Speakers address Haiti one year later

More than 1 million Haitians are living in tents without hope of help from the government.
Activist Reyneld Sanon speaks about the mass displacement of people in Haiti on Thursday at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center. Sanon is a grassroots activist who has three decades of experience working with civil society organizations and the popular movement in Haiti.

In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake left more than 1.5 million people homeless, and a year later, almost 1 million still live in more than 1,000 tent cities in and around Port-au-Prince.

Valerie Kaussen, an associate professor of French in the Romance Languages Department was conducting research in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit and has encouraged students and faculty to donate money and supplies as aid for Haiti.

“Haiti has fallen out of the news, but the humanitarian crisis is on-going,” Kaussen said.

MU invited two Haitians to speak to the MU community on “Post-Earthquake Haiti: Housing Crisis, Displacement and the State,” Thursday night at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center.

Reyneld Sanon, a Haitian grassroots activist and a founder of Force for Reflection and Action on Housing, is putting pressure on the Haitian government to help the people in these so-called tent cities.

The housing crisis is growing as private landowners return and evacuate tent cities on their land. Sanon said often these “owners” don’t even have deeds and the people have nowhere else to go.

He cited Article 22 of the Haitian constitution that promises fair housing for the people. He said the government has done nothing to help the people suffering under plastic, rags and cardboard.

“Those people do nothing but go to the beach and rape women,” Sanon said about the current government.

Sanon called for the denunciation of the spending and waste by non-governmental organizations and the removal of United Nations troops. He criticized Red Cross workers and religious organizations for evacuating the homeless from their land. He called the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund apartheid in that it only helps those few who were homeowners before the earthquake. He said he believes bigger countries have taken away Haiti’s sovereignty and names the United States among them.

Jean-Germain Gros, associate professor of political science at UM-St. Louis, said the housing crisis existed before the earthquake. There are not reliable property rights or building codes in Haiti. Once someone found an open piece of land, he or she built a home. Engineers, architects and state inspections were not involved in most cases.

There was also no living memory of an earthquake in Haiti. The people did not know what to do when they felt the ground tremble. Used to hurricanes, they ran inside their unsteady homes and were thus entombed inside when the houses collapsed.

“The earthquake was the trigger, but the lack of a Haitian state provided the explosives,” Gros said.

When asked about the future of the tent cities, Gros said he was afraid those people would never get off the streets. The tent cities of today might just turn into the slums of tomorrow.

Gros said Haiti is a failed state. In essence, there are three parallel governments in Haiti. The UN, NGOs and the actual state government of Haiti. The country is stuck in a vicious cycle of failure. International aid does not trust the state with money so they give it to the 10,000 NGOs in Haiti. By withholding the money from the state, the nations are ensuring that the Haitian government remains powerless. The people trust the NGOs over their government because the NGOs have the money. The people are then reluctant to pay taxes because they do not trust the government.

“You can’t rebuild Haiti until you rebuild the state,” Gros said. “At some point, you have to start trusting (the government).”

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