Haiti’s DIY Recovery
S1: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. The international press might be gone, but the crisis in Haiti is still raging after a devastating earthquake and a presidential assassination. What do the people of Haiti need to build a more shared future?
S2: So we’re asking people to donate to individual groups in Haiti that are local and already on the ground and who know what Haitians need and know how to get what they need to them.
S1: The way forward for Haiti coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. The island nation of Haiti is just beginning to catch its breath after a massive August earthquake. And that catastrophe struck just a few weeks after the assassination of President Jovan Almaz, which left the government in a state of chaos. While Haiti: could use international aid in its recovery, the country has suffered from a history of colonial oppression and interference that leaves its citizens wary of efforts to help something that could complicate efforts to rebuild Haiti’s physical and political infrastructure. Joining us to talk about it this morning is Marlana Daut. She’s a professor of African-American and African studies at the University of Virginia. She specializes in Caribbean studies and is the author of Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. And Professor Marlene of Dout joins us now. Welcome to a.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: We’re now a couple of weeks after the earthquake. What was the scope of the damage in Haiti? And what do we know about where the recovery stands now? I think a lot of Americans. Again, we it’s not just that we have short attention spans. We have enough crises in this country that a lot of people didn’t pay a lot of attention to how bad things were in Haiti.
S2: Yes. So the earthquake hit the southern peninsula of Haiti:, its epicenter was near the Haitian city of Lake. And if you were to look at the map of Haiti, you’d see that the southern peninsula kind of extends out pretty far into the Atlantic. And so it makes getting to the furthest reaches of the peninsula pretty difficult, given the status of roads, unfortunately. Also, a tropical storm hit the island only a few days afterwards, complicating both relief and disaster recovery effort and the ability to kind of find people who were still trapped under the rubble. One thing that was a little bit more fortunate than last earthquake in 2010 was that this one hit at about eight twenty nine a.m. So there weren’t a lot of people kind of out and about. But at the same time, being inside wasn’t necessarily the safest place to be either because of the way that buildings are constructed.
S1: And our last episode, we heard from an environmental leader about disaster capitalism. That’s how in the aftermath of natural disasters, millions and sometimes billions of dollars in aid get distributed. But most of it never goes to the people who actually need it. Have we seen disaster capitalism play out in Haiti after this most recent tragedy, an earthquake?
S2: Disaster capitalism has been a part of Haitian history for a really long time. I think it most kind of visibly came into the frame in 2010 when Haiti: suffered a seven point magnitude earthquake in the capital of Port-Au-Prince. This is a moment when we saw millions, if not billions of dollars of aid pour into the country, supposedly through various aid groups. The most famous example of aid money that was donated for the relief and recovery effort in Haiti, but never reached. Haitians is the Red Cross. The NPR ProPublica report, which is now sort of infamous that that half a half a billion dollars excuse me, that was supposed to go towards building houses. We saw six houses built. The rest of the money was either funneled into their other projects because they weren’t involved in development. They are disaster relief. So they gave tents and T-shirts, but they weren’t really able to continue with the effort in the years following when reconstruction needed to happen. And so this is the situation in the scenario that we would definitely like to avoid this time around. And so we’re asking people to donate to individual groups in Haiti that are local and already on the ground and who know what Haitians need and know how to get what they need to them.
S1: I’m an American and I live in, you know, central Illinois. I live outside of Dallas. I’m living in Riverside, California. How would I go about finding the local groups? Because even people who are passionate about these issues and like, hey, I’ve got 500 dollars to donate. I’ve got a hundred dollars to donate. I’ve got 50 dollars to donate. How do they know the proper ways to send their money to actually help people on the ground in Haiti, as opposed to having it funneled into, you know, some CFOs pockets?
S2: That’s a great question. I would direct people to one website they can use to find information, which is Foch how this is an aid organization that’s long standing. It’s Haitian base. They’ve been in the country for a very long time. They are Haitian run and work with Haitians. And on their Web page, they can also they also direct you to places in the southern peninsula particularly that could use help and assistance at this moment. But I would say beyond that, and I think this is sort of gets at the more difficult problem, a sort of more theoretical problem that underlies the question, which is that, you know, Haitians for a lot of people are abstract people who live over there. And so because they don’t necessarily know a lot of Haitians, they don’t have people they can reach out to to say who are some people who I can individually help? Because in the moments directly following the earthquake, the best way it turns out to help and get money to Haitians was to send it to them individually, to send people that you knew money, who could then distribute things like water and food, could purchase things there. And so this is I think what compounds the tragedy is that we don’t want to be giving our money to these huge organizations. But as you mentioned, most people in the United States don’t necessarily have a contact in Haiti. They don’t know who they should reach out to and who they should find. And so I would say some churches, Haitian, churches in Miami and New York could also be other or in your communities, because there are Haitian communities in Chicago and Boston, for example, and to a lesser extent in places like Houston and Los Angeles. And so reaching out to some of those churches that are Haitian congregations and finding out, you know, what they suggest as well.
S1: We’re going to take a short break, when we come back, more on the path forward for Haiti:. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. This is Jason Johnson, host of a word Slate’s podcast about race and politics and everything else. I want to take a moment to welcome our new listeners. If you’ve discovered a word and like what you hear, please subscribe rate and review wherever you listen to a podcast and let us know what you think by writing us at a word at Slate dot com. Thank you. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about Haiti’s crisis and its future with Professor Marlene doubt. Dr. Daut, Haiti’s president was assassinated a month before the earthquake struck. So who’s actually managing this crisis right now? Like who’s running the country?
S2: Well, in a sort of de facto way, the president of Haiti is the man who Jovan Elmos had designated to become Haiti’s prime minister. A few days before the assassination. So his name is Alongi. And he was sort of, I guess, assumed by the international community to be Haiti’s rightful leader in this moment, in the moments and days and weeks actually following the assassination. That wasn’t as clear as it is now. People seem to have accepted that, OK, this is the person who is going to at first lead the effort also to find out who was behind the assassination. And one of the most unfortunate things about this earthquake, including the loss of life, over two thousand Haitians are reported to be dead, have died in the earthquake. Is that now the investigation into Giovino Muis? This death is really halted at multiple levels because of these intersecting crises. And so there is a very real sense of who is leading the country, who’s going to lead the relief effort, and clearly is now saying all the aid funds are going to be channeled through his office, that we’re not going to make the mistakes of the past. But the Haitian people, this isn’t necessarily comforting to them because he’s not a person they chose. He’s not a man who was elected by them. And they had previous problems with their prior presidents and the aid funds as well. So the idea that he’s going to control it all or make sure that gets to the right places, there isn’t a whole lot of confidence in that at the moment.
S1: So at one point after the assassination, you had some Haitian officials that were like asking for America to send military aid. That didn’t happen. But then there were Haitians outside the government who wanted the U.S. and some don’t want the U.S.. Tell us a bit about how the average Haitian person on the street feels about the United States involvement or what the United States might be able to do to help find out who assassinated the previous president.
S2: This is a difficult question because undoubtedly, especially in this moment, right after the seven point two magnitude earthquake that he just experienced on August 14th, that actually a Haitians need assistance aid. They need medical care, they need goods, they need things for everyday subsistence like water. It is also true that the Haitian populace, if you ask sort of ordinary, everyday Haitians, are very wary of what looks like assistance because a lot of assistance is actually help that harms. And they remember that the memory of the 2010 earthquake was so strong that, you know, friends in Port-Au-Prince were saying, we’re sleeping outside. We’re too scared to go back inside, because even though the epicenter of the earthquake wasn’t in Port-Au-Prince, they still felt it. In fact, there are reports that the earthquake was felt all the way in Jamaica. And so then when you compound this with this intersecting crisis, if you will, of the assassination of the presidents and the low confidence that Haitians have in the ability for the government to find out, the Haitian government, to find out who really did this and their will to do so, because we’ve seen people go missing and go into hiding and also be killed for their role in trying to pursue justice for this. So the reason why I say it’s a hard question is that many Haitians are on the ground in Haiti, do not want another military occupation. They do not want boots on the ground, quote unquote, in Haiti. But at the same time, they also do not want the Haitian government, as it stands to be the only ones who can pronounce and say what happens next, because there is not a lot of trust. And so civil society organizations are calling for various meetings of factions and they want to be the ones to direct the way forward, not the U.N., definitely not NGOs. Haiti: was dubbed the land of 10000 NGOs in the 90s and early 2000s, and especially after the 2010 earthquake. Haitians who are forming parts of different civil society organizations, professors and lawyers and doctors want to be the ones to say what happens next.
S1: Give us some insight on this, because I think that’s that’s really fascinating. You know, hey, the United States, we know we’ve got, you know, Republicans or Democrats or conservatives or liberals. Most Americans don’t really understand the internal issues that were going on in in Haiti:. So who are the major power players? I mean, who who stood to gain from President Moir’s being killed? And how are those different kinds of groups battling now? Because I don’t think most Americans even know who the stakeholders are in Haiti:, even if they are aware of the fact that we aren’t necessarily trusted as an objective outside assistance.
S2: There are lots of different political parties in Haiti:, but President Moses’s, this political party obviously sought to retain control of the government, but they had also been charged with funding, if not directly sending gang members into various communities and Haiti: to engage in violence against the Haitian people who were protesting against the government since about twenty eighteen formerly, but really since the origins of Moez this presidency. And one of the things they were protesting is that Petrocaribe funds that evidently appear to have disappeared or been misappropriated. And so Petrocaribe was a Venezuelan oil program that allowed the Haitian government to purchase oil to sell to the Haitian people at discounted price. But that discount was alone. And the discount the Haitian government received was supposed to go into all kinds of projects rebuilding the Haitian National Palace, things like soccer fields, all kinds of things that would stabilize the government, but also make everyday life for Haitians better. And those projects, despite the fact that the government said, oh, they’re well underway when investigations were undertaken by the Senate, those projects, many of them hadn’t even been started. And so the questions started surfacing on social media and elsewhere. Cutco, Petrocaribe, which means where is the Petrocaribe money? This occasioned massive protests in Haiti from multiple quarters. And in the months leading up to really over a year, if not more, before noesis assassination, gang violence had increased to such an extent. Most Haitians were on lockdown far before Covid. They called it Plock. The entire country had been brought to a standstill. People couldn’t go to school. They were afraid to go to the supermarket. Kidnappings increased. And there was a question of who is behind all of this different gang. Violence, who’s funding it, and a lot of people pointed the finger at Mogis, this ruling party.
S1: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, more on Haiti’s future. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today, we’re talking about Haiti: and the politics of intervention with Professor Marlene a doubt, doctor doubt. So this is this is really interesting to me, because, again, I think your your average American may know that the United States has a very problematic relationship with Haiti:, but it’s not just the United States. Right. There are other governments that have attempted to help the country from time to time, and those efforts don’t necessarily lead to positive results. Can you give some other examples of maybe United Nations or other countries around the world who supposedly came in to assist Haiti:, but nevertheless, it didn’t end up helping a lot?
S2: Oh, goodness. Well, I think the most famous example of this must be the United Nations or most famous recent example, I should say, because Haiti also was occupied by the United States from 1915 to nineteen thirty four, supposedly to help them after the assassination of a different president, President John Viom Bong Sam. The United States stayed for 19 long years, making it the second longest occupation after Afghanistan recently. But in 2004, a UN mission came to Haiti:. And this was supposedly to stabilize the Haitian government after the coup d’état that had been led against Jean-Bertrand Aristide second presidency. There was an earlier coup d’etat that the occasion to different U.S. occupation in 1994 under the Clintons or under Bill Clinton’s presidency. But this time, the United Nations came and they were still there in 2010 when the earthquake happened. So they ended up sending more troops to, quote unquote, help Haiti. Some of these troops came from Nepal. And because they were also from a country that was experiencing poverty and that was experiencing infrastructure problems, they brought a cholera epidemic with them to the country. This cholera epidemic resulted from U.N. practices. So, yes, it was brought by the Nepalese soldiers, but the U.N. did not set up proper practices for waste disposal sewage disposal, which was being dumped into the rivers, which is where Haitians do their washing, which of their produce, as well as their clothing, et cetera. And so this occasion to cholera outbreak, cholera had never existed in Haiti before. And ten thousand Haitians died, hundreds of thousands more became ill. And because medical infrastructure is not great, there were people who have long standing problems because of this epidemic brought again by U.N. soldiers, because the U.N. infrastructure was not put into place to prevent this from happening.
S1: You know, it’s also a story we read in The New York Times talking about the fact that UN peacekeepers back in 2019 left hundreds and hundreds of illegitimate children in Haiti and that there were sexual exploitation of women and young girls in crisis. And no one was held accountable that the soldiers came in who were ostensibly supposed to be helping to rebuild the country, were actually abusing young girls and occasionally young boys. I mean, how do the Haitians and how does the Haitian government respond to that? I mean, did they go after the U.N.? Did they demand that the U.N., you know, pay for these these so many children who were born sort of out of wedlock and the soldiers just left town, or is just this something an additional burden that the people have to deal with?
S2: There were definitely demands for accountability for the United Nations coming from inside and outside Haiti:. But at the time when the when the demands were first being made, when when the cholera epidemic was first definitively traced to the UN peacekeeping, quote unquote, mission, the the the first question was, well, who has standing to bring charges against the United Nations? And in what court of law would this with this cases be heard? So that was a difficult thing. Eventually, the UN was forced to admit that there was wrongdoing, but there has still not been restitution. On the question of the peacekeepers and the children they found dead or they have a father. So there are lawsuits, there are lawsuits ongoing. And in fact, just this week, one lawsuit was reached that a woman is now to receive. I think it’s about three thousand dollars per month from a particular U.N. peacekeeper. And this is a landmark decision because people are saying this is, as you mentioned, one of dozens of similar cases and Haitians are standing up and saying, no, we’re not. You can’t just come here and do whatever you want, because this is actually contrary to UN regulations for peacekeepers to be engaged in these kind of relations because of the inherent, as the manual says, power dynamics involved.
S1: Looking to the future. You’ll have an investigation or attempted investigations into who assassinated the previous president. What’s the outlook for President Onry? Will he be judged based on the crises that he inherited, or will he be judged on the future that he can present? Because as of right now, dealing with these dual crises of government legitimacy and actual disaster, I don’t see how any leader, certainly one who wasn’t popularly elected, will be able to manage the country effectively.
S2: I think it’s going to be the path forward for him is going to be very difficult. So he is a neurosurgeon. That’s his trade. And I think, you know, he is seeking to paint himself because of that, perhaps as outside of these political spheres of influence that have dominated the country. But the other related problem is that, you know, the Haitian elite people, moneyed landed elite in Haiti: are also not trusted precisely because they are the ones who have stood to benefit from UN presence, from US presence. And that was the sector that was loudest asking for UN and US assistance in the form of kind of troops and boots on the ground in Haiti. And so we see that the elites and the Haitian people are still diametrically opposed. And as long as we are only is associated with Malaysia’s ruling party and with this Haitian elite, I think the path forward for him will become difficult. But the elections that are supposed to happen in the fall, that that was when they originally is scheduled. This is peril. This is imperiled by not only the investigation, which was already putting those elections in peril, but once again, the earthquake and the tropical storm, which compounded matters.
S1: I can’t believe we we’ve managed to have this entire conversation and haven’t talked about Covid. So I want to make sure that at least at least Haiti: with one Covid question. One of the things that we’re looking at, obviously, United States of America is with the end of the eviction moratorium and with hurricane season, you have hundreds of thousands of Americans who are going to be displaced, which of course, makes it more difficult to track and trace, which of course, increases the likelihood of Covid spreading. How have this sort of combination of disasters, hurricane season and earthquake, the end of a presidency that was supposedly managing these issues? How is Haiti managing Covid right now? And of all the resources that they may be asking from the United States, are vaccines on the way? Cause I know that’s something that a lot of countries in the Caribbean and the Third World often don’t have access to.
S2: That’s a great question. So Haiti just started to be able to vaccinate its citizens, if you can believe that just started at either the end of July or the beginning of August to receive the first doses. This is extraordinary. Up until that point, Haiti had not seen a sharp rise in deaths from Covid. I cannot say that they didn’t have a lot of cases because testing wasn’t robust. But one thing we do know is because we would notice if the death rate had started to increase. Right. One thing we do know is that there was not a great rate of death or loss and or hospitalization, but we’ve seen things start to change a little bit with the Delta variant and the fact that on the other side of the island, which is, of course, the Dominican Republic, which occupies the eastern two thirds, they actually did see huge Covid surges in the beginning and throughout the pandemic and rise in hospitalization and high death rate. And so we know that Haiti is not, you know, immune somehow to COVID, that there most likely is a high population of people with Covid who are have not been tested. And so what we’re hoping for now is that now that vaccines have arrived is that those programs will continue and that the majority of Haitians will be able to get the Covid vaccine that, you know, President Bowis just really dropped the ball on that he really, really and truly did. And this was another thing that was brought up to use against him during his presidency was that he was not taking seriously enough, that he was using the low death rate and seemingly no low infection rate to basically engage in inaction against fighting the pandemic.
S1: Marlene it Daut is a professor of African-American and African studies at the University of Virginia. Thank you so much for joining us on a word today.
S2: Thank you so much for having me.
S1: And that’s a word for this week. The show’s e-mail is a word at Slate dot com. This episode was produced by Ahyiana Angel & Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcast is Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcast at Slate. June Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast Network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.