| When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit Gonaives,
the police literally ran away from the city, leaving behind a horrific
human crisis. As Kevin Pina reports, the U.S.-installed Haitian regime
is hardly a government at all – just a gangster clique incapable of
carrying out the most basic civic services.
A political storm hit northern Haiti long before Tropical Storm Jeanne
came along. On March 20th, Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue flew
into Gonaives where a huge and boisterous crowd of thousands welcomed
him. Latortue embraced gang elements and the former military that helped
overthrow the democratic government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
as “freedom fighters.” Since then, Latortue and his government
have done little to take control of Haiti’s third largest city and
have allowed gang leaders like Buteur Metayer and Wilfort Ferdinand
to run it like a private fiefdom. This has had serious consequences
since Tropical Storm Jeanne arrived to stake her claim of Haiti's misery.
The political storm took many victims as well and left Haiti ill-prepared
for the devastation brought about by Tropical Storm Jeanne. One of
its first victims was the Civil Protection Office following a rampage
led by the "freedom fighters" against suspected Aristide
supporters. This politically benign institution had been established
in cooperation with the local municipal government by grants provided
by United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
and administered through the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).
PADF’s own website confirms that, “PADF’s emergency response and reconstruction
efforts are complemented by community training in disaster preparedness.
Mitigation training promotes the development of civil action plans
that enable communities to identify priorities and reinforce key infrastructure.
Last year, 23 local civil protection committees were formed and over
5,000 people were trained in disaster awareness, leading to safer communities.” Unfortunately,
with Washington, Paris and Ottawa ushering in a man-made disaster with
the destruction of constitutional authority in Haiti, all of the tax
dollars USAID invested in preparing for natural disasters like Tropical
Storm Jeanne were wasted as well.
Tropical Storm Jeanne is exactly the type of disaster USAID and PADF’s
programs were set up to manage. There were components that monitored
incoming tropical storms and provided an advanced warning and preparedness
network designed to plan a response before disaster struck. Plans included
advising communities in advance of approaching storms and preparing
for them by storing large supplies
of drinking water, food, medical supplies and portable tents for those
displaced from their homes. When Tropical Storm Jeanne hit these structures
no longer existed and all of the trained and competent participants
in the program had long been driven out of the area and their offices
pillaged and burned. Nowhere was this more evident than in Gonaives
where many associated with the Aristide government and the Lavalas
party were reportedly dragged through the streets and burned alive.
Instead of reasserting control of the State and rebuilding the necessary
infrastructure that was destroyed following the coup of February 29th,
Latortue followed a policy of benign neglect and accommodation with
thugs in the region that has led to needless death and suffering in
the wake of Tropical Storm Jeanne. In all fairness, the fault does
not lie exclusively with the US-installed government. The Bush administration
shoulders much of the blame for the current situation with an ill-conceived
regime change that has replaced what they considered a failed state
with an even more failed state.
The United Nations also bears a large responsibility for the armed
gangs and elements of the former military currently hampering relief
efforts in northern Haiti. Like Latortue’s accommodation of the gangs
in Gonaives, the UN forces have stood by while the former military
has taken over several towns in the north. The official excuse of the
UN has been that they do not have enough forces on the ground to challenge
the former military from seizing control of the region. It seems that
by the time they do have the necessary forces they will wake up to
find themselves bunkmates with the very forces they claim to want to
keep out of power. This does not bode well for the inhabitants of Port
au Prince should a natural disaster ever strike the capital to combine
with the current political disaster as it has in Gonaives.
In the end, the UN and Latortue are victims of their own failed policies
and ultimately the failed policy of the Bush administration in Haiti.
The ones who will suffer the most as a result of these failures are
the very people they claim to have come to this island nation to help.
The disregard for institutions destroyed during the latest coup and
the lack of planning and response for natural disasters is only a symptom
of a political storm that is far from over in Haiti – a storm that
is being fed by poor political judgment. Sadly, this has resulted
in more needless suffering for the people of Haiti during this time
Kevin Pina is an independent journalist, filmmaker and currently
resides in Haiti.