Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti’s Predicament

Photo credit: Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

I wrote a guest post for the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s excellent Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch:

1.  How would you describe the situation in Haiti today?

“Peyi a vin kraze.” As Haiti enters a new year, I’ve heard this phrase several times from different Haitians over the past week. It’s usually said with a resigned, slight shake of the head.

In English, this means “The country has completely crashed.”

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 168 people fleeing Haiti by boat. At least 360,000 people displaced by the earthquake live in appalling conditions in tent camps throughout the capital city, three years after the earthquake. The cholera epidemic killed 27 more people in the first week of January, bringing the total number of casualties to nearly 8,000.

So the situation is dire. And while I don’t want to add to Haiti’s bad press, this really should not be understated. It’s hard to take the government’s ubiquitous new slogan, “Haiti is Open for Business,” seriously.

At the same time, it’s important to point out that in the minds of outsiders, Haiti often comes packaged with a set of spurious assumptions.

Haiti is simultaneously romanticized and demeaned as so unique, poor and chaotic that it becomes a category unto itself. It’s the land of zombies and vodou (usually this word is spelled pejoratively as voodoo). Haitians are amazingly “resilient” – code for inhuman, able to go on suffering indignities that others could not.

In fact, Haiti is more like the United States than one might think. The country is afflicted with vast wealth inequality and an influential power elite. Many young people can’t find jobs. The healthcare system is a mess. Farmers are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst environmental destruction. Continue reading “Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti’s Predicament”

The small falsehood that went by

 

Seems like a lost cause. It’s not just me. There were other American journalists around as well.

 

 

I reject the idea that working for the AP makes you more a journalist and somehow having a blog makes you less of one – you should too if you’re interested in reporting from a diversity of viewpoints. AP gets things wrong all the time and a good portion of its output is little more than stenography. In any case, I had reported from Haiti for online outlets and radio prior to the quake. I arrived four months prior.

But it’s clear the esteemed reporter-turned-author doesn’t care to correct it. His loss because his work surely stands on its own merits without the need for autobiographical exaggerations.

“If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.”

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It’s about time I publish this interview I conducted last year with Georges Sassine, President of The Association of Industries of Haiti and Executive Director of CTMO-HOPE. Under the US law of the same name, the HOPE commission is charged with maintaining labor standards in Haitian factories that receive tariff-exemptions and trade privileges for garments they export United States.

I found his blunt honesty to be refreshing. Sassine lays out his entire argument, projecting 12 years into the future, for how garment manufacturing can alleviate Haiti’s poverty in the long run. He’s a man on a mission.

He also responds to charges made last year by union activists that bosses were firing workers for organizing in Port-au-Prince’s textile factories. I quoted in him my report for Inter-Press News on the controversy. The Better Work Haiti labor monitoring program later backed up the allegations and the workers were ultimately reinstated.

I introduced myself as a journalist trying to learn more about the alleged worker firings, as we sat down at a table at the Hotel Montana:

Georges Sassine: The incidents were not about organizing anything.  The incidents were: One of them was a guy who wanted to make something, and the other was someone distributing leaflets and they asked him to stop doing it and he started to yell. Continue reading ““If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.””

2012: The rise of the Globalist

I’ve had the privilege of being involved in the launch of the Seattle Globalist, a “hyperglobal” blog that covers everything international-related in Seattle (and there is a lot to cover). I designed the website and contributed some 17 blog entries about the city’s connections to the wider world – everything from the Libyan revolution to Tibetan civil disobedience, and more.

The Common Language Project, the journalism nonprofit that publishes the Globalist, put out this infographic reviewing the Globalist’s successful year. They encourage you to donate here.

2012: Highlights

A WikiLeaks Haiti retrospective

I made the initial contacts, over a period of months in 2011, that led to a partnership between WikiLeaks, The Nation magazine, and Haiti Liberte to analyze and publish the cache of secret diplomatic cables from the Port-au-Prince Embassy.

The always-excellent Public Archive invited me to compile this retrospective of the important revelations showing the scope of US influence on Haiti. Check it out.

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If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Bradley Manning, “Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Revealed” Wired (July 2011).

Alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing is expected to end next week. In what little media coverage the trial has received so far, attention has focused more on the harsh conditions of Manning’s imprisonment than the disruptive political ramifications of having exposed the secret machinations of the most powerful nation in the world.

In one of the thousands of leaked diplomatic cables, former US Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described Haiti as a “small, poor nation in the shadow of the American behemoth.” Unsurprisingly, as the Atlantic Wire put it, the cables highlight how America has been micromanaging and manhandling the Haitian government into aligning their policies with U.S. interests.”

Consider this less-than-comprehensive overview of the profound American impact on Haiti in three key areas, as revealed by Manning and WikiLeaks:

POLITICS

US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables…

Read the rest at The Public Archive »

Video: Seattle’s hidden history of Filipino struggle

Joaquin Uy explains how Filipino activists were gunned down at this Seattle street corner in 1981. (Photo by me)

On Saturday, the Filipino activist group AnakBayan Seattle will celebrate its tenth anniversary as the first overseas chapter of the democratic youth organization, which is based in the Philippines.

But the history of Filipinos fighting for dignity and respect in Seattle reaches back further to over a century ago. This history isn’t taught in schools, and there are few, if any, public monuments to its impact.

On a rainy November afternoon, Joaquin Uy, one of the founding members of AnakBayan Seattle, showed how the struggles of Filipino writers, poets, workers, and community organizers are woven into this city’s brick and concrete. The past came alive as Uy guided us on a historical tour from the International District, to a dilapidated downtown street corner, to the steps of King County Courthouse, and finally to a hilltop Queen Anne cemetery after dark. To learn this history, watch this video of the tour below.

Watch the video and read more at the Seattle Globalist »

Bill Clinton Admits the UN Introduced Cholera to Haiti

Bill Clinton
UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton speaks to hospital staff in Mirebalais.

From my blog entry for the Pulitzer Center in March:

In early March, Bill Clinton showed he is learning the lessons of Haiti’s man-made disasters. Far from natural byproducts of the nation itself, the widespread poverty, misery and deaths among Haitians have an awful lot to do with mistakes made by influential foreigners.

After the January 2010 earthquake, Clinton acknowledged that he was wrong to champion agricultural trade policies during his presidency that benefitted “some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but damaged the livelihoods of Haitian peasant farmers.

Those policies helped drive Haitians out of the countryside into overcrowded, shoddily-built urban slums in Port-au-Prince, where many of them perished in the quake. Earthquakes of that magnitude don’t kill tens of thousands of people in industrialized countries.

“I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else,” Clinton said in testimony before the U.S. Senate.

On March 7, Clinton candidly admitted to having learned another lesson from another man-made tragedy in Haiti—the October 2010 cholera outbreak which has killed more than 7,000 and made sick at least 500,000 Haitians.

At a press conference at a new hospital in Mirebalais, with United Nations troops standing guard outside, I asked him whether he agreed with recent comments by the American ambassador to the UN that those responsible for the cholera’s introduction to Haiti should be “held accountable.”

Cholera was alien to Haiti and the Caribbean prior to the outbreak. Multiple scientific studies have pinpointed UN peacekeeping troops as the definitive or most likely source of imported cholera bacteria from Nepal to central Haiti.

Clinton sidestepped the question, at one point calling that decision “above his pay grade.” He receives a symbolic $1 per year salary from the UN as its special envoy to Haiti.

But he also became the first UN representative to acknowledge the truth that’s long been in plain sight, ever since reporters captured shocking images of waste from the Mirebalais UN peacekeeping base flowing into Haiti’s waterways.

“I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera to Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” Clinton said. (It is a bacterium, not a virus.) Continue reading “Bill Clinton Admits the UN Introduced Cholera to Haiti”

New Allegations of Sexual Exploitation Against UN Peacekeepers in Haiti

With the news this morning of new sexual exploitation allegations involving minors against UN peacekeeping personnel in Haiti, I wanted to flag this follow-up ABC News piece to the story we broke last September, published earlier this month. The peacekeeping troops accused of sexually abusing the young man in Port Salut have been released from custody. The impunity I described in detail here continues:

The case against five United Nations peacekeepers caught on tape in an alleged sexual assault on a Haitian teenager has apparently stalled and the accused soldiers have been freed, a UN official has confirmed.

The men were sent back to Uruguay last summer to face trial after cell phone video obtained by ABC News appeared to show uniformed soldiers assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian as he is held down on a mattress in a UN compound in Port Salut, Haiti. The video shows soldiers in their UN uniforms, one of them with his pants down. The victim’s mother said her son was taken inside the base by five UN soldiers who accused him of making fun of them.

“They beat and maltreated him,” Rose-Marie Jean told ABC News in an interview. “Two raped him from behind.”

The release of the accused men comes at an unsettling time for the UN in Haiti, two years after a devastating earthquake rocked the struggling island nation, and three months after the grainy video of the alleged assault triggered street protests from those who believe international peacekeepers are able to abuse Haitian citizens with impunity. Since the video surfaced, more UN peacekeepers — this time from Brazil — have been accused of beating Haitian civilians. Read the rest →

Rose Mina deserves better (updated)

It’s a cold Christmas night in Seattle and I’m up at 3 in the morning.  I miss the warmth of Haiti.

Readers, I have a request.  Does anyone remember Rose Mina Joseph?

I wrote about her back in September after breaking the news of abuses by UN soldiers caught on cell phone video in Port Salut, Haiti.  Beyond the incident captured by the video, it turned out that soldiers from the local Uruguayan UN peacekeeper battalion had had children with a number of local Haitian women.  UN regulations strongly advise against this, given the “unequal power” levels inherent in any such relationship.  Some of the women (photos) and their children had been all but abandoned by soldiers who had finished their deployments to Haiti.  But the soldiers are absolutely forbidden from having sex with minors, much less impregnating them.  The country’s legal age for sexual consent is 18.

Rose Mina became pregnant five days after turning 17 last January.  The father was Uruguayan peacekeeper Julio Posse, seen in the photo below of her birthday celebration.  Posse was sent back to Uruguay last summer for what the UN later admitted was a “very serious breach of the Code of Conduct.”  The UN mission said:

As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby.

According to Rose Mina, her son’s father sent a small amount of money once since her story was covered in the press.  A flurry of journalists visited her in those days at the tiny ramshackle home she shares with her mother and uncle.  They cook under a thatched roof covering behind the house.

Apparently I’m the only one who gave her a phone number before leaving.  We’ve kept in touch since then.  Normally Rose Mina is reserved and soft-spoken. She doesn’t say a whole lot.  But on Friday she called me and was upset that I hadn’t called her sooner.  I called her back.

She immediately launched into a long, flowing tirade against “Julio.” He told her he would send money again, but has not.  Recently she called him and he claimed he couldn’t talk because he’d been in an accident.  He picked up again when she called another day, sounding perfectly normal, then abruptly hung up on her.

Rose Mina is infuriated that he hasn’t followed through on his promises and has lied to her.  She’s decided to name her son Anderson Joseph, instead of naming the boy after his father, as she had planned. For good measure, she called all the other journalists who interviewed her “thieves.”

Here are the text messages she sent me after we talked.  She’s always had a funny way of writing.  A translation:

“Hi, how are you?  Where are you?  I’m not doing well at all because the father doesn’t ever call me, he doesn’t send money for me and the child.  Merry Christmas. . .Ansel hello, it’s Rose Mina.  The foreigners in MINUSTAH never sent any small amount of money for the baby.  Try to call them for me so they can send it for me.  Merry Christmas.”

What happened that to the “continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby” pledged by the UN in the statement above?  Hasn’t one of the UN’s many humanitarian agencies partnered with its peacekeeping mission to provide Rose Mina a minimal level of support?

No.  When I first wrote the story, I pleaded with the woman who sent me that statement, the UN mission’s public information officer, to follow through on the helping Rose Mina and her child.   The baby hadn’t been born yet.  Rose Mina worried about not having enough money to pay the only hospital in the town.

A few weeks later, not long before she gave birth, I called the the PIO back.  Once again, she brushed me off, assuring me someone was following up.   Rose Mina said nothing happened.  So from Port-au-Prince, I wired Rose Mina some money myself.

Here finally is the request.  I’d like to wire Rose Mina some money again.  But I’m barely keeping up with my work in Seattle.  Just last week, I wired a friend in Cite Soleil $70 USD, in part because his mom died and the morgue was about to throw her body out (here’s a photo of the transfer).   For Rose Mina, I’d like to encourage you to make a donation to this PayPal link.   If y’all hit $50, I’ll throw in $50 myself and we’ll send her an even $100.  Maybe we can do even more than that. If anyone needs more documentation to feel comfortable about donating, let me know.  The dollars that you donate to my PayPal account will simply reimburse me for $50 of the wire transfer, which I’ll send using my credit card and Western Union at a local Vietnamese market. I’ll update this post with a photo of the the transfer receipt and again when I get word that Rose Mina has received it.

That’s pretty much it.  I don’t like asking for money, nobody does.  But I’m just a little too upset and not quite rich enough to not try this. Especially with all the buying stuff and gift giving going on around these parts.  Rose Mina deserves better.

As does another close friend, who was promised assistance from two large, well-known international aid organizations. They removed her (and by extension her five children) from a beneficiary list without informing her or apologizing. But that, like so much of what goes in Haiti, is another story – yet it’s really the same at its core. Haitians and their nation are treated as less than sovereign with rights.

Update: Wow!  This worked quickly. In the seven hours since I posted this, two readers have donated $75 between them.  I was expecting more of a series of smaller donations.  I’ll chip in $25, save my other $25 for someone else or a future remittance to Rose Mina, and send out the wire transfer as soon as I can (photo forthcoming). Thank you Nathan Yaffe and Kathleen O’Flynn. (If you’d still like to make a donation to Rose Mina, just label it “for Rose Mina” in the purpose line in PayPal checkout.)

*Rose Mina gave me permission to share all this with you. Additionally, you or I could both try contacting the UN mission’s PIO Sylvie van den Wildenberg at 011 509 3702 9042 or vandenwildenberg@un.org, but that’s likely to go nowhere. And please let me know if you have an idea for how to help Rose Mina in a non-financial way, such as linking her with effective legal counsel or a women’s group with a presence in Port Salut. Finally, I want to note that while I try to act in such a way that doesn’t lead someone consider me as an exploitative person or a thief, I have never given nor offered a source or interviewee money before publishing an article. On occasion, it’s something I’ve volunteered well after whatever journalistic work I’ve done involving them has been completed.

In which I am pepper sprayed in the face by police at #OccupySeattle

Just a few comments: I don’t think it’s all that productive to curse at the cops. I tried to be an observer – I wasn’t saying anything or holding a sign, and I complied with all police orders. Some protesters did not immediately clear the intersection once the order to disperse was given. But when the police advanced in formation with pepper spray, protesters did peacefully clear the intersection.

For all their hyperbole, the guys yelling at the cops were accurate in pointing out that people were, at that point, standing on the sidewalk. When one protester seemed to puff his chest out, face-to-face with a cop, they grabbed him behind their police line and seemed to pile on top of him. As I tried to get it on camera, I was hit with a blast of pepper spray directly to the face. I saw it as it reached my eyes.

The protesters were well organized in helping me wash my eyes out (I feel they should have been better organized in communicating the objective of occupying the intersection to the public, but if anyone forgets what this is all about, see here). I wandered in a daze over to the “triage” area, where my eyes were doused a few more times, providing fleeting relief from the pain. But I couldn’t see much of anything and my whole upper body felt like it was on fire for a good 40 minutes, with a recurrence earlier this evening. Not my best look.

I hate to imagine the suffering that this 84-year-old woman went through after being sprayed. SPD’s use of pepper spray tonight was reckless and unnecessary and it surely has the effect, whether intentionally or not, of intimidating people from joining or even being near the Occupy movement.

Seattle, I’ve missed you.

Update 11/17: A couple things to add here. The NYT Lede blog posted this video in a round-up of Occupy news with the following observation. I think they’re right.

The police spokesman’s account said: “At one point a 17-year-old female suspect swung a stick at an officer but failed to strike him. As officers moved in to arrest the female suspect the officers were hindered in their efforts. Officers deployed pepper spray to move subjects away from them so they could affect the arrest of the female suspect.”

It seems possible that the protester seized by police officers and hurled to the ground in Mr. Herz’s video might have been a young woman wearing a hooded sweatshirt, rather than a man. If that is the arrest described in the police statement, the footage does not support the written account, since there was no sign of anyone swinging a stick, and the initial volley of pepper spray was fired well before the police moved to take that person into custody. Continue reading “In which I am pepper sprayed in the face by police at #OccupySeattle”