An Expression of Solidarity with Haiti

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An Expression of Solidarity with Haiti

8th Day Center for Justice, a Catholic social justice organization dedicated to systemic change, promotes the values of nonviolence, the dignity of each person, the common good, and the integrity of creation.[i] While we are pleased to see the large and generous international response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, we are disturbed by the transgressions of each of the above values during the relief and reconstruction efforts. To date, no action on the part of other governments or international lending agencies has broken the cycle of oppression that Haiti has been forced to endure.

Specifically, 8th Day Center denounces the militaristic spirit of the US government response; the delay in the distribution of emergency supplies; the neoliberal[ii] paradigm for distribution of donations and of reconstruction contracts; the lack of protection for Haiti's most vulnerable populations; and the demeaning and racist representation of Haitians in international coverage.

We call for recognition of the accurate history of Haiti, a history of cyclical oppression and the denial of human rights. Internationally recognized human rights include food, water, shelter, safety, and self-determination.[iii] The majority of Haiti's people have been deprived of all of these throughout the country's existence: first through slavery, next through crippling and unjust debt, and finally through a combination of externally instigated coups and internal corruption.[iv] Human rights continue to be denied during the recovery efforts.

We call for the creation of an appropriate international body to respond to natural disasters. The use of armed military personnel as a response to natural disasters is unacceptable. As an organization that promotes the values of nonviolence, 8th Day Center denounces the militarization of Haiti by the entry of American forces, ultimately numbering 22,000.[v] The US military took over Port-au-Prince airport, turned it into a military base, and withheld food and water donations from the general populace for days due to a fear of riots.[vi] This was in direct contradiction to statements by its own personnel that Haitian people were waiting in an orderly fashion for aid to be distributed.[vii] It is further unacceptable that a third of the money donated for disaster relief directly supported military forces instead of sustaining the people.[viii]

We call for all aid to Haiti to be given in the form of grants, not loans, and for the cancellation of all past debts. Haiti is not a debtor country seeking forgiveness of its loans but a creditor, a country with the right to reparations for its past abuses.[ix] Perhaps the most egregious of those abuses was when France extended its imperial control in 1825 by demanding from the newly independent Haiti 150 million francs as payment for freeing its slaves.[x] The March 2010 confirmation of debt cancellation from the World Bank was a hollow victory for Haiti, since that agreement was incumbent upon the implementation of neoliberal development models and the supervision of foreign donors.[xi] While we understand the need for immediate financial support and the help of international donors, we are, first and foremost, concerned for the citizens of Haiti. In light of parliament's decision to include the voices of foreign donors in the Recovery Commission, we emphasize the need to ensure a mechanism of transparency and accountability that will ensure Haitian autonomy.[xii]

The International Monetary Fund's director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has said that the question of grant or loan in an emergency setting was already determined by the IMF structure, which does not allow for immediate grants.[xiii] In light of our growing awareness that natural catastrophes are increasing in frequency and destructiveness, we call for a more diversified international lending system, including optional emergency grants, so that the devastation of nature is not followed by the devastation of paying for its recovery in the years to come.

We call for Haiti to be reconstructed in a comprehensive, responsible and ecological way. Once a heavily-forested, diverse ecosystem, Haiti's forests were destroyed to make way for plantations during various periods of its history.[xiv] Their replacement has been impossible since then, due to topsoil erosion, subsistence farming for an impoverished population, and the disastrous development plans of outside forces.[xv] Going forward, sustainable agriculture and rural investment must accompany sustainable industry in the urban centers, as opposed to textile production and garment sweatshops as planned for new free trade zones. With a decentralized infrastructure, a more balanced distribution of Haiti's population will gradually replace the precarious over-population of Port-au-Prince.[xvi] Given the island country's unique vulnerabilities to natural disasters, long-term development must focus on preparations against future catastrophes and reparations for former injustices.

We call for the protection of vulnerable populations in Haiti. We stand in awe of the resilience of the Haitian people and the hospitality that rural communities have shown to those fleeing Port-au-Prince. In the process of coordinating Haiti's overall recovery, we identify certain especially vulnerable populations who merit priority of attention and resources. The unique needs of the mentally ill and physically disabled call for the immediate provision of specialized social services. Reproductive health services must be available to pregnant and breastfeeding women who have found themselves jeopardized by the crisis. Given the reality of dangerous living conditions such as homelessness and temporary housing, there is a heightened risk of violence, rape, and HIV infection.[xvii] Measures should be put in place to safeguard the rights of oppressed populations which are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, especially LGBTIQ people and women. We urge the strict monitoring of legal adoptions to reduce the threats of institutionalization, enslavement, and trafficking of orphaned Haitian children. Assistance and protection of the more than 1 million internally displaced Haitians[xviii] is vital, especially considering their lack of proper documentation. We support the reunification of families across borders, and therefore call for an expedited visa application process.[xix] Overall, we recognize an urgent need for improved social services, medical care and psychological assistance for all vulnerable populations.

We call for a profound paradigm shift in all partnerships with Haiti. Notions of Haiti as an isolated “failed state”[xx] obscure the historical roots of its modern-day problems. Historically and to this day, Haiti is a victim of imperialism. The decisions for how to award reconstruction contracts have been outsourced to international NGOs and wealthy individuals, so that the contracts will likely go to groups outside the impoverished Haitian economy.[xxi] In respecting Haitian autonomy, self-determination, and the values of subsidiarity, we support reconstruction initiatives led by Haitian civil society.[xxii] If and when outside assistance is absolutely necessary, it must privilege Haitian workers and respect local leadership.[xxiii]

8th Day Center for Justice offers its continued support and prayer throughout the long process of reconstruction. We hold in our minds and hearts the heavy knowledge of the injustices that have been perpetrated on Haiti. Our fear is that these injustices are continuing into the future. We will continue to advocate with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, and create a space for their voices to be heard. From a place of hope and solidarity with Haiti, we will advocate for systemic change beyond disaster response, extending to lasting justice in international relationships. We uphold the vision of Dr. Joia Mukherjee of Partners in Health: "The solutions of Haiti's problems will come from the Haitian people and the government they choose. The greatest resource of Haiti is the indomitable spirit of the Haitian people."[xxiv]

[i] 8th Day Center for Justice.

[ii] “What is Neo-liberalism? A Brief Definition.” Global Exchange. 26 February 2000.

[iii] “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. 10 December 1948.

[iv] Pratt, David. “As Aristide Left, The US Marines Moved In…And Revealed the True Power Behind the Haitian ‘Revolt’.” Common Dreams. 7 March 2004. (citing The Sunday Herald (Scotland)

[v] Robson, Seth. "Lt. Gen. Keen: Our man on the ground in Haiti." Stars and Stripes Online Edition. 27 March 2010

[vi] Price, Matthew. “Misguided Fears Test Haitians' Patience.” BBC News. 22 January 2010.

[vii] Robson, Seth. "Lt. Gen. Keen: Our man on the ground in Haiti." Stars and Stripes Online Edition. 27 March 2010

[viii] Fisch, Yesica and Mendoza, Martha. “Haiti Govt Gets 1 Penny of US Quake Aid Dollar.” The Associated Press. 27 January 2010.

[ix] Klein, Naomi. "Haiti: A Creditor, Not a Debtor." The Nation. 1 March 2010.

[x] Klein, Naomi. "Haiti: A Creditor, Not a Debtor." The Nation. 1 March 2010.

[xi] "Haiti to receive Bank finance and debt relief." Bretton Woods Project. 16 April 2010. (citing Kim Ives. “International Donors’ Conference at the UN: For $10 Billion of Promises, Haiti surrenders its Sovereignty.” This Week in Haiti, the English section of Haiti Liberté newsweekly.

[xii] Guyler Delva, Joseph. "Haiti approves post-quake reconstruction body." Reuters AlertNet. 17 April 2010.

[xiii] “IMF Support for Haiti.” The IMF and Civil Society. 2 February 2010.

[xiv] McClintock, Nathan C. “Agroforestry and sustainable resource conservation in Haiti: A Case Study.”

Partners in Progress. 2003.

[xv] Gupta, Arun. “The U.S. In Haiti: Neoliberalism at the Barrel of a Gun.” The Indypendent. 19 February 2010.

Chavla, Leah. “Bill Clinton’s Heavy Hand on Haiti.” Scoop Independent News. 14 April 2010.

[xvi] “Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (DSNCRP).” Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation: Republic of Haiti. 2008-2010.

[xvii] “Policy Recommendations to Address Critical Security Concerns and Needs of Women Human Rights Defenders in Haiti in the Aftermath of the 12 January 2010 Earthquake.” Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition.

[xviii] "Letter to Congress in Support of Emergency Supplemental Aid to Haiti." Washington Office on Latin America. 19 February 2010.

[xix] “April 12, 2010, letter to Congress.” Human Rights First. 12 April 2010. (citing H.E.L.P. Act (Haitian Emergency Protection) S2998. Library of Congress. 4 February 2010.

[xx] “Failed States Index.” The Fund for Peace.

[xxi] Edmonds, Kevin. “NGOs and the Business of Poverty in Haiti.” North American Congress on Latin America. 5 April 2010.

[xxii] Duplat, Patrick and Parry, Emilie. "Haiti From the Ground up: Field Report." Refugees International. 2 March 2010.

[xxiii] Barry, Donna. "Accountability, Transparency, Empowerment, and Capacity Building Must Guide Donor States’ Efforts in Rebuilding Haiti: Recommendations for the March 2010 Haiti Donors’ Conference." Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

[xxiv] van Gelder, Sarah. “Cancel Haiti’s Debt.” YES! Magazine. 27 January 2010.

"General Assembly Expresses Solidarity, Support for Haiti after Massive Earthquake." United Nations.

"Address by the Governor for Haiti at the third plenary session: Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors, Inter-American Development Bank/Inter-American Investment Corporation." March 23, 2010. Cancun, Mexico.

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.