Haiti, cinq ans déjà

 

I believe the message I could share with the Haitian people is that they must learn to say, `STOP! That’s enough. We won’t accept this anymore.’ And start claiming and defending their rights.”

We cannot continue to live without hope.”

These are some of the concluding messages from a film, Resilient Hearts/ Kè Vanyan/ Cœurs vaillants, a documentary of the January 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, as much in `reconstruction’ as in the event itself. For thirty five seconds, the earth shook, opened, and then a world collapsed. Thousands of people killed, thousands of thousands of people injured, maimed, displaced, traumatized. And in some ways, that wasn’t the worst of it.

The earthquake didn’t take peoples’ rights. Goudou Goudou, as the event is known, didn’t remove hope. That grand theft was committed by something called the international community.

Three years ago, many watched as women organized, in the camps, in the streets, in the countryside. Women like Jocie Philistin and Earamithe Delva, the women of KOFAVIV, Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, took their experiences from the past and applied them to the present and future. They organized. Two years ago, many watched as women continued to organize. For example, in the Morne Lazarre section of Pétion-Ville, Réa Dol continued to organize the SOPUDEP school.

KOFAVIV and SOPUDEP continue, the women continue to organize. They continue building community and building strength, and they continue to blow the whistle on sexual violence, to insist on the importance of their own autonomy and well being, as the gears of so-called reconstruction try to grind their self-respect into so much dust.

And today, after so many billions of dollar of so-called `foreign aid’, Haitians ask, “For whom are we rebuilding the country?” Massive resort development construction in previously protected agricultural zones? Palaces for a few and seemingly permanent refugee camps for many? Begging on the streets? What does rebuilding a nation mean?

And they answer, in varying ways, “STOP! We can’t accept this anymore!” Women’s groups, community organizations, trade unions, farmers and farm workers and peasant organizations, LGBT groups, and others are connecting and organizing and not so much rebuilding as building anew. They are demanding and organizing for inclusion, democracy, and sustainability, and they are demanding more than token seats at the tables where decisions are made.

They are demanding dignity. When they demand permanent housing and clean water and safe spaces and decent work and more, it’s not because infrastructure is the end all and be all, but because to build anything, especially after having come through the fires, would be a betrayal of dignity and hope. Many in Haiti say that they must build life, not death. They must build cities and farmlands of life, not temples of death for many so that a few might live richly. The story of Haiti’s reconstruction continues, day by day, and it’s a contested narrative. There is no grand triumph, neither of the will nor of capital. But the good news from Haiti is that the struggle continues. La lutte continue. Lit la ap kontinye. It’s five years already.

 

(Photo Credit: Vimeo / Resilient Hearts)

It’s not the system, it’s the heart

Cecilia Cortes and her two children

“Once in a while a letter of anguish makes its way out of one of the detention facilities for Haitian refugees, as this one to [the] President … did a few weeks ago: `We did not flee our country in search of food and drink, like they say. You know this as well as we do, and yet you treat us like animals, like old rags forgotten in some corner. Do you think that in acting that way you dissuade us from our purpose? Do you think that you are thus morally destroying us? You are wrong.’ The letter, signed by 38 Haitian women [in] detention, went on: ‘This is a cry of despair, a final call to your nobleness, to your good judgment, to your title as a great power. We would be honored by a satisfactory answer from you, an answer to these luckless refugees who ask only for the charity of liberty.’

Those words were published April 24, 1982. The President was Ronald Reagan. The detention center for the 38 Haitian women was Fort Allen, in Puerto Rico. The article also reported, “Thirty-three (Haitian) women have been on a hunger strike for a week, protesting for freedom. Three are being fed intravenously. Physicians there report that the long incarceration has created widespread depression in the camp.” Those women were at Krome Detention Center, in Florida. Fort Allen is no longer used as a detention center. Krome is, very much so.

It’s 32 years since those Haitian women sought asylum, since they met the hard hand of mercy, as administered by the United States. The women then understood what women asylum seekers today understand. Being a refugee in the United States is hard, being an asylum seeker in the United States is somewhere between purgatory and hell, and being a woman asylum seeker is to inhabit and to be inhabited by a hell designed for women.

Increasingly, asylum seekers, like Cecilia Cortes or Marco Antonio Alfaro Garcia, find their application for asylum has turned them into “long term detainees.”

This week, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and the law firm Reed Smith LLP, today filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of immigrants fleeing persecution who have faced months of detention while they await reasonable fear determinations, the first step in seeking protection in the United States when someone is forced to return following a deportation order.

That’s promising. But it’s been promising now for thirty some years, with court case after court case, individual victory after individual victory, and then the return, or worse the leap forward, to the same old same old.

What the Haitian women knew was this: it’s not `the system’ that’s broken. It’s the heart. All the clever distinctions, such as political and economic, are heartless and inhumane, because they erase the core suffering and thus the possibility of hope.

It’s that time of the year, the time for sermons and speeches about liberty, emancipation, and love. Here’s mine: Love thy neighbor. Let none be treated like animals or like rags. Heed the cry of despair and the call to your own nobility. Practice the charity of liberty. Study the wisdom of the 71 Haitian women who wrote, who starved, for your freedom as much as for theirs. Make that wisdom yours.

 

(Photo Credit: Javier Galvan / Broward Palm Beach New Times)

Twenty years after Cairo, women’s rights are reduced around the world

Lise-Marie Déjean

Almost 20 years ago, the Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) took place in Cairo (1994). ICPD, also called the Cairo Consensus, declared women’s reproductive and health rights as fundamental to the well being of women and to the full political and economical participation of women.

In Paris last week, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), Planning Familial and Equilibres et populations hosted a briefing, titled: “Access to contraception, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions:  the state of reproductive rights and health in the global South.” The briefing panel consisted of Margarita Gonzales and Catherine Giboin, both of Medecins du Monde; Serge Sabier, from Equilibres et Populations; Lise Marie Dejean from Solidarité Fanm Ayisyen, SOFA, a Haitian feminist organization; and Véronique Séhier, of French Family Planning. They all agreed that the global conservative turn has had tremendous and destructive consequences for women. Serge Sabier, who participated in the drafting of the Cairo resolutions, said that today it would be impossible to get 172 countries to agree to sign such a document.

Véronique Séhier added that these rights are still not considered fundamental. The goals have not been reached. For young women, access to reproductive health services, and to education and education about sexuality in particular, is limited. In many regions, and not only in the South, contraceptives are difficult to obtain or unavailable. Meanwhile, many countries oppose the right to abortion. In Europe, three countries officially deny access to abortion services, thereby defying European law.  Séhier insisted that no dissociation should be made between contraception and abortion; access to both is a fundamental right.

Catherine Giboin reminded the audience that data on reproductive health were almost non-existent until 1985. She then shared some data to show that evidence is not enough to have sound politics to support women’s rights. One fourth of women in the world have no access to contraceptives. In 2012, 73% of the women who did not receive the contraceptives they needed were in the poorest countries. About 40% of the pregnancies in the world are unwanted, and this rate climbs to about 60% in Latin America and the Caribbean. One out of ten births occur with girls between the age of 15 and 19. The ratio of unsafe abortions has increased from 44% in 1995 to 49% in 2008; 98% of unsafe abortions are in developing countries. In 2008, 47000 women died as a result of not having access to safe abortion and 8 million had complications. 40% of the world women live in countries that have very restrictive abortion legislations. Chile, Malta, Nicaragua, and El Salvador forbid abortion without exception.

Lise Marie Dejean put these data and numbers in the reality of Haitian women who represent 52% of the country’s population. Haiti’s high maternal mortality and high rate of complications after abortion have to be linked to women’s under-representation and invisibility in Haitian institutions and politics.  Dejean affirmed the crucial role that the colonial and post-colonial patriarchal power has played, reminding the audience that contraceptive pills were tested on Haitian women, who now have little to no access to those very contraceptives. She insisted that women’s reproductive health and women’s health in general, are interdependent with women’s levels and quality of participation, women’s poverty, and rape. As Dejean noted, in Haiti “our body doesn’t belong to us, the patriarchal system has profited from this body to establish places of domination (des lieux de domination).” Across Latin American and the Caribbean, women are organizing to demand that their right to control their body be respected as well as their right to have equal participation in the decisions of their countries.

France’s Minister for Gender Equality, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, presented the position of her ministry. Although France has some problems of access to abortion services, its situation is still one of the best in the world, with free-of-charge reproductive services, including for undocumented immigrant women. Vallaud-Belkacem insisted on the commitment of France and its diplomacy in asserting women’s rights and also more practically in supporting women’s organizations through its embassies. One NGO representative asked how activists from poor countries who are often poor themselves could have a voice in international instances. Vallaud-Belkacem replied that feminist diplomacy is there to facilitate their travel and to increase the visibility and real participation of those activists in international conferences.

The Minister’s language radically departed from the usual monolithic paternalistic language that often prevails in such meetings. She recognized the difficulties and said that while her action in promoting women’s rights and also participation of feminist organizations has been oriented to francophone countries, she also inscribed that in a broader feminist diplomatic perspective. For example, at the conference des ambassadeurs (ambassador conference) in August 2013, she argued for a new diplomacy for women’s rights. Additionally, according to Vallaud-Belkacem, France is the fourth country in terms of financial aid in the world and 500 million Euros were dedicated between 2012 and 2014 to support reproductive health initiatives around the world.

A member of the Greek’s family planning and the vice president of UNICEF Greek committee then made a striking remark that demonstrated once again that women are the first affected by the neoliberal order, which begets crisis. In Greece, women’s rights registered a major set back when austerity measures privatized public services and gutted the social state. And so now 40% of the population cannot access health services. While abortion remains legal, it now costs too much for many Greek women. The fee for an abortion is about half a minimum monthly wage, and contraceptives are expensive and hard to find. Greece, which had a good health care system, has seen a significant increase in infant mortality.

Greece demonstrates the pervasiveness of the neoliberal order on women’s health and reproductive rights. The current reduction of women’s reproductive rights and health has to be recognized as part of a political and economic order rather than as some unfortunate situation.

 

(Photo and Video Credit: Daily Motion)

Haïti, trois ans déjà

January 12, 2010. Three years ago, the ground opened in Port-au-Prince, and across Haiti. And now … every year, a new memorial service. Every year, the same questions: What happened? What has happened since? What has happened in the last year? Who cares?

It is certainly the case that so-called international community, which is neither international nor community, has shamed itself in Haiti. As one writer recently noted, speaking of the United States, “Americans have loved Haiti to death. We are listless, lazy, cheating lovers who don’t have the stamina to go the distance in a relationship. Haiti is just too much work.”

Haiti is just too much work … and, as far as the international community, Haiti is filled with too many Haitians. The so-called peacekeeping forces brought cholera; the so-called donors brought thorough lack of transparency, corruption, and devastating ineffectiveness. Meanwhile, Haitians up and down the streets and hills, and across the political spectrum, knew and complained that something and everything was wrong in the process. They knew, and said volubly, that the powers that be were refusing to listen. That this Foundation and that Fund were talking only among themselves.

So, where are `we’ now? For those who do write about Haiti (and notice how the attention has narrowed, waned, and weakened), there’s much handwringing about learning the `art of listening’. There’s much talk about how hard the road is, as if `we’ hadn’t designed and built this particularly dreadful road.

Meanwhile, Haitians keep on keeping on. Organizing, struggling, dealing with their positioning in the global political economy, dealing with the international community’s predation that masks itself as benevolence. Not much has changed, and yet, of course, everything has.

Women workers and organizers, such as Yannick Etiennc, continue to organiz, especially in the textile and garment factories. 21 of 22 garment factories are thought to violate minimum salary laws. How many garment factories in Haiti have lost their preferential treatment, by the US government, because they violate workers’ rights … and the labor laws? Zero. The struggle continues, exactly as it did before.

In the Morne Lazarre section of Pétion-Ville, Réa Dol continues to organize the SOPUDEP school. The school had always addressed the violence of inequality, the legacies of State violence. It was a center of transformation, from its inception, pushing for free and accessible education and community economic empowerment. Since the earthquake, the work has intensified, and at the same time has remained the same: building community, building strength.

Women like Malya Villard-Appolon, founder of KOFAVIV, have continued to build on the work of Haitian feminists and organizers Anne Marie Coriolan, Magalie Marcelin and Miriam Merlet, to stop violence against women. Since the earthquake, that struggle has moved from shacks and factories to tent cities and then back to police stations and court houses. The struggle continues.

And then of course there are all the unrecognized women, women like Tante Rezia, who spend their lives in necessary silent support of family, community, neighbors, and themselves.

Haitians have always been on the move, always organizing, and their work has always been loud and proud. It takes a lot of work to not-hear and not-see. It always has taken a lot of work to not-hear and not-see. That has always been the work of the international community in Haiti, to smell the lilacs in bloom and declare the bouquet is fetid and the flower is blight.

 

(Photo Credit: SOPUDEP.org)

Black Looks: 12th January, 2010

Tuesday 12th January 2010 began like all other weekdays in the Dol house hold.  The children, all in their teens,  woke at 5.30am and in the half sleep readied themselves quietly and left for school in the truck. By the time they reached the main road at the bottom of the steep hill they were wide awake.  Much later Rea and her husband Bato woke and they too readied themselves with Rea giving instructions and answering the never ending phone calls all the way to the school which at 9am was in full swing.  600 children K-12 children the youngest 3 years and the oldest 20+. For so many children, the school, in the which is housed in the former home of a Tontons Macoute, is a small space.  The front compound is just large enough to kick a ball around. The space is shared with Rea’s truck and the three or four women traders selling ice pops and sweets.  At the rear there is another smaller play area and what was once a swimming pool now filled with packed dirt.    The building is on two floors with most of the classrooms upstairs arranged in a maze of large and small rooms, all open to the elements and each other.  On the ground floor there are the staff rooms, the main office and a large temporary extension which houses the kindergarten classes.
The constant low buzz of 600 children reaches a crescendo at 11am when the school breaks in relays for lunch of beans and rice.  For many this is their one meal of the day.   The lunch is cooked by four women who arrive at the school at 5am. The beans are left to soak overnight and then cooked in a stew with vegetables in huge pots along with the rice.   The whole feeding process is takes about an hour from start to finish.  The children line up, youngest first, to wash their hands then turn left and pick up a spoon and plate. The food itself is eaten in about 10 minutes. Those not in line or eating play screech, jump and teachers shout instructions and beware anyone who gets in the way of the whole process.  Rea is on constant call to visitors and students with various requests, dealing with mishaps, arguments and enquires.   Most days she leaves the school between 3 and 3.30 pm.  On the 12th January she was late, very late and being late no doubt saved her life.
SOPUDEP school is in the Morne Lazarre area of Petion Ville which was hit badly by the earthquake.  However  the damage to the school building was  minimal relative to other buildings in the area as only the font wall collapsed.   There are three streets by the school.  On the left and right and along the front.  To the right and along the front, buildings collapsed.  As Rea and her eldest daughter, Tamara felt the tremors which only lasted 35 seconds, the houses opposite the school began to crumble and the front wall of the school collapsed onto the street below.  They heard cries and screams in the distance and ran onto the road where they immediately  saw five people crushed to death from the collapsed school wall.   As they walked to the corner to make a left turn more homes were collapsed. There was dust and debris everywhere.  The road by the school is unpaved and narrow running along a very steep hillside. To the right the houses were all large homes built into the the hillside. Most of these  collapsed so the road was unappeasable by foot or by car.  They turned back and took the road to the left which ran down the hillside and was in tact.
By the time they reached the bottom of that hill and hit the main road, 40 minutes or so had passed.  They walked holding on to each other. All around them were fallen buildings, the injured, the dead, people crying, bleeding. There was panic everywhere.  Vehicles abandoned as traffic built up and hundreds of thousands of the living tried to figure out what had just happened as thousands and thousands more lay dead and injured.
Rea kept trying to get through on the phone but the lines were also dead. They had no idea if the other children who left earlier on the tap tap buses had arrived safely or even if their own house was standing.  They walked fast at times running the 10 kilometers through the horror and panic of the streets. They did not stop. Pennier is a long walk from Petion Ville on a good day and this was a day of terror that would stretch out into months ahead.
As they turned into the steep narrow  lane which led to their  home, their hearts pounded.  There were collapsed houses here too.   The lane is cobbled and uneven, not an easy walk and very steep.  They climbed but you cannot see the house until you are actually in front of it. They walked as fast as they could. People were walking and running in both directions it was hard to fathom out what was going on.  Eventually they reached their home which was still standing.   As they entered everyone rushed to greet them collapsing and crying and just holding on to each other in shock and relief that they were all alive.  In the next 24 hours they would learn that  200,000 people were dead and millions injured and homeless.  24 of her students and two teachers were also dead.  Many were injured and lost family members – they were all  traumatized. Everyone at the school was affected by the earthquake.  By the end next day  there were 63 people camped at the home of Rea Dol and Jean Jacques Bataille and the long road to  recovery began.  Initially it was hard to know what to do beyond tend to those who had begun to gather  for medical care, safety and solace at the house.   The next day she got a  gallon of Betadine disinfectant and some gauze and went out into the street and started to clean wounds, spoke to people and tried to give comfort to survivors.  The recovery work had begun.
Sokari Ekine
Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Lookswww.blacklooks.org/. This post originally appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2013/01/12th-january-2010/.

Women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

Around the world, women are taking to the streets in great numbers, to protest, to take charge, to transform. In the past couple weeks, women have led and populated mass protests and marches in Malawi, Uganda, Lebanon, Argentina, Romania, Chile, Haiti. Women have occupied Wall Street, Nigeria, and beyond.

Women have been the bearers, in every sense, of Spring … in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain. Today, January 25, women are returning to Tahrir Square … and to every square in Egypt. This is nothing new for northern Africa. Women, such as Aminatou Haidar, have born `spring’ in Western Sahara now for decades.

For women, the street does not end at the sidewalk. It runs, often directly, into the State offices.

Women are everywhere on the move, changing the face and form of State.

In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to her office today, after a 21-day health related absence, to resume her activities as President. On Thursday, January 5, Portia Simpson Miller was inaugurated, for the second time, as Prime Minister of Jamaica. On Monday, January 16, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated to her second term, of six years, as President of Liberia.

These are precisely not historic stories or events, and that’s the point. Women in positions of State power are women in positions of State power. Not novelties nor exotic nor, most importantly, exceptions. That is the hope.

But for now, that struggle continues.

In Colombia, women, such as Esmeralda Arboleda, helped organize the Union of Colombian Women, fought for women’s rights and power, and was the first woman elected as a Senator to the national Congress. That was July, 1958. Fifty or so years later, in January 2012, women in Chile launched “Mas mujeres al poder”, “More women in power”.  In tactics, strategies and cultural actions, Mas mujeres al poder builds on the work of student activists in the streets. Women are saying enough, women are saying the time is now, and women are pushing their way through the electoral process, with or without the political parties, into the provincial and national legislatures.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, Gabriela Montaño was named President of the Senate and Rebeca Delgado was named President of the House of Representatives. Women are everywhere … and on the move.

On Tuesday, January 10, voters in Minnesota, in the United States, elected Susan Allen to the state legislature. Allen is the first American Indian woman to serve in that body. She is a single mother, and she is lesbian. Many firsts accrue to her election.

Across Europe, Black women are struggling and entering into legislative bodies with greater and greater success: Manuela Ramin-Osmundsen, originally from Martinique,  in Norway; Nyamko Sabuni, originally from the DRC, in Sweden; Mercedes Lourdes Frias, originally from the Dominican Republic, in Italy. The struggle continues … into the national and regional legislatures, into the political structures, into the cultures of power as well as recognition.

Across the African continent, women are on the move. In Kenya, women, such as Charity Ngilu, are set to make their marks in the upcoming elections … and beyond. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is running, hard, for the Chairpersonship of the African Union Commission. She would be the first woman in that post, and some say she would be the most powerful woman in Africa.

And in South Korea, four women, Park Geun-hye, Han Myeong-sook, Lee Jung-hee and Sim Sang-jung lead the three major political parties. Together, their three parties control 262 seats of the National Assembly’s 299.

This barely covers the news from the past three weeks. Everywhere, women are cracking patriarchy’s hold on and of power, in the streets, in the State legislatures, in the political structures. Today, and tomorrow, women do not haunt the State. They occupy it.

 

(Photo Credit: Adital.com.br)

Haiti, deux ans déjà

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower”

It’s two years already since the earth in Haiti burst open, and a world collapsed. That moment of rift is unspeakable and absolute. It does not allow for discovery or discussion. This is not about the event of January 12, 2010. This is about what follows.

What follows, what has followed, is called re-construction, but it’s an inapt term. There is no re-construction. There is construction anew.

For two years, now, people of Haiti, in the thousands, have been living in `camps’, in `informal settlements’ and `precarious circumstances’. In unacceptable, degrading conditions. For women, like Therese Charlemagne, it’s `simple’: “This place is ours, it’s our land. I didn’t buy this land. I built on it; I have a job. What else could I want? A house. A home.”

It’s simple … isn’t it?

Build houses. Clear the rubble. Clear the camps. Too often, clearing the camps has meant treating the residents as if they were the rubble. The Haitian government and the international funders and agencies that support it have consistently refused to enter into real consultation with the `camp dwellers’.

They have particularly refused to talk with the women and the girls.

The women and the girls in the camps in Haiti describe a culture of sexual violence. Rape is rampant, as are all forms of violence against women. The camps present row after row of despair.

But that is only half of the story. It is the half that concentrates only on the absence of homes, only on the presence of violence, only on the despair.

People in despair do not march, do not protest, do not organize. Organizing comes from hope. Women know this.

Women like Colette Lespinasse, director of Le Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés, or Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, know that building housing must mean building community. To build houses without deep and extended discussions with the people who will live in them is to deprive the future residents of homes. They get roofs, walls, floors … but they don’t get homes.

The women who are organizing in the camps, organizing against sexual violence, women like Jocie Philistin and Earamithe Delva, the women of KOFAVIV, Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims, live that lesson out every second of every day. Ending violence against women must mean building community, communities of women and girls first, then larger and larger communities. It must.

Camp residents are described as`frustrated’. Although they certainly live with frustration, they are, more importantly, women, children, men, who are working, organizing, building a world, building homes and communities, building cultures and a culture to be cherished.

As Michaëlle Jean noted today, January 12, 2012 it’s two years already, it’s already two years. It is time.

It is time the stone made an effort to flower.”

More than fifty years ago, Paul Celan wrote those words out of his experience of and experiences in the German death camps:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower.
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.”

It is time.

It is time `reconstruction’ took on the beating heart.

In her poem “Stones don’t bleed,” Michèle Voltaire Marcelin transports and translates Celan to Haiti:

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower
said Celan
It is time it bled red I say
And love
And love
And love
flowed out of its wound
for ever and ever
Amen …”

It is time to understand that the women struggling for houses are organizing communities and entire worlds. It is time to understand that the women organizing to end violence against women and girls are organizing peace, are organizing love.

It is time for houses, and it is time for roses. It is time to be guided by a song of hope, the song that Haitian mothers have sung to their daughters, the song that Haitian mothers sing to their daughters today.

 

(Photo Credit: Flickr.com)

Women indignadas carry Tahrir Square and Spring, and occupy prison

Occupy, along with Indignados and Spring, is spreading, to new places, and so takes different, local and yet global forms.

In Nigeria this week, in response to fuel prices and, even more, to astronomical unemployment and crushing hopelessness among young people, protests, and more, have punctuated the landscape. Occupy Nigeria. Labor unions, women’s groups, farmers’ groups and others have joined, and to a certain extent followed, the lead of their younger comrades. In Kano, for example, the youth have established what they call “Tahrir Square”. Elsewhere, some say that an “Arab Spring” is coming to Sudan, to Zimbabwe, to a theater of engagement near you.

In Haiti, as in Chile as in the United Kingdom as in Spain, students are protesting the inequality of education and the crushing hopelessness it produces. As various forces attempt to privatize a university opening in Limonade, the students of the University of Haiti, l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti, have declared themselves indignés. Indignados.

We are all, or almost all, moving towards our own Tahrir Square; we are all, or almost all, indignés, indignados. Language, concepts, actions not only exceed the borders they cross, they redefine notions of nationhood, identity. Or such is the dream and hope. Indignados articulate with Zapatistas articulate with Arab Spring and Tahrir Square articulate with indigenous movements and keep sending out new feelers, new shoots, new threads that somehow link new and old into something possible, something happening right now.

And so in northern Venezuela this week, 800 women and 150 children occupied the Yare prison complex. They came to visit their loved ones, who suffer overcrowding and overly long waits for trials, as so many do in so many prisons around the world.  Then, they simply refused to leave. They `self-kidnapped.’ They invaded and occupied the prison space with their indignation.

950 women and children looked at armed guards and said, “Nope, we’re not moving.” They invented Spring, the beginning of a kind of liberation.

You want to know what this Spring could mean? Ask the many immigrant women in US immigrant detention centers, women like Julie, who are told they have no right to legal representation, no right to due process, because, well, they’re not in `prison’. They’re in `detention.’ And so they sit, watched, and often sexually harassed and worse, by guards. Most of the detention centers are privately owned. Profit flows from the time women, mostly women of color, sit and wait.

Many of the women live with mental health illnesses. Actually, many are in crisis. Many of the women struggle with the consequences and scars of domestic violence. Many of the women know they are in `detention’ because their English `failed’ them, and because, though they lived in neighborhoods in which English was a second language, somehow the police only spoke English. Who’s failing whom here?

This week, the young women and men of Nigeria have urged us to occupy and liberate public policy. The young women and men of Haiti have urged us to occupy and liberate education. And the young women and children of Venezuela have called on us to occupy prison.

Occupy prison. We have been occupied by the global prison for far too long. Follow the lead of the women and children of Venezuela. Occupy prison. It’s time.

 

(Photo Credit: Fernando Llano/AP)

Zimbabwe, Haiti, just go …

What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die.”

Haitians, Zimbabweans, everything at home is just fine. So say the United States and the United Kingdom. Everything is just fine and you must just go.

Except that everything is not just fine.

In Harare yesterday, Saturday, April 9, 2011, thousands met at a church service at St Peters Kubatana in Highfield. They engaged in a peaceful demonstration to pray for peace. They came together to pray to end the escalating violence in Zimbabwe. Police threw tear-gas canisters into the church, and when the parishioners and congregants ran out or leapt through the windows, the police attacked them, beating them with batons.

This is peace and unity in Zimbabwe today.

But, according to the UK, Zimbabwe is a-ok, so much so that it’s time to start deporting all those pesky `failed’ and `undocumented’ asylum seekers, people like Nyasha Musvingo. Musvingo fled Zimbabwe after her husband was beaten, tortured, and then died as a result. She knows she can’t return, because of `the situation’.

The UK would disagree. Last month, on March 14, the most senior immigration judge in the country, Mr. Justice Blake of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), ruled that Zimbabwe is fine. The violence is over. People need not live in fear in Zimbabwe nor need they fear returning. So what if disappearances, indefinite detention, torture and violence have returned and are on the rise? Zimbabwe is `safe’ enough.

Likewise, in Haiti, everything is not just fine.

In Haiti, high levels of violence continue. Rape is epidemic. Over a million people remain homeless. Everyday, the so-called temporary camps seem to become more and more permanent. Cholera is on the rise. A recent study suggests that by November the number of cholera cases in Haiti will be close to 800,000, and the number of deaths will reach a little over 11,000. The crisis is worsening in Haiti.

The United States would disagree. This week, the United States government announced it has formally resumed deportations to Haiti. Haiti is `safe’ enough.

Cholera is on the rise in Zimbabwe as well.

In 2008 – 2009, in large part due to the intensification of political violence, Zimbabwe suffered a cholera epidemic that killed over 4000 people. Close to 100,000 cases were reported, and, according to a recent report, a rapid response, once the 400 cases were reported, would have reduced the number of cases by 34,900, or 40%, and the number of deaths by 1,695 deaths, also 40%. Why was nothing done, why were so many allowed to die? `The political situation.’

But that was then. This past Friday it was reported that over the last month, 36 people died of cholera in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, in Zimbabwe. In the past week alone, 13 died, and the Ministry of Health notes that the death toll could be higher, as records are not up to date.

Sending people back to Zimbabwe is a death sentence. The United Kingdom would disagree … or would it? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes Zimbabwe:  violence on the farms, in the streets, random and targeted; abominable prison conditions; torture; and a culture of impunity. The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report, from 2009, paints an equally grim picture.

The Department for International Development describes the state as `unstable’. 25% of Zimbabwean children are described as `vulnerable’. Most live in households, and neighborhoods, built of poverty, HIV/AIDS and State violence. Well over half live in households headed by single women or girls. Of special concern are children living alongside incarcerated mothers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

All of these statements come from United Kingdom government websites. And yet, somehow, Zimbabwe is now `safe enough’ for asylum seekers to return to.

Sending people back to Haiti is a death sentence. The United States would disagree … or would it? This past week the US State Department released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Haiti? “Alarming increases of sexual violence” against women and girls. Alarming increases of domestic violence. No effective agency to deal with sexual or domestic violence, and not much of a plan to do so. “Corrupt judges often release suspects for domestic violence and rape.” Often. LGBT persons face constant violence. The prisons are a hotspot for violence, torture, cholera, and worse.

All of this comes from the US State Department.

If the government of the United Kingdom finds Zimbabwe perilous and the government of the United States finds Haiti perilous, how is it possible in the same breath to determine that Zimbabwe and Haiti are `safe’? In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, the prisons are a nightmare. Deportees to both countries typically `return’ through an extended stay in prison. In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, cholera is on the rise, violence is epidemic, violence against women and girls is more than epidemic, and not only sexual violence.

Sending asylum seekers and prisoners to Zimbabwe and to Haiti is a death sentence. Whether the individual persons live or die matters … terribly. At the same time, the political economy of this moment is that the lives of Zimbabweans and of Haitians to the so-called democracies of the world are of no value. If you are Haitian, if you are Zimbabwean, you must just go. If you die, you die. If you live, perhaps you were fortunate, perhaps not. Either way, you are no longer `our problem’. Your country is `safe enough’. Just go.

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.marieclaire.co.uk)

Sendai, Fukushima, and the narrow road to the ancients

The road to the ancients, this week, is a narrow path to the north. It is composed of the dead, the suffering, the children and the elders and the pregnant women. It began with crushing noise followed by obliterating silence, and now … the return of black rain.

In Port-au-Prince, this week, people shudder, look at one another and whisper, “Nous sommes tous Japonais.” We are all Japanese.

We are not all Japanese, but we are all stunned. What are we to say, to think, to feel, to do as the images continue, as the news worsens, as our heads continue to shake in disbelief and our tears continue to sting?

The evacuation proceeds. Some say the evacuation is too cautious, too reactionary.  When nuclear reactors are threatened, when there is a danger of radiation leakage, as clearly there is in Fukushima, remove the pregnant women, remove the children, remove the elders.  Do it whether or not the reactors have blown, exploded, ignited. Do it in advance. That is a lesson of Chernobyl, especially for pregnant women. That is a lesson of Three Mile Island, especially for children.

The elders suffer particular hardships in the disaster in Sendai. First, Japan is the most rapidly aging country in the world, with the longest life expectancy. Women live to 86 years old, men to 79. More than 20 percent of Japan’s estimated population of 127 million is over 65 years old. 20 percent of Japan’s elders live in poverty. Elder care has been a crisis for some time now.

Second, Sendai is an area with many elders. Some came for the `peaceful’, and less costly, life. Others have lived their lives in the Tohoku region, in the northeast of Japan, and have watched as the younger generations moved south, to better jobs, to the metropole.  The tsunami struck an area with a higher proportion of elders.

The earthquake, the tsunami, the flames and the radioactive leaks struck at the most vulnerable. They came down, and continue to come down, on the deep north of the country, which is also the interior, the inner recesses, even the dead-end.

On the 16 May 1689, at the age of 45, the poet Matsuo Basho set off, with a companion and friend Sora, to walk to Oku, on the island of Honshu. His travel journal, if it can be called that, Oku no Hosomichi, is said to be one of the most revered literary texts in Japanese history. Its title is variously translated as The Narrow Road to the Deep North, The Narrow Road to Oku, Narrow Road to the Interior. Upon his return to his home in Edo, Basho spent the next three years editing and revising the journal, which he completed in 1694. Then he died, and the book was published posthumously.

The journey began: “Days and months are travelers of eternity.  So are the years that pass by. Those who steer a boat across the sea, or drive a horse over the earth till they succumb to the weight of years, spend every minute of their lives, travelling. There are a great number of ancients, too, who died on the road.”

At one point, Basho and Sora arrive at Sendai. It was a day of celebration, in which residents tied blue irises to the eaves and roofs of their homes and prayed for health. The travelers stayed for a few days, prayed, relaxed, sought out a famous painter Kaemon, and then moved on. They followed a map drawn by Kaemon and came to a monument, over a thousand years old, and paused:

“In this ever-changing world where mountains crumble, rivers change their courses, roads are deserted, rocks are buried, and old trees yield to young shoots, it was nothing short of a miracle that this monument alone had survived the battering of a thousand years to be the living memory of the ancients. I felt as if I were in the presence of the ancients themselves.”

On the road leading out of Sendai to the deep north, the poet Basho came face to face with time, with timelessness, and with the ancients. And he knew joy.  What would he know today?

This week, the road to the ancients is once again a narrow path to the north.

 

(Photo Credit: Fukushima `Black Rain” by Soichiro Koriyama)