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2010-07-14

Land Ownership at the Crux of Haiti’s Stalled Reconstruction

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Six months after the earthquake, many Haitians told us they have seen little in terms of recovery efforts despite the billions of dollars in aid pledged from around the world. At the heart of the matter is the issue of land ownership. We speak with journalist Kim Ives of Haiti Liberté. In his latest article, he writes the way the Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti is dealing with the issue of land "is the Haitian equivalent of the US bank bailout." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Six months after the earthquake, many Haitians told us they have seen little in terms of recovery efforts, despite the billions of dollars in aid pledged from around the world. In fact, according to the Washington Post, only two percent of promised reconstruction aid has been delivered half a year after the disaster.

Former President Bill Clinton is co-chair of the Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti, or CIRH. At a ceremony on Monday marking the six-month anniversary of the quake, Clinton stood alongside Haitian President René Préval and talked about the plans for Haiti’s recovery.

    BILL CLINTON: To the private-sector members here, we need your input about what we can do to support more economic growth. We know that 70 percent of the GDP losses of Haiti were from small and medium enterprises. Just in the last few weeks, two of my colleagues announced — Carlos Slim and Frank Giustra — a $20 million revolving nonprofit loan fund to get small and medium enterprises going again. We are working hard on all this economic investment, but let’s not forget, when we come out of this, we want Haiti to have a strong middle class, and we want poor people to own more property and believe they can work themselves into the middle class.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s Bill Clinton saying he and the Haiti reconstruction commission want poor people to own more property.

Well, the issue of land is at the crux of the recovery effort in Haiti. For the more than 1.5 million Haitians left homeless by the quake, plans for permanent housing are, to say the least, remote. Even plans for even just temporary shelters to get them out of the tent camps have not been drawn up. Where will all these people go? Well, at the heart of the matter is the issue of land ownership.

AMY GOODMAN: When we broadcast from Haiti on Monday from the ruins of the Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince where more than 200 people were crushed to death, we spoke with longtime Haitian democracy activist Patrick Elie. He is now an adviser to President Préval after the earthquake, and he was a former minister in the Aristide government. This is what he had to say about the reconstruction and issue of land.

    PATRICK ELIE: Everybody in Haiti seems to agree that we cannot actually rebuild Port-au-Prince as it was. So, aside from building, you have to plan again, plan differently. This involves some heart-wrenching decisions that have to be made.

    AMY GOODMAN: Like?

    PATRICK ELIE: Like, you know, are you going to displace people? Are you going to, for example, using eminent domain, expropriate people so that, you know, they don’t live on terrain that are inherently weak? Or, are you going to, as I say, expropriate people? And already, you know, the trouble are starting. Land tenure in Haiti is total chaos. This is also the result of the behavior of the Haitian elite over centuries. They’ve appropriated land, which was, especially after, you know, independence and the end of slavery, which should have been common property, and they appropriated vast tracts of land, pushing the peasant, the newly freed slave, who didn’t want to work on the plantation system anymore, to the mountains, you know, which would also help to explain the deforestation. And now, of course, there is a lot of discussion about who owns what piece of land. And it’s almost intractable to resolve that through the law. And I don’t know if the Haitian state is going to be forceful enough, given the size of the problem, to actually, by decree, decide what’s going to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Elie, longtime democracy activist in Haiti.

We’re now joined by Kim Ives. He’s a journalist with Haiti Liberté. He traveled with us to Port-au-Prince these past few days to cover this six-month anniversary of the quake. In his latest article in Haiti Liberté, he writes that the earthquake, quote, "reveals that the principal fault-line in Haiti is not geological but one of class." Kim Ives is now back in Miami.

Kim, welcome to Democracy Now! Lay out this issue of land, which is not being raised very much.

KIM IVES: Well, Amy, as we saw, in fact, the wolves have been put in charge of the chicken coop. The bourgeoisie has been put in charge of resettling the squatters’ camps, and they have the best land in suburban Port-au-Prince, the large tracts of land very suited to building cities of new cities, where people could have good houses. And there’s dozens of proposals of how to build those houses. But the good land is not being given. What they’ve done is give a place like Corail, which they own, too, and they pay themselves handsomely for its use. And so, what they’re doing is keeping their best land; selling, at a high profit, their worst land. And the people are paying the price.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Kim, when you say "they," you’re talking about the CIRH, the Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti. Can you describe who makes up this commission? And also, it’s really an underreported fact that the parliament in Haiti in mid-March voted to cede power to this commission. Explain.

KIM IVES: Exactly. They essentially committed suicide to give this commission, which is composed of foreign bankers and foreign governments, like the US, France and Canada, which were behind the 2004 coup d’état against Aristide — they essentially control this commission, along with thirteen members. The other thirteen members are members of Haiti’s elite, represented by people like Reginald Boulos, who heads the principal bourgeois family who was behind the '94 coup — the ’91 coup and the 2004 coup. So these families are now in charge, along with the US and along with the banks, IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, of Haiti's reconstruction. And to me, it’s going to be the Haitian equivalent of the US bank bailout, where essentially they’re going to take these billions of dollars and funnel it into their own pockets.

AMY GOODMAN: We spoke with Haitian human rights attorney Mario Joseph at his office in Port-au-Prince. You, Kim, translated for him. He had some strong words about the Interim Commission to Reconstruct Haiti.

    MARIO JOSEPH: [translated] The commission is in fact a coup d’état without an army, because it’s a group of foreigners put together with Haitians. It’s the same system like when the bourgeois and the foreigners make a coup d’état. It’s a coup d’état to keep the same system, which kept them in this bad situation in Haiti. They’re here to make a reconstruction, they say, but without the Haitian people. They give the right to seize land and give land without dealing with us. It’s a legal coup d’état, you could say, because there was a decree that put it there. They was a lot of pressure coming from Clinton and others to do it in the parliament to legalize this coup d’état. But in reality, the Haitian people don’t believe in them, because they didn’t participate, there wasn’t any transparency at all, and they don’t have any accountability to anybody. The parliament, which should have control of the government, they are expired.

    AMY GOODMAN: This decision-making power that President Clinton has, along with a number of other foreigners and Haitians, it’s over what? What is at stake?

    MARIO JOSEPH: [translated] They’re complaining that that money hasn’t been given yet, but it’s about $11 billion. That’s a lot of money. And they’re going to give their big countries, and they’re going to find money underneath the table, too. And the Haitian people aren’t going to benefit anything from it. And this question of — there wasn’t any real emergency. He only has six or seven months left in power, and he took a law for eighteen months. This is really ridiculous. This is just to make money.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mario Joseph, a well-known human rights attorney in Haiti, who is also, by the way, representing women. The spate of violence against women and girls now in the camps is just horrendous.

But, Kim Ives, take off from where Mario Joseph left off, as he talks about this being a coup without an army.

KIM IVES: Essentially, Amy, it’s the takeover of the government by the international banks and former colonial countries, which are interested in getting the contracts to rebuild Haiti, rebuild the palace, rebuild the roads, rebuild the infrastructure, which was destroyed. Again, these will go to companies like Halliburton, DynCorp, Brown & Root, Blackwater, all the usual suspects, the appendages of the Pentagon, which go into Afghanistan and Iraq after they’ve bombed. In this case, it was an earthquake. And they want to control this commission to be able to send this money to their contractors. And, of course, the Haitian elite want to get a little cut of the action. Apparently one businessman told Haiti Liberté that 15 percent of the contracts have been earmarked for the Haitian contractors, which will be from bourgeoisie, people like Vorbe, etc. And these are the same people, by the way, who own the land along places like the — between Tabarre and the Frères Road, where there’s perfect land for resettlement, but they want to keep it for their assembly factories and luxury apartments and office buildings that they want to build there.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Kim, this issue of the land that, you write, is at the crux of the matter, when we were in Port-au-Prince, that’s what everyone was saying: Where are all these people going to go? These tent cities literally are on every street in Port-au-Prince, just teeming around the city. And from aid activists —- from activists to people on the ground, organizers, community organizers are all talking about this issue of land: Where are all these people going to go? And you’re writing about how the bourgeoisie own these large tracts of land that are ideal for relocations, but in fact the government and the Haitian interim commission is taking land away from the commons. Can you explain that division?

KIM IVES: Well, that’s one of the things we saw, Sharif, of course, when we went out to Ganthier. Here was a rural community, 72,000 people, living near the Dominican border. They had tracts of state land, which they’ve used as commons. For the past eighty years, the mayor explained to us, it’s been used to grow food. Now you have businessmen coming out there, laying claim to the land, using false papers, coming with a bulldozer, driving the peasants off the land. The peasants responded by burning the bulldozer, blocking the road. And now the police are hunting them down.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, actually -—

KIM IVES: They threw the mayor in jail, because he supported them.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim, let us go to the mayor. We went out —-

KIM IVES: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: —- on Sunday to Ganthier, and there, the local mayor, Ralph Lapointe, had just come back from being jailed after he sided with the peasants in a struggle over land. We met him at his home. He explained to us what happened. He allowed us to identify him, but he was afraid. He didn’t want his face to be shown.

    MAYOR RALPH LAPOINTE: [translated] I’m Ralph Lapointe. I’m the mayor of Ganthier.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us why you were jailed?

    MAYOR RALPH LAPOINTE: [translated] It’s a very long story. Myself, as mayor, there’s some land here in the county that the state owns, but I’m here to defend the interests of the state in the county. There are people who came to sell the state land, and myself, I’m not agreed with that. They recently took some land that peasants were on for the past eighty years. And recently there was a confrontation between them and the peasants, and the peasants burned one of their tractors, one of their bulldozers, because they weren’t agreed that they take their land from them. And they called me to go to the court, and the minute I got to the court, they put me in jail. Those people, along with the judicial authorities, they’re together. That is, these people trying to take over the land are together with the judicial authorities. But thanks to the support of the population of Ganthier and the support of the Association of Mayors, they had to release me after a few hours.

    AMY GOODMAN: And which side are the police on?

    MAYOR RALPH LAPOINTE: [translated] Generally, the police are on the side of the people who have money, and they’re not on the side of the peasants.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ralph Lapointe. He is the mayor of Ganthier, just released from jail, as he stood with the peasants on a issue that is going to be cropping up more and more, as wealthy men came in, claimed to own the common land, and were trying to take it away, and so the peasants lit fire to the tractors that they had brought in.

Kim, you were translating for him. Make this — look at Ganthier in the larger scale of Haiti right now.

KIM IVES: Yes, Amy. It’s a microcosm. This is it. Here’s a government official, elected by his community. He is now, as he explained to us, practically a prisoner in his home. He can’t go out, fears for his life. The land grabbers have threatened to kill him if he leaves. The same for his director-general of his office. So, this is a war. This is a war between the classes for the land, the means of production of the country. This is the prime means that Haiti has had, up until thirty years ago. Haiti could feed itself; now it doesn’t. It can. It is critical that the people not only have land, so they can produce food, so they can eat and aren’t reliant on imports from the US and elsewhere, and also that they have a place to build homes, so that when the hurricanes start to hit the country in the coming months, they’re not going to be — there isn’t going to be an even more horrendous catastrophe than what we saw six months ago.

AMY GOODMAN: And it also is about the violence in these camps, as long as people can’t move out, what they’re facing. Lost in all this coverage of the Haiti earthquake is how people on the ground are organizing in the face of adversity. Rape and violence against women and girls has become increasingly widespread in these tent camps of thousands and tens of thousands of people. While Haitian police and UN forces have done little, women on the ground are organizing to protect themselves. We spoke with Malia Villard Appolon, the coordinator of KOFAVIV, the commission of women victims for victims.

    AMY GOODMAN: What is it like in the Champ de Mars camp, in the refugee camp?

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [translated] That’s a camp which has a lot of difficulties in it. The government doesn’t take any measures to provide security there. That’s why we saw a lot of problems of security there, because there’s no police presence. It’s us, as civilians in the camp, who took the initiative to put in place a committee of protection to protect the women against the sexual violence they were under, experiencing.

    AMY GOODMAN: What about the number of rapes in the camp?

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [translated] In the case of Champ de Mars only, there were twenty-two cases of rape.

    AMY GOODMAN: When? From when to when?

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [translated] From the 12th of January until today. So, we left Champ de Mars since the beginning of July. There was people, escaped convicts, who were giving us trouble after I came back from a conference in Geneva, who pulled guns on us to make us give them money, and they also carried out many cases of rape. We had to leave that camp. And now we are here in the office of the international lawyers that we live, until we can move to find a house for us to live in.

    AMY GOODMAN: So you’re living in the offices of your lawyers?

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [translated] Yes, I live in the office of my lawyer, while I wait.

    AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us how women can protect themselves.

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [translated] There really is no protection today. What we do only, we can say, so many women we saw being victims, there was only the bureau of international lawyers who took the initiative to put in place a system of whistles, which they gave to KOFAVIV. And the KOFAVIV gave these whistles to the women in the camp in Champ de Mars, and not only in the Champ de Mars, but all the other camps where our community agents are. And there was a little information that had been given even before these little whistles were given. The action call is for when you hear a whistle, everybody knows the sound, and after — and you hear the whistle, everybody comes to their aid, to where it’s whistled. This is even if somebody is armed, they’ll run away. And with the committees we formed with some of the men who were conscious of this problem, they offered to not sleep at night so that they could provide civilian protection for women at night. And we don’t do that just in the Champ de Mars camp, but in other camps, as well. And Sainte Anne’s is one example. They also have a committee formed for that. We have to do that, because we have no government, basically. It doesn’t have any responsibility to anybody. Maybe for the people who voted to put it in power and also the police. Even here in the office of international lawyers, we brought a lot of cases, but until now, they haven’t apprehended any of these people who are in fact escaped convicts. The police are supposed to be there to serve and protect. And when I brought them for a warrant, they said I had to accompany them, for me to go look for this escaped convict who pulled a gun on me in the camp. That means the government has no responsibility. So it means the people have to give themselves security. And this is after a lot of violence. Because if I had partisans who would come there, they would have killed them, too. And this country, this is where human rights are not respected, and that’s why the situation is like that. The criminals know that whatever they do, there’s no justice system which will judge them and pursue them.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you blow the whistle for me, show us how it works?

    MALIA VILLARD APPOLON: [whistles] C’est comme ça. [translated] And that means you can blow this whistle, and everybody knows it. This is our call to action.

AMY GOODMAN: Malia Villard Appolon, the coordinator of KOFAVIV, the committee of women for survival, speaking to us in Port-au-Prince.

This is Democracy Now!

, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Sharif Abdel Kouddous. We’ve both just returned, with Kim Ives of Haiti Liberté and Democracy Now!'s Nicole Salazar, from Haiti, as we continue in Haiti on this six-month anniversary of the earthquake. So little has changed, and yet, of course, since the earthquake, the whole world has changed, for the people of Haiti.

When we were there six months ago, a few days after the quake struck, we visited Matthew 25, which is a Catholic hospitality house. Generally it has about thirty people who are coming to visit. In the soccer field outside, they had more than a thousand, sometimes 2,000, people who were staying outside at that time. Now there's a tent camp of some 600, 800 people, a very organized tent camp. We went back and talked to Sister Mary Finnick, who runs Matthew 25.

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: I’m Sister Mary Finnick, and I’m a Grey Nun of the Sacred Heart from Yardley, Pennsylvania. And I’m director of Matthew 25 House here in Port-au-Prince.

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think people most need to understand right now, six months after the earthquake?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: Most people, I think, outside of Haiti need to understand that, as yet, there doesn’t seem to be a whole plan in place as to what is going to happen to Port-au-Prince and the environments. I mean, in the beginning, it was obvious that it would be very good to get people out of Port-au-Prince so that there could be the beginning of tearing down what needed to be torn down. And people did leave, but there were no resources where they went. So, shortly, they were out there maybe a month, or even less than that, and came back to Port-au-Prince, because that’s where there would be some resources for them. So the knowledge was there to say we need to get people out of Port-au-Prince, but then it stopped with — seeming to stop only with planning and talking and meetings, and this is what we need to do, and this is what we should do. But the actualization of it didn’t seem to happen. And I think what took place, in my mind, what took over were individuals started doing it themselves.

    AMY GOODMAN: We see almost no clearing of the rubble.

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: Well, I have a kind of interesting story on that, was that they paid by the truckload, and nobody followed through. So the truck drivers, being smart, just went down two streets and emptied it out and went back and got another truckload. And so, what should have been where they should have taken it out of the city, they just made themselves a job for three weeks by just picking up the same rubble from a different street. And then, now they have to — now they have a different system.

    AMY GOODMAN: You look like you have one of the best camps that we have seen. Can you talk about how this happened? When we left you, you had something like a thousand people on the soccer field right after the earthquake in January.

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: In January, we had close to 2,000, and — but this soccer field is well known in this neighborhood and was a place where people congregated. It was their social life. And in this neighborhood, too, there had been a strong neighbor — almost like a neighborhood committee that had gathered and were in the process of wanting to have a school. So there were identified leaders here already. And one specific one, Tay, who happens to work for us, was like president of this committee. And come the earthquake, shortly afterwards, we started processing what was going to take place here. And this committee began work. Lions Club came, offered to become a tent city, told us we could become a tent city, but they had to prioritize as to who would get a tent. This committee went through everybody in the camp, made their priorities, and then asked me to announce them — and Patrick and Vivian Tortora, if we would tell the people who they are. And we said, "You know, you’ve done all this hard work, so why don’t you do it? This is time for Haiti and Haitians to tell Haitians this is what needs to be done." So they said OK. And since then, they truly have run the camp. They had a committee of twenty-four; we’re now down to eleven. They did all — they seven committees, and they had everybody’s name on them. Then, when the sanitation committee got together, they contacted SOIL. And so, we have —-

    AMY GOODMAN: SOIL is...?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: SOIL is Sustainable, Organic, Integrated Living -— Lifestyle. Anyway, we have compost toilets. Two of them were built, four each. And we have children’s arbitoils. And I think there were people that would come here that wanted to see the camp, and I think the camp took on — the kind of life it took on was set by this committee. Each person that received a tent, there was a ceremony to it. The person was called, and the family came, and they would say that "this is your tent, and these are the things you have to do. You have to not cook in your tent. You can’t have a fire in your tent. You can’t have really sharp objects. And you must keep your tent clean. And if you’re willing to do that, and you" — they shook hands, and the person said, "Alright, this is your home," and unzipped it.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did they get food?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: They got food in a number of ways, mostly through donations that we received. We did get a — food for children, got a number of those. Most of it was piecemeal, scrambled. Out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, we had — shiploads of food would come in for us. We got — people would leave money, and we’d go out and buy it.

    AMY GOODMAN: Is that still happening now?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: Well, I’m still functioning on that. We’re still — we don’t have to buy as much food, because what we’ve also done is tried to start businesses. And we have two — one major business that’s going on out there, and that is building geodesic homes. A man came from Casper, Wyoming, and had this idea. And I said, "Sure, come." It got some of the young men interested in it. And we have one on the field that the sick people are living in. And they’re building another now as a show.

    AMY GOODMAN: That huge one?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: Yeah, huge one, that huge one. And hopefully they’ll start their business. And they can be constructed anywhere.

    AMY GOODMAN: What about the American Red Cross? Have you seen that money distributed?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: I’ve seen their trucks. I’ve seen their cars. I think I saw one — I saw two things of water. I haven’t — we’re not in their zone, so I haven’t seen them. We’re in the World Vision zone; haven’t seen them either. So, I mean, I’m off the beaten path, so — and I’m not traveling a lot. No, I haven’t seen them. I think mostly who I see are the small NGOs, the people across the street, the ones who were living here with us, doing their thing, organizations like SOIL. Smaller organizations seem to be able to get in and do something. I think the bigger ones are probably —- seem to be looking more to the future. And I’m not sure -—

    AMY GOODMAN: To the future?

    SISTER MARY FINNICK: Well, have more like five-year plans, but year one is not on their agenda yet, I guess. I’m not too sure. But it’s not humorous, but it is, because it’s hard — I’ve come to the conclusion here, when everybody comes and has a solution for Haiti, it only creates a problem. And Americans love solutions, so we come with lots of solutions, and we only create problems. I mean, solution was to get people involved. A lot of people are coming from the United States, but they’re doing the work the Haitian people should be doing. And I would say, you know, send the money that you paid for your ticket to supplement a family so that the members could go to do the same work you were going to do when you were here.


AMY GOODMAN: Sister Mary Finnick, director of Matthew 25 House, named after the biblical verse, "Whatever you do for my least brothers and sisters, you do for me."

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Sharif Abdel Kouddous. We’ve just returned from Haiti with Kim Ives, the journalist with Haiti Liberté. As we wrap up, Kim, going from Sister Mary Finnick to a report that’s just come out from International Action Ties, "Vanishing Camps at Gunpoint." On the one hand, vast criticism of the camps remaining, but then the issue of vanishing camps.

KIM IVES: That’s right. What’s happening is people are being pushed out of these spontaneous settlements at gunpoint at night, and they have nowhere else to go. They are essentially being chased, hounded by — sometimes it’s guys with machetes, sometimes it’s the police and the UN occupation troops pushing them out. So it’s a complete irony. The people who should be being expropriated, who have perfect land, are not being; and those who have nothing, who are just trying to survive, are being expropriated from their tents, from their tarps. It’s just insane.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Kim Ives, you’ve been going to Haiti for thirty years now. You’ve covered events on the ground there from the coups, from the election of President Aristide, the two coups that ousted him, now this earthquake and the reconstruction now. Where do you see Haiti? Put it in context in history. And is this a moment where things can change? Or is it more of what a Haitian human rights lawyer said, a coup d’état, this time without an army?

KIM IVES: Well, Sharif, I think this is really a defining moment for Haiti. After the terribly traumatic thirteen-year independence war, when Haiti gained its independence in 1804, founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines nationalized all the land in Haiti. He said the land is for the person who works it, who is on it. Two years later, he was given a coup d’état by the land owners of the day who didn’t agree with that. Their descendants are essentially the people who now own this land, which once was commons, which once belonged to all the people. They gained it through either outright intimidation and theft or ruse, using false papers. So we’re at this moment where that can change, where we could turn back to the Dessalinian model, which was the original Haiti and in fact was the model for all of Latin America. Haiti was the touchstone for those revolutions, and I think that’s where it really needs to go to get out of this traumatic period that it’s in.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Ives, finally, we just have thirty seconds, but the significance of President Bill Clinton being head, co-chair with the Haitian prime minister, of the reconstruction commission? He said he’s going to spend this next seven weeks only marrying off his daughter Chelsea and working on Haiti.

KIM IVES: Right. I think that they’re trying to use Bill Clinton, who has some sort of credibility with the Haitian people because he brought back Aristide in 1994 on the shoulders of 20,000 US troops. But people are fast souring on the Clinton gambit, because they are seeing what the results are, which is essentially expropriation for the people and empowerment for the bourgeoisie.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there. Kim Ives, journalist with Haiti Liberté.

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