Haiti: quake victims march to protect their homes

More than 1,000 Haitians marched through downtown Port-au-Prince on June 25 to protest a plan to destroy homes they have built on hillsides overlooking the city. Haitian police and members of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) fired tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters when they tried to approach the National Palace; some protesters threw rocks at the police and at passing cars. This was the second demonstration on the issue in a week.

The protesters came from poor neighborhoods on the capital’s southern flank, such as Jalousie in the generally well-to-do Pétionville section and Morne l’Hôpital in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood. The Environment Ministry reportedly wants to have some 400 houses razed in these improvised communities so that the hills can be reforested and channels can be dug to prevent the flash flooding that affects Port-au-Prince during the rainy season; the hillside dwellers themselves sometimes lose their homes and even their lives in the floods.

But many of the residents are among the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes in the devastating earthquake that struck southern Haiti in January 2010 earthquake. Some built on the hillsides after they were driven out of displaced persons camps without any provisions to get them new housing, and they are furious that the government of President Michel Martelly (“Sweet Micky”) is now planning to drive them out of their new homes. “Martelly wants to destroy houses while he doesn’t build any,” some protesters shouted, alluding to the promises the president made when he took office last year that he would build housing to replace homes lost in the quake.

During the march demonstrators threw rocks at the construction site for the Oasis Hotel—a luxury facility financed partly by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, which former US presidents Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and George W. Bush (2001-2009) set up ostensibly to aid earthquake victims. (Associated Press, June 25, via Boston Globe; AlterPresse, Haiti, June 26; Radio Kiskeya, Haiti, June 26)

According to the International Organization for Migration (OIM), an intergovernmental agency, there are now 390,276 displaced people living in camps in the area affected by the earthquake, a 7% decline since April. The government has been offering financial aid to get people to leave six of the largest camps; for example, a family is supposed to receive 20,000 gourdes (about $470) if it leaves the encampment near the National Palace in the Champ de Mars park. But the Haitian Platform of Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) considers this no substitute for a program to provide adequate housing. Especially in the camps on private property, many people have left because of threats or physical violence, according to the group, which estimates that 100,000 families have been arbitrarily forced out of the camps. (AlterPresse, June 27)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 1.

See our last post on Haiti.