Today marks 10 years to the day since the devastating Haiti earthquake killed close to 300,000 people. The tragedy hit us very hard at the Haiti Support Group. Many of our members lost friends, family and loved ones. We are all still feeling the impact of that tragic event to this very day, and it remains central to our solidarity and campaigning efforts. Haiti is, and will forever be, in our thoughts and prayers.
This week you will hear politicians, international NGOs and charities try and celebrate the past decade in Haiti as one of recovery and progress. More often than not, the experiences of Haitian civil society organisations and grassroots movements will be wholly absent from these accounts. Lest we forget, however, that in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake it was Haitians who worked tirelessly to get Port-au-Prince back on its feet. They worked together, providing support to one another in the midst of unthinkable loss and suffering.
As the unimaginable events of that day unfolded, disaster capitalism vultures were already circling overhead. Neo-imperialists were quick to hijack recovery efforts. Many international actors held so much power they thought themselves well above the law. The recent Oxfam sexual abuse scandal is one such example of how this culture of impunity became so widespread following the earthquake.
The Clintons and their corporate buddies in Washington said they would help “build it back better”. Haiti, we were told, was now “open for business”. The civil society organisations we worked with, however, knew exactly what this proposed “development” plan meant for their country. Scandalously, the American Red Cross, which received nearly half a billion dollars in donations, built just six homes as part of the recovery effort. Those we spoke with told us the energy put into rebuilding Haiti was, instead,
“a total waste of time and money.”
Atrociously, the promises to rebuild Port-au-Prince and provide Haitians with decent housing were never realised. For years, Haitians languished in tent cities and were exposed to inhumane treatment. Women were left vulnerable to sexual assault and many were raped. Eventually, people were moved on not to ensure their own well-being but to appease the landowners who wanted their properties back. The poor eventually returned to living in precarious living conditions.
Most shockingly of all, the presence of UN “peacekeeping” forces in the months following the earthquake led to the introduction of a deadly cholera virus which killed 10,000 and sickened up to 100,000. The UN denied it, suppressed protests, and hampered the epidemic control campaign by covering up key evidence. It was only in 2016 that it was forced to admit responsibility for this tragedy.
“We have no water to drink,” student Ernst Exilume told Al Jazeera in 2010. “We have no choice but to drink the water from the river.”
In 2017, former President Martelly’s hand-picked successor Jovenel Moïse came to office following an election marked by massive boycotts across Haiti against obvious tampering. Moïse’s presidency has since been marred by constant allegations of embezzlement with regards to missing millions from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe loans, and a massive, sustained protest movement against the government.
Further challenges lie ahead. Climate breakdown puts Haiti further at risk, both as another threat to food sovereignty and through the growing likelihood of extreme weather and natural disasters. What our civil society partners have shared with us over the past decade reveal that the vulnerabilities within Haitian society after the earthquake are here to stay and getting worse.
Here at the Haiti Support Group we have worked tirelessly to amplify the voices of civil society organisations and grassroots movements working to effect real change in Haiti. We ensure Haitians remain at the centre of discussions on development in their country. We listen to their concerns. We work with them to address their vision of change. We have succeeded in doing this for almost three decades and, with your help, will continue to do so.