The song remains the same: The United States in Haiti this week

This week a new interim government was established in Haiti and the United States appointed a special envoy to represent US interests in the effort to move forward on elections, provide security and to offer support for the investigation into Moise’s assassination. Along the way, the Biden administration demonstrated once again the inability of the US government to listen to anybody standing outside the echo chamber clamoring about the indispensable role of the United States in finding a solution. As we’ll see, it is not as though alternative messages from Haitian civil society have been hidden. If there is one positive in the US response thus far it is that there are no occupation troops being deployed – not yet at least. Whether this is an indication that the administration is actually listening, or simply reluctant to engage the optics of US troops moving from Afghanistan to Haiti, is an open question.

A “new” government

Shortly after president Moise was assassinated on July 7, 2021, acting prime minister Claude Joseph took the reins of government. Joseph, the former foreign minister, had been appointed by Moise as an interim prime minister earlier this year but was replaced with Ariel Henry by Moise the day before his death. Henry was never officially sworn in, and thus Joseph, with the support of Haiti National Police head Leonel Charles, declared himself in charge, and was recognized as such by US appointed UN diplomat Helen La Lime a couple of days later. Meanwhile, Henry claimed interim status for himself. Along with the ten members of Haiti’s senate that are technically still in office (though, absent a quorum, the senate cannot actually do business), Henry formed a government with Joseph Lambert as interim president and himself as interim prime minister. Behind the scenes, businessman Reginald Boulos supported the arrangement. It came to light that he had already hired a lobbyist to press the case for a new government with US policy makers before Moise was killed. 

The Lambert/Henry formation never actually took power, but the United States, fearing further turmoil (or more to the point, the lack of negotiating partner to dominate), stepped into the Joseph/Henry divide to negotiate a backroom deal last weekend that led to a new interim government with Henry as prime minister, and Joseph back in his role as Foreign Minister. Jake Johnston, writing in the American Prospect this week, says, “What this really means is that Haiti’s political class is dividing the spoils of government out of public view once again, and negotiating with foreign powers to ensure that whatever emerges is recognized by the international community.” Indeed, in The New York Times this week one can read about how various factions of Haiti’s elite are competing for legitimacy – in Washington – by hiring lobbying firms. 

With a new government in place – not a government with any public legitimacy, or one that emerges from a constitutionally recognized process – the United States can now proceed. And so, on Thursday, Biden appointed Daniel Lewis Foote as special envoy to Haiti. Foote is a career diplomat that once served as Deputy Chief of Mission for the US embassy in Haiti, and, more to the point in this case, was once acting head of the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. Foote’s mission:

The Special Envoy will engage with Haitian and international partners to facilitate long-term peace and stability and support efforts to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections. He will also work with partners to coordinate assistance efforts in several areas, including humanitarian, security, and investigative assistance. Additionally, the Special Envoy will engage stakeholders in civil society and the private sector as we pursue Haitian-led solutions to the many pressing challenges facing Haiti.

There is another way

While this is going on, a conference of civil society leaders representing the Commission for a Haitian Led Solution is being convened this weekend to craft proposals for a more participatory transition plan. Johnston notes:  

This civil society–led organization formed many months ago, bringing together more than 300 organizations representing unions, farmers, churches, anti-corruption activists, feminist movements, human rights organizations, and many others. The conference would have begun earlier, but hotels refused to provide space. Many participants have received pushback from political leaders across the spectrum, and for a clear reason: The commission’s work is a threat to the political class. It is also a threat to the holding of elections later this year.

However, the United States, with Foote pressing the issue, seems determined to press forward with elections in Haiti. The single minded mantra concerning elections is increasingly out of step with the voices of many Haitians, who have been arguing for a different path for months now. This week Haitians were making their case in the United States.

One Wednesday, the Haitian Studies Association, Center for Economic and Policy Research, and other groups sponsored a panel discussion with speakers drawn from Haiti’s vibrant civil society, including the Rosy Auguste Ducena of RNDDH, Velina Elysée Charlier, Nou Pap Dòmi, Magali Comeau Denis, Komisyon pou Jwenn yon Solisyon Ayisyen, Mario Joseph, BAI, Sabine Lamour, SOFA, Josué Merilien, UNNOH/ Konbit and David Oxygène, MOLEGHAF.

The presentation can be watched on Youtube here:

Members of the Commission also briefed members of congress this week. Other members of civil society have met with administration officials in the United States.

The Haiti Response Coalition also released its statement, signed by 146 organizations, calling for policy makers to listen to Haitian voices, including on the question of elections. The letter calls for, 

Ensuring that conditions for fair, participatory, and credible elections are in place before rushing Haiti to the polls. Elections are a fundamental part of the democratic process. However, they must be free and fair and perceived as legitimate in order to strengthen democracy. Elections will not be free and fair without inclusive voter registration, an independent and legitimate electoral body, and the security necessary not only to vote, but also to campaign leading up to election day. Meaningful participation requires that women and other marginalized groups also participate in the electoral process. A race to hold elections on an internationally-imposed timeline risks further eroding democracy in Haiti.  

We note that Foote’s mandate (above) says that he ”will engage stakeholders in civil society and the private sector as we pursue Haitian-led solutions.” Is this just another Democrat lifting progressive language, while bullying ahead with business as usual? Or is Biden finally listening? Of course, we will know by what the US actually does – not what its diplomats say in press releases. And thus far, Biden’s team does not seem to get it, at all. 

But maybe there is a seed here we can nurture. Afterall, what choice do we have?

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Update from Haiti: Ten days since Moise’s assassination

In the ten days since Jovenel Moise was assassinated the international media has been primarily focused on the constantly shifting details of the attack itself. The Haitian police have arrested nearly 30 people for involvement, including nearly 20 Colombians (some with US training background) apparently working under contract with a Miami based security company, run by a Venezuelan ex-pat. Several more Colombians were killed in fighting with Haiti’s police, and others remain at large. A Haitian-American doctor has been arrested as one of the possible “masterminds” behind the plot, and the head of Moise security has also been brought in for questioning. 

Meanwhile, some things remain the same…

In some ways, the division of power within Haiti looks similar to before the July 7th assassination. Claude Joseph as acting prime minister, working alongside Leonel Charles as head of the Haitian National Police, represents the continuity of Moise’s governing coalition such as it was. The political opposition situated in the remnants of Haiti’s senate have nominated Senator Lambert as acting president, and Ariel Henry as acting prime minister, proposing that they assemble an interim government to oversee elections – to be held in 2022. Finally, there are hundreds of civil society organizations who are calling to launch a participatory process of selecting an interim authority to oversee a new electoral process. 

For now, the United States and international community seem to be backing Joseph, though the US did dispatch a team to facilitate conversation between Joseph and the official political opposition. President Biden is dispatching Marines to lock down the US embassy in Port au Prince, but has indicated that more troops from the United States were “not on the agenda.” For now, then, the fear of military intervention has been forestalled. However, the voices of social movement leaders continue to be set aside by US policy makers – which is a dynamic we seek to change.

There continues to be reports of attacks in the popular neighborhoods of Port au Prince, where armed groups have been fighting for weeks now, displacing 14,000 people or more. Security concerns have made reaching some of those displaced nearly impossible for local partners. We have delivered some funding to help those displaced, and are also now raising general funds so that we can respond in other ways to the crisis as well.

A Call to Action from social movements

The message from social movement partners in Haiti and the folk we work with here in the United States is that Haitians must lead in this transition – and not just an acting prime minister. Rather calls for an inclusive process should be heeded. This week a statement was circulated for organizational signatures to lift up this central message alongside other relevant points. The statement includes the following principles to guide further action

A Haitian solution. Haitians should lead in building the path forward. Foreign actors must not impose solutions from abroad. Even prior to Moïse’s murder, Haitian organizations have been building consensus for a transitional government. Foreign governments and international institutions must not overstep their role by declaring who has authority in Haiti, particularly when that conflicts with Haitian law.

We need only look to the recent MINUSTAH mission to see that foreign military interventions fail to create lasting public democratic institutions that are necessary for any country to function. Despite spending 13 years and $7 billion — ten times Haiti’s GDP– the MINUSTAH mission left Haiti with more guns and less democracy. The mission also afflicted Haiti’s citizens with sexual exploitation and abuse, leaving behind hundreds of children fathered by peacekeepers, and was responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, killing an estimated 10,000 people.

A commitment to a participatory dempcratic process. After decades of foreign intervention and aid policies that have destabilized Haiti, each branch of the Haitian government has been systematically dismantled, and public confidence in Haiti’s governance has declined to nearly nothing. Haitian organizations and civil society have long been calling for a transition government to restore stability, basic security, and democracy. Haiti must have a transition process in order to rebuild its democratic institutions, and this process must be inclusive of all sectors of Haiti’s population. 

Ensuring that conditions for fair, participatory, and credible elections are in place before rushing Haiti to the polls. Elections are a fundamental part of the democratic process. However, they must be free and fair and perceived as legitimate in order to strengthen democracy. Elections will not be free and fair without inclusive voter registration, an independent and legitimate electoral body, and the security necessary not only to vote, but also to campaign leading up to election day. Meaningful participation requires that women and other marginalized groups also participate in the electoral process. A race to hold elections on an internationally-imposed timeline risks further eroding democracy in Haiti. 

Protection for the right to free expression and the right to life. Over the past three years, all Haitian people have learned that there is no safety; there is no guarantee that they will make it home when they leave. Human rights defenders and activists are frequent targets of threats and attacks, and essential health care workers have been injured and killed through kidnappings, attacks and gang violence. Gender-based violence, including rape, has been increasing during this crisis, and thousands of women and girls have been displaced from their homes, making them even more vulnerable. 

Three years ago, on July 6-7, 2018, the emerging evidence that government officials had stolen more than $2 billion from state coffers and rising gas prices sparked the first in a series of protests against corruption and impunity. These massive mobilizations of Haitians across class and political lines marched together to call for accountability and democracy. They were consistently met with brutal repression from the government and indifference from the international community. 

There have been 18 massacres documented in Port-au-Prince over these past three years. Perpetrators have targeted neighborhoods active in opposition protests, and have not been held accountable. Human rights groups have documented connections between officials and the armed groups responsible for these massacres, including Moïse and other government ministers.  Further, some argue that these massacres  constitute crimes against humanity. 

Recognition of how foreign interventions have contributed to current conditions in Haiti. While many are calling Haiti a “failed state”, what we see is the failure of centuries of policies imposed on Haiti by the international community, including aid policies, that prioritized foreign interests and short-term gains over sustainable democracy and prosperity for Haitians. The 2010 earthquake was an opportunity to rebuild Haiti with strong public institutions. However, despite hundreds of millions of aid dollars, Haiti’s entire public administration was outsourced to foreign institutions and NGOs. 

To read the full statement connect HERE. If your organization can sign, you can do so HERE.  The statement with signatures will begin to circulate next week, including to member delegations at the United Nations and policy makers in the United States.

Must See Webinar

Finally, the Haitian Studies Association is sponsoring a webinar with social movement leaders from Haiti on Wednesday July 21 from 11:00 to 12:30 EDT. Participants are:

Moderator: Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper, University of California, Irvine

Panelists: Rosy Auguste Ducena, RNDDH; Velina Elysée Charlier, Nou Pap Dòmi; Magalie Comeau Denis, Komisyon pou Jwenn yon Solisyon Ayisyen; Sabine Lamour, SOFA; Josué Merilien, UNNOH/ Konbit

The event is Co-Organized by the Haitian Studies Association, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Haiti Response Coalition, Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, and North American Congress on Latin America.

Click HERE to register

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Haitian civil society is clear: No Intervention, support Haitian-led solutions

Twenty-eight people have been arrested by the Haitian National Police for involvement in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse – including 2 Haitian Americans and 26 men from Colombia, some identified as former military by Colombia’s government. The arrests followed two days of confusing reports about gunfights, attackers taking shelter in the Taiwanese embassy (which is in Petionville, near Moïse’s private residence), and the burning of vehicles thought to have been used in the attack. Colombian police have been present in Haiti for some time. In terms of an official mission, at least, some were brought in to work with the Haitian National Police to assist with confronting the recent wave of kidnappings – a program coordinated by the United States International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) .

Details of the attack itself have begun to come out. Maria Abi-Habib, bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for The New York Times covered many of these details on The Daily podcast this morning. As with everything else, these details leave more questions than answers. The fact that the attackers encountered no resistance in entering Moïse’s residences is of huge concern. Former Senator Steven Benoît appeared on the radio program in Haiti on Friday, and said that Moïse had been killed by his own security people, and that the Colombians had been set up. Le Noveulliste reports that the two Haitian Americans arrested claimed to have been translators, and that the units had gone to the presidential palace to arrest Moïse, not to kill him. 

Whatever the truth is, it is clear that the quick arrests conducted by Haitian National Police have not settled the question.  As Woy magazine noted on Friday, 

Many Haitians were quick to call out the irony of the Haitian National Police (PNH) being so quick to find those allegedly responsible for Moïse’s death as many previous high-profile killings, including that of Mèt Monferrier Dorval (who was shot and killed in his home which is in the same neighborhood as Moïse’s home), Evelyne Sincere, Gregory St. Hilaire, and even that of their very own colleagues who died during the Vilaj de Dye mission remain unsolved. There’s also the case of Matisan, Site Solèy and other parts of the greater Port-au-Prince region are still under the complete control of gangs, crippling parts of the capital and displacing thousands of men, women and children in the process.

Meanwhile, the international response has consisted largely of statements of shock and concern, alongside appeals for calm and condemnations of Moïse’s murder. The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday to discuss Haiti in a closed session. Following the session, Helen La Lime, who heads the UN office in Haiti, said that the government has requested more security support.

The United States Department of State held a press briefing on the situation in Haiti on Wednesday afternoon. The DOS spokesperson indicated that the US still supports Haiti sticking with the elections timeline – a position that was reiterated by Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s Minister for Elections, to The Guardian

Pierre, the elections minister, said on Thursday night that a presidential vote as well as a constitutional referendum that had been slated for 26 September before the assassination of Moïse would go ahead as planned.

“It [the vote] was not for Jovenel Moïse as president – it was a requirement to get a more stable country, a more stable political system, so I think we will continue with that,” Pierre said. He added that preparations had long been under way and millions of dollars disbursed to carry out the votes.

The Washington Post’s editorial board, which had been increasingly militant in its call for foreign intervention in Haiti – even prior to Moïse’s assassination – is now arguing for a military intervention under UN or other auspices. It is not clear how influential this line of argument will be; however, the prospect of a military intervention is clearly a concern.

A Haitian led solution

As Brian Concannon makes clear in his interview with Ian Masters, within Haiti, most people do not want to see a foreign intervention. There were more guns on the street and a severely weakened institutional framework for government when the last UN peacekeeping mission left, relative to the situation before they arrived. The UN mission also introduced cholera through carelessness, and its soldiers were involved in sexual exploitation of young people in the communities they operated in.

There is a broad consensus within Haiti that there should be no foreign military intervention. There should also be no rush to hold elections; rather, an interim authority composed of a wide range of political and civil society actors must be empowered to create the conditions for elections. A statement issued from multiple sectors, including representatives of political parties, and social movement organizations, issued a call for a conference of organizations, “to find a national compromise to resolve the crisis.”  They “ask the international sector to recognize that it is Haitians who must solve Haiti’s problems in order to bring their true solidarity to this Haitian solution.” 

Pierre Esperance, Executive Director of the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti, echoes this position in Just Security, writing,

Supporting Haitian solutions for Haiti is not as difficult as it sounds: civil society has known a transitional government would be necessary for quite some time. Civil society has developed a roadmap for a transition. The plan would include, among other things, the need for a transition period of sufficient length to restore electoral infrastructure, to strengthen the judiciary to credibly rule on elections, and to reinforce police capacity to counter gang violence and ensure a safe environment for elections. The Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis – a body created in January 2021 with the support of more than 300 notable Haitian organizations and institutions, including the Episcopal and Protestant churches (as well as my own organization, the National Human Rights Defense Network) – is the latest iteration of this effort. This commission has already met with Haitian political parties, civil society organizations, and the private sector to build out a plan for a feasible political transition.

In short, there is a clear need for an investigation in to assassination of the president – as called for in a statement by the Coalition of Civil Society Actors on Friday, and international support for a Haitian-led solution. No intervention.

As Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper and Mark Schuller argue in an excellent analysis published by NACLA

Activists in Haiti are clear that they do not want a foreign invasion or an occupation force. Not only woefully failing at its mission of disarmament, the 15-year UN mission that introduced cholera to Haiti and a wave of sexual violence also provided stability for foreign extractivism and profiteering in tourism, agribusiness, textile, and mining sectors.

It is clear that we do not have the answers today. We may never know who was in on the plot to assassinate Haiti’s president. We need to be asking different questions. Or rather, we need to take on different actions that concretely contribute to a people’s agenda. What if instead of scrambling for news on Haiti and deciphering the real issues from the analyses and opinions of international Haiti experts, we supported the Haitian people’s efforts to tell their own stories and share their own dreams directly with us?

We will be sharing more statements from Haitian civil society organizations in the coming days. You can also check Haiti Watch’s website, which includes statements from Haitian organizations on the crisis over the past several months – most have been translated.

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Quixote Center and Nou Pap Dòmi raising support for people displaced by violence in Haiti

Thousands of people have been displaced from the communities of Martissant, Fontamara, and Grand Ravine due to conflicts between rival gangs in those areas. A gymnasium in Carrefour has been turned into a shelter, and many more are simply living in Fontamara square or alongside roadways. As reported in Al Jazeera, 

On Monday, UNOCHA said gang violence had displaced about 10,000 civilians in Port-au-Prince between June 1 and 14, while the total number of internally displaced people (IDP) so far this year sits at 13,900.

The agency said less than a third of all IDPs are currently receiving assistance, due to limited resources and access, while “frequent shootings and regular roadblocks are limiting access to entire neighbourhoods and spreading fear among the population”.

Quixote Center and Nou Pap Dòmi are working with families to distribute needed emergency supplies in Martissant. You can contribute here.

UNICEF, which has a presence in Carrefour, has assembled powerful testimonies of some of the people displaced here

Gang warfare is hard to disaggregate from the political situation, and is a prime example of why so many are arguing that elections can not happen in this environment. From the St. Kitts Observer:

Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, said gangs control about 60% of the country´s territory and that 12 massacres have been reported since 2018 in disadvantaged communities. However, he said he is especially worried about the most recent upswing in violence.

In this handout released Tuesday, June 15, 2021 by UNHaiti, internally displaced people sit inside a shelter at the Center Sportif of Carrefour in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. A UNICEF report says that escalating gang violence has displaced thousands of women and children in the capital in the first two weeks of June. (Boulet-Groulx/UNHaiti via AP)

“It’s the worst we´ve seen,” he said. “Gangs have so much power, and they are tolerated. … Each day that passes with Jovenel in power, the situation is going to deteriorate.”

If you want to support humanitarian aid efforts for internally displaced Haitians, please make a financial contribution here

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Law school clinics at Harvard, Yale and NYU call on Biden to denounce controversial constitutional referendum

The Moise government in Haiti has once again postponed a controversial constitutional referendum. The chair of the electoral counsel announced on Monday, June 7 that the referendum, re-scheduled for June 27, would be indefinitely postponed due to the current COVID-19 outbreak in Haiti..

There is widespread opposition to the referendum in Haiti. First, the referendum seems to clearly violate the current constitution, which does not allow amendment via referendum. Secondly, people are being asked to simply vote yes or no on what is an entirely new form of government. For example, the proposed constitution would concentrate power in the presidency, by eliminating the senate, and also end Haiti’s dual executive form of government, where the president shares power with a prime minister. Finally, there is little trust in Moise, who has ruled by decree since January of 2019 and who many, including members of Haiti’s Supreme Court, argue should have stepped down on February 7, 2021 when his tenure ended in favor of an interim authority to oversee elections.

As the security situation in Haiti continues to decline, the human rights law clinics of Harvard, Yale and New York University School of Law issued a statement calling on the Biden administration to “unequivocally” denounce the referendum, saying it should not simply be postponed, but “should never be held.” The Law Clinics’ joint announcement on the statement’s release reads:

The Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to heed civil society’s demand and cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti.  The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal.  It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration.  International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses.  However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote.  With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.

You can read the full statements (and share) in English and Haitian Creole

 

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Haiti: COVID-19 update and the ongoing political crisis

Haiti is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 infections, and it is quickly emerging as possibly the worst one. Infections were initially concentrated in the north and in Port-au-Prince, but are quickly emerging everywhere. Near our program site in Gros Morne, there are cases at the local hospital, though for now, still manageable. A long overdue shipment of masks from Germany arrived – just as infections were increasing. However, in Port-au-Prince resources are strained. For example, at St. Luke’s hospital, they have run out of beds, and are having difficulty securing oxygen as prices for tanks have increased with the spike in demand.

Graduation ceremonies for the schools have been suspended and exams delayed, though classes themselves have not yet been halted. This could change, or course, but clearly there is a strong desire to finish the school year, already truncated by COVID-19, political protests and security concerns.

We continue to monitor the situation in Gros Morne, but we are not a medical non-profit. For those wishing to provide direct support for medical response to COVID-19 we encourage you to look into St. Luke‘s, which has an historic relationship with the hospital in Gros Morne.  Our own work in Gros Morne in support of ecological programs continues, of course, and we are also part of a team with the Haiti Response Coalition that monitors and reports on the political crisis. Your support for that work is also quite welcome. 

Referendum on the Constitution

Meanwhile, preparations for a constitutional referendum – itself likely unconstitutional – continue. Despite widespread opposition to the referendum within Haiti, and multiple statements of concern from without, the referendum is set for June 27 barring a delay over COVID-19. Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic Policy Research wrote an excellent new piece for the CEPR blog dissecting the role of the “international community” which is implicitly supporting the referendum, despite public statements to the contrary. Jake writes,

The international community has remained largely silent on the question of the referendum. The Core Group, which consists of the US, Canada, Brazil, France, the EU, the UN, and the OAS, among others, issued a statement in April noting that the process was not sufficiently transparent or inclusive. Nevertheless, international actors have refrained from explicitly calling for its cancellation or even its delay. Further, both the UN and the OAS are actively providing support for the referendum, despite their public statements of concern. 

These two multilateral organizations have provided technical assistance to the commission tasked with drafting the new text since it was formed last fall. The OAS even helped with revisions to the text in an attempt to remove some of the more controversial aspects in the original. The UN, meanwhile, has helped to procure sensitive voting materials for the electoral council overseeing the referendum and has an agreement in place to provide logistics for holding the vote. The UN is also helping to advise the national police on an electoral security strategy. 

Constitutional changes and upcoming elections are obviously closely tied together. For example, proposed constitutional changes would eliminate the senate and thus, change the parameters of the elections completely. So, in addition to the controversy over the referendum itself, there is widespread confusion about what it means for long overdue national elections now scheduled for November.

In the lead up to the referendum, opposition politicians are mobilizing – or encouraging others to mobilize – in an effort to block the vote. For example, Jean Danton Léger, a former member of Parliament, representing Léogâne, called on “all citizens to mobilize to thwart the organization of this referendum, which, he said, was aimed not only at building a presidential monarch, untouchable with permanent immunity and not accountable….but also to institutionalize impunity, legalize gangsterism, and deliver the country entirely to neo-settlers.”

The PBS NewsHour did a program on Haiti which provides a good overview of many of the current concerns regarding elections and the referendum. Though they give a few moments to current U.S. policy, the one weakness here and in much Haiti coverage, is the lack of attention given to historic U.S. responsibility, including efforts by the Obama administration that led to Moise and his predecessor, Michel Martelly, being in power to begin with. That said, it is still worth watching, as Haiti rarely gets this kind of coverage. You can watch the program here.

Elections and the OAS

Finally, the Organization of American States is organizing an official delegation to Haiti. The Permanent Council approved the delegation last week. From the Miami Herald:

The Organization of American States agreed Wednesday to send a five-member delegation to Haiti no later than mid-June to see if they can help the Caribbean nation break a crippling political impasse that could derail presidential and legislative elections this year.

The highly anticipated OAS mission will unfold over three days in Port-au-Prince, cost about $24,000 and consist of the representatives of five member states: Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States. The U.S. has agreed to pick up most of the tab following the OAS Permanent Council’s unanimous offer in March to the Haitian government to help facilitate a political dialogue.

According to Wednesday’s [May 26] resolution approved by the permanent representatives of the OAS after negotiations, delegation members will be participating in their own capacity but with the permission of their respective governments. They also will be joined by a representative of the general secretariat of the OAS on the trip. The mission will present a report with its conclusions and recommendations within two weeks of its return.

Given the deep polarization in Haiti, the idea of a delegation to offer mediation toward a more sustained dialogue sounds like a great idea. However, the concern is that the delegation could well end up parroting official U.S. policy 1 which would simply reinforce Moise’s position, and the U.S. demand for elections in the fall. The delegation is not going to be discussing the referendum in any official capacity, though it is hard to see how it does not come up.

 

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Haiti’s Third COVID Wave?

Reports are beginning to emerge of a new wave of COVID-19 infections in Haiti, as hospitals scramble to find scarce supplies. Haiti, like many other impoverished countries, has no clear vaccination program in place. The government suffers from a lack of legitimacy on many fronts, and it is unlikely it could mobilize people on a wide scale to get vaccinated. There is a high level of distrust about COVID in Haiti already, and Moise will certainly have a hard time countering that for the purposes of a vaccination campaign. 

That said, at this point there are no vaccines to give anyway. The multilateral source for donated vaccines (COVAX) is severely under served in general. There were 750,000+ AstraZeneca vaccines available to Haiti several weeks ago, but the government turned them down due to concerns about side effects (AstraZeneca has not been approved in the United States). Given the recent bump in cases some health officials in Haiti, such as Dr. Jean William Pape, director of the GHESKIO Center, argue that the government should rethink its position.**[Update below] 

Haiti is generally viewed as having escaped the worst of the pandemic – thus far. However, the true toll that COVID-19 has taken on the country is clearly unknown. Official numbers are well below the Dominican Republic, for example, but there is also no comparison regarding testing, which has been almost non-existent outside of Port au Prince. So, while things clearly could have been much worse in Haiti, given the fragility of its health infrastructure, there have probably been many times more deaths from COVID than are recognized. This is of course true everywhere (including the United States).

The third wave is evident in the trend lines for cases and deaths. Though not yet as severe are earlier peaks, hospitals in Port au Prince are seeing an increase in cases and shortages of supplies. Father Rick Frechette CP of St. Luke’s wrote over the weekend,

We were never closed since June 2020, but we never needed more than 10 beds.

Now the dramatic upswing with 65 beds, and we expect that 120 beds will again soon be necessary.

The Haitian Ministry of Health has announced variants from Amazon region of Brazil, and from the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom itself is, according to the NY Times, taking measures against the variant in India that is causing enormous suffering and death.

I spent the morning at Cite Soleil, with Raphael, Fr David (from France), Fr Jean Baptiste (from Haiti) trying to evacuate the wounded from todays gang wars, waged for control of votes for upcoming elections, in this vast and populous area.These are not isolated events. A few days ago, such a gang war took place where the oxygen used for COVID patients is produced. This was a nightmare- we need 240 tanks per day at our current bed level.

In Gros Morne where we work, they are not seeing an increase yet – nor are they seeing an increase in precautions. One saving grace is that people spend a great deal of time either outside, or in spaces that have open air flow. 

 

A gobal dilemma

The Economist published research indicating that the true death count from COVID-19 globally is likely 10 million thus far, and that two-thirds of those deaths have occurred in poor countries where undercounts have also been the largest. Giving some sense of what is at stake, they write,

[I]n the short run vaccines will fuel the divide between rich and poor. Soon, the only people to die from covid-19 in rich countries will be exceptionally frail or exceptionally unlucky, as well as those who have spurned the chance to be vaccinated. In poorer countries, by contrast, most people will have no choice. They will remain unprotected for many months or years.

The world cannot rest while people perish for want of a jab costing as little as $4 for a two-dose course. It is hard to think of a better use of resources than vaccination. Economists’ central estimate for the direct value of a course is $2,900—if you include factors like long covid and the effect of impaired education, the total is much bigger. The benefit from an extra 1bn doses supplied by July would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Less circulating virus means less mutation, and so a lower chance of a new variant that reinfects the vaccinated.

Though the Economist is editorially suspicious that a much debated WTO waiver on patents and other intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines and technology will offer much of a solution – at least the short term. For one thing, no agreement on a waiver is likely to happen prior to December, if it happens at all. That would be 15 months after South Africa and India first proposed it in October of 2020. But that does not mean wealthy countries cannot help. They suggest, 

[i]f Mr Biden really wants to make a difference, he can donate vaccine right now through covax. Rich countries over-ordered because they did not know which vaccines would work. Britain has ordered more than nine doses for each adult, Canada more than 13. These will be urgently needed elsewhere. It is wrong to put teenagers, who have a minuscule risk of dying from covid-19, before the elderly and health-care workers in poor countries. The rich world should not stockpile boosters to cover the population many times over on the off-chance that they may be needed. In the next six months, this could yield billions of doses of vaccine.  

Thus far, the United States and Europe have offered money – Biden has pledged the U.S. to $4billion to support COVAX (though the first half of the funds will not be delivered until next year), but they have not donated much needed vaccines. The United States has agreed to loan Mexico 2.5 million vaccines from the U.S. stockpile of AstraZeneca, but in doing so it also leveraged concessions from Mexico for stricter immigration enforcement along its southern border with Guatemala. (Mexico closed its border with Guatemala shortly after the vaccine discussions in March). The fact that the U.S. has stockpiled 10 million doses of a vaccine it is not using is disturbing in and of itself. 

Meanwhile, back in Haiti

As the case of Haiti indicates, in addition to donations of vaccines, there is also a need to support the infrastructure needed for the delivery of vaccines (refrigeration at extreme low temperatures, for example, is required for storage and transport of some vaccine), as well as public education. 

For now, the ministry of health in Haiti is once again encouraging everyone to wear masks, wash hands regularly, do regular temperature checks, and engage in social distancing as much as possible.  It has also requested the media assist in getting the word out about the importance of these precautions. Hopefully, the government can make a decision soon on AstraZeneca. However, Haiti, a country of 11 million people, needs much more than 750,000 doses.

Long term it is in everyone’s interest for the people of Haiti and other countries to get vaccinated. We are not separately raising funds at this point ourselves, but if you wish to help with supplies, you can visit St. Luke’s here. They have been supportive of the community in Gros Morne in times past with medical supplies themselves.

**UPDATE: The Government Approved use of AstraZeneca just after publication (May 19):

Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of World Health Organization’s Americas branch, told journalists Wednesday that the president of Haiti informed them that the country will accept the AstraZeneca vaccine. The government had previously expressed concerns about the shot’s safety following reports of clotting and had banned it from being used, despite being offered free doses.

 

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Haiti news: The conversation about dialogue, flag day events and take action on TPS

ACTION: The Biden Administration must re-designate TPS for Haiti

“It is critical for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).   TPS is appropriate when extraordinary and temporary conditions in a nation make returning its nationals unsafe.  There is overwhelming political and civil society recognition that redesignating Haiti for TPS is appropriate because such conditions exist; even DHS officials in internal discussions and documents acknowledge that Haitians they return “may face harm” upon return in Haiti.  Nevertheless, and in violation of President Biden’s campaign promise to halt Haiti expulsions, DHS has expelled to Haiti since February 1 about 1700-2100 Haitians, mainly families including hundreds of children, on at least thirty three (33) flights, [This is more Haitians than President Trump expelled during all of FY2020].  This policy is inhumane and contradicts the stated values and promises of President Biden and Vice-President Harris.” [from Steve Forester at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti]

It is hard to imagine anyone in this administration lobbying to continue deportations and expulsions to Haiti under the current conditions, but somebody must be. Meanwhile, halting removals to Haiti is a consistent demand across the spectrum – check the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, hundreds of human rights activists and organizations, and members of his own party in Congress. 

Redesignating Haiti for Temporary Protected Status would mean those Haitians in the United States could stay until the crisis at home is resolved. TPS is a policy often utilized for humanitarian purposes. It was just extended to Venezuela, for example. Because Trump tried to kill TPS for Haiti, and many other countries, Haiti’s earlier designation for TPS (2011) is still being fought in the courts. Redesignating Haiti now would make this earlier case moot, and protect more families from removal. It is the right thing to do, and there is bi-partisan cover to the extent Biden is worried about the GOP backlash.

Actions to take:

  1. Sign/share the Color of Change petition calling on the Biden administration to redesignate Haiti for TPS
  2. For organizations, you can sign/share this Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights letter asking for TPS redesignation for Haiti.

Flag Day events on Haiti

May 18 is flag day in Haiti, the anniversary of the adoption of Haiti’s flag in 1803. This year flag day will involve much more than cultural celebrations. Here are a few events to check out:

Current realities regarding the gains of Haiti’s 1987 constitution
Haitian Studies Association:
Tuesday, May 18, 4 :00 EDT (Haitian Flag Day)
Moderator: François Pierre-Louis

Participants :

Chantal Hudicourt-Ewald
Danièle Maggiore
Georges Michel
Lucien Prophète
Jean Eddy Saint Paul
One of the most current issues in Haiti is a referendum scheduled for June 17 for a new constitution called for by the current state. The proposed constitution involves a series of changes.

This panel will discuss the legacy and stakes of the constitution of March 29, 1987, a national consensus after the fall of Duvalier in 1986. The 1987 constitution was written in a very specific context, to implant democracy and human rights. This panel will analyze the gains of the 1987 constitution in today’s context, comparing it with the proposed constitution, asking a range of questions for engaged Haitian citizens to make an informed decision.

Get details, and register here.


U.S. Policy on Haiti and U.S. Position on Haiti’s Elections
with Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Global Public Affairs Event
Tuesday, May 18, 2021 from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM EDT
To register click here


Civil society organizations form “Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis”

The political crisis in Haiti, which has deep historical roots, but is most immediately the result of opposition to the government of Jovenal Moise over the last three years, is entering a new phase with Moise insisting on holding a constitutional referendum in June and then moving forward with elections this fall. Both of these measures are opposed by broad sectors of society. While many recognize the need for constitutional reform, as well as the need for elections for a new government, Moise is not recognized as a legitimate authority to oversee these things. There was broad agreement from across the political spectrum that Moise’s tenure ended on February 7, 2021, and that he should step down to make way for a provisional authority to oversee new elections.

As we have noted, the Biden administration has by and large accepted the Trump policy of demanding elections, and has defended Moise’s argument that his tenure should extend another year (to February 7, 2022). Biden’s administration has voiced concerns about the constitutional referendum, as have a number of other external actors (the OAS and European Union, for example), but there is no sign that they will actually try to stop it.

The impasse over elections, referendum and ongoing instability, is in some manner the result of international actors backing Moise’s position, despite the widespread opposition within Haiti. Moise has often claimed a willingness to dialogue, but has not been willing to compromise much.

A possibly hopeful sign is that a coalition of civil society organizations have formalized an agreement reached back in January to form a commission to promote “Haitian solutions” to the crisis.  From the declaration:

In view of the government’s refusal to comply with constitutional imperatives despite massive popular and political mobilizations as well as the political sector’s inability to impose its views with regard to mechanisms of resolution of the crisis, the country is experiencing a political deadlock. From a perspective of change, it is therefore important for us to seek ways and means to rebuild and reestablish our institutions. In the absence of institutions of counter-power, the vital sectors of the country, in a patriotic spirit, are to take action in order to avoid the total collapse of the state and to allow the nation to emerge from this deadlock. As a matter of priority, it is about returning to the normalization of the social and political life as soon as possible via a return to the constitutional order as a guarantee to the functioning of the rule of law and a way to allow citizens to choose their leaders freely and safely in a peaceful atmosphere.

It is in the name of this objective that the Forum of Civil Society Organizations gathered on January 30, 2021 recommended to establish a Commission to work towards a peaceful resolution of the current political and institutional crisis. Based on combined criteria of affiliation to an organized sector of society, notoriety, morality, civic and patriotic commitment, competence and availability, the commission was then established in consultation with various sectors of society. These sectors, in a great display of magnanimity, agreed to contribute to this attempt to find a solution to this crisis, which has already drained the country. As a result, the Commission will devote itself to working together with all the different components of society, including political parties and groupings.

The Commission membership:

– Reverend Father Frantz Joseph CASSEUS / Église Épiscopale d’Haïti (Episcopal Church of Haiti)

– Mrs. Monique CLESCA / Independent

– Mrs. Magali COMEAU DENIS / Kolektif Atis Angaje (Collective of Committed Artists)

– Reverend Pastor, Jean Kisomaire DURÉ / Fédération Protestante d’Haïti (Protestant Federation of Haiti)

– Mr. Evens FILS / Fédération des Barreaux d’Haïti (Federation of Haitian Bars)

– Mrs. Magalie GEORGES / Collectif des Syndicats Haïtiens pour le respect de la Constitution (Collective of Haitian Trade Unions for the Respect of the Constitution)

– Mr. Louis Joël JOSEPH / Plateforme des Organisations Paysannes 4G-Kontre (Platform of Farmers’ Organizations 4G-Kontre)

– Mrs. MANIGAT / Plateforme des Organisations Féministes (Platform of Women’s Organizations)

– Mr. Maxime RONY / Plateforme des Organisations Haïtiennes des Droits de l’Homme (Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations)

– Mr. Ted SAINT-DIC / Independent

– Mr. Wilfrid SAINT-JUSTE / Voodoo Sector

– Mr. Michel A. PEAN

– A representative of the Haitian Forum for Peace and Sustainable Development 

 The full declaration is here.


Organization of American States Holds Special Session on Haiti

The OAS held a special session to discuss a proposed OAS Mission to Haiti to facilitate dialogue between various “stakeholders” and the government over the electoral process. The hearing was held on Wednesday and can be viewed here. The OAS had proposed the mission at an earlier session. This latest meeting followed the government of Haiti’s acceptance of the Mission. The Mission itself has not yet been formally approved. The session Wednesday gave foreign ministers an opportunity to express their support or concerns so that a final agreement outlining the terms of the mission can be drafted. It seems likely that this will come to fruition – there was little opposition to the idea.  

Dialogue is, of course, to be welcome. If this mission proceeds with full participation across a range of civil society and political groupings, it could very well help. Of course, the concern is that the OAS has thus far been pressing for elections and supporting Moise’s position on tenure. Which means this Mission could end up playing the role of defending Moise’s position and giving it international cover for an electoral process that is (under current terms) widely opposed. 

For the hardcore, the full Organization of American States Permanent Council meeting can be viewed here. The discussion on Haiti begins at 1:38 (it follows a discussion on Nicaragua).

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Haiti News from Congress to Harvard Law School to the Border

Congress and Haiti this week

This week, 69 members of congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for a review of U.S. policy toward Haiti. From the Miami Herald,

More than 60 U.S. House Democrats are calling for “a significant review of U.S. policy in Haiti” by the Biden administration and warning that “the U.S.’s insistence on elections at all costs in Haiti” later this year risks exacerbating the country’s cycle of political instability and violence.

“While elections will clearly be needed in the near future to restore democratic order, we remain deeply concerned that any electoral process held under the current administration will fail to be free, fair, or credible,” members of Congress said Monday in the letter addressed to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “Parliamentary, local, and presidential elections set for Fall 2021 could increase the risk of violence throughout the country significantly.”

The U.S. lawmakers said the administration of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has been ruling without a parliament for over 15 months, not only “lacks the credibility and legitimacy” to administer elections that are free and fair but also a constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27.

The full text of the letter is available here.

The Biden administration’s ongoing support for elections in Haiti this year continues to be the focal point of critique. The security situation continues to deteriorate and with it, Moise’s limited credibility to oversee much of anything, much less elections. 

It should be noted, however, that the U.S. government does not support the scheduled referendum on the constitution, and even the Organization of American States has been critical of this (after waffling a bit). The question for many in Haiti regarding the referendum is thus whether to participate. A boycott makes it more likely that the reforms will pass, however, many doubt the integrity of the process to begin with – and so do not want to legitimate through their participation. It is still possible, of course, that the referendum will not occur. Even likely. It continues to be highly controversial within Haiti, even among some within Moise’s party.

There will be public panel discussion on the constitutional referendum on May 18 at 4:00 p.m (EST) including scholars and constitutional experts from Haiti. More information here.

Legislation was also introduced this week calling for a series of reports on the use of aid by the Haitian government and U.S. oversight of said aid. The full text of The Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act (H.R. 2471) is not yet available, but is almost identical to H.R. 5586, which was introduced during the last Congress.  It passed the House, though it was never taken up in the Senate.  

New Report from Harvard Law School and Haitian Observatory calls out Haiti’s government for Crimes Against Humanity (from press release announcing report)

Three deadly massacres targeting impoverished neighborhoods in Haiti were carried out with Haitian government support and amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report released today by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité (OHCCH). The report points to evidence that the gang-led attacks were resourced and supported by state actors, ranging from high-ranking officials in the Moïse administration to the Haitian National Police. 

The report, “Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti,” analyzes three attacks that took place between 2018-2020, which have together killed at least 240 civilians. The massacres targeted the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of La Saline, Bel-Air, and Cité Soleil, which have played a leading role in organizing protests demanding government accountability for corruption and other human rights violations. 

“Moïse’s government has been pushing the story that the attacks are merely gang infighting, but the evidence demonstrates high-level government involvement in the planning, execution and cover-up of the attacks,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a member organization of OHCCH. 

The report relies on investigations by Haitian and international human rights experts that show that senior Moïse administration officials planned the attacks or otherwise assisted by providing the gangs with money, weapons, or vehicles. Off-duty police officers and resources were utilized to carry out the attacks. The Haitian National Police repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians despite the sites of the attacks being in close proximity to multiple police stations. In each attack, gangs arrived in the targeted neighborhood, shot at residents indiscriminately, raped women, and burnt and looted houses. The massacres repeatedly involved gangs affiliated with the G9 alliance led by Jimmy Chérizier, which reportedly enjoys government connections.

“We found that Moïse’s failure to stop or respond to attacks initiated by his subordinates may make the President himself liable for crimes against humanity,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, a Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Clinic who supervised the research and drafting of the report. “This should serve as a wake-up call to the international community to stand up for human rights, fully investigate allegations of serious abuses, and do its part to hold perpetrators accountable,” she added. 

Read the full report here. Send it to everyone you know who cares about Haiti.

New Title 42 report includes the testimony of hundreds of people expelled, including Haitians

Human Rights First, Haitian Bridge Alliance and Otro Lado published a powerful report that unpacks the toll that Title 42 expulsions are having on migrants. The report includes hundreds of testimonies from people expelled at the border, including testimony from Haitian migrants assembled by the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

The report is titled “Failure to Protect: Biden Administration Continues Illegal Trump Policy to Block and Expel Asylum Seekers to Danger” and can be read here. Excerpt from findings:

The Biden administration is blocking asylum-seeking families and individuals at ports of entry and expelling those who cross the border seeking protection to danger in Mexico. They include refugees from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia, Venezuela, and Yemen. Restarting its tracking of reports of attacks on asylum seekers in Mexico, Human Rights First has identified at least 492 public and media reports of violent attacks since January 21, 2021 –including rape, kidnapping, and assault – against people stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border and/or expelled to Mexico. In a survey conducted by Al Otro Lado from mid-February through early April 2021 in Baja California, 81 percent of LGBTQ asylum seekers reported that they were subjected to attack or an attempted attack in Mexico in the past month, including sexual assault by Mexican law enforcement and human trafficking. Those delivered to severe violence in Mexico after requesting protection in the United States include: a woman reportedly kidnapped and raped in Reynosa after being expelled in February 2021; a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy and his mother kidnapped immediately after U.S. border officers expelled them in March 2021; and a Cuban asylum seeker expelled to Tijuana where she fears the smugglers who previously kidnapped her and killed her friend.

We published our own report on Title 42 with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack last month. Our report was principally focused on a review of the policy, with an expanded section featuring testimony from Haitians. The new report from Human Rights First (with Haitian Bridge Alliance and Otro Lado) goes much further as an investigation – based on hundreds of interviews done at the border during February and March, plus contributions from co-authors. Read it. Share it.

Biden must Re-designate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status

It is hard to imagine anyone in this administration lobbying to continue deportations and expulsions to Haiti under the current conditions, but somebody must be. Among the points raised in the Congressional letter referenced at the top of this column, is the need to halt removals and grant TPS to Haitians already here. Halting removals to Haiti is a consistent demand across the spectrum – from Congress, to every human rights organization I know working in Haiti, to the editorial boards of dominant media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Harvard study makes clear the severity of the security situation, and government complicity in the violence.

I cannot imagine what Biden gains by continuing these removals. Is he that scared of the Fox News world? Given everything he is pressing for, this is small-scale stuff (compared, for example to $1.8 trillion for universal pre-school and free community college). It would, however, make a huge difference to hundreds of families. Just do it!

If you agree, you can call the White House comment line (202-456-1111) and let them know. You can also forward a copy of the letter from Congress to Blinken (if they have not already signed on) along with a copy of the Harvard study to your member of Congress. Ask them to speak out for TPS, and an end to removals to Haiti. Congress does not have the power to make these policy changes – but they can certainly press the Administration for action.

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Yard gardens create food security one family at a time

A long-standing aspect of the training done through our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Haiti is work with families, typically women, to develop yard gardens or patio gardens.  These are small-scale projects, where family members learn to grow a surprisingly wide variety of vegetables in small spaces.

The current iteration of the yard garden project enrolled 375 new families during the first quarter of the year, with support from the seed bank and training from the agronomy team. Some highlights below:

Songé (red hat) with formation participants in Kalabat. The packets they are holding include starter seeds for their gardens.


Songé (center) demonstrates a planting technique to use with drip irrigation in Ti Davi.


A planter & her child in Ti Davi. They created their garden plots out of found materials


Bucket gardens in Siten


Yard gardens can be placed anywhere, even when people do not have actual land.

 

 

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