Event Announcement: Grassroots Haiti Activist to MN

April 9, 2014

“Self-Appointed Saviors”

The world has imposed solution after solution on Haiti.

Woodrow Wilson sent the US Marines to occupy Haiti from 1915-1934, allegedly to “reintroduce stability.” But when they finally relinquished control of Haiti’s finances in the 1950s, Haiti had accumulated tens of millions in international debt.

In the 1980s, international agencies informed Haitian farmers that they would replace their native Creole pigs, because the local breed was sick. Unfortunately, the new pigs, fresh off the farms of Iowa, were unaccustomed to conditions in Haiti and died off – thereby eliminating the “primary savings account” for many farmers.

In the meantime, corporations and western governments pressured Haiti to abandon agriculture in favor of textile-led growth. Clinton later apologized, calling these policies a “devil’s bargain” that sold out Haiti’s farmers over false promises of growth through textile manufacturing. But no one has claimed responsibility for the most damaging consequence: the demise of the farming sparked a mass migration to the Port-au-Prince, where hastily constructed slums afforded no protection against the earthquake that claimed ~300,000 lives.

Doomed to repeat the past?

Since the earthquake, the international community has doubled down on its failed model of imposing solutions from without.

In the year after the earthquake, less than 1% of relief and recovery funds went to the Haitian government, Haitian companies, or Haitian NGOs. Instead, the world chose to fund a consortium of contractors who make a living off disasters. If there were any questions about the (in)effectiveness of this approach, they were answered when one high-profile project triggered protests and threats that farmers would burn the “aid” they received.

An Alternative: Beverly Bell and Grassroots Advocacy

This background explains why we’re so excited to host Beverly Bell in Minnesota April 21-23. Beverly Bell sees hope for Haiti’s future in the efforts of Haitian grassroots organizers and social movements. She has 3 decades of experience working with these types of organizations in pursuit of just economies; democratic participation; and rights for women other marginalized peoples.

Beverly Bell with Book

Beverly Bell and her new book, Fault Lines.

 

If history is any indication, then she has the right formula. All the major milestones in Haitian history – from the successful slave revolt that made it the first free republic in 1804 to the democratic groundswell that toppled a dictator and ushered Haiti’s first democratic leader into power – have been achieved through the struggle of the Haitian citizenry. At best, the international community has stood in the way. At worst – and much more often – it has actively undermined Haiti’s progress.

Fault Lines: An Important Post-Quake Account

Beverly Bell will speak about her recent book, Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide. The book illustrates how the earthquake compounded pre-existing socio-economic injustices in Haiti. It sheds light on how the exploitative doctrine of “disaster capitalism” has driven the international response to the quake. And perhaps most importantly, it highlights the work grassroots actors are undertaking to resist this influence and define a future based on domestic priorities, rather than imported (and imposed) ones.

As the coordinator of Other Worlds Are Possible, Beverly Bell works not just to educate, but also to generate support for alternative movements and models of engagement.

Schedule

Beverly Bell will be appearing at St. Olaf, Carleton, University of Minnesota, and Macalester. Her public speaking schedule is as follows:

Northfield – Monday, April 21

St. Olaf:
     “Other Worlds Are Possible”
4:00 PM, BC143 (2nd floor of Buntrock)

Carleton:
     “Charity vs. Justice: Challenging the Global Engagement Model”
7:00 PM, Athenaeum (Carleton Library)

Minneapolis - Tuesday, April 22

Common Roots:
“Food Justice in Haiti: Monsanto, USAID, and Alternative Agriculture Models

     12:00 PM, Meeting Room

University of Minnesota:
Disaster Capitalism: Lessons from Haiti”
     4:30 PM, Blegen 155

Macalester:
    “Disaster Capitalism: Lessons from Haiti”
     7:30 PM, Neill Hall 401

 

For more information about Northfield events, contact Paul Miller (thehaitiman@msn.com)

For more information about the U of M event, contact Natalie Miller (mill5118@umn.edu)

For more information about Minneapolis events or other opportunities to connect with Beverly Bell, contact Nathan Yaffe (nathan.yaffe@gmail.com)


Event Announcement: Haiti Human Rights Reformer to MN

March 30, 2012

Haiti’s central challenges revolve around rights violations. On one level, political and business elites abuse the rights of Haiti’s poor majority. On another, the international community routinely ignores Haiti’s rights as a sovereign state. These mutually reinforcing dynamics have consistently exacerbated poverty and inequality in the country.

The Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) is at the forefront of the fight to help Haitians exercise their rights in pursuit of a better future. It is thus with great pleasure that the Haiti Justice Alliance will host Brian Concannon, director of IJDH, from Apr. 10-12 for a series of exciting events in Minnesota.

This post introduces IJDH’s work on several rights-related issues, highlighting the unique virtues of their approach. Also included is the event schedule for Mr. Concannon’s visit.

The UN’s Cholera Crimes

Most prominent in the headlines of late is IJDH’s joint campaign with its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), to sue the UN on behalf of cholera victims.

The UN mission in Haiti (known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH) failed to properly screen its peacekeepers from Nepal, where an active cholera outbreak was taking place, before sending them to Haiti. Subsequently, it failed to properly dispose of waste from the Nepalese peacekeepers’ camp, allowing fecal matter (which spreads cholera) to be dumped into Haiti’s longest and most important river, the Artibonite.

The UN argues that what “really caused” the outbreak was lack of sanitation, even as it acknowledges a UN soldier introduced the disease. With this defense, it seeks to dodge responsibility for its actions.

However, buying this argument requires a bit of amnesia. Prior to the cholera outbreak, the UN urged foreign actors to exercise additional caution given Haiti’s post-quake vulnerability. Now they’ve changed their tune, using an argument that boils down to: “Haiti’s vulnerability means we’re off the hook no matter how much damage we did.”

In this instance, the damage amounts to more than 7,000 reported deaths and half a million infections, making Haiti home to the world’s largest cholera outbreak. As does any victim of gross, criminal negligence, the people of Haiti deserve compensation. Or at the very least, they have the right to a fair hearing about whether such compensation is merited.

IJDH-BAI is spearheading the effort to overcome UN stonewalling, and provide Haitian cholera victims with a path to justice. If successful, this lawsuit will be the first time the UN itself has been held legally accountable for its actions in a fragile state.

At their core, UN abuses in Haiti (which also include pervasive sexual assault and extra-judicial killings) return to issues of sovereignty. MINUSTAH only came to be under the repressive US-imposed interim regime that followed the 2004 US-backed coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Thus, on one level, the UN cholera lawsuit reasserts Haiti’s sovereign rights in the face of foreign oppression enacted by a peacekeeping force the people of Haiti don’t want in their country in the first place. Mr. Concannon is one of the primary driving forces behind this unique and complex international human rights law case.

Rights of Victims, Rights of the Imprisoned: Holistic Judicial Reform

Through his work with IJDH and BAI, Mr. Concannon is also deeply involved in reforming the judicial system in Haiti. Two examples: improving access to legal services for survivors of sexual assault, and ending the backlog of inmates who have been imprisoned without so much as being formally charged.

The IJDH-BAI approach is a model of grassroots community engagement. In contrast to the top-down methods used by many foreign actors, IJDH-BAI use a “victim-centered approach,” which “com­bines tra­di­tional legal strate­gies with empow­er­ment of vic­tims’ orga­ni­za­tions and polit­i­cal advo­cacy.”

As such, Mr. Concannon is not just an international law expert and an accomplished judicial reformer. He’s also a pioneer when it comes to using law for the direct empowerment of citizens. By helping the people of Haiti exercise their own rights, Mr. Concannon’s work has a lasting impact that overcomes the political vicissitudes of individual institutional reforms.

 

Join Us To Learn From Brian Concannon’s Expertise and Experiences

This introduction only just begins to capture the scope of Mr. Concannon’s work through IJDH and BAI. Other efforts include a high-profile case to prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, as well as work to secure housing rights for those displaced after the earthquake.

Mr. Concannon’s full schedule of public events can be found by clicking here. Additionally, we will be screening a compelling new documentary that provides background about the effect of the cholera outbreak. This film will air at Carleton on Mon, Apr. 2 at 7:00 PM in the Weitz Center and at St. Olaf on Tue, Apr. 3 at 7:00 PM in Viking Theater.


The Anniversary of President Aristide’s Overthrow

February 29, 2012

This is a personal reflection from Paul Miller, the director of the Haiti Justice Alliance.

President Jean Bertrand Aristide

I remember very well where I was when I learned that President Aristide had left Haiti in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004.  It was my “where were you when you heard JFK was shot” moment, although I have that memory, too.  It was at Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, Minnesota and my friend, who had traveled with me to Haiti in December of 2003, 3 months earlier, informed me that news reports were saying that Aristide had left Haiti.  “Left Haiti?  No way,” was my first thought. I didn’t think that Aristide would ever abdicate his presidential term in Haiti by his own choice after the 1991 coup against him and his 1994 return. Stunned and devastated would accurately describe how I received this most depressing news.

The facts would come to show that my instincts were right.  President Aristide had no intention of leaving Haiti on that night or on any night during the remaining time of his presidency.  Clearly he did not leave that night of his own volition.  You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe about US actions on this or any other given day.  However, if you choose to value the truth, then you must accept that the facts show that Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed by US force/s as yet another coup d’état took place in Haiti.  The only evidence offered of an alternative scenario are self-serving statements from those at the top of our government, chiefly George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the sycophantic Colin Powell.

It’s not ancient history, like a lot of our nefarious actions towards Haiti.  It was 8 years ago.  Monday it was announced that President Aristide is being investigated for drug violations. Our hypocrisy really knows no bounds.  What a coincidence that once again we are asked to question Aristide’s integrity and ethics rather than to be reminded that a US-sponsored coup undermined Haiti’s hope for democracy and stability on this day, 8 short years ago.


MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

-Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Reflections on Kim, Rory, and Oprah in Haiti

January 30, 2012
This is a post from the Director of the Haiti Justice Alliance, Paul Miller. Paul’s contribution examines the inherent irony in the do-gooding work of celebrities who have been propelled to fabulous wealth by the structural inequalities that prey upon those they purport to serve. He concludes with an eloquent call for approaching Haiti with dignity rather than with the pity of celebrities.
***
The conditions in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti should serve as an indictment of the inherent injustice that exists in a world where the haves have money beyond any possible use other than to mark the number of zeros behind their net worth and the have-nots are subject to the dreadful whims of nature because they are forced to live in the unsafe dregs of the material world.
***
***
It is ironic that some of the leading icons in the world of haves, who should be most looking inward in this structural system that creates winners and losers, are the ones newly offering their empathy to the poor, to-be-pitied children of the have and have-not system where the aftermath of the earthquake is only the latest inhumanity served up to them.
***
Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly News Round-Up: Human Rights and International Investment

December 10, 2011

Human Rights in Haiti

Yesterday was the UN-sponsored International Day of Human Rights – a day laden with irony for the people of Haiti. The occasion sparked protests, writing, and petitions from Haitian activists.

Pairs well with: Haitians protesting in St. Marc, Haiti, to demand respect for their human rights in front of a UN sign bearing the mission’s name, MINUSTAH (left). A boy at the protest holding a sign that says, “Haitians have rights like everyone!” (right).

Photo credit: @gaetantguevara

Also pairs well with: This piece from Etant Dupain covering the protests: “It is a contradiction for the UN to celebrate their International Day for Human Rights while members of the mission are violating human rights in Haiti.”

Action Alert: Our partner group, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, began a petition asking the UN to honor cholera victims’ human rights in honor of human rights day. Consider signing here.

More International Forums on Reconstruction

After last week’s Invest in Haiti forum (critiqued here), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Haiti Reconstruction Forum took place in Miami on Thursday. The goal of the event was similar: promoting investment in Haiti.

Pairs well with: Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter, live-tweeted the event. Her coverage was the only source for details of what was discussed at the forum, including:

    1. the announcement of a potential IDB-financed “portable school” project;
    2. praise for the industrial park;
    3. more support for the hotel industry ;
    4. an IDB-supported $700 million agriculture plan.

Also pairs well with: Carlson Hotels visited Haiti on the day of the forum to look into starting a hotel to rival the new, 173-room hotel built by Marriott. It appears that the international community plan for Haiti’s economy has distilled itself into the two T’s: Textiles and Tourism.


The Caracol Industrial Park: A Misguided Approach To Economic Development

December 8, 2011

The big Haiti news last week was all about the Invest in Haiti forum. Predictably, chatter about the event has segmented into two camps. On one side are business enthusiasts who see the forum – and the headline-grabbing business park being built in Caracol – as a sure source of jobs and growth. On the other are those concerned with social justice, who point out that textile manufacturing in Haiti has historically been plagued by wage and union suppression.

Construction begins on a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

For the most part, these groups aren’t in dialogue with one another because they focus on different factors. The pro-investment group – Bill Clinton, President Martelly, and Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe – don’t discuss worker’s rights and distributive justice issues.

Rather, they assume that “growing the economic pie” is sufficient for now: if problems exist with how the pie is divided, those can be addressed later. Meanwhile, those who do focus on justice issues continue to point out (rightly) the historical pattern of industry and investment only benefiting a few is clear.

In this piece, we take a different approach to critiquing the industrial development vision represented by the Invest in Haiti forum. The stated goal of those supporting the industrial park in Caracol, as reflected by Bill Clinton’s quote (see below), is to create jobs that will lead to economic growth and development.

“We are here to build a modern economy… and in the process, give Haitians the means to build a modern state.” – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

The question behind this post is: even if the distributional and justice-related concerns are ignored for the time being, does the vision they’ve outlined stand up to macro-economic scrutiny? The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding “no.” The remainder of this post explores the macro-economic reasons why this is the case.

 

Building a Modern Economy?

Backward and Forward Linkages

This unwieldy macro-economic term actually describes a simple concept, best illustrated by example. The ultimate case study of successful backward and forward linkages is the tire industry in Brazil (PDF). The production of tires in Brazil was a huge boon to rubber plantations (backward linkage). Eventually, Brazil’s status as a tire manufacturer attracted auto manufacturers (forward linkage), and the three industries grew together – resulting in huge growth rates in Brazil.

So what are the prospects for linkages in Haiti?  Again, Bill Clinton’s speech is instructive on this point:

 

I want to say a special word of thanks to Sae-A and to Chairman Kim for… not only bringing 20,000 jobs to Haiti. But… there were once 100,000 people assembling clothes in Haiti, but they never even had their own textile mill. They’ll have their own textile mill for the first time now. – Bill Clinton, Nov 30, 2011

 

The fact that Haiti will now have a textile mill differentiates this round of investment from past textile manufacturing efforts. That’s because previously, Haiti had to rely on imported textile materials for assembly and immediate re-export. In other words, the mill opens up the possibility for a backward linkage with cotton growers. However, this would first require revitalizing Haiti’s cotton production, which peaked before the reign of the Duvaliers and has fallen steadily since.

As for forward linkages, there’s not much on the horizon. A 2008 Overseas Development Institute paper entitled, “The Role of Textile and Clothing Industries in Growth and Development Strategies” (PDF) only discusses backward linkages, with one exception. They vaguely suggest that “business support systems” that develop around the garment industry “may facilitate the transition into higher value added activities.” In other words, unlike with tires, clothing doesn’t lead to anything of higher value – which is traditionally how emerging industries spark growth – except for by fostering business culture.

Integration into Global Value Chains

The global value chain is, quite simply, the chain of economic relationships that constitute a production process. On one end of the value chain is a cotton grower; on the other, a person wearing a finished clothing product.

It’s important to consider “integration” into these chains because there’s lots of research suggesting global value chains are “sticky.” That is, once buyers and sellers at different links in the chain develop relationships, they’re not prone to go shopping around for new relationships to replace them. This phenomenon is described by a recent World Bank paper entitled, “Clothing and Export Diversification: Still a Route to Growth for Low Income Countries?” (PDF):

These chains initially emerged in the clothing sector in the 1950s and 1960s as buyers in developed countries contracted out production to low-wage developing countries. Over the past 4 decades these chains have matured and the sourcing networks have spread over a large number of countries… The mature global chains of today restrict the opportunities that the clothing sector offers developing countries for diversification and growth.

In other words, prospects are at best uncertain that Haiti can capture a larger share of textile value chains than it currently commands. While favorable trade preference arrangements may assist Haiti in the short-term gain access to US markets, even that isn’t a sure bet. In the past, duty-free and other tax-exempt statuses haven’t been adequate to lure many manufacturers to Haiti.

 

Realistic Expectations for the Industrial Park

This is not going to modernize Haiti’s economy. Without forward linkages, there’s no real prospect for diversifying into higher-value sectors. But even if it’s unlikely for Haiti to break into established global value chains, it already has a place in several in the textile industry. Therefore, enhancing the sector could have a positive welfare effect – if the benefits are distributed in an equitable fashion. And this, of course, brings us back to the political factors discussed earlier.

 

A Better Economic Model?

There are, however, other models. Costa Rica, for instance, is one case of a small island nation that achieved a foothold in a higher-value industry despite its low-income status. That transition is described in the paper, “Costa Rica’s Development Strategy Based on Human Capital and Technology: How It Got There, the Impact of Intel, and Lessons for Other Countries” (PDF).

The point isn’t to suggest that this is the right model for Haiti. Rather, the point is that there are models besides from the low-wage, textile-driven development envisioned by Martelly and Clinton, which has a proven track record of failure.

Photo Credit: Flickr/USAID_Images


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