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Haiti: Two Months Later

Today marks two months since the January 12 earthquake devastated Haiti – and even in the midst of other natural disasters, bloggers still seem to be struggling to come to grips with what this tragedy actually means for the people of a nation that is often referred to as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”

The day to day reality of post-quake life in Port-au-Prince and environs is markedly different from the glory days of Haiti's proud past, which HaitiAnalysis.com ably chronicles in this post by Mara Chinelli of CampusTimes.org:

In the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake the words of slave general Toussaint L’Ouverture come to mind: “In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.” Perhaps a politically charged maxim does not seem appropriate in the face of a natural disaster. Yet this revolutionary saying has echoed throughout Haiti’s struggles for stability and democracy. When we look at the current events in Haiti, we must consider the historical actors that built its vulnerable infrastructure.

The post goes on to examine the chain of events that took place from the time that Haiti “proclaimed itself the first black republic in 1804″ until “the 20th century, [when] U.S. intervention determined Haiti’s fate” and suggests that:

Now more than ever the United States must acknowledge history and rethink its approach to Haiti…

The Obama administration should also take greater steps beyond a temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants. Displacement and homelessness will surely increase Haitian migration. The international community must ensure that aid for reconstruction resists foreign interests and reaches the Haitian people. This will not cure political ailments, but it will begin a reorganization of power.

This call for Temporary Protected Status is not new. Twitter user texascane81 even posted that “We have been advocating for TPS for Haiti since September 2008.” When the decision by the United States finally came, as part of its response to support the earthquake recovery effort, it was accompanied by a carefully worded caveat from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. According to CAF Blog:

While she declined to specify the consequences for those caught trying to enter the U.S. illegally, she said, ‘At this moment of tragedy in Haiti, it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere, but attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation.’

While the United States was sending a message of cautious humanitarianism, the Bahamian government was apparently opening its arms. Bahamian bloggers had a lot to say about their government's “decision to grant temporary status to Haitian detainees.” Womanish Words comments:

I support my government's decision…and wonder at the inhumanity of those who are on the radio and in the papers criticizing this gesture.

I call on the government to stop apprehension exercises as well, in the name of the 50,000 people who died in the quake. I call on the government to also establish an amnesty period for all undocumented Haitians in the Bahamas to come forward so that they too can receive temporary status. And now that I think of it, why is it ‘temporary’ status? Let them stay, let us have mercy, let love and mercy prevail.

Haitian-Bahamian Solidarity notes that:

The history of our country and of Haiti are intertwined and deeply connected. Although we don’t recognize the connections often enough, or think of them with much positivity all too often (Haitians are often labelled as ‘illegals’ even when they are perfectly legal immigrants and residents), this tragedy has made far more Bahamians than ever before deeply aware of the long, long relationship of exchange, mutuality and kinship between our two countries. But we have a long way to go.

Jamaican blogger Long Bench also saw it fit to post a response to “Danville Walker’s letter to the editor published on Feb. 1 in the Gleaner”:

Frankly, I am rather disappointed that Danville Walker has chosen to jump on the bandwagon and frame the arrival of Haitian refugees as, first and foremost, a public health threat…

More generally, what is it about the way we insist on thinking about Haitians that allows us to intentionally cast them as dirty, diseased and backward, a status, according to Mr. Walker, that is only enhanced by their ‘lack of familiarity with the English Language.’ Such arguments are truly self-serving, and say much more about us, than it does about the people who are being demonized and mischaracterised in these pejorative ways.

At the end of the day, this is primarily an immigration issue. Haitian refugees are not criminals, and should not be treated by citizens or represented in the media as such. They should be subjected to the same procedures that others currently undergo when they come to Jamaica to live or to stay for long periods of time. Nothing less than fairness and respect for their dignity should be accorded to any persons who come to our country, for whatever reason.

The HaitiAnalysis post, however, understands that “currently Haiti’s main priority is immediate aid distribution”, adding:

Despite the fact that ships with aid arrived promptly after the earthquake, U.S. security regulations prevented its immediate distribution.

Major aid organizations abide by the U.S. State Department’s security restrictions on designated ‘Red Zones.’ As a result, the United Nations and the United States have increased militarization of aid distribution.

These ‘security measures’ have prevented efficient aid distribution and much needed rapport with local communities.

This has been a common complaint from bloggers on the ground in Haiti – this tweet confirmed the existence of “MINUSTAH's red, yellow, and green zone security map of Port-Au-Prince, as of today…”
minustah
“Red, yellow, and green zone security map of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti”, image by mediahacker, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit mediahacker's flickr photostream.

As part of the map's caption on his flickr page, Mediahacker states:

MINUSTAH spokesperson gave me this map, which they provide to NGOs. Green (covering Petionville only) indicates residential areas with no history of insecurity, he said. And yet, rumors abound that two aid workers were just kidnapped in the green zone.

The spokesperson said MINUSTAH recommends aid groups are accompanied by a security detail wherever they go and that the majority of them do request assistance from UN or Haitian forces. He said MINUSTAH is meeting 100% of the requests made for security accompaniment.

Bloggers confirm talk of a kidnapping, but their accounts of effective allocation of resources are markedly different. RAMHaiti was quite vocal about it on Twitter. His first update asked:

Does anyone know where ACTED is or how to contact them? They're supposed to be in charge of Carrefour Feuilles..

Later, he tweeted again:

ACTED: resp. for Leogane and Carrefour feuilles relief..Missing In Action:can't reach them on phone

…and was re-tweeted here:

RT @Tass101: @RAMhaiti Trust me, ACTED is missing in ACTION in Leogane because the people there don't see anything concrete being done.

melindayiti also weighs in:

Still reeling over the false reports by major agencies about the situation in #Haiti… 80% food saturation? No f-ing way.

And in the midst of it all looms Haiti's uncertain political situation, about which RAMHaiti sardonically says:

PR machine says Preval wants 2 remain #HAITI President till all RECON$TRUCTION CONTRACT$ r handed out. Both CLINTON$ OK with that. @DinoJag

Transparency and good governance continue to be among bloggers’ ongoing concerns:

RT @domzz: RT @nadprecious: #Haiti umm what happened to the $324mill that was donated in April 09 to help rebuild? @RAMhaiti @carelpedre

HaitiAnalysis, though, has faith in the tenacity of the Haitian people to overcome:

Haitians are capable of extricating their nation from the most common phrase used to describe it: ‘the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.’ Able-bodied Haitian men have organized to look for people under the rubble, and protect tent communities erected in Port-au-Prince. Homeless mothers care for their children and look after others orphaned by the earthquake.

In the face of incredible loss of life and infrastructure, Haitians are cooperating with each other. With this in mind, the international community needs to rethink its relationship with Haiti

The thumbnail image used in this post, “Haiti EQ:Collapsed Ministry of Justice”, is by AIDG, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit AIDG's flickr photostream.

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