited participants to the native lands of Detroit.

Beyond rituals and ceremonies, however, Indigenous representatives held a significant presence in discussions at the forum, particularly members of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN). In a final plenary session on alternatives and solutions, Jihan Gearon from IEN noted how native peoples are often excluded and forgotten. She framed her comments in a global context, in particular mentioning the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April of this year.

The IEN also took a lead role in organizing the Indigenous Peoples Movement Assembly. Tom Goldtooth, IEN leader and a member of the National Planning Committee (NPC) related that when he travels to Latin America activists there ask him what they are doing in the US to address ongoing problems with imperialism. Goldtooth, however, noted that Indigenous peoples represent the south that is located in the north, that they are also oppressed communities. He emphasized an urgent need to develop political connections with the global south to solve common problems.

Visiting from Peru, Miguel Palacín, the leader of the Coordinating Body of Andean Indigenous Organizations (CAOI), spoke about the move in Latin America from Indigenous peoples resisting oppression to making concrete actions and proposals. He described two key proposals that call for the establishment of plurinational states and the sumak kawsay or buen vivir, to live not better but to live well. The demand for plurinational states, Palacín explained, is to recognize the diversity that is in their countries, to make democracy more horizontal and to develop more equilibrium in relations. This goal has been codified into the constitutions of Bolivia and Ecuador, but still a lot of work remains to be done.

In explaining the second proposal of the sumak kawsay, Palacín noted how western states have destroyed the mother earth through an irrational exploitation of resources. People are responsible for the climatic crisis, he said, but Indigenous peoples live with this resulting reality that puts their lives in danger. Living well means harmony, being in equilibrium with our own selves, and realizing a full life with other beings in nature. The point is not just to accumulate riches, but to redistribute these resources for the betterment of humanity, he said. We have to “caminar la palabra,” to weave harmony with all of society, Palacín concluded.

At the final peoples movement assembly on Saturday afternoon, the Indigenous sovereignty group was the first to present their resolutions. They called for respect for their rights, and for a larger presence in next USSF.


A very special treat for those Latin American solidarity activists who remained to the end of the final closing session of the forum was a presentation by Pablo Solon, the ambassador from Bolivia to the United Nations. Manny Pino from the IEN introduced Pino, once again situating their transnational work in the context of the Cochabamba Climate Summit in April. Solon then passionately and eloquently spoke in flawless English and seemingly without notes about the need for an end to neoliberalism. He had just arrived in Detroit from the G-20 meetings in Toronto, and framed his remarks in the context of a long struggle for water and gas rights in Bolivia. His message was that they learned that they could not realize these gains without political organization.


In the aftermath of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant measures, immigration was naturally a large topic at the forum. Many attendees wore a variety of pro-immigrant t-shirts, including one asking whether the wearer looked “illegal.” Indigenous rights activist José Matos noted that even though they are not immigrants, all the issues that effect immigrants also effect Indigenous peoples, especially those living in the Southwest. These issues include a negative impact of border control efforts including fences on the environment and the destruction of ceremonial sites. Matos called for the United States government to respect the sovereignty and self determination of Indigenous peoples.

The USSF ended with participants promising to take action or stand in solidarity on a variety of local, regional, and global issues. In addition to events such as the upcoming climate summit in Cancun toward the end of the year as a followup to last year’s Copenhagen meetings, the Fourth Americas Social Forum will meet in Asuncion, Paraguay in August. After a two-year break, the WSF will once again gather in a unified meeting next February in Dakar. The Africa meeting will give activists in the United States an opportunity to take their messages from Detroit to a global audience.

Bolivia’s Ambassador at the USSF

Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, spoke at the closing session of the USSF. Video of his presentation should be posted to the website What follows is not a transcription but rather quick notes summarizing his comments taken as he talked.

Solon began his comments with a discussion of the water wars that expelled Bechtel from Cochabamba when they tried to privatize the water supplies. This was the beginning of change, because if it was possible to expel Bechtal then anything is possible. From there they began to talk about the nationalization of gas, and they knew it was possible because they had already won the water wars. But they learned that they could not realize these gains without organization, and so they began to build political organizations.

In 2005, for the first time an Indigenous leader Evo Morales won the presidency with 54 percent of the vote, and six months later they nationalized the gas sector. Under Morales, they have improved the lives of the poor because now the resources of the country belong to the people. We can do this two ways, either ask for the people to sacrifice or to cut profits to the large corporations and then we’ll have enough resources for the needs of the people. The example of Bolivia shows that this is possible if we organize from the bottom up and take the needs of the people into consideration.

After last year’s climate change meeting in Copenhagen, we realized that the situation is getting worse and that we need to take action. We need to build a world-wide movement to defend life and the mother earth. We only have one opportunity, and it is now to create a new alternative not only for us but for our children and grandchildren.

What do we want? In the short-term, we want industrial countries to reduce emissions. This is the only way out. The Cochabamba meetings show the path forward, and we hope to achieve this in the followup Cancun meetings at the end of the year. But we can only achieve this with the mobilization of people. But to do this requires changing how to relate to Mother Earth. We’ve treated the earth like a commodity, but now we see the consequences of that. We need to change what BP is doing with the spill in the gulf. In order to guarantee human rights, we need to guarantee the rights of mother earth. We are part of a system; we’re not the owners, but just one part. We have to take responsibility to take care of it. We will present a proposal to the UN that the mother earth also has a right to exist. Both humans and nature, all beings have a right to water.

The challenge of this century is to build a new contract, not only a social contract, but a social and environmental contract. This is key to the building of a new and better world. The G-8 talks about a green economy, and it sounds nice. But it means bringing capitalism to nature, to put a price on nature, to emphasize property rights. Instead of the Washington Consensus it will be the Green Economy Consensus, but this still leads to the commodification of nature. We need to look for the rights of nature, this is why a declaration of the rights of mother earth is so important.

At Cochabamba, we also talked about making a court of climate justice where cases like BP can be tried. We cannot allow these abuses to continue. We need to build from the grassroots. Democracy is being constrained on a world-wide level. What is the message? Large countries drafted the Copenhagen Accord, gave it to small countries at 3am with only 1 hour to read it. But all countries have the same rights, and large countries who think they are the most powerful cannot decide for the rest. We have to end the five permanent members on the UN security council; no one has elected them, but yet they have veto power. Democracy means democracy at a world-wide level as well.

We don’t want to see more military bases in Latin America. In Latin America, we’re worried. Why do we need military bases in Colombia? What has happened in Honduras? We have to stop this process. We need democracy at a global level.

One of the proposals at Cochabamba was to create a world-wide referendum on climate change, to reach six billion people on the planet who are influenced by these policies. People around the world should be consulted on where resources are directed. Our challenge is to build this referendum for next year, because we see that Cancun won’t solve problems. Money needs to go to solve problems of poverty and climate change, not to war. We can only do this if we engage everyone, each one of you. That is why I have come from Toronto. I have heard that this social forum was a great opportunity to organize.

Ten years ago I was a water warrior in Cochabamba, but now I’m a water warrior ambassador. We want to declare in the UN the human right to water and sanitation. In the UN we’ve declared rights to food, education, shelter, but we have yet to declare the right to water. We need to count on your support to campaign for these rights.

Marc Becker is a Latin American historian and activist who attended the USSF with the Latin American Solidarity Coalition (LASC).


By admin, June 26, 2010 10:12 pm

by Kim Ives

* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *June 23 – 29, 2010,  Vol. 3, No. 49Raoul Peck’s “Moloch Tropical” is a vitriolic cinematic diatribe against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, filled with heavy-handed smears of the exiled ex-president and those around him. The film has been and will continue to be acclaimed by supporters of the 2004 coup d’état against Aristide, which was orchestrated over the course of three years by the U.S., France and Canada in concert with Haiti’s bourgeoisie and former Haitian military and death-squad leaders.

So it was ironic that this fictional justification for the most bloody and illegal overthrow of a popular elected government in recent Latin American history was the “centerpiece” of this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival in New York. Rather than analyzing and condemning Washington’s relentless destabilization of Haiti’s nascent and imperfect democracy, a campaign minutely dissected in Peter Hallward’s “Damming the Flood” (Verso, 2007), “Peck delivers a searing critique of a government corrupted by power and an individual driven mad by it,” trumpets Human Rights Watch.

The film, a variation on Aleksandr Sokurov’s film “Moloch” about Adolph Hitler, portrays the final day of unraveling of the regime and sanity of President Jean de Dieu (played by French actor Zinedine Soualem), a former priest from the slums known as “Ti Jean,” who sprinkles foreign languages in his speeches and is married to a Haitian-American lawyer (played by former French beauty-queen Sonia Rolland). Anyone even vaguely familiar with Haiti’s recent history sees that these characters represent Aristide, also known as “Titid,” and his wife Mildred Trouillot Aristide.

But Peck tries to obscure this parallel, doing what a Haitian proverb calls “voye roch kache men” (throw a rock then hide your hand). In interviews, he claims that Jean de Dieu is a composite of foreign and Haitian leaders and that the film a meditation on the corrupting influence of power in general.

At the New York showing, as at other festivals, Peck cited Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Richard Nixon, George Bush, Jean-Claude Duvalier and René Préval as his references. Hogwash. The film is 99% about Aristide and Peck’s problems with him.

And what are those problems? Peck feels “betrayed” by Aristide, he said in remarks after the New York showing, whom he, like almost every other progressive Haitian intellectual, supported in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the priest emerged as the leader of the post-Duvalier democracy movement. Between the first Washington-backed coup d’état against him on Sep. 30, 1991 and the second on Feb. 29, 2004, Aristide made a number of political concessions, compromises, maneuvers, head feints, and what he called “jwet entelijans” (games of intelligence) in an effort to outwit and wrestle with Washington’s “laboratory,” as Aristide calls the CIA-Pentagon nexus that undid him twice. Over the years, these compromises alienated many of Aristide’s former allies, who almost always speak of “betrayal.” Often, they are angry because Aristide did not name them to a government post or return their phone calls.

But for most Haitian leftists, Aristide’s cardinal sin was his agreement with President Bill Clinton to return to Haiti in 1994 on the shoulders of 20,000 U.S. troops, thereby facilitating the second foreign military occupation of Haiti in the 20th century after that of 1915 to 1934. (The “deal” quickly soured when Aristide reneged on plans to privatize Haiti’s state enterprises and slash state payrolls, which led the Clinton White House to push him out of office in February 1996 rather than allow him to recoup the three years he had spent in exile, as large segments of the Haitian people demanded.)

One might have thought that this violation of national sovereignty was the “betrayal” that Peck opposed on principle, but no. Peck agreed to become President Préval’s Culture Minister in 1997 under the continuing military occupation (then administered by the UN), which suggests his anti-occupation convictions were not all that strong.

Even more incoherent is Peck’s premise, stated after the film, that “Washington and Paris supported Aristide and pushed the opposition to make a deal with him up until three days before he left.” (By the way, Peck does not accept Aristide’s assertion that he was kidnapped by US soldiers.) Throughout the film, Jean de Dieu’s wife warns him “Washington is going to drop you,” as if U.S. officials had been backing him until then. Reality is just the opposite. Washington did everything it could to thwart Aristide’s re-election in 2000 and began a diplomatic, economic, political and paramilitary “contra” campaign to unseat him even before he was sworn in on Feb. 7, 2001.

So, it is again ironic that the director exhumes every element of the
1991-94 and 2004-06 coup propaganda campaigns hatched in Washington and the Haitian bourgeoisie’s salons. Peck delights in garishly recreating all the discredited caricatures: “Aristide the demagogue,” “Aristide the mentally unbalanced,” “Aristide the mob mobilizer,” “Aristide the necklacer,”

“Aristide the womanizer,” “Aristide the megalomaniac” etc. ad nauseam.

One of Peck’s first and frequently revisited targets in this ponderous film is Aristide’s 2003 demand that France repay Haiti some $21 billion for the “independence debt” of 90 million gold francs that Paris extorted from its former colony from 1824 to 1947. Perhaps Peck’s dogged ridiculing of this perfectly reasonable, legally sound and widely hailed official call for reparations (the first by any former colony) has something to do with his recent appointment to head the French government’s prestigious film school, La Fémis?

We see Mother Theresa, a thinly-veiled version of Lavalas activist Annette “So An” Auguste, muster and give a pep talk to a crowd of lumpen thugs called chimeres (chimera) to cries of “Koupe tet, boule kay” (Cut of heads, burn houses!) before they go to bust up an opposition demonstration. These scenes imply that Aristide rallied artificial mobs to counter legitimate street protest. The opposite is true. Haiti’s poor, just as in Venezuela two years earlier, usually spontaneously organized to counter the coup d’état’s spearhead, the National Endowment for Democracy-spawned “civil society”

front called the “Group of 184″, which was financed, coached and protected by the French and U.S. embassies.

We see a preening, oblivious African-American actor arrive and play the role of Toussaint L’Ouverture in a Palace play to honor Haiti’s independence anniversary, an obvious dig at Hollywood actor and Aristide defender Danny Glover, who performed in Haiti for the 2004 bicentennial.

The U.S. and France-led boycott of those bicentennial celebrations was one of the saddest chapters of recent Haitian history. The only head of state to attend was South African President Thabo Mbeki. Peck makes fun of the difficulties Aristide faced as the noose tightened around him. A tough Jean de Dieu aide at one point barks at her assistant: “Get me whites! I need whites!” She is often seen complaining by cell phone to various U.S.

officials about their diplomatic snub.

Jean de Dieu’s oppressed, captive, and unhappy wife just wants to escape to the US with their daughter. The president treats her very badly, brushing aside advice and even an attempted caress. But here, as at other points, the film is inconsistent because it starts with a scene of the president longingly stroking the naked back of his sleeping wife, who is startled awake only to rebuff him.

The Aristide analogue is also a lascivious jerk who forces a reluctant maid to perform sexual favors for him. In fact, the president’s unbridled sexual appetite – he makes lewd remarks to the ersatz Glover’s female co-star on her arrival at the Palace – is one of the film’s main themes, lending it a moralizing air.

Later Jean de Dieu forgets to take his medication and begins to act aberrantly. In front of his wife and a room of dignitaries at a public state dinner, he starts to fondle and dance with the maid, prompting her boyfriend, a saxophone player, to leap off the stage where he is performing, only to be shot dead.

Then our Aristide stand-in runs around naked under the moon in the bush surrounding the Citadel, the mountain-top fortress built by Henri Christophe to repel a French invasion, where the parody is entirely set.

(CIA analyst Brian Latell, in concert with conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, started the later disproved rumor in October 1993 that Aristide was on psychiatric medication and had been treated for mental illness in a Canadian hospital as part of a disinformation campaign aimed at scuttling Aristide’s first projected return to Haiti on Oct. 30, 1993. It is shocking to see Peck resuscitate such calumnies.)

One hapless journalist (Jimmy Jean-Louis), a former friend of the president who wrote an unflattering editorial, is horribly tortured, then gussied up by a makeup artist to be brought to a private candlelight dinner with the president. But the tortured journalist refuses to budge from his principles and denounces the president to his face.

“You are not a monster,” the barely conscious journalist, his face scarred and swollen from torture, tells Jean de Dieu, as Peck would speak to Aristide. “A monster has some majesty. You gave the people hope. You soiled their dream. You wanted to be a prophet. You weren’t even a consistent monster. I would pity you but I don’t know how.”

The president has his henchmen take the journalist outside and burn him alive with a tire around his neck, From atop the Citadel, Jean de Dieu looks down on the scene, lamenting: “My friend! My brother!”

This gives an idea of the director’s light touch in this interminable work of cinematic slander and vengeance.

Peck produced the film himself for about $600,000 so “I could say what I wanted and wouldn’t have to answer to anybody,” he said after the showing.

However, it might have been a good idea if someone had helped him apply some brakes to his antipathy towards Aristide.

“I wanted to re-examine, with Shakespearian irony, the tragic and foolish nonsense of the past 40 years,” Peck said after the New York showing. I would argue that the past 40 years has not been “nonsense” at all. On the contrary, the Haitian people have waged a fierce and difficult struggle to uproot one of the hemisphere’s most ruthless dictatorships and hoisted to international prominence a parish priest who, for the first time, in communion with the Haitian people, foiled U.S. election engineering.

Granted, Aristide made plenty of mistakes, everybody agrees on that, even his fiercest partisans. But he certainly does not merit the outrageous portrayal he receives in this film which ultimately blames the two-time victim of US “regime change.”

In the end, the turgid “Moloch Tropical” sadly demeans the overall body of Peck’s work, which includes great films like “Lumumba” (2000) and “Man by the Shore” (1993). The director is now working on a film about the young Karl Marx. One certainly hopes that the result would not induce from Marx, were he alive, the famous exasperated remark Engels reports he made about some of his admirers: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist!”

All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Liberte.

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