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Post-Disaster Reconstruction: Putting Haitian Citizens into the Equation

Ricot Jean-Pierre, one of those working to insert citizens' priorities into Haiti's reconstuction plan. Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra

Haitian civil society has been completely bypassed in decision-making regarding the post-earthquake reconstruction process. They have thus created their own process.

The Haiti government's Post-Disaster Needs Assessment, launched February 18, granted one week, March 14-20, for “consultation with civil society and the private sector,” according to the terms of reference. However, the government is to approve the draft plan on March 15. Furthermore, the government has failed to invoke even the token discussions, not consulting civil society in any way except informally with some businesspeople and several non-governmental organizations who do not speak for citizens.

The Haitian business sector has published its own “Strategic Plan for National Salvation.” The editorial committee for the 173-page document was led by Rudolph Boulos, a member of one of Haiti’s wealthiest families who was ejected from the Haitian Senate two years ago after he was revealed to be a U.S. citizen.

Member-based, representative Haitian organizations have taken it upon themselves to develop their own process for shaping an alternative plan for the country’s future. On March 13 in Port-au-Prince, a diverse grouping of non-governmental and grassroots Haitian organizations – representing peasants, women, workers, youth, community media, and the alternative development and progressive human rights sectors – met to present and debate their priorities in the rebuilding process. That evening and again on March 14, representatives of the five largest grassroots networks in the Dominican Republic met with their Haitian counterparts to develop joint plans for advancing the alternative agenda.

Because of citizens’ exclusion from decisions regarding their future, the non-governmental Haitian coalition, together with their Dominican allies, will protest the international donors’ meetings in Santo Domingo on March 17 and in New York on March 30. The Haitian-Dominican network will hold a press conference in both Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo on March 17 to coincide with the first conference, where up to two dozen donor countries and multilateral agencies will meet. They will also organize sit-ins in Port-au-Prince and New York during the March 30 U.N.-hosted donors’ meeting. In the interim, they intend to hold local actions and do radio spots throughout Haiti.

One of the groups at the forefront of the grassroots process is the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA). Ricot Jean-Pierre is director of PAPDA’s program on alternative economic integration. In the yard where PAPDA and several other non-profit organizations whose offices were destroyed in the earthquake now share space, Jean-Pierre shared these thoughts on what a just and participatory reconstruction should look like.

“We have another vision of a development model that mirrors our society. We want to build a model of cooperation between and among peoples and countries.

“Today we have militarization under the cover of humanitarian aid. In 1915, the U.S. came to occupy Haiti [for twenty years] and create one form of a state. Is what is happening now what happened in 1915? It’s critical to refuse the U.S.’s model of global management and global economy.

“We have to fight for a model of state that is closer to the people, instead of one that has better relationships with the international community than the Haitian people. When the people take to the streets to say that they are hungry, for instance, the state is deaf. When the international community speaks, the state listens. The international community is giving orders. The people need to get the attention of the state, which must respond to their demands and needs.

“The international community integrates Southern countries into the global economy on the basis of the market, of trade liberalization. We think it’s important to adopt another model of integration which respects the sovereignty and the will of the people for another type of development based on their culture, history, and fundamental needs.

“The international financial institutions are structured to control and polarize. They have nothing to do with the will of countries, especially in the South. They impoverish the poor countries and prevent us from being able to develop, especially via the mechanism of debt. Debt payment is a tool they use to keep poor countries in slavery. For Haiti to use 22% of its national budget to pay back the debt… that’s unimaginable.

“The [international financial] institutions are supposed to serve countries, not the other way around. There must be cooperative management of the World Bank, IMF, and other institutions instead of the current system of just switching management back and forth between European countries and the U.S. There must be transparent management which allows participation for all the countries who are in them, so that everyone’s voice is heard and all decisions are made with everyone’s input.

“The people need to form another vision of development, bilateral and multilateral forms of cooperation – what they look like and how solidarity could be integrated into them. We need a type of integration that doesn’t depend on how much voice and money you have, but that takes into account each country and its reality, which respect the sovereignty of the country.

“How can we as peoples develop ways to support each other when we have common problems, such as the policies of the InterAmerican Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank? How can we get together to show that the battle is against a common enemy, which it the source of poverty and marginalization?

“We want to create another world which is based on solidarity and equality between women and men, rich and poor, North and South – not just one above and another below being exploited. We need to learn how we each can complement and learn from the other.

“We need a state that ensures that every Haitian has equal access to social services. Everyone has to have access to health, food, education, and housing. We need the Haitian state to bring people services where they are, instead of their having to leave their homes to go [to Port-au-Prince to] get services. But for that, the state must be decentralized.

“We have to reinforce the capacity of grassroots organizations so they can do advocacy. The people need to participate in defining what we want.”

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.

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