Haiti News and Views

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HAITI: Poem – i want to talk about haiti.

Poetry Foundation

Poem of the Day:

quaking conversation

BY LENELLE MOÏSE
i want to talk about haiti.
how the earth had to break
the island’s spine to wake
the world up to her screaming.

 

how this post-earthquake crisis
is not natural
or supernatural.
i want to talk about disasters.

 

how men make them
with embargoes, exploitation,
stigma, sabotage, scalding
debt and cold shoulders.

 

talk centuries
of political corruption
so commonplace
it’s lukewarm, tap.

 

talk january 1, 1804
and how it shed life.
talk 1937
and how it bled death.

 

talk 1964.  1986.  1991.  2004.  2008.
how history is the word
that makes today
uneven, possible.

 

talk new orleans,
palestine, sri lanka,
the bronx and other points
or connection.

 

talk resilience and miracles.
how haitian elders sing in time
to their grumbling bellies
and stubborn hearts.

 

how after weeks under the rubble,
a baby is pulled out,
awake, dehydrated, adorable, telling
stories with old-soul eyes.

 

how many more are still
buried, breathing, praying and waiting?
intact despite the veil of fear and dust
coating their bruised faces?

 

i want to talk about our irreversible dead.
the artists, the activists, the spiritual leaders,
the family members, the friends, the merchants
the outcasts, the cons.

 

all of them, my newest ancestors,
all of them, hovering now,
watching our collective response,
keeping score, making bets.

 

i want to talk about money.
how one man’s recession might be
another man’s unachievable reality.
how unfair that is.

 

how i see a haitian woman’s face
every time i look down at a hot meal,
slip into my bed, take a sip of water,
show mercy to a mirror.

 

how if my parents had made different
decisions three decades ago,
it could have been my arm
sticking out of a mass grave

 

i want to talk about gratitude.
i want to talk about compassion.
i want to talk about respect.
how even the desperate deserve it.

 

how haitians sometimes greet each other
with the two words “honor”
and “respect.”
how we all should follow suit.

 

try every time you hear the word “victim,”
you think “honor.”
try every time you hear the tag “john doe,”
you shout “respect!”

 

because my people have names.
because my people have nerve.
because my people are
your people in disguise

 

i want to talk about haiti.
i always talk about haiti.
my mouth quaking with her love,
complexity, honor and respect.

 

come sit, come stand, come
cry with me. talk.
there’s much to say.
walk. much more to do.

 

Lenelle Moïse, “quaking conversation” from Haiti Glass. Copyright © 2014 by Lenelle Moïse.  Reprinted by permission of City Lights Books, www.citylights.com.

Source: Haiti Glass(City Lights Books, 2014)

LENELLE MOÏSE

Biography
More poems by this author

 

Source: Poetry Foundation – Poem of the Day Newsletter

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HAITI, ON DEVELOPMENT: How This Social Entrepreneur Is Moving Haiti Away From Aid Toward Trade

Haitian social entrepreneur and impact investor, Daniel Jean-Louis, is working on multiple fronts to reduce Haiti’s reliance on aid and increase employment in the country where 70 percent of adults lack a proper job.

Source: How This Social Entrepreneur Is Moving Haiti Away From Aid Toward Trade

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HAITI: The Case for Haitian Reparations | Jacobin

Haitians are asking the French government to return some of what was stolen.

For a brief moment recently, Haiti dominated the news cycle. As always, this American media attention only came in a moment of crisis.

According to the Washington Post, local Haitian officials reported that Hurricane Matthew, the region’s most dangerous Category 4 storm in nearly a decade, killed at least 900 people, destroyed livestock, and wreaked havoc on farmers’ crops. The storm flooded rivers, leveled bridges, and in some towns, 80 to 90 percent of homes were destroyed. In the hurricane-ravaged south, 500,000 people were stranded and 30,000 homes have been destroyed. UN officials reported some 800,000 people are facing food insecurity, including 315,000 children.

As unavoidable as a natural disaster seems, Hurricane Matthew was also a human-made catastrophe, the cumulative effect of five hundred years of environmental degradation before and after French colonialism. Haitians know — even if the rest of the world forgets — that every rainy season brings a potential humanitarian crisis.

And yet, the global response has been the same as usual: rather than examine how the complex intersections of history, politics, economics, and ecology conspire to make Haiti susceptible to natural disasters and epidemics, journalists, pundits, and NGO operatives instead shift blame onto Haitians themselves. They present Haitians as a people incapable of managing their nation. This view has guided the international response to Haiti since its independence two hundred years ago.  … Read On

Source: The Case for Haitian Reparations | Jacobin

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HAITI: Want to Help Haitians: Support Haitian Led Orgs… | Mark Schulle

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

Source: Hurricane Matthew: An Update from the Haiti Support Group | Haiti Support Group

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HAITI: 7th anniversary of earthquake: An Inconvenient Truth | Haiti Support Group

…Haitians did not powerlessly watch Matthew wash through their land, waiting for foreign aid to appear. They have banded together – families, neighbours, cooperatives, work societies, community, solidarity and diaspora groups – to begin the clean-up, and get the affected regions back on their feet. Yet, once again, the media and the “international community” have chosen to present Haitians as passive, fatalistic, superstitious and cavalier (yes, all at once!).

Source: An Inconvenient Truth: Hurricane Matthew and Cholera in Haiti | Haiti Support Group

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Interested in Haiti? Read this book: Why Haiti Needs New Narratives by Gina Athena Ulysse

A Haitian-American anthropologist makes sense of her homeland in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Mainstream news coverage of the catastrophic earthquake of January 12, 2010, reproduced longstanding narratives of Haiti and stereotypes of Haitians. Cognizant that this Haiti, as it exists in the public sphere, is a rhetorically and graphically incarcerated one, the feminist anthropologist and performance artist Gina Athena Ulysse embarked on a writing spree that lasted over two years. As an ethnographer and a member of the diaspora, Ulysse delivers critical cultural analysis of geopolitics and daily life in a series of dispatches, op-eds and articles on post-quake Haiti. Her complex yet singular aim is to make sense of how the nation and its subjects continue to negotiate sovereignty and being in a world where, according to a Haitian saying, tout moun se moun, men tout moun pa menm (All people are human, but all humans are not the same). This collection contains thirty pieces, most of which were previously published in and on Haitian Times, Huffington Post, Ms Magazine, Ms Blog, NACLA, and other print and online venues. The book is trilingual (English, Kreyòl, and French) and includes a foreword by award-winning author and historian Robin D.G. Kelley.

Source: UPNEBookPartners – Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: Gina Athena Ulysse

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HAITI: 7th Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake: An Update from the Haiti Support Group

Today marks the seventh anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and the start of a challenging and tumultuous year for the country.

Source: An Update from the Haiti Support Group

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CSFilm will attend Haitian Diaspora Challenge Symposium – Will you join us?

Join us for the DCI Symposium at MIT on January 21, 2017. The Diaspora Challenge Initiative aims at leveraging ideas about successful development concepts amongst members of the Diaspora looking for opportunities to contribute to Haiti’s development. We will have special guests which include Ambassador Paul Altidor and Haitian Congressman Jerry Tardieu.The event is free to attend. Must register to attend. Link to register in bio. #dciHaiti #naahp #grahnusa #shr #edem #otgs

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HAITI: U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti’s 2010 Cholera Outbreak

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon avoided any mention of who brought the disease to Haiti, and critics said his mea culpa came too late.

Source: U.N. Apologizes for Role in Haiti’s 2010 Cholera Outbreak

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HAITI: Haitians at US border face deportation lottery

Haitians at Tijuana border

Haitian migrants arrive at the Casa del Migrante shelter late into the night. (Jonathan Levinson/IRIN)

By Jonathan Levinson, www.irinnews.orgNovember 24th, 2016

On a quiet, residential street overlooking the Tijuana River, barely two miles from the US border, Pierre Jacques Norma, a Haitian migrant who has traversed nine countries over the past three months to reach Mexico, sits in the dining area of the Casa del Migrante shelter.

Norma’s future is uncertain even by the precarious standards of most migrants. When he and his pregnant wife go to their appointment with US Customs and Border Protection on 23 December, he has no idea if they’ll be released into the United States and given the opportunity to apply for asylum or be detained and deported back to Haiti.

“I’m not scared of being deported. I know God is looking for a better life for me,” he says, finishing off a dinner of rice and stew provided by the shelter. The small group of Haitians sitting around the table nods in agreement.

U-turns, now Trump

It’s no surprise that Norma places his faith in God as he contemplates his future. The past few months have been a rollercoaster ride for US policy towards Haitian migrants. The election earlier this month of Donald Trump, who campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, has only added another layer of uncertainty.

On 3 November, with little fanfare, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resumed deportations of Haitians for the first time in the nearly seven years since they were suspended following a devastating earthquake. The move was a response to a 1,300-percent increase in arrivals of Haitian migrants over the past year, an influx that immigration officials have been struggling to manage.

Between October 2015 and September 2016, about 5,000 Haitians arrived in the US, the majority of them via Brazil, where they have been eligible for humanitarian visas since the 2010 earthquake. But Brazil’s economy took a nosedive this year, sending the country’s unemployment rate soaring to 11.8 percent and prompting many Haitians to make the long trek to the US.

“DHS thought that this humane policy was a magnet and drawing people to the southwest border, and so they wanted some deterrence. They changed the policy and said we’re going to deport them,” explained Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Miami, which represents people seeking asylum and relief from deportation.

But before deportations could resume Haiti was once again devastated, this time by , which hit on 4 October. The UN estimates that 1.4 million people in Haiti are in need of humanitarian assistance following the hurricane and that 800,000 are “extremely food insecure”. The country, the poorest in the western hemisphere, is still grappling with an existing cholera epidemic that has sickened 700,000 people and killed 10,000 since 2010.

After the hurricane, DHS put deportations on hold, but only for 30 days. In the past three weeks, since they resumed, 203 Haitians have been deported, according to an official from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Another reversal

During November, most Haitians admitted into the US (about 1,440) were slated for deportation and detained as part of a process called “expedited removal”.

“If someone is put into expedited removal proceedings, they don’t have access to a judge,” said Andrea Guerrero, the executive director of Alliance San Diego, an immigrant assistance agency. “They are summarily ordered removed and deported as soon as is feasible.”

But detention centres soon filled up. ICE says that 10 percent of its detention space is now filled by a total of 4,425 Haitians.

DHS was forced to change policy once more. Starting on 11 November, the department went back to its pre-September policy of paroling Haitians.

A parolee is given a court date in their destination city and released. Those individuals will eventually go before a judge to determine if they have a genuine asylum claim. In most cases, their claims will be rejected and they’ll be placed in deportation proceedings. But with half a million people in line for a court date, the wait can be years and in the meantime many find work in the US.

Agonising wait

Norma has been in Tijuana since 5 November, but US border officials are only able to process about 60 Haitians a day. With an estimated 4,000 Haitians waiting to enter the US from Tijuana, and ICE officials estimating that as many as 40,000 more are en route from Brazil, the wait for an appointment can take months and uncertainty about the outcome has left many on the border despondent.

Since the 2010 earthquake, many Haitians in the US have benefited from temporary protected status for 18-month periods that have been repeatedly renewed, most recently until July 2017. But new arrivals don’t qualify for TPS and there are fears that president-elect Trump will shut down the TPS programme all together, making even Haitians who have been resident in the US for the past seven years liable for deportation.

Last Friday afternoon, outside the Casa del Migrante shelter, Norma and his friends were hanging out with a small group of Haitians – five women and five men – whose appointments with Customs and Border Protection were that day. They were waiting for Grupo Beta, a Mexican immigration organisation formed to assist migrants, to pick them up and transport them to the border. When the van arrived, everyone gathered around. Shelter volunteers took photos and waved goodbye and the Haitians staying behind looked on smiling, but with a hint of longing.

Shelter problems

Father Pat Murphy, who runs Casa del Migrante, has seen US policy shift too many times over the past couple of months to offer any advice to the Haitians staying at his shelter.

“The ones who went today probably will be paroled. By Monday they could change their minds again,” he said. He added with a frustrated laugh, “I’m not going to say anything to anyone anymore because I look like the crazy one.”

The unannounced policy changes have profound ramifications for the NGOs in the US that have the de facto task of caring for the parolees when they’re released.

Guerrero is exasperated that the government doesn’t appear to have learned from the very recent past.

“We were in this situation a couple of months ago. We were in a shelter crisis. We had to open up National Guard facilities. We had to put a call out for donations. We were feeding 500 people a day because they didn’t have anything but the clothes on their back. And now, by next week, we’re going to be in the exact same situation.

“It’s a failure of government to not make a proper plan or partner with receiving communities.”

The latest new rule

In a statement released on Wednesday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson formally announced the resumption of deportations for Haitian nationals and said he had authorised ICE to acquire additional detention space so that those apprehended at the border “can be detained and sent home as soon as possible”.

Among the Haitians in Tijuana there remains a stubborn fixation on the American dream, but Murphy is trying to persuade them to consider shifting it south just a few miles. He’s encouraging the Haitians to think about a Mexican dream instead of an American one.

“You get to the other side, have your parole, and in one year you go to court and you’re deported anyway. It’s not a final solution to your problem,” he tells them. “Mexico offers a humanitarian visa. Take it and work.”

“Tijuana has always been this place where people can feel at home even if they’re from somewhere else,” Murphy told IRIN.

And while it might not be the first choice for many here, it’s certainly on their radar.

“Haitians have heart; heart to fight, to work, to find a better life,” said Sammy Laroch, one of the Haitians watching the group climb into the Grupo Beta van to go to the US border.

Asked if he’d consider staying in Tijuana, Laroch said he would first try his luck getting paroled in the US, even if it carried the risk of detention and deportation. Tijuana was “plan C”.

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HAITI: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

Haiti’s interim leader tells the BBC the country faces a “major food crisis” after Hurricane Matthew.

Source: Haiti faces a ‘major food crisis’, its interim president says – BBC News

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HAITI: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

As Haiti continues to struggle in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the U.S. government has started to deport Haitians again.

Source: U.S. government quietly resumes deportations to Haiti | Miami Herald

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UPDATED: Hurricane Matthew – Support Haitian-led organizations

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If you would like to support recovery efforts in Haiti please donate to Haitian-led organizations.

Suggested Haitian-led organizations that CSFilm has experience with include:

Haitian Health Foundation, Working specifically in the hardest it area of Jeremie: The mission of the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) is to improve the health and well-being of women, children, families and communities living in the greater Jérémie region through healthcare, education and community development.

SAKALA, Working in Citi Soleil, massive slum at the base of Port-au-Prince, dealing with disastrous flooding

Lambi Fund of Haiti, locally led long-term development work

Grassroots International, progressive US based organization with long relationships with Haitian-led organizations

ActionAid-Haiti – Locally led by a team of highly respected Haitians focused on long-term development and policy issues.

Partners in Health, Healthcare systems and response

 

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HAITI: ‘There’s Going to Be Famine Here’: Hurricane Matthew’s Apocalyptic Aftermath in Haiti

After traveling through the once beautiful, now devastated peninsula that bore the brunt of the storm, it is hard to believe there will ever be a full recovery.
JÉRÉMIE, Haiti — The roads were lined with Gordian knots of massive uprooted trees, twisted, severed palms, torn corrugated roof parts, crushed rural dwellings, schools, local shops. Mile after mile the scenery repeated itself; the devastation growing with an eerie intensity. Leafless trees and palms had turned black, as if scorched by the storm, and stood like frozen, shaven sentinels in a sea of flooded fields for as far as the eye could see. Destruction was everywhere.

A three-day trip through Haiti’s hardest hit southern peninsula revealed the still-unimaginable scale of suffering Hurricane Matthew left behind, and the long-term catastrophic impact the tempest will have on this Caribbean island. More than 1,000 people are believed to have died. Fears are growing of a cholera epidemic. And despite some long-delayed aid deliveries, hopes for the future are fading.

The colossal storm had hovered slowly, it seemed almost maliciously, over this agriculturally rich region, destroying everything in its path with an especially punishing blow to the region of Grand’Anse, Haiti’s breadbasket on the northern coast of the peninsula. Its final coup de grace: destroying the bridge over the Momance River, effectively severing the peninsula from the capital of Port au Prince and the rest of the country.

“It’s like a state of war,” said Hilaire Delence, a 28-year-old customs worker in the farming town of Torbeck on the south coast of the peninsula. Residents were desperate for any kind of help—water, food, medical supplies, shelters, anything. “The people cleared the streets themselves,” he said. “Every tree fell.” His family was one of the few that had several plots of crops and some cattle after decades of hard work.

“We’ve lost everything,” he said, walking through the rotten remains of their manioc field. “We were the only house left standing because we have cement walls. All the other houses in the community were destroyed. Our home became the only shelter as people ran from the fierceness of the storm towards the fields.”

Both of Delence’s parents stood on the porch, visibly shaken. “It started in the afternoon, on Monday and continued until Wednesday,” said Anne Marie Laurette Laurent, his demure 70-year-old mother, her voice quivering. “We huddled for three days here, we couldn’t move, we were shaking with fear. We just held on to each other. When we came out, we could not believe what we saw.” Delence said she had fainted.

His parents had farmed here for 60 years. “It will take five to 10 years to rebuild the coconut trees. Maybe 50 years for the big trees,” said Rosulme Gabriel Delence, his 68-year-old father, a proud Haitian farmer whose fixed stare betrayed the trauma he wished to hide.

The big trees bear the fruit called lamveritab in Creole and even âme véritable, meaning “true soul,” in French—the breadfruit that is prized by farmers for its multiple uses and the revenue it brings in.

“We [in the town] lost all our shops, too,” said Rosulme. “The books are gone. It’s the beginning of the school year. We owe credit for our loans. Now we have nothing, nothing.”

“I didn’t believe I would survive,” she said. “But I’ve lost all my resistance. There’s no hope to rebuild what we worked hard for.” Those who had sought refuge in the Delence house chimed in. A woman in the small crowd that had gathered around the porch cried, “All we have left to do is die.”

On Torbeck’s debris-laden main streets, young men had set up roadblocks in futile protest at the lack of help.

“No one, no one has come! Not the government people, not the international aid. We’re desperate,” said Don Duerviliyouyou, a young teacher. “This community is entirely dependent on agriculture and livestock, because there are no institutions, so no jobs. The only support we get is from the [Haitian] diaspora and that too is going to stop because of government corruption.” He had just summarized the situation of some 80 percent of Haiti’s poor. He paused and said gravely, “There’s going to be famine here.”

Down the road, heavily clad cops from Haiti’s Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien de l’Ordre (CIMO) security forces chased other protesters, firing tear gas in all directions. The protesters were outside the Haitian-Taiwan Cooperation plant. Inside, local mayor Guidile Joseph was meeting with the plant managers about getting help for the community. Asked about why no officials from the government’s Civil Protection had come to Torbeck, she raised her voice: “Me too, I am angry like the protesters. We don’t have a government. We have the will but no one is hearing us.”

Joseph described the magnitude of crop losses—manioc, rice, corn, pit mil (made into a type of cornmeal), peas, and many banana plantations.

“The loss is devastating, not just for us, but for the whole country,” she said. “No one has come to help. We have not seen a single delegation from anywhere. We need the international help.”

The same macabre landscape of devastation lined the 86-kilometer road to Jérémie. Haiti’s most vulnerable, its poorest, were putting out mattresses to dry, using the overturned palm trees as laundry lines were every rescued piece of clothing hung. Others were trying to save the trunks that were not completely destroyed to burn charcoal for cooking, one of the main reasons for Haiti’s massive deforestation.

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There was not a dwelling standing. And no convoys of aid. At Camp Perrin, midway to Jérémie, 300 families huddled inside a rudimentary building that served as school and library in this mountain village. A man waived frantically at our car.

Fortil Wisman, referred to himself as the community representative, but is a lawyer by profession. “No one has come, you are the first person I’m describing the conditions to.”

They, too, had no food, no water, just a large tin bowl of beans. “We’ve been forgotten, no local official has inquired or come,” said Wisman. “This is an area that is home to nearly 100,000 poor Haitians.” A major downpour began. Wisman noticed the uprooted trees. “We have no shade to protect us from the harsh sun, but when it rains, there’s no protection for all the sans-abris, the homeless, everywhere. People are getting sick and there’s no medical help.”

Grand’Anse, the northern province of the peninsula, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country, had been cut off from all communications. Haiti’s two main cellular service providers had been severely damaged by the storm. No news had come out of Jérémie, its capital and second port, also known as historical and cultural center.

The picturesque town, known for its gingerbread-style houses, and for its poets, has a prized tourist destination. It looked like a sea of pulverized wreckage stretching from the coast to its hilltops. The cathedral’s recently restored roof had been torn off, as were the roofs of most of the houses that lined its streets.

Juliette Nicolas sat on the porch of her Aubergine Inn. Soaked checkbooks, Xeroxed house plans, and a printer were on the table, piles of documents dried in the driveway, sheets and mattresses lined the roofless second floor. The fierce winds and rains had engulfed the inn, drenching every inch, including valuable historical documents.

“Jérémie is gone. It’s totally destroyed,” said Nicolas, a native of this town she’s been helping to support for years. She trained as an architect, and spoke of the irony of a meeting set up by the United Nations the week before Hurricane Matthew about managing urban risks in the aftermath of the horrendous 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people. “The main goal was to force a national plan for communal structural assessments and make that a law,” said Nicolas. “That way one would know where to put an airport. In Jérémie, our airport is on a fault line—but where do you put it?”

In Jérémie’s famed square, where the damaged cathedral stood, a man walking by stopped to say to us, to anyone, to no one, “I’ve lost everything. My wife is sick. My kids can’t go to school. Our house is destroyed. What are we going to do? Die?”

The heat pounded the weary residents on Sunday as they, too, stretched clothing to dry on any surface, including hanging doors or fallen ceiling beams. They cleared debris solemnly. Everyone echoed the same cry of help: “The officials haven’t come, the aid hasn’t come, we are desperate, we have no water, we need Aquatabs to purify the local water.”

U.S. Army helicopters flew overhead ferrying the 16 tons of supplies the U.S. government was able to bring to Haiti last Thursday, once air traffic had resumed. Tired but angered residents looked up, tempers were beginning to flare. The International Organization for Migration was in charge of distributing the supplies from the staging area at the small airport. But nothing had been delivered. On Monday morning, the first convoy of OIM’s huge trucks rolled in, barely passing through Jérémie’s narrow streets.

The long-term consequences of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive path was lost on no one. Even before the storm, 90 percent of Haiti had been deforested and was essentially barren land. More than 35 percent of its agricultural production came from this southern peninsula. The situation is infinitely worse than the impact of the storm felt in the United States. Here, it is not about getting a battered population back to normal. For many, that will never happen, and there is no real hope left.

In Port au Prince, the government promised that a wooden pontoon bridge would be temporarily placed over the Momance River. A Haitian presidential candidate said, even more boldly, that a permanent bridge would be up within days. But such assurances have been drowned in what is still the muddy and treacherous crossing.

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ON THE MEDIA, HAITI: Hurricane Matthew in Haiti: Looking Beyond the Disaster Narrative

Well-meaning people have either emailed or texted me over the past couple of days, with some variant of “how are things going in Haiti?”

Short of people’s prayers, and the question, “is everyone you know ok?” How indeed to respond?

Hurricane Matthew is a Category 4, meaning that winds are gusting at 145 miles per hour. This is the first category 4 since 1954, Hurricane Hazel, which introduced nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to Haiti.

Aside from random notes trickling in here or there, the coverage has been minimal. This is in direct contrast to the earthquake that rocked the country on January 12, 2010.

Anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse has inspired a generation of scholars, challenging us with a deceptively simple call: “Haiti needs new narratives.” The coverage of this storm is an urgent case for why.

Disaster aid is faciliated by media coverage. An article inDisastersdemonstrated a correlation in the amount of seconds allocated on prime time news to a particular disaster and the generosity of the response. However, the Haiti earthquake’s high media profile—and the generosity it inspired—came at a price. With stories of devastation, appearing to many foreign observers as hell on earth with phrases like “state failure” often repeated, foreign media coverage also naturalized foreign control of the response.

The media coverage—then and now—highlights the importance of what can be called “disaster narratives.” What is covered, what is not, who is hailed as a hero, whose efforts are ignored, shape the results. I detail this connection in a just-published book chapter.

The story is still unfolding. As I write this Tuesday night the category 4 storm is leisurely moving north, still dumping rain on an already fragile environment. So we won’t know for quite some time the full extent of the damage.

Coastal cities in the southern peninsula, including the largest cities, state capitals Les Cayes and Jéremie, are under water. The main road connecting the peninsula to the rest of the country has been blocked as the bridge in Petit Goâve has been destroyed by the torrent.

The centralization of political and economic power in Port-au-Prince that began under the 1915 U.S. Occupation and accelerated withneoliberal economic policies imposed by the U.S. Government, multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others renders getting relief much more difficult.

Once-thriving ports and regional economies, these secondary cities are now dependent on the road to the capital for almost everything. The province of Grand’Anse, with Jéremie as its capital city, is particularly isolated. Its primary economic lifeline, accelerated as the asphalt road has been advancing in the past several years, is charcoal.

Paradoxically because of its isolation, the Grand’Anse has noticeably more trees than other provinces. But this is changing: commentators from all across Grand’Anse have commented on the connection between this road and an uptick in charcoal production. Anthropologist Andrew Tarter is collecting quantitative data on charcoal.

The cutting of trees for charcoal production has rendered Haiti much more vulnerable to extreme weather events. The photos of the deep brown deluge testify to the topsoil being washed away, that would have been otherwise protected by tree roots.

Washing along with the soil is this season’s crops. This summer many breathed a measured sigh of relief as an almost two-year drought ended. These hopes were washed away with the downpour, representing not only food to feed Haiti’s exponentially growing urban population in competition with cheaper, subsidized imports, but the cash to send rural children to school. The high cost of education, and that it comes at once, is a major trigger for individual families producing charcoal in the first place.

With water everywhere in the photos it is easy to forget that clean, safe, drinking water will be an urgent priority in Haiti, still battling cholera brought to the island nation six years ago this month by U.N. troops. While finally apologizing for the disease that killed over 9,000 in five years, the U.N. has evaded responsibility for reparations.

These longer-term impacts are unfortunately not a part of the story. Frankly I would be surprised if news outlets will be talking much about the storm at all after tomorrow, as the focus is on Matthew’s impact on U.S. coastal areas. The governors of Florida and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency, issuing evacuation orders. Given the juxtaposition in this several-second media blips, one might well be wondering: why can’t Haiti do that?

The short answer is: they most certainly tried.

The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles discussed the efforts of the elected mayor of seaside Cité Soleil trying to offer relocation assistance. Other local mayors refused, except for Pétion-Ville, offering emergency shelter for 200 residents (the request was 10,000). This is among the only accounts of Haitian people, particularly elected officials, doing something.

Given the fragile state of infrastructure and communications, local Haitian governments, the Civil Protection Department (DPC in the original French), have been doing an admirable job of moving people out of the most danger. Residents of Île-à-Vache were moved to Les Cayes, only to be doubly displaced by the deluge. In Abricots, an hour and a half from Jéremie via a very difficult and rocky road, moved residents up the hill.

While we outside of Haiti may not be told, grassroots organizations are doing an admirable job. In Cité Soleil, Konbit Solèy Leve has offered emergency assistance and Sakala, shelter. Peasants associations in Camp Perrin and all over the South province are welcoming people from LesCayes, down the hill.

These patchwork efforts highlight the limitations, particularly lack of resources. Charles reported that the Cité Soleil government was bankrupt. The communication and logistics necessary for evacuation, emergency shelter, and life-saving food and water, are straining Haiti’s already fragile economy.

And yes, there are still people living in what used to be called “camps.” Given official pressure to reduce the statistic, tens of thousands of people living in Karade are not “internally displaced persons” since Karade is now a “village.” Not two weeks ago, residents were newly threatened with violence in an effort to force them to leave.

I hesitate to write this given how Haiti has been politicized in the most cynical way by a candidate who has expressed his hostility to immigrants and black people generally, but frankly, Haiti was not “built back better” by the $16 billion relief effort to the 2010 earthquake, as UN Special Envoy Bill Clinton cheerfully promised.

So, what now? Right after the earthquake I wrote a piece for Common Dreams offering suggestions, which basically boil down to support local efforts, initiatives, ideas, and organizations.

Many people, including Haitian scholars, journalists, and social movements, have taken stock of the lessons learned from thehumanitarian aftershocks. Among them include:

1)      Support the initiatives led by Haitian people and groups

2)      If we contribute aid to a foreign agency, demand they post their decisions and relationships with local groups

3)      Solidarity, not charity

4)      Address the root causes, including neoliberal policies our governments enforced

5)      Demand that our aid has real participation by local groups, not just doing the work but setting priorities and identifying how the work is to get done

6)      Actually reinforce human capacity – making sure this time expertise is shared with a critical mass of Haitian actors, who can and should be the ones making decisions

7)      Link humanitarian aid to development (not the old, failed neoliberal model), and disaster preparedness

The storm will leave, the flood waters recede. I hope the world’s attention span will last at least a little longer, so that we will finally apply lessons at least Haitian people learned.

Mark Schuller

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. Schuller’s research on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti has been published in thirty book chapters and peer-reviewed articles. Schuller is the author or co-editor of seven books—includingCapitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster ReconstructionHumanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti—and co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy. Recipient of the Margaret Mead Award, Schuller is the board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti and active in several solidarity efforts.

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HAITI: New Haiti Briefing Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti

By haitisupportgroup.orgSeptember 17th, 2016

Our new Haiti Briefing No. 81 entitled Unwanted Gifts: A Concise History of Harming Haiti is out now!

The Briefing gives a historical insight into centuries of international meddling in Haiti often marred by mishaps, bad decisions and intentional harm. In light of recent developments in the escalating cholera controversy – namely the office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month conceding that the organisation was at fault in 2010 for the devastating outbreak of a disease that has killed close to 10,000 people – our Haiti Briefing offers readers an in-depth background into repeated efforts by outsiders to blame Haitians for their mistakes. From gunboat diplomacy and the AIDs epidemic to the Clintons, MINUSTAH and cholera. You name it, the international “community” has been there and done it. We argue that we must challenge the racist, imperialist assumptions upon which foreigners have acted and continue to act in Haiti and  defer where necessary and wherever possible to Haitian voices and Haitian administrators so that they can take the lead in Haiti’s socioeconomic reform.

The Haiti Briefing, published in English and French, is the key publication of the Haiti Support Group. Released quarterly, since 1992 our Briefing has provided our members, Haiti watchers and decision-makers with analysis of Haiti’s development issues, reflected through the voices of popular organisations on the ground.

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HAITI: Only Haitians can save Haiti

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washingtonpost.com, Opinion by Joel Dreyfuss, 

Joel Dreyfuss is a Washington Post Global Opinions contributing columnist.

Haiti won a rare victory on the international stage last week. After five years of evading accountability, the United Nations finally admitted that its peacekeepers were responsible for a deadly cholera epidemic that killed 10,000 men, women and children and sickened 700,000. Long after scientists traced the disease to the poor sanitation practices of Nepalese troops stationed in Haiti, the U.N. rejected the findings, claimed diplomatic immunity and enlisted Obama administration support to block efforts by Haitians to hold the agency accountable in U.S. courts. The U.N. backed down after a report by New York University law professor Philip Alston, an adviser on legal and human rights, became public. Alston called the U.N.’s stonewalling “morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

The U.N.’s arrogant stance was just the latest example of how Haiti’s friends are so often its worst enemies. The U.N. military mission has been in Haiti since 2004, presumably to “stabilize” the country and nurture its fragile democracy. Yet that democracy is barely breathing, with a “provisional” president and a group of dubiously elected officials who can barely agree on a date for presidential elections.

Consider the aftermath of the massive earthquake that killed 200,000 to 300,000 Haitians on Jan. 12, 2010. The international community did responded generously. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presided over a reconstruction commission that won $14 billion in international pledges and posed to help transform Haiti into a modern nation. However, what money was actually delivered was sucked into a morass of Beltway consultants, failed projects and nongovernmental organizations. “Valuable studies and assessments conducted by Haitians themselves were largely ignored,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in a postmortem study. Six years later, the rubble in downtown Port-au-Prince has been cleared, but little has been rebuilt. The nation’s center of commercial activity has moved to suburban Pétionville. Plans to revive the capital remain as vague as the early-morning fog that drifts across the majestic mountains that serve as a backdrop to Haiti’s tortured history.

The Clintons have expressed a fondness for Haiti ever since they honeymooned there in 1975. Bill and Hillary have been up to their elbows in Haiti ever since 1994, when President Clinton used U.S. military power to restore Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Clinton, whose home state of Arkansas is the No. 1 rice producer in the United States, extracted an agreement from Aristide in 1995 to drop tariffs on imported rice. The resulting influx of cheap American rice destroyed Haitian’s near-self-sufficiency in food and sent thousands of poor farmers and their families into the overcrowded capital. Clinton has since apologized for his “devil’s bargain.” Fast-forward to today, and Haitians know that the United States’ presidential elections will have a profound effect on their future: A Hillary Clinton victory could mean more interference in Haiti’s affairs.

The current political crisis was precipitated by the heavy-handed manipulation of Haitian politics by the “Core Group,” (the United States, Canada, France, Spain, Brazil, the European Union and the Organization of American States). In 2011, they excluded the most popular political party from presidential elections and discarded one of the top vote-getters, and Haitians ended up with former bandleader Michel Martelly as president. They tried the same tactics this year, putting heavy pressure on Haitians to complete a tainted second round of ballots. Fed up, thousands of Haitians took to the streets to reject that advice and force a new round of elections over strong American objections.

Haitian identity at home and abroad is tightly linked to our native country’s status as the world’s first free black republic. Every August UNESCO commemorates the secret ceremony in Haiti’s Bois-Caiman in 1791 that triggered a successful slave uprising, which in turn fomented the revolution that led to its independence. I know I will offend many of my fellow Haitians by saying this out loud — but I wonder if Haiti will ever truly regain its independence. The reality is that Haiti, more than 200 years after it gained its freedom, has spent large chunks of its existence under the military, political or economic control of foreign powers.

Haiti paid twice for its freedom, first with blood and then with money. Haitians handed Napoleon his first significant military defeat by repelling the 50,000 troops he sent to restore slavery. But fearing a new invasion, Haiti signed an agreement with France’s Charles X in 1825 to pay former owners of plantations and slaves tens of millions of francs (variously estimated by historians at between $3 billion to $25 billion in today’s dollars) as the price for recognition. The deal doomed Haiti to 80 years of distorted budgets focused on paying off foreign debt and starving its people of the infrastructure and educational facilities that might have set the young nation on a more prosperous path. The United States began its military occupation of Haiti in 1915 and remained there for 19 years. But even before American Marines landed in the country, Haiti’s many authoritarian and corrupt leaders plunged the country into debt and exacerbated the domination of the many by the few. Rosalvo Bobo, an early-20th-century Haitian politician, noted that Haitian leaders had replaced the liberating achievement of their ancestors for “slavery of blacks by blacks.”

The ultimate challenge for Haiti — and many other small countries — is how to gain a measure of control over their own destinies, especially when they are in the “back yard” of powerful nations, dependent on foreign aid and are forced to deal with internal divisions. One way the U.N. could make restitution is to fulfill its pledge to rebuild Haiti’s sanitation system and begin planning a removal of the peacekeeping force. Those who want to help Haiti should begin consulting and involving Haitians at home and abroad in their grand plans.

But the best incentive for change will come from Haiti itself. A new chapter for the embattled nation will come only when Haiti’s rapacious business and political elites and its masses of neglected poor learn the lessons from 200 years ago — that no one is coming to save them.

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HAITI: Doctors Fear Zika Is A Sleeping Giant In Haiti

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npr.org, by  ,Aug. 31, 2016

At the Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti’s central plateau, Dr. Louise Ivers and Dr. Roman Jean-Louis are examining a baby girl who was born in early July with microcephaly, a smaller-than-normal skull often associated with Zika infections.

The baby, named Chinashama, is dressed in a white smock adorned with small flowers. Her legs cross unnaturally over her shins, and her mother, Chrisnette Sainvilus, says the baby cries a lot and has trouble passing stool. “Day and night she’s crying,” the mother of two says. It’s unclear what physical and mental problems Chinashama is facing.

Ivers lifts Chinashama’s legs and tries to move them apart. “See, her legs are still crossed. The muscle development is not what we’d want to see,” she says. “This baby definitely needs physical therapy.”

Chinashama is one of three babies born with microcephaly at the Mirebalais Hospital in July. The Haitian Ministry of Health says there have been 11 others born nationwide over the past two months with this usually rare birth defect. But only one has been officially confirmed as a result of the Zika virus.

Haiti has all of the ingredients for widespread transmission of Zika. The mosquito that carries the virus flourishes in Haiti’s tropical heat. As the outbreak wanes in Brazil and Colombia, the Caribbean is currently the epicenter of Zika transmission. The region is reporting high numbers of cases. Puerto Rico, for instance, has a population a third the size of Haiti and is reporting roughly 1,500 new cases of Zika each week.

Yet as of August, Haiti had confirmed only five cases to the World Health Organization.

Many people who get infected with Zika have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. In Haiti, it can take all day for a patient to see a doctor, so most people don’t come to health facilities unless they are extremely ill. But if they’re pregnant and have Zika, the virus could still pose a threat to their fetus.

Sainvilus, Chinashama’s mother, says she doesn’t remember having a fever or other signs of Zika during her pregnancy — although she thinks she had a bout of fever that she thought was chikungunya just before she got pregnant.

But even if Sainvilus had gotten sick, it’s highly unlikely that she would have been tested for Zika. For the last four months, a doctors’ strike in Haiti has brought the public health care system to a standstill. The Mirebalais Hospital, which remained functioning, is a five-hour bus drive from her home on the road that leads from Port-au-Prince to the Dominican Republic.

Secondly, Haiti just doesn’t have the infrastructure to do widespread Zika testing. The only place that can test for Zika is the national laboratory run by the Ministry of Health. They’ve been doing a limited number of tests that will only come back positive if the actual virus is still in the blood sample being tested. Zika clears from the blood fairly quickly, so unless you test while the person is still sick, it’s going to come back negative.

Other more complicated tests have to get sent out to Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago or the U.S. — and it can take months for a doctor to get those results if they get them at all.

Ivers, from Partners in Health, a global health organization based in Boston, says she’s quite anxious that Zika is spreading widely across Haiti — but it’s not being detected.

“We don’t have a good idea of what’s going on. Now that we’ve seen three babies born [with microcephaly] in the span of three weeks in our own facility, we are very concerned that it’s being under-reported in other parts of the country,” she says.

On top of that, she’s worried that Haiti’s severely limited health system, which isn’t picking up Zika cases, is also ill-equipped to deal with a wave of children with severe birth defects.

“Children with developmental delays or disability need individual care with lots of different resources,” Ivers says. “Those resources are not really available in Haiti.”

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U.N. Admits Role in Cholera Epidemic in Haiti

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nytimes.com, by Jonathan M. Katz, Aug. 17, 2016

The first victims lived near a base housing 454 United Nations peacekeepers freshly arrived from Nepal, where a cholera outbreak was underway, and waste from the base often leaked into the river. Numerous scientists have since argued that the base was the only plausible source of the outbreak — whose real death toll, one study found, could be much higher than the official numbers state — but United Nations officials have consistently insisted that its origins remain up for debate.

Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

Mr. Alston went beyond criticizing the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to blame the entire United Nations system. “As the magnitude of the disaster became known, key international officials carefully avoided acknowledging that the outbreak had resulted from discharges from the camp,” he noted.

His most severe criticism was reserved for the organization’s Office of Legal Affairs, whose advice, he wrote, “has been permitted to override all of the other considerations that militate so powerfully in favor of seeking a constructive and just solution.” Its interpretations, he said, have “trumped the rule of law.”

Mr. Alston also argued in his report that, as The New York Times has reported, the United Nations’ cholera eradication program has failed. Infection rates have been rising every year in Haiti since 2014, as the organization struggles to raise the $2.27 billion it says is needed to eradicate the disease from member states. No major water or sanitation projects have been completed in Haiti; two pilot wastewater processing plants built there in the wake of the epidemic quickly closed because of a lack of donor funds.

In a separate internal report released days ago after being withheld for nearly a year, United Nations auditors said a quarter of the sites run by the peacekeepers with the organization’s Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, that they had visited were still discharging their waste into public canals as late as 2014, four years after the epidemic began.

“Victims are living in fear because the disease is still out there,” Mario Joseph, a prominent Haitian human rights lawyer representing cholera victims, told demonstrators in Port-au-Prince last month. He added, “If the Nepalese contingent returns to defecate in the water again, they will get the disease again, only worse.”

In 2011, when families of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims petitioned the United Nations for redress, its Office of Legal Affairs simply declared their claims “not receivable.” (Mr. Alston called that argument “wholly unconvincing in legal terms.”)

Those families and others then sued the United Nations, including Mr. Ban and the former Minustah chief Edmond Mulet, in federal court in New York. (In November, Mr. Ban promoted Mr. Mulet to be his chief of staff.) The United Nations refused to appear in court, claiming diplomatic immunity under its charter, leaving Justice Department lawyers to defend it instead. That case is now pending a decision from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The redress demanded by families of the 10,000 people killed and 800,000 affected would reach $40 billion, Mr. Alston wrote — and that figure does not take into account “those certain to die and be infected in the years ahead.”

“Since this is almost five times the total annual budget for peacekeeping worldwide, it is a figure that is understandably seen as prohibitive and unrealistic,” he said. Still, he argued: “The figure of $40 billion should stand as a warning of the consequences that could follow if national courts become convinced that the abdication policy is not just unconscionable but also legally unjustified. The best way to avoid that happening is for the United Nations to offer an appropriate remedy.”

Mr. Alston, who declined to comment for this article, will present the final report at the opening of the General Assembly in September, when presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from nearly every country gather at United Nations headquarters in New York.

Mr. Haq said the secretary general’s office “wanted to take this opportunity to welcome this vital report,” which he added “will be a valuable contribution to the U.N. as we work towards a significant new set of U.N. actions.”

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HAITI, ON DEVELOPMENT: This volatile Haiti slum is undergoing a makeover — now what?

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Workers carry buckets in a construction site as they build new houses in Fort National, Port au Prince, Haiti. Fort National is a neighborhood that was partially destroyed during the earthquake of January 12, 2010. Andres Martinez Casares.

 

miamiherald.com, BY JACQUELINE CHARLES, 8/12/16  —  At the top of the hill where an old colonial fort overlooks the immaculate grounds of a razed presidential palace, newly built sidewalks and widened alleys lead into new residential communities being shaped by tree-lined courtyards, indoor plumbing and towering condominium-style apartments.

Below, bulldozers move listlessly from one partially-built concrete structure to another along a once battered Rue Estiméas construction workers beat back scorching heat and hammer as fast as they can.

“Imagine if all of the houses were like this,” Ulrick Gilles, a 40 year-old unemployed husband and father, said from the confines of his newly constructed government-subsidized second floor apartment in one of this capital’s most quake-ravaged neighborhoods. “Even if you couldn’t call it a paradise, it would still allow people to live better lives.”

A haphazardly-built and volatile slum that foreign donors and international aid groups once shunned, Fort National is getting a long-overdo makeover courtesy of a little-used co-property law that finally allows Haitians like Gilles, who lost his house in the cataclysmic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, to be homeowners again.

Though the law initially came into existence in 1974 and was strengthened in 2009, it wasn’t until former President Michel Martelly issued more protections in a 2011 executive order that the government and international community dared use it.

“You’re slowly seeing the transformation of a neighborhood,” said Claude-André Nadon, senior program manager with theUnited Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which has built 600 new housing units and repaired more than 1,200 in eight neighborhoods since the earthquake left 1.5 million homeless. “This place was a disaster zone.”

Fort National’s transformation comes as 61,302 Haitians continue to live underneath squalid tents, and as Haiti and foreign donors continue to face enormous challenges in providing permanent housing amid dwindling aid dollars and a deepening political crisis.

The country’s failure to replace the 100,000 houses leveled by the quake by all accounts has been the biggest failure of the reconstruction response. Haiti and U.S.-financed housing projects have been slammed for shoddy construction and unaccountable contractors, while both governments also have come under fire for failing to follow through on housing goals.

Haitians are no different from a guy in Miami or Canada. They want to live in a decent home. Claude-André Nadon, senior program manager with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

But if there’s anything close to a model of the lessons learned over the years, it is Fort National. The construction of almost 300 single and condo-style units, installation of street lights and the rehabilitation of water kiosks and streets may seem small. But supporters note that it’s changing the facade of an informal settlement, and providing employment and training to locals in proper and anti-seismic construction techniques.

“I am not just hiring five guys; I am hiring everyone from the neighborhood,” Nadon said. “So when that guys asks for an extension [on his single unit] he’s going to ask the foreman and that foreman now knows how to do it properly. Their way of building has completely changed.”

Said Clément Bélizaire, executive director of Haiti’s Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit: “The housing is very nice; well-built; the engineering? A-plus. But the real success of Fort National and everything that has had to do with housing is the change of mentality.”

Nadon and his team first visited National in 2011. They spent three years negotiating with gang leaders and community residents to launch the project, and then with skeptical residents to give up their plots and shacks — sometimes barely larger than a bedroom — in exchange for decent corridors, public spaces and a 376-square-foot apartment.

In lot of cases people didn’t want to move,” he said. “All would say, ‘Haitians don’t like living on the second flood; they don’t want to live together.’”

Eventually, many would agree. Some would even donate as much as 80 percent of their land back to the community in order to allow the chaotic landscape of vacant plots and sweltering tin and tarp-covered shacks to be transformed.

“Haitians are no different from a guy in Miami or Canada. They want to live in a decent home,” Nadon said. “[Eventually] they understood that in order to have something like this, you need space. You need space to put septic tanks, you need space to have water pipes coming in, you need space to have the trees. After a while they get it.”

When people see them they say, ‘These houses should be on the main street.’ They aren’t the kind of homes you hide in a corridor. Fritzner Oriol, 49, Fort National resident

Bélizaire, the housing czar, said the co-property law makes a lot of sense in a densely populated Haiti, but “the social mobilization to get people to think rationally and not selfishly” is quite a challenge.

“We’re living in the city and we want to live in rural mode,” he said. “Everybody wants to have their own yard; everybody wants to have their own house; nobody wants to share walls with neighbors. When you share a wall, you cut the costs. We have to start thinking multilevel housing.”

The concept first surfaced months after the quake when then-President René Préval vowed to rebuild Fort National. Préval dispatched government bulldozers to remove rubble. He also asked international aid organizations to re-direct cash-for-work dollars to the slum, and he tapped the head of his state construction agency — and eventual presidential pick — Jude Célestin to build two-by-three-feet wide units for 6,000 displaced families.

Célestin, an engineer who is once more seeking the presidency, proposed constructing multistory apartments instead. Some $174 million was approved for Fort National’s reconstruction by the parliament as part of the budget, and the no-bid contractwas given to a firm owned by powerful Dominican Sen. Felix Bautista.

But 2010 presidential elections would bring chaos and a broken promise. A newly elected Martelly scraped the Fort National project, and reallocated the funds to initiatives. Among them:3,000 units at Morne-a-Carbrit on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that were so poorly built by one of Bautista’s firms that Bélizaire’s housing division refused to accept many of them.

Everybody wants to have their own yard; everybody wants to have their own house; nobody wants to share walls with neighbors. When you share a wall, you cut the costs. Clément Bélizaire, executive director of Haiti’s Housing and Public Buildings Construction Unit

In recent weeks, the original Fort National project has come under scrutiny as a Haiti Senate Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission raises questions about the awards, and Bautista’s relationships with Martelly and some Haitian officials.

Headed by Sen. Youri Latortue, a one-time Martelly adviser, the probe is supposed to focus on a decade’s worth of government disbursements under Venezuela’s Petrocaribe discounted-oil program. Most of the focus, however, has been on the already investigated Bautista contracts.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, who awarded the Fort National contract to one of Bautista’s firms, has said it was done so legally under an emergency law. He calls the Senate inquiry a “political witch hunt,” and has accused senators of trying to make him a scapegoat because no one can say what happened to the $174 million, including $22 million he disbursed under Martelly for the homes.

“Do you see 20,000 [new] homes in Fort National?” Bellerive said on Vision 2000 radio station. “That is what I contracted for.”

The challenges of building in an existing community are visible along Rue Estimé where new construction is interrupted by pockets of empty lots.

“There is nothing there because one guy has refused, for many reasons,” Nadon said as construction workers move up and down the main street. “Sometimes it’s because they are scared it’s not going to happen, or it’s pressure from other people who don’t want the project to succeed.”

Unfortunately, the project is nearing its end even as the needs remain “endless,” Bélizaire said, because the $20 million in funding from Canada, the U.N. and two other donors has run out. Despite Haitians reluctance to share a wall, he said, the government is finding success with multistory dwellings. Similar constructions were done in the low-income communities of Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre. The U.N. first applied the co-property law in Morne Lazarre to build three-story condominiums.

“Fort National benefited from what we did in Morne Hercule and Morne Lazarre,” Bélizaire said, hoping donors keep the revitalization going. “There’s a big difference between showing somebody something on a nice layout plan, 3-D designs and pictures and when you actually take the people, put them on a bus and bring them to … talk to the beneficiaries.”

Fritzner Oriol’s two-story tin shacks sits in the middle of a palm tree-lined courtyard of yellow and lime colored apartments. He proudly boasts that he turned several of his distrusting neighbors from skeptics into believers that the program was good for the long-neglected community.

Ultimately, there was one person Oriol, 49, could not convince.

“One of my sisters doesn’t agree because she wouldn’t get any benefits out of it,” Oriol said, explaining why his shack is the only un-built structure in the courtyard.

“There are a lot of beautiful houses inside these corridors,” he said. “When people see them they say, ‘These houses should be on the main street.’ They aren’t the kind of homes you hide in a corridor. I am a product of the neighborhood, I know what I am talking about because I know what kind of neighborhood we had.”

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