“Toto” Constant is not just Haiti’s problem

Constant arrives in Haiti, June 23. Photo: Miami Herald

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?

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“Toto” Constant back in Haiti and other updates, take action

Shada Demolition

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.

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Take Action to Halt Deportations to Haiti

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.

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COVID-19 in Haiti: Update from Gros Morne

Interactive, updated map of COVID-19 cases in Haiti

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.
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Food Insecurity and Emergency Fund for Gros Morne

Source: World Food Program Global Report 2020, pg. 104

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

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Haiti COVID-19 Update

Interactive Map tracking Coronavirus in Haiti

Mapping COVID-19 in Haiti

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.

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Haiti and COVID-19

 Photo: AFP / Pierre Michel Jean

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.

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Haiti’s international crisis


The large scale demonstrations and roadblocks that had shut Haiti down for several months last fall are over — for now. Parliament is no longer in session. Absent elections, there are not enough members for a quorum.  As a result, President Moïse is ruling by decree. He shows no signs of resigning, and continues to hold out a process of dialogue with opposition political leaders as a way out of the crisis. Negotiations have taken place, but continue to be stalled on the question of Moïse’s tenure in office. From the Miami Herald:

During two rounds of negotiations in mid-December 2019 and late January with moderate members of the opposition, Moïse representatives and members of his political PHTK party, [United Nations Representative] La Lime said a consensus emerged on the contours of a political agreement based on four elements: the criteria for forming a government; the contents of a reform agenda; a constitutional reform process; and the establishment of an electoral calendar.

“Despite progress regarding the nature of the reforms to be undertaken, including that of the Constitution, political actors have yet to settle on a formula that would lead to the designation by President Moïse of a consensual Prime Minister and the formation of a new government,” she said. “The lack of agreement on this matter, as well as on the remaining length of President Moïse’s term, threatens to needlessly prolong a situation that has already lasted too long.”

The United States and other members of the international community continue the mantra that somehow new elections for Parliament will solve the impasse. Elections may be necessary for any number of reasons in the short-term, but will not, in and of themselves, solve anything in the long run. Indeed, there is no way to get to elections without a substantive compromise on reform first.

Kelly Craft, the United States representative to the United Nations said, with no sense of historical irony (i.e., absent reference to U.S.-backed coups against democratically-elected governments in Haiti and elsewhere): “The Haitian people must have a voice in selecting its leaders. And further, while constitutional reforms are necessary and welcomed, they must not become a pretext to delay elections.” Craft demonstrates once again, that when in doubt, the strategic deployment of platitudes can always stand in for a U.S. policy. 

Meanwhile, the political stalemate has created a crisis in daily governance in Haiti unlike anything most people can remember. Kidnappings are on the rise, while police protest the lack of pay by burning carnival bleachers. Food insecurity is spiking – nearly one-third of the country faces hunger on a daily basis and is need of immediate assistance, according to the UN’s World Food Program. 

Despite the magnitude of a crisis that is not just imminent, but basically has already arrived, the World Food Program has only been able to raise $15 million of the $72 million it says it needs to address hunger. Meanwhile, government revenue has fallen 25% since 2018 as the economy has contracted. Inflation, tied in part to the collapse in the exchange rate, continues to sap what meager earnings most people can assemble. There is quite literally a lack of cash in the economy, making it difficult to get paid and purchase goods, especially in more rural communities. The cost of borrowing has sky-rocketed. Bond rates are up to 22% from 10% a year ago, meaning that even if the country can find investors, the increase to long-term debt would be unsustainable. The International Monetary Fund recently completed its Article IV Review of Haiti, and while offering plenty of advice on the need for political reform and restructuring of the energy sector, it offers little else.

Explicitly and implicitly, news accounts and policy makers blame all of this on bad governing by Haiti’s leaders. To be sure, Haiti’s leadership, especially since 2011, has not been very responsive to the needs of its people, and has facilitated, and probably profited directly, from corruption. The same could be said of Donald Trump.

So it may be that the real issues with leadership in Haiti are related to a structural collapse in the capacity of the government to do much of anything, good or bad. That is a process that has been facilitated over 30 years by international actors, like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as the governments of the United States, Canada and France. Local allies have done well for themselves, to be sure. But what makes Haiti’s leaders stand out is the backdrop of poverty, not the fact of corruption, which is a universal feature of liberal democracy in a capitalist world system. 

Consider this historical footnote in a Reuters article on the hunger crisis:

It wasn’t always like this. Haiti was largely food self-sufficient until the 1980s, when at the encouragement of the United States the country started loosening restrictions on crop imports and lowered tariffs, then imported surplus U.S. crops, a decision that put Haitian farmers out of business and contributed to investment tailing off.

“Encouragement” is an interesting term. What happened was more like blackmail. The people of Haiti have been the victims of an international Ponzi scheme, as financial institutions like the World Bank issued loans to the Duvaliers, and then demanded repayment even after Baby Doc split with a bunch of the money. Indeed, a significant amount of Haiti’s current debt is tied to those old loans to Duvalier, as well as more recent loans to other unelected governments in 2004-2006. As international institutions have drained Haiti, this has forced Haiti’s governments to request new loans (dependency by design), and with these loans, conditions have set in: Haiti must lower tariffs, float exchange rates, cut subsidies for fuel, cut social services, cut education budgets, cut health budgets, and so on. After thirty years of this, Haiti has cut everything there is to cut.

The lowest tariffs in the Caribbean have translated into the dismantling of local agriculture and dependency on imported food. Cutting social services has left 80% of Haiti’s school children in private schools, and even those in public schools are forced to pay fees that keep many out. Haiti has almost no functioning public health system, and what limited access exists is dependent on support from the non-profit sector in the form of joint programs to survive. So, yes, against this backdrop, people pocketing a few billion dollars in PetroCaribe funds is infuriating. I just wish we were collectively as infuriated with the policies that generated this context. 

History lessons are not much help to the people in the streets going hungry today — and they know the history better than us anyway. But as Haiti’s fate gets debated across mahogany desks and computer terminals in other capitals of the world, we must not forget that the international community shares responsibility for the debacle the people are facing. Any request for further intervention that ignores this history should be tossed. International actors have a role; they can write off Haiti’s international debt, for example. They could offer better terms of trade. Some (U.S., France, Canada) should certainly pay reparations for decades of theft of Haiti’s natural resources. There are ways to help.

But power doesn’t work that way. Discipline is the international language of the day.  

Unfortunately people can’t eat that either.

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Haiti: Ten years and a week after

Aerial view of Port au Prince

Sunday, January 11 marked the ten-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, centered near Port-au-Prince, that killed 220,000 or more people, and displaced millions. Being a ten year anniversary, there were a number of retrospective political analyses looking at the current crisis through the lens of events in the ten years since the quake. The weakening of the economy, corruption in the deployment of development assistance, the cholera outbreak brought on by UN carelessness in 2010, and additional disasters in the intervening years like Hurricane Matthew, all punctuated by controversial election processes, serve as a backdrop for discussions of the current economic crisis and protests calling on president Jovenel Moïse to step down. What lessons emerged in a week of commemoration? Let’s see….

One lesson, apparently, is the need for new legislation in the U.S. Congress: The Haiti Development, Accountability and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act. I’m not sure the intent of the title, but it comes close to just being the HAITI Act – which is…clever? This act was introduced specifically to mark the anniversary of the earthquake. The bill requires a number of investigations: Investigations into the massacre at La Saline, how to better protect the freedom of the press, how to better take action against corruption through investigating individual governmental and non-governmental leaders, and assessing delivery of U.S. disaster assistance, including investigation of the Caracol industrial park (the only major U.S.-funded project anyone can really point to in the last ten years, and not usually positively). None of this is particularly controversial. I mean who could argue against investigating human rights violations, corruption and assessing the impact of U.S. aid, right? But as the primary mechanism for these investigations in the bill is the U.S. State Department in “consultation” with the non-governmental sector, I am not holding my breath for a substantive re-evaluation of anything, assuming the bill even gets a vote.

Meanwhile, over the last week the major transition in Haiti was the departure of two-thirds of the Senate, and all of the lower house. In the absence of elections, originally scheduled for last October, all of these Parliamentary terms expired. The ten remaining senators cannot form a quorum. As a result, starting Monday, January 13, President Jovenel Moïse began governing through decree. His first act was a commitment to allocate the money saved by not having to pay salaries to members of Parliament to build 10 new schools. From Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald, “The amount, about $16.3 million, would have gone to pay 118 members of the Lower Chamber of Deputies and 19 senators this year. The entire budget of the Parliament is roughly $60 million. Moïse did not say what he plans to do with the rest of the money.” By sending a message that Parliament is unnecessary and/or wasteful, the symbolism of Moïse’s first decree is somewhat alarming – though in the short-term it is likely to play well. Certainly the country needs new schools.

Toward the end of the week Moïse was indicating he would use his decree power to offer a new constitution that would be put to a vote through a popular referendum. Reuters reported, “The president aims to get the new constitution drafted within three months of being started, the source said, and voted on in a referendum by year-end.” Specific proposals are not yet drafted, but the sense is that a new constitution would seek to weaken the authority of the Prime Minister/Parliament in Haiti’s system of dual executive rule. In times past, a presidential, or unitary executive, has been promoted with mixed reception. Hard to say where all of this will go.

With the partisan opposition sidelined (along with parliament), perhaps Moïse will have more space to operate. However, while members of parliament may have been the most vocal opponents, they were hardly the only ones. Certainly among the younger generation of activists represented in some sense by the PetroChallenger movement, most of the political leadership is viewed as corrupt. Which is just to say Moïse may not be the best person to lead constitutional reform, given that the country has periodically erupted into massive protests over the last 18 months in an effort to get rid of him. 

Everybody knows this, of course. It is just worth repeating, as the U.S. government and international organizations continue to act as if the problems in Haiti are institutional design problems, and somehow Moïse’s political survival would be emblematic of successful design. “Moise won his election, after all,” they’ll say, “he should finish his term.” Without a parliament, Moïse can write his own electoral law and offer constitutional reforms. The United States will have Moïse’s back because ultimately the U.S. government only wants enough stability to keep Haiti profitable for those who seek to use it (not the people who live there). The Trump administration made this clear by parading a series of officials through Haiti in December for photo ops in order to demonstrate their commitment to Moïse.

Which brings us back to the elephant in the hemisphere: U.S. policy. One consistent theme over the last ten years -—  really the last 216 years — is the sense of entitlement with which the U.S. government lectures Haitians (really everybody, but I am trying to focus here). It is a bizarre dance whereby the U.S. government intervenes on behalf of a relatively small elite, to keep them in power over the express desire of most Haitians, while keeping the impoverished majority at bay (or at least unrepresented). It was the Obama administration that gifted Martelly and then Moïse to Haiti, after all, in the name of appearances. Then, when things don’t go well, some U.S. policy maker or congressional committee steps up to the mic to critique that same elite for lousy governance. I’m not sure the critique helps so much. What might help? Stepping out of the way so an actual democracy could emerge in Haiti. Then Haitians could hold each other more directly accountable. They would do a much better job I think. They could hardly do worse than the UN/US/Core Group-installed government they’ve been saddled with.

That, at least, is one lesson one might draw from the last ten years.

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Celebrating Haiti’s Independence

On January 1, 1804 Haiti became the second independent republic in the western hemisphere, and the first to abolish slavery. Unlike the U.S. war for independence, in Haiti there was a true revolution of social forces. People who had been enslaved in Haiti rose up against the French colonial authority and won their freedom and with it the country’s independence. The only successful rebellion of people enslaved known to history came with the defeat of the military super-power of the time – France under Napoleon Bonaparte. The ultimate defeat of France’s forces in Haiti forced Napoleon to sell colonial possessions in North America to the United States to meet expenses from the failed expedition. The resulting Louisiana Purchase more than doubled the size of the United States.  The revolution in Haiti was, however, not otherwise welcomed by the United States. Rather than celebrate another independent republic in the western Atlantic, the U.S. joined with European colonial governments in blockading Haiti. The goal was to strangle the revolution and the example of freedom it represented to those enslaved in the United States and throughout the colonial Caribbean and Latin America. Haiti’s independence survived but at a price of isolation and international indebtedness. The United States did not recognize the independent government of Haiti until 1865. In 2020, Haiti is still fighting for independence. The current government is widely viewed as an instrument of U.S. policy-makers, as both a bulwark against more popular democratic forces and wedge for unencumbered investment for the pillaging of Haiti’s resources. Protests against the government, which have shut down the country intermittently since July 2018, have slowed in recent weeks. But things are far from settled, as Parliamentary tenures expire and no agreement on new elections seems to be forthcoming.  President Moise, not surprisingly, used the Independence Day address to once again call for unity and establishment of a national dialogue. “This January 1 should be an opportunity for us to reflect…to define together the path to take the country.”  It is an invitation he has been repeating for months now, with few takers. We’ll see what the new year brings. The United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Haiti on its independence that read, “The story of the founding of Haiti, from the uprising of slaves to the creation of a Republic based on democratic principles, testifies to what can be accomplished when individuals are determined to work together for the greater good.” It was a message clearly speaking to the present moment – the U.S, as noted, hardly welcomed this fight for the “greater good” 216 years ago. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic, in anticipation of new protests, sent an additional 1,200 troops to the border. There are now 11,000 Dominican troops on the border with Haiti attempting to stop the movement of people fleeing insecurity, looking for work, or simply returning from holiday visits with relatives. What the new year has in store is hard to read at this point. The United Nations is estimating that 4.5 million people – nearly half of the population – will be in need of humanitarian assistance in the coming year as the economy continues its collapse. The Associated Press reported last month,

Haiti’s economy was already fragile when the new round of protests began in mid-September, organized by opposition leaders and supporters angry over corruption, spiraling inflation and dwindling supplies, including fuel. More than 40 people were killed and dozens injured as protesters clashed with police. Moise insisted he would not resign and called for dialogue.

The United Nations World Food Program says a recent survey found that one in three Haitians, or 3.7 million people, need urgent food assistance and 1 million are experiencing severe hunger. The WFP, which says it is trying to get emergency food assistance to 700,000 people, blames rising prices, the weakening local currency, and a drop in agricultural production due partly to the disruption of recent protests.

In the last two years, Haiti’s currency, the gourde, declined 60% against the dollar and inflation recently reached 20%, Chalmers said. The rising cost of food is especially crucial in the country of nearly 11 million people. Some 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% earn less than $1 a day.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bag of rice has more than doubled in price in the local currency, said Marcelin Saingiles, a store owner who sells everything from cold drinks to cookies to used tools in Port-au-Prince.

The fight for independence today is in the economic realm – particularly food production. Haiti was self-sufficient in food production forty years ago, and now is deeply dependent on imports, and even where domestic production exists, transportation costs impact prices dramatically. Much of this is the result of tariff reductions demanded by the U.S. government and enforced through international financial institutions lending requirements.  The work in Gros Morne we are doing with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center continues to focus at the intersection of food and ecological renewal through reforestation. Our work and similar work by Haitian groups throughout the country, is committed to the regeneration of the agricultural sector, a necessary precondition for economic independence, and long-term stability. The other precondition is limiting U.S. intervention. That remains the bigger struggle.
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