Yesterday, after meeting with several Civil Society leaders and finding a little time to visit a local Artisanal Shop, I finally encounter something that brings me to tears. Maybe it’s because the sign is in English. Maybe it’s because the camps had finally gotten to me. But the words, “We Need Help. Food, Water, Tent and Doctor,” moves me in unspeakable ways. Packed onto the grounds of what must have once been a great palace, displaced Haitians are practically sitting on top of one another in makeshift tents. The old African-American spiritual comes to mind, “How long, Lord, how long?”
Yesterday, I met with the organizations Tete Kole and PAPDA. One of my goals on this trip is to identify potential partners on the ground who can help our Haiti Advocacy Working Group to effectively lobby the U.S. Congress. Congress, the UN, the World Bank and the international media have often portrayed Haitian Civil Society as a poorly organized, dispersed force, much like the displacement camps that populate Port-au-Prince. Organizational leaders Jean and Camille, however, have a different story to tell. By their account, Civil Society is indeed well organized. The “4 G’s,” an effective coalition of peasant and agricultural NGO’s, can testify to this. Jean and Camille, whose organizations are members of the “4 G’s,” are eloquent, intelligent, detailed organizers and strategists. So, wherein lies the disconnect?
The truth of the matter is that Haiti has amazing talent and spirit, with a much better organized civil society than the International Community has portrayed. It does lack sufficient infrastructure; that is painfully clear. However, unfair debt and loan burdens, an elimination of tariffs that allow unwanted products to be dumped on their markets and exclusion from key national and international reconstruction planning are what have really choked the country. The havoc wreaked by this earthquake is not simply due to natural disaster. This many people did not need to die. Hundreds of thousands did not need to be imprisoned by displacement camps with sub-human conditions. This is a question about political will and needing to listen to the voices of the “4-G” and other Civil Society organizations. Haitians are crying out for inclusion in their own reconstruction. And it is up to us to start listening.