Category: Caribbean

Building Community and Joy in the Struggle (Holiday Appeal); Dec 09, 2011

By admin, December 13, 2011 12:38 pm

From 1791 to 1804, the African slaves of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) revolted against the mightiest imperial powers of the time, declaring their independence as the first western black republic. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for this act of rebellion and showing us that there is no power to great to truly snuff out our dignity and spirit of humanity. Sadly, those old imperial powers, and those new, have rarely shown respect for Haiti’s sovereignty. “There’s gold in them thar hills”, to put it glibly. Our colonial past is one of taking from others what is not ours to take. This has proven to be a tough habit to squelch.

Haiti need to realize their ancestors dream of a free and independent nation. This can only happen if we release the reigns of control and put them in the drivers seat. In a country such as Haiti, where there are over 10,000 foreign charities and NGO’s operating withing it’s boarders, seeing local Haitian grassroots organizations taking action to empower their fellow citizens is special and should be nurtured.

SOPUDEP and other Haitian grassroots organizations are a prime example of the capability for Haitian’s to make their own way; to educate, to work, to deliver justice, to preserve their proud culture, and to heal. It is up to us however, to show our support and solidarity, and at this moment in time, to provide the means to make their work more effective. There is an end goal with supporting Haitian grassroots social initiatives; not just a never ending money pit of “charity”. The majority of Haitian’s will be the first to say that they don’t want handouts, but a chance to create a nation and a history that is theirs and theirs alone.

And for this Haitian social organization, SOPUDEP’s funding needs are great and varied. This includes the building of a new school, putting more and more women into their own business through their micro-credit program, a food program that feeds over 700 people five days a week (currently funded by Feed Them With Music), and seeing that children to poor to attend Haiti’s traditional tuition based schools can acquire a quality education; including those children who’s home is on the street. Providing free and accessible education has been SOPUDEP’s main priority since the opening of their first K-12 school in 2002.

The importance of free education to a child in Haiti is sometimes hard for us to understand, as for most of us, free education is the norm. SOPUDEP is able to do away with mandatory tuitions for its students by putting its international support toward paying it’s dedicated all Haitian teaching staff.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation’s funding efforts are focused on ensuring that SOPUDEP can continue to educate as many children as they can take in free of charge by paying SOPUDEP’s 48 staff.  In 2010, enrollment was 560 students and the 2011 school year saw it jump up close to 640 students, with hundreds of other children in the community waiting for a spot.

While SOPUDEP’s K-12 school is a main priority for the Sawatzky Family Foundation, funding  now includes the staff salaries for two other grassroots community schools; MOJUB and Les Petits Amis De SOPUDEP. A new program for the 2011 year is providing post secondary scholarship funds for SOPUDEP’s top students. This year, two students have been provided the necessary tuition to attend college. Marie is studying nursing and Sauvlyne, education science.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation also provides funds for basic school supplies and textbooks, SOPUDEP’s efforts in earthquake relief and the work they do in camps, their micro-credit program, their collaborative work they do with other grassroots organizations and the many other costs associated for this Haitian grassroots social organization to work for the betterment of their fellow citizens.

We have made it to the Christmas break, but the rest of the year still  lies ahead. Your donations are essential to sustaining and improving SOPUDEP’s education and economic programs. Please join us in supporting this Haitian organizations wonderful work!

Of course, we express our deepest gratitude to those that have already shown us that they believe in SOPUDEP’s vision for a better Haiti. However, SOPUDEP is but one group in this fight, and we recognize those other Haitian and Non-Haitian organizations that are on the same path of resistance against those powers that would rather see Haiti benefit a privileged few. We should find joy in helping Haitian’s in their struggle for a free and just society because we recognize that their humanity is also our own.

Thank-you and Happy Holidays

Ryan Sawatzky
The Sawatzky Family Foundation

Membership organization must run Caribana – Part 2

By admin, September 15, 2010 11:31 pm
Ajamu NangwayaAjamu Nangwaya


This article is a continuation of last week’s discussion of the economics of Caribana.  It will address three proposals to turn Caribana into a boost to community economic and social development: a Caribana-controlled community foundation; support for cooperative economics; and corporations must pay to ride the gravy train. Two other ideas were presented last week.

Thirdly, the organization that will be charged with the responsibility of running Caribana should be a relevant force in funding community development projects. Caribana’s pioneers were committed to the goals of building a community centre, providing educational scholarships to young people and advancing other social objectives. These have yet to be realized.

However, when one examines the Calgary Stampede one would quickly realize that the aim of making Caribana a major contributor to community development is not the obsession of an overactive mind. The Calgary Stampede Foundation, an arm of the Calgary Stampede, doles out over $2.5 million per year to youth development projects. The foundation’s mandate also allows it to “support endeavours pertaining to the arts, agriculture, the environment and capital improvement projects.”

A Caribana-directed charitable community foundation should be expected to fund initiatives that build the capacity of the community to fight all forms of oppression, encourage cooperative economic projects in the cultural fields and other arenas, finance educational scholarships, fund festival arts training and development, and promote cultural projects that affirm culture as a weapon of struggle. Carnival in the Caribbean came out of resistance to racist and capitalist domination.

This community foundation should have a broad mandate so as to allow it to make an impact in many areas of community life. When members of the community make workplace payroll deductions to charitable causes, this community development foundation should get the lion’s share of those donations. After all, charity starts at home!

Fourthly, the Africans who created carnival did so in an environment in which their labour was brutally enslaved or exploited by capitalism. Therefore, Caribana should develop a mandate to promote an economic practice that doesn’t support the abuse of labour. It should commit resources to a community-controlled technical assistance and cooperative development organization that would create and/or expanded business organizations that are owned, controlled and managed by the workers – worker cooperatives.

Worker cooperatives need help in areas such as setting up the legal structure, access to financing, education to prepare the worker-members for economic democracy, development of a business plan, and doing a feasibility study. Caribana could even donate funds for the creation of a Chair in Labour Self-management at one of the local universities to further research on worker self-management of industry and commerce. This money would also be used to facilitate the development of courses and educational and training programs for existing and potential worker-owners and students of labour self-management.

In the African community, some of us often looked at certain racialized communities’ business districts or business “success” as models worthy of being copied. It is my belief that the African-Canadian working-class should not seek salvation in business models that continue to exploit labour.

We should not be fooled by the appearance of pan-ethnic solidarity, which the owning classes use to mask labour exploitation and wage-slavery. I am with the late poet, lesbian and feminist Audre Lorde on her assertion that: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Cooperative economics should be a part of a broad economic justice strategy.

Lastly, the corporations that swallow the lion’s share of the over $400 million produced by Caribana must return a part of that income to the creators of this cultural golden goose. The hotels in the GTA must give more than just rooms to the organizers of the festival.

It should contribute cash through their individual operations as well as through the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA). According the Ipsos Reid economic impact study of Caribana, about 300,000 overseas visitors participated in the festival in 2009 and spent an average of $901.87 per person. It means that they are spending over $270.5 million dollars into the economy. Overall, Caribana’s patrons spend $101.8 million on accommodation.

Lodging accommodation is by far the largest expenditure of overseas visitor and it was pegged at $311.68 per person. An estimated $68 million were spent by international visitors on the renting of hotel rooms; 73 per cent of them stayed in hotels. The GTHA collects a 3 per cent Destination Marketing Fee (DMF) on guest rooms that are occupied for less than 30 days. That dedicated revenue is used to market and promote Toronto as a tourism destination and its 2009 projected take from the DMF was just over $26 million. The GTHA should give a part of that money directly to Caribana.

The GTHA currently channels that DMF money through Tourism Toronto, which had a budget of $31.1 million in 2010. Interestingly, Tourism Toronto claimed to have spent $100,000 on Caribana out of its Leveraged Coop Marketing Fund (LCMF) in 2009. But it spent $500,000 on Luminato, $250,000 on LGBT Partnership (OTMP), $150,000 on Air Canada’s Luxury Partnership and $100,000 on Just for Laughs Toronto in 2009 from the same marketing fund. And we thought that Caribana, as the jewel in the festival economic impact crown, would have received its fair share of that $1.6 million LCMF in 2009.

The following industry sectors benefit greatly from Caribana and must make financial contributions to it: food and beverage services; retail trade; arts, entertainment and recreation; manufacturing; wholesale trade, information and cultural industries; ground passenger transportation; construction; utilities; and car renting and leasing.

The capitalists and the governments who benefit from the festival are prone to tell workers and the poor that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” or “you don’t get something for nothing.” Therefore, they will have no difficulty in understanding that they must pay to ride this gravy train called Caribana.

This Caribana meal ticket will now come with a price tag. In all my years in Toronto, I have never heard so many people, who are by no means radical in political opinion, arguing for the cancellation of Caribana to send a message to the governments and businesses that profit from the festival.

Membership organization must run Caribana

By admin, September 10, 2010 5:26 pm
Ajamu Nangwaya
There are many people who view Caribana as a purely cultural and psychic experience. Unfortunately, they miss an equally important component of this festival. It is an annual economic boost to Canada’s economy to the tune of $438 million. Increasingly, carnivals and the cultural industries of which they are a part are being seen as potential economic drivers for sustainable development.

Dr. Keith Nurse of the University of the West Indies in a paper The Cultural Industries and Sustainable Development in Small Developing States asserts that “the cultural industries play a dual role (in development) in that it is an economic sector with growth potential and an arena for identity formation”.

Caribana has the potential to play such a function in the community. But my focus here is on the economic possibilities.

Caribana is by far the most successful, collectively-owned asset that has been created by the African Caribbean community in Canada. This festival has its roots in the political resistance and cultural creativity of the African working-class or labouring classes in the Caribbean. However, there is one persistent feature that has remained with Caribana and its sister carnivals in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, New York, Barbados and elsewhere. This problematic issue is that the African working-class does not reap the bulk of the economic returns from its cultural productions.

The members of this class do not own the hotels, the major retail establishments, car and truck rental companies, eateries, clubs, airlines and other modes of transportation, and do not set the priority on how the taxes generated from the festivals should be spent. The estimated US$30 million from Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival-related visitor arrivals, the ₤93 million revenue of the Notting Hill carnival in London and the over US$200 million from the West Indian Day Parade in New York do not significantly contribute to the material welfare of the race-cum-class grouping that makes this income possible.

In what ways could the community use Caribana to contribute to its economic, social and cultural development? I will briefly outline five ideas that I believe may contribute to a community-controlled festival that will collectively reward its creators for their cultural, physical and intellectual creativity, innovation and effort.

Firstly, any organization that organizes the two-week festival that is Caribana must be a democratically-controlled, membership-based one. This carnival is a collective resource and for most of its history it was organized and managed by the people. Currently, Caribana is managed by the Festival Management Committee (FMC) that was born out of the financial coercion levied against the Caribbean Cultural Committee (CCC) in 2006 by the City of Toronto. Funding was withdrawn from the CCC as the traditional organizer of Caribana and given to the FMC (which was established by the City for that purpose).

Even the most informed Caribana fan in Toronto would find it difficult to tell you how many members are on the board of directors of the FMC and give you their names. This information is like a classified state secret of Canada’s secret police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Caribana is a people’s festival and its affairs should be democratically-determined by the people. This summer festival should not be controlled by a “private club” or a “secret society” of faceless notables backed by private corporations and the different levels of government.

Secondly, we need to transform Caribana into a year-round operation with activities, initiatives, programs and attractions that will generate revenue and bring people from outside and inside the city to its sponsored events. The Calgary Stampede is a 365-day affair, although the actual festival is a 10-day event that generates $173 million in economic impact. This western-themed enterprise employs 1,200 permanent employees to carry out its day-to-day activities and an additional 3,500 workers for the festival. Its total estimated annual economic impact is $353 million.

Caribana is a two-week festival with an economic impact of $438 million in 2009. Can you imagine what its economic contribution would be if the infrastructure and resources were in place to make it a year-round affair? It would provide direct employment opportunities to members of the community as well as indirect employment through activities or tourism products related to conferences on cultural productions and resistance, educational workshops, theatrical productions, mounting of annual exhibitions and national and international tours of said products and schools of art on costume designing and production, just to name a few.

One thing that should be made clear is that the different levels of government must fund Caribana in the same way that they do with White-controlled cultural institutions. In April 2009, the government of Ontario gave a grant funding of $43.4 million to the following six White-directed organizations: the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Ontario Science Centre, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Royal Botanical Gardens. The provincial government allotted $24.8 million of that money as permanent annual funding, which increased the total operational grant to the six favoured cultural organizations from $56 million to $80.8 million. The federal government gave $3 million each to the Toronto International Film Festival and the Strafford Festival in April 2009 from its Marquee Tourism Events Program. Yet Caribana received a mere $415,000 from the same fund in that year.

As a year-round operation, Caribana would likely leave its privileged cultural siblings gasping for breath in the cultural industries’ economic impact “Olympics.” It is already the biggest grossing festival in the country.

It should be clear that Canada provides life-line or strategic funding to cultural organizations. Therefore, the community and its allies should politically organize their forces to challenge the state’s current practice of using cultural racism to determine the allocation of funding to arts groups.

To be continued.

Ajamu Nangwaya is a doctoral student at the University of Toronto and a labour activist.

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.

Caribana, exploitation and disrespect of a cultural resource

By admin, August 9, 2010 2:00 am
Posted by Editor on Wednesday, August 4th, 2010 in

Ajamu NangwayaAjamu Nangwaya

While the April 2010 news of the $438 million economic impact of Caribana is worthy of celebration and all the media attention that it has generated, I hope that as Canadians we will open our eyes to the monumental failure of government funding of this phenomenal cultural festival. An Ipsos Reid Economic Impact Study clearly established that Caribana is the most lucrative festival in all of Canada. Yet the Calgary Stampede which attracts millions of dollars in annual government funding is touted as the largest “Canadian” festival with its $173 million economic impact over 10 days.
It is estimated that Ontario’s cultural institutions bring in a yearly income of $4.5 billion, while attracting 3 million patrons. About 1.2 million people participated in the 2009 edition of Caribana and over 300,000 of these revelers came from abroad. It ought to be clear that dollar-for-dollar, Caribana’s economic performance leaves its more favoured cultural competitors in the dust.
In April 2009, the Government of Ontario announced $43 million in funding to six cultural organizations that were reflective of Anglo-Canadian cultural dominance. The Arts Gallery of Ontario received a $10 million operational grant and an additional one-off gift of $8.6 million. The Royal Ontario Museum received an operational grant of $9 million and a one-time funding support of $7.2 million.

Yet, in April 2010, it was announced that the Ontario Liberal government will give its Cinderella of a cash cow, Caribana, an insulting grant of $484,000. In 2009, the provincial government in Alberta gave a $10 million operating grant to the Calgary Stampede, which sent a bold message of the festival’s status as a part of that province’s cultural infrastructure.

The City of Toronto will be offering a grant of about $500,000. Last year the federal government ponied up $415,000, but got back over $108 million in tax receipts from this cultural golden goose. Yet this same federal government gave $5 million to the Calgary Stampede from its Western Economic Diversification funds. This allotment of resources to this Western festival was in addition to $1,819,234 from the Marquee Tourism Events Program.
In my judgment, the miserly level of funding from the City of Toronto, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the business sector has much to do with the perception of Caribana as a cultural outsider – the multicultural ‘Other’. Further, the people who are the driving force behind the festival are themselves culturally peripheral to the Canadian cultural-cum-political project.
If the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Botanical Gardens and Ontario Heritage Trust could received grant funding of between $2.5 -$3 millions in April 2009, certainly Caribana with its huge cultural, social and economic footprint doesn’t merit being treated like the “black sheep” of the artistic family.
African and Caribbean peoples, the creators of the Caribana festival, are minor economic beneficiaries. But their countless volunteer hours are indispensable to the enormous income that goes into the Canadian economy. It is high time that Caribana be given millions of dollars in annual operational and project funding so as to enable it to operate as a year-round cultural institution.
Further, this festival should contribute to the economic and social vitality of the African and Caribbean community. It is high time for Caribana to not be treated as an economic resource that is exploited for the benefit of the corporate interests and the government. The three levels of government and large corporate sponsors have a neo-colonial relationship or a system of indirect rule with Caribana through the Festival Management Committee (smacks of British colonialism in Africa).

In 2006, the City of Toronto threatened to defund Caribana. It made this move, because of concerns about how the festival was being managed by the Caribbean Cultural Committee. This community-based group was pushed to the sidelines and the Festival Management Committee was elevated to the status of organizer-in-chief. The city’s action sent a clear message about who had de facto control and “ownership” of this summer cultural extravaganza. That act of brinksmanship by the city and other funders affirmed the notion that “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.
The state through its funding of the festival has an effective veto over the people from within the African and Caribbean community who are deemed fit to organize this festival. Yet, if we become better politically organized as a community and with Caribana’s economic impact, we have the ability to make this festival one that benefits its creators and be under our effective control.
The benefits should be largely channeled through community-controlled programs and institutions such as community centres, educational scholarships, museums, arts centres and initiatives that will generate employment and other opportunities. It is time for us to force the different levels of government in Canada to move beyond anti-racist and equity policy pronouncements and empty promises and live up to the ideals of equity for all. The inequitable funding of Caribana has effectively demonstrated that political hypocrisy is at work in the cultural policy of the political directorates.
Ajamu Nangwaya is a trade unionist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto.

This article first appeared in the publication

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.

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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.

Toronto Star Editorial: ‘Caribana lives despite Ottawa’

By admin, July 27, 2010 11:12 am


Published On Tue Jul 27 2010

The music competitions, parties and cultural events that give residents and tourists alike a taste of Toronto’s spicy Caribbean flavour are already well underway. Caribana festivities culminate with the signature events later this week: Thursday’s King and Queen Show, Friday’s Pan Alive steelpan competition, and Saturday’s Scotiabank Caribana Parade, which glitters and sways along the waterfront.

We’ve long known that Caribana richly contributes to summer fun. But an independent study of last year’s festival determined that in attracting 1.2 million people (300,000 from out of country) and injecting nearly $440 million into Ontario, it contributes significantly to our economy as well.

That makes it doubly unfortunate that, after several years of relative financial and organizational stability, the festival is in difficulty again –_in part thanks to Ottawa’s decision to withhold more than $400,000 in funding that was provided last year. “Other than year one, this has been the toughest year,” says Caribana Chair Joe Halstead, who took over in 2006 to revive the festival and put it on solid financial ground.

That is saying something. Many things have changed in Caribana’s 43 years: the sounds of hip-hop now blend into the traditional mix of soca and calypso, for one. But financial challenges have always plagued this festival. Some years they have been minor; in other years they have threatened to put an end to the welcome scent of jerk chicken, strains of steelpan and colourful masqueraders.

This year, with staff taking a 30 per cent pay cut, the organizers vow their financial difficulties will be as hidden as possible for the revelers — a smaller stage here, fewer big-name acts there. That they’ll rise to this challenge is not in doubt. What is dubious is the political decision in Ottawa that made the belt-tightening necessary.

It makes little sense that Caribana was denied funding under Ottawa’s Marquee Tourism Events Program, a two-year stimulus initiative designed to boost events that draw in tourists – the very thing Caribana has proven it does best.

Explanations from Industry Minister Tony Clement’s office have ranged from claims that 2010 funding would focus on smaller events to a need for more “regional balance.”

Neither explanation holds up to scrutiny. Funding was yanked from Caribana and Gay Pride, two major Toronto events. But the Calgary Stampede and the Montreal Jazz Festival are also major events, and they are receiving $1 million and $3 million respectively in federal funding. As for regional balance, the big recipients outside of Toronto remain largely unchanged.

When Caribana began in 1967, it was to celebrate black and Caribbean culture during Canada’s centennial. It has grown to become the biggest Caribbean festival in North America and a crown jewel of this city’s tourist attractions.

Caribana showcases all that is good about Toronto: diversity, community spirit, great food and music. It is too bad that Ottawa does not see this as something worth supporting.

Toronto Star: ‘Caribana a victim of cultural racism?’

By admin, July 26, 2010 12:49 pm

Re: Caribana to dazzle, on a budget, July 19

It is very unsettling, yet not unexpected, that Caribana is being treated like a cultural outsider and a barbarian at the gate by the different levels of government. Why is it that the largest festival in this country with the greatest economic impact is being treated as the cultural Cinderella within the family of Canadian festivals?

The Calgary Stampede is normally regarded as the largest “Canadian” festival, but its economic impact is merely $173 million versus the $438 million generated by Caribana over a two-week period. It is difficult for a reasonable person to not see race and culture mediating how government funding is distributing grants to certain cultural projects.

While the federal government’s Marquee Tourism Events Program gave the Calgary Stampede, Carnaval de Quebec, and Stratford Shakespeare Festival $1,001,625, $1,449,435 and $3 million in grant funding, respectively, Caribana didn’t get a penny in 2010.

The Celebrate Ontario fund obviously does not count Caribana as a true reflection of the cultural fabric of this province. Why would this provincial funding program give $300,000 each to the Hot Docs, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, TD Canada Trust Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Pride Toronto/Pride Week, Toronto International Film Festival, Luminato and Rogers Cup initiatives this year, but zilch to the best economic performer in this country?

Is Caribana a victim of cultural racism? This festival is obviously being treated differently and I cannot see any rational reason for the difference in funding when compared with festivals that are seem as a part of the white mainstream or cultural alternative scene.

Caribana is making tons of cash for the government and private business, while the creators of this festival are subsidizing it with their volunteer labour, intellect and creativity.

Ajamu Nangwaya, Toronto

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