By Etant Dupain, Let Haiti Live
December 3, 2012
Nearly three years after the earthquake in Haiti, nearly 400,000 people remain humiliated and forgotten in camps, while at the same time impoverished urban neighborhoods – slums or bidonvil – have grown and sprung up in new places. Since the arrival of the new government and President Martelly, there has been a strategy of forced systematic evictions, that have exacerbated the problem, feeling like injury upon injury for the victims of the January 12 earthquake who continue to live in camps.
It isn’t a secret that President Martelly does not believe people are living in tents because they are homeless. He stated this himself in an interview with Al Jazeera. Martelly said:
“people leave their homes, they come under the tents because they know that there they are going to have free food, free water, free assistance and they won’t be paying rent, they won’t be paying electricity. So some people are living under the tents but it’s more of a business deal than actually living under the tents.” (see the video of President Martelly here, begins around minute 43)
More than a year after that declaration, the reality has proved the opposite to be true: people who haven’t received assistance to leave camps have either stayed or been violently removed, and the majority of families evicted now live in even more precarious conditions. Despite this ongoing crisis of homelessness, the government has not changed its policies or created a serious strategy to help the victims, a plan to create decent housing does not even exist.
When it comes to evictions, Martelly’s government is maintaining a policy from prior governments: once an individual declares they are a landowner, they can do almost anything to remove the people living on that land. The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI, or International Lawyers Office) and FRAKKA (the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing) are two organizations that work to defend the rights of the victims of January 12 and advocate for a national social housing plan. These organizations work with victims under threat of eviction to bring the cases into the legal process. The majority of evictions are arbitrary and illegal, and no eviction can legally move forward without the courts verifying the ownership of the land in question.
In terms of proving legal land ownership, about 90% of people claiming to be landowners don’t have legal land title, and to date the Haitian government has done nothing to stop these people from evicting internally displaced people (IDPs). In the majority of eviction cases, landowners and their agents frequently use violence, and in many cases the police are directly involved.
The way the Haitian authorities are treating homeless families living in camps an example of a system of exclusion, or “social apartheid” that plagues Haitian society. That is why we as Haitians must ask ourselves: are foreigners taking a lesson from the Haitian government when they treat Haitians as though they were no better than animals?
This question can spark much analysis and there are several kinds of responses – however we cannot ignore the reality that the Haitian government is setting a precedent in how to treat the Haitian people.
There is also the phenomenon of camps that are becoming permanent, like the Adoken Camp in Delmas 33, and unofficial camps, like the tens of thousands now living in Kanaran and the areas around Corail. These communities expose the lack of capacity in the Haitian government to manage the situation of the displaced people. In these spaces people are building without any concern for the law, land ownership, or building regulations.
Another form of eviction the Haitian government and many NGOs are using is to give people $500 US to leave the camps. Unfortunately, this contributes to the anarchic construction of unsafe housing on the hillsides around the capital. It is important to remember that the number of temporary or transitional shelters built in the three years since the earthquake is only 150,000 and not even 6,000 permanent homes have been built.
In a month and a few days it will be the third anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, revealing our country naked and desperately in need of changing direction. We should prepare ourselves to read the beautiful national and international reports about Haiti, where the Haitian government will talk about all it has accomplished and the NGOs will defend their work despite the lack of results. One thing we know we will find in the reports of the NGOs, whether they be national or international working in the business of disaster, is just one conclusion: “if we hadn’t been there it would have been worse”, especially after this past year when two major hurricanes struck Haitia resulting in major destruction that gave the Haitian government and NGOs the advantage of justifying their bad policies and incompetence in the face of the grave situation that exists in Haiti.
The hurricane season has just finished, so prepare to not hear any news about the people in the camps after January 12 – we won’t hear about them again until the next big storm.
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