Perspectives

Still vulnerable Haiti needs Black America's support

By FinalCall.com News | Last updated: Oct 28, 2010 - 9:06:10 AM

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(FinalCall.com) - Recent news from Haiti hasn't been good: Rains brought floods and landslides that killed 12 people and left others missing in October in Port-au-Prince and residents said other unreported floods had also cost lives.

A cholera epidemic was reported that left some 300 people dead at Final Call press time and thousands suffering. Fears of widespread disease have haunted Haiti since the devastating earthquake that crippled Port-au-Prince and destroyed much of the capital in January. Cholera, a bacterial infection spread through contaminated water, can be fatal. Its victims suffer severe diarrhea and vomiting which can result in dehydration and death within hours.

Then there were clashes reported Oct. 15 between UN troops and Haitians protesting conditions in the country and upset about elections planned for Nov. 28.

These incidents and conditions were observed in Haiti during an October visit and factfinding delegation, which included The Final Call newspaper.

In interviews with Haitians living in a tent community not far from the destroyed National Palace residents complained bitterly about the lack of help received from non-profits and their government.

They complained of hunger, abuses by police and a tap that delivered water that is unfit to drink.

Some 10 months after the earthquake, some 1.3 million Haitians remain displaced—or to use a less fancy term, they are still homeless. The lucky live in tents where the Caribbean sun and heat can be unbearable, while drenching rain can nearly collapse tents. Residents poke tent roofs with sticks to keep water from weighing down their homes.

With the rain water comes leaks and soaked clothes, shoes, feet, misery and the chance for the spreading of disease. For those with no tents and living in even flimsier tents and tarps, it means getting drenched and trapped in mud.

At the same time, there are charges that Haitian women and girls are suffering from rape while others are forced into prostitution and are victims of sex trafficking. There have also been cases in which children, innocent, defenseless children, have been sexually abused and exploited.

Despite billions pledged by the international community and raised by nonprofits and so-called relief groups, the Haitian people suffer and their anger and frustration grows.

Though Haitians are reeling and struggling to survive, they are not stupid and readily point out how relief and charity workers live well in hotels and housing, driving expensive cars and drinking pristine exotic water. Even the Korean Red Cross has experienced a scandal over misspending of funds, while Blacks, Haitian Americans and Africans have been demanding that the American Red Cross disclose its spending for Haiti and show donors where the money went—and explain where and why other funds are being withheld.

Haitians are rightly angry at having money raised in their names and seeing little or none of it and they are disgusted with their own government. In interviews, Haitians angrily denounced their government for inaction, slowness, incompetency and pettiness.

“It's sad to say that nine months after the earthquake I have not seen that much done for people that are homeless,” said Raymond Joseph, former Haitian ambassador to the United States, in an interview with The Final Call and two other Black journalists at the Le Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince. “It is a shame to see that people are still living in tents nine months after the earthquake,” continued Mr. Joseph, who was disqualified from running for president in his country—as was his nephew, Wyclef Jean, the Haitian-born activist and hip hop artist.

In response to a question from a journalist, the onetime diplomat also said Red Cross money raised for “Haitian relief” should be accounted for.

Coordination of effort and unity remain problems, he continued, noting that Haiti remains known as the “Republic of NGOs, we have nongovernmental organizations all over the place and we don't know what they are doing. We need to work together.”

Former ambassador Joseph believes elections should be postponed until the country is on better footing. He plans to stay in Haiti and act as a “gadfly” to hold political leaders accountable.

Between the failures of a government with too few resources and a government left decapitated by the destruction of offices and ministries, to health hazards, homelessness, anger and often volatile politics, the first Black republic remains in a crisis.

But who truly cares about the crisis in Haiti and who truly cares about the loss of lives and suffering of a proud nation of Black people?

If no one else cares, Black America should care. As Ron Daniels, of the Haiti Support Project, often notes it was Haiti that gave Blacks dignity when we were enslaved and it was Haiti that shook the worldwide slave economy by throwing off the shackles of her French oppressors. America benefitted as a financially stressed Napoleon, battling with an uprising in his empire's richest colony, entered into the Louisiana Purchase to refill coffers depleted by the war with Haiti.

Haitians also fought in the Revolutionary War and her original constitution granted citizenship to any Black person who landed on her shores.

Frederick Douglass was a champion for Haiti and lauded her as a symbol of pride from defeating her former masters. So the connections between Black America and Haiti run deep. It is time now to connect with Haitian-Americans to lobby for and lead the proper reconstruction and rebuilding of Haiti.

It is not enough for the U.S. to send a few dollars in aid after helping to force Haiti to pay billions in reparations to France after independence, after blockading the country for 60 years, occupying the country and helping to establish an elite that still rules and supporting brutal dictators. America is morally bound to do more to help Haiti, but morality is not enough. It will take an organized, vigilant, constant and spirited effort to defend Haiti and her interests but it must be done. Otherwise Haiti will continue to suffer and continue to be misused and if we allow that to happen, we have no one to blame but ourselves—and history will mark our record of ignoble failure.

But if we rise and act in accord with the time, our children and children's children will salute us as those who united with their brothers and sisters and established a new reality. Nothing can stop us if we come together—or as the motto on the Haitian flag reminds us: In unity there is strength.

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