People of Haiti besieged by natural and political disasters

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Haitian rescue teams racing against time to save victims of the August 14 disaster near Les Cayes in Haiti’s Southern District. (Photo: Courtesy of Protection Civile: Haiti)

By Earnest McBride
Jackson Advocate Contributing Editor

The city of Les Cayes and other towns in the South District of Haiti were hit by two deadly earthquakes in the early daylight hours of Saturday, August 14. The combined force of the 6.9 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter at Petit Trou de Nippes and another at a magnitude of 7.2 in St. Louis du Sud exacted a death toll of more than 1900, with over 9,900 wounded, and an untold number of residents displaced from their homes, according to the most recent reports from the Haitian Embassy in Washington.

Saturday’s quake occurred along the same fault as the 7.0 magnitude temblor of 2010 that killed more than 200,000 and destroyed over $8 billion in residential and business structures in the large cities of Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, and Leongane, 16 miles west of the capital.

Although last Saturday’s quake was reportedly twice as powerful as the 2010 quake, loss of life and property damage, so far, has been noticeably less than 11 years ago.

The natural disaster of the recent earthquake rattles the nation just at the time most Haitians have begun to recover from the shock of the man-made disaster of July 7, namely, the assassination of the late President Jovenel Moise and the wounding of his First Lady Martine Moise while they lay in bed. Add to that the anxiety and constant threat of the COVID-19 virus. And as a final burden, bring in Tropical Storm Grace that blew in late Monday with five inches of rain and increased its downpour Tuesday with the expectation of yielding as much as 15 inches of rain before moving on. With such a persistent and heavy blast of rain, the denuded hills of Haiti’s countryside are almost certain to bring about devastating landslides and the blockage of roads and passageways across the nation.

Haiti’s new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was sworn in on July 20. His assumption of office created its own drama when outgoing Prime Minister Claude Joseph strongly hinted that he would retain the title of head of government in the absence of a duly elected president. But because Moise had intended for Henry to take over as prime minister in late July, Joseph surrendered the office and returned to his former role as minister of foreign affairs.

DISASTER RELIEF
Prime Minister Henry took to the airwaves Monday to declare a month-long state of emergency. He also announced that his administration would arrange a unified system of receiving disaster relief and that he wouldn’t ask for international help until after an estimate of the total damages.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose father is native of Haiti, announced Saturday that she would donate all of her prize money from an upcoming tournament to the Haitian relief efforts.

“Really hurts to see all the devastation that’s going on in Haiti,” Osaka said via Twitter. “And I feel like we really can’t catch a break. I’m about to play a tournament this week and I’ll give all the prize money to relief efforts for Haiti. I know our ancestors’ blood is strong; we’ll keep rising.”

Eleven years after a worldwide relief effort brought in an impressive amount of money ostensibly to help the millions of Haitians who had lost nearly everything in the earthquake and its aftermath, suspicion and distrust of the larger international aid agencies like the Red Cross and the Clinton Fund remain in the air.

Ben Smilowitz, founder-executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, says that the people of Haiti who badly need assistance during the current disaster will benefit a lot more if money and other forms of assistance are channeled through reputable organizations there on the ground among the people in Haiti. His negative experience with the Red Cross during the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005 led him to search for and find a better and more direct way of getting aid to those who need it.

In his Disaster Accountability Project reports, Smilowitz revealed that organizations with minimal connection and local capacity in Haiti raised the most money. But the majority of those funds never reached Haiti, he says.

Smilowitz recommends, instead, a group of organizations operating under the name of SmartResponse.
“SmartResponse,” he says, “has a list of organizations operating locally in Haiti. Many of the organizations are Haitian and need your support.” You can find Smart Response at the following link: https://www.smartresponse.org/haitiquakes2021.

AID FROM WASHINGTON
President Joe Biden spoke with compassion Monday about the plight of the people of Haiti in the “devastating earthquake” that occurred in Saint-Louis du Sud.

“We send our deepest condolences to all those who lost a loved one or saw their homes and businesses destroyed.”

Hours after the earthquake struck, the President set in motion the team that will assist Haiti for the duration of the disaster and its after-effects.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power, Biden said, will coordinate the relief effort for Haiti.

“Through USAID,” he said, “we are supporting efforts to assess the damage and assist efforts to recover those who were injured and those who must now rebuild. The United States remains a close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti, and we will be there in the aftermath of this tragedy.”

Power later announced the deployment of a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) comprised of experts from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Members of the team will continue to monitor developments on the ground.

To help search for survivors in Haiti, the U.S. has already deployed a search and rescue team of 65 people, 4 canines, and 52K pounds of tools & equipment.

Search and rescue will be working in tandem with the DART team for as long as it’s needed.

Coast Guard personnel and equipment will fly the wounded to Port-au-Prince for treatment. The Coast Guard will also be tracking Tropical Depression Grace in all her different stages.

The Defense Department has also heeded the call of USAID and sent the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) to support the response to the earthquake. SOUTHCOM is providing air transport to move DART personnel and supplies to the affected areas.

POLITICAL SITUATION
The most serious issue still burning hotly behind the dust and clutter of the earthquake, the tropical storms, and the critical need for the basics of everyday life – food, shelter, clothing – is the political system of the nation that had been essentially dismembered by Moise over the last year.

The forces behind the assassination of Moise, if known, have yet to be revealed to a deeply concerned public. Authorities have jailed 26 men involved in the murder and assault on the First Lady. Most of these men have been identified as trained militarists from Colombia. Two Haitian Americans are included in this group. Four of the assailants were reported killed as the Haitian National Police made the arrests on July 7, the day of the assassination.

Community activist Fatemah Mevs, a native of Haiti who grew up in Miami, says Haitians are in a delicate situation at the moment and while stunned with the tragedy brought on by the earthquake, nearly everyone is also deeply concerned about the political situation, though not everyone is anxious to speak out. Mevs is the International Affairs co-chair of N’COBRA (National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America), whose branch office is in Jackson.

“Many Haitians are very upset following the assassination of President Moise,” Mevs said Monday afternoon. “They don’t want to talk about the situation in Haiti because it’s a very precarious one. There is danger. And there are gangs on all sides. And that’s probably the reason why some representative organizations both inside and outside of Haiti have been reluctant to speak out. There’s no freedom of speech, per se.

“The government itself was disbanded by the late president. He dismissed all of the cabinet, the ministers, the legislators, and the courts. He had left only one court open, which is the one trying the Colombians. I don’t have confirmation on that, though.”

Jovenel Moise’s downfall came about after he suspended the legislative elections of 2019 and the presidential election of 2020. He ruled by decree during those years and incited protests, many of them violent, across the country. He was assassinated in the early morning of July 7.

Haiti’s next presidential and legislative elections are expected to take place November 7 if the plan announced by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) holds true.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced in late July that elections would take place after his government was able to “prepare the conditions to hold the elections as quickly as possible.”

Under the Haitian Constitution, the Provisional Electoral Council has the responsibility for all electoral procedures throughout Haiti.