Prison Aid to Haiti for Captive Slave Labor

by Dady Chery (Haiti Liberte)

Haiti’s incarceration rate
of roughly 100 prisoners per 100,000 citizens in 2016 was the lowest in
the Caribbean. Nevertheless, there is a systematic campaign underway for more
prisons. Canada and Norway have each given one prison to Haiti. Thanks to
prison aid from the United States, three additional prisons have been
inaugurated since 2016, and another is under construction.

            In the Dominican Republic, Puerto
Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba, the incarceration rates per 100,000 people in 2016
were 232, 350, 145, and 510, respectively. These numbers alone do not tell the
whole story, because the large majority of Haiti’s prison population are pre-trial detainees,
many of whom are members of Aristide’s administration, resisters against
government abuses like land expropriation, or political protestors who have not
been charged with a crime. If Haiti were to release them, the incarceration
rate would drop to about 30 per 100,000, which is lower than in Norway, Sweden,
or Japan. Furthermore, if we consider the fact that another group of
incarcerated people are Haitian nationals who have lived as legal residents of
the United States or Canada nearly all of their lives and committed crimes
abroad, then the real incarceration rate of Haitians drops to one of the lowest
in the world.

            The United Nations, which has
militarily occupied Haiti since 2004 with its so-called peacekeeping mission,
often credits itself with the country’s low incarceration rate. This is
disingenuous, however, since the UN has amply contributed to violent crime on the island. In fact, although
Haiti’s incarceration rate has been low since time immemorial, it has climbed
with the arrival of the UN and nearly doubled between 2011 and 2016.

Places to Die

About 10,000 or so souls are currently in Haiti’s prisons,
where they subsist under conditions so abominable as to amount to a death
sentence. These prisoners are routinely beaten, given food and water of poor
quality, and no health care. Countless detainees suffer from tuberculosis, due
to overcrowding. Because prisoners were given river water to drink, they were
among the first registered deaths from the cholera epidemic that began in
October 2010, and more than 275 inmates had died of cholera by November 2011.        

does not need more prisons, however, but fewer prisoners. An increased respect
for human rights would have the salutary effect of dropping Haiti’s
incarceration rate to a number quite close to the country’s prison capacity
back in late 2010. Haiti’s politicians, ever greedy for dollars, have claimed
that the country lost most of its prisons to the January 2010 earthquake,
although the disaster affected only the Léogâne and greater Port-au-Prince
areas. Lately the prisoners have succumbed to starvation, probably deliberate
and motivated by greed. To Haiti’s mostly corrupt politicians, foreign aid for
whatever purpose is a euphemism for Swiss bank account.

Metaphor for Injustice

According to the Director General
of the Haitian National Police, Michel-Ange Gédéon, Haiti’s carceral universe
will expand by 1,500 places, thanks to U.S. generosity. The most recent prison
inauguration was on Jan. 30, 2017, for a 25,000-square-foot structure in the
city of Hinche (Center Department). It will lock up 240 men. Construction of
Hinche Prison began in 2008 and should have concluded in 2010, but it came to
an unexplained stop after an expenditure of about $400,000. It was finished in
2016 with support from the U.S. Embassy, which donated about $940,000 via its
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and the UN
Development Programme (UNDP).

the inauguration, Mr. Gédéon, said: “In every society, whenever schools fail in their mission,
prisons are built in a cascade to try to straighten the boat. If offenders are
to be neutralized, then prisons are needed to contain them. We want good
prisons, better prisons, to better protect the healthy population. The one that
hosts us this morning more or less meets international standards, and this is
much better.”

            Gédéon brought up that 71 Haitian
prisoners had died in 2016 due to poor conditions of detention, and he
exploited this to advantage. “We must humanize this place of deprivation of liberty and
ensure that we safeguard the rights of all citizens and those who have had
moments of misguidance,”
he proffered. He
did not mention that Hinche had been for years without a court dean to hear its
urgent criminal cases and assign the others to investigative judges. As a
result of this void in the justice system, about one half of the men in Hinche
Prison have not been charged with a crime or seen by a judge.

Nelson Mandela at Fort Liberté Prison

In the city of
Fort Liberté (North Department), an area replete with archeological treasures and close to the Clintons’ Caracol Industrial Park,
the Maryland-based company, DFS Construction LLC, one of the “friends of Bill,”
finished a 31,000-square-foot high-security prison in August 2016. The initial
bill was $5 million, but the cost ultimately rose to $8 million, all of it aid
from the US via the INL and USAID. The structure will incarcerate up to 600 men
from throughout Haiti, all supposedly convicted and condemned to long
sentences. It will include, among other things, “land to practice agriculture”
(read prison farm). During the inauguration, the U.S. Embassy’s Chargé
d’Affaires, Mr. Brian W. Shukan, waxed eloquent about the compound’s high
security, autonomous supply of drinking water, and solar power. Mr. Shukan was
so effusive, while dedicating this prison called Fort Liberté in the company of
friends from an occupation army, that he quoted Nelson Mandela’s statement that “no one truly knows a nation
until one has been inside its jails.”
had evidently missed the irony that Mandela was not referring to visiting

Workshops to Fill Pretty Little heads

Women make up less than 10% of Haiti’s prison population,
nevertheless the U.S. has built them the largest prison by far in Haiti, with
an area of more than 66,000 square feet, in the city of Cabaret (West
Department), on National Road No. 1. The structure, which is meant for 300
women, was completed in three years and cost $7.9 million. Like the others,
Cabaret Prison was financed by the U.S. State Department via the INL and USAID.
This time, the contract went to Panexus, a firm owned
by diaspora Haitians.

keeping with a tradition of Orwellian speeches, at the inauguration on Jan. 28, 2016, U.S.
Ambassador Peter F. Mulrean assured his audience that “the US government is determined to support the respect of
human rights of all Haitian citizens, independent of their social status or
their political class.”
He added: “The US government remains
committed to help Haiti to identify ways to reduce overcrowding and to fight
against preventive detention.”

and more, however, Cabaret Prison is taking on the aspect of a captive
slave-labor camp, despite the descriptions of its supposedly independent water
supply and solar power, and its clinic, cafeteria, and vocational training and
exercise areas, which suggest a fancy U.S. high school. More than 230 young
Haitian women are already incarcerated there, several of whom had been arrested
on UN bases merely for smoking marijuana. In January
2017, the prison launched “a four-month training workshop” in textiles,
cooking, baking, embroidery, knitting, and other skills, supposedly to relieve
the women’s frustrations. “The government understands that it’s not possible for those
women who entered the prison with empty heads to leave it in the same state,”
remarked Haiti’s Attorney General, Jean Danton Léger.

Worse than Slavery

Those Americans
who have urged their government to assist Haiti’s post-earthquake
reconstruction surely did not envision prisons as a humanitarian enterprise.
Haitians are equally flummoxed at the notion that foreign aid from the U.S.
would construct more prison cells than housing. On the other hand, why should
the U.S., with half a million homeless people, 10% of whom are veterans, care
more for Haiti’s homelessness than for its own? It would be prudent for
Haitians, in any interaction with foreign governments, to look closely at their
treatment of their black or indigenous citizens. The U.S. incarceration rate in 2016 was a whopping 693 per 100,000, higher than
any other country and more than four times that of any European country. The
devastation on the black population, where one in three newborn males may
expect to become imprisoned has been unspeakable. In fact, black Americans are
incarcerated as a means to enslave them within the prisons, and marginalize and
disenfranchise them even if they get out. Much of this state of affairs has
been due to Bill Clinton’s $9.7-billion federal crime bill in
1994, which provided an incentive to criminalize more behaviors so as to grow
the prison population.

900,000 Americans are currently stuck in U.S. prisons and forced to work for an
average of about $0.25 per hour in textile and furniture factories, farms,
construction, packing plants, telemarketing, and other industries. Beneficiaries of this labor have included WalMart, McDonalds,
AT&T, BP, Victoria’s Secret, Global Tel Link, Whole Foods, Starbucks,
Aramark, and Dell. Attempts to bring attention to the practice of slave labor
in the U.S., like a September-October 2016 nationwide prison strike, have largely
failed because of the press’ silence before the U.S. elections, when this news
mattered most. The wages in U.S. prisons are even lower than Haiti’s minimum wage,
which has been maintained for decades, with pressure from the U.S., at $0.35 to
$0.50 per hour. Foreign aid has always been a means for countries to finance
their own flailing industries, and the prison industry is no exception. The
current campaign for more prisons in Haiti, involving mainstream articles about
prison overcrowding and deaths, is no doubt motivated by a perception that the Trump administration is friendly toward the private prison industry.

the U.S., there is currently pressure to revise the
prison sentences for drug possession and other non-violent offenses. As a
result, some states are losing much of their slave labor. Mississippi’s George
County Supervisor Henry Cochran recently commented: “You’re
using that inmate labor, so [taxpayers are] getting a little good out of that
inmate for their tax dollars. You either gotta hire a bunch of employees or
keep that inmate. It’s like making a deal with the devil.”

            Haitians should carefully consider
that their politicians and journalists, in their campaign to get more U.S.
prisons, are flirting with the devil and a delivery of Haiti to a situation
worse than its early 18th-century slave-labor camps.

Dady Chery is the author of
We Have Dared to Be Free: Haiti’s Struggle Against
This article was first published on News Junkie Post.