23 February 2010
As Haiti moves forward from the current point of devastation of its
population, capitol city, and economy, what could a different nation
Who knows better than the Haitian majority? Why not ask them what they
need and want?
Their perspectives have been sorely lost from the post-earthquake plans
of some of the world's strongest powers. Their analyses went unheard by
the foreign ministers and financial institutions at the international
donors meeting in Montreal on January 25. Their voices have been lost
amidst the declarations of the International Monetary Fund, President
Obama, and the leadership of the 32,500 troop-strong U.S. and U.N.
military operation now underway.
On February 13th and again on the 20nd, more than fifty organizations
representing grassroots sectors met in Port-au-Prince to develop their
political, economic, and social priorities, and to make their voices
heard. The declaration from February 13th read in part: "[We have]
decided to launch a national and international campaign to bring forth
another vision of how to redevelop this country, a vision based on
people-to-people solidarity to develop the opportunity now facing this
country to raise up another Haiti. We [want] to build a social force
which can establish a reconstruction plan where the fundamental
problems of the people take first priority. These include: housing,
environment, food, education, literacy, work, and health for all; a
plan to wipe out exploitation, poverty, and social and economic
inequality; and a plan to construct a society which is based on social
Discussions toward a cohesive forum of social movements are still
underway. In the meantime, a subset of the grouping -- the Consultative
Group of Social Movements on Reconstruction -- committed itself to
organizing a meeting on March 12th and 13th to explore priorities and
how to achieve them. The Consultative Group will seek broad
participation from different sectors and regions. The groups leading
this network include the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development
in Haiti (PAPDA, by its Creole acronym) and its six member
organizations, the Alternative Justice Program (PAJ), the Society for
Social Mobilization and Communication (SAKS), and a few others.
Dozens of interviews with social movement leaders reveal a clearly
emerging consensus on the priorities for reconstructing the country --
or, as some call it, "constructing the country," since few are served
by reconstructing what existed before. The priorities are as follows.
* Creating participatory democracy. This has been at the heart of
social movements' demands from the moment Haiti emerged from the brutal
30-year Duvalier dictatorship in 1986; it may be more relevant today
than ever. Government must serve the people, be accountable to them,
and include their participation. Community organizer Marianne Moïse
captures the objective when she says, "We have to be the principal
actors in changing our country. No one else can change it for us."
Citizens assert that it is their right to be involved in decisions
regarding future policies and programs. After all, they are the ones
who will have to live with the impacts.
* Rebuilding under a new economic paradigm, one which breaks free
of the old path where agricultural production is undermined by unfair
trade rules, where food and many other basics are imported, and where a
coveted job is as a sweatshop worker earning $3 per day. Social
movements are adamant that Haiti from here on out must be based on
principles of economic justice, including:no more payments on a
long-since-repaid foreign debt, trade rules that privilege Haitian
producers and Haitian goods, food sovereignty, employment
opportunities, and workers' rights.
* Protecting the environment. This is connected to a new economic
model, part of putting people and the earth before profits. Central to
social movements' environmental advocacy is tough environmental
regulations for industry (which are currently nonexistent) and a new
model of ecological agriculture. Creating environmentally healthy
citizen practices is another factor.
* Putting social needs at the center. As articulated by experts,
women in a rights group now living under sheets in a refugee camp,
those needs are, in a rough ranking of priority: housing, food, health
care, education, and work.
* Privileging agriculture. In a country where the rural farming
population comprises 65% to 80% of the population (depending on who's
answering, as no census has ever been taken), substantial investment in
developing peasant agriculture is critical. This is especially true in
a context of a food crisis that was already severe before the
earthquake and that will soon become much more so, since farmers have
had to use much of this year's seed stock to feed the deluge of people
fleeing Port-au-Prince for the countryside. Just trade policies which
protect local production are key.
* Ensuring women's and children's rights. In the fragile and
dangerous post-catastrophe environment, social and economic rights for
women and their children must be front and center. Security against the
violence now escalating against them is also critical. Malia Villard,
organizer of rape survivors, says, "They didn't respect our rights even
before the Presidential Palace was destroyed, even before the Palace of
Justice was destroyed. We need that in the reconstruction."
The agenda is monumental in the best of times. Today it is being
shaped by people who still don't know where their child is, who came to
work today after attending another funeral, who are still wearing casts
from earthquake injuries. It may be that their pain and difficulties
sharpen the determination to have their needs met in a context of
social and economic justice and democracy.
That is the perspective, at least, of Ricot Jean-Pierre, director of
programs for PAPDA. He says, "Sadness can't discourage us so that we
stop fighting. We've lost people as in all battles, but we have to
continue fighting to honor them and make their dreams a reality. The
dream is translated into a slogan: ‘Another Haiti is possible.'"
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30
years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's
Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds,
www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic
alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy
Sent by the Haiti Support Group - A British solidarity organisation
supporting the Haitian people's struggle for participatory democracy,
human rights and equitable development - www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org