CHAN statement on Haiti’s reconstruction

Haiti’s reconstruction must be shaped by Haitian hands and priorities!

Statement of the Canada Haiti Action Network

February 28, 2010

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, genuine solidarity for the people of Haiti has become even more critical. The loss of lives, the hundreds of thousands of sick and injured, the destruction of housing and infrastructure, all of these enormous problems constitute an unprecedented disaster in a country whose population is among the most vulnerable on the planet.

This tragedy has provoked a strong reaction of compassion among millions of people around the world, all sharing a desire to help and to offer support for the urgent needs of the Haitian people. In particular, we note the remarkable contributions made by medical and emergency assistance agencies, including Partners in Health / Zanmi Lasante, Médecins Sans Frontières, and the many medical brigades provided by the Government of Cuba.

Throughout this crisis, the Haitian people have responded with great dignity and solidarity – though the international media has all too rarely reported on this. Such dignity is especially impressive given the unspeakable neglect they have suffered since the earthquake. In contrast to this powerful human response within Haiti and around the globe, the group described in the mainstream media as the “Friends of Haiti” – including the governments of Canada, the US, France, and Brazil – has been anything but.

The failure of the aid effort has been due in large part to its militarization. The “Friends” group appears to operate with an irrational fear and disdain for the Haitian people. They are preparing a coordinated “reconstruction” process for Haiti that will once again see powerful, non-Haitian decision-makers setting the course, within a context structured by military occupation and a “charity” model of assistance.

This neglect follows a pattern. An embargo on financial assistance to Haiti’s elected government from 2000 to 2004 was followed by its violent overthrow on February 29, 2004. This coup d’état was carried out by a paramilitary uprising with political and military backing from the U.S., Canada and France. A two-year regime characterized by its grave human rights violations was appointed by the foreign powers, with the blessing of the UN Security Council.

A Security Council-authorized police and military mission has played a preponderant role in Haiti’s affairs ever since. The aid and financial embargo continues to this day. Haiti’s president René Préval has remarked on this to foreign media since the earthquake. He has complained that the aid money flowing into the country is not being directed either towards existing Haitian institutions or to creating the new ones that will be required.

The Canada Haiti Action Network is deeply concerned about the observable trends in Haiti since the earthquake. We are expressing our concerns to the appropriate authorities. We will continue to urge upon them the following principles to guide the aid and reconstruction effort in Haiti. We invite readers of this statement to do likewise.

1. Respect for Haiti’s sovereignty and a Haitian-led crisis response and reconstruction – While the January 25th Montreal Reconstruction Conference saw many leaders of the “Friends of Haiti” governments paying lip service to these concepts, it is nonetheless clear that Haitian voices, and most significantly the Government of Haiti itself, have been consistently sidelined in these discussions. Clearly, any meaningful reconstruction and development process in Haiti will require a central, decision-making role for its government and social organizations, and a dedicated and well resourced effort to build, re-build, and greatly expand Haiti’s public sector and governmental capacity. All pressures on the Haitian government from the Government of Canada and other “Friends” to further privatize Haiti’s public enterprises must be firmly rejected.

2. Opposition to militarization of relief and humanitarian assistance – The fact that Haiti was already occupied by a 9,000 strong Security Council-sanctioned military force (known by its acronym MINUSTAH) did not stop the United States government from quickly dispatching 20,000 marines of their own and seizing the Port-au-Prince airport. The Government of Canada followed this by sending 2,000 troops of its own. As is now widely known, this military control has been a major contributor to the failure to reach vast numbers of earthquake victims with urgently needed relief supplies and medical aid. The obsessive foreign concern about “looting” and “security” has proven to be inaccurate and an impediment to the relief effort. Relief activities must be de-militarized and they must be fully coordinated and overseen by the Haitian government and its agencies. All foreign NGOs and agencies should be put at the service of these local authorities and should assist them to build the appropriate structures, as needed.

3. Demand for absolute and unconditional debt cancellation for Haiti – While more and more national and international agencies have come to recognize that Haiti’s debt is not only odious but also a choking obstacle to its recovery and development, the International Monetary Fund and other key multilateral lenders continue to resist efforts to cancel it. Under the circumstances of the earthquake crisis, there can be no justification for Haiti sending vitally-needed funds to foreign banks.

4. Support for the settlement of the international debts owed to Haiti – Another major contributor to the serious inadequacy of Haiti’s infrastructure and its dire economic circumstances is the odious “debt” imposed on Haiti by France in the early 19th century under direct military threat and as a condition of establishing diplomatic and economic ties to the newly-independent republic. From 1825 to 1947, Haiti paid some $21 billion in current dollars to France as compensation for the loss of “property” of French slave plantation owners. The immorality of this extortionate debt has always been clear to the people of Haiti. Natural justice requires that these extorted funds be returned. 5. An appeal for immediate adaptation measures by Immigration Canada – The federal government must immediately recognize the dramatically changed circumstances faced by the Haitian community in Canada and those in Haiti needing access to family, support, and medical care. Such measures must include the extension of eligibility for family sponsorship to siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and adult children and temporary waiver of sponsorship application fees (as has been applied in comparable emergency situations). The admissibility rules for family reunification must also include the issuing of temporary-resident permits to allow the processing of such cases in Canada rather than in Haiti, as has been established in Haiti’s tiny Caribbean neighbour state of Antigua.

For more information, please see:

To contact the Canada Haiti Action Network: Fredericton: Tracy Glynn, 506 458-8747 Montreal: Yves Engler, 514 618 2253 Ottawa/Gatineau: Jean Saint Vil, 613 266 0879 or Kevin Skerrett, 613 864 1590 Toronto: Niraj Joshi , 416 731 2325 Winnipeg: Jord Samolesky, 204 283 7295 or Ralph Paul , 204 996 2611 Vancouver: Roger Annis, 778 858 5179