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Ban Ki-moon heads to Haiti, offers an apple for an orchard

By: Wesley Laine

A few days ago, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Haiti. It was his first visit to Haiti since the cholera outbreak. During his trip, the Secretary General toured the “Sports for Hope Centre”, a project of the International Olympic Committee. Additionally, in the same sports complex, Mr. Ban inaugurated the newest class of Haitian recruits poised to take their first step toward joining the National Haitian Police (HPN).

During his remarks, the Secretary General emphasized that the Haitian State will have to show the people that it can enforce the law and demonstrate that in a democratic nation, no one – including political authorities and the police themselves – is above the law. The Secretary General’s remarks echo one of the core guiding principles of the United Nations establishment—the rule of law. Or perhaps what it once proudly stood for, prior to the egregious mishandling of the Haitian cholera disaster.

The numbers continue to increase with each passing day, more than 700,000 have gotten sick and over 8,500 Haitians have lost their lives since October of 2010. And despite indisputable evidence that negligence by the United Nations leadership and its peacekeepers are responsible for introducing the vibrio cholera bacterium in Haiti’s largest and most important river, Mr. Ban has refused to own up to his responsibilities as the head of one of the most important international institutions of our age.  

The Secretary General, in a very real sense, is entrusted with the power and responsibility to make meaningful the moral force of the world community. For four long years, the people of Haiti have patiently waited for Mr. Ban to acknowledge them as dignified human beings deserving of an apology and compensation for their suffering. So far, Mr. Ban has lacked the courage to recognize the humanity of the Haitian victims and their inalienable right to justice—outlined in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Perhaps it is well to ask whether Mr. Ban understands how much the Haitian people have suffered. It appears that the Secretary General is unable to come to terms with his own natural human empathy. On different occasions, he has offered half-hearted words of regret, deferred questions to UN lawyers, and offered to mobilize donor countries to fulfill their pledges for the dysfunctional cholera response plan. On this particular trip to Haiti, the Secretary General spent time playing Ping-Pong inside the new sports complex with the country’s prime minister, avoiding protestors braving the scorching heat to demand accountability and justice.

To deal with the tragic cholera crisis, the UN needs a Secretary General who is willing to look unblinkingly at the circumstances, confront the realities, face the tears of the wounded, and harness all stakeholders to a great collective effort toward justice. Unfortunately, Mr. Ban has shown that he is unfit to be that leader. It is easy to forget now, but this is essentially what happened in past failures, especially at the leadership level, of the United Nations to take bold actions to stop genocides or other wrongful acts. In all these failures, the passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen responsibility, or turn victims into villains.  

The task of strengthening justice lies with all of us, and especially with those who are entrusted with leadership positions. The Secretary General’s failure to lead has damaged the credibility and mandate of the United Nations. Moreover, it has set a terrible precedent for future peacekeeping efforts.

Most of the cholera victims in Haiti are people living in settings of chronic poverty, which are, by definition settings of structural violence. They have suffered enough. Suffering does not ennoble, it embitters. The cholera crisis has destroyed homes, left orphans, and deepened refractory poverty in countless communities. Consequently, the majority of Haitians have called for the departure of the UN troops.

Without an apology and a plan for compensation, it is clear that Mr. Ban’s trip to Haiti, which he called ‘a necessary pilgrimage’, was a photo-op and an attempt to save face. Furthermore, it shows that the Secretary General is out of touch with the plight of the poor and the daily struggle of Haitians to have access to clean water. The empty promises of the Secretary General are not going to stop the lawsuit filed in New York on behalf of the victims.

 In Haiti, many may live in poverty, but they are not poor people. They are proud and hard working people. The Secretary General went to Haiti, hoping to trade an apple for an orchard. Mr. Ban, we do not do that in this country. We want justice.

Wesley Laine is from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and founder of the grassroots nonprofit group Haiti Philanthropy Inc. He is a student at the Sciences Po Law School. He is a recipient of the Davis Peace Prize Fellowship for his project, “Cholera Prevention: Service, Solidarity, and Peace.”  



As the 28th anniversary of the Jean Rabèl Massacre approaches, farmers still face threats from large landowners

 By: Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye, @BriKouriAyiti

Jean Rabel local official Canton AlbertJean Rabèl, Haiti: On July 23, 1987, more than 139 poor farmers from Jean Rabèl and surrounding areas lost their lives in a one sided conflict fueled by land issues and angry wealthy stakeholders. As the 28th anniversary of the tragedy nears, many farmers and local authority personnel are alarmed by the return of wealthy landowners who previously staked claim to large plots of land in the Jean Rabèl area.
Recently, as family members of the victims and local farmer cooperatives such as Tèt Kole ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Unity of Small Haitian Farmers) started preparations to honor the victims of the 1987 massacre, they were faced with renewed threats. More specifically, many poor farmers are alarmed by the reappearance of Joseph Duchamps Lucas, also known as Pinga, in the second section of the Ginode area. Mr. Lucas is a relative of Stanley Lucas, who is a well-known friend and advisor of President Martelly. Consequently, Mr. Lucas has begun to stake claim to large pieces of state-owned land, currently occupied by poor farmers.
According to a local official of the area, Canton Albert, Mr. Lucas claimed to have bought the pieces of land. However, Mr. Albert reiterated that the land is state-owned. Moreover, many poor farmers have lived and worked on these plots for over a decade. 
Mr. Albert goes on to say that, “Mr. Lucas has conspired with other corrupt officials to fabricate false papers and claim ownership of land plots in our community. We are very alarmed by this situation, especially during the month that we are commemorating the 28th anniversary of the massacre committed by the large landowners on poor farmers of Jean Rabèl. It is disturbing that the same guilty parties are back again with the same acts that fueled the massacre. I am here to say that the farmers will not stand by as the situation unfolds. This time we will defend ourselves. Whatever happens this time, we will not be the only victims.”
In the 1980s, thousands of poor farmers started a movement and pressured the government to allow them access to unused state-owned land plots. By gaining access to this land, the farmers were able to survive and generate income by farming and selling their crops. 
By the beginning of 1987, major conflicts pitted wealthy landowners, who were well connected to the then-military regime of the period, against the farmers. These landowners claimed ownership of state-owned land on which the farmers were living. The ongoing conflict led to one of the most infamous massacres in Haitian history – the July 28th 1987 Massacre in Jean Rabèl. 
Mr. Canton has accused Mr. Duchamps Lucas of participating in the ransacking of a local radio station, Flambo 2000, because it allowed the poor farmers to express their grievances against the accused landowners, including the Lucas family. Moreover, Mr. Canton believes that current Martelly-Lamothe administration has favored wealthy landowners over the poor farmers of Jean Rabèl. Consequently, the support of the current regime has emboldened the large landowners and facilitated their return in the community.  
Mr. Lucas was twice contacted for his input on the allegations expressed in this article but refused to comment.  




Dying for Water in the Famine Red Zone

Farmers, Community Organizations and Local Officials in Jean Rabel Call on Haiti’s Government to Provide Irrigation as Alternative to Unsustainable Food Aid

By: Etant Dupain, Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye, @BriKouriAyiti

Jean Rabel, Haiti: Rose Guerdite Renouvil is eating her first meal at 11am, and it’s possible this will be the only meal she eats today if her husband doesn’t come home with something to eat later. Rose Guerdite is twenty-one years old and a mother of four living in a Red Zone, under severe famine threat, in the third communal section of Vensan, Jean Rabel, Haiti. 

Her youngest, a two-month old named Dalanca Papouloute, isn’t physically in good health. Potable water is scarce and the heat is fierce where they live at the base of a deforested mountain.  The family of six is living in a small home with two rooms and a thatched roof.

Rose Guerdite stays in the home to care for her children and responsibility to provide for them rests on the shoulders of her husband, Exan Papouloute, a farmer who is currently not working due to the current drought that makes it impossible to plant.

“What I’m eating now was a gift from someone,” explained Rose Guerdite. “She was lucky enough to receive a little food with a coupon she received during a distribution from an NGO (non-governmental organization) and she shared it with me. I don’t have any hope if my husband doesn’t come home with something. It is misery that will be the end of us here in Jean Rabel.”

Jean Rabel is one of the biggest communities in the northwest department and the majority of assistance in the region comes from NGOs who distribute coupons to use towards the purchase of imported food. However, this kind of aid creates more dependency. Farmers in the area are asking for sustainable solutions to resolve the problem of hunger such as investments in irrigation that could facilitate and strengthen local production.

Beans, corn and plantains are the three principal agricultural products in the region, but local production cannot solve the hunger problem in the northwest because there is no investment being made to improve the conditions of production.

Sebien Filibert is a 55 year old farmer who also lives in Vensan with his ten children. He has reached his credit limit  - 1000 gourdes (about $24 U.S.) – with the two merchants who have let him buy food on credit in the past. Under the hot sun, Filibert is planting beans in the dry earth, even though he knows it is likely that the sun will burn the beans. Only a decent rainfall could save his little harvest. 

“I came to work this morning without even drinking a little coffee,” said Filibert. “I don’t have a dollar, and I owe everyone I usually buy food from. I’m ashamed to ask them anymore because I am a grown man and I can’t always be begging. I was forced to send three of my children to the Dominican Republic to work. I don’t know where they are, if they are doing good or not. It is the misery of poverty that is killing the farmers of Jean Rabel.”

The Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan, or Unity of Small Haitian Farmers Movement made irrigation one of their major demands this year. They asked the Haitian government to use Twa Rivyè (Three Rivers) to bring water to the plains of Jean Rabel so that farmers could access the water they need to produce food. Twa Rivyè runs several dozen kilometers from the Jean Rabel plains. If water was brought to the region, farmers could canalize the area to allow for irrigation throughout the plain.

Local government representative, ASEC Robert Levy from the community of Lamontay in Jean Rabel, criticized the Haitian government for not doing anything to assist the farmers and abandoning the population into the hands of NGOs.

“It is not because we are lazy that we can’t eat,” declared Levy. “It is because we don’t have the resources we need to work and produce, and we also can’t grow food in the mountains. If the government would help us get the water we need here, that would help us greatly. It is the NGOs here who are lying can take a break. They haven’t come here to do something serious, but rather to advance their own business.”

The Haitian government’s policies to help the population in the northwest, especially in Jean Rabel, are no different from the NGOs. The distribution of food is making a bad problem worse. The environmental degradation has a major impact on agricultural production in the region. For example, deforestation is affecting the farmers because the soil is degraded and the quality of production is deteriorating.

Work in the environmental sector can create employment and should be a main focus if job creation truly is a priority for the government and NGOs who are working for the development of the northwest.

According to Sidolin Pierre, a member of the departmental coordination for Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan, the list of demands for farmers is long, but they want to be patient and peaceful. “Agricultural credit, irrigation, modern materials, reforestation  - it is a long list of demands to re-launch agriculture. The farmers have show that they are patient and understand the situation and that the central government cannot do everything,” said Pierre. “But the farmers ask for concrete action that demonstrate the government wants to work for sustainable solutions. The farmers are going to continue to mobilize to have their needs met because it is their obligation to seek the resources they need to work and not to just die in poverty.”


Prime Minister Lamothe on Tour: Lying to Keep Haiti "Open for Business"

Haiti's Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe speaks at Columbia University, photo from his Facebook page.By: Etant Dupain

Last week, Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe traveled to United States in what he called an official trip, although what defines an “official” trip for the current Haitian government is unclear. During his entire trip, the prime minister’s staff tweeted the details of his travels and speeches, making it obvious through the interaction with participants at various events that he is completely out of touch with the real situation in the country.

The way the Lamothe describes Haiti today is false and it is dangerous for the country. The propaganda being peddled to support the notion that “Haiti is open for business” doesn’t match the reality. Is Lamothe incompetent or is he just a fool enjoying the privilege of being a Prime Minister in a government that is not serious about anything but getting more stamps on their passports and building their internet following? 


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"If they put me out of the camp I will put my tent in the middle of the street", Camp Gaston Margon

From Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye

Camp Village Gaston Magon in Mariani/Kafou has 850 families living under the threat of eviction since the month of November 2012

150 families have already been evicted from one part of the camp.

Audio 1: When the rain falls we have to climbed onto the beds because the water floods everything, the space where I make food is always the worst.

The camp hasn’t had toilets or water since the beginning of 2012

Audio 2: The landowner says he will come and everyone must leave the camp, because when he comes it will be with a tractor to destroy the camp

Question: Where will you go when the camp is destroyed?

Audio 3: If I had a place to go I would have gone there already because the situation here is so difficult.

Audio 4: We have been living in this camp for three years and two months since the earthquake. We have faced a lot of threats from the landowner because we are on private land. One time they came to destroy the camp and they ripped our tents, we rebuilt the tents again. I used to live in a first part of the camp and when they forced us to leave I came here. The landowner wants the land to build his business.

We stay here because we have nowhere to go. When it rains we have a lot of problems and in the night it’s as though we live under streetlights because our tarps are no good. If the government relocates us from the camps it would be a miracle.

Auido 5: If they put me out of the camp I will put my tent in the middle of the street because I have nowhere else to go. I don’t have my husband, I have six children and only God can help me. My children don’t work, they are school age, if they put me out they are throwing me into the street because the only option is to rent a house. My house was destroyed and I have no money to rent a house