Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Haiti’s Oscar Awards

By Mark Schuller (Haiti Liberte)

On Feb. 26, Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who now acts as Haitian President Michel Martelly’s “Ambassador-at-Large,” extolled the progress Haiti has made since the 2010 earthquake as “extraordinary.”
            There has indeed been some progress, and Penn has worked hard to resettle and improve the living standards of tens of thousands of people in one of the capital’s largest internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. However, Penn’s recent declaration is best understood as an infomercial, selling President Martelly – a.k.a. compas musician “Sweet Micky” – and reading his lines for a government show called “Haiti is open for business,” a slogan recently challenged by the U.N.
            Penn’s performance distracts attention from other grim realities, particularly the almost 350,000 people still living under tents in Haiti. But he is far from the only actor playing make-believe. Here’s a list of what might be considered Haiti’s Oscar-winning performances.

Best Make-up and Costume:

Goes to the United Nations. After over 20 months of vociferously denying overwhelming epidemiological and genetic evidence that UN occupation troops brought a deadly strain of cholera to Haiti in October 2010, unleashing an epidemic that has now killed over 8,000, the world body finally rebuffed a suit demanding compensation for victims, arguing that “the claims are not receivable” and that it is not responsible for damages.
            The UN also should be nominated for “Best Humanitarian Actor in a Supporting Role” for this cover-up, and “Best Special Effects” for claiming diplomatic immunity.

Best Picture:

This prize goes to former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who stole hundreds of millions in foreign aid, which went into private Swiss bank accounts and to fund his secret police – the Tontons Macoutes – which killed or "disappeared" tens of thousands of Haitians. Despite this embezzlement (which even the International Monetary Fund has documented1), Duvalier brazenly returned to Haiti in January 2011, probably to make a claim on $5 million in a Swiss bank account which the Swiss government froze. Since then he has been living large. On Feb. 28, he finally showed up in a Haitian court to answer questions about the multitude of human rights abuses under his regime. He was ordered to come back on Mar. 7, but his lawyer now says he is sick in an unspecified hospital.
            Haiti’s justice system is also nominated for “Best Special Effects.”

Best Supporting Actor:

For this prize, it is a tie between the international community, humanitarian agencies, and the Haitian government for supporting the climate of fear and violence against Haiti’s IDPs.
            In a December report, Oxfam estimates that 233,000 people in 247 camps face forced eviction, a situation condemned by international human rights groups like Amnesty International and others. I have written about the terrible assault on the residents at the Hancho camp near Port-au-Prince’s Industrial Park.
            As funds for relocation have all but dried up, many IDPs who remain are in a constant state of fear. Near midnight on Feb. 16,  hundreds of people’s makeshift homes were burned to the ground in camp ACRA 2 in Pétionville’s Juvenat near the Karibe Convention Center.
            According to Jackson Doliscar of FRAKKA, “This camp was always under threat. The more then 4,000 families said they don’t have anywhere to go. They sleep in the streets or the corridors between people’s houses. People fled this act of violence and returned to find that assailants continued to burn other tents. Ms. Dilia Mari had five children in her tent, including a one month old baby named Cadet Ismaélla, whom she luckily saved. But according to witnesses, there were three people burned [to death], including a child. It’s important to point out that the camp was burned one and two days in advance of the CARICOM [Caribbean Common Market] assembly,” held at the Karibe Convention Center.
            Human rights groups confirmed that as of today no formal investigation has yet been made, and like with cholera, the victims haven’t received any word about compensation for damages.

Best actor in a lead role:

A mission group has raised over $3 million to build homes for people seeking emergency shelter in their compound. That said, the 537 families still in Grace Village, in the sprawling suburb of Carrefour, have been living in constant fear of eviction for the past year and a half.
            In a recent video, the journalist group Haiti Reporters not only documents slow progress in relocating Grace Village’s IDPs, but questions the fundraising by Grace Village’s U.S.-based nonprofit parent, Grace International Inc.. As Haiti Reporters pointed out, Grace International has claimed on its website that each “Permanent Sustainable Home for a Family” would cost $7,000. However, Michael Jeune, Grace Village’s administrator, told Haiti Reporters that each house cost only $900 to build.
            It’s possible that the Grace International website and Michael Jeune were referring to two different projects, and it’s common practice for nonprofits to charge overhead, typically justified as necessary due to the scarcity of funds for general operating expenses. However, it appears that this large mark-up may well be a case of profiteering (or what is wryly called in NGO circles “non-profiteering”), especially in the light of a discrepancy in Grace International’s annual reports to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The NGO’s 2010 tax return reported “current year” revenues as $981,183, up from $311,157 in the previous year. In their 2011 report, for the “previous year” (2010), Grace International reported $2,831,683.
            Perhaps due to the Haiti Reporters’ exposé, or to the lack of progress in IDP resettlement, or to the authoritarian shift in the political climate as President Martelly has unilaterally renamed all but two of Haiti’s municipal governments, the owners of Grace Village have increasingly responded to the IDPs stranded on their grounds with threats of violence.
            A leader of IDPs in Grace Village, Marcel Germain, who was interviewed in Haiti Reporters’ documentary, outlined the violent tactics increasingly used.
            The following is a transcript of a testimony given at an international colloquium on IDPs and aid held at the Faculté d’Ethnologie, hosted by the Development Sciences Department, to commemorate International Human Rights Day, on Dec. 10-11, 2012. Marcel’s testimony was cut short because the police fired teargas into the university complex in their attempt to quell an unrelated student protest. (The previous international colloquium held at the school last February had also been teargassed.)

Every day is a dilemma where Joel Jeune beats people up, forces them out, threatens people, everything. What’s worse, three people inside have lost their lives. One person [who died] we call “TiFrè” [Little Brother]. During a Brazil-Ecuador football game, there was a discussion. [Grace Village’s chauffeur] took an electric stick they had inside and he hit TiFrè with it in the heart.
            The second person who died had bullets in his forearm, the same time. But his brother works as a security guard at Joel’s house. They corrupted him, promising that they’d give him medical care. They have a clinic, here. They said they’d give him a little money, a little rice. This guy didn’t have anything. So they had him stay. He didn’t go to the Justice. He didn’t do anything.
            The third person they killed was Jean. They killed him on March 23. Jean had gone out and returned with a bucket full of wood beams and put it in front of his tent. Two children played with the bucket and he told them to stop, that the wood would injure you. He took a coconut leaf and brushed the children’s feet when he saw the kids insisted. 

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