An urgent appeal for solidarity from the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund
Dear Friends of Haiti,
From seemingly out of nowhere have come the headlines: “Haitians Take to the Streets to Demand Food.” “Hungry Haitians Storm Presidential Palace over High Cost of Living.” “Haitian Government Falls after Food Riots.” Once again, as they have done so many times throughout their history, the Haitian people have taken center stage, exposing the desperate conditions foisted upon them by four years of U.N. occupation and misrule.
For the last two years, we have heard over and over from the international mainstream press that Haiti was moving slowly towards democratic government, security and economic progress. Supposedly, the United Nations occupation and the 2006 election of President Rene Preval had allowed Haitians to move on, to somehow forget that its democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had been overthrown in a violent coup in which thousands had been killed, displaced, imprisoned and exiled. Supposedly, a brighter day had dawned in Haiti.
The massive outpouring of protest over food prices has shattered this facade. The United Nations occupation forces have a budget of over $535 million this year, and the Preval government has received international aid denied to the former government of President Aristide. Yet economic conditions for the average Haitian have deteriorated rapidly. While the export-import sector run by Haiti’s traditional elite has profited from international aid, the poor have been even further marginalized. Prices for rice, beans, water, cooking oil and gas have skyrocketed to the point where many Haitians simply cannot afford to eat. Newspapers have been reporting that many Haitians are now eating “mud cookies.”
People can only take so much, can only hear empty promises for so long while they watch their children starving. That is why so many of the demonstrators this past few week carried signs calling for the return to Haiti of President Aristide. They remember full well that, under the Aristide government, social and economic programs were begun that gave people hope and dignity. They are fighting for that hope and that dignity in the streets of Haiti today.
What can you do?
Since its inception in March 2004, the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund has given concrete aid to Haiti’s grassroots democratic movement as they attempted to survive the brutal coup and to rebuild shattered development projects. We urge you to contribute generously, not only for this immediate crisis, but in order to support the long-run development of human rights, sustainable agriculture and economic justice in Haiti.
Here are some of the projects we continue to support in Haiti:
Sustainable agriculture: HERF has contributed much-needed funds to peasant cooperatives in various parts of Haiti. We have provided irrigation pumps, funds for seeds and tools, and other needed resources. We believe that local agricultural development and the growth of a cooperative movement in Haiti are part of the long-term solution to the food crisis.
Victims assistance: HERF funds have supported grassroots activists who had to flee their homes and live as internal refugees. We have also contributed to campaigns to free political prisoners and given much-needed financial support to their families. In a recent case, a family could not locate their son who had been held as a prisoner in Port-au-Prince. After weeks of pressuring the authorities, they finally found his body at the morgue. No explanation was given for his death, a common occurrence in Haitian prisons.
Independent human rights monitoring: HERF has given support to human rights workers and attorneys who continue, under dangerous conditions, to document human rights violations and defend victims of repression. They have provided material, psychological and legal assistance to victims of the 2004 coup. In particular, we have given continued support to the efforts to insure the safe return of Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a central figure in Haiti’s popular movement, who was disappeared on Aug. 12, 2007, and has not been heard from since.
Women’s organizing: Women’s organizations are leading education campaigns, supporting market women, helping women form cooperatives, and sustaining the victims of rape and other forms of sexual and physical abuse. HERF has been in the forefront of supporting these projects.
Defending trade union organizers: HERF has assisted trade unionists whose labor organizing was violently attacked throughout the coup period. We have provided support for labor activists forced from their homes and their jobs due to repression and supported the efforts of trade unionists to fight privatization.
Education and literacy: Since the coup, government subsidies for school children have been cut and many literacy projects have been terminated. HERF has provided funding for many important educational projects in this period: a school for poor children in Port-au-Prince, educational projects in the rural areas of northern Haiti and literacy programs.
We can expect that the mainstream media will shift its eyes away from Haiti over the next months. We will not do the same. One concrete form of support is to help the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund. HERF is administered by a board of Haiti solidarity activists and deeply connected to grassroots movements in Haiti. In a country in which many people live on less than a dollar a day, every dollar goes a long way. Please give generously. Our dollars can do so much.
Walter Riley, civil rights attorney, chair of the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, co-chair of the Vanguard Public Foundation Board
Sister Maureen Duignan, O.S.F., co-chair, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund
Pierre Labossiere, board member, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee.