Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Haiti: Too Sweet, Too Bitter

by MARK SCHULLER

Tomorrow marks four years since the earthquake that destroyed Haiti.

Aside from the construction of stands around Champs-de-Mars, noticeably absent the National Palace, from which pastors proclaim the gospel over loudspeakers, there is little sign of tomorrow’s significance. Unlike the first anniversary – indeed, first six months, of the earthquake, there is little organized fanfare.

On the surface, things are calm. Port-au-Prince appears to be in security. Kidnapping stats are way down from the end of the year. The protests that engulfed the streets almost daily in November and early December, including thousands recently for an increase in Haiti’s minimum wage to 500 gourdes a day (about $11.35, or $1.42 per hour), have dissipated for the holiday season.

But like many people who have commented on the taste of Prestige, Haiti’s national beer that recently won its second world beer cup title, since it was purchased by Heineken, it is too sweet.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe presented a list of accomplishments four years on, which include the construction of 5,000 houses.

Yet this sweetness comes at a price. Yes, the price of beer, along with daily necessities, has gone up.

But there is also a price for the apparent sweetness of the city. Persistent rumors credit deals made with elements who would otherwise create disorder for the climate of security.

For some, the realities four years on are only too bitter.

On the “piste” – former airstrip, now a main thoroughfare dividing one of Haiti’s only remaining relocation camps from scattered successful social housing projects – a half a block from Route de l’Aéroport, is a camp, “Pèp Pwogresis” (progressive people, also known as Delogè) where about 108 families lived. Like many still remaining the camp is carefully hidden, in this case by a ten-foot brick wall. The owner of the space, about the size of a squat football field (80 yards by about 40 yards), is the business that abuts it, Imprimerie des Antilles.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 this morning, a fire started in the camp, the corner that sits next to the printer. Within 20-25 minutes, the Police and the Fire fighters arrived. By about 11, the fire overtook the entire camp, every single house. The fire was hot enough to completely burn people’s beds; only the springs remained. Car batteries, used to power inverters, also burned through. Soft drink bottles melted. Chards of ceramic plates charred next to warped silverware. A pile of blackened tubers and plantains sat feet from a chicken carcass. The owner of the house (declined giving her name) had just come back from Port-de-Paix that morning with the foodstuffs.

Nothing was salvageable. Sheets of tin ripped and covered in soot were scattered on top of the few concrete blocks that delimited individual families’ house.

Camp committee president Ruth Calixte confirmed that three people died, including two children. Three year old Sabine Leon’s bones stuck out of the charred remains of her house.Louinor Nizaire, an adult, also died on the way to the hospital. He was asthmatic. Around thirty people were transferred to the hospital. Calixte explained that two hospitals, BernardMevs (private hospital in Cité Soleil) and OFATMA (a public institution), refused entry of the injured.

By the time I spoke with Calixte at 6:00 p.m., a child and four parents were still unaccounted for.

Several people in Red Cross uniforms were walking around the camp, accompanied by people identified with the Ministry of Public Health and Civil Protection. By about 2 p.m., the fire was completely put out, the fire fighters boarding their truck. Two Canadian MINUSTAH police officers entered the camp at this point.

While it is possible that they were waiting for the smoke to clear, there were no officials that could offer assistance to the 108 families who saw all their belongings burn beyond salvaging between 1 and 2:20, when I left the camp. Calixte confirmed that no one came by. She was still looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.

The police and fire officers with whom I spoke couldn’t identify the source of the fire, however a rumor circulated that the official cause of the fire according to the mayor’s office was an electrical wire burning. Given the heat and the rapidity of the fire – and the fact that it spread throughout the entire camp – there is a strong possibility of arson.

According to Calixte IOM did a census in the camp in late November, simply to update people’s IDP cards. No word was given to residents about relocation assistance; a plan that has successfully closed many of Haiti’s camps centers paying landlords up to $500 to rent to IDPs. Calixte reports constant pressure to leave the camp, while no specific threats. She reports not being in direct contact for about a year.

The steadily ticking down of internally displaced persons (IDPs), as officially counted by the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix is often hailed as the singular measure of progress for the Haiti relief effort. The latest report counts 147,000 IDPs, a tenth of the population as of July 2010.

The official count suddenly dropped to 172,000 in a report published on October 22. Notably, the large settlement area known as “Kanaran” (Canaan) was taken out because the Haitian government no longer considered it a camp. Population estimates for Kanaran vary between 70,000 and 140,000.

This official slight-of-hand is particularly insidious considering that Kanaran – which is a complex place with its own contradictions and realities – is a place where many IDPs go following the closure of their camp. In research conducted in the summer of 2012, 41% of Kanaran residents used to live in a camp. Of former camp residents, 63% reported leaving because of forced eviction, and 27% because of bad conditions.

This was before the bulk of the managed relocation program, modeled after the “16/6” plan. The Faculty of Ethnology’s Development Sciences Department Chair, sociologist IlionorLouis, reports that many IDPs found themselves at Kanaran even with the rental assistance program, because they couldn’t afford to make payments, or the landlord kicked them out. Shantytowns are creeping up the steep mountainsides of Mòn Lopital on the south edge of Port-au-Prince.

The construction of 5,000 homes (the Times reported a grand total of 7,515) pales in comparison to the 105,000 houses completely destroyed and 188,383 houses collapsed or badly damaged.

Since they no longer officially exist, residents who are kicked out of Kanaran have no legal recourse, like the approximately 250 families living in Vilaj Mozayik, a camp that relocated together to Kanaran. On December 9, they were again forced from their homes, by armed bandits and police.

Tomorrow a large march is scheduled to advocate for housing rights. Word is that other larger, more politically motivated, protests will resume in the week.

No protest can bring Sabine Leon back to life, nor give back the 108 families of the “progressive people” camp their baby pictures, their tarps, their clothes, their homes, and their sense of security.

If this bitter reality is hard to swallow it is nonetheless an important reminder of the precariousness of the situation.

Mark Schuller is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’Étatd’Haïti. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others, Schuller’s research on globalization, NGOs, gender, and disasters in Haiti has been published in two dozen book chapters and peer-reviewed articles as well as public media. He is the author of Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs (2012) and co-editor of three volumes, including Tectonic Shifts: Haiti Since the Earthquake (2012). He is co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009). Schuller is co-editor of Berghahn Books’ Catastrophes in Context: a Series in Engaged Social Science on Disasters, board chair of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, and active in several solidarity efforts.

 

Mark Schuller is Associate Professor of Anthropology and NGO Leadership and Development at Northern Illinois University and affiliate at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, l’Université d’État d’Haïti. He is the author or co-editor of six books, including forthcoming Humanitarian Aftershocks in Haiti. Schuller is co-director / co-producer of documentary Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009), and active in several solidarity efforts.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]