Bridging the class divide
Dr. Ron Daniels | 4/12/2011, 4:45 p.m.
As this article is being published, the brutal Haitian dictator Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier has just been arrested following his surprise arrival in Haiti. The Haiti Support Project of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century was among the many organizations and individuals, both international and local, who called for his arrest and condemned the acquiescence of the Haitian government and complicity of the international community in permitting "this criminal and thief to return to Haiti."
The one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, was understandably consumed by how little progress has been made to alleviate the suffering of millions of people, and the lagging effort to rebuild the nation. From the perspective of the Haiti Support Project (HSP), nothing much has changed from the assessment we made during our delegation to Haiti in October of 2010. The communique we issued at that time offered the following observations: "Nine months after the earthquake, one has an impression of incremental but grossly insufficient progress in terms of crucial reconstruction challenges, particularly relocating displaced persons from the tent communities to permanent homes...The tent communities are the dominant reality as one travels throughout the city (Port-au-Prince). There is a sense of inertia which threatens to make these squalid dwelling places the new norm for hundreds of thousands of people in Haiti."
Four months later, hundreds of thousands of Haitians are not only still stuck in the mud and slime of the tent communities, as predicted, but they are now exposed to a virulent outbreak of cholera which has already killed more than three thousand people. The news coverage, analysis and debate has largely focused on why people haven't been moved to more secure and sanitary locations, and why so few homes have been built to create new and better neighborhoods/communities in the new Haiti. And, of course, there has been almost universal outcry that not enough of the billions of dollars raised or pledged by private relief organizations and the international community have reached Haiti, and that the money that has made it has had so little impact in terms of improving the lives of the people and developing the infrastructure of the new Haiti.
While these assessments are obviously important, I would like to focus on another dimension of the recovery/reconstruction effort that I believe is crucial to the long-term prospect of building the new Haiti: The class divide and the urgent need for enlightened leadership from the political and economic class. We addressed this concern in our October communique as follows: "There has been a failure to engage/mobilize the Haitian people, especially those languishing in the tent communities, to participate in the reconstruction process in a meaningful manner. This is potentially a huge lost opportunity to bridge social and political divides to build the new Haiti...HSP will continue to advocate for a comprehensive plan to tap the remarkable resiliency and energy of the Haitian people as a dynamic element in the reconstruction process.