Haiti’s Oscar Awards

Mark Schuller (Haiti Liberte)

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:
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:
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
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:
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:
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.)
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.