For poor people in occupied Haiti, life is a state of siege. Seventeen months after the earthquake, many owners of land on which 1,356 displaced persons camps are located are resorting to force to evict their countrymen. Meanwhile, the cash-rich Haitian reconstruction fund overseen by former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush is building a luxury, seismically-safe hotel for western visitors.
Elites and Evictions: The Attack On Haiti’s Homeless
by BAR editor and columnist Jemima Pierre
“The more time passes, the more private owners are aggressively retaking their lands.”
Kafou Ayopo is a camp housing several hundred earthquake survivors located near Port-au-Prince’s Aeroport Toussaint L’Ouverture. On May 23, 2011 – a year to the day that Jamaica’s security forces massacred the citizens of Tivoli Gardens – Kafou Ayaopo’s residents were violently evicted . According  to observers who live-tweeted the events as they occurred, the Haitian National Police, along with agents from the office of the Mayor of the city of Delmas, an urban community on the outskirts of the capital, came into the camp while most people were away and began destroying  the makeshift tents. Some of the occupants were beaten with batons and pushed out. And when some residents attempted to stage an impromptu protest, police fired shots into the crowd. By the end of the operation, the camp was mostly destroyed and the former inhabitants were left without belongings or a place to go.
Is this what it means, in the words of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, to “build back Haiti better?” Or is it the fastest way for Haiti to “open for business,” as the new president , Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, declared? According to official counts, there are approximately 1356 camps scattered throughout the areas affected by the earthquake, housing Haiti’s poor and internally displaced persons (IDPs). These people survived the earthquake with very little and settled temporarily on public and private lands, making homes under tarps, in donated plastic tents, or in makeshift structures of wood, cardboard and scraps of fabric. Seventeen months after the earthquake – and in light of the near complete failure of reconstruction efforts – these camps have become semi-permanent settlements. Yet the more time passes, the more private owners are aggressively retaking their lands.
“In some cases, it has been the Haitian government itself that has destroyed the camps as a way to force people into its few ‘legitimate’ camps.”
The events at Kafou Ayopo were not isolated – and they offer an ominous sign for the future of Haiti’s homeless. Since the January 12, 2010 earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced between 1.3 and 1.5 million, numerous other evictions have occurred. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), alongside activist journalists such as @mediahacker and @brikouri, reported on evictions occurring as early as 2 months after the earthquake. The methods of these evictions have been appalling. In some instances  owners of private land have barricaded camp walls with barbwire and broken glass, and have locked camps to prevent residents from leaving or entering. Property owners have allegedly threatened  to send armed gangs to evict residents in Camp Immaculée in Cité Soleil. There have been demands that aid agencies discontinue their provision of food and services to the camps, effectively starving their denizens. In some cases, it has been the Haitian government itself that has destroyed the camps as a way to force people into its few “legitimate” camps. There are cases where residents were forcibly removed only to see a new “legitimate” camp set up nearby and provided with social and economic services that exclude them. At times, powerful foreign NGOs selectively provide aid, bypassing certain communities.
“In some instances owners of private land have barricaded camp walls with barbwire and broken glass, and have locked camps to prevent residents from leaving or entering.”
But with this systematic state-sanctioned process of forced removal from public and private lands, who looks out for the rights of Haitian citizens? It certainly is not those given the mandate to reconstruct Haiti. The thousands of heavily funded foreign NGOs work independently from the Haitian government (and in some cases against the Haitian government) while their response to the earthquake has been, at best, lethargic and selective. In April 2010, Haiti’s neocolonial government allowed the creation of an Interim Haiti Recovery Commission co-chaired by Bill Clinton and then-Haitian Prime Minister, Jean-Max Bellerive. By late 2010, it was clear that the Commission hadn’t completed any major project s and had no clear plan. Clinton’s oversized role in Haiti is obvious with the Clinton-Bush Fund, a major, non-profit fundraising effort authorized by President Obama after the earthquake. But the Fund’s biggest splash was its announcement  two weeks ago that it was investing $2 million in a major commercial $29 million hotel project—the Oasis Hotel.
So, on the one hand we have forced evictions that have once again rendered poor earthquake survivors homeless. On the other, we have the construction of a multimillion-dollar hotel, with collected non-profit funds, for westerners. Paul Altidor, the Clinton-Bush Fund’s vice president argued that this gross and inhumane disparity is necessary because: “For Haiti’s recovery to be sustainable, it must attract investors, businesses and donors all of whom will need a business-class, seismically-safe hotel.”
And while the Haiti’s elite and the rich, white westerners can luxuriate in clean, upscale earthquake-safe hotels, Haiti’s poor remain homeless.
Jemima Pierre can be reached at BAR1804@gmail.com .