Following decades of developed world imperialism, the 7.0R earth quake has left Haiti with a death toll reaching tens of thousands and including the nation’s leading feminists: an invasion by some 16,000 US military personnel and a multitude of predominantly self-centred aid agencies; infants and children at risk of human traffickers; and the country's innocents shot dead and wounded on false perceptions of looting. Within the space of barely two weeks the majority of the world’s media have departed for budgetary concerns, but four suggestions give genuine hope to our sisters and brothers in Haiti.
Read on for these four messages of hope from:
- Noam Chomsky and co-signatories demanding that the reconstruction of Haiti be pursued under the guidance of one overarching objective: the political and economic empowerment of the Haitian people
- OXFAM (UK) reminding that Haiti debt is ‘cruel and unnecessary‘, and calling for the cancellation of Haiti‘s outstanding and newly-acquired debts;
- Ellen Ruppel Shell calling for an end to Haiti's sweat shop labour which sees the "export of nearly 200 million T-shirts each year to the United States, T-shirts stitched by factory workers reportedly making as little as 18 cents an hour. Like children who must make do with mud cookies, these garment workers must make do with a starvation wage - wages even lower than their parents earned working in similar factories 25 years ago".
- Amalia Fawcett reminding that, aside from the risk of orphaned children falling into the hands of human traffickers, intra-county adoption is not in the children’s best interest
Read on further for a selection of the tragedy upon tragedy which has unfolded following the quake of January 12 2010, and the circumstances [read *imperialism*] which led to the resulting massive death and destruction in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince
London ~ Friday 22 January 2010
Haitian empowerment must be the prime goalWe the undersigned are outraged by the scandalous delays in getting essential aid to victims of the earthquake in Haiti ('Chaotic and confusing' relief effort is costing lives, aid agencies warn, 19 January). As a result of the US decision to prioritise the accumulation of foreign soldiers over the distribution of emergency supplies, untold numbers of people have died needlessly. We demand that US commanders immediately restore executive control of the relief effort to Haiti's leaders, and to help rather than replace the local officials they claim to support.
Obsessive foreign concerns with "security" and "violence" are refuted by actual levels of patience and solidarity on the streets of Port-au-Prince. In keeping with a long-standing pattern, US and UN officials continue to treat the Haitian people and their representatives with wholly misplaced fear and suspicion. We call on the de facto rulers of Haiti to do everything possible to strengthen the capacity of the Haitian people to respond to this crisis. We demand, consequently, that they allow Haiti's most popular and most inspiring political leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide (whose party won 90% of the parliamentary seats in the country's last round of democratic elections), to return immediately from the unconstitutional exile to which he has been confined since the US, Canada and France helped depose him in 2004.
If reconstruction proceeds under the supervision of foreign troops and international development agencies it will not serve the interests of the vast majority of Haitians. We call on the leaders of the international community to respect Haitian sovereignty and to initiate an immediate reorientation of international aid, away from neoliberal adjustment, sweatshop exploitation and non-governmental charity, and towards systematic investment in Haiti's own government and public institutions. We demand that France pays the colossal amount of money it owes Haiti in full and at once.
Above all, we demand that the reconstruction of Haiti be pursued under the guidance of one overarching objective: the political and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.
Roger Annis Canada Haiti Action Network, Noam Chomsky MIT, Brian Concannon Jr Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Berthony Dupont Editor, Haiti Liberté, Yves Engler Haiti Action Montreal, Peter Hallward Middlesex University, Pierre Labossiere Haiti Action Committee, USA, Kevin Pina Journalist/film-maker, Jean Saint Vil Canada Haiti Action Network
Monday, 25 January 2010
Haiti debt 'cruel and unnecessary' Oxfam has provided aid for Haiti, but has called on governments to cancel the country's debt
Oxfam has urged foreign ministers to cancel Haiti's debt, saying insisting upon repayment would be "both cruel and unnecessary".
The charity's call for cancellation of Haiti's outstanding 890 million dollars (£552 million) of international debt comes as foreign ministers meet in Montreal to focus on Haiti's needs in the wake of this month's earthquake.
Oxfam also urged ministers to turn a 100 million US dollar (£62 million) emergency loan into a grant and to help ensure the country's poor areas do not miss out on reconstruction opportunities.
Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International executive director, said: "Expecting Haiti to repay billions of dollars as the country struggles to overcome one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory would be both cruel and unnecessary.
"Immediate cancellation of foreign debt must be accompanied by urgent action to support farmers and prevent a man-made food crisis exacerbating the hardship faced by the people of Haiti.
"This should take place alongside steps to speed the recovery of local markets such as cash grants to pay earthquake survivors to clear rubble and undertake other jobs linked to reconstruction."
He went on: "Haiti is a divided and highly unequal society so there is a real risk that, in the weeks and months after the earthquake, politically influential and richer Haitians will secure reconstruction resources at the expense of Port-au-Prince's poorest."
Along with debt cancellation and cash grants for poor areas, Oxfam also called for support for Haitian farmers and small businesses, support for civil society and the Haitian government, and earthquake-proof buildings in the future.
It warned Haiti was now dependent on imports for 40% of its food, with the planting season just two weeks away.
January 22, 2010
In Haiti, another disaster needs our helpBy Ellen Ruppel Shell
THIS WEEK, CNN contextualized the earthquake disaster in Haiti by showing an archival news clip of Haitian children eating mud cookies made primarily of edible clay trucked in from the country’s Central Plateau. A good number of Haitian mothers apparently believe that feeding their children clay mixed with a bit of oil or sugar is better than feeding them nothing. There is logic to this: the cookies fill empty stomachs, after all, and may even contain trace minerals. The fact that clay has little if any nutritional value and often carries dangerously high levels of bacteria is easily forgotten when a mother is looking into the eyes of her starving child.
Watching children munch mud cookies on CNN brought to mind a similar line of logic involving sweatshops. Supporters claim that sweatshops are a regrettable but necessary first step on the ladder of development. Sweatshops, they argue, are the very embodiment of free enterprise - workers flock to them not because they are forced to, but because it is the best possible option open to them, just as Haitian mothers chose to feed their children with mud cookies. But that begs the obvious question: is this the best we can do?
Haiti exports nearly 200 million T-shirts each year to the United States, T-shirts stitched by factory workers reportedly making as little as 18 cents an hour. Like children who must make do with mud cookies, these garment workers must make do with a starvation wage - wages even lower than their parents earned working in similar factories 25 years ago. So the idea that sweatshops are but the first step on the road to development doesn’t really stand up in Haiti. Factory work there is not the first step on a rising ladder, but a wet patch on a slippery slope from which it is nearly impossible to gain footing, let alone make progress.
Haitians flock to factories because they have virtually no alternatives, thanks at least in part to US-supported policies that helped wreck their country’s once flourishing agricultural system. While Haiti once exported rice, for example, today three quarters of its rice ration now comes from the United States. This benefits America’s rice growers, but does little for Haitians, who are now importing nearly 50 percent of their food. Paying for that food requires cash, and acquiring that cash requires working in a job that gives the developed world something it wants - like cheap T-shirts.
To acquire these factory jobs entire families must move away from rural regions to cities like Port-au-Prince, squeezing into squalid slums of wobbly concrete houses that barely keep off the rain, let alone withstand an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Richter scale.
Today, Americans are digging deep to help Haitians. Obama has pledged $100 million in aid and troop support. But when the bodies are buried and the streets cleared, will we continue to exploit Haiti as a source of cheap labor and an outlet for our agricultural surplus? Or will we encourage and help the country to apply some of its many millions of dollars in foreign aid to build a new economy, one with a viable infrastructure, renewed agriculture, a tourist industry, and modern manufacturing that pays a living wage? Sweatshop labor brings Americans ever cheaper T-shirts, but it is far too weak a foundation on which to build a strong society. Like mud cookies, sweatshops may fill the stomach, but they offer nothing close to sustenance.
Ellen Ruppel Shell, a professor at Boston University, is author most recently of “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture.’’
© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.
The Age Melbourne Wednesday January 21, 2010
Children are best left with their families By AMALIA FAWCETT
Relocating Haiti's young would cause more pain and greater problems.
The best place for Haiti's children is with their families not in another country. Photo: Getty Images
THE horrific situation for Haitian children in the aftermath of the earthquake raises the difficult question of what can be done to make sure they are safe and secure.
Often the easiest solution can be the least appropriate. Even in the hectic environment of emergency response, aid agencies need to ensure that their actions concentrate on the long-term wellbeing of children, rather than looking for a quick fix.
In a country such as Haiti, where 46 per cent of the population is under the age of 18, the way we support their recovery will have ramifications for the nation's future.
When I've come back from previous deployments in my role looking after children in emergencies, I have been asked why we don't just get children out of the disaster zone and into a country that has the resources to look after them.
When we are confronted by images of death and destruction, this is tempting, but when I talk to disaster-affected communities about how they support their children, it is quickly exposed as the least-appropriate solution.
Based on a wealth of international knowledge about child development and resilience during disasters, we know that children best recover from shock, stress and grief when they are in familiar surroundings and with loved ones. Even during emergencies, a child's right to be cared for in a family unit of some form, and a family's right to look after their children, must be preserved.
Yesterday, I spoke to my colleague Dr Unni Krishnan in Haiti about the disaster's impact on children and he made this point very clear. He was emphatic that removing children from their families and natural environment was harmful and suggested that the international community needed to work to improve the children's environment, living conditions and future.
Families will often naturally prioritise the needs of their children and instinctively respond to their emotional needs in times of crisis.
In 2007, I was in the Solomon Islands as part of the emergency response to the earthquake and tsunami that had hit the country. I spent time with a community that had made a game out of teaching children what to do if another earthquake hit. The smiles belied the serious messages and at first glance glossed over the very real benefit of providing tools for children to process their fears and cope with their uncertainty.
When strengths such as these are present in a community, agencies need to build on them to support children, not ignore them. This home-grown solution led to these children being more confident to take some time to relax and be kids - which is essential for long-term emotional recovery.
Even in a disaster, most children will have extended families willing and able to care for them. Long-term care arrangements outside the family or community should therefore not be made during a disaster, and reunification attempts must continue for a significant period of time. This may not be simple to achieve, but putting children at the centre of the earthquake response is crucial.
When children have been separated from their families, local solutions are still often the best solutions. Children who are found to be without any family should have care arrangements that are culturally appropriate.
Many cultures have systems of customary fostering or adoption that allow children to remain within their own community. Well-meaning offers to adopt or foster children in other countries ignore the emotional impact of surviving a disaster and grieving for loved ones, only to be plucked from all you know to start a new life in a new place.
Experience has taught us that the knee-jerk reaction of removing children from the area or country affected by a disaster often means they are less likely to be reunited with families searching for them back at home.
Children can be resilient when given the right support, and in Haiti, where repeated disasters have pushed resilience to the limit, efforts to ensure that their wellbeing is safeguarded must be amplified. The ideal situation is in a family unit, or something similar.
Obviously, when communities are overwhelmed by a disaster, additional support is needed. But where possible, this should avoid the use of institutions, which not only remove children from their local environments, but also potentially expose them to new dangers. Sadly, abuse is prevalent in many institutions, and one-on-one emotional and developmental stimulation, so important for a child's healthy development, is often lacking, especially in countries with limited resources.
As aid begins to get through to those who most need it, we must also look for durable and appropriate solutions for unaccompanied and separated children. We must ensure that our actions are in the best interests of the children, not a just a quick fix.
If we fail to support communities to look after their children, then we become part of the disaster, rather than part of the recovery.
Amalia Fawcett is a specialist in child protection in emergencies with Plan International Australia.
TRAGEDY UPON TRAGEDY:
THE AGE Melbourne Wednesday January 13, 2010
Huge quake hits Haiti
Haiti earthquake aftermath
Cindy Terasme screams after seeing the feet of her dead 14-year-old brother Jean Gaelle Dersmorne in the rubble of the collapsed St. Gerard School in Port-au-Prince. Photo: AP
RAW VIDEO: Hundreds may be dead after a massive earthquake hits Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
Hundreds of people are feared dead and two Australians are missing after a massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince today.
"When we get an idea of the toll it will be measured in the hundreds," a local doctor told an AFP reporter in the city.
Chaos has gripped the city this morning after the quake set off a Caribbean tsunami alert.
Do you know someone in Haiti? Email us with news and pictures or MMS 0406 THE AGE (+61 406 843 243).
The presidential palace has reportedly been levelled along with other buildings in the city and many are feared dead.
Communications to the island, one of the world's most impoverished countries, have been cut in the wake of the earthquake, which produced several major aftershocks.
Kamar Jordan, news and current affairs editor for the Caribbean Media Corporation, said the extent of the damage was not yet clear.
"Many are feared dead and many buried under the rubble of that earthquake which affected many buildings in capital Port-au-Prince, including the presidential palace we’re hearing that might have collapsed during this event,’’ she told radio 3AW.
"Many people are screaming all through the capital and (it is) pretty much a chaotic situation.’’
Ms Jordan said it was unclear who was in the presidential palace at the time of the quake.
A journalist with Haitian television station Haitipal, interviewed by telephone from Port-au-Prince, said public buildings across the capital had been destroyed.
"The presidential palace, the finance ministry, the ministry of public works, the ministry of communication and culture," were all affected by the quake, the reporter said, adding that the parliament building and a cathedral in the capital were also crumbling.
A tsunami alert was immediately issued for the Caribbean region after the earthquake struck at 8.53am, Melbourne time.
An AFP correspondent said the ground shook for more than a minute. Minutes later, two sever aftershocks hit.
"I think it's really a catastrophe of major proportions," the country's ambassador to the United States, Raymond Alcide Joseph, told CNN television.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is urgently trying to contact two Australians missing in Haiti.
A DFAT spokeswoman said the Australian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago was attempting to determine if any other Australians had been affected but damage to communication infrastructure in the area was hampering their efforts.
Meanwhile, Australia was ready to respond to any requests for assistance, a DFAT spokesman said.
US President Barack Obama said his country stood "ready to assist".
The US Geological Survey said the powerful quake was initially measured at 7.3 on the scale and struck 16 kilometres from the capital Port-Au-Prince, and 27 kilometres from Petionville.
An AFP correspondent in Petionville said one three-story building, housing two offices, was toppled, and a tractor was already at the scene trying to dig out victims as people fled onto the streets in panic.
The up-scale area is home to many foreign diplomats and members of a major United Nations mission to the country.
The quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometres, the USGS said.
A tsunami warning was in place for Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, with the first waves predicted to hit Haiti shortly.
The ambassador told CNN he was heartbroken as he had just spoken by telephone with a senior presidential aide who described scenes of chaos and devastation.
"He had to stop his car just about half an hour ago, and take to the streets, start walking, but he said houses were crumbling on the right side of the street and the left side of the street," Joseph said.
"He does not know whether he would reach his home, not knowing what he would find, because he had a bridge to cross to get there."
A US Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson in Florida said they did not have much information yet, saying they had not yet been able to contact their office in Haiti.
"We haven't taken any measure in the area so far. We don't have any information rather that what we got from the news," she told AFP.
"We couldn't contact our officer there yet, so we are waiting to have more information in a couple of hours."
Already the poorest nation in the Americas, Haiti has been hit by a series of disasters recently and was battered by hurricanes in 2008.
The country was also gripped by a tense political standoff in April 2008 amid riots over skyrocketing food prices.
Seventy per cent of Haiti's population lives on less than two dollars per day and half of its 8.5 million people are unemployed.
According to official figures, food insecurity already affects more than a quarter of Haiti's population, some 1.9 million people, with women and children the worst affected.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation has designated Haiti as one of the world's most economically vulnerable countries.
The WFP serves one meal a day to more than 500,000 Haitian schoolchildren, providing them with what is often their only meal of the day.
The organisation also feeds 100,000 women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and 50,000 children under the age of five.
Since mid-2004, the Brazilian-led MINUSTAH has been keeping the peace in the impoverished Caribbean island nation.
People seeking information on Australians in Haiti should call (02) 6261 3305.
London ~ Saturday, 16 January 2010
No help in sight as the hellish stench of death grows
A woman cries out for help at the hospital in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince(Chris Harris/The Times)
By Tim Reid in Port-au-Prince
They were bloated and rotting in the hot sun, many thrown together in a macabre embrace. I stared appalled, not daring to breathe, at more than 1,000 abandoned dead outside this devastated city’s central mortuary, enveloped in a hellish stench of death.
A few yards away, I watched as hundreds of listless men, women and children, on filthy mats and bloodstained sheets, lay in the heat with broken limbs, beset by flies, still untreated since Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake.
In the streets of central Port-au-Prince, people scrambled with bare hands at the concrete and rubble that had once been their homes, some just to retrieve loved ones they knew were dead. There was not an aid truck or an ambulance in sight.
Here in Port-au-Prince, where an estimated 50,000 Haitians were killed and 300,000 left homeless, anger was mounting yesterday amid frustration and disbelief that food, medicine and foreign rescue workers had still not materialised, nearly four days after the disaster.
Aid workers, still struggling to deliver the food, water and medical supplies so desperately needed, warned that more security was needed as the Haitians’ grief and shock began to turn to rage and blame. Last night most of the shops in the city had been looted, while the UN world food programme said that its warehouses had been ransacked for supplies.
“We are waiting but we have had nothing yet,” Jean Claude Hillare shouted at me, standing in the central Champs de Mer, which has been turned into a shanty town of makeshift tents and destitute families.
“Nobody comes. Nobody,” he said in disgust, before turning to point at the flattened Air France building, a mass of giant concrete slabs and twisted metal entombing an unknown number of dead.
“There are still people under there,” Mr Hillare said. “For three days they shouted for help. Nobody came. They have stopped shouting now. They are dead. People are getting more and more angry. Where is the water? Where is the food?”
He begged me for help. “Here is my telephone number,” he said, pressing it into my hand. “Please, please, talk to somebody, do something.”
Outside the hospital, behind the devastated presidential palace, Marie Lourde Ulisse tended her seven-year-old son, Balnave, who lay on a mud-caked doormat with a gash across his head and a smashed foot.
Her husband and two other children were killed in the earthquake. Her home was destroyed. “Nobody is helping. We have no help, no medicine, no food. What is happening?”
This is Port-au-Prince’s central hospital. Doctor Smith Lamarre said it has run out of all medicine. Standing yards from the abandoned dead, spread far and wide around the morgue, he said there were only 20 Haitian doctors in the clinic.
“The situation is critical. We have neither the tools nor the medicine to help the sick. We are waiting for the foreign doctors, who do not come. This is a crisis.”
As the daze and heat continue after the earthquake, officials now concede that thousands of bodies may never be recovered, or will be so decomposed by the time they are retrieved that they will be beyond recognition.
President Préval warned that thousands could end up unidentified in mass graves, robbed of the chance of being buried by their families.
The murderous force of Tuesday’s earthquake was utterly random in the victims it chose. Officials say that about one building in ten was destroyed but in some parts of the city at least half were flattened.
Amid some of the worst scenes of devastation, tens of thousands of Haitians walked in the street, many wearing face masks or holding rags across their noses to block the stench emanating from the rubble, and from giant piles of garbage and food rotting on the pavements. Some even rammed limes up their noses to cope with the smell.
An angry crowd gathered at one collapsed building, much of their ire directed at a handful of heavily armed soldiers, who were stopping the crowd from helping the half-dozen Haitian search officials trying to find bodies and signs of life.
“I have a friend under there,” shouted an incensed Rusmond Beautrun, before being pushed back by a soldier.
Down in the huge central square, thousands sat under sheets or tarpaulins, cooking what little food they had, their homes gone. One man walked dazed and naked within the crowd. Most seemed to be just waiting for something anything to help. Near by, the once beautiful sparkling white Palace of Justice lies in ruins, as does the Ministry of Health. Two men with wheelbarrows picked at the wreckage, scavenging bits of metal and wood and scraps of paper. In this city I have visited twice before, I have been shot at, carjacked, and threatened with machetes. Yesterday the people seemed too consumed by what had befallen them to care about anything else, or any foreigners in their midst.
At least one British citizen is among the missing. Ann Barnes, 59, a United Nations worker originally from Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, has been unaccounted for since Tuesday. Ms Barnes’s sister, Irene Marquet, said she felt sure her sister was among the casualties. “There’s been absolutely no trace. One wants to remain hopeful but it gets more and more difficult as time goes on,” said Mrs Marquet, a pensioner living in southern France.
Ms Barnes, who was working as personal assistant to the police commissioner, has been in Haiti for more than two years. The former British Airways stewardess had worked for the UN for more than 20 years.
Bizarrely, significant parts of Port-au-Prince are untouched. While some streets lie in ruins, neighbouring ones escaped unscathed. Already, many are trying to get a sense of normality back in their lives. I saw one woman sitting on the concrete roof of her destroyed home, trying to sell mangoes. On a pavement nor far from a stiff, bloated body wrapped tightly in a white sheet another woman had laid out a few plantains and oranges to sell.
And back in the central square, surrounded by the sick and homeless, about 50 women stood in one corner, singing in a beautiful Haitian cadence a favourite prayer in a country where a devotion to God always hangs thick in the air. “Jesus, You are great/We praise Your name. You make the sky and You miss nothing. All You do is good.”
Sunday January 17 2010
Where bodies never made it to the graves
By Anindita Ramaswamy
Port-au-Prince: Death is so normal in a country numbed by disaster that craters gouged out by the earthquake in which putrid, decomposing bodies are dumped have become acceptable. The reality of death in Haiti cannot be described in words and pictures. And, as the government closes its eyes to this horror, you wish that you could too.
The mass dumping grounds for bodies provide a surreal snapshot of what the earthquake has done to people here it has robbed them of their humanity. So, this is what dying in Haiti means: At the National Cemetery, Port-au-Prince’s largest, scores of bodies never made it to graves. They were brought here to be left amid the concrete crypts, mourners and rubble of grave stones.
As you enter the cemetery, stung by the stench of death from bodies exposed to the heat, humidity and dust, you can hear the strains of a woman’s broken voice singing for the dead. She’s surrounded by other women who are holding onto each other to prevent themselves from collapsing in grief. Their cries escalate into shrieks and then anger, and echo through the grounds. But before you can approach them you have to negotiate your way through bloated bodies that have been discarded on the narrow path. Most of them are covered with flies. Some of them have their hands and legs tied with string. All of them are oozing with pus and faecal matter, the fluids streaming down a slope. Roosters and hens crow over them, pecking at the periphery.
A cemetery implies death with dignity, a calm passage into another world, a quiet end to a life well spent. But not in Haiti, where it seems that all sense of decency has been swallowed up by the earthquake.
Scores of bodies have also been dumped in a large crater in the cemetery. A security guard said they were brought by locals and not through officials of the government, which has been largely absent in the crisis. They have been tossed like garbage men, women and children some with their coffins, others not even given that cover.
In Haiti, there’s a rush to dispose of the dead partly because there is no space to accommodate bodies that are being retrieved from the rubble each day. But the main reason is the fear that decomposing bodies are dangerous. A persistent myth in Haiti is that the dead pose a serious health risk and bodies need to be disposed of quickly to prevent epidemics. DPA
London ~ Friday 22 January 2010
Haiti earthquake claims lives of country's leading feminists
Tributes paid to Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan, hailed as 'forceful and original'
By Daniel Nasaw Washington
Women's rights activists have paid tribute to three prominent Haitian feminists killed in this month's devastating earthquake.
Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan were among the tens of thousands who died when the quake struck.
They were described as enterprising activists who had taken on a legal and social system which, in Marcelin's words, treats women's bodies as commodities.
The three were part of the first wave of civil society organisations to emerge when the dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier stepped down in 1986.
Working both inside and outside the government, they and the organisations they helped lead were instrumental in establishing, in 2005, the country's first law criminalising rape.
They also helped bring about protection for domestic workers and legal equality in marital and family relations between men and women and led campaigns to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women.
"It took out three pillars of the movement, the earthquake," Eve Ensler, a feminist writer and activist, told the Guardian. "They were so forceful and so visionary and so original."
Carolle Charles, a professor of sociology at Baruch College, in New York City, said the women had shared an idea of "doing politics differently", adding: "It's a big loss."
Merlet and Coriolan held high positions in the Haitian ministry for women's affairs, created after the 1994 return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
As chief of staff of the women's ministry, Merlet, drew international attention to the plight of Haiti's poor women and the use of sexual assault as a means of control and oppression by soldiers, police and criminal gangs.
Volume 375, Issue 9711, Pages 267 - 268, 23 January 2010
Helping earthquake-hit Haiti
By Sharmila Devi
Aid agencies and the international community are struggling to coordinate a quick, effective response to meet the needs of Haitians affected by last week's earthquake. Sharmila Devi reports.
“The situation remains critical. Few aid agencies are in place. Hundreds of bodies are still stuck in buildings”, wrote Isabelle Jeanson, communications officer for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on the organisation's website on Sunday (Jan 17). “In the entire city, I've only seen about four or five trucks and cranes removing pieces of collapsed buildings so they can get the people out.”
Since a 7·0-magnitude earthquake, the worst in 200 years, shook Haiti last Tuesday (Jan 12), the world has watched with appalled horror as the already impoverished Caribbean island has struggled with what one UN official called the worst disaster the international body has ever had to deal with.
With most governmental and UN capacity destroyed, the situation in Haiti was worse than even after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, said Elisabeth Byrs, a UN humanitarian spokeswoman in Geneva. “Our first priority was to go in with urban search and rescue teams”, said Rajiv Shah, the newly appointed head of the US Agency for International Development, who visited Haiti for a few hours on Jan 16 with Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. “Our next priority, which started in parallel, was getting those commodities down there and making sure we have the food, water, shelter, and basic needs met for the people of Haiti.”
The USA, Haiti's richest neighbour some 500 miles to the north, has taken the lead in Haiti after a 9000-strong UN peacekeeping force there sustained heavy losses and its headquarters destroyed. About 5000 US military personnel were involved in relief efforts and an additional 7500 were set to arrive this week.
US aviation officials have taken over the barely functioning airport, where some aid was being delivered. But getting US officials and military personnel into the country and US citizens out was an early main priority, much to the dismay of aid agencies.
Difficulties in getting aid beyond the airport perimeter and distributing it among the estimated 3 million people affected by the quake has left many Haitians angry and frustrated and there were growing fears of violence and lawlessness. Water, electricity, communications, roads, and the port remained either non-existent or severely disrupted. An estimated 30 000 people were living on the streets, including pregnant women, some of whom had to give birth there.
Barely a mile from the airport, 85 residents of the Port-au-Prince Municipal Nursing Home were near death without food, water, or medicine, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds, if not thousands, more Haitians could be in a similar position.
Up to 200 000 people were killed and several thousand were buried in mass graves, most of them without identification and without the gathering of DNA or any other markers for later identification. Voodoo priests have complained to President Rene Preval that such burials are inappropriate.
Public health officials fear the death toll could end up much higher in the aftermath of triage. “Triage, stabilisation of the wounded, and referrals for surgical needs are the medical priorities”, said Mego Terzian on the website of MSF, which is one of the few organisations able to do surgery in Port-au-Prince. Medical crews across the city were running short of staff, painkillers, and bandages.
Victims with arm or leg fractures might have initially been in a stable condition and so would not have received immediate care. But their vulnerability to infection and shock was rising.
Those victims pulled alive from beneath rubble face particular dangers. Releasing the pressure from debris can trigger severe bleeding. After 72 h of continuous pressure, victims might start dying of kidney failure when damaged muscles release toxins into the bloodstream.
Diseases such as cholera and dysentery could increase. Makeshift camps, home to thousands of displaced people, are fertile ground for infectious illnesses, such as influenza A H1N1. Few children in Haiti are vaccinated against diphtheria or measles.
The public response from around the world has been immediate in terms of donations as well as offers to volunteer from many professionals, including doctors and nurses. But organisers on the ground were calling for trained surgeons with experience working in war or disaster zones. Medical crews with little experience of working in developing nations were urged to stay at home and donate money for the time being.
Even before the earthquake, many of Haiti's 9 million people lived in deep poverty. The country had an average per head income of just $560 per year and high rates of infant mortality and HIV/AIDS.
Several non-governmental organisations were increasingly frustrated with US control of the airport and the diversion of aid to make way for the military. MSF was particularly outspoken, urging the USA to allow its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material to land. “Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel”, the group said. “Despite guarantees given by the United Nations and the US Defence Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic.”
Hillary Clinton said in Haiti on last Saturday (Jan 16) that she hoped the government would pass an emergency decree, as it did after a series of devastating storms in 2008, giving it the legal power to impose curfews and other measures. “The decree would give the government an enormous amount of authority, which in practice they would delegate to us”, she said.
She also spoke of her concern about a report that some doctors from Miami were forced to flee from a makeshift hospital after hearing gunshots.
Lieutenant General Ken Keen of the US Southern Command said violence was increasing. “We are going to have to address the situation of security. We've had incidents of violence that impede our ability to support the government of Haiti and answer the challenges that this country faces.”
President Barack Obama, meanwhile, issued an order allowing selected members of the military's reserves to be called up. The Defence Department and Homeland Security Department can tap reserve medical personnel and a coast guard unit to provide port security.
But many Haitians were discomfited by the sight of so many armoured personnel carriers and US soldiers carrying guns while they were still experiencing severe shortages of water, food, and medicine. An Al Jazeera reporter said the streets of Port-au-Prince looked like the heavily-fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.
The UN said it was feeding 40 000 people a day and hoped to increase that to 1 million within 2 weeks. Other aid agencies were trying to fill in the wide gaps but co-ordination was not yet organised.
Estime Pierre Deny told Reuters: “The distribution is totally disorganised. They are not identifying the people who need the water. The sick and the old have no chance.”
Meanwhile, Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, northern Haiti, had more than 20 doctors, medical trauma and orthopaedic teams, and room for 100 patients but only one helicopter had managed to bring four patients, according to a message posted on the New York Times website. “I need your help urgentlyas soon as possible!” the message said. “When our staff hear a helicopter they are at the field immediately to receive patients but they are not arriving!! If any of you have contacts in the media or with organisations who could potentially get the word out about our hospital and our efforts to help please, please do so! The clock is ticking and so many lives are being lost.”
Haitian-Americans spoke of seeing their compatriots collapse on the pavement after receiving a telephone call or text message saying a relative had been killed and complete strangers would try to comfort them.
The USA and France, also home to a sizeable Haitian population, have suspended the deportation of Haitians without documentation.
In New York, many Haitians were hit hard by the recession and were already struggling to send money back home. Their resources would be needed more than ever, said Haitian-born Bishop Guy Sansaricq of the Saint Gregory's Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn. “Everyone wants to help but they don't know how,” said Bishop Sansaricq, who was a personal friend of Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, whose body was found last week under the rubble of the archdiocese. “We're telling people to keep their food and clothes and send money if they can.”
January 21, 2010
When the Media Is the Disaster
By Rebecca Solnit
Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences.
I’m talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster. I’m talking about the treatment of sufferers as criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in Haiti.
Within days of the Haitian earthquake, for example, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of photographs with captions that kept deploying the word “looting.” One was of a man lying face down on the ground with this caption: “A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag of evaporated milk.” The man’s sweaty face looks up at the camera, beseeching, anguished.
Another photo was labeled: “Looting continued in Haiti on the third day after the earthquake, although there were more police in downtown Port-au-Prince.” It showed a somber crowd wandering amid shattered piles of concrete in a landscape where, visibly, there could be little worth taking anyway.
A third image was captioned: “A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from an earthquake-wrecked store.” Yet another: “The body of a police officer lies in a Port-au-Prince street. He was accidentally shot by fellow police who mistook him for a looter.”
People were then still trapped alive in the rubble. A translator for Australian TV dug out a toddler who’d survived 68 hours without food or water, orphaned but claimed by an uncle who had lost his pregnant wife. Others were hideously wounded and awaiting medical attention that wasn’t arriving. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, needed, and still need, water, food, shelter, and first aid. The media in disaster bifurcates. Some step out of their usual “objective” roles to respond with kindness and practical aid. Others bring out the arsenal of clichés and pernicious myths and begin to assault the survivors all over again.
The “looter” in the first photo might well have been taking that milk to starving children and babies, but for the news media that wasn’t the most urgent problem. The “looter” stooped under the weight of two big bolts of fabric might well have been bringing it to now homeless people trying to shelter from a fierce tropical sun under improvised tents.
The pictures do convey desperation, but they don’t convey crime. Except perhaps for that shooting of a fellow police officer -- his colleagues were so focused on property that they were reckless when it came to human life, and a man died for no good reason in a landscape already saturated with death.
In recent days, there have been scattered accounts of confrontations involving weapons, and these may be a different matter. But the man with the powdered milk? Is he really a criminal? There may be more to know, but with what I’ve seen I’m not convinced.
What Would You Do?
Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.
By day three, you’re pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.
So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like you stranded with nothing, and there isn’t likely to be anywhere near enough aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all his goods to the neighbors. That supply’s long gone by now. No wonder, when you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket, you don’t think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.
The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they’re people like you, and that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon anyway. You haven’t shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of money to your name. But it doesn’t mean anything now.
If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster, often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial for suspected minor property crimes?
Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in buildings and soon to die?
It’s pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn’t obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities. Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.
If Words Could Kill
We need to banish the word “looting” from the English language. It incites madness and obscures realities.
“Loot,” the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, “At one time loot was the soldier's pay.” It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers’ pockets and as imperial seizures.
After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don’t believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn’t even call that theft.
Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it’s usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don’t need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.
Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.
The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.
They also deploy the word panic wrongly. Panic among ordinary people in crisis is profoundly uncommon. The media will call a crowd of people running from certain death a panicking mob, even though running is the only sensible thing to do. In Haiti, they continue to report that food is being withheld from distribution for fear of “stampedes.” Do they think Haitians are cattle?
The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people) are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control -- the American military calls it “security” -- rather than relief. A British-accented voiceover on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies are being dumped from a helicopter a "stampede" and adds that this delivery “risks sparking chaos.” The chaos already exists, and you can’t blame it on these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help convince your audience that they’re unworthy and untrustworthy.
Back to looting: of course you can consider Haiti’s dire poverty and failed institutions a long-term disaster that changes the rules of the game. There might be people who are not only interested in taking the things they need to survive in the next few days, but things they’ve never been entitled to own or things they may need next month. Technically that’s theft, but I’m not particularly surprised or distressed by it; the distressing thing is that even before the terrible quake they led lives of deprivation and desperation.
In ordinary times, minor theft is often considered a misdemeanor. No one is harmed. Unchecked, minor thefts could perhaps lead to an environment in which there were more thefts and so forth, and a good argument can be made that, in such a case, the tide needs to be stemmed. But it’s not particularly significant in a landscape of terrible suffering and mass death.
A number of radio hosts and other media personnel are still upset that people apparently took TVs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Since I started thinking about, and talking to people about, disaster aftermaths I’ve heard a lot about those damned TVs. Now, which matters more to you, televisions or human life? People were dying on rooftops and in overheated attics and freeway overpasses, they were stranded in all kinds of hideous circumstances on the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the mainstream media began to obsess about looting, and the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana made the decision to focus on protecting property, not human life.
A gang of white men on the other side of the river from New Orleans got so worked up about property crimes that they decided to take the law into their own hands and began shooting. They seem to have considered all black men criminals and thieves and shot a number of them. Some apparently died; there were bodies bloating in the September sun far from the region of the floods; one good man trying to evacuate the ruined city barely survived; and the media looked away. It took me months of nagging to even get the story covered. This vigilante gang claimed to be protecting property, though its members never demonstrated that their property was threatened. They boasted of killing black men. And they shared values with the mainstream media and the Louisiana powers that be.
Somehow, when the Bush administration subcontracted emergency services -- like providing evacuation buses in Hurricane Katrina -- to cronies who profited even while providing incompetent, overpriced, and much delayed service at the moment of greatest urgency, we didn’t label that looting.
Or when a lot of wealthy Wall Street brokers decide to tinker with a basic human need like housing…. Well, you catch my drift.
Woody Guthrie once sang that “some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” The guys with the six guns (or machetes or sharpened sticks) make for better photographs, and the guys with the fountain pens not only don’t end up in jail, they end up in McMansions with four-car garages and, sometimes, in elected -- or appointed -- office.
Learning to See in Crises
Last Christmas a priest, Father Tim Jones of York, started a ruckus in Britain when he said in a sermon that shoplifting by the desperate from chain stores might be acceptable behavior. Naturally, there was an uproar. Jones told the Associated Press: “The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one.”
The response focused almost entirely on why shoplifting is wrong, but the claim was also repeatedly made that it doesn’t help. In fact, food helps the hungry, a fact so bald it’s bizarre to even have to state it. The means by which it arrives is a separate matter. The focus remained on shoplifting, rather than on why there might be people so desperate in England’s green and pleasant land that shoplifting might be their only option, and whether unnecessary human suffering is itself a crime of sorts.
Right now, the point is that people in Haiti need food, and for all the publicity, the international delivery system has, so far, been a visible dud. Under such circumstances, breaking into a U.N. food warehouse -- food assumedly meant for the poor of Haiti in a catastrophic moment -- might not be “violence,” or “looting,” or “law-breaking.” It might be logic. It might be the most effective way of meeting a desperate need.
Why were so many people in Haiti hungry before the earthquake? Why do we have a planet that produces enough food for all and a distribution system that ensures more than a billion of us don’t have a decent share of that bounty? Those are not questions whose answers should be long delayed.
Even more urgently, we need compassion for the sufferers in Haiti and media that tell the truth about them. I’d like to propose alternative captions for those Los Angeles Times photographs as models for all future disasters:
Let’s start with the picture of the policeman hogtying the figure whose face is so anguished: “Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food distribution exists for Haiti’s starving millions.”
And the guy with the bolt of fabric? “As with every disaster, ordinary people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti.”
For the murdered policeman: “Institutional overzealousness about protecting property leads to a gratuitous murder, as often happens in crises. Meanwhile countless people remain trapped beneath crushed buildings.”
And the crowd in the rubble labeled looters? How about: “Resourceful survivors salvage the means of sustaining life from the ruins of their world.”
That one might not be totally accurate, but it’s likely to be more accurate than the existing label. And what is absolutely accurate, in Haiti right now, and on Earth always, is that human life matters more than property, that the survivors of a catastrophe deserve our compassion and our understanding of their plight, and that we live and die by words and ideas, and it matters desperately that we get them right.
At the dawn of the millennium, three catastrophes were forecast for the United States: terrorists in New York, a hurricane in New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco. Rebecca Solnit lives in San Francisco with her earthquake kit and is about to make her seventh trip to New Orleans since Katrina. Her latest book, A Paradise Built in Hell, is a testament to human bravery and innovation during disasters.
Copyright 2010 Rebecca Solnit
London ~ Thursday January 21, 2010, page 18
Haiti looting horror: Girl shot dead by police for taking paintings
By Rory Carroll
Pictures of teenager show her slumped face down over one of the paintings
?15-year-old lies dead after being shot in the head in Port-au-Prince. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
The horrifying aftermath of Haiti's earthquake has claimed another victim in the form of a 15-year-old girl, an apparent looter, shot dead by police.
Fabienne Cherisma was killed with a bullet to the head after taking paintings from a wrecked shop in downtown Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.
Pictures of the teenager show her slumped face down over one of the paintings and a trail of blood seeping from the wound. Witnesses said it was unclear if she was deliberately targeted or accidentally hit while police fired in the air to disperse a crowd which was carrying goods from Rue Grand Rice.
A conflicting account gave her name as Fabienne Geismar and said she was killed in Rue Marthely Seiee.
Police armed with rifles shot over the heads of the people and kicked a man, part of a delayed effort to regain control of a capital which has been lawless – but largely calm – since the 12 January earthquake.
The crowd was carrying grime-covered chairs while Fabienne, who was on a roof, clutched paintings, including one of two flowers in a vase.
Photographs show her father Osam finding her body, then lifting it into a cart. Fabienne's mother, Armante, is shown weeping and close to collapse. Osam told AFP news agency that police intentionally shot his daughter. Police were not available for comment.
In a separate incident a mob lynched an alleged looter. In some parts of the city the practice goes without sanction. Scavengers mine the ruins of a supermarket in Petionville without comment from passersby.
Police were criticised for their absence from the streets in the first few days after the quake, compounding a sense that the Haitian state had ceased to function. Since Monday they have become more visible. UN peacekeepers and US troops have also materialised but have largely left looting control to local police.
Given the scale of devastation and lack of basic supplies many observers say looting and insecurity could have been worse, and that isolated cases had been magnified by the media.
Truckers with aid supplies coming from the neighbouring Dominican Republic have expressed fears of ambush, and discussed the need to arm themselves.
"The Haitian police, due to their own significant losses, are degraded," said Kenneth Merten, the US ambassador. "This is not a perfect law-and-order situation here, even in the best of times. We're concerned about it and we're monitoring it closely, but I don't think it's anything that's unmanageable."
London ~ Sunday, 24 January 2010, page 37
Haiti looters are shot or lynched as owners comb through house ruins
Most people aren't stealing, they are simply trying to recover what's left of their own possessions
By Rory Carroll
Marc Nestor holds a certificate he rescued from the wrecked law offices of his employer, Jean Samson. Photograph: David Levene
It was testament to the mayhem in Rue Pavée that everyone forgot about the burning corpse.
A group of youths in rags had clambered up to the top floors of destroyed shops and were throwing random objects into the street: nappies, books, bags, tyres, then chairs, bookcases and filing cabinets.
Fights broke out as the mob below surged forward to grab the prizes. A teenager peeled away, clutching a bulging white cotton bag. What was in it? "I don't know," he said, sweating, his eyes darting about, lest a rival snatch it. "But it's mine."
Motorcyclists draped looted tyres over their torsos before roaring away in clouds of dust.
Shots rang out: the police. Uniformed officers charged up the street, rifles levelled, scattering the crowd. Just a fleeting cameo by the Haitian state. Minutes later, the police were gone and the looters returned to pillage what remained of Rue Pavée. The corpse continued burning.
It was a scene dreaded since the earthquake on 12 January flattened Port-au-Prince: chaos and immolation as feral gangs took over the shattered ruins. A Caribbean vision of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Images of the mayhem flashed around the world, alarming aid agencies and terrifying the truckers waiting to cross into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. "They could attack at any moment. I'm getting a knife or a club before crossing," said Leonel Sosa, 22, as he loaded up his vehicle.
For those following events in the Haitian capital from afar, it was easy to overlook one thing: the mayhem was restricted to a few streets downtown. The ransacking and violence in Rue Pavée were real, but not representative of the rest of the city.
The people of Port-au-Prince have proved remarkably stoical in the face of extreme deprivation. The Haitian state has all but vanished, and the international response has yet to fill the gap, yet most neighbourhoods remain calm. In Delmas, for instance, street stalls selling oranges and fried plantain operated without hassle, a few metres from homeless, penniless families who had not eaten in 24 hours. The only thing they stole were glances. "Our neighbours will help us," said Juliette Josef, 28, surrounded by her four children.
Haiti's capital is filled not with looters but scavengers, an important distinction. Talk to those scouring the ruins for something to salvage and they almost always turn out to be the owners.
Mon Plaza, a warren of shops and houses in the hillside district of Pétionville, resembled an ant hill, with people carting possessions through the cracked concrete maze.
Some carried mattresses and iron bedsteads on their heads, others hauled pillow cases bulging with books, cutlery and electrical equipment. Looters have been lynched and shot, but these scavengers, reclaiming their own possessions, had nothing to fear.
On a dusty street in front of a collapsed three-storey house, Lenel Dilus hunched over a coffee table with a can of insect repellent, a can of air freshener, and a red bottle of Rumpa'n grenadine syrup: the sum total of what he had salvaged from the family home and business.
Around him were four neighbours with saws, iron bars and improvised tools. They had come to help him salvage items from the ground floor, a grocery store. Their other mission was to extract the bodies of five relatives and employees. They rubbed a lime under their noses to mask the smell, covered their faces with cloths and set to work.
"Lenel is not paying us for this, we want to help," said Estinvil Sainvilus, a civil servant. His task was to saw off the usable bits of wood from broken doors and furniture.
It was not pure philanthropy – the diggers would split the salvage – but the calm, businesslike exercise in solidarity and mutual gain was a world away from the chaos of Rue Pavée. Worming into corpse-filled, unstable ruins while aftershocks jolt the city is nasty, dangerous work, but it is one of the few jobs available in a shattered economy.
Marc Nestor, 34, a handyman for a law firm, assumed his job had vanished with the firm's offices in Rue de Centre. But last week his boss, Jean Samson, asked him to extract what he could from the debris. After five hours he had filled four cardboard boxes with documents, framed diplomas, legal texts and a hardback dictionary whose cover showed a picture of Barack Obama.
"I lost my whole world, but here at least I've got something back," said Samson, patting the boxes. Dapper in grey trousers and shirt, and with a blue surgical mask, the lawyer sat in a plastic chair in the middle of the deserted street and watched his employee squirm in and out of crevices. "I may need to hire a second guy. There's heavy stuff to be got out, bookcases, chairs."
High-powered efforts to clear debris got under way yesterday in the form of Caterpillar earth-movers equipped with turbo-diesel engines. They shovelled tonnes of broken concrete, some festooned with tablecloths and sheets.
Before the machinery arrived, Pierrot Boss, an ironmonger, squirrelled into the ruins of his workshop on Rue de Boudon to claim a 2009 calendar, treasured because of its historic illustrations of Port-au-Prince architecture.
His favourite photograph was that of the Banque National, a handsome building antedating the First World War. "It was damaged in the earthquake," said Boss. "But look at it here. It's beautiful."
Dublin ~ Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Child traffickers target Haiti's legion of orphans
By Matthew Bigg in Port-Au-Prince
HAITIAN children made orphans by this month's catastrophic earthquake or separated from their parents face a growing threat from child traffickers or illicit adoptions, the government and aid groups say.
They fear unscrupulous traffickers may try to exploit the chaos and social turmoil following the January 12 quake to spirit defenceless infants out of the impoverished country through the airport or across the land border with the Dominican Republic.
A police unit tasked with protecting minors has sent officers to the border but officials said that like every other Haitian institution, the unit had been hit hard by the earthquake that killed at least 120,000 people and probably many more.
"We are very concerned that there are increasing reports that children are being picked up and trafficked out of the country," said Kent Page, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). However, he had no details of specific cases.
Authorities also fear that legitimate aid groups may have flown earthquake orphans out of the country for adoption before efforts to find their parents had been exhausted.
As a result, the Haitian government last week halted these types of adoptions.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of parentless and lost children at risk in Haiti's quake-shattered capital Port-au-Prince. Hungry, homeless minors fending for themselves are a common sight on the streets of the capital.
Around 700 children who lost touch with their parents have been registered and placed in camps and efforts at reunification are under way, said UNICEF.
But in an indication of the scale of the problem, a Haitian children's charity working in the capital said it had identified 3,000 children that it considered in danger.
Some children joined gangs of looters last week, smashing into stores in the city's main commercial district in search of food and goods to sell, said Alveus Prospere, the president of the Organisation for a Better Future for Children charity.
Many others have been taken in by relatives or neighbours now living in makeshift camps where food is scarce, he said.
Even before the quake, economic pressure and grinding hardship in what was already the poorest country in the Western hemisphere provided a powerful incentive for some Haitian parents to seek adoption for their children.
Child-protection experts fear the Haitian government's problems in maintaining control and oversight in the country, now hugely exacerbated by the quake, could also give freer rein to well-meaning potential adopters willing to cut corners.
Dublin ~ Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Fight for life begins with struggle for hospital bed
By Jason O'Brien
A little fighter: Five-year-old Anne Colin battling her injuries in hospital
MEET Anne Colin. Among the five-year-old's interests is reading, skipping, and "playing hospital" with her sisters. The situation the little fighter now finds herself in is certainly not a game.
Anne was pulled from the rubble of her family home four days after the quake. Her head was between her legs, the concrete bearing down on her slowly crushed her skull.
"She hasn't said much since we got her out but when she was in there she heard her grandmother screaming her name," her father Waldo said yesterday. "Don't worry," she answered. "I won't die cos I've got Jesus in my heart."
She certainly had someone or something powerful on her side.
After she was pulled clear, a team of Canadian doctors were on hand to give her vital first aid, immediately covering the gaping holes in her head and pumping her full of antibiotics to stave off infection. Yesterday, she was brought to a hospital in Delmas by her father to undergo plastic surgery to cover an exposed bone in the centre of her forehead.
The doctor explained to Waldo that he would move a flap of skin from another part of her forehead, and might have to take a skin graft if that wasn't enough. "It will leave some scarring," he said.
"That's of secondary importance," Waldo answered. "I thought I'd lost her forever, and when I pulled her out I thought she was too badly injured to survive, especially with the healthcare in Haiti which was poor even before the quake.
"She will be out of here in two or three days. She is getting great care."
She was in a little pain but answered shyly to the doctor examining her, waving a paper fan in her face.
A small team of Irish medics joined the small hospital yesterday and with its security, its small number of patients -- five to seven operations per day -- and teams of specialised doctors from the US and UK, it certainly seems that the little fighter couldn't have ended up in a better place in the city.
But few in Port-au-Prince have been so lucky, even those who survived and got a hospital bed.
Meet Bob-Judeson Preval.
Among the 20-year-old's interests -- like many 20-year-olds -- are TV, football and going out. He was also training to be a mechanic. The latter career is no longer an option. And a lot of the fight has gone out of him.
Bob-Judeson was pulled from the rubble of his classroom two days after the quake. Concrete blocks had crushed his left arm. He was brought to hospital in the middle of Port-au-Prince immediately. It was eight days before his arm was operated on. It was amputated just below the shoulder.
"Too many blocks fell on it I think," he said yesterday. "I don't think they could save it, but it was a long time before the doctor was able to do an operation so I don't know . . ."
His voice trailed off as he glanced at the stump, his eyes dead.
In the hospital in Delmas, surgical-medicinal co-ordinator Tony Redman had earlier said that all the patients his staff had dealt with since opening last week had "received some sort of procedure".
"It has varied in quality, and sometimes it is hard to identify why some surgeries or amputations were carried out," he said.
Back in Port-au-Prince, Bob-Judeson is manifestly bored despite the organised chaos going on around him.
He has managed to get a bed -- many more are laid out on stretchers in front of the main door -- but he doesn't know what his future holds.
"I need medicine but sometimes it is painful," he said.
"This is the best place to be. I have nowhere else to go -- our home was destroyed."
His mother nods in agreement, waving a paper fan over his body.
Outside the hospital, an American soldier warns us to get moving as more sick and injured attempt to join the hundreds already lying in every available place inside. "It's getting angry out here," he says.
- Jason O'Brien
THE BACKGROUND FOR UNPRECEDENTED HAITIAN SUFFERING IN 2010
London ~ Thursday January 21 2010, page 31
Haiti's suffering is a result of calculated impoverishment
Last week's earthquake was a natural disaster, but the carnage is a result of a punitive relationship with the outside world
By Seumas Milne
There is no relief for the people of Haiti, it seems, even in their hour of promised salvation. More than a week after the earthquake that may have killed 200,000 people, most Haitians have seen nothing of the armada of aid they have been promised by the outside world. Instead, while the US military has commandeered Port-au-Prince's airport to pour thousands of soldiers into the stricken Caribbean state, wounded and hungry survivors of the catastrophe have carried on dying.
Most scandalously, US commanders have repeatedly turned away flights bringing medical equipment and emergency supplies from organisations such as the World Food Programme and Médecins Sans Frontières, in order to give priority to landing troops. Despite the remarkable patience and solidarity on the streets and the relatively small scale of looting, the aim is said to be to ensure security and avoid "another Somalia" – a reference to the US military's "Black Hawk Down" humiliation in 1993. It's an approach that certainly chimes with well-established traditions of keeping Haiti under control.
In the last couple of days, another motivation has become clearer as the US has launched a full-scale naval blockade of Haiti to prevent a seaborne exodus by refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States from the desperate aftermath of disaster. So while Welsh firefighters and Cuban doctors have been getting on with the job of saving lives this week, the 82nd Airborne Division was busy parachuting into the ruins of Haiti's presidential palace.
There's no doubt that more Haitians have died as a result of these shockingly perverse priorities. As Patrick Elie, former defence minister in the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide – twice overthrown with US support – put it: "We don't need soldiers, there's no war here." It's hardly surprising if Haitians such as Elie, or French and Venezuelan leaders, have talked about the threat of a new US occupation, given the scale of the takeover.
Their criticisms have been dismissed as kneejerk anti-Americanism at a time when the US military is regarded as the only force that can provide the logistical backup for the relief effort. In the context of Haiti's gruesome history of invasion and exploitation by the US and European colonial powers, though, that is a truly asinine response. For while last week's earthquake was a natural disaster, the scale of the human catastrophe it has unleashed is man-made.
It is uncontested that poverty is the main cause of the horrific death toll: the product of teeming shacks and the absence of health and public infrastructure. But Haiti's poverty is treated as some baffling quirk of history or culture, when in reality it is the direct consequence of a uniquely brutal relationship with the outside world notably the US, France and Britain stretching back centuries.
Punished for the success of its uprising against slavery and self-proclaimed first black republic of 1804 with invasion, blockade and a crushing burden of debt reparations only finally paid off in 1947, Haiti was occupied by the US between the wars and squeezed mercilessly by multiple creditors. More than a century of deliberate colonial impoverishment was followed by decades of the US-backed dictatorship of the Duvaliers, who indebted the country still further.
When the liberation theologist Aristide was elected on a platform of development and social justice, his challenge to Haiti's oligarchy and its international sponsors led to two foreign-backed coups and US invasions, a suspension of aid and loans, and eventual exile in 2004. Since then, thousands of UN troops have provided security for a discredited political system, while global financial institutions have imposed a relentlessly neoliberal diet, pauperising Haitians still further.
Thirty years ago, for example, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the US dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice. Tens of thousands of rice farmers were forced to move to the jerry-built slums of Port-au-Prince. Many died as a result last week.
The same goes for the lending and aid conditions imposed over the past two decades, which forced Haitian governments to privatise, hold down the minimum wage and cut back the already minimal health, education and public infrastructure. The impact can be seen in the helplessness of the Haitian state to provide the most basic relief to its own people. Even now, new IMF loans require Haiti to raise electricity prices and freeze public sector pay in a country where most people live on less than two dollars a day.
What this saga translates into in real life can be seen in the stark contrast between Haiti, which has taken its market medicine, with nearby Cuba, which hasn't, but suffers from a 50-year US economic blockade. While Haiti's infant mortality rate is around 80 per 1,000, Cuba's is 5.8; while nearly half Haitian adults are illiterate, the figure in Cuba is around 3%. And while 800 Haitians died in the hurricanes that devastated both islands last year, Cuba lost four people.
In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how natural disasters and wars, from Iraq to the 2004 Asian tsunami, have been used by corporate interests and their state sponsors to drive through predatory neoliberal policies, from radical deregulation to privatisation, that would have been impossible at other times. There's no doubt that some would now like to impose a form of disaster capitalism on Haiti. The influential US conservative Heritage Foundation initially argued last week that the earthquake offered "opportunities to reshape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States".
The former president Bill Clinton, who wants to build up Haiti's export-processing zones, appeared to contemplate something similar, though a good deal more sensitively, in an interview with the BBC. But more sweatshop assembly of products neither made nor sold in Haiti won't develop its economy nor provide a regular income for the majority. That requires the cancellation of Haiti's existing billion-dollar debt, a replacement of new loans with grants, and a Haitian-led democratic reconstruction of their own country, based on public investment, redevelopment of agriculture and a crash literacy programme. That really would offer a route out of Haiti's horror.