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Four months after Haiti earthquake

Anger, protests grow along with misery

Published Jun 2, 2010 4:35 PM

May is the rainy season in Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still living in tents or under tarps have to cope with water and mud flooding their sleeping spaces. That many practice what they call “domi pandeye,” or sleeping while balancing upright, shows how serious the problem is.

Haiti survived the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake due to the self-organization and sense of community solidarity, which its people have in abundance. But social tensions in Haiti are growing ever sharper, with the possible massive devastation a hurricane could cause hanging over people like a sword of Damocles.

While popular anger has been growing against the Préval government, which has taken steps to unconstitutionally extend its mandate, the real financial and executive power in Haiti is held by the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, whose French initials are CIRH. This commission is chaired by former President Bill Clinton, who is the U.N.’s special envoy to Haiti, and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. Through this commission and its occupation troops, U.S. imperialism calls the shots in Haiti.

The CIRH seems to be spending most of its time on promoting tourism and configuring housing so that assembly industries can profit, rather than dealing with the massive problems facing the Haitian people: housing, education, health care, public services like water, electricity and sanitation, and infrastructure like roads to bring food to the cities.

Massive repairs, cleanup needed

Conditions remain threatening. A few families have managed to repair their homes in the capital. The Haitian government got 7,500 of the 45,000 people living on the Pétionville golf course to move to a remote relocation center.

The government claims that there are about 460 refugee camps in Port-au-Prince. Some NGOs, using Google map data, put the number at over 1,000.

According to Michel Charbonneau, a Quebec missionary who has lived in Haiti for 15 years, the commonly accepted estimate is that it would take 1,000 trucks working 24 hours a day seven days a week for two years to remove all the debris from Port-au-Prince. This work hasn’t yet started. Charbonneau also estimated that five of every six schools in the capital were closed. (Journal du Quebec, May 10)

Foreign governments that have pledged at least $100 million to Haiti’s $9.9 billion reconstruction fund have 13 votes on the commission, while Haitian officials have seven. The World Bank will manage the money, while the CIRH will approve policies, projects and budgeting. The CIRH will have the ultimate executive authority in Haiti, a 21st century version of a protectorate.

Washington sent in 22,000 troops to “provide security” after the earthquake without seeking permission from anyone. Significant forces came also from France and Canada. U.N. forces occupying Haiti for the prior six years with 11,000 troops had lost most of their command staff when the earthquake collapsed their building.

With little shelter or food and few jobs in Port-au-Prince, hundreds of thousands of people — there is no solid estimate of the number — have left to go back to family in the areas of the country untouched by the earthquake. In the southwest province of Grand’Anse, 200 miles and many hours drive from Port-au-Prince, mayors of small towns estimate that their populations have grown by at least 25 percent in the past few months. Schools are on double session.

The only doctor in an area where 70,000 people live has gone from seeing 10 to 12 people a day to more than 100. Other than some aid from Cuba and Doctors of the World, this medical center has gotten no aid. Farmers are worrying that they will have to feed their families the seeds they had saved for planting their next crop. (La Croix, May 11).

Even before the earthquake only about half the students in Port-au-Prince could find a place in public schools. The earthquake closed the schools. In early April, the government proclaimed that elementary and secondary schools were going to be opened, even though refugees, people whose homes had been destroyed or damaged, were living in many of them or in their playgrounds.

Some of the private schools, where tuition runs over twice the average yearly income of poor people in Haiti, managed to put some replacement facilities together, but most of the public schools remained closed.

‘We want to go back to school’

High school students from both open and closed schools came together on April 26 and marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince, chanting, “We want schools, not money, not food, just schools.” Their placards read, “We want to go back to school.”

When they reached the Ministry of Education, a special unit of the Haitian National Police called the CIMO attacked the demonstration with batons and tear gas. When they started firing, the students ran away. Some were injured. (Haïti-Liberté, April 28-May 4).

Lack of food also creates big problems in the camps. Many people get money from abroad, but the price of basic necessities is up by more than 15 percent since the earthquake. UNESCO and WFO do provide vouchers for basic foods but the system is very cumbersome and time-consuming, especially for women who have to fetch the food and cook without having a kitchen.

Thousands of people demonstrated on both May 10 and May 17 demanding that Haitian President René Préval and his government resign because they have violated the constitution and are clearly attempting to set up a dictatorship. The demonstrations in Port-au-Prince were by far the largest, but other big cities also held them. The emerging Coalition of Popular Organizations — Tet Kole òganizasyon popilè in Haitian Creole — which consists of community groups, workers from the telephone company fired when it was privatized, and local committees of Fanmi Lavalas, called both demonstrations.