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Haiti: Then and Now

Original photo essay and article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Sparkling white walls, palm trees, and a gazebo paint a serene mask on the hospital in Gressier, an oceanfront town 22 kilometers south of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.

“At first look you see it’s beautiful,” said Vaudrise Paul, a 31-year-old midwife in charge of the maternity ward. “But if you come in, you see it’s so small, there’s no equipment, there’s no staff.”

The hospital is five years old, built after the powerful earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010. In the aftermath, charities and nonprofits rushed to Haiti’s aid in an expensive and broadly disappointing relief effort. I went to Gressier in May at the suggestion of Dr. Reynold Grand Pierre, Director of Family Health at the Ministry of Health. I was exploring new programs to improve maternal care; Pierre had spoken with such vitriol about the broken, disjointed system of healthcare that both depended on and was destroyed by the global charity sector. He told me Gressier was an understaffed mess, but when I arrived it felt serene and perfect, cooled with sea breezes from the beach down the road.

As I entered the verdant grounds, I wondered if the minister had been sending me on a goose chase to undermine my reporting. I shouldn’t have doubted though.

In the aftermath of the earthquake there have been countless picturesque projects on this gorgeous Caribbean island — shells of schools with no teachers, gleaming new hospitals with no staff. Many charities have come and gone, and even those that stay largely have short-term contracts. My motorcycle driver, Junior, told me his wife had birthed each of her three children since the earthquake in a different clinic — following a word-of-mouth network about ever-shifting programs and projects to find affordable options for her deliveries. The strings of these myriad distinct programs do not knit into a safety net for Haiti, and mothers are left to advocate for themselves.

Allyn Gaestel is a recent Pulitzer Center grantee. Read her full story here.

Original photo essay and article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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Haiti: Who Owns What in Haiti?

The island of La Tortue, off the northern coast of Haiti, has become best known as a place where Haitians facing hard times set sail for lot bo dlo—the other side of the water. When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first ousted, in 1991, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted and repatriated some eighteen hundred “boat people” who had fled Haiti’s north coast en route to South Florida. Recently, though, one British-American company has been working to bring large numbers of people in the other direction, from South Florida to La Tortue. In July, Carnival Corporation, the cruise-ship company, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Haitian government, which would allow a port to be opened on the island’s Pointe-Ouest beach, to serve as a stopover for its Caribbean ships. Haitian officials claimed that the development would create two thousand jobs, and would represent a major step forward in a plan for tourism to propel the nation’s economy. Five years after an earthquake caused an estimated $8.1 to $13.9 billion in damage—more than the country’s G.D.P. at the time—Haiti remains plagued by chronic underemployment and poverty.

The port deal is now at risk, however, because the ground onto which Carnival’s passengers would disembark may not have been the government’s to offer. In 1970, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier, Haiti’s President at the time, agreed to lease much of La Tortue to a Texas businessman named Don Pierson, with the aim of creating a free port; Pierson’s son, Grey, now holds the lease. The contract gave Don Pierson’s company a ninety-nine-year lease, and specified that he would develop the island’s infrastructure for tourism. Though Pierson soon began signing deals to that end, including one with Gulf Oil, for three hundred million dollars, the development project never got off the ground.

Occasionally, Grey Pierson says, Haitian officials would “rediscover” the project, and, in 1998, two years after his father’s death, a delegation came to Dallas to see him. As he tells it, he put up the Haitians at the Loews Anatole and held a meeting with them at the offices of the Texas Rangers’ ballpark. He told them that his father had procured four hundred million dollars in commitments to La Tortue. Leslie Voltaire, an architect and urban planner who was serving as the adviser on infrastructure and urban planning to René Préval, Haiti’s President at the time, was present at the meeting; Voltaire recalls that Pierson wanted the four hundred million dollars in compensation. (Pierson denies that.) The discussions went no further.

“I think that Carnival didn’t know that,” Voltaire told me, referring to the 1970 deal with Pierson. “If Carnival sees that there is that land issue, they won’t come.” Carnival confirmed to the Miami Heraldthat it did not learn of the dispute over ownership until several months after signing the agreement. (The newspaper further reported that yet another entity, Hotel Mont Joli SA, holds a lease on Pointe-Ouest.) Pierson, for his part, says that he has not been contacted by Carnival or Haitian government officials regarding the matter.

Similar uncertainty over land ownership has played out across Haiti as the country attempts to attract foreign investment in tourism, mining, manufacturing, and agriculture—often without clear knowledge of who, precisely, owns what. The country’s present difficulties with land ownership are a function not only of its twentieth-century dictators but of Haiti’s history as a former slave colony. After achieving independence, in 1804, former slaves discovered that the land they had taken from their owners would not be theirs to keep. The country’s revolutionary leaders, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture, thought it best for land to be held in large swathes, by the state. “Having survived the brutality of the slave system and then the violence of the revolution, the ex-slaves strongly believed that the land should be theirs; land ownership would give freedom its full and true meaning,” the historian Laurent Dubois writes in “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History.” But the early debates over who would control Haitian territory “revolved only around the question of which group of elites would profit from Haiti’s new order—not what that order would look like.”

“Now there is a fight between the Haitian bourgeoisie and peasants who want to control the land,” the Haitian sociologist Bernard Etheart told me. The tension played out over the past two centuries with governments often bequeathing parcels of land to various groups, only sometimes to take them back later, subsequent disputes over territory, and little regard for formal title throughout. Peasants in rural Haiti generally worked the land under an informal system of tenancy, in which they established de-facto ownership over small plots of land, then joined their plots with their neighbors’, usually members of their extended families, and farmed the land collectively. The land would typically remain under the name of just one family member—but no records of these arrangements were provided to the state.

Many people have sometimes claimed to own the same parcel of land, while other plots of land had no identifiable owner. Cases in which title could be established are rare (though Etheart traced one going back to Spanish colonial times). A 1997 study, conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Haiti’s agriculture ministry, estimated that ninety-five per cent of all land sales in rural Haiti had been conducted without going through legal formalities.

In the wake of the massive earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, resolving long-standing land-ownership issues has been a low priority for Haiti’s leaders, even as they regard tourism, mining, and other industries affected by questions of title as crucial to the island’s economic development. France is helping to fund Haiti’s land-management office, but the Haitian government hasn’t allocated the resources it would take to create a national cadastre (a survey of the country’s land). Joab Thelot, a coordinator for the National Office of the Cadastre, says that it wouldn’t take much—just three million dollars a year—to pay the salaries of trained surveyors and buy the vehicles they would need to get around. In recent years, though, Haiti’s parliament has allocated his office just a third that amount.

Indications from Haitian officials regarding how they will handle the uncertainty over ownership have raised further concerns. In addition to the Carnival case, in August, 2013, President Michel Martelly’s government, which had come to power two years earlier, announced a major investment on the small island of Île-à-Vache, aimed at turning it into a tourist destination. A few months earlier, the government had published a decree meant to establish that state-owned land on the island could be used only for tourism and public utilities. The announcement may have been intended to avoid the kind of embarrassment that the government later experienced with Carnival. The hundreds of people who had been farming and living on Île-à-Vache for generations responded by staging protests, which haven’t halted construction.

As Martelly pushes ahead with his development agenda, he has given few indications that he intends to address the pervasive issues relating to land ownership and insecurity that have undermined development in Haiti for two hundred years. On Tuesday, the day after the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, a deal to set terms for new elections fell apart and the country’s parliament dissolved, leaving Martelly to rule by decree. The latest bout of political turmoil makes it even less likely that Haiti will be able to address the basic conflicts over land that threaten to inhibit the island’s economic development.

Original article found on: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

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Haiti: Five Years after Haiti’s Earthquake, International Community Still Must Act to Address Urgent Needs, CEPR Co-Director Says

Original article found on: Center for Economic and Policy Research

January 12, 2015

Cholera Eradication, Housing, Sanitation and Safe Water Remain Underfunded

Washington, D.C.- Five years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake killed some 217,300 and displaced 1.5 million people, the international community still needs to act to address ongoing urgent needs, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. While the international community pledged over $10 billion for relief and reconstruction following the quake, much of that assistanceultimately went to agencies and contractors from the donor countries themselves, while Haitian organizations and the Haitian government were largely sidelined. Hundreds of people continue to die from cholera each year in Haiti as water and sanitation remain sub-standard, while fewer than 10,000 new houses have been built to house the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes in the earthquake.

“This is a shameful milepost for the international community, as so many urgent needs in Haiti remain a full five years later,” Weisbrot said. “Countries such as the United States, France and Canada share a particular burden for these failures, since these countries have trampled upon Haitian sovereignty and sidelined Haitian institutions throughout the country’s history.”

In October 2010, Haiti was hit with a second disaster when a cholera epidemic began downriver from a base for United Nations troops. Over 8,774 [PDF] people have died from the disease since – hundreds of them last year, and more than 700,000 have been infected. The U.N. has refused to take responsibility, leading to lawsuits on behalf of cholera victims and their families, and the U.N.’s cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded.

“The ongoing cholera epidemic is a humanitarian disaster directly caused by the international community,” Weisbrot said. “By the U.N., whose troops caused the outbreak through reckless behavior, and by the U.S. government, which had previously deliberately held up millions in loans to upgrade Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure.”

The ongoing lack of adequate housing – and the tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in settlement camps – marks another area where the international response has failed to address urgent needs.

“The post-quake housing story is one of scandal, profiteering and tragedy,” CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston, who wrote about the housing response in detail for the Boston Review, explained. “Certain contractors got tens of millions for housing that they didn’t deliver, while authorities have still been able to claim success by pointing to how fewer people remain in IDP camps. But many of these people were forcibly evicted from the camps, often with no place to go. The displacement crisis continues; it is just hidden now.”

Housing contracting by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is an example of the lack of transparency that has dogged the response effort, with subcontractors often unknown and therefore unaccountable. The Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee and cosponsored by 34 other legislators, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year, is meant to foster greater transparency in U.S. government contracting in Haiti through regular progress reports to Congress.

Weisbrot and Johnston noted several other key challenges for Haiti that could be aided by a more effective international response, including high poverty, high unemployment [PDF], the lack of jobs offering a living wage, and Haiti’s struggling agricultural sector, which could be supported were food aid funds used to purchase harvests from Haitian farmers rather than undercutting the sector through exporting lower-cost U.S. grains.

Original article found on: Center for Economic and Policy Research

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On the Media, Afghanistan: Violence, threats and insecurity – The challenges of reporting in Afghanistan

Original article found on: IFEX
By Alexandra Theodorakidis
5 December 2014
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
This statement was originally published on cjfe.org on 1 December 2014.

 

Violence against journalists in Afghanistan has been steadily increasing in 2014 with the withdrawal of foreign troops and a decrease in international aid. Five journalists were killed in the first four months of 2014. As control over Afghanistan’s national security transfers from international to Afghan forces and peace talks continue with the Taliban, there has been some uncertainty as to what will happen to the media and free expression in the country, especially as it underwent presidential elections.

CJFE’s 2014 Tara Singh Hayer Award winner Kathy Gannon was one journalist caught in the crossfire. She and her longtime friend and work partner, photographer Anja Niedringhaus, were covering the run-up to the elections in April 2014 when an Afghan police officer suddenly opened fire into the back of their vehicle. Niedringhaus was killed instantly, while Gannon was severely injured.

The latest upsurge in violence against journalists follows a short period of opening and development in the media. Pre-9/11 Afghanistan under Taliban rule had restricted access to independent media, both local and international. There was one Taliban-controlled radio station, used for state announcements and religious proclamations. Things began to change after the US invasion of Afghanistan that saw control lifted from the Taliban and transferred to an ostensibly more democratic system. In 2014, there are “175 FM radio stations, 75 TV channels, four news agencies, and hundreds of publications, including seven daily newspapers, Internet cafés in major cities and mobile phones in the hands of about half the population of 29 million people.”

While Afghan journalists have made great strides in establishing media outlets and providing Afghans with comprehensive coverage of local and national events in recent years, there are still many challenges being faced by local and foreign journalists alike, namely, harassment, threats and lack of support from government authorities.

Afghanistan currently ranks sixth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index. According to CPJ, fatalities are higher among foreign journalists than local journalists. Many Afghan journalists have been specifically targeted, kidnapped or intimidated by the Taliban, local warlords and on occasion by Afghan government or security officials. The situation is particularly bad if they are associated with Western media, which is being increasingly smeared by the Taliban and similar armed groups. Nai, a non-profit organization supporting open media in Afghanistan, reports 52 incidents of violence against journalists so far this year.

British-Swedish journalist Nils Horner was killed in March 2014, targeted while reporting on a suicide bombing that had occurred earlier in the year in Kabul. A Taliban-splinter group claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that Horner was not a journalist but a spy working for MI6. However, there is no concrete evidence that this group actually carried out the murder. Cilla Benkö, the director general of Horner’s employer Swedish Radio, said that Afghan authorities have not been very active in seeking the actual perpetrators of this crime, likely because Horner was a foreign correspondent.

Journalists not only face threats and attacks from terrorists but also intransigence from government officials who are uncooperative and withhold access to information. Authorities have been known to make threats in order to deter journalists from pursuing a story. The situation is even worse for women who are still largely underrepresented in the Afghan media.

According to a female journalist who heads a radio station in Balkh province, being a female journalist is particularly challenging. They face sexual harassment and threats from officials, strangers and sometimes even family members. Cultural constraints on women in Afghanistan often restrict them to work inside the office, instead of venturing out to do field work. In many places in Afghanistan, the idea of women undertaking public roles and working is considered taboo. Additionally, there is pressure on women working in the media from family elders to quit their jobs in order to avoid wider repercussions for the entire family, or because they view the career as unseemly. Lack of training and resources for women in the media is also a serious issue.

In September 2014, Palwasha Tokhi Meranzai, a female Afghan journalist, was killed inside her home by an unknown assailant. She had received a death threat relating to her reporting about a month before her murder; despite evidence that the motive was tied to her profession, Afghan security services persist in treating it as a robbery.

Since early 2013, press freedom organizations have noted a decrease in the number of women currently working as journalists in Afghanistan due to the culture of fear created by religious militants such as the Taliban and related organizations. Shaffiqa Habibi, director of the Afghan Women Journalist Union, told CPJ in 2013 that she estimated that 300 of the 2,300 professional female journalists had stopped working out of fear for their personal safety.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future of a free press in Afghanistan and the safety of journalists working in the country, many are taking steps to ensure they will be safe in their work. In August, 20 female journalists in the northern province of Jawjzan formed the first union of female journalists in Afghanistan. The union aims to promote women’s rights in the region and provide training and support specifically geared to women in the field. Similar unions have been established in other provinces across the country.

There is also evidence that the current Afghan government might be softening towards journalists; a New York Times correspondent, expelled from Afghanistan earlier in 2014 over a story he wrote on the presidential elections, was recently allowed to re-enter the country. Matthew Rosenberg was told to leave Afghanistan by the administration of former President Hamid Karzai after he penned an article stating that a group of government officials had formed an interim government in the hopes of seizing power during the election’s stalemate.

On October 5, Mohammad Daoud Sultanzai, an adviser to newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, said in a statement that if a journalist has a credible source for a story, they should be allowed to write it, as per the law. Although there has been a spike in violence over the last year towards journalists working in Afghanistan, there remains cause for optimism that the country can continue to develop a strong independent press. If the current government continues its commitment to protecting the rights of journalists and freedom of the media, Afghans may be able to avoid returning to the oppression and censorship they experienced under Taliban rule.

Alexandra Theodorakidis is a former CJFE intern and current freelance journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @AlexandraTheo.

Original article found on: IFEX

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On the Media: UN Secretary General Calls for Media in Post-2015

Original article found on: The Source

Posted on December 8, 2014Rosemary D’Amour

 

The campaign for media and access to information’s inclusion in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals gained a new advocate last week in UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who reaffirmed their importance in a synthesis report for the SDGs.

The report, noting the evolving information needs of communities and the necessity of supporting institutions for inclusive societies, cites access to information and media as integral to the post-2015 development agenda, a topic which CIMA has been following closely over the last  year.

“Press freedom and access to information, freedom of expression, assembly and association are enablers of sustainable development.” ~Synthesis Report of the Secretary General on the Post-2015 Agenda

Ban’s report is welcome support for what has been a lengthy challenge for press freedom and freedom of information advocates, including the Global Forum for Media Development and Article 19, who have spearheaded initiatives to get these issues on the table at United Nations Open Working Group sessions.

“The Secretary General’s report today echoed civil society calls for post-2015 commitments to freedom of information and media both as crucial rights-based ends in themselves and as practical necessities for monitoring progress towards all the proposed new goals,” GFMD said in a press release last week.

However, the process is not over yet. The road to final adoption of the SDGs faces significant roadblocks from authoritarian countries opposed to media’s inclusion on the indicators. On another front, the SDGs have come under criticism of late for the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed, which some member states feel would be challenging to implement by 2030. Ban’s synthesis report, which highlights the necessity of these goals, comes as a strong recommendation for their adoption.

The Global Forum for Media Development has launched a campaign to keep media and freedom of information as part of the post-2015 process. We recommend you join the coalition and take a look at their resources, including the video below.

Original article found on: The Source

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