May 25, 2011
“Haiti: Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse” — Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

Funeral of Samuel Georges, 18-year-old who died eight hours after contracting cholera. Cholera is on the rise in Haiti. Photo credit: Ben Depp, www.bendepp.com

Activist and Journalist Beverly Bell warns the world to not be too sanguine about the inauguration of President Michel Martelly and his plans to reinstate a Haitian army.

“We may soon look back on this period in Haiti with greater appreciation. Amidst the world-historic levels of death and suffering from last January’s earthquake, citizens have at least been spared the scale of government violence that has marked much of their nation’s past (not-with-standing attacks against internally displaced persons during forced evictions, and occasionally against street protesters.)

“This may change under Michel Martelly, the incoming president. For starters, he wants to bring back the army that former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide dismantled in 1995. Since Haiti already has a police force to maintain public order and the country is not expected to go to war, Martelly can have only one aim for reintroducing armed forces: to reclaim the tool that past presidents have used to shore up their power by means of violent repression of dissent and competition.

“Forces are already readying for violence, which will likely be exerted both through the army and through gangs. Journalist Isabeau Doucet filed this eyewitness report last month: “For over a year, on a hillside south of Port-au-Prince, around 100 former soldiers and young recruits train three times a week. They claim to have a network of camps all over the country where Haitian men meet and exercise, learn military protocol and martial arts and receive basic training… The black-and-red flag ofJean-Claude Duvalier’s party hangs in their tarpaulin dressing room… Somebody is paying for this, even though they claim that it’s all-volunteer, and the current government is turning a blind eye, if not giving tacit support.”

“Just how the forces of violence may ally with various backers – some combination of Martelly and those surrounding the returned former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier – is one question. Another is how much they may tyrannize a citizens’ movement which is demanding solutions to widespread homelessness, unemployment, and extreme poverty. Two U.S.-based groups supporting community organizing in Haiti are already preparing emergency responses in case significant political violence should erupt.

“Beyond Martelly’s plans for an army, his past associations raise concerns about what policies he may bring to office. Martelly was public in his support for the death squad-friendly regimes that reigned after coups d’état against Aristide (1991 and 2004)…”

For the full article which discusses fraud in the two-tiered election, the imminent rise in cholera during the rainy season, and citizen mobilizing for permanent housing see: http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/another-haiti-possible/haiti-just-when-you-think-it-cant-get-worse.

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 Studies.