On 11 August, 2020, the hen house celebrated the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the first 1,000 hens. The hen house provides low-cost eggs to community groups for resale in the local market. The Quixote Center helped fund the solar powered water pump for the hen house. The hen house is committed to using feed that is 100% grown locally. This is a goal that is close to being met.
On October 15, 700 more hens arrived. To prepare for the arrival of the new hens, room A2 was cleaned and the hens from room A1 were moved to A2. Room A1 was then cleaned and whitewashed. Below we share some photos of the new arrivals checking out the new digs.
Guns handed in at the start of a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration program in Port au Prince 2017 (Photo: Sophia Paris/UN Photo, Creative Commons)
The notorious paramilitaries of the past, the Tonton Macoute and FRAPH may be gone today, but the people of Haiti are once again under the threat of the presence of armed groups acting with impunity. The use of armed gangs by political actors in Haiti (and many other places, including the U.S.) to “keep order” is hardly a new phenomenon. However, over the last several years, as protests against the PHTK government have grown, these gangs have been mobilized in what seems a coordinated fashion. They are heavily armed, and have engaged in multiple attacks on communities.
At the moment, the spotlight is on former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, who now fronts a gang confederation (the G9) that rules the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Delmas and Bel Aire. As a police officer, Cherizier was implicated in massacres at Grand Ravine and La Saline.
At Grand Ravine, in November of 2017, police attacked community members inside a school – killing 9 people. Some were killed execution style, and several appeared to have been shot in their homes nearby and then dragged to the school. The operation was supposedly launched by police in response to gang activity, but was clearly more complicated than that. UN units were present but did not intervene. The massacre was largely ignored outside of Haiti. In U.S. media, only Jake Johnston of Center for Economic and Policy Research covered the story in detail – in a piece published in the Intercept in January of 2018. Johnston interviewed, Rovelsond Apollon, an observer with a local human rights organization working in Grand Ravine, who discussed the connection between the police, politicians and local gangs:
It’s not just that politicians exert control over the police, Apollon said — they are involved with the gangs themselves. His organization has interviewed young people with heavy weaponry that is not easy to acquire, he explained, and they said the weapons had been provided by politicians. “Politicians and authorities are not innocent in what happened, because they, too, play their part in the violence,” he said. The politicians, for their part, have not publicly addressed these accusations.
A year later, the neighborhood of La Saline became the sight of another massacre. As in Grand Ravine, initial reports made the attack seem like an internecine battle between gangs trying to control the area. But further investigation laid out the role of the police who coordinated with gangs, allegedly operating with the support of Moise allies. It is now argued that the motivation for the attack on the community was at least in part retaliation for its mobilization in protests against the current government. According to a report on the attack following a Haiti Action Committee and National Lawyers Guild delegation, Cherizier publicly admitted taking part in the attack, with his police units blocking roads to keep people from leaving the community. The total number of people killed is not known. Many bodies were burned, some left in the street where remains were eaten by pigs and dogs. The Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNNHD) was able to identify at least 71 people murdered based on interviews with community members.
Cherizier was forced out of the police in December of 2018. However, rather than end up in jail, Cherizier has re-emerged at the head of the G9, a confederation assembled with the support of the current government. Journalist Etant Dupain wrote last week:
During an explosive radio interview on Radio Magik9, earlier this month, one of the most influential members of President Jovenel Moise’s commission for disarmament (known as the CNDDR), Jean Rebel Dorcénat, stated that it was his idea for several gang leaders to join together to form a federation, which has now become the gang named G9. He later walked back the statement, and clarified to say that he was not responsible for creating the G9, but he did, however, advise gang leaders to form an alliance in order to make the disarmament commission’s job easier.
When the alliance was announced, armed groups rallied in Port-au-Prince. The police were nowhere to be found – but their equipment was on display. The Washington Post reported, “When Cherizier’s men took to the streets in June, witnesses claimed to have seen them ride in the same armored vehicles used by the national police and special security forces. Justice Minister Lucmane Delile denounced the gangs and ordered the national police to pursue them; within hours, Moïse fired him.”
Dupain’s article was written in the context of the G9 engaging in massive attacks against the community in Bel Air over the last two weeks. These attacks have displaced thousands of people, many of whom are now living in a soccer field in Solino. Cherizier is not hiding – indeed, he regularly appears in the streets, and moves freely despite an active arrest warrant.
Meanwhile, members of the national police have violently protested the arrest of police captain Pascal Alexandre, driving through Port-au-Prince setting cars afire, and even torching the office that archives voter registrations. This so-called Fantom 509 force has become a frightening presence in the capital, and remains unchallenged by Moise and his allies.
For his part, Moise has responded to the moment by trying to consolidate his position. Ruling by decree since January – there are only 11 elected officials serving in office in Haiti right now – he has pressed forward with an electoral commission and set of constitutional reforms that would strengthen the presidency. The electoral commission is devoid of the usual representatives of civil society, and has been denounced by the opposition. Three weeks ago, the head of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince bar association, Monferrier Dorval, was assassinated in front of his home just hours after giving a radio interview in which he expressed doubts about constitutional reforms being proposed by the government.
Into this setting the U.S. State Department has entered with the kind of patronizing rhetoric and threats we have come to expect. A State Department official stated “Frankly, I have to say I’m a little bit tired of every group, every opposition party in Haiti saying, ‘Well, I won’t appoint my person,’ or ‘We won’t have an election,’ or ‘We won’t run in this until you meet all of my political demands…That’s not democracy. And so we are quite insistent on this, and it’s going to start to have consequences for those who stand in the way of it.” So, the U.S. government’s position is that the opposition must allow the PHTK and Moise to consolidate its power, “or else.” The U.S. government, it is worth noting, is the chief bankroll behind Haiti’s national police:
Earlier this month, the State Department notified Congress that it was reallocating $8 million from last year’s budget to support the HNP. Since Trump took office, the US has nearly quadrupled its support to Haiti’s police — from $2.8 million in 2016 to more than $12.4 million last year. With the recent reallocation, the figure this year will likely be even higher. US funding for the Haitian police constitutes more than 10 percent of the institution’s overall budget.
So, as thousands come to the street with vision, with hope, and, for some, in desperation, demanding a revolution of political and economic forces, they face not just the local bourgeoisie and their armed defenders, but the U.S. government, with it’s bankroll, weapons and saccharine imperial pronouncements about good government. Pierre Esperance of the RNNDH toldEtant Dupain, “The worst part is that the international community continues to support a government that is in bed with gangs and is responsible for nine massacres in the country. I have not seen anything like it since the departure of Jean Claude Duvalier.”
Finally, responding to the State Department, Bob Maguire said, “This thing about ‘It’s going to have consequences for those who stand in the way,’ well, it already has consequences….They are getting shot. They are getting beat up and they’ve been demonstrating in the streets for years about the lack of any kind of responsible democracy in the country. These are people who are already suffering the consequences of Haiti’s failure.” This failure is bought and paid for by the U.S. government.
Are we capable of rediscovering that each of us belongs to the same species, that we have an indivisible bond with all life? Perhaps that is the question – the very last – before we draw our last dying breath. Achille Mbembe, The Universal Right to Breathe (translated Caroline Shread)
Masak is a small village that straddles the border of the Northwest and Artibonite departments in northern Haiti. Over the years the division of Masak and surrounding areas across departments has underscored an intra-communal conflict going back generations. Young people today have no idea how it started, but from time to time, fighting will break out, and they get drawn in. Today, however, the intensity of the violence is magnified by the availability of high-powered weapons, and the general environment of insecurity driven by armed groups who operate in a space of impunity – often protected by political actors, or facing a police force ill equipped and unwilling to help.
The latest round of violence was kicked off when a young woman from the north was robbed on one of the mountain trails that connect Masak to La Pierre and Mayombe in the communal section of Pendus. This was in March, and over the next several months, fighting led to the burning of nearly 50 homes in the area. In mid-August, during a particularly intense weekend, 22 houses were burned and at least five people were killed. One estimate of the total number of people killed in the recent fighting is 21. People have died from gunshot wounds and smoke inhalation. Some show signs of having been beaten. The armed groups have also stolen livestock, leaving displaced families with nothing.
As a result of the violence, people have fled the mountain area near Masak for nearby La Pierre, the main population base of Pendus. The refugees in La Pierre report preparing “go bags” so they can leave immediately with some basic items if the gangs come out of the mountain to attack. Father Sylvio opened St. Joseph’s Church to young people to use as a school over the summer, and has invited students to join with others at the parish grade school in La Pierre. As a result, the school has doubled the number of students in some grade levels. The school’s presence is taken as a positive sign, demonstrating Father Sylvio’s commitment to the area, and so the people are standing with Father Sylvio for now.
Three weeks ago Father Sylvio organized a conference on conflict resolution with community leaders from the mountain areas near Masak. Following the meeting, someone leaked the names of the attendees to gang leaders, and several were then attacked, including one who was shot. Many of the leaders are now ¨mawon¨ or hiding deeper in the mountains.
Meanwhile, in early September, Father Sylvio made an official report of the violence to the local police. Geri Lanham, who works with Father Sylvio through an education program, reports, “When he described the guns that the bandits are carrying, the local PNH [Haitian National Police] said that they can’t do anything because they already know that they are outgunned.” Father Sylvio also approached a military police unit stationed in Gonaives. They were aware of the conflict, but noted the last time they got engaged, one of their officers was shot. They are said to be investigating, including links to weapons being trafficked across the border with the Dominican Republic.
For now, the community waits. In Pendus, the sound of gunfire can be heard coming from the mountains most nights. The gangs seem to have plenty of ammunition. Meanwhile, in Pendus, as in much of Haiti, everyone else seems to be on their own. There is little expectation that the state will step-in, and, even if it did, no one is particularly excited about inviting a large scale police operation. The struggle in Pendus is now one for recognition. For the lives lost, and more so for those that remain. A friend working in the community writes, “they want to have a resolution so that they can return to their communities up in Massak and Mawotye and not be afraid that they might have to run from La Pierre in the middle of the night under a hail of bullets. They want to be able to plant in their gardens and send their children out to play without the background noise of gunshots reverberating from farther up the mountain.” Put another way, the struggle is simply to have the right to breathe freely, to live, recognized and protected.
On June 23, the United States’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported Emmanuel “Toto” Constant to Haiti. Constant was arrested as he arrived in Port-au-Prince, based on a 2000 conviction for the massacre of political opponents at Raboteau, Haiti. In 1994, at the time of the massacre, Constant was head of a paramilitary organization called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which is known to have engaged in widespread human rights violations, including murder, rape, and torture. When U.S. forces reinstated president Aristide in October 1994, they allowed many leaders of the military government that had ousted him in 1991 to escape – including Constant, who eventually ended up in the United States. Constant has spent the last 12 years in a prison in New York – not for human rights violations, but for mortgage fraud. Now back in Haiti, he has the right to a new trial to challenge his in absentia conviction in 2000. Constant is currently being held at a prison in Saint-Marc. Whether he is re-tried or released on a technicality is now a question of great concern. Constant has many political allies in the current government. The state judiciary is effectively shuttered at the moment due to a national strike. So it is hard to know when he will be brought before a judge and the process, whatever form it takes, begins to unfold. That judicial process will take place in Haiti, as it should. The 2000 Raboteau massacre trial itself provides an example of how this can be done – ensuring due process for Constant and, hopefully, justice for his many victims. But Constant’s retrial is not just Haiti’s responsibility. Constant’s position in the coup government from 1991-1994 and the crimes for which he is responsible are hard to separate from decades of U.S. intervention in Haiti. The army itself was created by U.S. Marine commanders, for the specific purpose of quelling domestic dissent to the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. From that point until the army was disbanded in 1995 by President Aristide, it served to shield a small, United States-aligned elite and their business interests from popular mobilization. The United States trained Haiti’s military leadership throughout, including Raoul Cedras who directed the coup d’etat against President Aristide in 1991. The United States also trained Haiti’s intelligence services, and it is known that Constant was on the C.I.A. payroll until spring of 1994 when he was dropped, according to a Clinton administration official, because, “He was beginning to get involved in things that could blow back quite badly.” The Raboteau massacre happened in April of 1994. A classified C.I.A. report, partially released and heavily redacted during a 1996 civil trial against FRAPH, also indicates that the agency knew of Constant and FRAPH’s involvement in the 1993 murder of Guy Malary, Haiti’s Minister of Justice.More direct U.S. involvement in the formation of the FRAPH has been hinted at since this time. Allan Nairn, writing for The Nation in October of 1994 reported on extensive ties between FRAPH and U.S. agencies, beginning with Constant. For one, Constant was not merely an informant, but part of a team involved in training Haiti’s National intelligence Service (S.I.N.) in counterinsurgency. During this time he got to know Col. Patrick Collins, U.S. military attaché, and Donald Terry, the C.I.A. station chief who Nairn characterized as “running the S.I.N.” According to Nairn, Constant claimed, “Collins began pushing him to organize a front ‘that could balance the Aristide movement’ and do ‘intelligence’ work against it. He said that their discussions had begun soon after Aristide fell in September 1991. They resulted in Constant forming what later evolved into the FRAPH, a group that was known initially as the Haitian Resistance League.” Given these ties, it is not surprising that when Aristide was reinstated, U.S. forces seized documents from FRAPH headquarters and took them out of the country. From 1995 until the trial in 2000, attorneys representing the victims of the Raboteau massacre were unable to get access to these documents. When the Clinton administration did finally release some documents at the last minute, they were heavily redacted. Haiti’s National Commission for Truth and Justice, whose report was issued in February of 1996, was likewise denied access. It is important that Constant be retried. As part of that process, however, it is equally important that the United States government fully cooperate and share documents in its possession about Constant, FRAPH, and the military leadership that oversaw the coup regime from 1991 to 1994. The United States government was, at a minimum, aware of Constant’s crimes, and continued to shield him. At worst, U.S. military and intelligence personnel facilitated those crimes. Either way, this makes Constant our problem as well. We owe the people of Haiti, who suffered under the coup regime and Constant’s paramilitary violence, a full accounting – wherever that leads. After 25 years, what better time than now?
On Monday, June 15 bulldozers razed the community of Shada II in Cap-Haitien, along Haiti’s northern coast. Close to 1,500 families lost their homes as a result. Apparently none were notified in advance of the destruction, nor were any compensated for the loss. This inexplicable act was officially carried out in retaliation for a gang assault that left a police officer and five other people dead days before – but this is either not at all true, or, at best, a very partial explanation. The largest gang in Shada is assumed to be politically aligned, and thus this may well have been in part retaliation. However, that hardly suffices as an explanation for putting 1,500 families out of their homes in the midst of a pandemic.
The organization SOIL has been working in Shada II since 2004 issued a statement about the demolition (full statement here):
At this critical moment in global history, when the world is grappling with the combined public health emergencies of COVID-19 and systemic racism, we feel it is critical that we call attention to human rights issues that impact the communities we serve. There are many unanswered questions about what happened in Shada II last week, and we urge human rights groups to investigate. At the same time, SOIL stands in solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who lost their homes and belongings, and we recommit our organization to sustained social change. True change demands that all stakeholders come to the table to shine a light on the injustices suffered by vulnerable communities caught in the crosshairs of larger political, economic, and social forces, particularly at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for compassionate ingenuity and proactive support to those most at risk.
We will continue to report on this as more details unfold and the community regroups to decide what comes next.
Toto Constant is Back in Haiti
Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States to Haiti on Tuesday, June 23. Constant is the former leader of the FRAPH, a notorious paramilitary organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people while the country was under military rule following the coup against Aristide in 1991. Constant fled to the United States when Aristide was reinstated in 1995 where he remained until this week. Meanwhile, in Haiti, Constant was convicted in 2000 in absentia for his involvement in the massacre at Raboteau. Despite the conviction, Constant was allowed to remain in the United States. Early efforts to remove him stalled, and most assume he was being protected as a former CIA asset. However, he was later convicted of real estate fraud in New York and imprisoned. For many the hope was he would remain in prison.
After serving 12 years of a 37 year sentence, Constant was released from prison and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reports that Constant was to be deported emerged in early May. Over the course of several weeks ICE would put Constant on a flight manifest, to later remove him. Constant was finally deported this Tuesday. What does this mean?
Constant was arrested upon his arrival under the 2000 conviction which still stands. However, Constant is entitled to a new trial. Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph (both of whom were involved in landmark human rights trials in the late 1990s that led to the 2000 conviction of Constant and others) published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that explains what is at stake.
A credible prosecution of Constant must respect both his rights and those of the Raboteau Massacre’s victims, who have official status in the case under Haiti’s “civil party” system. The victims are entitled to a robust prosecution that presents all the available evidence, as well as the right to notice of hearings, to participate in some of them and to appeal rulings that infringe on their rights. The original Raboteau trial is a good benchmark: It included expert testimony from international forensic and military experts, documents from the military archives and extensive victim and witness testimony.
The passage of time since Constant’s crimes in Haiti does not prevent his prosecution. His death squad’s murder and torture of civilians were both widespread and systematic, placing them squarely within the definition of crimes against humanity, so the statute of limitations cannot apply. Constant was convicted under a command responsibility theory, and the evidence was mostly documents, which are as credible as ever.
For now, the hope is that Constant remains in custody. He has many former political allies in positions of power under the current government -and should he be released, could wreak havoc. The U.S. has a role here. In 2000 the Clinton administration stalled releasing documents related to FRAPH activity that had been taken by US forces from FRAPH headquarters in 1995 during the operation to reinstate Aristide. Once documents were released they were heavily redacted. The U.S. must support requests for evidence this time around.
Deportation flights continue…for now
As indicated by Toto Constant’s arrival in Haiti, deportation flights are continuing. We encourage everyone to continue to reach out to members of Congress and press for an end to these flights.
If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your member of the House and ask them to support legislation to end deportations to Haiti. The Haiti Deportation Relief Act was introduced by Frederica Wilson and has the support of committee and subcommittee chairs on the Foreign Relations committee – which means it could get a hearing, committee vote and make it to the floor of the House if people show enough support. It clearly will have a hard time moving in the Senate – but we must press when and where we can!
In addition, the Quixote Center’s Executive Director, John Marchese, was one of 360+ human rights activists and other notables to sign a letter that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, including the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, last week. The letter was organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. You can read that here. You can also then print this letter, and send it with a message to your members of Congress to end deportation flights! Find their address here.
One of the most obvious ways in which ICE continues to thumb its bureaucratic nose at decency and common sense is their policy of continuing deportations amidst a global pandemic. Based on information from public flight tracking websites, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has identified 330 likely deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. There were three flights yesterday – two to Mexico, one to the Dominican Republic.
We know that these flights have sent people who tested positive for COVID-19 to Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador, Jamaica, India and Haiti. Likely, people with the virus have been deported to most other places these planes fly. At this point it would be nearly impossible to assemble a flight where no one had been exposed, as coronavirus is now present throughout the ICE detention network. The testing regime is insufficient. ICE does not test everyone before they board a deportation flight, and those who are tested are given a 15-minute, “rapid test” that has been demonstrated to have a high false negative rate.
The chorus of people who have asked these flights to be halted is significant: Editorial boards, members of Congress and nearly every non-governmental organization working on immigration policy or in a country impacted by these flights. For more background on these flights and the problems associated with them you can read our reporting on this blog, Jack Johnson’s research article on the CEPR blog, or Daniella Burgi-Palomino’s opinion piece on Truthout here.
The latest effort demanding a halt to these flights is a letter to State Department officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. This letter is demanding that deportation flights to Haiti in particular be halted throughout the duration of the current health crisis. The letter was released today. From the Haitian Bridge Alliance press release:
Today Ibram X Kendi, Danny Glover, Edwidge Danticat, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Opal Tometi, Guerline Jozef, Dr. Barbara Ransby PhD, Randall Robinson, Jackson Browne, and Rainn Wilson, along with 359 other prominent human rights, humanitarian and racial justice leaders signed a letter urging the United States to immediately halt deportations to Haiti during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf states: “Deportations export COVID-19 throughout the region and put countless lives at risk….The capacity of Haiti’s health system to respond to COVID-19 cases is already at its limit,” and a spike of infections could “destroy an already weak economy and exacerbate political instability.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sent six deportation flights to Haiti since March 18, despite the serious risk of infection to deportees and transmission upon arrival. At least eight deportees who had tested positive for COVID-19 by ICE were deported to Haiti on May 26. One of them complained of symptoms the night before he was deported. Given the severe limitations on the availability of COVID testing and the unreliability of test results, “there is simply no safe way to deport persons.”
ICE told the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 2, 2020, that it does not test all detainees before deporting them. The letter notes that of the 30 Haitians deported on May 26, 14 were not tested before deportation, and the other 16 were tested with the “15 minute test” which the Food and Drug Administration considers unreliable because it gives “false negatives.” The lack of reliable testing violates explicit promises given by the United States to Haiti that it would test all deportees within 72 hours of their departure.
What can you do….
Frederica Wilson has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to halt all deportations to Haiti until the health crisis in both countries is over. You can click on the button below send a message asking your member of Congress to co-sponsor this legislation.
Geri Lanham works with our partners based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepin, Haiti (just outside of Gros Morne). She offers an update below on the current situation in the area. Gros Morne has had one confirmed case as of June 11, 2020. The person, who was also diabetic, has died*. The community is nevertheless feeling the impact of the pandemic on everything from school schedules to food prices. Included are photos from our emergency seed distribution, ongoing as the rains have begun. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts – Tom Ricker
In Gros Morne we do not yet have a confirmed case of covid-19, but people are feeling the impact of the global pandemic. Community organizations created handwashing stations out of buckets and spigots, and placed them along the main streets in town. Local bank branches were some of the earliest adopters of covid prevention measures like washing hands and wearing facemasks, and they are now employing social distancing so that people can continue to utilize their vital services in this cash based society. Since many family members who went abroad now find themselves out of work, remittances are down for families back home in Haiti. Since the president officially closed the borders in a country where imports make up a large portion of the goods in the market, it has been more complicated to supply basic goods via the new guidelines of who and what can enter the territory.
Many Haitians who entered the Dominican Republic for work in the past few months have made the decision to return to Haiti since the health crisis lockdown has been more severe across the border. Thousands of them have returned via irregular border crossings, which means that very few of them have gone into quarantine. Since there are over 10,000 confirmed cases in the Dominican Republic, this unregulated population of returnees poses a risk to the fragile healthcare system, especially since some of them are returning to the countryside to places like Gros Morne where healthcare resources are ill-equipped to manage an outbreak of covid-19. Thanks to community education campaigns, people here have tentatively begun to wear locally-made reusable cloth face masks, although practicing social distancing is practically impossible in the stressed parameters of the large local market and on public transport.
As the exchange rate continues to rise north of 100 Haitian gourde to 1 US dollar, everyone is feeling the pressure of decreased purchasing power in the local markets. School teachers who have been out of work since 20 March are struggling to provide basic food for their families. Prices for basic goods like a bag of rice increase weekly, at a time when fewer and fewer families have the economic capacity to buy in bulk for a discounted price. Basic monthly provisions of rice, beans and oil now cost the equivalent of $50 USD. For teachers who were making about $100 USD per month, they now have to spend 50% of their income on basic food. and that does not include any spices or vegetables.
Many families, especially in the countryside, rely at least partially upon income from their gardens to support their families. As a result of global climate change, the seasonal rains were slow to come this year. That means that the spring planting season was pushed back a few weeks in Gros Morne, which in turn increases the weeks of hunger that families will have to endure between planting and harvest. And this year the rains started and then promptly became irregular to the point that farmers who planted at the first rain lost some of their crop if they were not able to provide an alternate water source for irrigation of their fields.
Schools have been closed for over 2 months. After the president announced that the schools and churches would remain closed until at least 20 July, the Ministry of Education presented a plan that would see schools opening at the beginning of August or the beginning of September, depending upon how the situation develops or deteriorates in the next few months. Due to a lack of access to regular electricity, it has been a challenge to support distance learning initiatives. Some schools have been able to take advantage of whatsapp, google classroom, and other technology to enable them to continue to provide classroom content for their students, but they are very much in the minority.
In Gros Morne, we are launching a series of courses on the radio intended for secondary school students. The Ministry of Education maintains that once the students have returned to school, they will take official state exams after about 50 days of classroom instruction. Somehow during that time they are supposed to absorb, process, and comprehend the content that they were supposed to cover over the course of the more than 100 days of instruction they have missed this academic year between the locked country political debacle and now the coronavirus crisis. The math does not seem to add up, but the schools have to do something to salvage this academic year. Due to lack of electricity, it will be impossible to reach 100% of the students, but for those who are able to tune in this will at least provide a starting point as we start to look toward the future that will at some point involve classroom learning again.
There is a sense of being in a holding pattern that involves suffering no matter what. People are trying to be responsible and take precautions to protect themselves and their families from contracting covid-19. But as they attempt to do this, they do not have much support, if any, from the state or other sources to enable them to provide the basics for their families. Students are suffering as they must sit and home and wait for the education structure to welcome them back to class, and parents are suffering as they must venture out to provide for their families while they know the risk and the lack of medical services if they do get sick. What little they are able to do still equals the current reality of families who are suffering from hunger and lack of resources in the midst of a pandemic.
This passage was updated since the article was originally published to reflect the one confirmed death in the area.
The world is facing a global hunger crisis of “biblical” proportions, at least that was the headline for CNN’s report on the looming impact of coronavirus on food supply chains and health systems around the world. Does biblical mean really bad? Or huge? Or end of times? Not clear. But certainly the point was global hunger was about to spike. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the world was facing a crisis of maybe pre-biblical proportions – or more Hebrew Scriptures than Revelations-level stuff. The World Food Program’s report for the coming year initially identified nearly 130 million people facing a crisis level or worse for insecurity around the globe – meaning they either did not have enough food, or could only eat by foregoing other necessities. These pre-COVID numbers were modified upwards as borders began to shut and economies slowed. The World Food Program in essence, doubled its estimate of people facing crisis level food shortages, with the risk of perhaps 36 countries seeing famine for some of their people. Currently there are 10 countries in the world where more than a million people are at crisis levels of food insecurity, and thus on the brink of falling into widespread famine.
Haiti is one of them.
The World Food Program tracks crises across different levels of food insecurity. From Phase 1 (None, or minimal) to Phase 5 (Famine). As the map above shows, almost all of Haiti’s departments are at Phase 3 (Crisis). As noted, this means there is either not enough food, or people can only eat enough if they forego other necessities. Across the country 2.6 million people are at this level. Another 1.1 million people are facing Phase 4, or emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning there are large gaps in meeting daily requirements that are reflected in wide spread malnutrition. In total, then 3.7 million people are at crisis level of higher.
Another 3.2 million people are at Phase 2 – or stressed, meaning households are barely finding enough to eat. The households at Phase 2 are at high risk of sliding into Phase 3 as the economy slows and food prices increase.
All of which means, in Haiti, 35% of households are currently facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse and the prospect of that number reaching 65% amidst the economic contraction associated with COVID-19 is very high. This would, of course, also mean that people currently facing more extreme shortages will see their situation worsen. Famine is a very real possibility in parts of the country.
The roots of this crisis run deep. It is widely understood that the current food crisis in Haiti rests on historical factors, from the re-engineering of Haiti’s economy as an agro-export platform under the U.S. occupation 100 years ago, to the dismantling of protections for domestic food production in the late 1990s, to the recent collapse of their currency, the Haitian gourde, and spikes in fuel prices. Another collapse, that of the rural economy in Haiti, contributed to the movement of people to increasingly crowded and under serviced cities, thus magnifying the tragedy of the earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The point is that these deep structural changes have reshaped Haiti and will not be transformed any time soon. Though, perhaps, as the current crisis unveils the global forces undermining food security, world leaders will take it more seriously in Haiti and elsewhere. Maybe.
Meanwhile, the primary countervailing force has been the organization of people in rural areas seeking to find sustainable pathways out of the crisis. The combined efforts of peasant associations, rural workers, reforestation initiatives and youth organizing are laying the foundation for a different kind of rural ecology.
Our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is one small part of this nationwide effort. You can explore the map below to get a sense of the scope of the program.
In the coming week we are making a special appeal to support an emergency fund that will support the purchase of seeds to disseminate to small farmers in the region. The program already runs a seed bank. Our goal is to boost supplies for the seed bank so that the team can expand efforts to deliver seeds for low or no cost as soon as the spring rains begin. Planting now, means more food in three months. You can join in this effort by making a donation here.
As of today, Haiti’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 are currently 43 with another 485 suspected cases awaiting test results. Three people have died. While actual infections may be much higher, as widespread testing is not yet available, certainly things could be worse. The Dominican Republic has over 4,000 confirmed cases and 200 deaths. Haiti’s health infrastructure has been decimated by decades of structural adjustment policies and demands for reduced budgets. So it is not in a position to manage thousands of cases – another reason to suspend deportation flights!
Deportation flights – more to come?
Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 61 people to Haiti. The move caused a huge stir, leading to outrage among members of Congress and multiple stories in the media. Of course, the U.S. has been deporting people throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the vast majority to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Indeed, 12,000 people have been deported to Guatemala since January. Just this week, ICE deported 182 people in one day on two different flights. On one of those flights, 44 people tested positive. On April 12, Guatemala had 167 cases of COVID-19 confirmed nationwide. WIth one deportation flight, the U.S. government increased infections in Guatemala by 25%. Though there is controversy over where the flight originated, flight tracking indicates clearly it was from Alexandria, LA and ICE’s staging facility there. That facility has the highest ICE staff infection number in the country (currently at 13). It is the same staging facility where the flight to Haiti departed from the previous week.
In the last week, 27 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and other House leadership demanding that any future coronavirus legislation include a ban on deportation flights to Haiti. We agree, and have signed onto a letter being circulated by the Haiti Bridge Alliance calling for a suspension of deportation flights, as well as mass release from ICE detention facilities. If you represent an organization, please consider signing onto this letter until April 21.
That said, ultimately we need to stop all deportation flights, and stop them now. Another flight is likely scheduled this week to the Domincian Republic – some reports indicate it will stop in Haiti first. Further flights are planned to Ecuador and Colombia Flights to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador continue unabated for now. This cannot continue.
U.S. blocking exports of medical supplies
Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean will NOT be able to get protective equipment and medical supplies from the United States. From the Miami Herald:
Caribbean nations struggling to save lives and prevent the deadly spread of the coronavirus in their vulnerable territories should not look to the United States as they seek to acquire scarce but much-needed protective gear to fight the global pandemic
A spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to the Miami Herald that the agency is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prevent distributors from diverting personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as face masks and gloves, overseas. Ventilators also are on the prohibited list.
The move stems from authorizations under the Defense Production Act which allows the federal government to take more control over procurement of emergency supplies. It also allows the president to ban the export of certain items. Customs and Border Patrol is enforcing this in regards to ventilators, marks and other protective items.
In Haiti, domestic production of masks and other protective gear was launched two weeks ago to both produce needed materials and keep some factories at work.
Now Haiti’s government seems set to begin reopening garment factories. The prime minister announced this week that starting April 20, some factories would be reopened. In the short term, about 30% of the sector’s capacity would be reactivated – to allow for more space within facilities. Garment production makes up 90% of the value of Haiti’s exports.
Update from Gros Morne
In the section of Haiti where we work, in and around the community of Gros Morne, there are no confirmed cases, but people remain cautious. The agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center have been delivering seeds to farmers throughout the region. The rains have not yet come, but when they do, we want farmers to have what they need to plant, so there will be more food in the area in 3 months. Hunger has been a constant specter for rural communities over the last several years. A large bag of rice is now selling for 2,000 Haitian gourde at the local market – over $20.
As the team travels in the region they are also disseminating information about COVID-19 and preventive, sanitary measures for reducing the spread of the disease. Check out the map below to see where we are working.
As of Thursday, March 26, Haiti had eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. The Ministry of Health is tracking the location of confirmed and suspected cases and providing other updates here. As with everywhere the virus has appeared, the principal advice is social distancing and taking extra steps to ensure that hands remain clean. Handwashing stations have popped up all over – as potable, running water is in short supply in many parts of the country. Schools, churches and most businesses have been directed to close. It is difficult for people working in the informal economy to simply stay home, of course, because this means no income at all. Markets and street vendors are thus still operating, and people everywhere still need to go out for food.
International travel has largely been suspended. The U.S. government was working to get those U.S. citizens who wanted to leave Haiti out – the last scheduled flights were on Friday as I write, but may get extended. The border with the Domincian Republic is closed, sort of. There have been many more cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the Dominican Republic, and thus the lock-down has been more severe and more severely enforced. As a result, many Haitians have been returning to Haiti. There are efforts at health screening – at least taking temperatures – at official points of entry. But as the rest of the world has discovered, although slowing travel might help, it is nearly impossible to stop it. Supply chains for food and medicine, minimally, require people to cross over borders. And many people are just trying to get home.
Food shortages, already impacting close to one third of the population directly before COVID-19, will be made worse by travel and work restrictions. Prices have already begun to skyrocket – with a can of rice costing 600 gourdes (that is almost $6). The daily minimum wage in Haiti is 420 gourdes for apparel workers – far less for agricultural workers. So, for Haitians with employment, they need to work more than a full day, in some cases two days, to buy a can of rice. Many of these people will be out of work soon. In the United States someone earning the federal minimum wage would work 40 minutes to buy the same can of rice – except that by volume rice is even more expensive in Haiti right now. Just something to keep in mind.
As I feel compelled to remind people, U.S. policy lies immediately behind this crisis. From The Haitian Times:
In 1995, at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti lowered import tariffs on rice from 50% to 3%, as part of a structural adjustment program. The following year, President Bill Clinton’s Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act directed subsidies to U.S. rice farmers. By 2013, a nation that once grew most of its own food was importing 80% of its rice from the U.S. The policies eventually led to job losses in Haiti’s agriculture sector and swelling of the urban population.
The same article also examines the impact of these institutions and conditions on the health sector:
In addition to reduced tariffs on imports, the short term impacts of structural adjustment in Haiti included cuts to government expenditures in health and education, according to a 2011 paper published in the journal of the Japan Medical Association. National health care spending has dropped dramatically in recent years, from 16.6% of Haiti’s budget in 2004, to 7% in 2019.
Dr. Youri Louis, a physician in Haiti and leadership committee coordinator for the nonprofit EqualHealth, which supports medical and nursing education, said both international policy and government inaction are to blame for Haiti’s lack of investment in health services. By 2013, he noted, 64% of Haiti’s national health budget came from international aid, including NGOs.
Haiti’s health sector has 30 ICU beds. On Twitter this morning Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald was trying to confirm that the country had 50 ventilators – as she could only document the location of 24. Facing such grave shortages, one does not need to think very hard to understand the frustration people feel over $2 billion in theft of Petrocaribe funds by members of the current governing party and others. Or, I would hope, the anger against the “legal” blackmail perpetuated by international financial institutions and the U.S. government which has drained Haiti of desperately needed money for domestic investment.
Be clear: foreign aid in no way makes up for this. Capital flows in Haiti are negative – meaning more money leaves the country than comes in. In terms of private investment, $100 million more left the country in repatriated profits than arrived as new investment last year. The only significant in-flow of funds that might help now are remittances – but they will suffer as well, since Haitians working in the U.S. are also facing layoffs or cut hours.
For our program partners in Gros Morne, all of this means that the work must slow down. Training and workshops and other group activities have obviously been suspended. People still need to eat, however, and so the outreach program director is delivering seeds to program partners in the hopes that when the rains begin farmers will have supplies. Planting in the coming weeks means there will be more food in two or three months. Right now that is of critical concern.
We are launching an interactive map so folks can view different parts of the program. This map was just begun this week and is a work in progress. We will be adding photos and videos in the days and weeks ahead, as well as pinning new project sites. Check it out now! If you have a connection to the program to share, or a question, let us know in the comments below.