Haitians use the proverb “Lave Men Swiye Yo Ate.” In English, it means “wash your hands by wiping them in the dirt.” This proverb sums up what the U.S.-Haitian relations have been like, according to Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and chair of the Lawyer’s Earthquake Response Network. In his estimation, America has metaphorically washed its hands of its responsibility to Haiti by supposedly aiding the country in ways that end up hurting its economy instead.
In response to Haiti’s diminishing media coverage, USF held a half-day event last Monday to update the community on what is happening and what still needs to be done in Haiti. Teach-In on Haiti, sponsored by the Provost’s Council, featured an extensive list of expert panelists.
Anne Bartlett, USF professor of sociology, served on the humanitarian panel and said that since the earthquake, Haiti has received $5 billion in aid. Being the poorest country in the Americas, 80% of its people live on less than $2 a day.
U.S. Director of Sion Fonds, Annie Blackstone, spoke on behalf of the non-governmental organization (NGO) working in Haiti. When the earthquake hit, her work office collapsed. Blackstone, who is the adoptive mother of two Haitian children, recalled one of her sons’ remarks concerning Haiti’s immediate coverage after the earthquake. When the office fell to shreds, her son said, “I’m really sorry it took people this long to… help.”
Blackstone said that Sion Fonds was founded as a response to the earthquake, to support Haitian mothers and their children. It provides children the opportunity to attend one of its three different schools, since “most children don’t go to school because parents can’t afford it,” she said.
Another NGO, the What If? Foundation, has also supplied Haiti with assistance. Pamela Keenan, resource development coordinator, said that the organization was founded in 2000 to provide needed meals to hungry children. What If? is able to feed 1500 meals a day, 5 days a week in Haiti.
During the political and historical context session, Brian Concannon gave light to U.S. aid and said that the United States’ “amazing outpouring of generosity is leading the way in the international community.” The United States has promised $1.5 billion over the next two years to help Haiti re-build itself, even with a recession.
Prior to the earthquake, Concannon said that the major conflict that has affected Haitians has been the food crisis. The U.S. free trade policy during Bill Clinton’s presidency was one of the factors that contributed to the crisis. Because of the policy, U.S. agriculture out-competed Haitian farmers in selling rice, when in 1987 Haiti nearly grew all their rice. Since the policy, Haiti now imports about 80% of their rice, making up a third of the U.S.’ rice imports, despite that it’s a third world country.
As a result, farmers went out of business and moved to over-populated cities looking for work, usually ending up in sweatshops. They also resorted to slums built on steep ground and piled in unsafe floors atop each other (eventually succumbing to the earthquake).
U.S. food aid has also factored into the crisis, even though it seems unlikely. As means to rid its subsidiary corn, the U.S. distributed it to Haitian markets. However, the more food aid there was, the more farmers lost their jobs, which led to hungrier families who couldn’t support themselves.
Other factors included Haiti’s international debt, incurred since its independence from France in 1884, and the government’s destabilization. According to Concannon, the U.S. kidnapped Haiti’s elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004 by leading him on an American plane to a South African prison.
Pierre Labossiere, cofounder of the Haiti Action Committee and boardmember of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, said that it was an act that declared that Haiti can’t do for themselves. At the time, Aristide was investing money for infrastructure on hospitals and schools, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the coup d’etat kept Haitains away from healthcare, education, and clean water, among other things.
“What people need is solidarity,” Labossiere said. People need “with no political agenda. Governments are donating money and doing so much, but you have given so much, neighbors who are unemployed have donated money, insisted on sharing and thanks every one of you.”