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.


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.


3 Principles to Ensure You Do (or Support) Effective, Appropriate Work in Haiti

November 30, 2011

In the first post following Lavarice Gaudin’s visit to Minnesota, we argued that development is political. Any NGO that ignores the political factors perpetuating Haiti’s poverty can’t contribute to meaningful, structural changes.

This time, we outline the steps you can take to get involved in a better way. These steps apply whether you’re an NGO looking to do work in Haiti, or a donor looking to give money. The Haiti Justice Alliance was established with the belief that these steps are critical to successfully working for real change in Haiti:

  1. Research the history of the problem you want to work on as well as the method you want to use to get involved;
  2. Empower people in Haiti through partnership rather than unilateral action;
  3. Complement existing efforts rather than duplicating them.

 

Why Don’t More People Do This Already?

There are, of course, many who work in Haiti effectively, but several obstacles make this regrettably uncommon.

For starters, US government involvement reads like a laundry list of pitfalls to avoid in Haiti. People who take their cues from US aid programs are almost certain to get it wrong.

Read the rest of this entry »


Links Round-Up: Minister Forced to Resign, Army Put on Hold, And More

November 23, 2011

Breaking News Alert

The Minister of Justice, Josué Pierre-Louis, resigned yesterday under pressure from Haitian parliament. He was charged with participating in the illegal arrest of an opposition party parliamentarian, Arnel Belizaire. Most believe the arrest was retribution for a public spat between Belizaire and the President.

 

Security

President Michel Martelly delayed the re-establishment of the Haitian army pending a ‘civilian commission’ recommendation, due on Jan. 1. Most likely this change occurred because of insufficient funds, or pressure from international actors.

Pairs Well With: The homicide rate in Haiti is not only lower than implied by the media, but is actually well below the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a new study.

Also Pairs Well With: Our post urging everyone to move past the debate over lawlessness in Haiti, which is one of the main justifications for bringing back the army.

 

Economy and Trade

The Ministry of Trade seeks to attract investors, declaring: Haiti is open for business (h/t @moiracathleen).

Pairs Well With: Two articles showing how wage and union suppression have been used to deny the benefits of foreign investment to Haiti’s poor. In other words, investment is great – but only if the right regulations are in place.

The emergence of a vibrant entrepreneurial class in Haiti is one of the best defenses against predatory foreign investment. That’s why it’s exciting to hear that one of our partner groups, the What If? Foundation, is starting a club focused on developing students’ entrepreneurial skills.

Pairs Well With: Haiti’s first annual Global Entrepreneurship Day just concluded, which serves as another positive model of promoting Haitian-driven business ideas, as imposed to foreign-imposed ones.

 

Aid to Haiti

The Center for Economic and Policy Research again picks up on a story that HJA previously covered: the fact that USAID’s reliance on enormous contracts decreases the quality of its aid to Haiti.

Pairs Well With: HJA’s two pieces that focus on the effect of tied aid contracts and “indefinite quantity contracts” (IQCs), which are used because they’re administratively cheap, even though they produce terrible results.


Development Is Political

November 14, 2011

We had a wonderful series of events last week with Lavarice Gaudin, director of operations for the What If? Foundation. Lavarice braved 13 talks over 3 days, which included a panel, public speeches, and class appearances.

Although he offered unique insights each time, several common themes emerged. This post picks up one of those themes for further discussion.

Power and Politics in the US-Haiti Relationship

“The US relationship with Haiti is like somebody who breaks your legs, and then asks: why are you crippled?” – Lavarice Gaudin

Lavarice Gaudin at the University of Minnesota. Photo Credit: Paul Miller.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Right Kind of Food Activism For Haiti: An Event Announcement

October 26, 2011

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but… it was a mistake. I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.” – Former Pres. Bill Clinton

The above quote speaks to a profoundly important shift in Haiti since the 1980s: the replacement of most locally grown rice with US imports. Although Haiti produced enough rice to feed itself just 35 years ago, that era has long since passed. Today, the USA Rice Federation brags that Haiti is one of the 5 largest export markets (PDF) for American rice.

In this quote, Bill Clinton admitted something that Haitians have long known. By destroying its rice production system, the US “imposed” upon Haiti decades of devastating hunger. One of the Haitians fighting to reverse this trend is a visionary agricultural activist named Lavarice Gaudin. The Haiti Justice Alliance is thrilled to announce that Lavarice will be joining us in Minnesota from Nov. 6-10.

Read the rest of this entry »


Framing Rule of Law Issues: Beyond “Lawless and Violent”

September 23, 2011

The media loves talking about lawlessness in Haiti (ad infinitum), which often leads to graphic depictions of ubiquitous violence. Many Haiti activists retort that these narratives brim with “unattributed false statement[s].” They point to the testimony of journalists like Sebastian Walker: “Haitians are among the most friendly, peaceful people I’ve ever encountered.”

Those informed by the mainstream media typically conclude that Haiti’s “lawlessness” necessitates more UN troops to impose security, while the justice-minded bemoan the “myth of Haiti’s lawless streets.” At this point, dialogue usually ceases as each side retires with their preferred conclusion.

Framing Rule of Law Issues Effectively

Human rights attorney Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), however, frames rule of law issues in a manner that allows for overcoming this impasse.

Read the rest of this entry »


Lessons From The FOIA Series

August 30, 2011

In the final installment of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) series, we explore different ways the US could’ve handled the relief effort.

The first post revealed that most of our money went to two forms of aid – militarized aid and “tied” food aid – both of which the US is chastised for using because they’re either ineffective or harmful. The second post showed that most of the rest of the money went to the UN – followed by private contractors – and that within the UN, it was allocated in a manner that neglected Haiti’s biggest post-quake challenge.

This time we peek under the hood of the USAID system to understand what led to those choices. This perspective is essential not only for explaining why the relief effort played out as it did, but more importantly, for pointing the way forward from here.

Read the rest of this entry »


Visions of Urban Agriculture: Mark’s Micro-Garden

July 18, 2011

Recently, we critiqued USAID’s agriculture program in Haiti. Critique is important, but equally (or more) important is providing positive examples. This week, I’m pleased to introduce a post by Paul Miller, Executive Director of the Haiti Justice Alliance, focused on the kind of solution that works. Paul profiles an inspiring urban agriculture program we learned of recently. Connecting with efforts like this one through established partners, such as Réa Dol, is one of the great strengths of HJA’s collaborative model.

Mark (top) explains his micro-garden project to HJA delegate Nathan Yaffe (bottom).

 

During our May visit, our delegation saw organizations rising from the rubble due to their own fearless determination and their commitment in the face of daunting challenges to re-build Haiti. We would like to share one of their remarkable stories with you.

Mark’s Micro Garden Project / Madam Rea Dol

Mark Jacobs has initiated a micro-garden project focused on providing economic opportunities for Haiti’s ti machann (market women). Working with Réa Dol, an amazing community organizer, Mark has begun experimenting with growing rooftop vegables as a way to create micro-enterprises.  These will be run by the women’s groups already participating in Réa’s micro-lending program.

Starting an urban agriculture project in a tropical country with highly degraded topsoil poses many challenges.  However, because of his farming background in Guyana, Mark comes equipped with the knowledge to tackle these problems.  The pictures here testify to the success of his initial efforts.

Mark's micro-garden, flourishing with the help of shade netting.

The strength of Mark’s project is two-fold: he takes advantage of readily available resources, and his vision is informed by condition on the ground.  On the first topic, his planting containers come from shipping palates that are discarded in Cité Soleil.  On the second, his program is designed to directly address the economic constraints faced by the ti machann.

As the project develops, Mark will employ and train Haitian women to participate with his micro-gardening efforts.  He has already hired one Haitian woman who is tending to his plants while he travels to obtain materials for his project.

Entrepreneurial micro-solutions that work will be readily adopted by Haiti’s resourceful people.  Mark is working on a scale that will effectively allow his work to be transferred to others.  This means his model can create sustainable enterprises that provide food and economic opportunity.  With small steps and small successes will come larger steps and greater impacts.

As always, the hope in Haiti lies in the response from Haitians themselves, and from the organizations that trust the Haitian people to provide for their own well-being.


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