Sometimes you go to an event and are deeply moved by the testimony of one of the speakers. This happened to me yesterday at the event "Haiti: Solidarity and Social Justice". Put on by the Worker's Assembly, the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network and the Haiti Action Committee, it featured excellent presentations by Roger Annis and Nicole Phillips on the current context in Haiti as it attempts to recover from the earthquake under the yoke of unaccountable NGOs and UN occupation, which I'll cover here on my TMC blog. But first I'd like to post the entire transcript of a moving speech by Dr. Eric Pierre, the honorary consul for Haiti, on the deep historical context of the current Haitian crisis.
He addressed a crowd of about 60 people at Steelworkers hall:
"Usually the public attention in the so-called first world on the third world is limited to disasters and cases of corruption and coups and blood and cadavers on the sidewalks. Its like that primal taste for blood and anything that is terrible, that stinks. That’s what the public wants and that what they get. But you are here in the spirit of continued support to the Haitian people and I think this is very highly commendable and I certainty appreciate it a lot
Haitian history and the Haitian reality is complex…I cannot help saying that the earthquake is not a natural disaster. It is a human-made disasters and we have to remember that the holocaust we observed is due to the evil spirit of human begins, the ugly side of human nature. It is it is the end result, the combination the explosion of 500 years of treatment of human beings as lesser humans. And those efforts to deny people of their dignity, their rights to aspire to a certain participation in the fruits of their labour, those efforts were motivated by greed pursuit of profit as well as a mean spirited vendetta against the first African nation that defeated the colonial system. The first African nation to successfully say ‘no’- no to slavery, no to human rights abuses and the first African nation to force the world to listen.
Do not forget we are celebrating black history month. It’s a time for us to try to get that introspection to turn on ourselves and draw reasons to be proud and reason to continue fighting. Haiti pa peri- Haiti is not going to perish. But my focus was really to talk about some, not so much about the present efforts of the present reality but just give you an overview of certain socio economic aspects in the making of the disaster. What is the foundation of the disaster?
I am speaking to an audience I feel that is receptive and I don’t think most of you will be surprised to hear that Haiti is not a poor country. Haiti has been impoverished, Haiti has been robbed, Haiti has been raped, Haiti has been depleted of its wealth over and over and over again. I remind you: It’s not the whole country that is suffering. We do have a minority of people of families who are doing fairly well, in fact they are doing very well for themselves, the riches of Haiti were appropriated, transferred, privatized at times in two ways I would say. One way is with naked visible violence and brutality and under the hand sometimes, its with diplomacy. Gestures of friendship, international assistance, persuasion and corruption of leaders and corruption of the ruling class. Everything for a dollar. Everything for a million dollars everything of more domination more oppression more dependence more submission more humiliation more genuflection
Case in point, our leaders must follow instructions not based on the interests of the majority of the citizens in the country. Otherwise in the best-case scenario what happens they will keep back the cash. The country will be starved from investments, unable to face its administrative obligations. In the worst case scenario- and you will know what I’m talking about if you’ve been observing what’s happening in Haiti. You know there was a family that was holding power for 30 years. They toed the line. You don’t toe the line revolts can be orchestrated- there is blood on the streets cadavers on the sidewalks and the international media are broadcasting to the whole world images of Haitian killing each other. One more coup d’état and there lies the origin of the weak institutions the dysfunctional judicial system, insecurity in the country, nervous investors and perpetuation of a cycle of poverty.
As the two previous speakers mentioned agriculture is the foundation or one of the main generators of wealth in Haiti and this has been throughout history, in fact that’s why Haiti was called ‘the pearl of the Caribbean’, its because agricultural wealth, sugar, coffee and so forth. And the result of which the Haitian Africans, the wealth went to build beautiful capitals beautiful mansions plantations and import luxury items for the European ruling class in Haiti
We have overcome historical devastation in our agricultural system like the ones resulting from the war of independence. If you know the history of Haiti there had to be major devastation in the county- fire they had to in some instances, destroy whole forests, cut down trees, that was part of the struggle- but yet the country came back. Thanks to the resiliance of Haitians.
The country is facing serious structural problems. One of the problems is, as you mentioned, the problem of trade. Trade negotiations, dumping- food aid, you all mentioned those aspects and of course the omnipotence of the NGOs. We started having NGOs in Haiti back in 1950s. It was just a few. Now we have about 10,000 and the situation is totally out of control. nobody is answering to the Haitian national or to the Haitian governments. In fact the dollars, its a way for the major powers to channel monies to maintain their domination in the country.
Another structural problem is the land tenure system in the county, which is marked by large concentration of land in the hands of just a few families. It’s important that about 40% of the land is divided in very small parcels between the rest of the population. But the larger plantation holdings over 250 acres are owned by maybe 1000 families. Of course in between you have people at the local level they call them the grand de the big shots. but they are little big shots. These are the people who are holding up the repressive regime
One example is in 1987 when 200 people, peasants, who were trying to protest against the submission food aid during harvest time who were struggling for more social justice in the country they were slaughtered like cattle. and one of the gentleman said that they just killed 1000 communists. This man was arrested in 2003...and he had to be released which again is a symbol of impunity a symbol of a weak judicial system
I did mention how agriculture is really the foundation of our wealth. It used to be that we used to send boats of agricultural products to Florida, to Turks and Caicos, that’s the way it used to be. But you did go over the fact that the circumstances that led to the total destruction of our agricultural industry.
There are lots of aspects I wanted to consider, I’m trying not to repeat what has been said before. But I think an important issue we should talk about is the issue of minimum wage in the country. Presently the minimum wage is 31 cents an hour. there was a problem between the executive and the legislating in the country when the parliament tried to vote an increase to 61 cents f the minimum wage. The corporations that are utilizing slave labour in Haiti were infuriated and they put tremendous pressure on the executive to reverse that decision. There are lots of aspect I could talk to you about but it appears that we are running short on time. I could go over the latest disasters that preceded the earthquake, which kind of set the stage for the major event and give you an appreciation for how the country was going downhill thanks to human evil spirit as well as unfortunately the whims of nature, what nature was doing to the country.
I’m not here to demonize anybody, any country but I do want to demonize greed. I do want to demonize reckless behavior in the pursuit of profit at the expense of human values human decency and their aspect for the Haitian people. I invite you to reflect on this quote from Albert Einstein, a man who knows a few things about man-made devastations ‘The world is not dangerous because of the bad people that are in it but the good people who see evil and do nothing’ so I invite you to reflect on that. Thank you very much."
Megan Kinch is an organizer with Mining Injustice, a member organization of the Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network. The month of solidarity continues, check here for the schedule of events.