As Haiti moves forward from the current point of devastation of its population, capitol city, and economy, what could a different nation look like?
Who knows better than the Haitian majority? Why not ask them what they need and want? Their perspectives have been sorely lost from the post-earthquake plans of some of the world’s strongest powers. Their analyses went unheard by the foreign ministers and financial institutions at the international donors meeting in Montreal on January 25. Their voices have been lost amidst the declarations of the International Monetary Fund, President Obama, and the leadership of the 32,500 troop-strong U.S. and U.N. military operation now underway.
On February 13th and again on the 20nd, more than fifty organizations representing grassroots sectors met in Port-au-Prince to develop their political, economic, and social priorities, and to make their voices heard. The declaration from February 13th read in part: “[We have] decided to launch a national and international campaign to bring forth another vision of how to redevelop this country, a vision based on people-to-people solidarity to develop the opportunity now facing this country to raise up another Haiti. We [want] to build a social force which can establish a reconstruction plan where the fundamental problems of the people take first priority. These include: housing, environment, food, education, literacy, work, and health for all; a plan to wipe out exploitation, poverty, and social and economic inequality; and a plan to construct a society which is based on social justice.”
Discussions toward a cohesive forum of social movements are still underway. In the meantime, a subset of the grouping - the Consultative Group of Social Movements on Reconstruction – committed itself to organizing a meeting on March 12th and 13th to explore priorities and how to achieve them. The Consultative Group will seek broad participation from different sectors and regions. The groups leading this network include the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti (PAPDA, by its Creole acronym) and its six member organizations, the Alternative Justice Program (PAJ), the Society for Social Mobilization and Communication (SAKS), and a few others.
Dozens of interviews with social movement leaders reveal a clearly emerging consensus on the priorities for reconstructing the country – or, as some call it, “constructing the country,” since few are served by reconstructing what existed before. The priorities are as follows.
- Creating participatory democracy. This has been at the heart of social movements’ demands from the moment Haiti emerged from the brutal 30-year Duvalier dictatorship in 1986; it may be more relevant today than ever. Government must serve the people, be accountable to them, and include their participation. Community organizer Marianne Moïse captures the objective when she says, “We have to be the principal actors in changing our country. No one else can change it for us.” Citizens assert that it is their right to be involved in decisions regarding future policies and programs. After all, they are the ones who will have to live with the impacts.
- Rebuilding under a new economic paradigm, one which breaks free of the old path where agricultural production is undermined by unfair trade rules, where food and many other basics are imported, and where a coveted job is as a sweatshop worker earning $3 per day. Social movements are adamant that Haiti from here on out must be based on principles of economic justice, including: no more payments on a long-since-repaid foreign debt, trade rules that privilege Haitian producers and Haitian goods, food sovereignty, employment opportunities, and workers’ rights.
- Protecting the environment. This is connected to a new economic model, part of putting people and the earth before profits. Central to social movements’ environmental advocacy is tough environmental regulations for industry (which are currently nonexistent) and a new model of ecological agriculture. Creating environmentally healthy citizen practices is another factor.
- Putting social needs at the center. As articulated by experts, women in a rights group now living under sheets in a refugee camp, those needs are, in a rough ranking of priority: housing, food, health care, education, and work.
- Privileging agriculture. In a country where the rural farming population comprises 65% to 80% of the population (depending on who’s answering, as no census has ever been taken), substantial investment in developing peasant agriculture is critical. This is especially true in a context of a food crisis that was already severe before the earthquake and that will soon become much more so, since farmers have had to use much of this year’s seed stock to feed the deluge of people fleeing Port-au-Prince for the countryside. Just trade policies which protect local production are key.
- Ensuring women’s and children’s rights. In the fragile and dangerous post-catastrophe environment, social and economic rights for women and their children must be front and center. Security against the violence now escalating against them is also critical. Malia Villard, organizer of rape survivors, says, “They didn’t respect our rights even before the Presidential Palace was destroyed, even before the Palace of Justice was destroyed. We need that in the reconstruction.”
The agenda is monumental in the best of times. Today it is being shaped by people who still don’t know where their child is, who came to work today after attending another funeral, who are still wearing casts from earthquake injuries. It may be that their pain and difficulties sharpen the determination to have their needs met in a context of social and economic justice and democracy.
That is the perspective, at least, of Ricot Jean-Pierre, director of programs for PAPDA. He says, “Sadness can’t discourage us so that we stop fighting. We’ve lost people as in all battles, but we have to continue fighting to honor them and make their dreams a reality. The dream is translated into a slogan: ‘Another Haiti is possible.’”
Beverly Bell has worked with Haitian social movements for over 30 years. She is also author of the book Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance. She coordinates Other Worlds, www.otherworldsarepossible.org, which promotes social and economic alternatives. She is also associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.