Evictions, Hunger, Continued Persecutions, and One Victory

New Media Fellows 2013

By Sokari Ekine

June 11, 2013

Also published at Black Looks

Last Wednesday, agents of the state and local police forcefully evicted residents of Camp Bristou in Peguy Ville. Bristou is overlooked by Mojub school, which is part of SOPUDEP community, and many of the women, men and children who attend the school and literacy classes lived in the camp and the surrounding area.

In nearby Delmas, the residents at Camp Acra and Adoquin continue to live in fear of another fire, or worse, a complete eviction. In addition to Esther Pierre and Elie Jean-Louis, another Chanjem Leson member who lived close to the murdered man, Augustin Dieudonne, has also begun to receive threatening phone calls sometimes three or four times a day. Last Thursday, seven plainclothes agents entered the camp at 11:45 pm asking for his whereabouts. Fortunately he was warned and was able to leave. His family has now left for their own safely. He is fearful as he believes the police have fixated on the three activists and will not stop until they are dead. People in the camp are afraid and many of them are hungry and sick.

Bristou camp is the third forced eviction in Petion-Ville this year. The destruction of the camps also comes with the daily harassment of street vendors and market women. The attacks are vicious as police and other security forces bulldoze, ransack and sometimes burn down the public spaces.  Every few days, agents of the mayor, young men wearing yellow or green t-shirts and armed with sticks, drive up in trucks and proceed to destroy stalls, scatter food and chase the vendors up and down the streets.  Many of the women from the FASA micro-credit, which provides small loans to street vendors working in Petion-Ville, have lost their goods and much of their trade as they now have to hide on side streets with small baskets in case they need to run.

On Saturday, I learned that all vendors and kiosks selling on the only Jalouzi street would have to leave as the government planned to rebuild the steep hillside road. No one is arguing against the building of the road, even though most Jalouzi residents do not have cars and the road is way too narrow for tap taps. But this development should not be at the expense of poor women who have no way to earn a living other than selling on the streets or in kiosks.

Flaurantine Enise, who has a small kiosk selling non-prescription drugs, is one of the women who will lose her trade. As I sat with her, her face strained taut at this latest act of violence, she explained how the kiosk supports the whole family: four adults, two teenagers and her granddaughter. Her two sons cannot go to college because they can hardly afford to feed themselves, let alone pay school fees. Occasionally, they find work for 50 or 100 gdes [$1 or $2]. Her youngest daughter has a heart condition, and much of the family’s income goes to her medical expenses.

And people are hungry. Many people do not eat from one day to the next. People get sick from burning in their stomachs because they have no food to eat. A man who knows my host walked across the city to our house to ask if he could take some breadfruit for himself and his family. He said they had not eaten properly for days. Another young man sent me a text saying he was ill with a fever. I went to meet him and he could hardly stand. He eventually admitted he had not eaten for days.

People are hungry everywhere and for many children, death is a real possibility. This report from Belle Anse in southern Haiti states that two out of three people have insufficient and irregular food: "6.7 million, or a staggering 67 percent of the population that goes without food some days, can’t afford a balanced diet or has limited access to food, according to surveys by the government’s National Coordination of Food Security. As many as 1.5 million of those face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems."

I don’t doubt these figures, but the report completely ignores UN and U.S. complicity in Haiti’s present situation. For example, it makes no mention of the devastation caused by cholera. It fails to explain adequately the United States’s role in destroying Haitian rice and the livelihood of many farmers. It mentions the low wages, but fails to make the connection with corporate exploitation being pushed by the U.S. and Haitian elite to use Haiti as a factory outpost of cheap labour. For example, many of the people who sold their land to accommodate the Caracol Industrial park have spent the money but now have no land to farm and therefore cannot feed themselves. Others in the city want to return home to the country where they can at least grow their own food, but they are stuck in a cycle of debt and often a need for healthcare access. While this access may be limited in the capital, it is far more prevalent there than in rural areas.

Hunger is not unique to Haiti, but set it against the billions of dollars to fund an ever-increasing militarization--the  UN/U.S. occupation, a newly formed paramilitary presence on the streets, private armed security and macoute-like state thugs who terrorize market vendors and people on the streets. Everywhere there are men with pistols, automatic rifles, batons, sticks and AK-47s patrolling the streets of the central city parameters in full combat gear, weapons at the ready. In the U.S., surveillance is carried out through the back door, collecting data on everything we do. In Haiti, surveillance of the popular masses is carried out in the open, through guns and government thugs. The UN continues to deny criminal negligence in introducing cholera. NGOs, though heavily reduced in numbers, continue to plough the streets with little apparent benefit to anyone but themselves. But worst of all, Haiti’s poor have been swept to the margins, their livelihoods often dependent on an assortment of religious missionaries, evangelicals and charities, leaving them with very little agency or sustainable futures.

After months of promising myself I would, I finally started reading Jacques Roumain’s Masters of the Dew. I was still on the introduction, which is quite long, where I came across this paragraph: "They were fed up with poverty.  They were worn out. The most reasonable among them were losing their senses. The strongest were wavering. As for the weak, they had given up. 'What's the use?,' they said. One could see them stretched out, sad and silent, on pallets before their huts, thinking about their hard luck, stripped of all their will power. Others were spending their last pennies on clarin at Florentine’s, the wife of the rural policeman, or else they were buying it on credit, which would sooner or later catch up with them. Fonds Rouge [the village setting] was falling away into debris, and the debris consisted of these good peasants, these earnest hardworking Negroes of the land. Wasn’t it a pity, after all? [p.104]"

Before coming to a depressing conclusion, it should be noted that 'Masters of the Dew' could also translate into ‘master of one's destiny – of imposing one’s will on the world,’ in which case being fed up with poverty may well lead to taking action to end it--personally and/or politically.

Recently, Place Boye, which up until a year ago housed a large IDP camp in Petion-Ville, was opened as a new park with a basketball court. [Back story: each family was given $500 to leave, just enough money to rent a one-room dwelling for a year. Now that the year is over, many are facing a second eviction from the rentals.] On the day of the opening by President Martelly, a group of women from Le Phare in Jalouzi came down and demanded they be given the job of taking care of the park.  This was agreed upon, and now there are ten women and two youths with the responsibility of keeping the park clean and tidy. They insisted I come to see them and everyone was smiling with double kisses. This group of women deciding to seize the opportunity and take action to end their misery was a wonderful victory.

Sokari Ekine is an IRP New Media Fellow in Haiti writing about health and development.