Friday, December 30, 2011

Haiti--The Aftershocks of History

(Photo by John Carroll)

Last month this little man was my patient in a pathetic cholera tent in Robillard, Haiti.

Like most elderly Haitians when I asked him his age he could not give a definite answer. He did say that he was born during the United States Occupation of Haiti. So that means he was born somewhere between 1915--1934. So he is between 77 and 96 years old. My guess is that he is 93 years old, give or take a couple of years.

He was never married and has no children. He lives in a little ti kay in Robillard and is assisted as necessary by an elderly niece.

He was a farmer most of his life. And he sold livestock and produce.

When he was admitted to the tent, he was quite ill--dehydrated with vomiting and diarrhea. He was very weak and spent most of his day on the wooden cot with his niece attending to him. He would look around, but that is about all he did.

So we tanked him up with IV fluids and held our breath. Cholera is hard on old people.

As they days went by, he became stronger and began to stand at his cot side. And even though he was very hard of hearing, he wanted to be heard. So he would give little speeches in the tent to the amusement of the other cholera patients and families.

One day I asked him what he thought of the Americans occupying his country many decades ago. He said it was good because "if it weren't for Americans, we (Haitians) would not have clothes on our backs".

His philosophy is somewhat different than the article below which describes Haiti's painful history.

(We discharged this man from the tent after his vomiting and diarrhea stopped and he was eating and drinking. He left the tent with his little tree-branch-cane, happily talking, with his niece at his side.)


Haiti--The Aftershocks of History
by Adam Hochschild

As a French possession, it was once the most lucrative colony on earth, producing nearly one-third of the world’s sugar and more than half its coffee. All, of course, with the labor of slaves. And slavery in the Caribbean was particularly harsh: tropical diseases were rife, there was no winter respite from 12-hour workdays under the broiling sun, and the planters preferred to replenish their labor force by working their slaves to death over a decade or two and then buying new ones.

In 1791, what today is Haiti became the scene of the largest slave revolt in history. Over the next 13 years, the rebels fought off three successive attempts to re-enslave them. The first was by local planters and French soldiers, aided by arms from the United States, whose president and secretary of state, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were both slave owners horrified by the uprising. The second was by the British, at war with France and eager for fertile sugar land and slaves to work it. And finally, after he took power, Napoleon tried to recapture the territory as a French colony and restore slavery.

Ill-armed, barefoot and hungry, the rebels fought against huge odds: Britain dispatched an armada of 218 ships to the Caribbean, and its troops battled for five years before withdrawing; Napoleon sent the largest force that had ever set sail from France, losing more than 50,000 soldiers and 18 generals to combat and disease.

The former slaves lost even more lives defeating these invasions, and no country came to their aid. This blood-soaked period also included a horrific civil war, periods of near famine, and the massacre or flight into exile of most educated people and skilled workers of any color. By the time Haiti declared independence in 1804, many of its fields, towns and sugar mills were in ruins and its population shrunken by more than half. The Haitian Revolution, as it is known today, was a great inspiration to slaves still in bondage throughout the Americas, but it was devastating to the country itself.

For a gripping narrative of that period, there are few better places to turn than “Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution,” by Laurent Dubois, a Duke University scholar of the French Caribbean. Now Dubois has brought Haiti’s story up to the present in an equally well-written new book, “Haiti: The Aftershocks of History,” which is enriched by his careful attention to what Haitian intellectuals have had to say about their country over the last two centuries.

The history is a tale of much misery, shot through with flashes of hope and bravery. Both the United States and the colonial powers in Europe were profoundly threatened by the specter of slaves who had successfully battled for their freedom; the United States didn’t even recognize Haiti for over 50 years. Still worse, France in 1825 insisted that Haiti pay compensation for the plantations taken from French owners. In case the Haitians did not agree, French warships lay offshore. The sum the French demanded was so big that a dozen years later, paying off this exorbitant ransom, and paying the interest on loans taken out for that purpose, was consuming 30 percent of Haiti’s national budget. The ruinous cycle of debt continued into the next century.

Seldom, however, can outsiders be blamed for all a country’s troubles. More disastrous than foreign interference was that Haiti’s birth was such a violent one. Democracy is a fragile, slow-growing plant to begin with, and the early Haitians had experienced none of it, not as subjects of the African kingdoms where many of them were born, not as slaves and not as soldiers under draconian military discipline for over a decade of desperate war. In Haiti’s succession of constitutions over its first hundred years, the president sometimes held his post for life, and it’s no surprise that one leader began calling himself king and another emperor. Furthermore, the revolution itself had seemed to show that any change in government could take place only through military force. As Dubois sums it up: “The only way for an outsider to take power — one that would be used again and again over the course of the 19th century — was to raise an army and march on the capital.”

Brute force still ruled in the next century, climaxing in the three-decade reign of the Duvaliers, father and son. Their militia, the dreaded Tontons Macoute, spread terror on a scale exceeding anything before, murdering as many as 60,000 people. François (Papa Doc) Duvalier banned any civic organization that could threaten his control, even the Boy Scouts.

The family’s close ties with the United States were immortalized by a famous photograph of Papa Doc and the presidential envoy Nelson Rockefeller waving from the balcony of Haiti’s National Palace. During the cold war, a strongman like Duvalier, no matter how brutal, could usually count on American support as long as he was vocally anti-Communist. Father and son understood this well and shrewdly used that knowledge to retain power, as did petty tyrants across Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Deep American meddling in Haiti did not end with the cold war. Dubois, however, devotes only a few pages to the quarter-century since Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier was overthrown, and doesn’t really tell us what he thinks about the controversial progressive Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the degree to which the United States played a role in his ouster as Haiti’s president in 2004. In an otherwise authoritative history, this is a disappointing omission.

Part of this book does feel chillingly up to date, however: its account of the United States Marine occupation of Haiti for some two decades starting in 1915. The occupation was accompanied by high-flown declarations of benevolence, but the real motive was to solidify American control of the economy and to replace a constitution that prevented foreigners from owning land. The Marines’ near-total ignorance of local languages and culture sounds all too much like more recent expeditions. American officials declared, accurately enough, that the Haitian government was in bad shape and needed reform.

But as the troops on the ground discovered, like their counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one likes to be reformed at the point of a foreigner’s gun. “We were not welcome,” wrote one private Dubois quotes. “We could feel it as distinctly as we could smell the rot along the gutters.” The Americans soon found themselves fighting off waves of rebellion against their rule. United States troops burned entire villages accused of sheltering insurgents and ruthlessly executed captured rebels or — does this sound familiar? — men who might have been rebels; often there was no way to distinguish them from local farmers.

When they finally pulled out, the Marines did leave some roads, clinics and schools behind them. But the occupation’s death toll, humiliation and theft of resources, Dubois makes clear, loom far larger in Haitian memory. Even with the best of intentions, which the Marines certainly didn’t have in 1915, nation-building is no easy job. Administered less arrogantly and in cooperation with Haitians themselves, aid from abroad can sometimes help, as with the work of the estimable, Creole-speaking Dr. Paul Farmer and his Partners in Health program, which brings health care to the poorest rural areas and helps train Haitian medical workers. But the real freeing of Haiti from the burdens of its past — a task now made immeasurably greater by the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 — can be done only by Haitians themselves.

(Photo by John Carroll)

Adam Hochschild is the author of seven books, most recently “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rural Haiti and Road to Recovery

(Photo by John Carroll)

A Quake-Scarred Nation Tries a Rural Road to Recovery
(Please note the comment appended to this article that I reproduce from the Corbett mail list.--RA)

(This article was posted by Roger Annis of CHAN.)

PAPAYE, Haiti — For months after the earthquake that struck the capital, Manel Laurore pulled shattered bodies from his neighbors’ homes, hunkered in fetid refugee camps and scrounged for food and water. Today, his main worries are when his bean, corn and plantain crops will come in.
“I will never go back to Port-au-Prince,” said Mr. Laurore, 32, a former shopkeeper who was sifting soil to plant a tomato garden, referring to the capital. “It left a strong pain inside. Here the work is hard, but you live in total peace.”
His work, on a 15-acre cooperative farm in Papaye, represents a small but promising success for an ambitious program being promoted by aid workers, government officials and international donors: saving the country by developing the countryside.
When the earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010, planners and visionaries here and abroad looked past the rubble and saw an opportunity to fix the structural problems that have kept Haiti stuck in poverty and instability. An idea that won early support was to shrink the overcrowded, underemployed, violence-ridden capital and revive the desiccated, disused farmland that had long been unable to feed the country.
“Decentralization is a critical cornerstone supporting my vision for a new Haiti,” President Michel Martelly told potential investors last month. “We want to strengthen and empower our rural communities and create new ones.” But the vision has run up against Haitian reality: myriad economic and infrastructure deficiencies, the lack of credible opportunity in rural areas and the fading of international interest and funds.
Reviving rural Haiti would wean the country off an overreliance on imported food while creating jobs in the countryside, helping to discourage mass migration to urban sinkholes like Port-au-Prince. Before the quake, nearly a quarter of the population lived in the capital, where two-thirds of the labor force had no formal jobs and overcrowding was considered a major contributor to the quake’s estimated death toll of 300,000.
Tens of thousands of people fled Port-au-Prince for rural areas immediately after the quake, but most have since returned, American and Haitian government officials said, finding little opportunity and food to be scarce. “We need to reverse the trend of people in rural areas moving to the city,” said Ari Toubo Ibrahim, the Haiti representative for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The organization says it believes that, with enough training and support, about a tenth of the 600,000 people still in earthquake camps could ultimately move to the countryside.
New factories are also part of the plan. A South Korean-run industrial park in the north, partly financed by the United States, is expected to open next year, providing at least 20,000 jobs. But experts say agriculture is the nation’s biggest need.
Farming has declined to 25 percent of the economy today from 40 percent a decade ago, making Haiti more dependent on imported food. Today, the government says, 52 percent of the food Haitians eat comes from abroad, compared with 20 percent a few decades ago. The decline in farming dates primarily to the mid-1980s, when the government encouraged urbanization, and it worsened under a trade embargo during political turmoil in the 1990s. When trade restrictions loosened, the market was flooded with cheap, foreign staples like American rice, Dominican poultry and milk, in powdered form, from as far away as Europe.
A series of storms in 2008 further wiped out farms, and riots over the soaring cost of food, owing to fluctuations in the world market, led lawmakers to oust the prime minister.
Recently, though, there have been signs of a potential turnaround. This month, the World Bank approved $50 million for agriculture projects. “When agriculture grows, gross domestic product grows,” said Diego Arias, an agriculture economist who analyzes Haiti at the World Bank.
Signature Haitian products like mangoes, coffee and cocoa are getting a burst of overseas attention, and BioTek, a Florida company, is awaiting approval from the new government on a long-awaited public-private plan to revive Haiti’s last remaining sugar mill, in Léogâne, one of the areas hit hardest by the quake.
Haitian specialty coffee is in demand in restaurants in New York, Miami and other American cities, and the Inter-American Development Bank, Nestlé and Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers have announced a $3 million effort to help 10,000 coffee farmers replant trees on denuded hills and increase production for both home consumption and export.
The American grocery chain Whole Foods has been selling a variety of mango indigenous to Haiti, and Lèt Agogo, a Haitian organization whose Haitian Creole name means Milk Aplenty, has stepped up a program to give cows and training to farmers and to process the milk into a sweetened drink that Haitian schoolchildren commonly consume.
Taiwanese agronomists have expanded a program to help rice farmers increase their yields, though imported rice, much of it from the United States, is still far cheaper in markets than Haitian-grown rice.
But the challenges are staggering, and most concern money. Irrigation is lacking, and poorly constructed ports and roads disrupt the delivery of produce to domestic and international markets. Government efforts ground to a virtual halt for months last year after a political crisis swirled around a botched election.
Foreign aid has slowed to a trickle. Only 43 percent of the $4.59 billion promised has been received and disbursed, according to the United Nations. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the body created to coordinate and prioritize aid, closed in October when its mandate expired, with little sign that it will be renewed. The panel, led by former President Bill Clinton, was set up to provide some assurance to international donors, wary of channeling aid to a historically corrupt Haitian government, that their money would be well spent. Its departure raises questions about whether the remaining pledges will ever be fulfilled.
Haiti’s five-year agriculture plan developed after the quake has received only about half of its nearly $800 million budget. Haitian officials say the government actually needs $1 billion to $2 billion to carry out the plan. The new agriculture minister, Hébert Docteur, said he hoped to carry out the program with whatever resources he had to help struggling farmers. “Too often they are trying with hand tools to get something from the land, but it is not nearly enough,” he said.
The United States has opened several training centers that aim to instruct hundreds of farmers in rudimentary practices often taken for granted in other countries.
Wansy Jean Poix, 36, a sorghum and corn farmer in La Tramblay, near Port-au-Prince, said he was accustomed to planting by simply tossing seeds on a large patch of ground. Now he plants in rows, to maximize the use of the land. “We increased production so there is more for ourselves and to sell on market,” he said.
The experimental farm in Papaye, three hours from the capital, at once demonstrates the promise and the pitfalls that face the effort to expand farming beyond the hardiest takers. The village was created last summer by Mouvman Peyizan Papay, one of the country’s largest peasant organizations, working with the Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist Churches in the United States and other organizations. Together, they plan to build four more such farms in the central region.
The 10 families here grow their own food and have begun planting crops like corn and plantains to sell. Though the houses lack electricity, they are roomier than those many of them left in Port-au-Prince. But the project has relied on substantial help to get off the ground. The total cost for the five villages will be $1.6 million, almost all of it from churches and nongovernmental organizations.
The United Nations is studying the project, but it is unclear how well it could be duplicated. Similar villages have been proposed elsewhere, but beyond the money, city dwellers have to believe that it is worth the effort to move their families to spend hours in the hot sun, hoeing and planting. “If they have water, technical assistance and credit they can survive,” said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of Mouvman Peyizan Papay.
Emmanuel Jean Pierre, 30, already has found that subsistence farming is not enough for him and has set up a small side business charging cellphones in the village using a solar battery he acquired in Port-au-Prince. He complains of the back-breaking work and misses the energy of the city, the parties, the friends. But with work scarce there and his small grocery business destroyed in the quake, for now, he said, he will stick it out here.
“If I saw a big change in economic opportunity in Port-au-Prince I would probably go back,” he said. “But I would rather stay here all my life.”

(Photo above by John Carroll)
Comment from the Corbett mail list, Dec 29:I thought this was a very good article. But I would like to know why reporters and also the State Dept. keep on saying that there is a shortage of food!! What they really mean is that there is a shortage of MONEY TO BUY THE FOOD. But that is not the same as a shortage of food. Everywhere you go, marchands are on the street selling fruit and vegetables.

It gives a very bad idea of how Haiti is. I'm particularly incensed when I read the State Dept. saying there's a serious shortage of food and water!!! Who writes this stuff? They've obviously not been in Haiti!! We're never going to get visitors coming in if they think they're going to starve!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Haitian Woman---Central Pillar of Haitian Society

Photo by John Carroll
December, 2011

Haitian Peasant Women as 'Poto Mitan'--Central Pillar: An Interview With Idèrle Brénus Gerbier

Interview by Alexis Erkert, Other Worlds, Dec 20, 2011

Idèrle Brénus Gerbier has worked with many peasant organizations in support of women rights’ and food sovereignty. She is a member of the Haitian National Network for Food Security and Sovereignty (RENHASSA), campaign coordinator for Food Sovereignty in Haiti, advisor of the National Confederation of Peasant Women (KONAFAP), and organizer for the Haitian Social Forum for Food Sovereignty.

In Haiti, peasant women play a special role in the home and in agriculture. We consider peasant women as the poto mitan, central pillar, of economic activities.

When neoliberal structural adjustment programs are imposed on the Haitian government, like they have been for 20 years, they affect our peasant women. They require that the state implement fundamentally anti-peasant programs that threaten to destroy the whole peasant sector. They mean the Haitian government doesn’t adequately fund our agriculture and has left the small farmers unable to compete [with cheaper imported goods] in the local market. Many farmers are forced to abandon agriculture to go work in factories or other activities, in the cities or in the Dominican Republic. And when a man leaves the rural community, the whole responsibility falls on the back of his wife.

The Haitian society is essentially macho, and the Haitian politicians and international interests oppress Haiti’s own children. Farmers become victims again and again and women are always held back. But these women continue to support their country.

Our goal is to achieve respect for the rights of Haitian women. Despite their position as poto mitan, as the main carriers of the national economy, rural Haitian women always suffer in our society. Most of these women have no direct access to agricultural lands and income is strictly controlled by men, despite their role in agriculture.

Many rural residents are forced to give away the children they love because they don’t have the financial capacity to keep their children at home and send them to school. The majority of these children become the slaves of women living in Port-au-Prince and in other cities. If women farmers could earn income from their hard work, they’d be able to keep their children at home.

The majority of the women working in the informal economy in the city come from the countryside. Many rural residents lost their lives because they were at the heart of the earthquake looking for employment in Port-au-Prince, working for pennies at a factory or selling bottled water in the streets. The earthquake increased the responsibilities that were already too heavy for these poor women.

I’ll repeat over and over that these women who lost their lives, their children, their husbands, and other loved ones in Port-au-Prince, lost them mainly because of lack of infrastructure resulting from the neoliberal policies in the country. But they’ll never be discouraged. They’ll always be involved in all kinds of constructive activities and keep supporting their country. After the earthquake, they went to Port-au-Prince searching for their children and ended up offering help to others who were in need. In the cities and in the countryside, these women work without rest.

We need to advance the struggle of women by redefining the concept of feminism in Haiti. To do this we have to reshuffle the cards and reduce the differences between our urban and peasant women. Right now there are two kinds of women: women with a capital W and women with a small w. Even within the women’s struggle, there are a lot of contemptible practices that have yet to be overcome. Most of the urban well-off women look down upon the poor countryside women, calling them tèt mare, wrapped head, because of the kerchiefs rural women often wear on their heads. The rich and educated town women forget that the poor peasant women make up the core of the rural communities that constitute the greatest part of the country. It’s not fair that a small minority have the privilege of monopolizing almost all of the society’s resources and wealth.

Peasant women are always present in all activities to win human rights, respect for life, and food sovereignty. October 15 was declared “Day of the Haitian Peasant Woman,” but unfortunately this day has never been commemorated. We have to recognize and appreciate women farmers for their significant socio-economic worth. We have to give them the compensation they deserve and support their efforts. We need to increase their visibility in efforts to build food sovereignty in the country. Rural women and those struggling with them, here in Haiti or overseas, need to shore up their strength. We must advocate for the rights of women.

Many thanks to Joseph Pierre for translating.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Father Andre in Robillard

Robillard Cholera Treatment Unit
December, 2011
Photo by John Carroll

Father Andre from Robillard sent me an e mail last night.

See this post from Crof's blog.

Father describes a situation in his village which is probably going on in many places...too many cholera patients in "underserved" areas.

I will post his e mail to a couple of websites that address Haiti's cholera epidemic and see if there is an answer.

There are so many people of good will with public health backgrounds trying to slow the morbidity and mortality from cholera in Haiti. There has to be an answer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011