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Scenes From Haiti, Six Weeks After PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Monday, 01 March 2010 02:52

Scenes From Haiti, Six Weeks After

By Kim Ives Haiti Liberte, February 24 - March 2, 2010, Vol. 3, No. 32
(First of two parts)
 
The three U.S. soldiers parked their tan Humvee on the sidewalk across from St. Louis de Gonzague, once Haiti's most prestigious high school. Today it is home to a camp of about 6,000 displaced Haitians still living in tents and tarpaulin lean-tos six weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.

The three U.S. soldiers parked their tan Humvee on the sidewalk across from St. Louis de Gonzague, once Haiti's most prestigious high school. Today it is home to a camp of about 6,000 displaced Haitians still living in tents and tarpaulin lean-tos six weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake.
 
On the fence surrounding the school, hundreds of paintings are mounted for sale. The site is well chosen. Delmas 33 is a back route used everyday by thousands of soldiers and so-called "non-governmental organization" employees (most are working for or with some government) to go to and from the airport where both U.S. and U.N. troops are based. It is also the command center for almost all the NGOs.
 
The soldiers pensively perused the paintings. Many depicted colorful scenes of green hills, fantastic animals, fruit trees, and quaint houses which contrasted sharply with the dust and devastation of the outdoor gallery. Not far away on a white wall was spray-painted in red and Kreyòl: "Haiti Will Not Die! Down with Occupation! Down with the NGOs!" Solemn groups of young men and market women - arms folded, hands on chins - watched the soldiers as they shopped. The soldiers appeared oblivious to the graffiti, those watching them, the history of the school, and the misery of the camp behind the paintings. They were tourists.
 
That's the most charitable perception of the U.S., French, Canadian, and U.N. troops seen patrolling everywhere but doing nothing to help Port-au-Prince residents dig out from under the rubble, which is all that remains of much of the city. Most Haitians harbor a deep resentment of the foreign troops and want them out of the country.
 
"We are not at war," said Paul Vilmé, 43, a now out-of-work teacher and actor on Grande Rue on Feb. 23 where that day U.S. soldiers had finally helped clear some quake debris "Why all the big guns? Why all the big tanks? Are they just showing off or are they up to something? We need engineers, architects, equipment operators, people with shovels not M-16s."
 
Not far away was Renold Etienne, 32. He is in fact a heavy equipment operator, who knows backhoes, bulldozers, you name it. He just spent three years in the Bahamas and one year in Providenciales. He had come back home to visit his family for the holidays. "The earthquake caught me here," he said.
 
Unable to return to Provo, he has been to dozens of work sites, stood for days outside the base of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), and pleaded for a job with many Haitian government foremen. "They want references," he says with a shrug and a mirthless laugh. "I'm living under the stars, with just the clothes on my back, with no home, having worked overseas for the last four years, and they want references? Can you imagine such madness? Anywhere else they would check you out, see if you can operate the rig, then set you to work, but not here."
 
Indeed, in a heavy equipment rental house on the airport road, at least ten backhoes and bulldozers sit idly in the lot. The government should be requisitioning such equipment, one thinks looking at it. Instead, such rental houses - for equipment and cars - are raking in money and are poised to rake in more during this "reconstruction" period, making Haiti's rich bourgeoisie even richer. ("Avis: Choice of the NGOs!" heralds one billboard by the airport's MINUSTAH base).
 
Nonetheless, President René Préval has deployed his specially created National Center for Equipment (CNE) - which boasts scores of dump trucks and excavation equipment - to raze dozens of sites around the capital: the Women's Ministry off Champ de Mars, the TELECO building on Grande Rue, CANADO School in Turgeau, the Lycée Pétion behind the Cathedral's ruins, and La Source School near Sacré Coeur's ruins are just a few. The government is concentrating on schools and public buildings first, then it will set about leveling the ruins of private homes and businesses, a government insider says. Spray-painted in red on hundreds of buildings are the words: "To Demolish."
 
"That's all I see the government doing: carting away collapsed buildings," said Erol Monestime, 26, an unemployed plumber. "That's fine but what about us, the people. They take no leadership on that front, leaving us to the mercy of a bunch of incompetent and corrupt NGOs."
 
This is the biggest complaint from people all over the capital. "I have no tent, no tarpaulin, no food, no water, no coupons, no aid period," complained Lamercie Lounes, 28, echoing the words of many others interviewed. "The guys who get the food coupons give them to their friends, or to women who sleep with them, or they sell them. It is corrupt. You have to know someone to get aid. It is a business."
 
NGOs implemented a system of food coupons. The coupons are given to local "leaders," who are supposed to distribute them equitably in their communities. Only women are allowed to pick up a bag of rice with the coupons at the food distribution centers. For other necessities, like cooking fuel, water and beans, Haitians are left to their own devices.
 
"I lost my wife and mother in the earthquake," said Johnson Dejoie, 39. "I have no job and no way to get any rice. If it wasn't for the generosity of neighbors, I wouldn't be alive now."
 
The NGO's food distribution program is ending now anyway. The Haitian government has said that it will continue to feed 300,000 in Port-au-Prince, but people on the street don't believe them and don't know how it will work.
 
One sees people scrounging, scavenging everywhere. Almost every collapsed building has iron rebar sprouting out of it like wild strands of hair. Often in front of a ruin there is a giant, dense tangle of it, like some piece of abstract art. On the ruins, men with hacksaws and sledge-hammers doggedly work, sweating under the blazing sun and breathing in the choking white dust and exhaust fumes that makes up most of downtown's atmosphere.
 
"I'm going to use it for solder, or maybe make a table out of it, or maybe sell it," said one old man painfully dragging four long, twisted rebar rods behind him down the street. "I've got to do something with it," he said with a big toothless smile.
 
Dozens of young men swarmed over the site where Grande Rue's TELECO building was being razed last week. Some were working on rebar, but others were making piles of aluminum. It sells for 7 gourdes a pound, about 17 cents a pound. Some tore out circuit boards from smashed, ancient computers. Still others were after the big prize: copper wire, which sells for up to 35 gourdes or 87 cents a pound, they said.
 
Suddenly, the scavengers were scattering. Men in yellow TELECO jump-suits were chasing them with clubs, whips, and guns. "We're clearing them off the site for safety," said one of the jump-suits. "We don't want anyone hurt by the machinery."
 
But the scavengers claim that the jump-suits just want to monopolize the copper wire for themselves. "There is no work, we have no other way to survive," said one of the young men, regularly glancing over his shoulder to make sure he would not be hit again. "Why can't they let us look for a little life here? They are a bunch of scoundrels. Look at them." The yellow suited men were picking up large coils of wire and loading them into a blue pick-up.
 
Excavation of the schools is an even grimmer affair. Last weekend, trucks cleared the school that collapsed behind St. Gérard's Church in Carrefour Feuilles. In the ruins were the bodies of 40 young students and a few teachers. All the cadavers were dumped in two mass graves at the bottom of the hill behind the church, just feet from the road.
 
"One of the graves has been closed, the other hasn't," said Stanley Tingue, 14, who escaped death on Jan. 12 because he left the school early to go to the bathroom in the church next door. The stench of death coming from the open pit is overpowering, causing one to immediately gag. "They are still putting bodies in that one. Two hundred students died at St. Gerard University, which they are clearing down there. They have buried most of the boys. Now they are doing the girls." He points to an excavation site where a few trucks and backhoes sit idle, immediately across the street from the mass graves. It is Sunday.
 
Stanley displays a strangely vacant sadness, speaking with a matter-of-fact air. "Down there, by those plastic jugs, there are lots of body parts," he says almost listlessly. "You will find hands and feet."
 
He has come by the empty space that was his former school this Sunday just to look around. One wonders what kind of psychological scars he has after watching most of his schoolmates perish.
 
(To be continued)
 
All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED. Please credit Haiti Liberte.
This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI LIBERTE newsweekly. For the complete edition with other news in French and Creole, please contact the paper at (tel) 718-421-0162, (fax) 718-421-3471 or e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Also visit our website at <http://www.haitiliberte.com>. A mailed subscription in Canada costs US$120 per year. An e-mail subscription costs $20.

 

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