Haiti: capital residents protest and organize

A heavy rain fell on Port-au-Prince for about a half hour in the early morning of Feb. 11, drenching the estimated 1.1 million people who have been sleeping outdoors or in improvised shelters since a magnitude 7.0 earthquake destroyed or seriously damaged their homes on Jan. 12. This was the first heavy rain in Haiti’s capital and the surrounding area since the quake, which occurred during the dry season. More frequent rainstorms may come as early as March, and medical experts warn of a great increase in disease if better shelters aren’t constructed in time.

Relief agencies say 22,000 tents have been distributed and another 50,000 are slated to be brought into the country; the Haitian official in charge of temporary shelter, Charles Clermont, said on Feb. 11 that he expected 400,000 tarps by Feb. 20. International institutions estimate that there are 310 spontaneous encampments in the Port-au-Prince area.

By around 6 AM on Feb. 11 many residents had joined demonstrations denouncing the government of President René Préval for its failures in organizing relief. Préval “sleeps peacefully while the people are soaked,” they chanted. (Haiti Press Network, Radio Métropole, AlterPresse, Haiti, Feb. 11; Le Devoir, Montreal, Feb. 12)

In at least one encampment, people have responded to lack of effective measures by the government and the relief agencies by “looking out for themselves,” according to the Associated Press wire service. Residents in a dry riverbed in the Marassa neighborhood, not far from the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the north of the capital, have organized themselves into two communities. Each community has a security committee which watches out for the residents and even issues them ID tickets. (AP, Feb. 11)

Although it is not clear from press reports how many communities have formed such committees, in a Feb. 7 statement the leftist labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye (Workers’ Struggle) called for the creation of more. Area residents should organize “autonomous committees to receive [the] aid and distribute it in the most effective manner,” the group advised. “The committees should build coordination between themselves, in a dynamic manner.” According to the statement, the failures of the government and the international community demonstrate once again that “[i]f we want to realize our own interests, we have no other choice—we need another state. We need our own state.” (Adital, Brazil, Feb. 11; BO statement, Feb. 7)

On Feb. 11 the Metal Workers Union of São José dos Campos and the Region, an industrial center in Brazil’s São Paulo state, announced that the General Motors workers there had agreed to donate 1% of their pay to Batay Ouvriye. Other metal workers in the area have also donated: all together, more than 10,000 of the union’s members have given a total of about 380,000 reais ($204,740). “This money will be put directly into the hands of the workers,” union president Vivaldo Moreira Araújo said. “We’re not going to give anything to military troops or to the government. This is class solidarity to help the Haitian people reorganize themselves and reconstruct a free nation without imperialist occupation.” (Sindicato dos Metalurgicos de São José dos Campos e Região website, Feb. 11)

See our last post on Haiti and Brazil

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 14