Marguerite Laurent & John Maxwell in Jamaica, May, 2004

In Defence of the Disinherited
by John Maxwell, July 3, 2004
Jamaica Observer (story)

There is a rape in progress next door. We know; we saw the rapist enter the house, we heard the shouts of alarm, the calls for help, the screams of the tormented victim echo through the neighbourhood. Our neighbours go about their business as usual. What do they care if, like Kitty Genovese so many years ago, the victim is slaughtered in full sight and sound of her neighbours. It is not our business, they say. We don't want to get involved.

And we are closing our "windows and drawing the curtains, because the rapist's brother is coming to tea with us." We donít want him to be unduly discountenanced, to be upset although he is one of those who set upthe attack.

At this moment eight million Haitians are languishing under the rule of killers, torturers and 'face-choppers'. Many are in hiding, as was the Prime Minister, Yvon Neptun, who last Sunday gave himself up rather than be murdered as a "fleeing felon". Some are in exile, as are the President of Haiti, his wife and children, with their human and political rights torn from them by gangsters and terrorists.

And we, Caribbean people, are preparing to entertain Gerard La Tortue, an absentee businessman/bureaucrat, who now claims to be the Prime Minister of Haiti.

This is the 200th anniversary year of Haitian independence and once again, the Haitians are voiceless, bereft of their rights, disinherited of their history and their dignity and abandoned by their neighbours, their so distant friends ‚ some of the very people they help rescue from miserable bondage.

As UNESCO says: "The uprising in Saint-Domingue which began on the night of August 22 to 23, 1791, played a decisive role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. August 23 is celebrated each year as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition."

A Gothic Obscenity

This year is the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery, declared so by the United Nations on January 10, 2004. Haiti's slaves abolished slavery in 1793, the only slaves ever to achieve that distinction. In this international year commemorating the struggle against slavery, the fact that Haiti is in a cage should put all Earth in a rage.

It is an obscenity.

The so-called civilised world, like the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is about to delicately draw up its skirts and pass by on the other side, leaving 8 million human beings to languish and die, all because their ancestors 200 years ago decided to make concrete the idea that every human being should have the same rights as every other.

The Haitian revolution was the only one of the three great revolutions of the eighteenth century which implemented all of The Rights of Man. Tthey have been paying the price ever since. As the cynics say ‚ No good deed ever goes unpunished.

It is our duty to come to the aid of Haiti.

As the Cubans have said: "We Cannot Abandon Haiti!"

Haiti has suffered for 200 years from the lies, obfuscation and deliberate misrepresentation of people, organisations and states motivated by an atavistic racism, byÝ a deep-seated fear of real human freedom and a profound inability to appreciate theÝ real genius of a people driven by the urge to bring freedom to all.

The Haitians have managed to survive in the face of the most long-lasting and purposeful genocidal campaign in history. They suffered because they helped Bolivar, because they were bold enough to offer soldiers to help Lincoln free the American slaves, because they understood the indivisibility of freedom and liberty.

They uffer because they defeated and repudiated slavery. Had they been Europeans, their valour and nobility would be celebrated in song and story, in legend and myth.

One of my email correspondents recently described Haiti as an international crime scene, and he is correct.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan and the UN Security CouncilÝ are attempting to licence the latest attempt to return Haiti toÝ unfreedom. We, who claim to be democrats, to love freedom and liberty, will be accomplices in this latest crime if we do not do everything in our power to set Haiti free once and for all.

Is Freedom really Indivisible?

If Haiti is not free, none of us is free.

When Haiti helped Bolivar ‚ alone and friendless ‚ she gave him all the arms, money and support that she could. She asked only one thing of him ‚ that in freeing Latin America he should also free its slaves.

I suggest that this gesture bequeaths to us an inescapable duty ‚ to free Haiti from its bondage, to allow Haitians to decide their future for themselves to give Haiti back its freedom.

WE have no arms and we do not need arms.

What we have is more potent than arms.

We have the power to move the conscience of the world, of humanity. We have the power to make a big difference to the lives of the Haitian people and of the oppressed all over the world.

What we need to do is to bring to bear the pressure of world public opinion, to relight the fire that the Jamaican Bouckman lit in 1793, to make it impossible for Haiti to be subjugated once again by stealth, by deceit and double dealing and treachery in the service of racism and greed.

We don't have to do anything spectacular. All we need to do is to try to keep the attention of our neighbours focused, on the reality of Haiti. And we need to keep on doing it.

We can startÝ by circulating factual information on Haiti, to our friends, to people of influence in whatever society we live, to journalists, commentators, columnists and editors, most of them prating grandly about democracy and freedom but doing nothing either to advance or defend them.

I have long been stirred by the history of the Haitians, particularly since I read C. L. R. James' "Black Jacobins" nearly half a cntury ago. Since then, I have had many Haitian friends, most of them refugees from the persecutions of the Duvaliers. I went to Haiti in 1964 in an unsuccessful attempt to interview Papa Doc. I returned in 1996 when CARIMAC ‚the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication ‚ and the PANOS Institute began a programme for training journalists after the first restoration of President Aristide.

I have met President Aristide twice and I have read two of his books ‚ his autobiography and "In the Parish of the Poor". I have a tremendous respect for this man and for his country and the movement which he leads, all unmercifully libelled by the so-called Free Press of the Free World.

Paul Farmer

In one of my earliest columns about Haiti this year, I quoted a report by David Gonzalez about on an American doctor named Paul Farmer who founded a clinic in Haiti in 1980 and had been there ever since.

Farmer was quoted as saying "One of the world's most powerful countries is taking on one of the most impoverished," he said of the United States decision to withholdÝ aid. "I object to that on moral grounds. Anybody who presides over this blockade needs to know the impact here already."

I was fascinated by the sound of Dr Farmer and I quoted him again the following week

"... there's no topsoil left in a lot "of the country, there are no jobs, people are dying of AIDS and coughing their lungs out with TB, and the poor don't have enough to eat. These are problems in the here and now. Something has to beÝ done. Haiti is flat broke" This quotation came from an American writer named Tracy Kidder whose piece on Haiti I read in The Nation. A few weeks later, Tracy Kidder sent me by airmail, his book on Paul Farmer ‚ Mountains Beyond Mountains‚ which won a Politzer Prize a year ago. As Kidder says, Farmer is not only out to heal Haiti but the world. Now that I'm in touch with both men by email I can say that my life has been immeasurably enriched by my contact with them, even though we have never met, physically.

Farmer's clinic is not in Port au Prince, the capital, but out in the bush‚ in a place that seemed to Tracy Kidder like "the end of the earth, in what was in fact one of the poorest parts of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I felt I'd encountered a miracle."

Indeed he had, as became clear to him over days and months an years in which he and Paul Farmer have become close friends and allies.

"In Haiti, I knew, per capita incomes came to a little more than one American dollar a day, less than that in the central plateau [site of the clinic] And here, in one of the most impoverished diseased, eroded and famished regions of Haiti, there was this lovely walled citadel, Zanmi Lasante. I wouldnít have thought it much less improbable if Iíd been told it had been brought by spaceship. Kidder described the policies of the clinic: Everyone had to pay, that is, except for almost everyone. And no one ‚ Farmer's rule, could be turned away."

It would be insane to attempt to try to condense Kidder's wonderful book, or the facts of Paul Farmerís life and work. But you may gauge some of Farmer's effect. Zanmi Lasante built schools, houses, communal sanitation and water systems throughout its catchment area. It vaccinated all the children, greatly reduced malnutrition and infant mortality, launched programmes for womenís literacy and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, reduced the rate for HIV transmission from mother to child to 4% about half the current rate in the US. "In Haiti, tuberculosis killed more adults than any other disease, but no one in Zanmi Lasanteís catchment area had died from it since 1988."

I am moved by the story of this man ‚ a white American ‚who set out to help a few poor, black villagers and started an unstoppable movement. Because, not content with his work in Haiti, Farmer is on a more or less successful campaign to reduce the cost of drugs for the treatment of intractable diseases in the Third World He has thi revolutionary belief that every human being, no matter how poor, is entitled to adequate medical treatment

And with all the time he spends walking up hill and down gully in Haiti and travelling the world to influence drug companies and governments, Farmer still has time to be a very effective Professor of Medical Anthropology at Harvard. Most of his salary plus money he begs from people and foundations, goes into his work. He was thrown out of Haiti when President Aristide was first deposed a decade ago and despite the attentions of the army, his clinic survived, though most of its programmes, literacy, vaccination etc. were seriously interrupted.

They were again interrupted by the latest usurpation of power. But farmer and his Haitian and Cuban doctors and staff believe that they can overcome even that, even after the recent killer floods. In Peru, where Farmer has had a great deal of influence, his students and others have gone a long way to obliterating multidrug resistant TB.

With all this, FarmerÝ finds time to write learned articles helping to revolutionize the treatment ofÝ dangerous diseases all over the world, and also to be an unabashed partisan of justice for Haiti . He is the author of many books, including "The Uses of Haiti" and most recently, "Pathologies of Power." He was awarded the American Medical Association's "Outstanding International Physician Award" in 2002.

" I believe that his story, and his writings about Haiti, demonstrate one incontrovertible fact: one person, one man or woman, armed with a true sense of duty can change the world."

Margaret Mead said it well:"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."

Copyright 2004 by John Maxwell


Children of Prometheus
John Maxwell, Sept. 13, 2008

The modern world was invented in the Caribbean.

Two hundred years ago the Haitians defeated the armies of Europe's major powers, Napoleon's France (twice), Britain and Spain, destroying slavery and precipitating the birth of capitalism, destroying European empire in the Western hemisphere and helping launch the United States as a world power. And they promulgated, for the first time on Earth, the reality of universal human rights.
The Haitians have been paying for their temerity ever since.

Fifty years ago, the Cubans threw off the neocolonial yoke, outlawed capitalism in Cuba and successfully asserted the right of any country, no matter how small to choose its own path to development. In the process the Cubans reordered Gorge Canning's boast that he had brought a new world into being to redress the balance of the old: The Cubans completed the liberation of Africa dealing a death blow to apartheid and the repulsive doctrine of ethnic difference and superiority.

For their sins the Cubans and Haitians continue to be punished, the Haitians by slow motion genocide, by compound interest and by state terrorism, by armed banditry in support of criminal monopolists and by the kidnapping of their elected leader. The Cubans have been punished by terrorism, by invasion, by biological warfare and by a brutal and illegal economic blockade.

The two peoples nearest us – to whom most of the hemisphere owe their freedom – are punished as Prometheus was for stealing divine fire and giving it to ordinary mortals. Zeus punished Prometheus when he finally caught up with him, by having him chained to a rock – perhaps in South Ossetia !, where a vulture would come to feast on Prometheus' liver, magically regenerated overnight.

Nature has dealt the Haitians and Cubans some serious blows. These blows are so many and so devastating that some people have begun to question whether what is happening is entirely natural.

Does someone ‘own’ the weather?

Cuba's fertile province of Pinar del Rio, which grows everything from plantain to the worlds' best tobacco, has been hit 14 times in 8 years by hurricane or storm. Comparing the strike rate over the last century suggests that global warming or some other force is tormenting Cuba.

‘I have never seen anything as painful …’

Dr Paul Farmer, an American physician, medical anthropologist and Harvard professor has spent about half his adult life dedicated to healing the world, especially Haiti the poorest country in the hemisphere. When the first storms broke over Haiti, Paul was in Rwanda, doing what he does all over the world, setting up systems to help ordinary people help heal themselves and their neighbors. He dashed back to Haiti from which he reported on Wednesday “…we need food, water, clothes, and, especially, cash (which can be converted into all of the above)—so that Zanmi Lasante (ZL), and thus all of us, can do our part to save lives and preserve human dignity.

"The need is enormous. After 25 years spent working in Haiti and having grown up in Florida, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything as painful as what I just witnessed in Gonaïves—except in that very same city, four years ago. Again, you know that 2004 was an especially brutal year, and those who work with PIH know why: the coup in Haiti and what would become Hurricane Jeanne. Everyone knows that Katrina killed 1,500 in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, but very few outside of our circles know that what was then Tropical Storm Jeanne, which did not even make landfall in Haiti, killed an estimated 2,000 in Gonaïves alone."

Paul Farmer thought he would have found organizations and institutions working on disaster relief. Instead, Farmer's health care organisation – Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Haitian) have been forced into the front line. PIH is a network of locally directed organizations working in 10 countries to attack poverty and inequality and bring the fruits of modernity—healthcare, education, etcetera—to people marginalized by adverse social forces.

In Haiti they have now been forced into a different role -- which is why Paul Farmer is apologizing to his staff and friends for asking for money, food and other resources.

" … we saw not a single first-aid station or proper temporary shelter. We saw, rather, people stranded on the tops of their houses or wading through waist-deep water; we saw thousands in an on-foot exodus south toward Saint-Marc
Farmer is appealing desperately for help against a background of official ignorance and failure.

"A speedy, determined relief effort could save the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians in Gonaïves and all along the flooded coast. The people of that city and others have been stranded without food or water or shelter for three days and it's simply not true that they cannot be reached. When I called to say as much to friends working with the U.S. government and with disaster-relief organizations based in Port-au-Prince, it became clear that, as of yesterday, there's not a lot of accurate information leaving Gonaïves, although estimates of hundreds of deaths are not hyperbolic."

Part of the problem in Haiti is that the American managed coup against President Aristide was a coup against democratic community organizations as well. The Haiti Democracy Project, USAID and John McCain's International Republican Institute calculated that they would fatally undermine Aristide by destroying the grassroots organisations. What they did was to destroy the Haitians' capacity to help themselves.

Evacuating the population of Jamaica

Cuba is organized as a mutual aid society in which every citizen has his responsibilities, his duties and his place. When hurricanes threaten Cuba, people move out of the way guided by the neighbourhood Committees for the Defense of the Revolution –CDR. They move the old and the young, the sick and the healthy and their cats, dogs, parrots, their goats, donkeys and cows, to safe places.
Here is a truly incredible fact. Last week the Cubans moved 2,615,000 people – a number nearly equivalent to the entire population of Jamaica, to safety. Four people died in the storm, the first fatalities for years. It is a remarkable statistic.
Three years ago when Texas tried to evacuate a million or so ahead of hurricane Rita more than a hundred people died in the evacuation.

The hurricanes hitting Cuba this year have been peculiarly destructive, Gustav leaving behind wreckage which reminded Fidel Castro of the wreckage of Hiroshima.

Cuba needs food, not because of poverty –as in Haiti, but because its crops have been devastated and food stores destroyed. When the Cubans asked the Americans to allow them to buy supplies from the US, Condoleezza Rice said no!
The Cubans were not asking for charity.

Some of us have long suspected that for some Americans, ideology was more important than humanity.

That celebrated rhetorical question in the Bible has now been answered by Secretary Rice:

If your brother asks for bread, will you give him a stone?

The essence of being human is that other humans recognize your humanity, I, and probably many others, are unable to recognize Ms. Rice as human.

It is savagely ironic, or, perhaps, barbarically ironic that it is the Cubans who should be treated in this way. When people are in trouble anywhere in the world the Cubans send help no matter what the state of relations is with their governments, to Honduras, Guatemala and Pakistan among others. When Katrina hit the US the Cubans organized a 1,500 strong medical brigade which would have saved many lives, had their help been accepted.

But, as the Bible says, let the dead bury their dead.

We need to organize to help as many people as possible survive the effects of the hurricanes.

We need to organize funds for Haiti and food for Cuba.

I would hope that this newspaper organizes a relief fund for our worst hit neighbours and I will offer what I can, $10,000.

I would urge us to demonstrate our sympathy and solidarity by giving as much as we can, no matter how small.

Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell


Ravaged environment keeps Haiti at risk

By JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami Herald, Oct. 14, 2008

Plush mansions and concrete shacks perch precariously on the hillside of this steep green mountaintop retreat, miles from the storm-ravaged cities of Cabaret and Gonaives.

With the brick-red topsoil quickly eroding and few trees to hold what's left, a heavy downpour can easily trigger a landslide, sending the hills crashing down, washing away homes, uprooting crops.

Haiti's crumbling hillsides have made the country vulnerable to flash floods and lethal landslides, but that vulnerability has come into sharp focus recently, following four consecutive killer storms in less than 30 days.

Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike cut trails of death and destruction through this already impoverished nation, leaving hundreds dead, thousands homeless and a coastal town in the northwestern corner buried in mud from floodwaters.

Haphazard farming techniques, poorly constructed homes on unregulated land, years of neglecting rivers and storm canals, lax enforcement of environmental laws -- have all left Haiti's landscape in a particularly fragile state. Even heavy rain showers can create havoc.

The United States Agency for International Development estimates that only 1.5 percent of Haiti is still forested, compared to 60 percent in 1923 and 28 percent in the neighboring Dominican Republic today. Approximately 30 million trees are cut down annually in Haiti, according to the USAID.

''The whole country is facing an ecological disaster,'' said Haiti's new prime minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis. ``We cannot keep going on like this. We are going to disappear one day. There will not be 400, 500 or 1,000 deaths. There are going to be a million deaths.''

Waterlogged Gonaives, sitting like a bowl on a flat plain between the ocean and barren mountains, only tells part of the story of Haiti's environmental crisis.

As Tropical Storm Hanna pounded the port city last month, Pierre-Louis and a government convoy tried to reach there.

They couldn't get through.

''On the road there, we almost died,'' Pierre-Louis said.

Boulders crashed down the mountainside, bringing a cascade of muddy water.
Two of the government SUVs were washed out by the water on the Nacional, the road connecting the capital of Port-au-Prince to Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.

''You could see all this water falling down with rocks and mud,'' Pierre-Louis said.
She ended up traveling to the devastation by air.

''Everyone is talking about Gonaives and Cabaret, but people forget this is a national catastrophe,'' said Arnaud Dupuy of the United Nation's Development Program with responsibility for the environment.

``Port-au-Prince one day will suffer the same fate. There are bidonvilles [shantytowns] in the hills, the mountains are deforested, all of the ravines and canals are obstructed, clogged with plastic bottles.''

This is not the first time Haiti has been wracked by natural disaster.

Last year, 20 people died in Cabaret after the Betel River burst over its banks.
During Hurricane Ike last month, the same river swelled and killed more than a dozen children with its raging floodwaters.

In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed an estimated 3,000 Haitians, most in Gonaives, when the three rivers leading into the city roiled down the denuded mountains loaded with boulders and muck.

'With all of these disasters happening now, we have to ask, `What have we been doing wrong?' '' said environmentalist Jane Wynne, who has spent her life trying to get Haitians to change their lifestyles to help the country avoid devastation.

Wynne, who was born and raised in Haiti, has transformed her terraced hillside slope into an ecological reserve of bamboos and shrubs that ''can save Haiti,'' she said.

She learned the technique under the tutelage of her father, a U.S.-born civil engineer who moved to Haiti in the 1920s.

Wynne is among a handful of conservationists here who have been waging an uphill battle to help save the countryside from deforestation.

She shows schoolchildren and farmers how to terrace properly to keep slopes from crumbling during downpours.

She also shows how to turn recycled paper into briquettes, an alternative fuel source to charcoal.

''The main problem is the erosion of the soil, the way the people take care of the earth. They work it with no respect,'' she said.

In addition, the country's protected forests and reserves have been mismanaged and cut down to be used for fuel. Now, a once lush countryside is embarking on disaster.

''They build houses in the riverbed, in the ravines, where the current should go,'' Wynne said. ``When the water goes down, it's blocked by trash.''

To illustrate her point, Wynne takes visitors on a brief tour of Kenscoff. Here, onion and spinach farms are planted along the slanted slopes. Although they appear to be terraced, they are not, she says, pointing to where the soil is beginning to turn brown and barren.

She points to a farm where the peasants have built canals or ''exits'' instead of ditches to hold the water and channel it away from crops. The ditches also would serve to keep runoff from the mountainside from picking up speed.

''This is the problem of Haiti,'' Wynne said. ``They build exits all over the hillsides. The exits wash the soil down.''

Ditches are needed to catch the runoff.

When the runoff picks up speed, ''this is where it does the damage,'' Wynne said. ``You should never let runoff water pick up speed.''

The reef-fringed island of La Gonave, off the coast of Port-au-Prince, stands as a testament for how proper watershedding can halt destruction.

When Tropical Storm Hanna dumped torrential rains on the denuded hills for six hours last month, the island received only a downstream trickle instead of the usual flash floods.

The area benefited from a $10 million USAID watershed project grant in May 2008.
In exchange for food, World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, recruited locals to build a series of parallel walls descending the mountain, thus slowing the cascading floodwaters.

''Nobody died. Crops were saved,'' said Rachel Wolff of World Vision.
At one time, Haitians respected the land. But an exploding population and deepening poverty have created a vicious cycle.

It is not at all uncommon to hear among the poorest that if they don't cut down the trees or farm on the slopes, their children will die of hunger.

Until recently, Haiti's governments have lacked the political will to address its environmental problems, even as legislators passed laws instituting forest brigades and USAID poured millions of dollars into tree-planting programs.

But two decades of trying to raise awareness on the importance of conserving the environment seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

''The more poverty increases, the more erosion increases,'' said Dupuy, with the UN Development Program.

``There is no management of the territory, no employment to give people jobs. So you have a mass of people who are deep in poverty and what do they do? They tap the environment for revenues by cutting down trees for charcoal.''
All of that accelerates disaster, he said.

Dupuy sees the recent devastation as an opportunity for Haiti to reclaim its lands.
''There is an opportunity to build back better, to reconstruct the city and avoid rebuilding the vulnerability,'' Dupuy said. ``If we don't seize this opportunity, it will happen again and again with a greater force.''

Following 2004's Tropical Storm Jeanne, the international community pledged millions of dollars to dredge the rivers and to create watershed projects in Gonaives.

Very little was done, and government officials are still trying to research where the money went.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what the government will do about Gonaives, Haiti's city of independence that is all but destroyed today, encased in more than 105 million cubic feet of mud.

Pierre-Louis, who officially became prime minister two days before the fourth hurricane battered Haiti, says it's time for everyone, the government included, to get serious about saving the environment.

She speaks of passing laws and erecting billboards throughout the country that warn ``You Cannot Build Here.''

She even goes as far as saying that people should be arrested and homes demolished if they don't abide by the law.

''It's time for us Haitians . . . to start thinking about what are we going to do so that so this does not happen again,'' Pierre-Louis said.

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