The Last Camp Standing

New Media Fellows 2013

By Sokari Ekine

August 27, 2013

Also published on BlackLooks

On Monday, August 19, four residents of Camp Acra & Adoquin and their lawyer, Patrice Florviluswere summoned to court following criminal charges laid by Reynold George, the claimed owner of a section of the camp land,  devotee and lawyer of Jean-Claude Duvalier. The residents included Camp Acra coordinator and founding member of the housing action group, Chanjem Leson, Jean-Louis Elie Joseph, Darlin Lexima (who had previously been detained and beaten by the police following a protest in April this year) and the family of Civil Meril (who had died whilst in police custody).

Reynold Georges had previously visited the camp in April, threatening to set it on fire if residents did not leave what he claimed to be his section of land. In the period since his threats, members of Chanjem Leson have been living in fear, sometimes going into hiding following visits from unknown plainclothes men and threatening phone calls.

So it was with great apprehension that the residents prepared to attend court on Monday. Fortunately for everyone, and through the hard work of human rights lawyers, Reynold Georges was forced to withdraw his charges.

There have been a number of reports on the specific persecution of human rights activists in the US mainstream media [here] and on Twitter by members of the foreign media and human rights community in Haiti. However, it is unfortunate that in these reports the voices of camp residents, who are far more vulnerable to the threats of powerful elites, are erased from the story--which becomes one about the human rights lawyer and western human rights activist. Even the protestors, it is claimed, were there to support the lawyer rather to save their camp!

This is not to diminish the importance of the legal profession in defending people’s rights or to dismiss their excellent work. However, there is once again an erasure of the voices of the popular masses. For example, Darlin Lexima, Elie Joseph, Esther Pierre and other vocal and visible camp activists do not only have to contend with living in fear from the likes of Reynold George and having their property and lives at risk from fire, they also have to contend with living in deplorable camp conditions for nearly 4 years, unemployment, sickness and sickness of relatives – in short, living with the worst aspects of structural violence.    

There are two related issues in this matter. One, that of Reynold Georges, is about evicting specifically 300 families from an area of Camp Acra & Adoquin with a view to evicting all 32,000 residents (6,000 families), plus the fate of all remaining camps. This is where the focus needs to be. As Chanjem Leson write on their website, they have a plan for the housing of all residents from camp Acra & Adoquin and a means for them to create their own income-generation projects.

The second issue is that of persecution of human rights lawyers and camp activists.

The erasure of the voices of popular masses is how the western media works – it selects a name and runs with that name at the expense of everyone else. And western human rights activists on the ground are complicit in this formula. In addition to an absence of the voices of those actually living the human rights abuses in the camps, missing from the commentary is a critique of the role of the US as the puppeteer pulling the strings behind the Haitian government or of corporate interests that seek to exploit the labour of Haitians at the cheapest rate possible. Although the UN occupation forces, MINUSTAH, are mentioned, failure to consider the US influence over the UN ends up with only half the story. The failure to critique US foreign policy and call for accountability from the US government is a frequent omission by western activists working in the global south who speak of rights as simply a local politic.

Ezili Danto is one of the most articulate voices speaking the truth of western involvement in Haiti as she explains in this piece on the US “rewriting the Haitian Constitution to better serve the one percent”:

"As long as white supremacy paints Haiti as a failed state because of weak public services, when Haiti is prevented by US unfair trade and World Bank/IMF structural adjustments from investing in its own local economy and paints the Clintons, Paul Farmers, UN, World Bank, the NGOs and their three-piece suited Eurocentric-Haiti collaborators with the mark of international distinction and service to humanity, Haiti’s pains will continue to be their cash cow. (Conflict of Interest: World Bank to Rewrite Haiti Mining Law, while Invested in Mining in Haiti, through the IFC.  US mining companies – through the World Bank/IFC – are writing Haiti mining laws to mine Haiti’s 20 billion in gold while the people are disenfranchised under the US occupation behind UN guns.)"

Again, as evidenced in the support of Trayvon Martin family, activists from Chanjem Leson recognise the injustice they face here in Haiti is closely connected to the injustice faced by black youth like Oscar Grant, Marissa Alexander, Travyon Martin and Jordan Davis. I would go further in saying that human rights violations in Haiti should also be seen in the context of US human rights violations in Guantanamo, targeted assassinations and drone killings of civilians in Yemen and the harassment of US journalists and their families by US immigration and their allies. It is therefore hardly surprising that the US government doesn’t just close its eyes to the gangster politicians and elites in Haiti, it protects them insofar as its main interest is in acquiring Haiti’s natural resources and using cheap labour to drive US and other international corporate interests.

There is presently a call to support Haitian Frontline Defenders – namely, the human rights lawyers, their workers and families: "Front Line Defenders fears for the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Patrice Florvilus, DOP staff members and their families in the light of the previous threats against them. Furthermore, Front Line Defenders is concerned at the precedent that the summons may set in undermining the independence of the legal profession."

Not a mention of the front-line defenders at the Camp in Delmas 33! Let their voices be front-line news, their faces circulated so everyone knows who they are. Reynold Georges has announced on the radio that he will surely remove everyone from Camp Acra & Adoquin. It’s hard to imagine anyone, including the Mayor of Delmas, standing in his way, and it’s hard to imagine that 2014 will not mark the end of camps--at least the large two in Delmas that sit on prime real estate.

Below are my notes from Saturday’s conversation with Chanjem Leson members:

"We are happy the criminal charges against made by Reynold Georges has  been withdrawn and we are thankful to our lawyers, especially Patrice Florvilus. But right now many camps have faced evictions  – in Place Boyer, Champ de Mars, Acra 2, St Pierre, Tabarre and so many others. And this is still going on; every month there is one camp less. Where are the people going? Many come to the remaining camps, some to their families and some rent a house if they are lucky to get compensation. What will happen after that we do not know. We do not want this to happen to us here at Delmas 33.

"Reynold George has dropped the charges, but we do not think this is the end of the matter as he wants what he is claiming is his land. Possibly he will go to the courts and try to get an eviction order for the 300 families in the section of the camp he claims is his. Then they will have maybe three months to leave, maybe less. There is a [back] story to this land. Before the earthquake, the land was designated as public by Wilson Jeudy, the Mayor of Delmas. [Note, Jeudy is no friend of camp residents for whom he has shown nothing but disdain. He has only visited the camp once, plus he has been responsible for violent evictions in other camps in Delmas.] He went to court with people who claimed the land was theirs, including Reynold Georges. There was a plan to build a commercial complex for Delmas on this land. If the eviction process is successful, this will benefit the mayor, who may then return to challenging George and others claiming the land. As you know, the camp is huge and you can imagine what they can do with this land. So possibly they will end up fighting each other once they have evicted us, but I believe it will be very difficult for Reynold George to acquire this land. In the camp at Delmas 40b, where there were maybe 9,000 families, there are already evictions and I believe some people have received compensation so this eviction threat is a very real one.

"As you know we have had a plan including an architect design to provide houses for all the families who wish to go with us. The land was given to us in 2011, but now we are having to fight for this again as the NGO is saying they know nothing about this. But we have evidence. Once we have the land, we have to find money for the notary; then we have to find an organisation willing to build homes for us on credit. It is a huge struggle for us. We will start with 1,500 families or those who are willing to join us. This is our focus at this time because we want to leave the camp. We are tired of living in tents. By January, we have been here four years. This is too long and we are all very tired and many of us are getting sicker and there is no employment. The stress is too much."

Sokari Ekine is reporting from Haiti as a New Media Fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP).

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