The Tragedy of Haiti: Victims of the Storms

By Kevin Pina

September 26, 2004

A political storm hit northern Haiti long before
Tropical Storm Jeanne came along. On March 20th,
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue flew into
Gonaives where a huge and boisterous crowd of
thousands welcomed him. Latortue embraced gang
elements and the former military that helped overthrow
the democratic government of President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide as "freedom fighters."  Since then, Latortue
and his government have done little to take control of
Haiti's third largest city and has allowed gang
leaders like Buteur Metayer and Wilfort Ferdinand to
run it like a private fiefdom. This has had serious
consequences since Tropical Storm Jeanne arrived to
stake her claim of Haiti's misery.

The political storm took many victims as well and left
Haiti ill-prepared for the devastion brought about by
Tropical Storm Jeanne. One of its first victims was
the Civil Protection Office following a rampage led by
the "freedom fighters" against suspected Aristide
supporters. This politically benign institution had
been established in cooperation with the local
municipal government by grants provided by United
States Agency for International Development  (USAID)
and administered through the Pan American Development
Foundation  (PADF).   PADF's own website confirms
that, "PADF's emergency response and reconstruction
efforts are complemented by community training in
disaster preparedness. Mitigation training promotes
the development of civil action plans that enable
communities to identify priorities and reinforce key
infrastructure. Last year, 23 local civil protection
committees were formed and over 5,000 people were
trained in disaster awareness, leading to safer
communities." Unfortunately, with Washington, Paris
and Ottawa ushering in a man-made disaster with the
destruction of constitutional authority in Haiti, all
of the tax dollars USAID invested in preparing for
natural disasters like Tropical Storm Jeanne were
wasted as well.

Tropical Storm Jeanne is exactly the type of disaster
USAID and PADF's programs were set up to manage. There
were components that monitored incoming tropical
storms and provided an advanced warning and
preparedness network designed to plan a response
BEFORE disaster struck. Plans included advising
communities in advance of approaching storms and
preparing for them by storing large supplies of
drinking water, food, medical supplies and portable
tents for those displaced from their homes. When
Tropical storm Jeanne hit these structures no longer
existed and all of the trained and competent
participants in the program had long been driven out
of the area and their offices pillaged and burned. No
where was this more evident than in Gonaives where
many associated with the Aristide government and the
Lavalas party were reportedly dragged through the
streets and burned alive.

Instead of reasserting control of the State and
rebuilding the necessary infrastructure that was
destroyed following the coup of February 29th,
Latortue followed a policy of benign neglect and
accommodation with thugs in the region that has led to
needless death and suffering in the wake of Tropical
Storm Jeanne. In all fairness, the fault does not lie
exclusively with the US-installed government. The Bush
administration shoulders much of the blame for the
current situation with an ill-conceived regime change
that has replaced what they considered a failed state
with an even more failed state.

The United Nations also bears a large responsibility
for the armed gangs and elements of the former
military currently hampering relief efforts in
northern Haiti. Like Latortues accommodation of the
gangs in Gonaives, the UN forces have stood by while
the former military has taken over several towns in
the north. The official excuse of the UN has been that
they do not have enough forces on the ground to
challenge the former military from seizing control of
the region. It seems that by the time they do have the
necessary forces they will wake up to find themselves
bunkmates with the very forces they claim to want to
keep out of power. This does not bode well for the
inhabitants of Port au Prince should a natural
disaster ever strike the capital to combine with the
current political disaster as it has in Gonaives.

In the end, the UN and Latortue are victims of their
own failed policies and ultimately the failed policy
of the Bush administration in Haiti. The ones who will
suffer the most as a result of these failures are the
very people they claim to have come to this island
nation to help. The disregard for institutions
destroyed during the latest coup and the lack of
planning and response for natural disasters is only a
symptom of a political storm that is far from over in
Haiti- a storm that is being feed by poor political
judgement. Sadly, this has resulted in more needless
suffering for the people of Haiti during this time of
crisis.




Kevin Pina is an independent journalist, filmmaker, is
Associate Editor of the Black Commentator, and
currently resides in Haiti.