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Haiti beyond the earthquake
Related to country: Haiti


FOR many years, I had this mental picture of an unwelcome gift - a hand shakes you awake from a deep slumber to announce "Welcome to your new job ... President!" "President of what country?" you ask as you rub the sleep from your eyes. "Haiti!" the excited voice answers. You mutter, "Thanks, but no thanks," and roll over, trying unsuccessfully to get back to sleep. If that were to happen today, you can see all the reasons why that would be an appropriate response. But look at the picture another way: "Yes! The problems are enormous, but so are the possibilities!"

This is no doubt what the foreign ministers of more than a dozen countries had in mind as they got together in the Canadian city of Montreal last Monday to look beyond the relief efforts and to the daunting task of, in effect, building a country almost from scratch. The host, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, set the tone: "It's not an exaggeration to say that 10 years of hard work awaits the world in Haiti."

Those around the table included Haiti's Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the United States and the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. The ministers and representatives of other groups at the meeting issued a statement emphasising that the 10-year commitment will encompass a number of fields and focus on sustainable development. For the long term the objectives include the strengthening of governance on democratic principles and the creation of conditions for economic growth.

Bellerive reminded the meeting that in spite of the influx of disaster aid, many people have still not received the treatment they desperately need.

But when the armies of relief workers from all over the world have placed the homeless in tent cities, have patched up all the broken limbs and wounded heads, amputated gangrenous arms and legs and supplied all with enough food and water, an enormous task remains for those who will carry on.

The Canadian initiative has gathered international momentum and a bigger gathering will be held at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March. The UN's Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes of Britain, notes that while concerns about the humanitarian and relief exercise will be uppermost for the next year or so, "the reality is we may be engaged on a very large scale for much longer than that, in parallel with the enormous re-construction and development effort".

It is indeed heartening to hear the commitment from the wealthy countries, but people and their governments have short attention spans. The participants in this "Friends of Haiti" meeting, which included international organisations like the Red Cross and Oxfam, emphasised the need to remain for the long term. Prime Minister Harper and Secretary Clinton both called for accountability in the reconstruction. "We need to focus on effectiveness," says Harper. "The Haitian people deserve that. Our own taxpayers expect it." And to make the point even more strongly: "We need to ensure that every resource committed - every relief worker, every vehicle, every dollar - is used as effectively as possible."

What Haiti needs as much as new buildings which can withstand both earthquakes and hurricanes is robust civil institutions. How can you rebuild a city when you can't be sure who owns a particular piece of land and where property boundaries lie? You need strong and transparent systems to adjudicate disputes over property and trade.

You need clinics, hospitals, schools from basic to university level, clean water and electricity as well as systems to dispose of sewage and garbage. You need schemes to revitalise the countryside and to re-establish viable agriculture both to feed the population and to earn revenue from exports. You also need to develop sustainable and profitable fisheries, and you need a professional police community of integrity to foster and maintain an orderly society.

Some people will ask why go to all that trouble. Why not just build some houses so that people have a place to live and let them fend for themselves. There's a simple answer: Haiti has suffered at the rapacious hands of big countries and the local elite from very early on. The parlous state in which the country has found itself in recent years is good for nobody - not for Haitians, not for its neighbours, and not for other countries further away in the hemisphere.

Instability caused by extreme poverty and privation is dangerous. Internally, the extreme imbalance between the tiny elite and the vast horde of the poor fosters seething resentment. External forces such as narco-traffickers take advantage of the poverty, the lack of adequate government forces and endemic corruption to ship their poison to the big markets of North America. Big companies who care little about working conditions and workers' rights exploit the poverty of the population to churn out cheap running shoes, underwear and T-shirts.

Desperate people hoping to escape the grinding conditions risk their lives in rickety craft trying to cross a thousand kilometres of open sea to make landfall in the United States. But unlike people from their neighbouring island, Cuba, they are definitely not welcome and face discrimination, harassment and deportation back to the squalid conditions of slums like Cité Soleil.

Similar disasters in other countries in recent years do show that we are beginning to learn a few things. The Boxing Day tsunami that ravaged so many countries fringing the Indian Ocean wreaked its greatest havoc in the Indonesian province of Aceh, on the north-western tip of the island of Sumatra. It's where a local separatist movement had been waging a campaign for three decades. It took a considerable toll in lives, property damage and disruption, but the relief and re-construction work triggered by the tsunami not only brought new, stronger buildings, it also helped bring a peace agreement to end the conflict.

A couple of years ago, a strong earthquake flattened wide swaths of Sichuan in China. Among the greater toll, it took the lives of some 19,000 children in shoddily constructed school buildings. The quake ushered in elements of a civic society, with donations and volunteerism, and certainly woke up officials who have taken advantage of the disaster to institute stringent new building standards for the structures which have gone up since then.

There's one thing the relief folks must avoid - off-the-shelf solutions employing cookie-cutter pre-fabricated boxes sprinkled helter-skelter across the countryside. This would, if you will, cast in concrete the idea that Haiti continues as a dysfunctional, mendicant society. We can hope that they will get this one mostly right, if they heed the insistence of Prime Minister Bellerive that it is Haitians who must have the final word in what should replace the rubble and what goes where, as well as the thoughts of Harper and Clinton about accountability and about staying the course.


January 30, 2010


January 30, 2010 | 12:03 PM Comments  {num} comments

Haiti destruction a 'terrible experience,' says OAS secretary general after visit
Related to country: Haiti

WASHINGTON, USA -- Upon his return from a two-day visit to Haiti, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, on Thursday described as “impressive” and “a terrible experience” the destruction of Port-au-Prince as a result of the January 12 earthquake, though he also underscored the desire of the Haitian people to rebuild and noted that international aid is playing a fundamental role in helping the victims and maintaining order.

OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza. OAS Photo“There is not a single street that has not lost a significant number of homes. It’s impressive to see the number of buildings that have completely collapsed, in addition to those that are still standing but must be demolished,” the Secretary General said in his verbal report to the Permanent Council of the Organization, which met for the purpose in a special session at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC.

“This has been the greatest natural disaster of our lives,” he said, adding that the population is still traumatized by the experience and by the fear of new tremors. Nevertheless, the Secretary General underscored how the Haitian people wish to immediately begin to rebuild their country. “The Haitian people wish to live, they want their country to improve through this tragedy. They want to decide their own destiny and rebuild their country and hopefully we can all help them do it.”

The Secretary General praised the “enormous effort” of many countries, many of them members of the OAS, and regional organizations such as the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and the Pan American Health Organization. “I’ve come back with the feeling that the efforts being conducted are worthwhile,” he said, while urging everyone to continue to contribute: “What’s important is to continue to help, because this emergency will be with us for various months and even years.”

The head of the OAS recalled the need to look for solutions for the orphans and the abandoned, the sick that are being discharged from hospitals and the hundreds of thousands of people still sleeping in plazas out in the open, when the rainy season is only two months away.

Furthermore, the Secretary General insisted on the need to improve coordination between international organizations, national governments and non-governmental organizations, especially with respect to distribution. All of this under the direction of the government of Haiti, which has “great leadership” and “great talent” in President René Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

Looking toward the future, the Secretary General supported the conclusions of the recent Preparatory Meeting in Montreal, which seek to centralize coordination of emergency relief aid around the United Nations Mission in Haiti, as well as the creation of a Multi-agency Fund and a Multilateral Agency for reconstruction. These measures will have to be set in motion at the Summit in New York, in March.

Insulza added that it is necessary to be prepared for that decisive meeting in the reconstruction of Haiti with a coordinated proposal from the countries of the Americas, and that it would be helpful to hold a Consultation Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the continent in the Dominican Republic, where every country would make clear commitments on its own initiatives, with OAS coordination.

January 29, 2010


January 29, 2010 | 1:34 PM Comments  {num} comments

Cuba: The revolutionary for all time
Related to country: Cuba

THE image of Martí — the revolutionary who spoke of yesterday and today — is like one of those giant trees whose roots take hold and grow more and more as time goes by.

Martí takes hold and grows unstoppably - not underneath, but over the earth — and will grow every year and every day in the creative work of the Cuban people, the revolutionary efforts of his people.

We have seen him grow in the parades of schoolchildren whom he so loved; the recitals, songs and popular concerts; the solemn tributes at his monuments.

The connections are tangible between the ideas and actions of the man who fomented the war of ’95 and the ideas and actions of the men and women who triggered the current revolutionary process. They are all the thesis and synthesis of the fact that when required by the situation, the people organize and create the revolutionary vanguard to carry out their historic tasks.

Martí’s concept of the need for a party to organize and lead the revolutionary struggle serves as an inspiration for our Party to lead the Revolution and the building of socialism in our country: the homeland of the man who thought and acted as a visionary, the man whose ideas fertilized those of the generations who followed, the man who was not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness, but the ideas and actions that encountered multitudes.

There are three conceptual cores that intertwine the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by the "intellectual author of the assault on the Moncada Garrison" and our Party: the revolution as a process that is guided and organized; the indispensable participation of the masses in that process, and the threat posed by U.S. imperialism to the future of the peoples of Our America.

Martí’s love for his country, his struggle for its freedom, his ideas and actions, and his infinite example are an enduring inspiration without any foreseeable end; he is and will be a revolutionary for all time.

Translated by Granma International


January 28, 2010 | 1:31 PM Comments  {num} comments

Fidel Castro Ruz - Cuba: We are sending doctors, not soldiers to assist Haiti and the Haitian People
Related to country: Haiti

We are sending doctors, not soldiers

Reflections of Fidel

IN my "Reflection" of January 14, two days after the disaster in Haiti that destroyed that neighboring sister nation, I wrote: "In the field of healthcare and other areas, Cuba – despite being a poor and blockaded country – has been cooperating with the Haitian people for many years. Around 400 doctors and healthcare experts are offering their services free of charge to the Haitian people. Our doctors are working every day in 227 of the country’s 337 communes. On the other hand, at least 400 young Haitians have trained as doctors in our homeland. They will now be working with the reinforcement brigade which traveled there yesterday to save lives in this critical situation. Thus, without any special effort being made, up to 1,000 doctors and healthcare experts can be mobilized, almost all of whom are already there and willing to cooperate with any other state that wishes to save the lives of the Haitian people and rehabilitate the injured."

"The head of our medical brigade reported: "The situation is difficult, but we have already started saving lives."

Hour after hour, day and night, Cuban healthcare professionals began working nonstop in the few facilities left standing, in tents, parks or other open spaces, given that the population feared further aftershocks.

The situation was far more serious than was originally thought. Tens of thousands of injured people were clamoring for help on the streets of Port-au-Prince, and an incalculable number of people lay, dead or alive, beneath the rubble of clay and adobe with which the homes of the vast majority of the population were constructed. Even the most solid buildings collapsed. It was also necessary to locate the Haitian doctors who had graduated from the Latin American School of Medicine in the midst of destroyed neighborhoods, many of whom were affected, either directly or indirectly, by the tragedy.

United Nations officials were trapped inside their buildings and dozens of lives were lost, including those of several high-ranking officials of MINUSTAH– a United Nations contingent – and the fate of hundreds of other members of its personnel was unknown.

Haiti’s presidential palace collapsed. Many public buildings, including several hospitals, were left in ruins.

The disaster has shocked the world. People have been able to follow the situation via footage broadcast by the principal international TV channels. Governments from around the world announced the dispatch of rescue teams, food, medicines, equipment and other resources.

In accordance with the position publicly stated by Cuba, medical personnel from other nations – including Spain, Mexico and Colombia, among others – worked very hard alongside our doctors in facilities that they themselves had improvised. Organizations such as the PAHO, friendly countries such as Venezuela, and other nations supplied medicines and other resources. A total absence of egotism and chauvinism characterized the impeccable behavior of the Cuban professionals and their leaders.

As it has done in similar situations – like when Hurricane Katrina caused massive devastation in the city of New Orleans and placed the lives of thousands of U.S. citizens in danger – Cuba offered to send a full medical brigade to cooperate with the people of the United States, a country that, as is well-known, possesses vast resources but, at that moment, needed doctors trained and equipped to save lives. Because of its geographical location, the 1,000-plus doctors from the "Henry Reeve" Brigade were mobilized, with the necessary medicines and equipment, to leave at once for that U.S. city. It never crossed our minds that the president of that nation would reject the offer and allow a number of Americans who could have been saved to lose their lives. The error of that government was perhaps its inability to understand that the people of Cuba do not see the U.S. people as an enemy; nor do they blame them for the aggression our homeland has suffered.

Neither was that government capable of understanding that our country does not need to beg favors or pardons from those who, for half a century, have tried in vain to bring us to our knees.

Likewise in the case of Haiti, our country immediately responded to applications from the United States authorities to fly over eastern Cuba and other facilities that they needed to provide assistance as swiftly as possible to U.S. and Haitian citizens affected by the earthquake.

These practices have characterized the ethical conduct of our people and, together with their equanimity and determination, have been the constant features of our foreign policy. All those who have been our adversaries in the international arena know that only too well.

Cuba will firmly defend the opinion that the tragedy that has taken place in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, represents a challenge for the richest and most powerful countries in the international community.

Haiti is a net product of the colonial, capitalist and imperialist system imposed on the world. Both slavery in Haiti and its subsequent poverty were imposed from abroad. The terrible earthquake came in the wake of the Copenhagen Summit, where the most elemental rights of the 192 member states of the United Nations were trampled over.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a competition is underway in Haiti for the precipitate and illegal adoption of boys and girls, which has obliged UNICEF to adopt preventative measures against the uprooting of a large number of children, thus depriving close relatives of such rights.

The number of fatalities is already in excess of 100,000. An elevated number of citizens have lost arms or legs, or have suffered fractures that will require rehabilitation for tem to work or manage their lives independently.

Around 80% of the country will have to be rebuilt and a sufficiently-developed economy needs to be created in order to satisfy needs according to its productive capacity. The reconstruction of Europe or Japan on the basis of their productive capacity and the technical level of their populations, was a relatively simple task in comparison to the efforts that will have to be made in Haiti. There, as well as a large part of Africa and other areas of the Third World, it is essential to create the conditions for sustainable development. In only 40 years’ time, humanity will be comprised of more than nine billion inhabitants and will have to confront the challenge of climate change, which scientists accept as an inevitable reality.

In the midst of the Haitian tragedy, without anyone knowing how and why, thousands of U.S. marines, 82nd Airborne Division troops and other military forces have occupied Haitian territory. Worse still, neither the United Nations nor the U.S. government has offered any explanation to the world regarding this deployment of forces.

Various governments have complained that their aircraft have not been able to land and deliver the human and technical resources that have been sent to Haiti.

For their part, a number of countries are announcing the additional dispatch of soldiers and military equipment. From my point of view, such actions would contribute to creating chaos and complicating international cooperation, which, in itself, is complex. It is vital to seriously discuss this issue and entrust the UN with the leading role that corresponds to it in this delicate matter.

Our country is fulfilling a strictly humanitarian mission. To the extent of its possibilities, it will contribute the human and material resources at its disposal. The will of our people, proud their doctors and cooperative workers on vital services, is great and will rise to the occasion.

Any significant cooperation offered to our country will not be rejected, but its acceptance will be entirely subordinated to the importance and significance of the assistance required of the human resources of our homeland.

It is only fair to confirm that, to date, our modest aircraft and the important human resources that Cuba has placed at the disposal of the Haitian people have arrived at their destination without any difficulty whatsoever.

We are sending doctors, not soldiers!

Fidel Castro Ruz
January 23, 2010
5:30 p.m.

Translated by Granma International


January 25, 2010 | 1:45 PM Comments  {num} comments

The hate and the quake
Related to country: Haiti


THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking And Rebuilding Haiti.

I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.

Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti's independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.

The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France.

The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty.

In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation.

The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.

The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing.

They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.

All were linked in communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti, the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.

As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it - and the people.

The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on slavery.

Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic.

For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.

The French refused to recognise Haiti's independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in independence, refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state the Western world.

Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history.

The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.

Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince.

The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue.

The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.

Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.

The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services.

The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition.

The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before independence.

Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society.

Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.

Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos.

The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate in order to repay the French government.

When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations.

The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed of justice.

Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition.

The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate.

Human life was snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation - a crime against humanity.

During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong representation was made to the French government to repay the 150 million francs.

The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid.

It is stolen wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people.

For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post-modern world, should do the just and legal thing.

Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last.

l Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.



January 24, 2010 | 11:00 AM Comments  {num} comments

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