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"Even If We're Peasants, We Deserve to Live Too": Tèt Kole on the Needs of Haitian Farmers

Tèt Kole members head into a banana grove for a meeting. Photo: Roberto (Bear) Guerra.

Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (Heads Together Small Producers of Haiti) is the oldest peasant group in Haiti, born covertly in 1970 during the Duvalier dictatorship. Today Tèt Kole is one of Haiti’s two national peasant farmer movements, with more than 55,000 members in all ten departments of the country. Here, members talk about their problems, needs, and priorities for their future.*

Silion Pierre, national coordinating committee of Tèt Kole:

How to improve the lives of peasantry? We are always battling for decentralization, the principal problem to be resolved. Most of those who were killed in the earthquake were peasants who went to Port-au-Prince to search for bread and work and a better life. Because the government doesn’t give anything to the country, we have to go to Port-au-Prince for a better life. Some of those who died were just in Port-au-Prince for an identity card or some document. If the country had been decentralized as Tèt Kole has always said it should, the damage of the earthquake wouldn’t have gotten where it did.

Our biggest challenge is to see how Haitian peasants, workers, street vendors, and everyone from the excluded sectors can put themselves together to create another country where the Ayiti Cheri [dear Haiti] that we used to have can return. That’s the work of Tèt Kole. Our idea is to reinforce our strength and capacity to mobilize by bringing together all progressive forces, Haitian and foreign, to make Haiti into another nation, another state, where people can live in security, with food, with education.

Niclaire Auguste, Piatte chapter of Tèt Kole:

We are peasants. Our strength is agriculture. Since January 12, our economy has been so affected. But for God, that’s nothing.

We are organized peasants. If we didn’t have Tèt Kole with us, giving us strength, I don’t know where we’d be today. When you’re organized, you never live alone.

We haven’t been abandoned; we also have friends with us, both Haitian or foreign. So we can’t let the struggle go. It has to go on. I applaud everyone who’s let us know that we peasants aren’t alone, especially since January 12. I applaud all peasants who stand strong in the struggle, especially today when life is so hard after the catastrophe.

Dieudonné Charlemagne, Piatte chapter of Tèt Kole:

We are children of the earth. The earth gives us the food we need to eat, the income we need to send our children to school, everything we need to take care of our lives.

We love agriculture. We love to plant. We love to live as people who’re recognized as citizens of this nation.

So what’s our problem? We don’t have seeds, or when we have them they aren’t producing well. We irrigate a lot of land, but our plants aren’t producing. The banana trees are sick, the melons and peas are barely producing, but we don’t know why. We don’t have agricultural extension offices or anyone to come tell us why our plants are diseased or why they’re not producing and what we should do about it.

We build our canals with our own hands so we can irrigate when the rain doesn’t fall. When the rain does come, it bursts the canals and the water gets wasted and we don’t have the support to restore the canals, so our crops die. No government comes to help us.

We ask for agricultural system to be improved so we can get some relief. We’re working the lands with picks; we don’t have tractors. We’re working so hard to grow food to send to the cities, but no matter how much we work, we can’t ever get ahead. Nothing we do brings back anything for us peasants. It’s all off our own strength, even though we’re skinny with hunger. No one is supporting us to let us work the way we want so we can make something off it.

Even if we’re peasants, we deserve to live, too. It shouldn’t be that because we’re peasants we’re condemned to death.

As for the catastrophe of January 12, the few who didn’t die have all come back home. We’ve had to welcome lots of relatives to our homes. Those who came with friends, we’ve had to take them in, too.

So much of the aid they’ve been talking about has never gotten beyond Port-au-Prince. In Piatte, we are the aid, we’re the ones who’ve had to supply everything.

Sony Jean-Louis, son of farmers:

We ask the national and international community to help us decentralize our nation. We youth of peasants who are living in the countryside, we go to school but we can’t advance. Why? Every last resource in the country is in Port-au-Prince. All those youth who went to Port-au-Prince to get an education: you see January 12, so many of them died. This is what’s behind the drama of January 12: the government chooses not to realize that there is a rural part of the country. They forget us, they don’t consider us human beings.

Take our hand! Support the youth! Give us schools and training. Put some of those resources in the countryside to help the youth of Haiti, including those in rural areas, live.

Vales Gaspard, Piatte chapter of Tèt Kole:

All the small producers in the countryside, they tighten their belts, they work, they buy a cow, they buy a goat and sell the goat, they say they’re off to buy a couple of rooms in Port-au-Prince to see if they can get education for their children because there’s none here. When they get to Port-au-Prince, they build their houses poorly because they don’t have any economic means to build better. When a catastrophe comes, they’re the ones who suffer.

Countries are sending money to Haiti. There’s money to develop the country. Where is it? If foreign powers want to come help us, if they really care about what’s happening here, the first thing they should do is help us reconstruct the land. No country can survive without agriculture. If farmers are unemployed, what’s the country going to eat? Nothing.

They should send engineers and technicians. They should come give us technical support to show us how to produce food: Congo peas, cassava, bananas, vegetables. We need schools, hospital, credit, the chance to buy our seeds and tools at a good price, community stores where we can market.

President Aristide said that we should live in a way that everyone is recognized as someone. We have the means for that.

We’ve buried all our children who died in the earthquake. Now those who’ve come back to our homes, we’re taking care of them. What we have we’re giving to others. You government officials, you do this, too.

* A note on the gender balance in this article: there is none. In two meetings with Tèt Kole representatives involving 39 people, only three women were present. Others may not have been invited by community leaders, or they may not have been able to leave their household and child care responsibilities, or their male partners and fathers may have dissuaded them from attending. The interviewer repeatedly asked the few women who were present to speak, but only one did at the very end of a meeting; it is not included here because she addressed a different topic. When this writer meets with peasant women alone, they have much to say, but the dynamic changes dramatically in mixed groups.

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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