Montreal Public Forum and Conference Discusses Post Earthquake Crisis

by Roger Annis (Haiti Liberte)
More than 200 people attended an evening public forum in Montreal on May 9, 2012 to hear a panel of speakers talk about the present situation in Haiti. The theme of the event was “Two years after the Haiti earthquake: reports and analyses.”

The forum was an opening session for a day-long conference of workshop discussions the following day. The featured speaker was Madame Michele Pierre-Louis, former prime minister of Haiti from September 2008 to October 2009. Following her talk, the evening shifted to hear a panel of six aid and human rights workers from Haiti and Quebec, most of whom were speakers the following day.
Michele Pierre-Louis is also the president of  FOKAL (Foundation for Knowledge and Learning), a Haitian NGO heavily supported by billionaire George Soros. She spoke from a prepared text for 45 minutes. Early in her talk, she spoke of the history of underdevelopment in Haiti and then moved to the present situation, where her remarks became more specific and critical.
She said the policies that impoverished Haiti in the past are very much in place today. Citing the April 2012 report of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, she said a process of impoverishment has firmly taken root in post-earthquake Haiti. She gave the examples of the vast informal settlements that have sprung up to the north of Port au Prince, namely Canaan and Corail. These settlements are poorer than the poorest of the pre-earthquake districts, she said, citing Cite Soleil by comparison.
She criticized a “total lack of transparency in the operations of aid agencies ” in Haiti as well as the economic policy founded on cheap-labor factory investment. She cited the Caracol Industrial Park recently launched in Haiti’s north as an example of this ill-conceived development.
The absence of transparency and accountability in aid operations, she said, makes it more difficult to combat corruption among the international agencies and the Haitian government.
 Mme. Pierre-Louis acknowledged that her assessment of Haiti’s situation is rather pessimistic. But she said there are several reasons to be hopeful for Haiti, the main one being the flourishing of “international cooperation ” organizations in the country.
She urged audience members to speak out against the current Canadian government’s funding cuts affecting Canadian charities and NGOs and their Haitian partners. Several panelists speaking later during the forum made similar appeals.
Mme. Pierre-Louis said Haiti needs a “paradigm change,” and she cited five key pillars for the country’s future development — meaningful economic investment, effective governance, expansion of health and education programs, enhancement of the natural environment, and citizen engagement. How this could take place, including the role that a Haitian government must play, was largely left unexplained.
Her talk was followed by one hour of discussion with six panelists. A moderator asked prepared questions to the panelists in random order. It emerged that most panelists were very critical of what two years of “aid” has brought to the Haitian people.
Suzanne Loisel of Entraide missionaire, for example, said it was “shocking ” to see the miserable conditions in which people are living in the informal settlement of Canaan. Gerardo Ducos of Amnesty International said the conditions for women are especially troubling in Haiti. Too little has been done to establish a framework for human rights in post-earthquake Haiti, he said.
Well into the discussion, Ducos was the first to mention the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH), a military force of near 10,000 soldiers. He provided an example of how little it has consulted with earthquake victims, noting that the “cluster ” meetings of international agencies routinely don’t include Haitian participation.
Magalie Georges of the National Federation of Teachers of Haiti (FNEH) did not have much time within the meeting’s format to describe the state of education in the country. But she made it clear that the system of 17,000 private schools, on which families routinely spend up to 50% of their income if they have children in school, is completely inadequate. She appeared to speak favorably of Michaëlle Jean’s positive assessment of the education policy of the Michel Martelly regime, but in the same breath she called education in Haiti a failed system and “ongoing earthquake.”
The audience erupted with strong applause when panelist Yannick Etienne of the Batay ouvriye workers advocacy organization criticized the UN military force in Haiti. She called it an “occupation” force that is gradually placing Haiti under foreign tutelage.
Strong applause also erupted for Andre Beaudoin’s call for policies to promote food sovereignty and Chenet Jean-Baptiste’s claim that Haiti will be only be rebuilt if Haitians take charge. Beaudoin is secretary general of the Quebec farmer organization UPA; Jean-Baptiste heads the large Haiti development agency ITECA.
The panelists’ harshly critical remarks emboldened Mme. Pierre-Louis in her closing remarks. She made a strident critique of MINUSTAH, saying its cost (some $850 million annually) is “obscene” and accomplishes “nothing” for Haitians. But as with the other panelists, too little was offered to indicate how the country could emerge from its crisis.
Mme. Pierre-Louis said community and social organizations in Haiti need to come together and challenge the post-earthquake status quo. But to what end? Is the current government a help or a hindrance to post-earthquake Haiti? Is its drive to resurrect a Haitian army a good or bad thing? If Martelly’s regime is an obstacle to progress, with what should it be replaced? Is there even a significant role for a sovereign Haitian government? Such issues were never addressed.
There was no opportunity for audience members to offer comments or questions. Attendance at the conference the following day was restricted by the sponsoring organizations, including Concertation pour Haiti, a coalition of Quebec organizations working in and around Haiti, and one of the hosts of the forum and day-long conference. Other sponsors were the  Quebec Association of Organizations of International Cooperation (AQOCI), the Universite du Quebec a Montreal, and the Government of Canada.
None of the forum participants mentioned the February 2004 coup d’etat against Haiti’s elected government and what part, if any, of the present humanitarian calamity can be traced to that event. The unknowing listener would be unaware that the MINUSTAH, so heavily criticized today, is the military occupation force created in 2004 to enforce the neo-colonial status quo created by the coup. Concertation pour Haiti was a strident voice in support of the coup.
(The full text of Mme. Pierre-Louis’ speech (in French) is on AQOCI’s website. )