What Would 'Another Haiti' Look Like? Haitian Views on Their Country's Future
A slogan of Haiti’s popular movement – a grouping of many organized sectors, from community-based journalists, to cooperative street vendors, to children’s rights advocates – is ‘Another Haiti Is Possible.’ Most Haitians we speak with, whatever their sector or political persuasion, have very clear ideas of what a different Haiti could look like and what would be required for its construction. Here are some of those ideas.
Jean Jores Pierre is student of economics at the State University of Haiti and an intern at a policy advocacy organization. An orphan, when Jores’ home collapsed in the earthquake, he began sleeping in a tent in the yard outside the office of his organization. He is now living with relatives in Port-au-Prince.
The catastrophe of January 12 showed clearly how poorly the country has been managed. At the core of the problem has been the complete exclusion of those who have always dreamed of a Haiti which is based on solidarity between people. We’re talking about all those who have decided to fight to change the conditions of their lives and their compatriots’ lives.
Today, to get past the problems, we have to envision another Haiti, based on the participation of everyone, where women, peasants, and marginalized people have a place in society. Where solidarity serves as the basis of all national decisions. A sovereign Haiti that can take its destiny in hand, with a clear perspective of how to raise up all Haitians without distinction.
Rosnel Jean-Baptiste is a member of the national coordinating committee of Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together Small Haitian Peasants), a national organization of agricultural workers. He goes back and forth between his home in the countryside and the organization’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince.
We have to deconstruct the capital by supporting agriculture in the countryside and doing land reform, so that people have land to work and can live there. We have to bring services to the countryside, too, not just have a government representative in each rural section, like we do now.
Re-envisioning Haiti… it’s not houses which will rebuild Haiti, it’s investing in the agricultural sector. If the country doesn’t produce, our farmers won’t be able to survive. And we’ll always have to depend on others.
But if the government hasn’t been able to do anything after [the earthquake of] January 12 to resolve the problems, I don’t think they’ll do it for us now. It’s up to us, social movements, to unite ourselves to change the situation of this country and to change the model our state.
Jacqueline Cherilus is 22 and a fourth-year medical student at Université Lumière in Port-au-Prince. On January 12, her school collapsed, killing many of her professors and classmates. By sheer luck, she wasn’t there. Her own home did not collapse, but it was damaged. Now, she and her family are afraid to go inside, so they sleep under a bright-blue tarp instead. Her university has since re-opened in a new location, and every day, she and her surviving classmates spend money and hours taking several buses across town. But, the professors haven’t shown up yet.
You’ve asked the wrong person. I’m not a political person, I don’t know a lot about these things. If you want me to think like a good Haitian patriot, then I’d say we need social change. Social change that can bring about political change. We need a revolution in the political milieu. I don’t mean an armed revolution or anything like that, but we need to demand what we really need. Life is too expensive; we need to bring prices down. Everyone should have access to what they need.
It’s the people first who can bring about change. They can make demands of the government, so the government can put pressure on the international community.
Yannick Etienne has been a labor rights organizer with the grassroots group Workers’ Struggle (Batay Ouvriyè) for many years. She speaks perfect English, having attended university in the U.S. in the late 1960s, where she also engaged herself in the anti-Vietnam war and Black power movements. She moves a lot around industrial zones in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere.
In re-building Haiti, the people are not being consulted. Yet, they have lots of ideas about what they don’t like and what kind of Haiti they would love. They say, “We would like it to be totally different.” We have to change social relations, change exploitation, change rural environmental degradation, change the control by the big land owners and the capitalist class, all those involved in import-export commerce. Those people have been ruling the country, and look what’s happened to it.
We need workers’ rights and social support in the factories, and workers have to be able to determine the environment they want to work in. We need to get rid of peasants working on halves [sharecropping where the farmer gives half of his produce to the landowner]. We have to have land reform. It’s very important to make sure that small peasant get land to work and get the technical assistance they need. We have to offer peasants alternatives in the rural areas and the cities, so they don’t have to cut trees to make charcoal.
People are saying, “If we don’t organize ourselves, these camps could become permanent places to stay.” We know that provisional things in Haiti always become permanent. People have to mobilize to make sure they build real homes, dignified places.
We have to know what we’re fighting for. The earthquake gives us an opportunity as a movement, to continue our organizing, to push for social justice, and to unify the people to take change into their own hands.
Nixon Boumba is an organizer with the Democratic Popular Movement (MODEP by its Creole acronym) and with students at the School of Social Sciences at the State University of Haiti. He prefers to be called Boumba, because of the political associations with his first name.
This wasn’t a natural catastrophe, but a social catastrophe. It just reproduced the pre-existent castastrophe, with so much exclusion and exploitation, where you have the “country inside” and the “country outside” [as Port-au-Prince and the rural areas are known], where you have [differential power for] men and women. We propose more egalitarian relations.
We propose a rupture with the crumbling state, instead leading to a state that’s at the service of the people. The rupture must first be with dependence, which has been reinforced since January 12, with the imperialists who are further militarizing the country.
We want the school system to be nationalized. We want the government to dedicate money to take the school system in hand and consecrate schools to the service of the public.
We think that the state has to provide housing. We’re in favor of cooperative housing, to give people decent housing at an affordable price. We talk about ‘villages of life’, with a whole plan administered by the state. Maybe you don’t have a hospital in each village, but at least you have health center, so kids can get health care. You create schools, so that no child lacks an education. You have professional centers, recreation centers for youth, in these villages of life. We’re working out the details now.
We need another country, where everyone has the chance to live as a human being, where nothing is reconstructed the way it was prior to January 12.
Yves-Rose Jean-Juste is 22. Her mother, who worked as a live-in servant in a middle-class household, died on January 12. Her mother worked hard to create a better life for her only daughter, despite never learning to read or write. Yves-Rose now lives in her uncle’s modest home in Delmas, where she sweeps the floor, cooks meals over charcoal, fetches buckets of water, and waits for the U.S. Embassy to tell her if her application for a visa (to join her father) has been processed. On Sundays, she dresses up and goes to the Kingdom Hall to pray.
This country didn’t offer people anything in the first place, and it’s become even worse after the earthquake. Many things in the country are broken, and perhaps those people who could have helped the country realize its goals lost their lives in the earthquake.
When you look at all these disasters, we have to ask ourselves: Where is the world going? Is the world going to end soon? There is only one person who knows the answers: Jesus.
I would like the government to concern itself and take responsibility for reconstructing the country, offer young people more means to live, and take kids off the streets. For our country to be beautiful, for tourists to come visit and invest in our country. For us not to die in boats trying to seek life in other countries. But, for now, all of this is just a dream.
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.