Je Kontre, or “Eyes Meet”

Elise Young of ActionAid USA is in Papaye, Haiti with MPP, RENAHSSA, KONAFAP, MPNKP, KROSE, Fanm Deside, KPGA, APV, COZPAM, PAPDA, Kaba Grangou land and housing platform (Je Kontre) and other people’s movements…about to do 10,000-20,000 person march from Papaye to Hinche to celebrate this month’s international

environment day, protest Monsanto, and promote a reconstruction process that prioritizes local agricultural production, food sovereignty, land rights, permanent housing for the 700,000 Haitiens still living under tents and direct consultation and partnership with grassroots movements.

The emerging campaign, called Je Kontre, or “Eyes Meet” is calling for creation of a National Housing Plan that prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable over multi-nationals, a reformed National Agriculture plan that prioritizes smallholder farmers over export agribusiness and a reconstruction process done in direct partnership with Haitian Civil Society.

“This march on June 21, 2011, is a commemoration of last year’s June 4 marched in protest against Monsanto seeds donated to the Haitian gov., which we consider to be a poisoned gift. This march is also an act of solidarity, in which we are advocating for a reconstruction process in partnership with the grassroots. May the voice of knowledge be heard at each level of development in Haiti,” Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, MPP.


23 Haitians die in storms due to inadequate shelter

     Read today’s Miami Herald article on the recent storm-related deaths of 23 Haitians due to inadequate shelter access, in which both  ActionAid USA and ActionAid Haiti are quoted: 

    Our ActionAid Haiti staff has confirmed that the recent storm has left many parts of Port-au-Prince, as well as several areas outside  of the capitol, in a state of devastating flooding and mudslides. They agree that the recent deaths of at least 23 Haitians are directly linked to inadequate shelter and/or housing, with roofs that have collapsed in on people. To quote our ActionAid Haiti Emergency and Human Security Coordinator, Alce Jean Baptiste, “The great vulnerability of both Port-au-Prince at the country as a whole is clearly evident in the aftermath of this most recent storm. Disaster risk reduction and mitigation plans have not been put into place and any existing plans do not include a detailed blueprint or needed consultation from grassroots groups on the ground.”

ActionAid works in 7 camp communities through our local partner, COZPAM (Community Organizations of the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Zone). One of our Mariani camp leaders, Saintilme Marie Charles Juste Luce and a recent ambassador to the US for our Haiti Advocacy Day in Washington, DC, gave this perspective from on the ground.  “It’s really urgent that we leave the tents. They are seriously degraded and continue to expose us to all sorts of dangers, especially us women and our daughters. The situation becomes even worse with the rainy season. The rains of recent days, for example, forced us to spend whole nights standing. You can imagine the plight of pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and the disabled.”

Our staff believes that the new Martelly administration and government must strongly reinforce the existing national emergency response system and create a comprehensive disaster preparedness and mitigation plan that is done through direct consultation with grassroots groups, camp leaders and vulnerable communities. Disaster mitigation must be prioritized not only in Port-au-Prince, but in vulnerable communities throughout the country that are at risk of severe flooding. Our own organization works closely with vulnerable communities and grassroots organizations in following a participatory consultation model in order to help mitigate the incoming hurricane season. We have worked with our Haitian partners to implement a Participatory Vulnerability Analysis and Community Training Program throughout the Grande Anse department in order to train, mobilize and do collective disaster preparedness planning with vulnerable communities. We have seen significant improvements in these communities and a greater ability to respond to storms and hurricanes in a more timely, collaborative manner.

These storms have clearly demonstrated the need for the Haitian government, US government, UN and international NGO’s to work more directly with vulnerable communities and grassroots networks in order to build civil protection capacity and disaster mitigation structures in country. In addition, the storm reflects the urgent need for the Haitian state to implement a long-term housing strategy that focuses not only on short-term shelter and relocation needs, but long-term access to safe, affordable housing for the most vulnerable.

Camp evictions

The past week has brought a new wave of disasters to Haiti. However, this time it was in the form of a human rights violation, through the systematic eviction of 3 camps located in highly visible, public spaces. Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp members were forcibly removed and even beaten this week, as police destroyed their tents and belongings. No compensation or transportation was offered. No strategic plan or next steps were presented. The worst news is that 3 more camps might be on the chopping block soon.

During President Michel Martellys’ pre-inaugural trip to the United States, he declared that one of his 4 main priorities was to help relocate people from IDP camps. The UN Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster has stated that the Martelly Government’s strategy on “Return and Relocation” for camp members will be piloted through 6 camps. These include the 3 camps that have just faced such devastating destruction and evictions and therefore casts serious concerns on the overall strategy.

In a recent news article, Delmas Mayor Wilson Jeudy, proudly defended these evictions, often portraying camp members as criminals who deserve no type of additional support to relocate. Mayor Jeudy rationalizes the move thusly: “Everyone was a victim of the earthquake, there is no question of paying people to empty public spaces they’ve occupied for several months…We cannot encourage foreign investors with such images.”

If the United States’ push for increased foreign direct investment might be a potential catalyst, then it means that our government must set the record straight and urgently speak out against these evictions.

In November, 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made the following recommendations  concerning camp evictions: “Implement effective security measures to safeguard the physical integrity of the inhabitants of the camps, guaranteeing especially the protection of women and children; train the security forces in the rights of displaced persons, especially their right not to be forcibly expelled from the camps; and ensure that international cooperation agencies have access to the camps.”

It is clear that these recommendations were not implemented at the most recent series of camp evictions this past week. To make matters worse, all three of these camps, including the one near the national airport, were official camps that had Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) liaisons in 2011. Yet, none of these liaisons were present.  To make matters worse, the UN Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster in Haiti canceled its meeting this week. This does not bode well for high camp transparency or accountability.

Thankfully, some brave members of Congress are speaking out against these forced evictions. Representatives Donald Payne, Yvette Clarke, Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson all made a joint statement on Wednesday, condemning the evictions.

“It is mind-boggling that any government official would condone or ignore such actions during a time when Haiti is seeking to recover from the crisis stemming from the January 2010 earthquake… During President Martelly’s visit to the United States, we were all encouraged by his assertion that Haiti will face a new day—a new beginning. We extended, and continue to extend, our arms to assist and support the people of Haiti and its government as it transitions upward. We will not, however, idly stand by and hear such reports of evictions, without seeking an explanation or taking action.”

To read the full statement, visit Rep. Yvette Clarke’s website:

ActionAid USA’s Elise Young’s Letter to the Editor in The New York Times

May 2, 2011

Our Promises to Haiti

To the Editor:

Haitians Forced Out of Tents to Homes Just as Precarious” (front page, April 24) describes the dire situation faced by at least 680,000 Haitians.

Precarious living conditions and forced evictions have worsened gender-based violence, food insecurity and health concerns in the country.

Both the incoming Haitian government and the United States government must now deliver on their promises and address this problem. This includes investing in a nationwide system of land reform, redistributing plots of land to poor communities and providing housing to those in desperate need of a permanent home.

Based on recent meetings with Haitian civil-society leaders, it is clear to me that a key to reconstruction is for Haitians themselves, especially grass-roots and women’s groups, to play a greater role in the reconstruction process. For recovery to succeed, the most vulnerable must be deeply involved in the creation and implementation of the national housing plan.

Washington, April 27, 2011

The writer is a senior policy analyst, for Haiti advocacy, at ActionAid USA.

President Elect speaks at National Press Club

Haitian President Elect, Michel Martelly, gave a Press Conference in Washington, DC this morning. Martelly emphasized three major priorities of his incoming administration: free education, moving people out of tents, and agricultural development.

ActionAid had a chance to ask the President Elect a question on behalf of our grassroots partners on the ground in Haiti. Here is the dialogue from that conversation.

ActionAid: “Hello, President Elect. I am Elise Young with ActionAid…We work very closely with grassroots groups, women’s groups on the ground in Haiti. Right now, those groups have not been as big a part of the reconstruction process. It’s been hard for them to access the IHRC and UN cluster meetings. As President, how could you help ensure a stronger voice for civil society, grassroots and their participation in the reconstruction, especially in getting into longer-term housing?”

Martelly: “I must say that we will prioritize programs, special programs, especially for the woman. As in housing, we have identified the woman as the pillar in the family. In Haiti, at 4 in the morning, you will see people in the street, but they are women carrying their load on their head, walking miles and miles to the market. They are the ones who spend days at the market. They are the ones who when they get back to home around 5 o’clock, take care of the kids and their husbands. So, we need to give government programs to (accompagner) empower them in the society…particularly the woman.”

Watch a clip from the press conference at

ActionAid Haiti and our Haitian partners have these thoughts to share on the incoming administration.

Jean Claude Fignole, ActionAid Haiti Country Director, said:

“Haiti’s next government has a choice to drag their heels like those before them or take the bull by the horns and do whatever is necessary to get Haiti’s reconstruction back on track.   Their first priority must be the million plus people still living under canvas or in shacks with little hope of moving on a year after the quake.

“Aid agencies have the money and the means to help re-build Haiti’s homes.  But until the government frees up the land needed, we are forced to spend donations on replacing tents and other piecemeal measures designed to help people get by in overcrowded camps. The new government can end this impasse.

 “We are urging the government to immediately invest in a nationwide system of land reform by redistributing multiple plots of land to poor communities and provide much needed social housing to those in desperate need of a home”.

 Jean Robert Pierre, Community Organizations of the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Zone (COZPAM) General Coordinator, said:

“We cannot think about rebuilding Haiti without solving the land and housing problem. The next government of Haiti must take the necessary measures to provide decent housing for victims of the earthquake of January 12, 2010, including those still living in tents and other makeshift shelters in camps. It must also provide plots to peasants, living mainly from agriculture, to enhance local agricultural production and ensure food sovereignty of the country. ”

Saintilme Marie Charles Juste Luce, Mariani camp resident, said:

 “It’s really urgent that we leave the tents. They are seriously degraded and continue to expose us to all sorts of dangers, especially us women and our daughters. The situation becomes even worse with the rainy season. The rains of recent days, for example, forced us to spend whole nights standing. You can imagine the plight of pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly and the disabled.”

President Elect meets with Secretary Clinton

Earlier in the week, the President Elect met with Secretary Clinton to discuss the two countries’ future relationship. Clinton emphasized her strong support for Martelly and the people of Haiti.

“I am very encouraged by the campaign that Mr. Martelly ran and the emphasis on the people and their needs…We are behind him. We have a great deal of enthusiasm. This is not only a goal of our foreign policy, but it is a personal goal of mine, my husband and many of us here in Washington…The people of the United States will be with you all the way.” – Secretary Clinton.

In response, Martelly highlighted Haiti’s biggest needs and request for help from the US government.

“Despite the generous donations of the American citizens, which have reached $1.2 billion received by 53 NGO’s, and in spite of the donation by the government of the US of $1.5 billion, we still have 1.7 million who still live under tents despite 15 months of waiting… These were the complaints that were the complaints expressed by a desperate population throughout my election campaign. This is why recovering and restarting the economy is a fundamental necessity for my government. This is why I plan on working relentlessly on the framework of international aid, to give new light to the business sector, and to develop the capabilities of government institutions and of civil society.”

View the full press conference here:

Although it is encouraging to know that the US is ready to renew its commitment to Haiti and that President Elect Martelly prioritizes the needs of women, civil society and vulnerable people in IDP camps, concern still exists over the mechanism for actualizing development. Both Martelly and Clinton put a heavy emphasis on business development, export growth and the need to take on new loans in order to accomplish these goals. Debt burden, however, greatly limits the Haitian government’s ability to provide key safety nets such as social housing, free education and support for local agricultural production. Furthermore, a heavy emphasis on export markets has the potential to devalue and marginalize the crucial work and income generation of peasant farmers, especially women.

Of course, foreign direct investment and business generation have a role to play in Haitian development. Haitian peasants’ movements, women’s groups and grassroots networks must be front and center in the development process in sustainable change is to become a reality. Therefore, we must continue to repeat this same question in the months to come: How is this administration going to ensure a stronger voice for grassroots and civil society movements in the reconstruction process?

“Kat Je” Four eyes will help

Later Thursday afternoon, our group had the good fortune to be invited by Rep. Frederica Wilson to attend a personal one-hour meeting. Rep. Wilson is a freshman congresswoman who serves on the House Foreign Affairs committee and represents a Miami district with the second largest population of Haitians and Haitian-Americans.

Jean Robert Pierre explained to the Congresswoman the extreme importance of Haitian grassroots groups like COZPAM or KONAFAP as well as Diaspora groups being involved in the reconstruction process and in such mechanisms as the National Housing Plan. “We need to help ensure that the most vulnerable people in Haiti, the people living under tents, are the ones actually receiving this new housing. Therefore, the grassroots needs to be in the middle of it.” Lousiane added, “It costs the US government $3,000 to $4,000 to build a temporary tent, one that can’t stand up to flooding and that can be slashed by a razor blade and have armed men enter to rape young girls. Doesn’t it make more sense to use this money to actually build safe, long-term houses?”

The Congresswoman was amazed and disturbed by what she heard. When the team explained to her that the House Foreign Affairs Committee could help, by speaking up to the IHRC, USAID and State Department and demanding that grassroots be more deeply consulted and involved in the National Housing Plan, National Protection Plan of Women, and National Agricultural Investment Plan, she paid attention.

Rep. Wilson asked her Chief of Staff to make an appointment at USAID so that she could directly address these issues and to notify the head of the IHRC that she wanted a meeting. Next, she asked us what type of grassroots movements should be at the decision making table. One of the many examples that the team gave was the peasant social movement, incorporating multiple grassroots coalitions, the “Kat Je,” meaning “Four Eyes.” The Congresswoman looked confused and asked, “What does that mean, the Four Eyes…I just don’t get that.” Marie Andree stepped to explain the concept of Four Eyes.. “This an important one in Haiti. It means that if you and I are looking one another directly in the eyes and really respecting one another, then we cannot lie to one another…we have to tell the truth.” The Congresswoman started laughing and clapping her hands, delighted at the thought. “Now that, I like,” she said. “That is wise, and we are going to have to definitely do something together about that.”