Haiti Update: Vote on New Government?, PetroCaribe, and Immigrants Arrested in Bolivia

Update: Jean Henry Céant was confirmed as Haiti’s new Prime Minister following votes in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies on Saturday, September 16. 

In July, widespread protests in Haiti following an announced cut in fuel subsidies led to the resignation of Prime Minister Guy Jack Lafontant and dissolution of the cabinet. Since the resignation, Haiti has been without a functioning government. President Moïse nominated Jean Henry Céant to the post of Prime Minister on August 7, but his confirmation in Parliament has been delayed. Last week, with a scheduled recess looming, Céant formally presented his list of proposed ministers to Parliament.

The slate of ministers has proved to be controversial. Of the 18 ministers proposed, 6 were part of Lafontant’s government, and 3 have had their eligibility challenged. One of the nominees, Osner Richard named Minister of the Environment, has already been forced to step down on the basis of his holding dual citizenship (with the United States). Additionally, of the 4 appointed Secretaries of State, 3 were part of the previous government. The selections have led to widespread criticism that Moïse is controlling the selection process in an effort to keep the government under the control of his Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK), despite opposition concerns about the government that led to the resignation of Lafontant back in July.  The PHTK holds the largest bloc of seats in both houses, but is far from a majority in either, and thus must hold together a coalition to get the slate of ministers passed. At this point, the votes do not seem to be there.

Deputy Jerry Tardieu, who represents Pétion-Ville as a member of the Verité party, has been among the outspoken critics of Moïse role in the selection process. From Haiti Libre:

I…recommend that the Executive reconsider the formation of the Government as soon as possible, leaving the designated Prime Minister free to choose leading figures who can inspire confidence in society and give the government a serious image. This indiscriminate insistence on imposing personalities stamped PHTK, even when they are competent, is contrary to the wishes of the living forces of the nation who had opted for the establishment of a government of openness that soothes and builds confidence. It proves that President Jovenel Moïse has still not taken the right measure of the events of July 6 and 7, 2018, does not understand the stakes of the hour and even less the risks for tomorrow.

To the [designated] Prime Minister Céant, I hope that he has the courage to resign if he can not have the free hand, that is to say the freedom to choose credible and competent personalities to form a Government capable of providing solutions immediately.

There was no vote before deputies recessed Monday. However, President Moïse ordered a special session of parliament, calling members back to Port-au-Prince to hold a vote on the new government. We’ll update when we hear the results of the special session.

PetroCaribe

Hanging over the process of selecting a new government is ongoing outrage over embezzlement of money through the PetroCaribe fund. PetroCaribe was a regional effort put forth by the Venezuelan government in 2006, that allowed governments to purchase oil at a discount in order to use funds for development projects. Under PetroCaribe’s agreement, the government purchases oil from Venezuela, paying back 60% of the purchase price within 90 days. The extra funds are to be paid back over 25 years at 1% interest. In theory, the extra funds are to be used to develop infrastructure, at rates below what multilateral lenders would provide.

In October last year a senate committee led by Evallière Beauplan (Northwest Department) released a scathing audit that showed misappropriation of funds through the awarding of $1.7 billion in non-bid contracts for reconstruction projects between 2008 and 2016. The beneficiaries of the contracts included people closely associated with former president Martelly (also of the PHTK) and his prime minister Laurent Lamothe. Some of the accused are part of the current government, like Wilson Laleau, who is Moïse’s chief of staff. Public anger over the corruption, which has left Haiti with over $2 billion in debt to Venezuela with little to show for it, continues to grow and played a significant role in animating the protests in July.

Some examples of the waste include (via the Miami Herald):

[C]onstruction overages that include the ministry of public works paying for 10 miles of road that actually measured 6.5 miles; the signing of a contract between the ministry of public health and a deceased person; large disbursements by government ministers with no documents to support the expenditures, and tens of millions of dollars paid to Dominican and Haitian firms for post-earthquake roads, housing and government ministries that never materialized or weren’t completed.

One of the most blatant allegations involved the reconstruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, one of 40 government buildings that crumbled during the earthquake. The Dominican firm Hadom was awarded a $14.7 million contract, and paid $10 million up front, to construct the building that remains unbuilt. Hadom’s lucrative Haiti contract is among several given to Dominican firms after the quake that became the subject of separate probes in Haiti and in neighboring Dominican Republic, where Hadom owner and Dominican Senator Félix Bautista was accused of embezzlement. The Bautista case was eventually dropped by the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court.

As the economic situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate – projected growth this year was lowered to 1.2% by the IMF – frustration with the government only increases. A campaign asking Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a (“Where did the Petro Caribe money go?”) has launched on social media, and protests continue in the streets. The situation remains volatile. It is hard to know how much hinges on the new government, or what space it will have to operate within the confines of the neo-liberal policy constraints Haiti is forced to operate under, but if the new government returns many of the same players back to power, it will only fuel the opposition.

100 Haitians Arrested in Bolivia

Last week we reported on the increasing challenges faced by people who have migrated out of Haiti looking for new opportunities. Earlier this week, over 100 Haitians were arrested in Bolivia as they traveled through the country from Brazil and Chile – two countries where many Haitians have resettled since the earthquake in 2010.

The arrests also included two Haitians and five Bolivians (the four drivers of the buses and a woman who processed tickets), all charged with trafficking.

 

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Migration: From the Dominican Republic to Chile and the U.S., Haitians face increasing barriers

Haiti Update, September 10, 2018

Looming Crisis in the Dominican Republic

August 25 was the deadline for immigrants to present required documentation to regularize their status under the Dominican Republic’s controversial National Plan for the Regularization of Foreigners (PNRE). Close to 98% of the people impacted are from Haiti. Under the provisions of the PNRE, 230,000 people of Haitian descent had registered with the government of the Dominican Republic by an earlier deadline in 2015. However, formalizing their status requires them to present documents to the Dominican Republic’s government (birth certificates and passports being crucial). Very few Haitians have been able to secure these documents from the government of Haiti despite repeated promises that they would be issued.

To highlight the dilemma now faced by over 200,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, cane cutters protested at Haiti’s embassy in Santo Domingo this week to demand that documents be produced. Over 4,000 cane cutters from Haiti had paid 1000 pesos each in 2015 to secure documentation from Haiti’s government, and these documents have not been provided.

Meanwhile, Sonia Vásquez, the National Representative of the United Nations Population Fund, implored the government of the Dominican Republic to not begin mass deportations in response to the crisis, arguing that doing so would have a dramatic impact on many sectors of the Dominican Republic’s economy and society.

Tensions along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic remain high.  Back in March thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic fled across the border at Anse-à-Pitres. A Dominican man had been killed and wife assaulted in Pedernales  – Dominican authorities accused three Haitian men for the crime. As a result, attacks and threats against Haitians increased. Such incidents happen periodically, with the government of the Dominican Republic stereotyping Haitians as criminals and using the tensions for political purposes.

The International Office of Migration has been monitoring the border at regular and irregular crossing points since the earlier 2015 deadline passed, and have documented a large number of border crossings – over 240,000 from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The majority have been “voluntary” returns – but nearly a quarter have been official deportations.

Wave of Anti-Immigration Policies

Migration out of Haiti remains a high, but options of places to go have been reduced. Following the earthquake in 2010, Brazil opened immigration to Haitians. Close to 65,000 Haitians moved to Brazil looking for work in the years since, only to see the economy there collapse and their options narrowed. Many began a long trek to the United States – traversing 7,000 miles and 11 countries, a journey covered at length in an investigative report by the Miami Herald in 2016.

One of the danger spots for Haitians is Nicaragua, which has ramped up security along the border with Costa Rica since 2015, austensibly for reasons related to the drug war. Nicaragua’s recent political crisis has overtaken these issues – but as recently as February 2018 Haitian migrants and others were still routinely blocked from crossing through Nicaraguan territory.

Over the last several years, Over 100,000 Haitians have moved to Chile (equivalent to 1% of Haiti’s population). However, as was the case in Brazil, many have found work opportunities to be scant, and prospects further diminished by the increase in migration to Chile from people fleeing economic collapse in Venezuela. Then in April, newly elected right-wing President Sebastián Piñera eliminated the temporary visas that allowed Haitians to go from tourists to regular migrants once they obtained a job, a status that had allowed them to then bring their families from Haiti.

Here in the United States, the Trump administration refused to renew Temporary Protective Status for Haitians, put in place following the 2010 earthquake. Which means 59,000 Haitians in the United States face expulsion in July 2019.

Meanwhile, international banks and multilateral lenders continue to bleed Haiti’s economy, while corruption scandals among Haiti’s U.S. protected elite, most recently questions about former president Martelly’s “management” of $3.8 billion in PetroCaribe Funds (which must be paid back to Venezuela), are ongoing. All of which is a reminder that foreign policy is immigration policy – even though we refuse to acknowledge that. The people of Haiti, like many others from Central America, the Middle East and Africa, are caught in the middle: Dislocated by war and greed, and increasingly unable to find safe haven elsewhere.

 

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Haiti Update: Jean Henry Céant is nominated as new prime minister

Jean Henry Ceant (right) with president Jovenel Moise

On July 14, 2018 Haiti’s prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned following widespread demonstrations sparked by fuel prices increases. Lafontant was blamed for the poor execution of the plan’s roll-out – particularly by the business community, which criticized Lafontant for lack of preparation regarding security. Seven people died in the demonstrations. The fuel price increases were suspended – but the pressure behind those increases remain. The International Monetary Fund had required a steep reduction of Haiti’s fuel subsidy program – which led to the price increases. The IMF is still hovering.

Lafontant may well have been the fall guy – as the thousands of people in the street were actually calling for president Jovenel Moise to resign. Lafontant’s resignation seems to have bought Moise some time.

The search for a replacement – for what is going to be a very difficult job – has led to the nomination of Jean Henry Céant. Céant ran for president twice (2010 and 2016) as the head of the Renmen Ayiti (Love Haiti) Party. As of now, Céant has deposited his papers with parliamentary leadership and is awaiting a confirmation vote.

Jean Henry Céant has a controversial background.  In a profile by Kim Ives, Henriot Dorcent, a Haitian political analyst who speaks on the weekly Truth Serum/Haiti on the Airwaves, summarized Céant’s career as follows.

Céant is a consummate opportunist…Under the dictatorship of Gen. Prosper Avril, he worked closely with lawyer Réné Julien, who was Céant’s mentor and Avril’s cousin. But when the political winds shifted, he joined Aristide and the Lavalas, acting as Aristide’s notaire and getting jobs for his wife as Aristide’s private secretary and his brother in CONATEL. Then he jumped into the Martelly camp, where he headed the project to remove people from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince after the earthquake without compensating them. When Jovenel came to power, there was a scathing report by Haiti’s anti-corruption unit UCREF detailing Jovenel’s money-laundering through his business Agritrans. Who was the first to jump to Jovenel’s defense, saying the excellent report was a fabrication? Jean-Henry Céant!

Because of Céant’s particularly unsavory role in removing people from housing following the earthquake in 2010, his nomination is not a popular choice. Indeed, in the same profile by Kim Ives, Fanmi Lavalas activist Farah Juste explains why Céant’s nomination may be doomed:

First, the people despise him for the way he made money off of uprooting them from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince under Martelly and [his Prime Minister Laurent] Lamothe. Second, the opposition doesn’t like him and doesn’t trust him. Thirdly, Jovenel would never let him run things, the same way Jovenel completely controlled Lafontant.

Juste speculates that Céant is cannon fodder, and that Moise’s real choice will come next. We’ll have to wait and see. Whoever becomes prime minister, the country will remain squeezed by the International Monetary Fund and U.S. policy makers from outside, and by the business-controlled neo-duvaliast alliance represented by Moise inside the country. One suspects the policy output will be the same no matter who gets the nod, it’s just a matter of finding someone who can sell the program. On that count Céant seems an unlikely candidate.

 

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Dolly Pomerleau Part II

Dolly Pomerleau was one of the pioneers who founded the Quixote Center in 1975. She and Bill Callahan launched this justice work with a strong commitment to social justice in both civil society and within the Catholic Church. In both arenas, that justice included changing structures to establish the equality of women and men. Dolly was utterly committed to that and all the other projects and ideals to which the Center committed itself over the years. 

She was a Co-Director of the Center from the start… shaping the vision and helping launch many different projects. From the beginning, she advocated feminist ideals and full gender equality, making sure these values were a part of every aspect of life at the Center. 

And in 1975, she was one of the pioneering women who founded the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), the organization that has been a leader in the quest for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church for more than 40 years. The Quixote Center has long worked in coalition with WOC.  

Over the years, Dolly worked on a variety of projects at the Quixote Center, including Catholics Speak Out, which emphasized the crying need for gender equality and an expanded role for lay decision-making in the Church.

Photo from The Catholic Connection, October 1976.

She is a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and was one of several women who chained themselves to the front door of the Republican National Committee when that party took the ERA out of its platform. The group was there for a full day in the hot sun, attracting a wide range of onlookers, including Republican women inside the building, many of whom were at their windows, pointedly expressing support for the action with hand signals, flag waving, and the like. 

Dolly is also committed to rectifying injustices of any kind where her actions might make a difference. She protested US attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980’s, helping to establish the Quest for Peace project, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Nicaragua over the years. This meant filling many cargo containers of aid that were shipped to that country regularly and sent to the Center’s partner organization, the Institute of John XXIII in Managua. The Institute then distributed the aid to the neediest parts of Nicaragua.  

Several times, Dolly visited that country and travelled with Ketxu Amezua of the Institute to see the many and impressive projects that were underway as a result of help from the Quixote Center. Her fluency in Spanish was an enormous help in all this work. 

In the United States, Dolly was never shy about protesting US policy in Nicaragua, and one time was arrested in the rotunda of the US Capitol as part of a group that was kneeling to pray for an end to US actions against the Nicaraguan government. 

She also advocated for justice in Haiti when Aristide was the duly elected President, and she helped establish a new project at the Center called Haiti Reborn. 

Her values were broad. When some new staff people at the Quixote Center – Jane Henderson and Shari Silberstein – suggested a project aimed at ending the death penalty, Dolly (and the staff) endorsed it heartily. This project eventually spun off from the Center to become Equal Justice USA. 

And oh yes… Dolly is a native of the state of Maine – northern Maine near the Canadian border. Thus she is tri-lingual: English, French, and Spanish.   

Dolly has been a strong and fearless advocate for justice in both church and civil society. She may be retiring from the Quixote Center, but her words and her spirit will never retire! She will always be there! 

Maureen Fiedler

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Haiti News Update: Prime Minister Resigns and Update on Cholera Campaign

On Saturday, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned to avoid a formal vote of no-confidence. His resignation followed a week of conflict over proposed increases in fuel prices that had led to widespread protests. The price increases, cancelled following a day of protest in which three people were killed, would have been the direct result of the government removing subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosine. This step had been demanded by the International Monetary Fund before additional funds would be released to the government of Haiti.

Initial protests had called for the President Moises to step down. However, early last week the Private Sector Economic Forum, a coalition of major business interests, issued a call for the prime minister to step down instead. Taking on the tone of friends of the people of Haiti (to which one might be forgiven an eye roll or two), or is it simply friends of those who own property (it is not clear) their statement reads (reproduced from Haiti Libre summary here):

“The Economic Forum wishes to express its sincere sympathies to the victims of these acts of barbarism, detrimental to the social climate, the national image and our ability to attract private investment generating sustainable employment and economic prosperity.”

The Forum wishes to underline its conviction that “these acts largely reflect the high degree of frustration, even disarray” of the majority of our fellow citizens, faced the deterioration of their living conditions for many years. While deploring the fact, he considers, however, “that such frustration, however justified, can not excuse such an increase of violence, destruction and violation of the fundamental rights of the entire population.”

In addition, the Economic Forum “is astonished at the inaction characterized of the forces of order face this new and unacceptable overflow of delinquency, contrary to their mission of maintaining order and protecting lives and property.” He estimates that “this situation results above all from a lack of leadership by the highest authorities of the Haitian State, including the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and his Government. This is evidenced, among other things, by the apparent lack of planning of security measures that would logically precede the adoption of the drastic price adjustment measure for petroleum products decreed by the Government on 6 July 2018.

While taking note of the recent decision to withdraw this measure taken by the Executive Authority, “the Economic Forum is of the opinion that the President of the Republic should draw the logical conclusions of this deplorable situation and ask the Prime Minister to submit without delay his resignation and that of his Government, in order to offer a way out to the current political impasse.”

The Economic Forum was not the only entity seeking to boost its moral standing by, well, standing on the backs of the people who protested. As we noted in an earlier article, the underlying frustrations that spilled out into the streets run deeper than fuel prices – some at least aimed at the International Monetary Fund. At the United Nations, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, noted that the IMF demands were guaranteed to lead to conflict:

The fund has consistently underestimated the importance of calibrating their recommendations to the specific political context, not taking into account the extent to which recommendations are politically viable and socially sustainable.

Strong words, and very true (we have also been writing about the crisis in Nicaragua, which is very different in scope, but was also sparked by the government’s effort to implement fiscal reforms demanded by the IMF). We applaud Alston’s insights. But we also hope Mr. Alston will also walk down the hall to speak to some of his other colleagues.

The United Nations is itself struggling (or at least being made to struggle) to come to terms with its own responsibility for the costs and consequences of the cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010. The Quixote Center signed onto a letter this week demanding the UN abide by the commitments it has made. From the press release:

Cholera was introduced to Haiti in 2010 through reckless waste management on a UN peacekeeping base. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and immense public pressure, the UN finally acknowledged its role in the outbreak in 2016 and launched a $400-million-dollar plan – the “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti” – that aims to eradicate the epidemic and provide a victim assistance package. The UN pledged that its assistance package would represent “a concrete and sincere expression of the Organization’s regret” and presented two potential approaches to justice for victims: individual payments to affected households, and community projects, which would be decided upon through a process of victim consultation. Eighteen months on, under Secretary-General Guterres, the UN has increasingly retreated from these promises.

We are joining with the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who has led this campaign in partnership with the Bureau of International Attorneys in Port au Prince, to raise awareness about the impact of the cholera epidemic and the UN’s obligation to make restitution.

 

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Haiti’s Protests: It’s More than Gas Prices

Update: Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned today (Saturday, July 14). Details here.

 

On Thursday, the government in Haiti announced a roll back of fuel subsidies that would result in increases of 31% to 50% of the cost of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene.  Gas prices are already extremely high in Haiti, but with the increases, a liter of gas was projected to cost $5 (for perspective, that is almost $19 a gallon!).

The announcement led to protests throughout the country, in which 3 people were killed on Friday, business were looted and buildings set on fire. On Saturday President Moïse cancelled the rollback of subsidies, and yet protests continued, with people calling for Moïse to step down.

It is too early to know where this is heading. But a few points are important to provide context for what is happening.

The first, is that the announcement came as the government is under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the fuel subsidies program as part of a broader set of market reforms the IMF is requiring of Haiti if the country is to be able to access additional funding. Haiti has been under the scrutiny of international financial institutions for decades, with access to funding continually tied to structural reforms aimed at reducing government expenditures. Though Haiti had qualified for debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative some years back, the reductions were highly conditioned, and benchmarks impossible to meet, given political instability, four hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake. The resulting hollowing out of state capacity to deliver social services makes it difficult for the government to meet the demands of the people, and leaves the country dependent on non-governmental and church organizations for the provision of health and education services. Actual debt cancellation is still required – as most of the Haiti’s multilateral debts have been accrued under un-elected governments.

A second point is that the Haiti’s participation in PetroCaribe has not provided the hoped for benefits, with political leadership using the funds for investments into business ventures that had no impact on poverty reduction. PetroCaribe is a program launched by Venezuela. Under the provisions of the program, a country may pay back a portion of the bill for oil sales at a very low rate of interest over an extended period of time. In Haiti’s case, 40% of the revenue from the sale of oil could be held and used for social services, with the payback of the balance over a 25-year period at 1% interest.

Earlier this year, an audit of the program as administered under former presidents Preval and Martelly  showed a number of problems. Questions arose, particularly, around Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe’s facilitation of projects geared toward tourism. An example:

In another case, the Dominican corporation Ingeniería ESTRELLA was given a contract of nearly US$20 million by the Martelly/Lamothe government to build an airport on Ile-à-Vache, which it was trying to develop as a resort for rich tourists. Le Nouvelliste visited the island recently and found that, although the company had pocketed more than $5.2 million in revenue, work on the project ended more than two years ago and left behind an unpaved landing strip half the size contracted for. No planes have been able to land on it.

The release of the audit back in January of this year led to much anger at the government – including the current government of President Moïse, who is from the same party as President Martelly, and has done little to confront these past abuses. Given past anger, Moïse clearly did not have the political capital and legitimacy with the people required to make the controversial announcement about steep increases in fuel costs.

Finally, the question of legitimacy is not a small one. In 2011, the United States intervened in elections in Haiti, demanding that Martelly be included in a runoff for which he did not qualify, according to Haiti’s electoral council (Martelly had come in third in first-round voting that year). The government eventually gave in under enormous pressure, and Martelly won the elections with a very low voter turnout. The United States seemed to embrace Martelly – the first president to win an election outside of the Lavalas movement or Preval’s Lespwa, a political coalition that included many former Lavalas members. Such a victory, long sought by U.S. policy makers, was not greeted warmly by the people of Haiti. This cloud hangs over President Moïse who has struggled to build a coalition within the context of PetroCaribe corruption scandal, controversies over re-establishing the army, and ongoing economic hardship. It doesn’t help Moïse’s case that there are reports that the U.S. State Department indicated he may be on the way out.

As one might expect, people are not simply burning tires and buildings over gas prices. The demonstrations have deeper roots, and thus it is not surprising that they have continued even after the cancellation of the increases.

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Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Myriam Merlet

Part IV of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Myriam Merlet was considered one of Haiti’s most prominent leaders and catalysts of the women’s rights movement. Merlet was one of the 300,000 people who perished in the  7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. As part of our series on inspirational and influential women, we take a look at her work as an advocate for gender equality and the rights of women facing sexual violence.

Myriam Merlet

 

In the 70s, Merlet left Haiti and sought refuge in Canada, where she studied economics, women’s issues, feminist theory, and political sociology. Upon the completion of her studies, Merlet returned to Haiti in the mid 1980s, stating, “While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. We’re a country in which three-fourths of the people can’t read and don’t eat properly. I’m an integral part of the situation…as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them [the problems].” Upon returning to Haiti, Merlet used her education to lead grassroots advocacy to promote the rights of Haitian women and worked with others to change the culturally accepted norm of gender-based violence.

Merlet was involved in an array of organizations seeking to create and enforce gender equality. In Merlet’s early advocacy years, she founded EnfoFanm, an organization that sought to raise global awareness about the challenges Haitian women face, namely the history and continued use of sexual assault by government soldiers, police, and criminal gangs as means of controlling and oppressing women. EnfoFanm also led a campaign to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women to celebrate and commemorate their work as well as elevate the status of women within Haitian culture. Later in 2006, Merlet took part in creating the Coordination Nationale pour le Plaidoyer des Femmes [National Coordination for Women’s Advocacy] and served as a spokesperson for the organization to fight against sexism within the public sector.

One of Merlet’s greatest accomplishments was leading the efforts to reclassify rape. Prior to 2005, rape was considered a “crime of passion” or an “offense against morals” in Haiti. Rape victims and their families seldom received monetary compensation from the perpetrators, and had no hope for a legal sentencing or justice for the victim. In large part thanks to the work of Merlet and many other women activists, rape has been reclassified as a criminal offense. However, there remains a lack of a precise definition of rape as well as strong judicial system to uphold and enforce the criminalization of rape. As a result, many rapes continue to be overlooked by authorities and there is a stark lack of rape prosecutions, leaving victims vulnerable and susceptible to further gender-based violence.

From 2006 to 2008 Merlet acted as the Chief of Staff to Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. There, she continued to promote equal rights and end gender discrimination and violence. Though in a government position, Merlet continued to participate in grassroots advocacy and worked closely with the Minister for the Coordination of Women and Women’s Rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. Together, Merlet and Lassegue opened the first Haiti Sorority Safe House and V-Day Safe House, both of which act as safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence. At both of these safe houses women can access medical, legal, and psychological aid as well as gain life skills through the business and computer training courses offered. There continues to be an overwhelming lack of safe houses and aid offered to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Merlet and Lassegue’s work is carried on by organizations like Fanm Deside, but more needs to be done.

The earthquake served as a reminder of how crucial the work in which Merlet was involved continues to be. A report by Amnesty International stated, “the displacements and living conditions in the displaced persons camps have increased the risk of facing gender-based violence for women and girls, while the destruction of police stations and court houses during the 2010 earthquake further weakened that state’s ability to provided adequate protection.” Women and girls living in the camps with poor lighting at night, unsecure tents, and limited police presence continue to be increasingly susceptible to rape and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the child sex ring run by United Nations Peacekeepers exacerbated the sexual abuse women and girls faced in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

The work Merlet started for the promotion, empowerment, and protection of Haitian women’s rights at the grassroots level remains imperative. The UN’s debacle illustrates why women and local leaders must be involved in the disaster relief process and the need to bring female issues to the forefront of government policy in the hopes of strengthening the justice system to deter rape and gender-based violence as well as provided justice for female victims.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn coming April 20th

 

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It’s Not Just Oxfam

Last week The Times reported on a 2011 internal investigation conducted by Oxfam into the behavior of some of its team in Haiti.  

The group lived in a guest house rented by Oxfam that they called the ‘pink apartments’ — they called it ‘the whorehouse’,” said a source who says he was shown phone footage by one of the residents of the guesthouse. They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues’.”

Roland van Hauwermeiren, who was Oxfam’s country director in Haiti in 2011 and admitted to hiring prostitutes in Haiti, had also been accused of hiring sex workers in Chad in 2006 – an allegation known to his superiors at Oxfam prior to him being sent to Haiti. Following the disclosures in 2011, Hauwermeiren was allowed to resign from his post in Haiti in exchange for cooperating with the investigation. Following the 2011 investigation Oxfam set up a whistleblower line and Safeguarding Team to try and rein in abuses. There was some reporting to officials in the U.K. about the investigation and the actions taken internally at the time. However, until The Times published its piece last week, there had been no full public disclosure about the abuses in Haiti.

Since the story first broke, more information has come to light about other staff at Oxfam engaging in sexual harassment, including demanding sex in exchange for aid. Helen Evans wrote to Oxfam’s director in 2014 that the information she was gathering as head of Oxfam’s Safeguarding initiative, “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam offices.” She raised these concerns to the UK Charity Commission as well. Little was done. She left the organization in 2015.

As many have also been noting, there is nothing unique to Oxfam about sexual abuse. In Haiti, there have been a number of sexual abuse incidents involving UN Peacekeepers and other non-governmental organizations. Globally, aid workers and peacekeepers have come into the spotlight from time to time because of sexual abuse. According to an ABC report:

Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre and Red Cross aid worker, said the Oxfam scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s a global problem across all charities, including the United Nations”….The UN said last year there were 145 cases of sexual exploitation involving 311 victims reported within peacekeeping in 2016 alone.

Obviously, the time for treating these incidents as isolated is long passed. Which is to say, we must look beyond Oxfam to the broader pattern of abuse. In doing so one might hope this becomes a pivotal moment where we begin to ask critical questions about the nature of aid work itself, and the differentials in power between agencies and their employees, and the people they are supposed to be serving.

Such an assessment must be far-reaching. Aid organizations control significant resources and can leverage them in ways that impact policy and dramatically impact lives in the countries where they work. We need to ask about the ways aid agencies disempower local stakeholders in general – through setting up infrastructure independent of local governance, bypassing official channels in the organization and delivery of services, bringing in people from outside the country to run projects rather than hire more locally and so on. These institutional choices can reproduce modes of privilege, creating the environment in which abuse takes place. In short, it is the responsibility of all of us who work in the delivery of international assistance to commit to being more responsive to the communities we serve. Oxfam will navigate the current situation however they choose. For the rest of us, we should be thinking less about how we are different than Oxfam, and more about the fundamental ways we may be the same.

And then change.

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Program Update: Haiti Reborn

Last week, I visited Haiti for the first time. Since Haiti Reborn, the Quixote Center’s program is related largely to reforestation and agroecology, I knew I would hear about and visit trees and gardens. What I knew best was that there would be a thriving forest, where once there had been barren land – and I hiked up the mountain that houses that verdant space on the third day of my visit.

To my surprise, however, I also spent nearly the entire time talking about waste. No, not the kind where a program went over budget or funds were misused. I mean the kind of waste that we all produce or leave behind in a regular day. In Haiti, in contrast with the United States, municipal and private waste removal is practically nonexistent in most areas. What this means is that the people of Haiti are confronted with the reality of disposing of their waste with little institutional support.

My first meeting with a partner was with Marcel Garçon, a leader in the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and a licensed agronomist who manages Grepen Center. While he talked a bit about his work in agronomy, his concern last week was with Styrofoam. I had just eaten a meal out of a Styrofoam container the evening before, so I had seen that it was readily available. He explained that the problem is these containers usually end up tossed into ditches and eventually wash into waterways, where they are carried to larger bodies of water, destined for the Caribbean coast. He had decided that the La Chandeleur parish festival last week would reduce this sort of waste by serving food on metal plates rather than Styrofoam – a culture shift he wanted to implement in his community for the common good.

When I visited the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center – commonly called Grepen Center – later that day, I met two technicians who were gathering brown and green plant waste as stock for the compost piles. They use both open composting and two different kinds of worm composting to manage plant waste, combined with either animal or kitchen waste.

At the satellite agricultural center in Boukan Richard, the staff showcased a mat made with the strong fiber of banana leaves.

Fr. Charles, administrator of the Grepen Center, explained that he wanted to purchase equipment to make jellies or juices from the mangos during harvest time, starting this May. This region, well known for its abundant mango production, often ends up seeing ripe mangos rot on the ground. He pointed out that this is not just lost opportunity, but also attracts mosquitoes, which spread disease.

Sister Pat Dillon, RJM, spoke with excitement of an experimental corn crop yield doubling when urine was added to the soil, due to the additional nitrogen in the waste. She is looking for a way to separate out liquid waste to increase yields on a larger scale. 

In Port-au-Prince, Daniel Tillias, executive director of Pax Christi Haiti and founder of Sakala Center, spoke too of waste. Situated in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood known for the massive canals literally overflowing with the waste of the capital city, Sakala is a community center for youth, designed to showcase the real possibilities of creating a garden amidst the rubble of abandoned factories that once filled this landscape.

In reflecting on Haiti Reborn. I’ve wondered what rebirth really means. In a material sense, perhaps it really just means figuring out how to find and nourish new life from that which seems to have become obsolete. If that is the case, my encounters with the people I met in Haiti suggest that they have a compelling commitment to rebirth as an ongoing process.

This year marks the Quixote Center’s 19th year of partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center. We continue to learn from and be inspired by the creativity of our partners. We invite you to walk with us on this journey of rebirth. 

— John Marchese 
Executive Director
Quixote Center

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)