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When The Poor Die of Hunger Who Speaks For Them, The Fascists?

posted by WadnerPierre Port-au-Prince Topics: haiti

February 1, 2008

When The Poor Die of Hunger Who Speaks For Them, The Fascists?

Wadner Pierre Photo   janv 15-17, 2008 271.JPG

For several months there has been a new twist in the history for the poor in Haiti, but the story has been enveloped in silence. The standard of living has been declining, with rising costs of basic goods and a continued lack of social programs. People cannot afford to eat.

Haiti has become a 'republic of NGOs' long dependent on outside aid because of the methodical destruction of its own civil enterprises and popular alternatives.

Around the new-year a huge march against poverty and unemployment took place in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The protestors demanded reparations and that the government represent the interests of the poor.

The most pressing issue for the poor is the most basic commodity of life, food. This week, particularly in the poorest districts, such as Cité-Soleil, people go starving and bathe in muddy streets. In Cité-Soleil, a woman sells small plots of eroded land for a living. She says it "is my life, this is where I earn my daily income."

Haiti's wealthy in the hills of Pétionville, where most foreign journalists spend their time, have profited from the growing gap in wealth.

NGOs more and more fill the abyss, an abyss left by the eroded state. But one must ask: Should NGOs replace the state? Why is this happening? What is the plan of the government? Is the government folding in on itself for the sake of global capitalism?

The Fascists Are Still Capable

A new blow is always being prepared, afraid of what the popular winds might bring. "Resignation", investigation, imprisonment, interpellation of the rich, we must wait for the results. They will tell us what happens. This is the fake democracy we are living with in Haiti. A "democracy" only in rhetoric.

The Catholic church too is following a path of silence when it comes to the life of the poor and the possibility of building an alternative. The homily of the head of Haiti's bishops, at the celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the consecration of the country at Notre Dame du Perpetual Succor and the 165th anniversary of the miraculous cure of people infected with the Vérole (Verrette), was a reminder of where the top religious hierarchy stands. After people had chosen their leaders with dignity, these sons of the Haitian upper and middle classes in the religious hierarchy now appear as an arm of fascism.

They are silent when it comes to unconstitutional governments, jailing, killing, firing, privatization, and coups. This is the structural reality we face in our society.

In the district of Fort-Dimanche one can see the high rising platforms of factories of wealthy Haitian families. Duvalier once used this site to torture his impoverished victims. Next to these sites sit the homes of little children made from piles of garbage. They seek their daily lives in this maze.

A man with a sack over his shoulder who I spoke with in Fort-Dimanche explained that "Life is very difficult, there is no option, we can not stay at home to die, we come here to find life."

We are told over and over that everyone is full, things are improving, the wheels are turning, the United Nations is here, but this is hypocrisy. The living situation is worsening and it is clear to those in the slums. In the public markets one can hear the small merchants analyze the situation.

We are told by the big media that Aristide was an elected dictator, maybe because he cared for the poor? The loads of subsidized rice his government brought into the poor districts hurt the profits of industrialists like Apaid Jr. So today we must eat dirt to let the mansions grow. The cost of food rises by forty percent. Pregnant women eat mud cookies.

Go into the poor neighborhoods, see where the poverty is deep and tell the world what is going on. It is our duty. There is a need for truth. We must tell people the truth.

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I am surprised this is not out yet

The western media adores the ‘starving, pot-bellied children’ of third world countries. Did they really miss the pregnant woman eating mud cookies? Fort-Dimanche and Cite Soleil are a humanitarian crisis waiting to explode. No, nobody speaks for the poor, Mr. Wadner Pierre, not when it doesn’t serve in their best interests.


Haiti's wealthy prosper while the poor decline

With photos:

HIP - Port au Prince, Haiti — Cite Soleil, a seaside shantytown of more than 300.000 people residing in homes made of cinder blocks with tin roofs, has been described as poorer than India's infamous slums of Calcutta. On any given day it teems with the life's blood of Haiti's poorest citizens.

Despite the twists and turns of what residents describe as several foreign interventions, members of the community still recount with pride how they served as a launching site for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first election campaign in 1990.

Yannick Jean, a frail 70 year-old woman whose longevity itself is a testament to hope, spoke in hushed tones as she washed her clothes in a ditch of dirty water, "We were the ones who presented Aristide to Haiti when he ran for president. He was our greatest hope. I am waiting for him again."

A controversial figure, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a former Catholic priest who was overthrown twice in Haiti's turbulent political history. His first ouster was at the hands of Haiti's former brutal military with the support of the traditional economic elite who live fabulously wealthy lives as compared to Haiti's average citizens.

Where Yannick Jean washes her clothes probably speaks more to Haiti's current reality and the contradictions of the current United Nation's mission than any expert on development possibly could. Rising above her and creating shadows over her dirty laundry is a huge edifice of new construction that bears the mark GB. It is a new building that covers several acres and is home to the business of Haiti's wealthiest man, Gilbert Bigio.

While the surrounding residents of Cite Soleil are forced to literally eat dirt to stave off hunger, Bigio is a billionaire whose family supported the first coup against Aristide and reportedly helped to back the movement that forced his second ouster in 2004.

One need not look very far to see where Gilbert Bigio's interests lie in relation to Cite Soleil. According to his own company's web site his family maintains controlling interests in sixteen of Haiti's largest companies. They are also the largest Haitian partner in the wireless communications giant Digicel, a mammoth company based in Ireland that has nearly cornered the cellular market in the Caribbean. Bigio's family is not merely wealthy amidst a sea of poverty stricken residents in Haiti, his family represents the Über-wealthy who have benefited most since Aristide's second ouster in 2004.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US government blocked all of the Bigio family's holdings in US banks following the brutal military coup against Aristide in 1991. Since Aristide's second ousting in 2004, the financial wealth of the Bigio family along with those of other well off Haitian clans such as the Mevs, Brandts, Acras and Madsens have nearly doubled according to a confidential source at a private accounting firm.

Not to be forgotten is the fact that Aristide's forced departure in 2004 was legitimized and enforced by a UN authorized mission during the term of former Secretary General Kofi Annan. The fact that a few families of Haiti's traditional elite continue to exact exorbitant profits, while residents of Cite Soleil are forced to eat mud pies and bathe in ditches, has shaken confidence in the non-governmental sector working with the poor in Haiti.

A young woman who began her NGO career to end poverty in Cite Soleil shakes her head in disbelief as she watches throngs wash their clothes and bathe next to Bigio's glistening plant. There are security towers protected by armed guards at every corner of the property while UN forces in large armored personnel vehicles patrol the outer perimeter. She asks not to be identified and comments, "I bought into the development model the UN used to encourage us to come here and invest in Cite Soleil. The US government funds our organization through USAID and I came here to make a difference in these people’s lives. I am now faced with the reality of a humanitarian crisis we cannot be expected to solve. The UN's main thrust seems to be security at any cost. This can only result in the loss of another generation of Haitians in this community being lost to poverty and misery. I am ready to quit unless something changes soon."

Protestors burned tires in front of the Cite Soleil mayor's office earlier this month to protest a Pentagon financed pacification program. The US Department of Defense targeted $20 million in Cite Soleil for the Haiti Stabilization Mission with the stated objective, "to improve access to police and justice, strengthen local governance, provide vocational training and to create jobs through infrastructure and public works projects." Protestors complained that rather than creating jobs and improving living conditions, it represents another heavy-handed attempt by the US to control residents through corrupt local politicos in the mayor's office.

In another corner of this community and trying not to draw attention amidst the children with bloated bellies and the flow of traffic, is a representative of Aristide's Lavalas movement. Mr. Jean- Marie Samedi was brutally beaten and tortured after Aristide's ouster in 2004. He is the leader of a movement called the Base of Lavalas Reflection and gave another view to the already disfigured politics of suffering in this community.

Mr. Samedi commented, "At least the people they called bandits and gangsters shared what they had with the community when they were here. People could eat. They had food and had running water. They didn't have to eat dirt to live or have to wash their clothes and their bodies in ditches of dirty running water."

As if to punctuate Mr. Samedi's point, several children run by with almost blondish hair, a clear sign of malnutrition amongst blacks in this Caribbean nation of 8.5 million people. He continued, "They told us that everything would change after they got rid of the bandits and yet people cannot feed their children. You see them forced to wash in this dirty water. What did the promise of the Bush administration and the UN really mean to the people of Cite Soleil? They have merely continued politics as usual in Haiti. The rich get richer while the majorities are forced to continue to suffer in poverty. I challenge anyone to show me the difference they have made for the majority of the poor in Haiti."

Growing visibly angry and bitter Mr. Samedi concluded, "The UN came in here and slaughtered residents who supported Lavalas on July 6, 2005 and again on December 22, 2006. And for what we have to ask? So that Bigio and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce could force us back into accepting this level of poverty? Nothing has changed for the poor in Haiti."

The Haiti Information Project (HIP) is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti. Winner of the CENSORED 2008 REAL NEWS AWARD for Outstanding Investigative Journalism