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February 27 2014

February 21 2014

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February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

January 21 2014

Who Actually Lives in the Houses Built After Haiti's Earthquake?

This is an edited and condensed version of an original report by Haiti Grassroots Watch on January 8, 2014 and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

Four years after the January 12 2010 earthquake, questions haunt the four main post-disaster housing projects built by the governments of René Préval and Michel Martelly. Who lives in them? Who runs them? Can the residents afford the rents or mortgages? Are the residents the earthquake victims?

By some estimates, the catastrophe killed some 200,000 people and made 1.3 million homeless overnight. But the new projects do not necessarily house earthquake victims, over 200,000 of whom still live in tents or in the three large new slums called Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem.

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Empty homes at the heart of the Lumane Casimir Village.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch involving over 20 interviews and many visits discovered that, even though there are newly housed families, many – probably the majority – are not necessarily victims of the earthquake. Several others are plagued with lack of services and persistent acts of vandalism, theft and waste.

Homes Too Expensive

On July 21 2011, President Martelly, former US President Bill Clinton and then-Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive inaugurated the Housing Exposition: a fair featuring about 60 model homes in Zoranje.

One of the first projects approved by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, the Expo cost over US$ 2 million in public reconstruction money. Foreign and Haitian construction and architecture firms also spent at least US$ 2 million more. The objective was to provide models for the agencies and businesses engaged in post-earthquake housing construction.

Everyone agrees the Expo was a failure. Few visited the site and fewer still chose one of the model homes – many of which were very expensive by Haitian standards – for their project.

According to David Odnell, director of the government’s Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings (UCLBP), one of three government agencies involved with the housing question:

There were some really odd examples. Some of them had nothing to do with the way we Haitians live or think about housing. It was a completely imported thing.

Today, surrounded by weeds and goats, the fading and cracked houses are home to dozens of squatters.

A young pregnant girl who said her parents are “renters”, explained:

All the houses have new owners. They have been taken over.

A woman cooking in front of a model house on the Expo site.  Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

A woman cooking in front of a model house on the Expo site.
Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

The young woman who said she was “owner” of the girl’s house sat nearby with a child. Both women wanted to remain anonymous, but she was happy to share her story:

I didn’t follow any procedure got get this. I just took it. My brother was the security guard here. Nobody asked us to pay anything and nobody said anything. And in any case, who would we pay?

According to at least four residents as well as a government consultant, the squatters are all people who already lived in Zoranje. Many of the units are now being rented out.

In a November 2013 interview, Odnell, an architect, agreed:

Yes, that’s possible, and you know why. There is a void…and there is no authority there. But [the project] is not exactly a waste. I could call it poor planning, because the houses can always be recuperated.

Odnell’s counterpart at the government Fund for Social and Economic Assistance agency (FAES), Patrick Anglade, said much the same thing:

Aside from the inauguration week, the project has been forgotten. Nobody goes over there because nobody was really managing the project. The entrepreneurs left and nobody promoted the houses. It’s a problem that can be solved, but we have to figure out how to do that.

Squatters Reign

Another new project sits practically across the street from the Expo: 128 apartments built by the Venezuelan government for US$ 4.9 million (according to its figures) during the Hugo Chavez presidency. They are usually called “Kay Chavez yo” – “The Chavez Houses.”

Earthquake-resistant, sporting two bedrooms, a bath, a living room and a kitchen, and painted in bright colors, today most of the homes house people who simply broke down the doors and moved in. Only 42 of the 128 have “legal” inhabitants: families invited by the Venezuelan Embassy. Empty for 15 months, some were vandalized. Fixtures, toilets, sinks and other items, including water pumps, were stolen.

Inhabitants are already making adjustments: changing some doors, adding windows, building gates and fences.

One of

One of “The Chavez Houses”. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

Surrounded by neighborhood men, Jules Jamlee sits with on a broken chair across the street from a home that is being expanded with the addition of an extra room. Like his friends, he is insistent about his right to “his” home:

The president knows very well that we are revolutionaries. He might make threats but he knows we don’t agree with them.

The housing development still lacks water and residents complain that the lack of adequate water means that the toilets don’t work well. Many residents instead use nearby weedy areas for their physiological needs.

When Haiti Grassroots Watch visited in June 2013, journalists learned that six out of ten residents polled said they walk to get water by bucket. Four said their toilets did not function.

Poor Quality

Known as the 400% or “400 in 100” project because Martelly promised 400 homes would be built in 100 days, the nearby US$ 30 million project, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, was inaugurated on February 27 2012. The development has three kilometers of paved streets, a water system (which lacked water until just recently), an electrical system, street lamps and a square with a basketball court.

But not all of the new residents are earthquake victims. Many are public administration employees. There was a rush to fill the houses at the beginning. And there are other complications, because the houses are not gifts. Residents must pay a five-year mortgage.

The mortgages are between US$ 39 and US$ 46 per month. The contract says that “non-payment by the renter/beneficiary for three consecutive months will result in a 5% penalty for each unpaid month” and that “non-payment could lead to expulsion.”

The contract has caused a great deal of grumbling. Yves Zéphyr, an unemployed father of two who has lived in the development since November 2012, noted:

The president did not give us a house. He is selling it to us. They are too expensive. What can a person do in this country where there is no work? How can one find 1,500 gourdes (US $39) each month?

FAES admits it faces a challenge:

We are not achieving 100% payments, not even 70%. At least 30% are behind.

A small poll by Haiti Grassroots Watch gives an idea of why some people are behind. One-half of ten residents questioned said they are unemployed.

When the project was launched, the government received financing to prepare the land, build the houses, and set up the electricity system, but not for the actual services necessary for a housing development, like water, septic system cleaning, a marketplace, schools, a clinic and affordable transportation to downtown. The UCLBP's Odnell explained:

The unused toilet of one resident, who said the septic system  is not deep enough. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

The unused toilet of one resident, who said the septic system
is not deep enough. Photo: HGW/Marc Schindler Saint-Val

We have space for all the necessary services. They were all in the initial plan, but we couldn’t achieve all of them. In the end, we could only build the houses. We were only able to put in the water recently, once we looked for and got the necessary financing.

While many residents say they are happy with their new homes, there were also problems. Some roofs leaked every time it rained, and residents said that electricity was very rare. Some of the houses had been vandalized before residents moved in: tin roofs and toilets had disappeared. The septic systems for some of the houses are also causing problems.

Up to the Challenge?

The Haitian government recognizes that it faces an enormous challenge. Some 150,000 earthquake victims still live in about 300 camps and another 50,000 live in the new sprawling slums Canaan, Onaville and Jerusalem. Half of the camps have no sanitation services and only 8% are supplied with water, according to an October 2013 report from the UCLBP and the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM)/Shelter Cluster. Residents of over 100 camps are in imminent danger of being evicted. In December, 126 families were forced to leave their homes and shacks in Canaan, near Village Lumane Casimir.

According to the government, the housing deficit will only continue to grow as people leave the countryside and smaller towns and move to cities.

According to the UCLBP’s new Policy of Housing and Urban Planning (PNLH):

Haiti needs to meet the challenge of constructing 500,000 new homes in order to meet the current and housing deficit between now and 2020.

The new policy is ambitious but vague. The language of the document implies that the government will seek to resolve the deficit in partnership with the private sector. While this kind of orientation should not necessarily be rejected out of hand, already with the Lumane Casimir Village and the 400% and Chavez Houses projects, it appears that the government is no longer going to build social housing that is within reach of the majority of Haitians.

January 19 2014

Haiti, D.R.: Stateless in the Dominican Republic

jmc strategies blogs about the issue of Haitian statelessness in the Dominican Republic, specifically addressing anti-Haitian sentiment, questionable labour and living conditions, and forced repatriations, while offering solutions to the impasse.

January 16 2014

Jamaican Winner of The Voice Sings for Haiti

Just another reason to love Tessanne Chin: she's singing to support a housing programme in Haiti. Repeating Islands republishes the details.

January 15 2014

Haiti, Four Years After

Four years after this tragedy, what have we done to change the living conditions of the people who are still living under makeshifts tents? What we have done to effectively rebuild a better country?

Wadner Pierre reflects on the 2012 earthquake in Haiti and considers the best way forward.

January 06 2014

#ShamlesslyHaitian on Haiti's Independence Day

January 1st is special for Haitians not only because it is the first day of the new year but also because it the date Haiti declared its independence. To commemorate Haiti's 210th anniversary of independence, Bertin Louis (@MySoulIsInHaiti) started the hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian as a way for Haitians to express pride and educate others about their history and culture. Global Voices spoke to Louis to find out more about the hashtag and his academic work.

Global Voices (GV) : Let us know more about your background.

486882_10151399159407592_721448874_nBertin Louis (BL) : My name is Dr. Bertin M. Louis, Jr. and I am an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee.  I am also the son of Haitians who migrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Growing up in Staten Island, New York I didn’t really identify with my Haitian heritage until I went to Syracuse University for my undergraduate studies. In the first semester of my junior year, I took a course called “Caribbean Society Since Independence” taught by Dr. Horace Campbell, a Political Scientist of Jamaican descent and a Pan-Africanist. The first book we read was “The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution” by Trinidadian labor historian C.L.R. James. The book had a deep impact on me. When something has a big impact on you, we say in Haitian Creole “Li frape m fò (literally “it hit me hard”). To know that the only successful slave revolt in human history was part of my heritage made me confident in who I was, at the time, and I became more interested in studying more about Haitian history and culture. It really put on the path that I am on today researching and studying the Haitian diaspora and Haiti.

GV:  Were you born in Haiti or are you part of the diaspora? How much of a difference do you think it makes?

BL: I am part of the diaspora who was born in the United States. This makes a big difference because I live in the Colossus of the Western Hemisphere, which has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, I currently study religion (Evangelical Protestantism) and statelessness in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas. I interviewed many Haitian migrants as well as their children, who were trying to find a way to live in the United States, where they had family and better prospects for employment and better opportunities to lead dignified lives. My American citizenship is a privilege that they don’t have. Since I am in a privileged position, as a University professor and an American citizen, I feel that it of utmost importance to use my voice, to use my privilege to speak up on the behalf of those whose voices are silenced, like Haitian migrants and their stateless children in the Bahamas, in order to draw attention to their plight. So it makes a big difference as to where I was born because if I was born in the Dominican Republic, I would be stateless and unable to take advantage of the opportunities I currently benefit from as an American citizen.


GV: Could you please tell us something about your academic area(s) of interest?

BL: My teaching and research interests span the African diaspora and I interrogate the concept of diaspora through my transnational study of the Evangelical Protestant movement among Haitians in the Caribbean (Haiti and the Bahamas) and the United States.  Specifically, I combine multi-sited ethnographic research (in the United States, Haiti, and the Bahamas) with a transnational framework to analyze the practice and growth of Evangelical Protestantism in the Haitian diaspora of the Bahamas.  This research has resulted in my first book, My Soul is in Haiti: Migration and Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas,” which will be published by New York University Press in 2014.

My next research project is about stateless Bahamians of Haitian descent, sometimes referred to as “Haitian-Bahamians.” Statelessness refers to an individual who is not considered as a national by any state and affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide.  Stateless people do not have a country that they can call their own, lack access to basic political and social rights, such as the rights to vote, marry, and own property, and are also denied access to employment, educational services, and health care. My research will produce a book and articles that should advance theory in citizenship, diaspora, human rights, and statelessness studies and contribute to current Bahamian public policy debates.

GV: What particularly inspired you to create this hashtag #ShamelesslyHaitian?

BL: On December 21st, I participated in a hashtag called #ShamelesslyCaribbean and people tweeted interesting and funny comments about the shared experience of being Caribbean/being of Caribbean descent. As the days drew closer to Haitian Independence Day (January 1), I thought about doing #ShamelesslyHaitian to draw attention to Haiti, which is not respected by other nations, and people of Haitian descent, who are not treated like human beings in other nations, as the Dominican Republic’s recent court ruling demonstrates.

Much of the news we learn about Haiti and Haitians is wholly negative. We learn on the news that Haiti is in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with no explanation of how it got that way in the first place. Haitians are denigrated, excluded, and, in some cases, criminalized in the Bahamas, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the United States (remember the AIDS crisis in its early years in the U.S. and Haitians were one of the 4Hs identified by the CDC as HIV-carriers?). And I thought that there was some potential in creating and circulating a hashtag that gave people of Haitian descent, and their allies, the opportunity to present a different and informative narrative about Haiti and Haitians, that didn’t focus on natural disasters, coup d’etats, governmental instability, stark poverty, AIDS, etc.; a narrative that celebrated Haitian achievements, recuperated the importance of the Haitian Revolution to humanity, and also as a way to educate people about a place and a diaspora that has been grotesquely distorted, demonized, in some cases, in Western history and Western media.

So I floated the idea of contacted some people of Haitian descent to some Twitter friends, asked them if they would participate, and chose the 210th anniversary of Haitian independence to launch #ShamelesslyHaitian at 12 noon Eastern Standard Time.

GV: What has been the impact of social media on the issues you are most concerned about?

BL: I find that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer opportunities to learn about issues that are important to me. It’s also a way to be part of a larger community, albeit virtual, based on similar interests and ideas, as these Twitter hashtags demonstrate.

GV: What is your reaction to the way the hashtag took off? Were you surprised by the way it grew? What does it tell you about the Haitian Diaspora?

BL: I was hoping for some participation with the hashtag and I am glad that it took off in the way that it did. I was mildly surprised but not shocked by its popularity. Based on my research and work in the Haitian diaspora, there’s a sameness of experience, a similarity of experience among people of Haitian descent that forces them to draw on their heritage in the face of discrimination and prejudice. Many tweets dealt with being proud to be Haitian despite the discrimination and teasing kids in the Haitian diaspora experienced growing up.

I think the popularity of the hashtag demonstrates that whether it is in the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Haiti, or anywhere else we find Haitians, 210 years after Haitian independence, after the Haitian Revolution, Haitians are still trying to lead dignified lives and that they are struggling to do so.


The image in this post is courtesy of Bertin Louis.

December 17 2013

Explaining the Evergrowing Tradition of “Chanté Nwèl” (Singing Christmas) in the French West Indies

Between late November and December 25, a unique tradition is taking place every year in the Francophone Caribbean islands, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe. “Chanté Nwel” [fr] is a time when people come together to not only sing traditional Christmas songs but also share a meal as a community. Although the tradition of singing Christmas carols has slowed down in France, it has grown stronger than ever in the french west indies [fr]. Hélène Clément explains the sad origin of the tradition that has been turned into a festive celebration [fr] :

L’article 2 du Code noir promulgué par Louis XIV en 1685 prévoyait « l’instruction religieuse des esclaves ». Les jésuites, chargés de poursuivre cette instruction religieuse, enseigneront aux esclaves à jouer de certains instruments dans le but de former des choristes pour les offices religieux [..] Le « chanté Nwèl » dans les Antilles françaises reste un moment de partage et de solidarité.

The article 2 of the Code Noir [Black Code] promulgated by Louis XIV in 1685 stipulated that “religious instruction be provided to slaves.” The Jesuits taught slaves through the religious instruction to play some instruments in order to assemble a choir for religious services [..] The “Chanté Nwèl” in the French West Indies is first and foremost a time of sharing and solidarity

Here is a video of one of the most known carol :Joseph mon cher fidèle (Joseph, my dear faithful) [fr]:

Daniel, from Martinique, explains the drinking tradition during “Chanté Nwèl” [fr]:

Autrefois, lors des ces « chanté Nwel», on servait en dehors du traditionnel punch, du sirop d’orgeat aux dames, ainsi que du chocolat à l’eau épaissi au toloman pour se réchauffer du « froid piquant » des nuits de décembre… dès la fin du mois de novembre, on prépare le  schrubb avec des écorces d’oranges que l’on fait macérer dans du rhum au soleil.

Back in the days during “Chanté Nwèl”, the traditional cocktail punch and chocolate water thickened with toloman were served to warm the “sneaky cold” December nights; orgeat syrup were reserved for the ladies … at the end of November, the schrubb is prepared with orange peels that has been soaked in rum and exposed to the sun. 

 The following video shows how residents of Gros-Morne, Martinique are celebrating the tradition today [fr]:

December 13 2013

Haiti: The Reality of Abortion

The discussion of sex is a taboo in Haitian society. But the discussion of abortion is even more so. Haitian law outlaws the practice in all its forms.

Haiti Grassroots Watch explains.

Haiti, Dominican Republic: Discriminatory Ruling

Haiti Chery reports that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ (IACHR) preliminary findings basically state that the “Dominican Constitutional Court Ruling TC168.13 is discriminatory and violates the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent.”

December 12 2013

The Caribbean Ponders the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

With nearly a week gone since the announcement of Nelson Mandela's death, Caribbean bloggers have had time to process their thoughts on his life and his legacy.

St. Lucia-based Caribbean Book Blog noted that the island joined the international community “in celebrating the life of one of the world’s most beloved and revered leaders”:

Among the many virtues for which Nelson Mandela will be remembered is the way in which he was able to transcend politics, race and class, and recast himself in the role of a sagacious elder and father figure to all and sundry, even other political leaders and heads of state…

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

The post recalled Mandela's 1998 visit to St. Lucia, to attend the 19th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community:

Mandela’s humility, grace and charisma were evident…During the visit [he] attended a youth rally hosted in his honour. In his typically warm, affectionate style he charmed the youths and embraced them as they came up to greet him. Dispensing with protocol, he laughed and danced with them. He then offered them some inspiring words of wisdom and encouraged them to use education as a tool to become leaders. He urged them not to be discouraged by poverty.

The blog also reiterated Mandela's agreement with the notion that CARICOM has been at the forefront of the apartheid struggle; it ended by quoting Mandela's parting words to the St. Lucian people:

‘St Lucia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. Its beauty is breathtaking. I know that one day I will die for a very, very long time but visiting St Lucia seems to guarantee to me that it will take some time before death prevails over me.’
He uttered those words in all seriousness. Fifteen years later they seem to have been quite prescient.

Jamaican diaspora blogger Can a Jamaican Take Cali? said that Mandela's example helped to shape his own life:

I remember vividly walking around my house singing ‘Free them President Botha’ the song that as a kid I was taught as part of the ‘struggle against apartheid'. Quick history Botha was the head of South Africa in the 80s and his government kept up a brutal crack down on Mandela, his ANC brethren and blacks in general. It has always bothered me that Botha was able to live out his life without ever going to prison – I really believe he should have died in prison, just as many of us feared Mandela would. To my knowledge Botha never apologized for apartheid, I find that hard to stomach but if Mandela could forgive him…maybe I should.

He also hoped that more young people would learn about Mandela's struggle:

Nelson Mandela always struck me as a man of poise, graciousness and strength of character, I sadly do not think enough of today's youths know who he is and honor and respect him enough. Hopefully his death, like much of his early life will renew in young black youth a sense of purpose a sense of internal pride and maybe just maybe a moment of deep reflection.

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

The synchronicity of honouring Mandela on the occasion of World Human Rights Day was not lost on Jamaican litblogger Geoffrey Philp, while Breezeblog, from Bermuda, commended Mandela for leading by example:

If you or I were imprisoned unjustly for 27 years, much of it in solitary confinement, as Nelson Mandela was, we’d probably come out bitter and hellbent on exacting revenge on those responsible.

In the UK in the late 1970s, when I was in my teens and early 20s, many of my generation were seething at that injustice and the evils of the South African government’s apartheid system. Indeed, at a time when the right-wing National Front was on the rise, we were pretty worked up about racism in general. If we weren’t taking part in Free Mandela marches or concerts, then it was an Anti-Racism or Anti-Nazi League rally. We vilified those businesses or sportsmen who broke government sanctions and went to South Africa.

But if we believed that Nelson Mandela would one day be released, I don’t think any of us would have predicted that he would become the country’s first black President and that instead of spearheading the ANC in bloody retribution against their oppressors, he would lead an astonishing and courageous reconciliation that helped heal a bitterly divided nation and avoid almost certain civil war.

Nelson Mandela was already a hero of mine before he left prison. His dignity and humility after his release made him, in my eyes and those of millions of others, the greatest human being of our lifetime whose ideals and integrity put every other statesman in the world to shame.

Interestingly, the post also explored other opinions:

There were many other South Africans who viewed Madiba differently, as I found out when I finally got to visit the country in 2010 for the World Cup…As far as Frankie, the tough white lady who ran the guest house just outside Johannesburg where we stayed, was concerned, Mandela was still
‘a bloody terrorist'. Having grown up in a racist family and been violently assaulted in her own home by black criminals, Frankie feared and distrusted all blacks, viewed the ANC government as corrupt crooks and believed South Africa was going to hell in a hand basket.

The blogger, Chris Gibbons, was careful to note that:

Mandela’s Rainbow Nation is an incredibly complex country where racial and tribal divisions will take generations to heal, if at all, and the gap between the manicured wealthy suburbs and the grinding poverty of the townships remains jaw-droppingly vast.

But what Mandela did was to start South Africa on that journey, to offer hope where none existed and show that by working together and putting aside their differences, people can achieve truly remarkable things.

Another Bermudian blogger, Catch a Fire, felt that:

The best way to honour Mandela – the myth if not the man – is to renew the commitment to building a better world and launching a second liberation struggle.

This next liberation struggle is as relevant to Bermuda, the Caribbean and everywhere as it is in South Africa.

This second liberation struggle must overcome the covert and structural racism which still haunts our lands and even at a global level; it must also be a struggle against the colonialism of the mind, of colonial mentalities.

Even more, this second liberation struggle must be against a socio-economic system – capitalism – that threatens to consign whole generations and populations to the dust-heap, that thrives on war and that poisons our very planet, all in the pursuit of profit and not in the pursuit of realising our human potential.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Ivan Garcia offered a perspective from Cuba:

Madiba leaves as a legacy a master class of how to do politics in difficult times.

The current statesmen should take note. Mandela was not perfect. He was labeled a communist and disruptive, and until 2008 the FBI had him on their list of ‘terrorists.’ But he knew how to maneuver in the turbulent waters of a nation where state racism prevailed, in the intrigues of his party, the African National Congress, and to achieve the miracle of national unity in South Africa.

The colossal undertaking began in jail. From a cell in Robben Prison, where for 27 years he was behind bars, until 1994 when Madiba became president, he understood that in conditions of political fragility, his mission was to make sure that everyone saw themselves represented in the first democratic government of their country.

He was a president for all South Africans.

In his five years in office, Mandela sat chair of his magnificent policy. His ethics, honesty, and transparency were his hallmark. He was a partner of one and all, without ever compromising his political perspective. A man of diplomacy and respect for others.

His great friend in the Americas, Fidel Castro, retired from power, could also learn some lessons in transparency from Mandela’s conduct.

The post then compared the two leaders:

No one can doubt the sincere friendship that joined Castro with Madiba. But the two statesmen are nothing alike in their methods of achieving national harmony. If Fidel Castro had been like Nelson Mandela, he long ago would have been sitting at the table to negotiate with his political opponents.

First he would have visited with the dissidents. Then with the White House. If Mandela had been Castro, the embargo would be ancient history. That ability of Mandela’s — to adapt to changing times and live with democratic rules — is something the former Cuban president does not have.

In Cuba we would have needed a Nelson Mandela.

Diaspora blog Capitol Hill Cubans agreed that despite the friendship between the two, “Fidel Castro is the anti-thesis of everything that Mandela represents”:

Castro himself heads an undemocratic, apartheid regime.

However, to Castro's chagrin, upon being democratically-elected as President of South Africa, Mandela rejected everything Castro stood for.

Mandela could have taken the path of Castro or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He could have become ruler-for-life, confiscated the nation's vast wealth and made it his personal fiefdom.

Yet, Mandela chose the path of human rights, free markets and representative democracy. Moreover, he refused to serve more than one-term.

There is no greater test of a man than when he is given power.

Haitian bloggers were full of praise for Mandela. Le Coin de Pierre [Fr] compared him to Toussaint Louverture:

Ils ont eu le même idéal de liberté et d'émancipation de l'homme noir.

They had the same ideal of freedom and emancipation of the black man.

HaitiRozo called Mandela the leader that “brought the world together” and The Haitian Blogger posted a poem that urged readers to remember Mandela as he was, because the struggle still continues.

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella wrote a hopeful post, structured around some of Mandela's most famous quotations, which suggested ways in which all of us can live a life more like Nelson Mandela's:

We have lost one of the world’s greatest. We have lost a man who changed the world. We have lost one of the most iconic human beings, a living symbol of freedom and hope and the power of change. The weight of that loss cannot be understated.

He was a troublemaker for peace. He achieved so much and inspired so many. Now that he has passed, we can only pray that he rests in peace and power, and that his life’s legacy will continue to be one of inspiration, greatness and equality for all.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, I can’t help but consider the ways we could live up to such a legacy. Mandela’s shoes are so big, you might wonder what a regular person could do to fill them. I say, measure your life in terms of your intentions and your steadfastness, and celebrate Mandela’s legacy by speaking out for what’s right, leading by example, and sticking to your ideals.

December 08 2013

What the Situation of Street Children in Port-au-Prince is Telling a Haitian Citizen

Valéry Moise, a Haitian physician and activist, reflects upon the dire situation of street children [fr] in Port-au-Prince :

Moi, quand je regarde un enfant des rues briser une vitre, je vois une promesse électorale non tenue, quand je regarde un enfant sans idéal, je vois un gouvernement sans vision, quand je regarde un enfant manquer de respect à une loi établie, je vois de policiers et officiels circuler en sens inverse, quand je regarde un enfant essuyer une voiture aux heures de classe, je vois une société touchant le fond de l’abîme. Rendez-moi fou ou sage, je verrai toujours à travers les enfants l’image des adultes.

When I witness a child breaking a window, what it tells me is that another promise by a politician went unfulfilled. When I see a child without a dream, it tells me that the government is lacking a vision for the country. When a child does not respect the law, what I see are police forces going the other way. When I see a child cleaning cars when he should be at school, I see a society that has reached the bottom of the ocean. Color me crazy or wise, but I will always see the characters of the adults through the behavior of their children.  

November 20 2013

November 07 2013

Dominican Republic and Haiti: Two very different versions

The blog Repeating Islands republished two letters to the editor of the New York Times that paint two very different pictures on the situation regarding the recent decision of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic to strip citizenship from all descendants of immigrants who entered the country extralegally, retroactive to 1929. The first letter is from Aníbal de Castro, Ambassador of the Dominican Republic to Washington, who considers the Dominican Republic unduly pressured by the international community:

The Dominican Republic has a legitimate interest in regulating immigration and having clear rules for acquisition of citizenship. It should not be pressured by outside actors and other countries to implement measures contrary to its own Constitution and that would be unacceptable to most other nations facing similar immigration pressures.

The second letter is signed jointly by authors Mark Kurlansky, Junot Díaz, Edwidge Danticat, and Julia Álvarez, who dispel the assurances of the ambassador that no one will be negatively affected by the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling:

The ruling will make it challenging for them to study; to work in the formal sector of the economy; to get insurance; to pay into their pension fund; to get married legally; to open bank accounts; and even to leave the country that now rejects them if they cannot obtain or renew their passport. It is an instantly created underclass set up for abuse.

November 06 2013

D.R., Haiti: We Can Work It Out?

This is an island. No way out. So these two nations, who have been doing a live rendition of a Russian novel for 500 years, are going to have to work it out.

Contrary to many of the opinions expressed in this post, Changing Perspectives weighs in on the decision by the Dominican Republic to deny citizenship to subsequent generations of illegal immigrants, most of whom are Haitian.

October 31 2013

“I'm Dominican, Just Like You”: Thousands of Dominicans of Haitian Descent Are Left Stateless

Protesters against the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic’s decision to strip thousands of citizens of their nationality. Taken from the Facebook page.

Protesters against the Constitutional Court's decision to strip thousands of their nationality. Taken from the Facebook page of the organization,

[All links in this article lead to Spanish language sites, except where otherwise noted.]

¿Por qué en el Caribe siempre hay que huir hacia la libertad, o mejor, hacia un espacio que se dibuja en la imaginación como el de la libertad? La respuesta es obvia: las sociedades caribeñas son de las más represivas del mundo.

Antonio Benítez RojoLa isla que se repite: El Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna

Why is it that in the Caribbean people must always flee in search of liberty, or towards an imaginary space portrayed as liberty. The answer is obvious: Caribbean societies are among the most repressive in the world.
Antonio Benítez RojoLa isla que se repite: El Caribe y la perspectiva posmoderna

Following the decision by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic (Tribunal Constitucional de la República Dominicana) to strip citizenship from all those born in the country to immigrants with an illegal status, the truth contained in the above quote is revealed with stunning clarity.

The repercussions of this unappealable decision by the Constitutional Court will affect several generations of Dominicans of Haitian origin, whose families came to make their lives in the Dominican Republic. The majority have never even visited Haiti, nor have family there. Even so, from one day to another, thousands of people have been left effectively stateless.

It is unknown exactly how many people will be affected by this decision. According to information from the National Office of Statistics (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas), there are 244,151 persons born of “foreign” parents in the Dominican Republic; 86 per cent of these are people of Haitian origin.

The campaign has taken up the task of collecting testimonies from Dominicans whose legal situation is now in a limbo due to the denationalisation policy of the Dominican government. Below, Deisy Toussaint [fr], a young author, the recipient of numerous national literary prizes,  describes how she was not allowed to obtain a passport in order to represent her country at international cultural events:

The campaign also has a Twitter presence (@reconoci_do), where it it is in active communication with its followers. On Twitter, the #EsoNoSeHaceRD [You do not do that DR] hashtag has also been created.

@Evenelr: One hundred years of injustice do not create rights… #EsoNoSeHaceRD

This Constitutional Court sentence reminds us that: racism and xenophobia are the shame of humanity.

Imagine that a group of people full of prejudice are able to decide who is and isn't Dominican. How would they feel?

The international community responded to the Constututional Court's decision with alarm. Chiara Liguori, investigator for Amnesty International in the Caribbean said:

Esta última decisión destroza totalmente las vidas de los ciudadanos dominicanos de origen haitiano, especialmente si son obligados a salir del país por el Plan Nacional de Regularización.

Es totalmente injusto decir que personas que han vivido como dominicanos durante décadas ya no pertenecen al país ni tienen ningún derecho en él.

This recent decision totally destroys the lives of Dominican citizens of Haitian origin, especially if they are forced to leave the country due to the Plan Nacional de Regularización (National Regularization Plan).

It is totally unjust to say that people who have lived as Dominicans for decades now no longer belong to the country, nor do they have any rights here.

UNICEF (The United Nations Childrens Fund) followed suit in its press release, stating that, long before the Constitutional Court’s decision, it had expressed its concern regarding the large number of children who would be left stripped of all legal protection:

En 2008, en las observaciones finales para la República Dominicana, el Comité de los Derechos del Niño señaló que el derecho constitucional de adquirir una nacionalidad por jus solis se negaba frecuentemente a niños que carecían de certificados oficiales de nacimiento o que habían nacido de padres sin residencia oficial en la República Dominicana. El Comité expresó su grave preocupación por el amplio número de niños apátridas que generaba esta política.

In 2008, in the concluding observations on the Dominican Republic, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the constutional right to acquire nationality by jus solis was frequently denied to children who lacked official birth certificates or who had been born to parents without legal residency in the Dominican Republic. The Commitee expressed its grave concern for the high number of stateless children created by this policy.

This past January, the blog La neurona impasible posted a reflection on Haiti which gains special relevance in the current moment:

Realmente somos todos Haiti ? Cuando hace tres años tembló la tierra y arrasó un ya de por sí desolado país, la comunidad internacional enseguida salío al paso con promesas de ayudas materiales y económicas. Que muchas de ellas se quedaron en eso, en promesas, al fin y al cabo publicidad para sus causas particulares y sus ansiado y ególatras baños de masas.


La comunidad internacional no ha hecho seguramente todo lo que podía, aunque los ciudadanos han hecho el grueso.

Quizás vaya siendo hora de redimirse y enmendar todos los errores del pasado.

Really are we all Haiti? When three years ago the earth shook and tore apart an already desolate country, the international community got away with mere promises of material and economic aid. The fact is that most of them remained just that; promises. Ultimately, publicity for their personal causes and ambitions, complete with egomaniacal photo-ops mingling with the victims.


The international community has clearly not done all that it could, while ordinary citizens have provided most of the relief.

Perhaps the hour of redemption and remedying of all the errors of the past is on its way.

The multifaceted author and singer Rita Indiana Hernández added her voice to the chorus of indignation in the El País newspaper:

La maldición que ahora se cierne sobre los haitianos es producto de artilugios más potentes, siniestros y escurridizos que los que se hacen acompañar del tambor. Esta magia, como otros colegas han señalado, es la que se ampara en la ley para justificar un racismo despiadado. Ya la temían las víctimas del holocausto esclavista, quienes durante generaciones le vieron la cara a esa maldad que la avaricia habilita en los hombres. Entre las muchas tradiciones heredadas por la sincrética sociedad dominicana, esta magia sobrevive de manera especial. Tras casi un siglo de trabajos forzados y maltratos de todo tipo, queremos arrebatarle el derecho a la nacionalidad a los hijos que los haitianos tienen en la República Dominicana.

The curse which now hangs over the Haitians is the product of more powerful, sinister, slippery devices than those accompanied by the beating of a drum. This magic, as others have pointed out, is enshrined in the law to justify a ruthless racism. The victims of the holocaust of slavery lived in fear of it, generations of them stared at the evil that avarice builds in men. Among the many traditions passed down by the syncretic Dominican society, this magic survives in a special way. After nearly a century of forced labour and abuse of all kinds, we want to destroy the right to citizenship of the children born to Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

Narciso Isa Conde, in the Lo Cierto Sin Censura blog, points out the racist motives behind the Constitutional Court’s decision:

Mis abuelos paternos eran árabes libaneses, vinieron con pasaportes turcos truqueados y se registraron con nombres no originales, al punto que el abuelo Antonio Isa no era ni Isa ni Antonio.

Si nos atenemos a la esencia de esa cruel sentencia, mi papá, Tony y yo, sus hijos y los míos, descendemos de “ilegales” y, entonces, deberían despojarnos de nuestra nacionalidad y documentos dominicanos.

Pero sucede que somos “blanquitos” y no provenimos de la inmigración haitiana.

Es claro que más allá de la población dominicana haitianodescendiente, muchos dominicanos y dominicanas de hoy estamos en condiciones parecidas, procedemos de troncos familiares traídos o venidos de fuera. Nuestros habitantes originarios, llamados “indios”, fueron exterminados por invasores blancos.

Entonces, es fácil percatarse del carácter racista, neonazi, de esa sentencia, en un país donde el racismo y la xenofobia dominantes se expresan fundamentalmente contra la emigración negra de origen haitiano y contra su descendencia; al extremo de imponerle la declaración como “indios/as” en el registro de identidad a los/as dominicanos/as color café o café con leche claro u oscuro.

My paternal grandparents were Lebanese Arabs, they came here on forged Turkish passports and registered with names so altered from their originals that Granddad Antonio Isa was, in actuality, neither Isi nor Antonio.

If we accept the essence of this cruel verdict, my father Tony and I, his sons and mine, descend from “illegals” and thus we should also be stripped of our Dominican nationality and papers.

But as it happens we are “white” and do not descend from Haitian immigration.

It is clear that beyond the population of Dominicans of Haitian descent, many Dominicans today are in similar circumstances; we descend from family trees which came or were brought from abroad. This country’s original inhabitants, commonly called “indios”, were exterminated by white invaders.

Thus it is easy to perceive the racist, neo-Nazi character of this decision, in a country in which the dominant racism and xenophobia is expressed fundamentally against black immigrants of Haitian origin and against their descendants. A racism which goes to the extreme of imposing the categorization of “indio” on Dominicans with coffee or milk-and-coffee coloured skin in the national identity registers.

Earlier coverage of this story can be read here.

October 23 2013

16 Books on Latin American Street Art

In Latin America, street art is of major cultural relevance. The region’s traditions of social movements and revolution have allowed the form to give voice to otherwise unheard sectors of the population. Of course, not all street art is politically or socially-oriented in content, but it does often provide insight into specific objectives and ideals.

Nick MacWilliam from Sounds and Colours browsed the online store Amazon “to see what’s readily available for those who are interested in the subject of street art in Latin America.” He recommends 16 books on the subject, covering Haiti, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and more.

October 10 2013

Hungry in Haiti

Why – when the country has received at least one billion U.S. dollars worth of food aid between 1995 and the 2010 earthquake – is hunger on the rise?

Haiti Grassroots Watch examines “complaints and rumors about the misuse, abuse, or negative effects of food aid.”

August 19 2013

United Nations caused cholera outbreak in Haiti : Its response violates international law. - Slate…

United Nations caused #cholera outbreak in #Haiti: Its response violates international law. - Slate Magazine

Last week, a team of researchers (including myself) from the Transnational Development Clinic at Yale Law School and the Global Health Justice Partnership between the law school and Yale School of Public Health published a report concluding not only that the U.N. brought cholera to Haiti, but that by failing to take responsibility for its role in the outbreak, the United Nations violates both its contractual commitments to Haiti as well as its obligations under international law.

However, even in the face of irrefutable evidence, the U.N. continues to deny its role. Previously, the organization rejected claims for relief from more than 5,000 cholera victims, simply declaring that the claims were “not receivable.” This week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky responded to renewed calls for accountability by asking the international community to donate money to help Haiti recover from the “double tragedy of earthquake and cholera” while saying nothing about the part the U.N. played in visiting this tragedy upon the country in the first place.

This response is shameful. The cholera epidemic is undoubtedly a tragedy of massive proportions. But by painting the earthquake and the epidemic with the same brushstroke, the U.N. plays into a dangerous conception of Haiti as pathology: a country that brings disease upon itself. This rhetoric is rooted in notions of disaster’s inevitability in Haiti, as though the cholera epidemic is just another manifestation of the ancient curse that has purportedly gripped the country since the days of Toussaint L’Ouverture.

#ONU #santé

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