Ile à Vache resists land grab
The Haitian government is pushing to turn Ile à Vache (Cow Island) — which is off Haiti’s southern coast — into a major tourist development that would have an international airport and major hotel chains.
A government decree published in the official journal Le Moniteur on May 10, 2013, declared Ile à Vache “a zone reserved for touristic development” and “a public utility.” It automatically dispossessed the island’s peasants.
But the island’s 20,000 residents are resisting the move, saying they were not consulted, have not been included, and that they object to being uprooted. They make extensive use of the island’s natural resources for fishing and raising livestock. Many of their ancestors started farming on the island more than 100 years ago.
The Organization of Ile à Vache Peasants (KOPI) has been leading the struggle. The group held its first demonstration, which was large, on Dec. 27. It was designed to reinforce KOPI’s demand for an explanation and documentation about the project.
Events on the island began to escalate after Tourism Minister Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin gave a 90-minute presentation to a group of farmers on Jan. 16. The next day, hundreds of the island’s residents demonstrated in response, blocking roads, burning tires, and closing schools and businesses. They chanted, “Ile à Vache is not for sale, neither wholesale or retail!” (Haïti-Liberté, March 19)
The third demonstration on Feb. 7 was peaceful, but the government lied about it, claiming that KOPI set fires at two resort hotels. More than 100 “Motorized Intervention Brigade” (BIM) agents were moved in the next day.
BIM is an elite, heavily armed unit of the national police. Since their arrival, the BIM cops have sown fear by beating up militants and creating a climate of insecurity and apprehension.
On March 26, the farmers on Ile à Vache asserted that they will persevere with their movement until their demands are met. They say they do not oppose development, but strongly oppose the plans for luxury villas and golf courses.
Kénold Alexis, a KOPI member, noted, “This project is inconsistent with our basic needs, such as roads, clean drinking water, hospitals, electricity, schools for our children, vocational training centers, [and] modernization of fishing and agriculture.” (dadychery.org, March 24)
Thousands of Haitians flee
misery monthly; hundreds die
Fleeing grinding poverty, deep misery and a nearly total absence of employment opportunities, thousands of Haitians flee the country each month, either by sea or overland through the Dominican Republic.
Hundreds participating in this exodus die each month, but no one is willing to even estimate the number. All that the United Nations has done is produce an ad campaign in Creole warning Haitians that traveling in rickety, overcrowded sailing vessels is dangerous.
Yet, in their repressive role, the U.N.’s Minustah troops have occupied Haiti for more than 10 years. The agency has still not admitted that its “peacekeepers” introduced cholera to the country. The Haitian health ministry reports that this epidemic has killed 8,562 people in the past three years and sickened 698,304.
The United States has declared these sea voyages “criminal enterprises.” This makes it easier to deny refugee status to the passengers who make it to U.S. shores. The U.S. has also joined the U.N.’s ad campaign. (Miami Herald, Jan. 28)
The U.S. Coast Guard announced on March 26 that it had interdicted 559 Haitian vessels in the past six months. Assuming that at least 50 refugees are on each intercepted vessel, at least 5,000 Haitians a month are returned by the Coast Guard. Others die, while some successfully reach their destination.
An anecdote from November 2013, and reported in the same Miami Herald article, illustrates the possible death toll in these voyages. The Coast Guard rescued a vessel that had been drifting for four days with 111 people on board. However, a crew member says that the ship had started out with 442 passengers.
Even though the departure points on Haiti’s northern coast on the Ile de la Tortue (Tortuga Island) are publicly known, the government has done nothing to stop the departures.
But then, neither has the U.S.-backed government of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe found housing for more than 300,000 survivors of the 2010 earthquake who are still living in tents.
All the interdictions in the world are not going to stop people with no hope for a job from risking their lives for a chance at a better life.