Haiti: The Open Wounds


The United States and the Rene Preval government see the private sector as constituting the “spine” of post-earthquake reconstruction. According to a document, Haiti Tomorrow, $9 billion will be put into infrastructure works such as roads and ports to “relaunch” the economy. One of the first roads will lead north from the capital Port-au-Prince to what will be a new township in Cabaret, just the place where Papa Doc Duvalier had thought of constructing his own Brasilia – Duvalier Ville. Experts from the organisation assessing the damage say it amounts to 120% of the GDP, $8 billion, something they have never encountered on this magnitude using the same methodology in the past 35 years.

 

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Women Victims: The earthquake dealt a hard blow to Haitian feminism. Three of its principal figures died on January 12: Myriam Merlet, advisor to the Ministry for Women, Magalie Marcelin of the organisation Kay Fanm, and Anne Marie Coriolan, founder of the organisation SOFA. Women’s conditions were, and are, totally neglected, says Jesi Chancy, feminist activist. The first survey by these organisations found more than 7,000 pregnant women in these camps. Very rarely in the camp committees are there women representatives. Women do not have the privacy even for taking a bath. Not only are there cases of sexual harassment but also trade in sex. Girls and mothers have to trade their body for food or a piece of canvas.

 

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Warnings Ignored: The first thing that documentary maker Arnold Antonin thought of when the earthquake struck was, it’s come: the catastrophe foretold, the warning unheard. In 2004, the geologist Claude Prepetit handed over a technical study to Jean Bertrand Aristride, the then President, warning him that fault lines below Haiti made an earthquake likely between two and ten years. Prepetit had been warning of this risk since 1996. The environmental movements, Moun pu un Aiyti Bel (People for a Beautiful Haiti) and Free Forum, organised a march in July 2009 after a poorly constructed school building collapsed in 2008, killing about 30 students. Their banner read: No to collective suicide.

 

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Crime Nightmare: The flight of some 5,000 dangerous criminals from four prisons in the capital after the earthquake is a “real nightmare”, says Alix Fils Aime, the anti-mafia czar. The four prisons of Puerto Principe emptied of prisoners on the night of January 12. The guards fled and left behind the arms. It wasn’t accidental. Someone ordered the gates to be opened. Among the thousands of fugitive prisoners, says Aime, are 500 truly dangerous men – leaders of kidnap, rape and murder gangs.

 

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Homeless: In the 34 seconds that the earthquake lasted, 313,000 houses collapsed. Half of them were completely destroyed and the rest could be repaired, leaving 15% of the urban population homeless. Among these were those on the top of the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince, exquisite homes with terraces and swimming pools and with a view of Gonave Bay, and shanties on the slopes built in the past three decades.

 

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Forgotten Ones: The newly disabled, whose numbers have risen drastically, run the risk of the becoming the “forgotten ones” of the earthquake, the United Nations has warned. Take the case of Marie Michelle, 16-years-old, homeless and living in a hospital courtyard with her surviving siblings, attended to by the Cuban health brigade and visited twice a week by a psychologist. She was studying in a room when the earthquake struck. She wanted to run but was paralysed with fear, watching the walls dance. She was stuck in a heap of rubble for 25 hours, rescued, brought to hospital and had to have her right leg amputated. It is estimated that there have been between two and four thousand major amputations.

 

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Evangelist Invasion: It’s market day at Kenscoff, a mountain village half an hour from the capital and the pastor Joe sets up state-of-the-art audio and video equipment for his evangelical show. Thousands of such missionaries from New York, Boston, Tampa and Miami are at work in Haiti. Anthropologist and Voodoo priest Rachelle Beauvoir-Dominique says these sects have been at work for decades with help from USAID. Her father Max Beauvoir, Voodoo head priest in Haiti, says if the evangelists want war, they will have war. Recently Baptists attacked a voodoo ceremony in remembrance of the dead, says Rachelle. Voodoo has been under attack since the very beginning, she says, from the days of Toussaint Louverture. Initially, the 19th-century French missionaries were tolerant, themselves product of the French revolution, but a new and aggressive group from Breton was sent in the middle of the century after a pact with the Vatican and they attacked Voodoo temples. The religion was banned during the U.S. occupation from 1915-34. In 1942, a million Haitians were forcibly converted to Catholicism and after the end of the Duvalier regime, when a distorted form of Voodoo was used to oppress the people, the religion came under attack again from the military and the Catholic Church. Then came the evangelical offensive.

 

[Translator’s Note: This article paraphrases several reports recently published in the Mexico City daily, La Jornada, and is, therefore, not a literal translation though it is broadly faithful to the original pieces. – Supriyo Chatterjee]

 

More Latin America reports at Meeting Point

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