One month after Haiti quake, rain adds misery
11 Feb 2010 22:15:52 GMT
Feb 11 (Reuters) - Rain soaked quake survivors in the tent camps of the Haitian capital on Thursday, a warning of fresh misery for the 1 million homeless living in the street one month after the devastating earthquake.
Here are some facts about the current situation in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
THE BIG PICTURE
* 212,000 people dead, the government reports.
* 3 million of 9 million population affected, 1 million now living in streets in 492 makeshift shelter camps.
* 250,000 houses destroyed
* U.N. World Food Program says it is providing food rations to an estimated 2 million Haitians, nearly a quarter of the population, through 16 distribution sites. Nearly 1.3 million have received a two-week ration of rice in past nine days.
* Price of imported rice is 25 percent higher and wheat flour over 65 percent higher than before the quake, causing difficulty for people considered "food secure," WFP says.
* Supplementary food program launched for 53,000 children under 5 and for 16,000 pregnant women and nursing mothers.
* Florida-based Food for the Poor said it had acquired and delivered more than 7,100 tons of food, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, building materials and other goods, and provided Haitians with more than 20 million meals of rice, beans, canned goods and water.
HEALTH AND WELFARE
* The Red Cross/Red Crescent, as of Feb. 5, had distributed 15 million litres (4 million gallons) of drinking water, provided medical treatment for 13,000 people, provided cooking sets, blankets, jerry cans, mosquito nets and hygiene kits to 37,054 families (185,270 people), tarps and rope to 17,000 households, tents to 925 households.
* Doctors Without Borders, in its most recent report, had 19 locations set up, treated 12,924 patients, performed 1,427 surgeries, had 353 foreign staff and 1,280 Haitian staff at work on the ground.
* More than 13,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to Haiti relief, along with 17 ships, 120 aircraft
* Has delivered 2.4 million bottles of water, 2.4 million rations, 9.1 million pounds of bulk food, 120,700 pounds of medical supplies as of Feb. 9.
* Haitian government has declared job creation one of its most important goals. Before the quake, officials said two-thirds of Haitians did not have formal jobs.
* U.N. Development Program (UNDP) injecting $175,000 a day into economy with cash-for-work program clearing streets of rubble and garbage, employing 34,885 workers as of Feb. 6.
* U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) employing 6,000 people in cash-for-work programs, hopes to reach 20,000 soon.
* Edmond Mulet, acting head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, said 63 million tons of rubble need to be removed.
* "If you lined up the dump trucks, our shelter expert feels that there would be enough rubble to go from Port-au-Prince to Moscow. That's a lot of rubble," said Tim Callaghan of USAID. (SOURCES: Haitian government, WFP, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, UNDP, USAID, U.S. military) (Reporting by Jim Loney, Jane Sutton; Editing by Pascal Fletcher)
To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature
By MARK DANNER
HAITI is everybody’s cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering. Epithets of misery clatter after its name like a ball and chain: Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One of the poorest on earth. For decades Haiti’s formidable immiseration has made it among outsiders an object of fascination, wonder and awe. Sometimes the pity that is attached to the land — and we see this increasingly in the news coverage this past week — attains a tone almost sacred, as if Haiti has taken its place as a kind of sacrificial victim among nations, nailed in its bloody suffering to the cross of unending destitution.
And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
In 1804 the free Republic of Haiti was declared in almost unimaginable triumph: hard to exaggerate the glory of that birth. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans had labored to make Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then known, the richest colony on earth, a vastly productive slave-powered factory producing tons upon tons of sugar cane, the 18th-century’s great cash crop. For pre-Revolutionary France, Haiti was an inexhaustible cash cow, floating much of its economy. Generation after generation, the second sons of the great French families took ship for Saint-Domingue to preside over the sugar plantations, enjoy the favors of enslaved African women and make their fortunes.
Even by the standards of the day, conditions in Saint-Domingue’s cane fields were grisly and brutal; slaves died young, and in droves; they had few children. As exports of sugar and coffee boomed, imports of fresh Africans boomed with them. So by the time the slaves launched their great revolt in 1791, most of those half-million blacks had been born in Africa, spoke African languages, worshipped African gods.
In an immensely complex decade-long conflict, these African slave-soldiers, commanded by legendary leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated three Western armies, including the unstoppable superpower of the day, Napoleonic France. In an increasingly savage war — “Burn houses! Cut off heads!” was the slogan of Dessalines — the slaves murdered their white masters, or drove them from the land.
On Jan. 1, 1804, when Dessalines created the Haitian flag by tearing the white middle from the French tricolor, he achieved what even Spartacus could not: he had led to triumph the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Alas, the first such republic, the United States, despite its revolutionary creed that “all men are created equal,” looked upon these self-freed men with shock, contempt and fear. Indeed, to all the great Western trading powers of the day — much of whose wealth was built on the labor of enslaved Africans — Haiti stood as a frightful example of freedom carried too far. American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti’s fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel.
For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti’s triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo — and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti’s former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.
The new nation, its fields burned, its plantation manors pillaged, its towns devastated by apocalyptic war, was crushed by the burden of these astronomical reparations, payments that, in one form or another, strangled its economy for more than a century. It was in this dark aftermath of war, in the shadow of isolation and contempt, that Haiti’s peculiar political system took shape, mirroring in distorted form, like a wax model placed too close to the fire, the slave society of colonial times.
At its apex, the white colonists were supplanted by a new ruling class, made up largely of black and mulatto officers. Though these groups soon became bitter political rivals, they were as one in their determination to maintain in independent Haiti the cardinal principle of governance inherited from Saint-Domingue: the brutal predatory extraction of the country’s wealth by a chosen powerful few.
The whites on their plantations had done this directly, exploiting the land they owned with the forced labor of their slaves. But the slaves had become soldiers in a victorious revolution, and those who survived demanded as their reward a part of the rich land on which they had labored and suffered. Soon after independence most of the great plantations were broken up, given over to the former slaves, establishing Haiti as a nation of small landowners, one whose isolated countryside remained, in language, religion and culture, largely African.
Unable to replace the whites in their plantation manors, Haiti’s new elite moved from owning the land to fighting to control the one institution that could tax its products: the government. While the freed slaves worked their small fields, the powerful drew off the fruits of their labor through taxes. In this disfigured form the colonial philosophy endured: ruling had to do not with building or developing the country but with extracting its wealth. “Pluck the chicken,” proclaimed Dessalines — now Emperor Jacques I — “but don’t make it scream.”
In 1806, two years after independence, the emperor was bayoneted by a mostly mulatto cabal of officers. Haitian history became the immensely complex tale of factional struggles to control the state, with factions often defined by an intricate politics of skin color. There was no method of succession ultimately recognized as legitimate, no tradition of loyal opposition. Politics was murderous, operatic, improvisational. Instability alternated with autocracy. The state was battled over and won; Haiti’s wealth, once seized, purchased allegiance — but only for a time. Fragility of rule and uncertainty of tenure multiplied the imperative to plunder. Unseated rulers were sometimes killed, more often exiled, but always their wealth — that part of it not sent out of the country — was pillaged in its turn.
In 1915 the whites returned: the United States Marines disembarked to enforce continued repayment of the original debt and to put an end to an especially violent struggle for power that, in the shadow of World War I and German machinations in the Caribbean, suddenly seemed to threaten American interests. During their nearly two decades of rule, the Americans built roads and bridges, centralized the Haitian state — setting the stage for the vast conurbation of greater Port-au-Prince that we see today in all its devastation — and sent Haitians abroad to be educated as agronomists and doctors in the hope of building a more stable middle class.
Still, by the time they finally left, little in the original system had fundamentally changed. Haitian nationalism, piqued by the reappearance of white masters who had forced Haitians to work in road gangs, produced the noiriste movement that finally brought to power in 1957 François Duvalier, the most brilliant and bloody of Haiti’s dictators, who murdered tens of thousands while playing adroitly on cold-war America’s fear of communism to win American acceptance.
Duvalier’s epoch, which ended with the overthrow of his son Jean-Claude in 1986, ushered in Haiti’s latest era of instability, which has seen, in barely a quarter-century, several coups and revolutions, a handful of elections (aborted, rigged and, occasionally, fair), a second American occupation (whose accomplishments were even more ephemeral than the first) and, all told, a dozen Haitian rulers. Less and less money now comes from the land, for Haiti’s topsoil has grown enfeebled from overproduction and lack of investment. Aid from foreigners, nations or private organizations, has largely supplanted it: under the Duvaliers Haiti became the great petri dish of foreign aid. A handful of projects have done lasting good; many have been self-serving and even counterproductive. All have helped make it possible, by lifting basic burdens of governance from Haiti’s powerful, for the predatory state to endure.
The struggle for power has not ended. Nor has Haiti’s historic proclivity for drama and disaster. Undertaken in their wake, the world’s interventions — military and civilian, and accompanied as often as not by a grand missionary determination to “rebuild Haiti” — have had as their single unitary principle their failure to alter what is most basic in the country, the reality of a corrupt state and the role, inadvertent or not, of outsiders in collaborating with it.
The sound of Haiti’s suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a “stupid death” — a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented. “It doesn’t have to happen,” he told viewers. “People died today who did not need to die.” He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such “stupid deaths,” and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a “new Haiti” must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti’s people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart — something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside — one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago — these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti.
Putting money in people’s hands will not make Haiti’s predatory state disappear. But in time, with rising incomes and a concomitant decentralization of power, it might evolve. In coming days much grander ambitions are sure to be declared, just as more scenes of disaster and disorder will transfix us, more stunning and colorful images of irresistible calamity. We will see if the present catastrophe, on a scale that dwarfs all that have come before, can do anything truly to alter the reality of Haiti.
Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of “Stripping Bare the Body: Politics, Violence, War,” which chronicles political conflict in Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and the United States.
"The disenchanted, the disadvantaged and disinherited seem, at times of deep crisis, to summon up some sort of genius that enables them to percieve and capture the appropriate weapons to carve out their destiny. Such was the peaceable weapon of nonviolent direct action."
-- Dr. Martin Luther King
From The Times January 30, 2010
A huge chance for Haiti to be great again
"I do not want to be president. But I know the people are strong and I want to help them to rebuild." --Wyclef Jean
The morning after the earthquake in Haiti, I arrived in my mother country and I walked into Armageddon. I want to tell you that story, but that is not the story I want to tell you first. The earthquake is Haiti’s present, and I want to talk about Haiti’s past, because in that past lies the hope for my native island’s future.
That may surprise some of you. When you think of the history of Haiti, it is probably the recent one, of natural and political disaster. What hope, you may think, lies there? If you do not know much about Haiti, you may already think you have heard enough. “Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere”, as is repeated so often. That is only part of the picture. We are not doomed. Haiti may be the poorest nation in the West, but it is the richest in culture.
I know that many people I meet, in Europe and America, do not even have a geographical understanding of Haiti — they picture it only as Port au Prince, and they are not aware that the Dominican Republic and Haiti is the same island. They do not realise how safe, or how wonderful the rest of the country is outside the capital. They have no idea there is a coastline that has some of the most beautiful beachfront properties in the world, that amazes the visitors I bring — and that not a single one of them, by the way, has failed to have a great time. Every year luxury cruises stop at a thriving Haitian port called Labadee. It is only years later that a lot of those tourists find out, actually, they were in Haiti.
That is even before I begin on Haiti’s economic and architectural heritage. Have you heard of the Haiti that was so prosperous they called it Pearl Island? Of a country that was an export powerhouse, and not just in colonial times? It wasn’t so long ago that the baseballs in America were manufactured in Haiti. Did you know that in 1804 the people of Haiti defeated Napoleon, and became the first black republic and the second republic in the western hemisphere? And that, uniquely, allowed West African culture to flourish in the Caribbean, untampered with? That it is home of the Citadel, the castle on top of the island, that is the eighth wonder of the world?
So this is why I get angry when people write off Haiti. History does not lie. Has Haiti ever thrived before? Absolutely — through industry, trade and tourism. The question is now: how to get it back like that. Haiti was great, and could be, if we can only get the post-earthquake recovery reconstruction right, great again. This is an enormous chance for Haiti, and it will take the right government, and international community of business leaders. But the people of Haiti are strong. That is why they are worth investing in. We need an imaginative, ambitious Marshall Plan for Haiti that does not cave in to despair, but builds on its past glory. We Haitians have strong memories.
My parents left our dirt village when I was only one, escaping a dictatorship, and in search of a better life. They did not manage to get me to their new American home until I was 10. I cannot feel guilt that I got out. But I have made sure that I have always turned around and looked back at the place I came from.
I was talking to a friend in Haiti on the phone when the earthquake struck. “I can feel some shaking,” she said. Then the line went dead. The next thing I got was a text from her to say: “I’m running down the hill to get my kids,” then nothing.
When I made it in to Haiti, hours later, my first image was of dead bodies, strewn across the entire city. You could hear survivors still screaming from inside crumbled buildings. People were wandering the streets with bones hanging out, broken necks, mothers running with bleeding children in their arms, begging for help.
I got inside the belly of the beast: doing what I could, picking up the bodies and putting tags on them for a decent burial. I found out that I had lost at least 15 relatives. There isn’t anyone who has not lost someone. It was not until I got back to New York that I could let the tears flow. I did not want to show those people any sign that I wouldn’t be there for them.
Do I want to be President of Haiti? No. But I have to be part of rebuilding a 21st-century Haiti by any means necessary. The first step in a new Marshall Plan for Haiti is to evacuate Port au Prince — the capital has always been where the problems were — and start to plan and rebuild our urban landscape from scratch.
We do not want refugee camps. Instead, we should locate seven sites near water supplies, which will be transformed into model, well-planned cities. These seven cities would initially be laid out with temporary tents for the evacuees, but on the promise that these are converted, over time, into bricks and mortar. Unlike refugee camps, this gives people the stability they need to become independent, and is a programme that worked in New Orleans after the floods. The next step is to cultivate Haiti as a manufacturing base for America, becoming a cost-effective alternative to China, as we once were.
I am pushing hard on this plan – I am due to present it to the Black Caucus of the United States Congress. It is my vision of Haiti’s future. I look forward to seeing you there.
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