The Situation in Haiti (Update)

Update from Emergency Meeting at Gasworks, Sunday Jan 24th

Following last week’s meeting to coordinate solidarity action with Haiti we established a working group called the ‘Haiti-London Konbit’. We have set up a list-server with Indymedia where people can post information about upcoming events. Just add your email address and any mails you send will be distributed to the other members of the the group.

Konbit is a traditional form of cooperative communal labour in Haiti, whereby the able-bodied folk of a locality help each other prepare their fields. Haitian peasants, as a rule, have a small plot of land to themselves that they use for subsistence (they feed themselves and their family from it). Otherwise, the bulk of their work is sharecropping, a form of feudal slavery, whereby they work for a landlord who takes the lion’s share of their produce. Konbit involves weeding, stone removal, planting, sometimes even the harvest. It is a time for solidarity and cooperation in the face of adversity and usually involves a feast offered up by the recipient of the help (thanks Andrew Taylor from the Haiti Support Group for this definition).

Most of the people present at the Gasworks meeting agreed that there is a widespread lack of awareness about the basic facts of Haitian history. Even people with an interest in the country are unaware of how and why Haiti became such an economically impoverished nation. The next post on the blog will be a very brief history of Haiti and its Debt. In advance of that post here is something an article on the issue of Haiti’s debt from the PAPDA (Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development) website and Hilary Beckle’s article The Hate and the Quake.

We would like to develop a Web 2.0 video version of the  story of Haiti’s debt (possibly in collaboration with artists from the Grand Rue) to circulate on the internet. We will be discussing the logistics of this at the Free School event.

During the meeting at Gasworks we began a discussion about the legitimacy of the language of ‘debt’ in the context of Haiti and the racist misrepresentations of post-earthquake Haiti being on the edge of anarchy. I expect there will be more to discuss on these issues at a later date. But in the meantime here is an excellent and well-hyperlinked article on language of ‘looting’ in the journalistic response to the earthquake in Haiti by Rebecca Solnit.

There seemed to be strong support for the idea that what we are witnessing in Haiti is an example of ‘disaster capitalism’ as defined by Naomi Klein, and that the media focus on ‘looters’ and ‘rioters’ was a significant component the ideological apparatus being used to justify the presence of tens of thousands of US military personnel on the island. John Pilger has written an incisive riposte to the militarization of the aid effort in Haiti and parallel media reports about ‘criminal mayhem’ for the New Statesman. Peter Hallward’s recent article for Monthly Review is also very good in this context, arguing that the current US presence in Haiti amounts to a third military occupation.

Update on the best organizations to donate money too

Although some aid is now starting to get through to communities in Haiti, more than three weeks into the massive aid program there is still a severe bottleneck on the resources and the majority of the population have still seen seen no assistance. Leah Gordon has reported that an unofficial zoning system has been put in place by the military authorities divided into green zones, where relief can pass freely, and red zones which have restrictions placed on them. The Grand Rue area for instance is in a red zone, as are many of the poorer neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince. Democracy Now addressed  the problems of aid distribution to the red zones here.

Flavia Cherry, chair of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) has reported that the major aid agencies have done little to prioritize aid for the most needy member of the population and that it is obvious that the agencies are unable to handle the scale of the problem on the ground there. She questions why Caribbean governments are not being allowed to play a role in the operation despite many willing volunteers who can  speak Creole and are ready to take aid directly to the most needy populations.

Ryan McCrory, Co-Director Haitian Sustainable Development Found, reported his recent experiences with the aid distribution program to the HSG. The large NGO’s require communities to fill out a 100 question form in order to receive aid. These forms can take as long as a week to complete. Of particular difficulty is explaining directions to locations in a city reduced to rubble by the earthquake. The Haitian government is being entirely bypassed in this operation and small organizations have completely given up trying to work with larger NGO’s and the UN because there has still been no sign of their goods being released. Instead they are traveling to the Dominican Republic to buy food and medical provisions..

I have been in regular email contact with Charles Arthur of the Haiti Support Group. The following is a summary of that discussion.

The Haiti Support Group (HSG) has circulated an important statement from the Coordinating Committee of Progressive Organizations presenting an overview of the current situation which can be found on Norman Girvan’s website.

Following this statement the HSG are now concerned that such is the international response to the many Haiti emergency appeals – i.e. so much money has been donated – that those organisations running the appeals will be in a position where they cannot distribute/use the money quickly or in a way that reaches the more marginalised people/organisations. They are concerned that many organisations in Haiti that are working with marginalised people but  don’t have good international connections are not going to get any financial assistance. In this context you might consider making your funds available to the HSG for it to distribute to less well-known but equally deserving grassroots organisations. The HSG would match any tax relief that you would have got by donating to the big humanitarian agencies.

The best way to send money to the HSG is by direct bank-bank transfer, details as follows:

Payee name: Haiti Support Campaign

Payee account number: 6 1 7 2 0 9 4 1

Payee sort code: 6 0 – 0 3 – 3 6

Alternatively you can send a cheque to;

Haiti Support Group

c/o Leah Gordon

10 Swingfield House

Templecombe Road

London E9 7LX

The entirety of donations will be divided in three equal parts and sent as soon as possible to the following:

KOFAVIV is a women’s organisation that for many years has been working with women in the poorest and most marginalised communities in Port-au-Prince. It provides a space for women to meet, medical care for victims of rape, sexual violence, and other violence, advice on legal issues, and many other forms of practical and moral support to women who otherwise would get no help at all. It was the only organisation in Haiti that publicly denounced the rape and sexual violence committed by the gangs that controlled various shanty-towns in Port-au-Prince in the 2004-6 period. KOFAVIV lost its office in the quake. Many core members lost their homes and are now living on under plastic sheets in the main square in the capital. From there, they are trying to continue to provide help to other women.

Batay Ouvriye is a workers’ organisation which since 1995 has been helping factory and plantation workers to organise themselves to win improvements in wages and working conditions. It is one of the few active and effective workers organisations in the country. In Port-au-Prince the core members are providing relief and assistance to the best that their limited resources allow at the Batay Ouvriye centre in Delmas 16. Workers who have lost everything – their jobs, their homes, their spouses and children, and families which have lost their ‘bread-winnner’ are getting help from Batay Ouvriye but the organisation desperately needs financial assistance. It has a few links with organisations abroad but not with any which have large resources to be able to make sizeable donations.

The PAPDA/POHDH plus 4 organisations are some of the most effective Haitian progressive organisations working with the majority population on issues of participatory democracy, the economy, human rights, education, communications, etc. The two platforms and four organisations – many of which lost their offices in the quake – have set up a coordinating committee to pool resources and organise joint responses to the disaster. They have opened a centre in Canape Vert to provide medical and material assistance to survivors. They plan to open more of these centres in areas of the city that are more or less ignored by the large humanitarian agencies.

PAPDA has set up a bank account for the purpose of directing material contributions to the organizations it works with:

PAPDA BANK ACCOUNT FOR CHANNELING SOLIDARITY SUPPORT:

Account Name: Camille Chalmers and Marc-Arthur Fils-Aimé

Account Number: 130-1012-457066 (checking account)

Bank Name: Unibank SA, Port au Prince, Haiti

Swift code: UBNKHTPP

UniBank has many accounts to receive money in Euros or U.S. dollars:

1) At Wachovia bank in New York (BIC Code: PNBPUS3NNYC. ABA / Routing: 026005092). The account of the UniBank there is: 2000192002189

2) At Société Générale, 1221 Avenue of the Americas New York (BIC Code: SOGEUS33. ABA / Routing: 026004226). The account of the UniBank there is: 194,980

3) At Société Générale, Paris la Defense Cedex 92,972 France (BIC Code: SOGEFRPP. Count UniBank there in Euro: 003-01-50607-0 IBAN: Fr 7630003 06990 00301506070 53)

4) In Bank of America, London England (BIC code: BOFAGB22. UniBank Count in euro: 6008 23805023 IBAN: GB33 BOFA 1650 5023 8050 23. In sterling account: 6008 23805015 IBAN: GB33 BOFA 1650 5023 8050 15

5) Banque Nationale du Canada International Commercial Operations, 1010 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest, Suite 750 Montreal PQ Canada H3B 5K7, BIC Code: BNDCCAMM. Count UniBank there: 097608-236-001-001-01 (Dollars canadieneses) 097608-240-002-001-01 (USD)

6) In Banque Royale du Canada, 180 Wellington Street West Toronto, Ontario M5J 1J1 Canada – BIC Code: ROYCCAT2. Account UniBank d ela there: 09591-406-583-5 (USD) / 09591-390-111-3 ($ CAD)

The Situation in Haiti

I will be posting updated information and commentary about the unfolding situation in Haiti here.

We have put out a call to groups, collectives and individuals to attend an emergency meeting to discuss collective action in response to the situation in Haiti. Please send a representative of your group if you can, or email us so we can keep you informed of further action / meetings.

Sunday 24 January 2009
2.00 – 4.00 pm at the Do you remember Olive Morris? exhibition that has meeting space available.
Gasworks, 155 Vauxhall Street, London SE11 5RH (tube: Oval / Stockwell)

I am currently working on a brief historical overview of the situation in Haiti and information about how best to get charity to the right places most effectively and most immediately. I should have this done for the meeting on Sunday and will post it here.

I’ve also uploaded some video footage from the Ghetto Biennale here. It shows Grand Rue artist Alex Louis interviewing the toy Tap Tap makers during the opening event.

I have also posted some images from the Ghetto Biennalehere.

And I just uploaded a clip of Reggie Jean Francois here telling the story of how Sri Lankan troops in the UN mission to Haiti performed a ceremonial ritual on the sculpture of a boar in Port-au-Prince in 2004.

Please feel free to use and circulate.

Donations to Organizations active on the ground in Haiti

Given that the social sector of Haiti is now run almost entirely by NGO’s these are the organizations that are likely to be delivering aid and assistance on the ground there. However the massive involvement of international NGO’s has the long term effect of undermining Haiti’s powers of democratic self-determination.

For people wishing to get their donations directly to the communities in most urgent need I suggest the following organizations, most of which are run largely by Haitians in Haiti:

1)PAPAZA

PAZAPA staff, who survived the quake, indicate that there is an immediate need for food, clean drinking water, shelter and medical care.  They describe virtually no distribution of emergency food (with much of the disaster relief efforts centred in Port au Prince) and have stated that the primary work of emergency relief agencies in that community has focused on search and rescue.  The price of food is rising and water and fuel is becoming dangerously scarce.  They need our help with funds to immediately purchase essential food supplies such as rice, beans and oil, that can be distributed to the centre’s children and families most effected by the quake. PAZAPA staff are working, despite suffering their own losses, to locate and assess the needs of the centre’s children who will be terribly affected by this tragedy.  For more information about the centre, link to a recent video , http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OKK1T-zgdA.

2) Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY

Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY (Working Together for Haiti) strengthens existing organizations, builds national networks, creates relationships between individuals and organizations in the U.S. and Haiti, and and supports collaboration and the sharing of technology and expertise. KONPAY focuses on Haitian solutions to environmental, social and economic problems and provides training and funding to grassroots and community-based projects.

Haiti-Earthquake-Emergency-Relief-Campaign

3) Honor and Respect for Bel Air, a big community-based network in Port-au-Prince, and Coordination Régionale des Organisations de Sud-Est (CROSE), which brings together some of the most active community groups in the south (via Avaaz.org)

4) The Lambi Fund of Haiti

The Lambi Fund’s mission is to assist the popular, democratic movement in Haiti. Its goal is to help strengthen civil society as a necessary foundation of democracy and development. The fund channels financial and other resources to community-based organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.

5) Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA)

PAPDA is a coalition of nine Haitian popular and non-governmental organizations which work with the Haitian popular movement to develop alternatives to the neo-liberal model of economic globalization. When the Haitian government moved to privatize certain industries, PAPDA worked with the unions and the business community to create strategies that would improve production and minimize cost without privatization.

6) The Haiti Emergency Relief Fund

7)FONKOZE

Fonkoze is Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor. In fact, it is a family of three institutions working together shoulder-to-shoulder towards a single compelling mission: building the economic foundations for democracy in Haiti by providing the rural poor with the tools they need to lift themselves out of poverty. This mission is reflected in our name, Fonkoze, which is an acronym for the Haitian Creole phrase “Fondasyon Kole Zepòl” meaning “Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation.”

8 ) Partners in Health

PIH has been working on the ground in Haiti for over 20 years. We urgently need your support to help those affected by the recent earthquake. Partners In Health (PIH) works to bring modern medical care to poor communities in nine countries around the world. The work of PIH has three goals: to care for our patients, to alleviate the root causes of disease in their communities, and to share lessons learned around the world.

I await news from Leah Gordon who is now in Port-au-Prince about what is the most effective way to get aid working on the ground.

According to a CNN report from Sunday one of the few working hospitals in Port-au-Prince is La Paz hospital.

This hospital is being run by Cuban medics supporting the strong argument for more Cuban-US cooperation in the aid mission.

Here is a video report from MediaHacker Ansel on the ground in Haiti the day after the quake in which local citizens express their anger at the absence of assistance from either UN or US forces.

Activists and citizens both in and outside of Haiti are concerned with what they see as a lack of response by the UN authorities in Haiti and by recurrent stories of immanent violence on the part of the Haitian people which we fear may be used to justify violent intervention by both the UN and US forces against the Haitian people. Articles like Tim Padgett’s Will Criminal Gangs Take Control in Haiti’s Chaos and Mark Lander’s Clinton, in Visit to Haiti, Brings Aid and Promises Support‘ set the tone for this kind of ideological scare-mongering. Lander warns that As Haitian and international officials try to coordinate an effective relief response to what is probably the worst disaster to ever hit the western hemisphere’s poorest country, they’ll need to be mindful of the human rats that come out of the capital’s woodwork at times like these”.

He goes on to say that “unless the international community can exert some semblance of street-level law enforcement in the coming days and weeks, gangs are likely to lay down the law in its place”.

Outside the mainstream media reports from the ground tell a very different story, such as this one from Dave Belle, director of the Cine Instute there.

Regarding the historical politics of debt and aid in Haiti this article by Richard Kimin The Nation is one of the most thorough and informative, exposing precisely that ‘history’ which Bill Clinton, in his speech accepting the job of coordinating the US aid mission in Haiti, said that Haiti was on the verge of ‘escaping’.

Clinton’s complicity in UN Human Rights abuses in Haiti is discussed here.