What Haitians Want from Americans (And What They Don't)
We asked Haitians in civil society organizations, on the streets, in buses, “What do you want from the U.S.? What help can Americans give Haiti?” Here are some of their answers.
Roseanne Auguste, community health worker with the Association for the Promotion of Integrated Family Health:
The U.S. people don’t know us enough. The first thing that Haitians need from the American people is for them to know our history better. They just see us as boat people. Especially Black Americans, we need them to know the other parts of our history, like that we defeated Napoleon. This would let them know that we’re the same people.
By contrast, Haitians know what they like in the U.S. They don’t agree with American policies, but they have no problem with the American people. Rap music, Haitians appreciate it a lot: Tupac, Akon, Wyclef – even though he’s originally from Haiti. The Haitian people feel strongly about Michael Jordan, a Black man who beat up on the other players. On the back of taptaps [painted buses] you see Michael Jackson, the Obamas. It doesn’t matter that Obama is a machine of the establishment; the fact that he’s a Black American, they identify with him.
There have to be more exchanges between grassroots organizations in the U.S. and Haiti. If the American people knew more about Haitians, if they had a chance to meet more often people-to-people, they’d see we have lots to share. We could build another world together.
Marie Berthine Bonheur, community organizer:
Do the U.S. soldiers come to bulldoze? No way. We have a people who are traumatized. Is that a situation that you respond to with arms and batons? We’re not at war with anyone. They would do better to come help us get rid of this crumbled cement everywhere. We need equipment to help us demolish these building. Help us have schools and hospitals. We need engineers who can help us rebuild, and psychologists and doctors.
We don’t need soldiers. They just increase our suffering, our pain, our worries.
Adelaire Bernave Prioché, geologist and teacher:
This country has a problem with skilled people, like all Third World countries. Once people get trained, they go to other countries.
This country needs youth to be trained in all domains. First, the Americans could help with this, for example with geologists. We lost so many teachers, we need people to teach. Second, we need massive investment to create employment to let people stay in Haiti.
Christophe Denis, law student:
The way the U.S. is distributing aid… a line of people waiting for rice and then across the street, a line of street merchants who can’t sell their food. Are they sacrificing a class of people in the framework of aid?
Instead of supporting international trade to come in and crush us, reinforce our capacity for production and reinforce our self-sufficiency. The international commerce is just helping a small percentage. All that’s produced in Haiti, it has to be strengthened.
Jesila Casseus, street vendor:
We want partnerships, people putting their hands with ours in the cassava pot to reconstruct our country. We don’t want orders. We won’t accept another slavery. We don’t want dominion over us, we don’t want to be turned into a protectorate.
Partnerships, okay. But NGOs are coming and sucking the country. They’re taking our money and sending it back to where they came from. They’re taking our riches and making us poorer.
Judith Simeon, organizer with peasant organizations and grassroots women’s groups:
The American policy towards Haiti: none of the Haitian people want it. It’s no good. The peasant economy was destroyed with the killing of Creole pigs [in the early 1980s, when USAID and other international agencies killed the entire pig population, allegedly in response to an outbreak of African Swine Fever]. That was the biggest crime of the American government. After that, the free market, neoliberalism - without thinking about the consequences - has crushed peasant agriculture and the rest of the economy even more. As for the rice that’s coming in as international aid, what happens to the people in [the rice-growing area of] the Artibonite? Their production is destroyed.
If you’re helping someone, you have to respect that person first. I can’t tell you how it felt to watch the American soldiers distributing aid by throwing rice and water on the ground and having people run after it, like we saw on TV. That’s not how you respect someone.
I can’t suggest what else the US people should do. If you don’t respect the dignity of a people, you can’t help them. All this racist sentiment and action, we don’t need that.
Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, director of the Peasant Movement of Papay:
When we speak of American imperialists, we make a distinction between government and people. We believe that a lot of people are conscious of what has happened to Haiti and don’t want the imperialist project of the American government. There are a lot of things that we can do together. There are people here thinking seriously about alternative development in Haiti. There are many ways that progressive American people can help with that.
We need people in the US to tell the American government that what they are giving is not what we need. Why do we need 20,000 U.S. soldiers? We don’t. In Clinton’s plan, there are free trade zones. We don’t want that. We don’t need them sending in American firms to reconstruct Port-au-Prince, either, which will just lead to its returning as the center of everything in the country. Rural areas could start producing construction materials that we need to rebuild. We need fruit plantations, we need irrigation systems, we need local agriculture industry.
American progressives could lead delegations to come see the country, so that when they return, they could help us reject the imperialist plan. Go out to the countryside, see that people have hope that they can change their lives. In the chain of solidarity, instead of sending food, send organic seeds, send tools, help with the management of water. A group in the U.S. can work with a group in Haiti and help it build a cistern, dig a well, reforest, build silos to create seed banks of local seeds. Support groups that are reconstructing rural Haiti, that are creating work in the mountains. Help us establish rural universities. Help people who have left [earthquake-hit areas and gone to the country] be able to sustain themselves.
We need American people to say, “we stand with the popular project for the rebuilding of Haiti.” We need it to be permanent, for Americans to continue to accompany the Haitian people, because the reconstruction of a Haiti is something that will take years.
This is the time to thank many groups for showing how much they are with the Haitian people, for doing all they can, for collecting medical supplies. There’s been an extraordinary demonstration of solidarity.
Rony Joseph, policeman:
We need help reconstructing: roads, infrastructure, schools. We need a country that is modern. If you look at the world, you see globalization happening. Everyone has things that Haiti doesn’t have.
You know, foreign countries are helping us a lot today, but I think they have an interest in it, too. When we have a problem in Haiti, the U.S. and Canada get very concerned and start helping. Otherwise we might end up on their doorstep.
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.