A Tale of Eviction in Haiti
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Despite the lack of attention in the media, the situation in Haiti remains dire. Despite money donated by international organizations and regular people, real relief has not reached the people who need it the most. The blue tarps that blanketed the city, reminiscent of the early reporting by Anderson Cooper, are still there – an obvious sign that things have not returned to normal.
Twenty months after the earthquake, most inhabitants of Port-au-Prince are living in an unbearable hell. Communities of people have formed, the refugees of destroyed neighborhoods, to offer each other support under the desperate circumstances that define daily life. Their possessions remain meager and unprotected from either weather or thieves. Without enough safe open land available, many Haitians have moved their communities to under-utilized open spaces. Almost two years later, although they still have no where else to go, impatient landlords have taken to violent means to kick the poor off their land. During these evictions, the families lose what’s left of their belongings and are forced to find another place to squat, not knowing when they might be evicted again.
Two months ago, Danny Glover and I traveled to Port-au-Prince, as we have many times before, to meet with community groups and see firsthand the progress in post-earthquake Haiti. We traveled with experts on economics and health, to investigate the pressing needs on the ground. For some time we have been supporting a Haitian organization that helps poor families deal with access to basic necessities and helping communities have a voice in the decisions that affect them and we wanted to see the work ourselves.
While traveling to meet with some VIPs, we got a call about an eviction taking place in Barbancourt 17. We made a quick turn and went to investigate. There we found an enraged rich landowner screaming at families, women and children loudly in Creole demanding that they leave “his property”. He had already beaten a small, but grown man and personally destroyed several tents. Bulldozers and construction equipment stood by and ready. And oddly, so did the UN peacekeepers.
A lot has been said about the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.Haiti’s President has stated that the mission was absolutely necessary to ensure peace despite calls by many Haitians for the force to go. Members of the international community have suggested that the peacekeepers are there to keep order and help rebuild. Civil society organizations have demanded accountability for the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Haitian boy in Port Salut and the common occurrence of “fraternization” with under age Haitian girls by UN forces. It was telling that in all the chaos we personally witnessed, the UN did nothing to comfort the vulnerable. Their presence seemed only to validate the violence and the chaos that ensued.
I asked the UN soldiers who called them to this location what was their purpose. I noticed how the people watched the UN soldiers. Even the children, so clearly traumatized by the prospect of being uprooted, knew that the peacekeepers were not sent to Barbancourt 17 to protect them. They were there to ensure the landlord was protected.
Our presence did not deter the landlord. “If you like them so much, you take them back to Washington with you,” he callously and repeatedly remarked. What did deter him was a Haitian human rights lawyer who came with legal documentation stating the landlord could not evict the families without the proper paperwork. While that day was a victory for those people, we knew that it would only be a matter of time before the landlord got his ducks in a row.
A few days ago he did. The inhabitants of Barbancourt 17 were evicted from the only home they have had in the past two years. They were allegedly put on buses by the International Organization of Migration, perhaps to give the appearance they were going to a relocation site. But they were soon dropped off in front of a police station, without anywhere to go.
The international community continues to fail Haiti. Regardless of our humanitarian rhetoric, we continually and willfully make decisions that cause more misery in Haiti. We can be repulsed by the individual landlord, but it was an international force that supported him. This year, the UN peacekeeping mission costs almost one billion dollars. I have no idea where those children and their parents are sleeping tonight, but I do know that a billion dollars would go a long way in providing those families and many others with housing and basic necessities.
Nicole C. Lee is the president of TransAfrica.