“People are living in ravines. They are living on sidewalks, jammed up against other houses,” says Beverly Bell of the group Other Worlds. “They are creating structures out of any temporary material they can find, a lot of them no more than four sticks and bed sheets.” Bell also talks about how the international reconstruction plan for Haiti revolves around the creation of four new free enterprise zones, which will expand the number of sweatshop factories in Haiti. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re here in Haiti on the six-month anniversary of the January 12th earthquake. It’s July 12th, and we’ve gone out about seven miles from Port-au-Prince, between Morne Cabrit and Titanyen. These are two famous dumping grounds, killing grounds, that through the Duvalier years and then again during the first coup against President Aristide, 1991 to 1994, people’s bodies would be dumped, between the mountains and a ways down the road.
I’m joined by Beverly Bell. She’s taken us here. She’s with Another World, and she is a fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.
Beverly, tell us about where we are right now.
BEVERLY BELL: We are in one of the hottest parts of this whole side of Haiti. I was here today at high noon, and the crushed white gravel that is underfoot in this camp is just blinding, and the heat is shocking. And this is where about 10,000 people have been relocated after they were sent away from another camp in Port-au-Prince. About one in seven has been left homeless and displaced from the January 12th earthquake, and most of them have created temporary housing.
Now, six months later, in the middle of earthquake season, the government’s response — that is, the Haitian government and the US government, as well as the United Nations — has been this: has been to move people from one set of temporary housing, plastic tarps that are damaged in the wind and the rains, to another set of temporary housing. And there is absolutely no plan anywhere in the country for permanent housing for the 1.9 million people who are left victims.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where the camps are? We just passed, well, the palace that’s crumbling. They haven’t brought it down in six months. The earthquake started the process. But there are thousands of people in the plaza outside the palace.
BEVERLY BELL: People are living in almost every nook in a country that is densely populated and that has very little open space. People are living in ravines. They are living on sidewalks, jammed up against other houses. They are creating structures out of any temporary material they can find, a lot of them no more than four sticks and bedsheets. And they have set themselves up in impromptu camps, as well, such as the one that you mentioned down in the national park. They’re called Champ de Mars. They are all over the country looking for any lodging they can find, including out in the countryside. Many have gone to the countryside and have been taken in through the kindness of strangers, small farmers. But this is the solution. These people now are two hours away from the center of town, where schools are, where healthcare is, where jobs are, where their family and communities are. It costs about a quarter for them to go round-trip, and it takes four hours round-trip. No one is providing transportation. A quarter for these folks is huge.
And no one has informed them of any plan of permanent relocation. President Préval has said that a Korean assembly shop is going to come in here as part of the US and UN plan to expand the sweatshop industry. But this is all that people have been told about their future. If you ask them where they’re going or what their future will be, they will make the Haitian sign of resignation with their hands and say, “We have no idea. No one’s told us anything.”
AMY GOODMAN: What about the free enterprise zones?
BEVERLY BELL: Four new free enterprise zones have been created since the earthquake. Both Bill Clinton, who is the special envoy to Haiti from the UN, and Hillary Clinton, of course in her role as Secretary of State, have said that the assembly industry is the linchpin of the reconstruction plan. And yet, the sweatshop workers earn $3.09 a day, which is not a livable wage, work in often terrible conditions, and are forced to live in terrible conditions, as well. Many of the people who died in the earthquake were sweatshop workers who could not afford better housing than temporary makeshift structures that were on top of each other, that were on the sides of hills, that were completely unstable, which is why up to 300,000 people died during this earthquake. So, to base a reconstruction plan on the expansion of an economic sector that already has failed the people, and which is based on transient capital that can and will pick up at any given moment to move to where jobs are cheaper, is not a good solution for Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: How many enterprise zones are there?
BEVERLY BELL: Right now there is one large one in Port-au-Prince, and there is another smaller one out by the Dominican border. But there has been an effort to expand them, including, as I mentioned, putting individual sweatshops in different refugee camps.
AMY GOODMAN: The huge refugee camp in front of the palace that just grew by thousands after the earthquake, what are the plans for it?
BEVERLY BELL: I have many friends who live there, and they will tell me whatever they have heard that day. But they say, “You know, we don’t have so much as a radio, so we don’t really know.” No one is communicating with them. They’ve been told on numerous occasions that they were going to be thrown out and moved to one location or the next. To date, they remain there, but there have been other camps that have been forcibly evicted. People who lost almost everything in the earthquake worked very, very hard to find their own tents, because most have not been provided to people, unlike here, finally found tents, set themselves up in refugee camps, and then the Haitian police, the anti-riot squads, sometimes accompanied by MINUSTAH, the UN so-called peacekeeping forces, went in and destroyed the camps and evicted people. So people have no idea where they’re supposed to go or what they’re supposed to do, and, for the most part, they’re not getting any aid. In fact, they’re no longer even receiving food aid, and now they’ve been told that even free water is going to be cut off, since the Haitian businessmen who control the water have complained that their profits are being undercut.
AMY GOODMAN: Beverly Bell, what about the issue of rape in the camps?
BEVERLY BELL: The issue of rape has been horrible. There have been no good numbers kept, but there are some grassroots groups who have made an effort to compile statistics based on their residence in the camps, because these are all women who have lost their own homes. In Champ de Mars alone, they have said that 250 women have been raped. And that is just one camp out of hundreds.
There’s only one solution, one short-term solution, to the rape, and that is permanent housing for people. Anyone should be free of rape at any place, but as long as women are sleeping without any walls, often without any men, where any man who wishes, any would-be perpetrator, can look in and see them there, their vulnerability is tremendous. Little girls have been raped. Old women have been raped. It’s just an ever-spiraling phenomenon, as poverty and alienation continues and no solution is in sight. The international community has done very little about it. The UN has talked a lot, but has responded in a very paltry way. But really, the only solution is housing for these people, where they can go in at night and lock their doors and feel secure within their own home.
AMY GOODMAN: What are your observations on this [six-month] anniversary of the earthquake?
BEVERLY BELL: One piece that is largely left out of the story is that there really is an alternative. Haitians here use the term “Another Haiti is possible.” And, in fact, literally beginning the week of the earthquake, peasant movements, women movements, democracy movements, grassroots movements of all sorts, began meeting together and planning what they view as an alternative development plan that would be based on equity and justice and participation, democratically, by all, both in the construction of the plan, as well as who develops from it.
Right now they have been completely excluded from the process, but they are asking both for power, to have a say in their own future, as well as the space to build a future country that is not based on being a source of cheap labor for US goods that are purchased, you know, at low cost from abroad, but to have an economy that is based on the revalorization of peasant agriculture. Remember that 60 to 80 percent of Haitians are still farmers, unlike any other country in the Americas. Haiti still has a majority population that wants to grow. They are asking that social needs be met for all. They are asking for rights and security for women and children. They are asking for their voices to be a critical part of any process. And if they’re given the power to allow this to come forth, there is a whole nation of people waiting to reconstruct a country that looks nothing like the country that was destroyed, because the country that was destroyed largely on January 12th served very few, and only a very few have an interest in seeing that come back.