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Whose Needs? Whose Assessment?

As reconstruction planning begins, Haitian grassroots groups have their own thoughts about assessing post-disaster needs.

The Haitian government has been largely silent since the January 12 earthquake. Publicly, that is. Who knows what officials are saying behind closed doors to international governments and other donors? Citizens don’t. They have heard from President René Préval about his personal losses from the quake—his shirts, his palace—but about little else, least of all about the substance of governmental plans for reconstruction.

Camille Chalmers, photo by Roberto Guerra

Camille Chalmers in post-earthquake work conditions: sharing a desk in a borrowed office.

Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra

This week—a full six weeks after the world-historic-level catastrophe—the Haitian government launched a post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA). The PDNA establishes working groups to assess damages and look at the macro-plan for reconstruction.

The results may shape the process of reconstruction, though not necessarily. It is not clear that Haitian government perspectives will hold much weight in the reconstruction relative to the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other global powers. What is clear is that, except for the wealthy business sector, the perspectives of Haitian civil society will have little to no weight. For example, the process laid out in the PDNA terms of reference grants one week, March 14-20, for “consultation with civil society and the private sector.” This consultation will occur after the draft plan has already been drawn up and been reviewed by the Haitian government.

Social movements are busy forming coalitions and planning their governmental advocacy. They aim for the inclusion of the needs and voices of those who are usually denied input into public policy formation, and denied benefit of the fruits of those policies: peasant farmers, sweatshop workers, informal sector workers, destitute women, and others. They hope to count on the strong and lasting involvement of progressive international friends as they construct just economic and social alternatives.

Below are comments by Camille Chalmers, coordinator of the Haiti-based Platform to Advocate Alternative Policy (PAPDA, by its Creole acronym) on this and other elements of the reconstruction, the 20,000-strong U.S. military force which has just amassed in Haiti, and the role of international solidarity:

Of course all of this [the PDNA] has been done in silence by technocrats. I invite you to help PAPDA follow the work with a critical eye.

One scandal is that the Haitian people’s movement and their organizations have been excluded by the international community from decision-making in solutions to this crisis. We have, for instance, the IMF loan which is not a grant that matches the dimensions of this human tragedy, but an extortionist and cynical loan tied to conditionalities in order to facilitate a more favorable environment for transnational investment in Haiti. There is going to be a grab for the reconstruction, like in Iraq, with American transnationals profiting off the reconstruction.

What the U.S. is doing—the militarization of Haiti with the pathetic excuse of humanitarian aid—is unacceptable. This is part of a strategy to militarize the Caribbean region as a way to confront the people’s awakening in Latin America and also to threaten the Bolivarian Venezuela Republic. This is not an isolated action. There is the military base set up by U.S. imperialism in Curaçao, with the complicity of the Dutch government. There are the military bases in Colombia. And now we have this military response to a fundamentally humanitarian problem.

We have to denounce the militarization of the aid, not just for Haiti but for the whole region. There is a spectacular deployment of arms, with combat boats and combat airplanes, which has no correspondence with a humanitarian crisis. This military presence of the U.S. has brought no relief to the human catastrophe we are living. Quite the contrary; they delayed the humanitarian aid of countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, of European countries, of CARICOM, in order to privilege militarization. We have been outraged to find so many weapons being sent instead of food, medicine, or water.

What is going on in Haiti is really scandalous. What is being pursued really is the geopolitical control of the Caribbean. It’s outrageous that they shamelessly use the painful situation that the Haitian people are going through at the moment for this purpose.

Together with geopolitical control, we believe that the militarization of Haiti responds to what Bush called a ‘preventive war’ logic. The U.S. fears a popular uprising, because the living standards in Haiti have for so long been intolerable, and this is even more so the case now; they are inhumane. So the troops are getting ready for when the time comes to suppress the people.

Our people reject militarization. We don’t want Haiti to turn into a military base; we won’t allow it to happen.

In the face of this humanitarian farce to justify militarization and of an international community which wants to reconstruct Haiti according to its own interests instead of those of the Haitian people, our people have shown a great capacity. They got organized to face this crisis; they practiced solidarity in a very moving way. Here you can see people sharing all they have, living on the streets and sharing their clothes, their food … whatever they have is shared with those around them.

It is among this self-organized people where the foundations for a very necessary alternative project can be found. Not more of the same, but something really alternative and popular.

We need to collectively create a space to go beyond the crisis, to battle together for social change

We are very touched by the international solidarity since the catastrophe. Haiti is a country that has been isolated since [the revolution of] 1804 and that now is back in the eyes of the international public opinion. We have a chance to establish more real and permanent ties, beyond charity.

We call on people to found an international solidarity network in the same spirit as the Sandinista international brigades, to help us in reconstruction tasks and also in getting out of our social crisis. We are talking of people-to-people solidarity, not of the solidarity that states use in order to dominate people. We are going to meet with Haitian organizations in the diaspora and with all Haitian solidarity networks to see concretely how these networks can work with us in  international solidarity.

“We ask the U.S. people to work for a change in American policy toward Haiti, so they can truly leave space for Haitians to determine their own path. Come stand with us in what we’re doing.”

Camille Chalmers’ comments are a merger of a February 24 email to Beverly Bell and others, a February 11 interview by Beverly Bell, and a January 28 teleconference with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.


Beverly BellBeverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, which promotes social and economic alternatives, and is associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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