From October 1-7, SOA Watch activists traveled to Haiti to learn more about he UN occupation there and the effects of militarization on the Haitian society.
Lisa Sullivan, Poems by Mary Ann Perrone
Yes, my name is Troy Davis,
but my name is also
But Haiti is’t dead.
sentenced to death by
debt, coup, occupation, earthquake, cholera, and NGO
Haiti refuses to die
I have been back for ten days from Haiti. My report should have been written and sent off days ago. I usually start writing it before the plane’s wheels even lift off from the country I am visiting, trying to capture the experience while fresh. But Haiti is…………well, different.
As I boarded the plane to leave Port-au-Prince ten days ago, I simultaneously couldn’t wait for the plane to lift off, and couldn’t stand the idea of leaving. I wanted to race down the jet-way, dash into the plane, and close the doors myself. I had never felt so hot, hungry, dismayed, depleted and defeated I did in Haiti.
But after setting into my seat, I was tempted to press the flight attendant’s button, explaining: I need to get off, now. I’ve left something behind: myself. There was something so stunningly spirited about the people of Haiti, just beneath that level of composure, just below that reality of raw suffering, and I needed to stay longer to understand, to drink from that fountain.
The last thing I could do on the plane was write. Or for that matter, think. Staring out the window as mountains-beyond-mountains gave way to the turquoise waters, I was awash in feelings. When the pilot got on the loudspeaker to talk about the weather on our “quick dash back to Miami”, all I could think was: how could it possibly be a quick dash? Haiti was the farthest place from home I have ever been. And I’ve been to China.
Haiti is all at once Africa 500 years ago, Spain 400 years ago, France 250 years ago, or – as one of our delegation’s participants said – perhaps the United States 50 years from now. It was all of those things and more. Mountains, oceans, earthquakes, Kreyol, first and only nation of slaves to battle for and win its liberation from its owners, last of all nations to still live collectively under slave masters from around the planet.
The first days after my return, my mind was in a fog. I simultaneously pushed and pulled thoughts of Haiti from me and towards me…….. Haiti is so near…….Haiti is so far; Haiti is a horror…….Haiti is an inspiration; Haiti is so broken……. Haiti is so alive; I never want to see Haiti again………. I can’t wait to get to Haiti again. How to sort out these opposing feelings.
But this morning, my mental fog lifted, like that of the Guaraira Repano mountain outside this window. And I realized that for me, Haiti-Ayiti is a sum of two opposites. There is Haiti, poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a hungry, occupied, unemployed, homeless and chaotic nation. And there is Ayiti (the Kreyol name for Haiti meaning sacred land) free, alive, bold, spirited, and held captive within its own people.
This opposing reality of Haiti-Ayiti reveals itself poco a poco. The first level takes about 30 seconds to see, and is found right outside the airport doors. Rickety “tap-taps” (Haiti’s rundown pick-ups that double as busses) race down rutted streets, clogging one’s throat with exhaust fumes while thrilling one’s eyes with the bright, intricate art work covering every inch of the tap-tap’s battered exteriors. It’s difficult to decide whether these vehicles should be sent to a junk yard or to an art museum. The streets teem with women balancing ridiculously large baskets on their heads, yet their step seems impossibly light, poised, even graceful.
After a day or two in Haiti another layer of contrasts is unveiled. Brand new SUV’s vying for road space with ancient cars and carts. Sky high prices in a county so poor. Multi-lingual Haitians without jobs. Planes filled with white people heading to an almost all-black country. When I posed these contradictions to Haitians, I received the same answer for different questions: NGO’s. Their international staff fills the planes, their luxury vehicles clog the streets, their big stipends drive up prices and their foreign workers bump out Haitians from the job of rebuilding their own nation. Not all NGO’s, however, seem to be made in the same image, and I found many extraordinary and dedicated young foreigners taking tap-taps and sharing their talents with Haitians, with humility.
A further layer of contrasts is even more disconcerting. Billions of dollars given to Haiti for earthquake reconstruction (via international agencies) , so little to show for it. Where did that money go? That was our question as we visited a few of the 200,000+ Haitians who remain housed in tents. Or when we had to hold our meeting with university students in the junkyard adjacent to their earthquake-battered buildings. Or when we drove through Cite Soleil, the poorest neighborhood in the hemisphere, devoid of any visible projects other than an enormous police station. Or as we drove through the tiny plywood housing structures built to relocate earthquake victims. (Most houses in my family’s Virginia neighborhood have sturdier sheds for their lawn movers.) The only decent housing we came across – solid cinderblock structures with small yards and individual water tanks – was built by the Venezuelan government.
Our questions about the money trail, however, went largely unanswered. The only big project that seemed to be underway was a multi-million-dollar luxury hotel. The justification given by its manager – the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, was that businessmen hoping to invest in Haiti will need a nice place to stay.
However, we soon discovered there is one very visible presence brandishing the incredibly large sum of 2 million dollars a day that the international community injects into Haiti. New housing? Schools? Hospitals? Roads? A sewage sytem? No, no, no, no and no. It’s the presence of 13,000 troops and police from around the world, known collectively as MINUSTAH, the French acronym for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. And, this money flaunts itself on almost every street. It is visible in the armored tanks and trucks filled with MINUSTAH soldiers, pointing their state-of-the-art weapons into the streets, and often at people. MINUSTAH camps surround the enormous US embassy, MINUSTAH soldiers patrol the poorest of neighbors, and MINUSTAH police stop cars at check points throughout the city. If you’re not on your toes in Haiti, you might actually think your plane mistakenly landed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The sense one gets from looking at the MINUSTAH soldiers is that Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is under occupation by the entire world. There are soldiers from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Just about every skin color is to be found on the omnipresent trucks and every language spoken……..except the language spoken by Haitians themselves: Kreyol. When we asked rape victims from the tent camps if the presence of MINUSTAH troops made them feel safer, the answer was no. They told us that even if they wanted their help, they wouldn’t be able to communicate. Particularly disconcerting is the participation of soldiers from countries whose core discourse is the defense of a nation’s sovereignty, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay
Few of the MINUSTAH forces are from the US, but according to “wikileaked” cables from the State Department, the US government is delighted to have so many proxies to enforce their will. One cable states: The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti is an indispensable tool in realizing core US government policy interests in Haiti. Another cable says, more bluntly: It is a financial and regional security bargain for the U.S. government.
If occupation of a sovereign nation by foreign military were not enough disturbing enough, try this: The recent outbreak of cholera affecting tens of thousands of Haitians and killing over 5,000 has been proven to have been introduced to Haiti by the Nepalese contingent of MINUSTAH. Or this: footage was recently found of Uruguayan soldiers raping a young Haitian, acknowledged by Uruguay’s Defense Minister. Rather than protect victims of rape, MINUSTAH is contributing.
The overriding question that this left our delegation was quite simply: why? What does broken-down, poverty-striken, earthquake-shaken Haiti have that merits occupation by the world’s armies? What provokes the UN to defy its very charter that forbids sending peace keeping forces unless there is some armed conflict (none in Haiti). Even the favored pretext of the drug war can’t be used. Compared to most of its neighbors, Haiti’s crime rates and drug trafficking are of minor proportions. Or, maybe it’s Haiti’s very proximity to the next island over: Cuba, whose port nearest to Haiti is Guantanamo.
Actually, I wonder if what the world’s armies are trying to hold at bay is the very spirit of Ayiti. The spirit of the hemisphere’s first free black nation tearing away again its chains. The Ayiti of Toussaint-Louverture who led slaves to unite and defeat the army of Napoleon’s army. The Ayiti of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who opened his nation’s doors to slaves around the world seeking freedom. The Ayiti that aided Simon Bolivar in his liberation of South America.
But in spite of the occupying armies, Ayiti refuse to die. It is kept alive by Daniel, who organizes children from his native Cite Soleil into soccer teams bearing names of peace activists. And by Christofa, who was gang raped in the tent camps for 2 days and nights but who exudes hope, love, and determination. Ayiti lives on in Rhea, who walked through the earthquake rumble to find all her students and continues to defeat the odds, keeping kids in her school. Ayiti raises its fist in Oxigen, whose passion for his country’s sovereignty could spark a second independence. And it finds dignity in Mario, who refuses to let death threats prevent him from seeking justice for the poorest of his land.
This is the real Ayiti. And it is only the people of Ayiti itself who will call this liberation forward. But those of us who hail from the dozens of nations* whose armies and police occupy Haiti, we do have one piece. As we take to the streets to Occupy the halls of power and reignite hope in the U.S., let’s remember to call for the De-Occupation from Haiti. And for those us in the South, as we follow the dreams of Simon Bolivar to consolidate the new sovereignty of South America, let’s return the 200-year-old favor. Let’s release our end of the chains.
Ayiti Toma, Sacred land that is our land.
“who among you
when your child asks for bread
would give them a stone?”
– Jesus of Nazareth –
Who among you….
when your neighbor
for clean water and shelter
would send an
in response to pleas
for protection in dangerous times
would finance agents of sexual violence?
when natural disaster of unimaginable proportions
befalls the population
would renege on promises
and instead use relief funds
a luxury hotel?
who among you?
who among us?
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