Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Archive for the ‘Foreign Investment in Haiti’ Category

CWTL Production Diary: A Cholera Update

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Even for someone who has been following the cholera epidemic in Haiti, last weeks FSRN report on the recent increase of cholera infections was startling.

The outbreak of cholera, confirmed in Haiti on October 21, 2010, has killed 6000 people and more than 350,000 have been infected. There were 1000 new cases of the disease each day last month alone.

At the on-set of the outbreak there were several organizations focused on providing support and offering immediate and short-term, life-saving solutions, but now fewer and fewer are continuing their efforts and providing services focused on the long-term solutions.

Plans to improve conditions in Haiti exist, but progress in slow, as government agencies and non-governmental organizations have limited funding. Additionally millions in pledged aid has not arrived; money, which could be used to implement programs, including water sanitation and home reconstruction for the thousands still homeless since the January earthquake.

The cholera epidemic is ongoing and infections rates are increasing at an alarming rate. Although cholera is a preventable and manageable disease it has been extremely difficult to control, because of Haiti’s lacking infrastructure, sanitation and overall access to resources by the affected population. Medical aid and education on how to avoid infection is essential and is available in certain areas, but these critical resources and information are not reaching everyone in Haiti, especially those in rural areas where fewer services are available and resources are beyond scarce.


The report highlighted Cate Oswald who co-ordinates the Partners in Health clinics in Haiti. Oswald cited reasons for the increased infection rates; reasons that seem to parallel reasons given for high infections rates of other disease in Haiti.

The impact of the infection and its affect on Haitians has caused confusion and fear. There is an overarching theme – the way the cholera is being viewed is much like other diseases with a history in Haiti such as HIV/AIDS. The general public’s inability to cope and fear of becoming infected from sick family members and community has created a social stigma that is producing deadly results.
As a resource poor nation, Haiti has struggled to combat preventable and manageable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV for decades, but cholera is new, and with all that Haiti has to contend with, the stigma attached to the disease has resulted in fewer people seeking help and thousands of people dying as a result. Instances of families taking people to treatment centers, only to abandon them because of fear of becoming sick or people dying in their homes, because they are afraid to admit that they have cholera are all too common and have contributed to increased infections and deaths.

As doctors and medical facilities work to cope with the cholera infection with little to no resources, they are up against the additional task of informing the public of the proper steps to take to avoid becoming sick. Those who are aware of how to avoid infection are still faced with the reality of unavailable drinking water, soap to wash their hands, proper latrines and easily accessible medical facilities.
When it comes to day-to-day survival in Haiti, the general public remains strong and is doing what they can to get by without food, water, proper shelter and sanitation, and the greater issue of Haitian welfare remains in the hands of the Haitian government and foreign governments who have vowed to implement long overdue solutions.
And so the Haitian people wait; fear of infection is real and until the people are provided with the support and basic resources to avoid infections and feel secure, the stigma will persist and cholera, a fully preventable and manageable disease will continue to take lives.


A New Leader Ready to Serve the People of Haiti?

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I recently had a phone call with Johnson, one of our scouts on the ground in Haiti. He blared the music of Michel ”Sweet Micky” Martelly over the phone and sang along proclaiming, “I love this music, and everyone is loving this music”. It seems many people in his Carrefour neighborhood are playing the music of “Sweet Micky” these days – but what of Martelly’s inclusion in the upcoming runoff election?

The decision to reverse the results of the candidates included in the upcoming runoff election was announced a few weeks ago after the Organisation of American States (OAS) found the original election results to be fraudulent, favoring Jude Celestin of the INITE (Unity) Party, who was supported in his campaign by current President Rene Preval.

The runoff will now include Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) Party, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. The runoff has been rescheduled for March 20 and people are asking the same question that was posed months ago – should there be new elections altogether?

The decision to reverse the results of the first round polls was met with relative calm on the streets, but the question of legitimacy regarding the initial elections and the upcoming runoff elections is a major topic of conversation among human rights advocates, political analysts and Haitian citizens alike. Many displaced Haitians and registered voters were unable to cast their ballots, and several candidates, even entire parties, were excluded from running in the race, including the Fanmi Lavalas party, a political party with major popular support in Haiti.  Even though the argument against the exclusionary elections was made prior to the initial elections, US and foreign governments supported the Haitian Electoral Council’s flawed process.

Now with the OAS results, although not accepted by the Haiti’s Provi­sional Electoral Council (CEP), the US and the United Nations (UN) welcome the decision and hope that Celestin’s exclusion will “clear the way for a more stable political climate and allow international aid efforts to be stepped up”, however many question the intentions of the US and foreign governments and criticize their interference both before and after the elections. Human rights groups believe that the US government used its tremendous power and influence to determine the outcome of the first round of elections and “denied Haitians the opportunity to express their will.” One can’t help but ask how western economic interests played into the support of the initial elections, how they are currently manipulating Haitian politics, and why the typical pattern of exploitation has in no way ceased since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

The US has always used its influence as a powerful nation to get what it wants from the poorest countries in the world. Although the election results were in question, the final decision to exclude Celestin was forced upon Haiti, “literally under the threat of starvation.” The US has yet to manage distribution of promised aid to the country since the devastating earthquake and is using delivery of this aid and continued support to even further impose their will over the people in their struggle for democracy.

Even with Celestin excluded, most people are still missing the point – the elections were a fraud from the beginning. Many argue that the two candidates now participating in the runoff do not represent the people, and most would argue that neither does Celestin.

Haiti is entangled in an intense political crisis and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research believes, “This attempt to impose an illegitimate government on Haiti will backfire.” Haitian civil society groups, political parties, the Congressional Black Caucus and several U.S. human rights groups are calling for new, inclusive elections as the only practical solution to Haiti’s election crisis.

To make matters more complicated, the runoff elections are following the controversial return of previous president and dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on January 16th, who has run into corruption and human rights charges. And more recently news that the Council of Ministers has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa for almost seven years, following a 2004 US backed coup d’état has stirred up further controversy. Both men bring with them a history tainted with decades of political instability, civil unrest and corruption.

Aristide still has a lot of popular support, as he was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, and said recently that he is ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time”, but has yet to return.  Some fear his return could upset an already confused presidential and legislative elections process.

Preval’s mandate has formally ended, but parliament has approved his stay until May 14th so he can hand over to an elected successor.

The innumerable issues present both before and after the January earthquake only fuel the tensions surrounding Haiti’s upcoming runoff elections. Democracy in Haiti has a long way to go, and her most vulnerable and under-represented citizens continue to hope that what will come of this lengthily and flawed “democratic” process is a new leader ready to serve the people of Haiti, but most, quite justifiably, have their doubts.

– LC

January 12th – 1 Year Later

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So, it’s been almost one full year since the cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Port Au Prince and it’s outlying areas. Haiti’s already unstable infrastructure and volatile political structure took a violent  hit; one that may potentially take another century to fully recover from.

In the quake’s aftermath we saw the international community stand up in a show of solidarity; vowing to help this unfortunate island state to rebuild. Countries all over the world pledged billions of dollars and endless amounts of manpower to assist in recovery.

Out of the spotlight celebrities and politicos worldwide dusted off their camouflage and khakis, without a doubt tweaking their press conference speeches on chartered Gulf stream jet rides to the Dominican Republic, as they prepped for the cameras documenting their forays across the St. Domingue/Ayiti border.

Hell, we even had Haitian politicians finally fessing up and promising to put aside their petty banana republic ideological differences and do what’s best for the country.

In the US, Haitian Americans and ex-pats united in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the 4 H’s in the 1980’s. Haitian groups were organizing, planning, plotting, and pontificating at an insane rate; guided by the simple premise of rebuilding this once proud nation into the land that L’Ouverture and Dessalines would have envisioned. There were fund raisers, records, and conversations with the UN. We even united Bubba and Dubya!

Haiti was finally on the map, and for those of us that lost family and possessions on January 12, 2011, there was hope. Then a funny thing happened over the next year.

Absolutely nothing.

Gede Greg Cee

Constant State of Emergency

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Photo Courtesy of Bryan Fletchall

The people of Haiti are fighters. A glimpse into the history of this proud and spirited nation will reveal that even amongst the most intense suffering; Haitian people are proud of and embrace their heritage, their culture, and their country.

There are so many incredibly beautiful things about Haiti; there is so much good lost and forgotten amidst the tragedy. As so rightly stated by Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat, “I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it. “

The people of Haiti are beautiful, their roots run deep, and their telling story of strength and resilience is one that has been written out of the history books. Even as they exist is a constant state of emergency, historically underserved and under acknowledged, they continue to fight and hope for a better future for Haiti and her people. Haiti’s historical suffering bleeds into the present, an ever-gaping wound of injustice, making the inaction of both Haitian and foreign governments to the continued crisis unsurprising, as it is nothing short of dismal, if not criminal.

Amongst the flooded tent cities surrounded by rubble, the cholera crisis deepens, killing hundreds and infecting thousands. Haiti has long struggled with poverty and disease, both directly linked to the nation’s history of exploitation by foreign powers with sinister agendas; agendas that have claimed millions of lives for the sake of international interests.

Curable and Manageable Disease

Curable and manageable disease has killed millions of people in Haiti and other developing countries for decades, even while the medicines to treat the affected population are available. The affected populations’ inability to access these medications is a human rights violation of the most basic and harmful kind. International government policy has long dictated access to these medications and a major component in facilitating their effective use – proper nourishment, i.e. food and water.

Impoverished governments unable to afford medications and trade agreements that have controlled the production, distribution and affordability of food and medicine have put Haiti and other developing countries in a constant state of emergency, because they have not had the opportunity to even build, let alone maintain a proper health care, industrial or agricultural infrastructure.

The current cholera epidemic in Haiti is another hurdle amongst a series of obstacles in a nation of fighters. The struggle to combat cholera is all too familiar, as Haiti has battled high infection rates of malaria, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in the past and continues to in the present. Money and bureaucracy have always managed to hinder access to life-saving medicine, and as a result lives continue to be lost.

With limited access the major factor in determining the welfare of millions in mind, the following section discusses a pending trade agreement between the European Union and India that threatens to even further decrease access to medications in developing countries.

Pending Trade Agreement Possible Threat to HIV Sufferers

Patent laws have created a system where pharmaceutical companies stand to gain enormous profits from obtaining rights to create and distribute drugs at a price they see fit to gain profit with little regard for those who need access them. High demand equals expensive medicine and healthy profits for developers, while those who need the medications the most can’t acquire them. Simply, the pharmaceutical industry, without argument, control’s the fate of the world’s sick.

A possible international trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and India has medical professionals, activists, and patients concerned that millions of HIV sufferers in the developing world will be without the drugs they need to survive.

India’s generic pharmaceutical industry competes with these profit driven drug producers. Having been coined the “developing world’s pharmacy”, India, under its patent laws produces generic drugs that are distributed around the world, “bypassing a system designed to ensure drug developers are rewarded with a period of exclusive sales rights for new medicines.” As a result India has become the source of medicine for many of the world’s developing countries in order to treat the critically ill.

With access to generic drugs, the cost of treating patients with HIV has fallen from around $10,000 dollars a year in 2000 to just $70 a year today.

Not only has India’s generic production of medicines meant that its own population has benefitted from access to life-saving drugs, but as stated by Hans V. Hogerzeil, Director of Medicines Policy and Standards at the World Health Organization, “at least half of the five million Aids patients in Africa already on treatment rely on Indian generic medicines for their treatment.”

Although the European Union denies that the agreement will negatively impact India’s generic medicine industry, until a draft of the agreement is made available criticism and concern over its contents will continue from medical professionals, HIV/AIDS activists and patients.

Individuals infected with HIV/AIDS and other diseases can live long and productive lives if provided adequate nutrition and medicine. If treatment for the critically ill is made available and lives can been saved in developing countries where food, clean water and medical supplies are difficult to come by, a diagnosis once tantamount to a death sentence can be regarded as a manageable disease.

A link to the full article regarding the pending trade agreement is below.


– LC

Hurricane Tomas and Decades of Failed Policy

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The people of Haiti are dealing with the impact of Hurricane Tomas currently threatening the Caribbean nation and endangering millions of Haitians living in IDP camps who are already at risk, living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions with no protection from environmental elements.

It is reported that heavy rain, flooding and landslides have killed at least seven people. Although it appears Haiti has avoided a “direct hit”, there is pending danger of flash floods and mudslides that could threaten residents of IDP camps.

The Haitian government and UN are asking millions of Haitians to leave their tents and tarps, which have been their only form of protection since the January 12th earthquake, however much like the issue of forced evictions, the Haitian government has no plan to house or provide aid to displaced individuals. People are hesitant to leave the camps, concerned that they will lose whatever form of home they have and their few remaining possessions.

With the problems facing Haiti, many of which are issues the nation has been facing for years, including the housing crisis, food crisis, health care crisis, and an endless list of social and economic challenges, Haitians now face another natural disaster. Even if rain and flooding is minimal there is fear that the efforts to contain the deadly cholera outbreak will be stifled, an outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least “442 people and sickened more than 6,700.”

Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister states, “the government is doing all it can to provide aid and better shelter to the most vulnerable, but we simply do not have the resources to help many of them.”

Haitian youth, John-Smith Deshommes, is having a difficult time understanding why one obstacle after another is putting Haitians further and further into crisis.” Things have always been difficult, but I don’t know what is happening with Haiti. Eight months ago we met an earthquake that destroyed Haiti, some months later, we met cholera, and now we are facing hurricane Tomas. Everybody is being called to move; meanwhile, they have nowhere to go and nowhere to live. Why all these problems?”

Although the January 12th earthquake and Hurricane Tomas are natural disasters, many of the crises Haiti is dealing with are man-made disasters whose causes are rooted in decades of poverty, poor governance, and policies that have resulted in Haitians being vulnerable to these environmental threats.

Any real analysis of Haiti’s issues, including the earthquake that destroyed much of the nation, the recent cholera outbreak, the damage and deaths due to the storm, and problems with avoiding additional spread of disease across the country must include an objective examination of how policy is or is not safeguarding Haiti’s citizens. A thorough assessment of the policies implemented by the government of Haiti and the international community both before and after the earthquake offer some answers to the question – Why all these problems?

Flawed policies have plagued Haiti for decades, including trade policies resulting in mass deforestation, dependence on foreign food, medicine and additional imports, questionable distribution of international aid, debt to foreign governments, and illegal elections, all of which have minimized the ability to provide and maintain basic services.

One of the main reasons for the 2010 earthquake’s lethality was because of Haiti’s extreme poverty on every level. Governmental poverty created the weak physical infrastructure that crumbled during the earthquake, and the public health system that ceased to function in the immediate aftermath of the disaster because it was already crippled to begin with. The earthquake shattered much of Haiti, but the country was broken long before the disaster struck. How many lives could have been saved had the poverty not been so severe?

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a known and indisputable fact. Every country’s ability to provide a sound infrastructure is directly linked to its economy. Haiti is poor, therefore its infrastructure is lacking in every arena and currently has no ability to protect its citizens from environmental threat. Haitians can and will rebuild, but the Haitian government and international governments must be held accountable for the flawed policies of the past and for the future of Haiti as a nation. Their policy decisions affect the lives of nearly seven million people, begging the question; why is it so difficult for those in a position to radically improve these lives to do what they know is right on behalf of the Haitian people?


Exclusion In Upcoming Haitian Elections

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Isn’t what is supposed to be so attractive about a Democratic system of government is that the governing power is derived from the people?

If not carefully legislated there will certainly be an uneven distribution of power where the virtues of liberty, justice, and rights that are constitutionally given to the people are obstructed or even disappear. If not overseen, then a system of government could accumulate power that excludes populations, and forfeits the rights of its citizens, becoming undemocratic – sounds like the U.S. to me, but this is about Haiti.

The upcoming elections in Haiti exclude over a dozen political parties – including the country’s largest party, Fanmi Lavalas. If only we could just get rid of politicians and political parties whose interests and views don’t align with our own. If only we could completely disregard the constitution of the United States and omit Democrats and Republicans from running for political office in an upcoming “democratic” election. What of the majority rule? Who needs to represent the masses? If the masses are weak, then the powerful minority is well, powerful, and if they aren’t already wealthy, they smell money.

I smell tyranny.  This imbalance is nothing new for the people of Haiti, just another election poised to go terribly wrong. Where is the voice of the people? Silenced in a tent city? Silenced in perpetual poverty and hunger? Perpetually silenced? This question is vitally important as Haiti struggles with a natural disaster, an endless list of pre-existing and ever-growing social, economic, and medical challenges, and a history of corrupt and poor governance. 

Can they really exclude 90% of the population who might benefit from a fair election if candidates of interest were on the ballot? Why make an appearance if your constituents aren’t represented?  There is no more surefire way of controlling the outcome of an election than to make it illegal and postured for the benefit of a few candidates and their constituents. In addition, the government has yet to address how it will register and identify the nearly 2 million Haitians who lost their homes and documents in the January 12th earthquake.

If the electoral council in Haiti won’t even let the most popular party participate in the election where is the popular vote? Absent, without governmental or constitutional protections of individual liberties given to them through their constitution. Give a reason to the people for an illegal election in the guise of democracy. Give the people their country!

If an elected official of their choice does not represent them how will they really rebuild? Foreign interests and investment might appear to represent opportunity, but with the current U.S. and European monetary and political support of “illegal” elections in Haiti, and historical support of oppressive and unstable government, our interests are clearly not noble or humanitarian, as many Americans would like to believe. What are our interests? Occupy? Militarize? Industrialize? Claim and exploit resources and people? But where are the people? Do they intend to let the majority of Haitians play a part? Sadly Haiti’s history has proven the answer to be no. I fear that Haitians will continue to have very little control over their future.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues facing Haitians in the upcoming election, any election’s credibility is based on the respect of its laws and regulations.  An election based on exclusion is illegal and the people have a very real fear of where their country is headed, continued instability, oppression, and even death.

Haitians want and deserve real change. The same behavior that mirrors elections past is frightening.  Why can’t the Haitian government and international community let Haitians work to make their country a better place? What is the plan really? Let them vote without exclusion; let them work for a better Haiti. They are ready and willing.

Question of the Day

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Is it good enough for the people of Haiti for it to be “built back better” as the Western Hemisphere’s center of cheap, underpaid and overworked labor?