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Heavy rains add to political devastation in Haiti

Published Jun 18, 2011 10:41 AM

At least 23 people died in Port-au-Prince June 6 after a night of heavy rain. Six people were listed as missing. Some 500 dwellings — tents and tarps — were destroyed, according to Haïti-Liberté (June 8-14). The rains also brought an increase of cholera cases, with the number of deaths due to this disease climbing to more than 5,000.

Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in temporary camps — under torn tarps and ripped tents — 18 months after the earthquake destroyed their homes. Many of them were forced to relocate. The people forced out by the rain and mud slides didn’t have many choices of where to go: back to their old neighborhoods to houses which haven’t completely collapsed, to friends or family, or to other camps. They couldn’t go to shelters because the government doesn’t provide any.

Wilson Jeudi, the mayor of Delmas, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, along with the National Police, began evicting people from camps on public property in late May using bulldozers and front-loaders. Jeudi told the press, “Everybody was a victim of the earthquake; there is no question of paying people for emptying the public spaces they’ve occupied for months. We can’t encourage foreign investors with such images.” (Haïti-Progrès, May 25-31)

Such evictions have been occurring for months, though they have recently intensified.

The Haitian government is currently considering three plans for developing 50 acres of downtown Port-au-Prince that were completely destroyed by the earthquake. Most of the debris in this area hasn’t been touched, only shoved off the roads to allow traffic. (Haiti Grassroots Watch, June 8)

The Haitian press is filled with stories about the maneuvering and finagling between President Michel Martelly and parliament, whose majority are not members of his party, over which constitution plan is in force, and how or if it should be amended.

Martelly’s selection for prime minister is also in dispute. Prime Minister Designate Daniel Gérard Rouzier went to the same high school as Martelly and comes from a wealthy Port-au-Prince family. He told CNN June 10 that he was so upset that bodies from the earthquake were being dumped in the open air in the valleys of Titanyen that he had a mass grave for 2,500 people dug on his property.

More than 315,000 people died in the earthquake.

These conflicts actually highlight that Haitian politicians don’t have any real role in solving the country’s immense social and economic problems. They can’t come to a decision over how to develop 50 acres in downtown Port-au-Prince because the power to make decisions lies almost completely outside Haiti.

A good example of how decisions are actually made for Haiti comes from U.S. cables from 2009, released by WikiLeaks, detailing the struggle over the minimum wage.

Only about 20 percent of Haitians with steady jobs are covered by wage-and-hour laws, but Haiti’s parliament had raised the minimum wage from $1.75 for an eight-hour day to $5 a day.

U.S. manufacturers with operations in Haiti like Levi Strauss, Hanes and Fruit of the Loom refused to pay the increase, offering a maximum of $2.50 a day. The U.S. embassy chimed in that such a raise “did not take economic reality into account.” The U.S. ambassador talked about “the political environment spiraling out of control.”

A few months later the minimum wage for the textile industry was set at $3.13 a day.