Help Haitians help Haiti: An open letter

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United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti's Brazilian peacekeepers and United States soldiers distribute food and water in the slum of Cité Soleil, Haiti, on Jan. 24, 2010. Photo: Sophia Paris/United Nations Photo/Flickr

July 12, 2010

The original letter, sent to Le Devoir in French, is available here

Open letter to Mario Renaud, executive director, Centre for International Studies and Cooperation/Centre d'étude et de coopération internationale:

We are responding to your letter addressed to the people of Quebec (Libre Opinion, ‘Haïti, six mois après,' Le Devoir, Saturday, July 10, 2010). It can be read here (in French only). We live in Cité Soleil, Haiti. However, since your letter attempts to define the relationship between Quebecois and Haitians, we prefer to speak for ourselves.

You begin by criticizing those who criticize the work being done by NGOs and the Haitian state. You claim solidarity, rather than cynicism, is needed. Cynicism is not the opposite of solidarity. We assume that you use cynicism in its pejorative sense, meaning a disinclination to believe in human sincerity. There is certainly a wealth of evidence to lead us to that kind of cynicism. However, we place ourselves within the tradition of the Greek Cynics who understood that virtue was all that was required to achieve happiness. Virtue is truth. We are terrified of what we might become were we to give up our Cynicism.

You acknowledge the magnitude of the catastrophe for Haiti that has only "the means accorded it by the international community." You do not specify what foreign pressures undermine Haitian independence or in what manner. However, you claim that CECI's approach rests upon the participation of the Haitian state and population, cooperation between the civil society and the government, and local development based on the agricultural sector.

It is important that we be clear about the actual constraints upon Haitian self-governance. Since 2004, neither the Haitian state nor the government represents the poor majority of the population, among whom we count ourselves. The indeterminate "international community" to which you refer is, in fact, the governments of the United States, France and Canada. In the last 20 years, they have destroyed Haitian democracy. They have tried, but not succeeded, in gutting Haitian civil society. The state, controlled by foreign interests, neglects all local community organizations like those of our neighbourhood in Cite Soleil. If you at CECI exclude all civil society groups not on good terms with the state, then with whom are you dealing? You must not accuse us of cynicism. We are simply relating the truth that we live every day.

The scale of the catastrophe is a direct result of the policies that have been forced upon Haiti since the Duvalier regime. President Clinton has partially acknowledged his responsibility for the destruction of Haitian agriculture. However, as Special Envoy, he should also recognize that the overcrowded slums, like our own of Cité Soleil, are the result of the exodus from the countryside forced upon us by those same policies. The American and Canadian assembly plants set the working conditions and wage standards in our neighbourhood. We could not build secure neighbourhoods on the tiny sums of money that circulate in Port-au-Prince; consequently, almost 300,000 people died. They lived in insecure structures in neighbourhoods devoid of infrastructure. We survivors are struggling to build our country from the ground up, even though many of our loved ones have been killed for trying to control their economy and lives over the last 20 years.

If you have built your aid structure on the pillars of local development and deference to the Haitian state, then it will be no more stable than the buildings that fell on January 12. Those two pillars do not stand together. The Haitian state has not been responsive to the Haitian poor in any way since 2004. Who is controlling the money that was donated to relieve our suffering? How much of it is controlled by states that overthrew our elected government and replaced it with one responsive to the rich? The interests of poor and rich Haitians are not supported by the same pillars. Between which groups are you encouraging solidarity? There are many levels of state and NGO administration between the people of Quebec and we in Haiti. You tell Quebecois that they should be proud of what they have accomplished through your organization. If they rely on your letter, we don't see how the Quebecois can be any more informed than we are about the reconstruction of Haiti.

If the reconstruction of Haiti is to stand on the pillar of the puppet government in the service of the rich, then we will continue to be forced into assembly plants working for North American corporations for starvation wages upon which no safe community could ever be constructed. This strategy is built upon the pillar of our poverty, for the salaries must remain lower than any other jurisdiction in the Hemisphere for the rich to profit and operate here. In fact, most of our work is in the needle trades that were once a pillar of the economy of Montreal. We did not ask for these jobs any more than Montrealers asked to be fired from them. So, we begin to see that the actual solidarity is between governments and corporations. Why do you feel that Quebecois should be proud of that solidarity?

Local development looks quite different. We tried to contact your organization a number of times in April 2010. We wrote to you describing our community organizations, some of which are indeed accredited by the Haitian state, although that process is cumbersome and unpredictable. Accreditation by the Haitian state is no measure of the value of an organization. No one from CECI responded to, or even acknowledged, our letters. Now, we appeal to you and all other funding agencies to support the programs that we have elaborated for local development.

For instance, we have developed a plan for a Community Canteen of Cité Soleil to address the present problem of boys and girls selling their bodies in exchange for food to relieve their hunger. The Canteen is built, thanks to HAVEN, an Irish NGO that specializes in construction. It now needs funding in order to serve 250 hot meals a day to the most vulnerable among us so that they need not turn to prostitution to survive. The program is elaborated in a nine-page document posted on the Internet for all to see.

This is a level of transparency apparently unknown in North America. Our program looks to hire local people at all levels of the operation and to intensify the links that we already have to the Haitian peasants who produce the food. All of the money would remain in Cité Soleil and the Haitian countryside. However, there is no money here in Cité Soleil at the moment to fund this: not from the state and not from the community. The formal economy -- North American corporations supported by the Haitian state -- set the local wages at approximately $4 (CDN) per day with a total absence of benefits. At that rate, there is no way that we can fund our own programs. And so we are asking for funding to break the cycle of poverty that nourishes prostitution.

This request would be unnecessarily if we were paid like human beings for the work that we do. Then money would be circulating in Cité Soleil. Then there would be a market for goods made here in Haiti. The control of aid, like the control of our labour, is elsewhere. Why do you think Quebecois should be proud of this system? The clothing we make is sitting on the display shelves of Quebec retail stores. Those shelves were once stocked with clothing made by Quebecois who fought many battles in defence of their dignity against employers that now exploit us.

Your government, that represents an unknown percentage of your budget, attacked and unseated the one that we elected. The domestic development that our elected government had been promoting was destroyed. President Clinton has acknowledged that crime. From the moment we elected our own government, it came under attack from foreign powers. We in the slums were forced into practically unpaid assembly jobs that enrich North American corporations. So, now we can't eat or find money to buy the food we want from our poor relatives in the countryside. You say that rural agricultural and local job creation programs must be supported. Our project is homemade here in Cité Soleil, Haiti, and attempts to lay the groundwork for continuous markets. The most effective answer is obvious: pay us for the work we do and then we would already have the resources to pay the farmers. Stop dumping subsidized agricultural produce on Haiti to undermine local production. In the meantime, we need some institutions of goodwill, committed to an honest evaluation of the situation, to fund our Canteen that plants the seeds of local development.

After the CIA-sponsored coup of 1991, CECI widely and courageously funded the Humanitarian Aid Program that mitigated Washington's assault on Haitian agriculture. CECI discontinued it. We would like the Quebecois to consider our proposal for a Community Canteen and to encourage CECI to fund it. We believe that we would then enter into a real solidarity with the people of Quebec. We would like that very much.

The program is discussed here

The program outline can be seen here

Signed:

Jean Ellie Déralciné, Cité Soleil, Dialogue et Action pour le Développement

Cyril Baudelais, Cité Soleil, Fondation Famille Pain de Lumière

Vilmond Joegodson Déralciné, Port-au-Prince

Paul Jackson, Montreal

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