|Marguerite Laurent & John Maxwell
in Jamaica, May, 2004
In Defence of the Disinherited
by John Maxwell, July 3, 2004
Jamaica Observer (story)
There is a rape in progress next door. We know; we saw the rapist enter
the house, we heard the shouts of alarm, the calls for help, the screams
of the tormented victim echo through the neighbourhood. Our neighbours
go about their business as usual. What do they care if, like Kitty Genovese
so many years ago, the victim is slaughtered in full sight and sound
of her neighbours. It is not our business, they say. We don't want to
And we are closing our "windows and drawing the curtains, because
the rapist's brother is coming to tea with us." We donít want him
to be unduly discountenanced, to be upset although he is one of those
who set upthe attack.
At this moment eight million Haitians are languishing under the rule
of killers, torturers and 'face-choppers'. Many are in hiding, as was
the Prime Minister, Yvon Neptun, who last Sunday gave himself up rather
than be murdered as a "fleeing felon". Some are in exile, as are the
President of Haiti, his wife and children, with their human and political
rights torn from them by gangsters and terrorists.
And we, Caribbean people, are preparing to entertain Gerard La Tortue,
an absentee businessman/bureaucrat, who now claims to be the Prime Minister
This is the 200th anniversary year of Haitian independence and once
again, the Haitians are voiceless, bereft of their rights, disinherited
of their history and their dignity and abandoned by their neighbours,
their so distant friends ‚ some of the very people they help rescue
from miserable bondage.
As UNESCO says: "The uprising in Saint-Domingue which began on the night
of August 22 to 23, 1791, played a decisive role in the abolition of
the transatlantic slave trade. August 23 is celebrated each year as
the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its
A Gothic Obscenity
This year is the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against
Slavery, declared so by the United Nations on January 10, 2004. Haiti's
slaves abolished slavery in 1793, the only slaves ever to achieve that
distinction. In this international year commemorating the struggle against
slavery, the fact that Haiti is in a cage should put all Earth in a
It is an obscenity.
The so-called civilised world, like the Levite in the parable of the
Good Samaritan, is about to delicately draw up its skirts and pass by
on the other side, leaving 8 million human beings to languish and die,
all because their ancestors 200 years ago decided to make concrete the
idea that every human being should have the same rights as every other.
The Haitian revolution was the only one of the three great revolutions
of the eighteenth century which implemented all of The Rights of Man.
Tthey have been paying the price ever since. As the cynics say ‚ No
good deed ever goes unpunished.
It is our duty to come to the aid of Haiti.
As the Cubans have said: "We Cannot Abandon Haiti!"
Haiti has suffered for 200 years from the lies, obfuscation and deliberate
misrepresentation of people, organisations and states motivated by an
atavistic racism, byÝ a deep-seated fear of real human freedom and a
profound inability to appreciate theÝ real genius of a people driven
by the urge to bring freedom to all.
The Haitians have managed to survive in the face of the most long-lasting
and purposeful genocidal campaign in history. They suffered because
they helped Bolivar, because they were bold enough to offer soldiers
to help Lincoln free the American slaves, because they understood the
indivisibility of freedom and liberty.
They uffer because they defeated and repudiated slavery. Had they been
Europeans, their valour and nobility would be celebrated in song and
story, in legend and myth.
One of my email correspondents recently described Haiti as an international
crime scene, and he is correct.
The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan and the UN Security
CouncilÝ are attempting to licence the latest attempt to return Haiti
toÝ unfreedom. We, who claim to be democrats, to love freedom and liberty,
will be accomplices in this latest crime if we do not do everything
in our power to set Haiti free once and for all.
Is Freedom really Indivisible?
If Haiti is not free, none of us is free.
When Haiti helped Bolivar ‚ alone and friendless ‚ she gave him all
the arms, money and support that she could. She asked only one thing
of him ‚ that in freeing Latin America he should also free its slaves.
I suggest that this gesture bequeaths to us an inescapable duty ‚ to
free Haiti from its bondage, to allow Haitians to decide their future
for themselves to give Haiti back its freedom.
WE have no arms and we do not need arms.
What we have is more potent than arms.
We have the power to move the conscience of the world, of humanity.
We have the power to make a big difference to the lives of the Haitian
people and of the oppressed all over the world.
What we need to do is to bring to bear the pressure of world public
opinion, to relight the fire that the Jamaican Bouckman lit in 1793,
to make it impossible for Haiti to be subjugated once again by stealth,
by deceit and double dealing and treachery in the service of racism
We don't have to do anything spectacular. All we need to do is to try
to keep the attention of our neighbours focused, on the reality of Haiti.
And we need to keep on doing it.
We can startÝ by circulating factual information on Haiti, to our friends,
to people of influence in whatever society we live, to journalists,
commentators, columnists and editors, most of them prating grandly about
democracy and freedom but doing nothing either to advance or defend
I have long been stirred by the history of the Haitians, particularly
since I read C. L. R. James' "Black Jacobins" nearly half
a cntury ago. Since then, I have had many Haitian friends, most of them
refugees from the persecutions of the Duvaliers. I went to Haiti in
1964 in an unsuccessful attempt to interview Papa Doc. I returned in
1996 when CARIMAC ‚the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication
‚ and the PANOS Institute began a programme for training journalists
after the first restoration of President Aristide.
I have met President Aristide twice and I have read two of his books
‚ his autobiography and "In the Parish of the Poor". I have a tremendous
respect for this man and for his country and the movement which he leads,
all unmercifully libelled by the so-called Free Press of the Free World.
In one of my earliest columns about Haiti this year, I quoted a report
by David Gonzalez about on an American doctor named Paul Farmer who
founded a clinic in Haiti in 1980 and had been there ever since.
Farmer was quoted as saying "One of the world's most powerful countries
is taking on one of the most impoverished," he said of the United States
decision to withholdÝ aid. "I object to that on moral grounds. Anybody
who presides over this blockade needs to know the impact here already."
I was fascinated by the sound of Dr Farmer and I quoted him again the
"... there's no topsoil left in a lot "of the country, there are
no jobs, people are dying of AIDS and coughing their lungs out with
TB, and the poor don't have enough to eat. These are problems in the
here and now. Something has to beÝ done. Haiti is flat broke" This quotation
came from an American writer named Tracy Kidder whose piece on Haiti
I read in The Nation. A few weeks later, Tracy Kidder sent me by airmail,
his book on Paul Farmer ‚ Mountains Beyond Mountains‚ which won a Politzer
Prize a year ago. As Kidder says, Farmer is not only out to heal Haiti
but the world. Now that I'm in touch with both men by email I can say
that my life has been immeasurably enriched by my contact with them,
even though we have never met, physically.
Farmer's clinic is not in Port au Prince, the capital, but out in the
bush‚ in a place that seemed to Tracy Kidder like "the end of the earth,
in what was in fact one of the poorest parts of the poorest country
in the Western Hemisphere. I felt I'd encountered a miracle."
Indeed he had, as became clear to him over days and months an years
in which he and Paul Farmer have become close friends and allies.
"In Haiti, I knew, per capita incomes came to a little more than one
American dollar a day, less than that in the central plateau [site of
the clinic] And here, in one of the most impoverished diseased, eroded
and famished regions of Haiti, there was this lovely walled citadel,
Zanmi Lasante. I wouldnít have thought it much less improbable if Iíd
been told it had been brought by spaceship. Kidder described the policies
of the clinic: Everyone had to pay, that is, except for almost everyone.
And no one ‚ Farmer's rule, could be turned away."
It would be insane to attempt to try to condense Kidder's wonderful
book, or the facts of Paul Farmerís life and work. But you may gauge
some of Farmer's effect. Zanmi Lasante built schools, houses, communal
sanitation and water systems throughout its catchment area. It vaccinated
all the children, greatly reduced malnutrition and infant mortality,
launched programmes for womenís literacy and the prevention of HIV/AIDS,
reduced the rate for HIV transmission from mother to child to 4% about
half the current rate in the US. "In Haiti, tuberculosis killed more
adults than any other disease, but no one in Zanmi Lasanteís catchment
area had died from it since 1988."
I am moved by the story of this man ‚ a white American ‚who set out
to help a few poor, black villagers and started an unstoppable movement.
Because, not content with his work in Haiti, Farmer is on a more or
less successful campaign to reduce the cost of drugs for the treatment
of intractable diseases in the Third World He has thi revolutionary
belief that every human being, no matter how poor, is entitled to adequate
And with all the time he spends walking up hill and down gully in Haiti
and travelling the world to influence drug companies and governments,
Farmer still has time to be a very effective Professor of Medical Anthropology
at Harvard. Most of his salary plus money he begs from people and foundations,
goes into his work. He was thrown out of Haiti when President Aristide
was first deposed a decade ago and despite the attentions of the army,
his clinic survived, though most of its programmes, literacy, vaccination
etc. were seriously interrupted.
They were again interrupted by the latest usurpation of power. But farmer
and his Haitian and Cuban doctors and staff believe that they can overcome
even that, even after the recent killer floods. In Peru, where Farmer
has had a great deal of influence, his students and others have gone
a long way to obliterating multidrug resistant TB.
With all this, FarmerÝ finds time to write learned articles helping
to revolutionize the treatment ofÝ dangerous diseases all over the world,
and also to be an unabashed partisan of justice for Haiti . He is the
author of many books, including "The Uses of Haiti" and most recently,
"Pathologies of Power." He was awarded the American Medical Association's
"Outstanding International Physician Award" in 2002.
" I believe that his story, and his writings about Haiti, demonstrate
one incontrovertible fact: one person, one man or woman, armed with
a true sense of duty can change the world."
Margaret Mead said it well:"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful
committed citizens can change the world, Indeed it's the only thing
that ever has."
Copyright 2004 by John Maxwell
Children of Prometheus
John Maxwell, Sept. 13, 2008
The modern world was invented in the
Two hundred years ago the Haitians defeated the armies of Europe's major
powers, Napoleon's France (twice), Britain and Spain, destroying slavery
and precipitating the birth of capitalism, destroying European empire
in the Western hemisphere and helping launch the United States as a
world power. And they promulgated, for the first time on Earth, the
reality of universal human rights.
The Haitians have been paying for their temerity ever since.
Fifty years ago, the Cubans threw off the neocolonial yoke, outlawed
capitalism in Cuba and successfully asserted the right of any country,
no matter how small to choose its own path to development. In the process
the Cubans reordered Gorge Canning's boast that he had brought a new
world into being to redress the balance of the old: The Cubans completed
the liberation of Africa dealing a death blow to apartheid and the repulsive
doctrine of ethnic difference and superiority.
For their sins the Cubans and Haitians continue to be punished, the
Haitians by slow motion genocide, by compound interest and by state
terrorism, by armed banditry in support of criminal monopolists and
by the kidnapping of their elected leader. The Cubans have been punished
by terrorism, by invasion, by biological warfare and by a brutal and
illegal economic blockade.
The two peoples nearest us – to whom most of the hemisphere owe
their freedom – are punished as Prometheus was for stealing divine
fire and giving it to ordinary mortals. Zeus punished Prometheus when
he finally caught up with him, by having him chained to a rock –
perhaps in South Ossetia !, where a vulture would come to feast on Prometheus'
liver, magically regenerated overnight.
Nature has dealt the Haitians and Cubans some serious blows. These blows
are so many and so devastating that some people have begun to question
whether what is happening is entirely natural.
Does someone ‘own’ the weather?
Cuba's fertile province of Pinar del Rio, which grows everything from
plantain to the worlds' best tobacco, has been hit 14 times in 8 years
by hurricane or storm. Comparing the strike rate over the last century
suggests that global warming or some other force is tormenting Cuba.
‘I have never seen anything as painful …’
Dr Paul Farmer, an American physician, medical anthropologist and Harvard
professor has spent about half his adult life dedicated to healing the
world, especially Haiti the poorest country in the hemisphere. When
the first storms broke over Haiti, Paul was in Rwanda, doing what he
does all over the world, setting up systems to help ordinary people
help heal themselves and their neighbors. He dashed back to Haiti from
which he reported on Wednesday “…we need food, water, clothes,
and, especially, cash (which can be converted into all of the above)—so
that Zanmi Lasante (ZL), and thus all of us, can do our part to save
lives and preserve human dignity.
"The need is enormous. After 25 years spent working in Haiti and
having grown up in Florida, I can honestly say that I have never seen
anything as painful as what I just witnessed in Gonaïves—except
in that very same city, four years ago. Again, you know that 2004 was
an especially brutal year, and those who work with PIH know why: the
coup in Haiti and what would become Hurricane Jeanne. Everyone knows
that Katrina killed 1,500 in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, but
very few outside of our circles know that what was then Tropical Storm
Jeanne, which did not even make landfall in Haiti, killed an estimated
2,000 in Gonaïves alone."
Paul Farmer thought he would have found organizations and institutions
working on disaster relief. Instead, Farmer's health care organisation
– Partners in Health (Zanmi Lasante in Haitian) have been forced
into the front line. PIH is a network of locally directed organizations
working in 10 countries to attack poverty and inequality and bring the
fruits of modernity—healthcare, education, etcetera—to people
marginalized by adverse social forces.
In Haiti they have now been forced into a different role -- which is
why Paul Farmer is apologizing to his staff and friends for asking for
money, food and other resources.
" … we saw not a single first-aid station or proper temporary
shelter. We saw, rather, people stranded on the tops of their houses
or wading through waist-deep water; we saw thousands in an on-foot exodus
south toward Saint-Marc
Farmer is appealing desperately for help against a background of official
ignorance and failure.
"A speedy, determined relief effort could save the lives of tens
of thousands of Haitians in Gonaïves and all along the flooded
coast. The people of that city and others have been stranded without
food or water or shelter for three days and it's simply not true that
they cannot be reached. When I called to say as much to friends working
with the U.S. government and with disaster-relief organizations based
in Port-au-Prince, it became clear that, as of yesterday, there's not
a lot of accurate information leaving Gonaïves, although estimates
of hundreds of deaths are not hyperbolic."
Part of the problem in Haiti is that the American managed coup against
President Aristide was a coup against democratic community organizations
as well. The Haiti Democracy Project, USAID and John McCain's International
Republican Institute calculated that they would fatally undermine Aristide
by destroying the grassroots organisations. What they did was to destroy
the Haitians' capacity to help themselves.
Evacuating the population of Jamaica
Cuba is organized as a mutual aid society in which every citizen has
his responsibilities, his duties and his place. When hurricanes threaten
Cuba, people move out of the way guided by the neighbourhood Committees
for the Defense of the Revolution –CDR. They move the old and
the young, the sick and the healthy and their cats, dogs, parrots, their
goats, donkeys and cows, to safe places.
Here is a truly incredible fact. Last week the Cubans moved 2,615,000
people – a number nearly equivalent to the entire population of
Jamaica, to safety. Four people died in the storm, the first fatalities
for years. It is a remarkable statistic.
Three years ago when Texas tried to evacuate a million or so ahead of
hurricane Rita more than a hundred people died in the evacuation.
The hurricanes hitting Cuba this year have been peculiarly destructive,
Gustav leaving behind wreckage which reminded Fidel Castro of the wreckage
Cuba needs food, not because of poverty –as in Haiti, but because
its crops have been devastated and food stores destroyed. When the Cubans
asked the Americans to allow them to buy supplies from the US, Condoleezza
Rice said no!
The Cubans were not asking for charity.
Some of us have long suspected that for some Americans, ideology was
more important than humanity.
That celebrated rhetorical question in the Bible has now been answered
by Secretary Rice:
If your brother asks for bread, will you give him a stone?
The essence of being human is that other humans recognize your humanity,
I, and probably many others, are unable to recognize Ms. Rice as human.
It is savagely ironic, or, perhaps, barbarically ironic that it is the
Cubans who should be treated in this way. When people are in trouble
anywhere in the world the Cubans send help no matter what the state
of relations is with their governments, to Honduras, Guatemala and Pakistan
among others. When Katrina hit the US the Cubans organized a 1,500 strong
medical brigade which would have saved many lives, had their help been
But, as the Bible says, let the dead bury their dead.
We need to organize to help as many people as possible survive the effects
of the hurricanes.
We need to organize funds for Haiti and food for Cuba.
I would hope that this newspaper organizes a relief fund for our worst
hit neighbours and I will offer what I can, $10,000.
I would urge us to demonstrate our sympathy and solidarity by giving
as much as we can, no matter how small.
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell
Ravaged environment keeps Haiti at risk
By JACQUELINE CHARLES, Miami
Herald, Oct. 14, 2008
Plush mansions and concrete shacks perch precariously on the hillside
of this steep green mountaintop retreat, miles from the storm-ravaged
cities of Cabaret and Gonaives.
With the brick-red topsoil quickly eroding and few trees to hold what's
left, a heavy downpour can easily trigger a landslide, sending the hills
crashing down, washing away homes, uprooting crops.
Haiti's crumbling hillsides have made the country vulnerable to flash
floods and lethal landslides, but that vulnerability has come into sharp
focus recently, following four consecutive killer storms in less than
Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike cut trails of death and destruction through
this already impoverished nation, leaving hundreds dead, thousands homeless
and a coastal town in the northwestern corner buried in mud from floodwaters.
Haphazard farming techniques, poorly constructed homes on unregulated
land, years of neglecting rivers and storm canals, lax enforcement of
environmental laws -- have all left Haiti's landscape in a particularly
fragile state. Even heavy rain showers can create havoc.
The United States Agency for International Development estimates that
only 1.5 percent of Haiti is still forested, compared to 60 percent
in 1923 and 28 percent in the neighboring Dominican Republic today.
Approximately 30 million trees are cut down annually in Haiti, according
to the USAID.
''The whole country is facing an ecological disaster,'' said Haiti's
new prime minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis. ``We cannot keep going
on like this. We are going to disappear one day. There will not be 400,
500 or 1,000 deaths. There are going to be a million deaths.''
Waterlogged Gonaives, sitting like a bowl on a flat plain between the
ocean and barren mountains, only tells part of the story of Haiti's
As Tropical Storm Hanna pounded the port city last month, Pierre-Louis
and a government convoy tried to reach there.
They couldn't get through.
''On the road there, we almost died,'' Pierre-Louis said.
Boulders crashed down the mountainside, bringing a cascade of muddy
Two of the government SUVs were washed out by the water on the Nacional,
the road connecting the capital of Port-au-Prince to Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.
''You could see all this water falling down with rocks and mud,'' Pierre-Louis
She ended up traveling to the devastation by air.
''Everyone is talking about Gonaives and Cabaret, but people forget
this is a national catastrophe,'' said Arnaud Dupuy of the United Nation's
Development Program with responsibility for the environment.
``Port-au-Prince one day will suffer the same fate. There are bidonvilles
[shantytowns] in the hills, the mountains are deforested, all of the
ravines and canals are obstructed, clogged with plastic bottles.''
This is not the first time Haiti has been wracked by natural disaster.
Last year, 20 people died in Cabaret after the Betel River burst over
During Hurricane Ike last month, the same river swelled and killed more
than a dozen children with its raging floodwaters.
In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed an estimated 3,000 Haitians, most
in Gonaives, when the three rivers leading into the city roiled down
the denuded mountains loaded with boulders and muck.
'With all of these disasters happening now, we have to ask, `What have
we been doing wrong?' '' said environmentalist Jane Wynne, who has spent
her life trying to get Haitians to change their lifestyles to help the
country avoid devastation.
Wynne, who was born and raised in Haiti, has transformed her terraced
hillside slope into an ecological reserve of bamboos and shrubs that
''can save Haiti,'' she said.
She learned the technique under the tutelage of her father, a U.S.-born
civil engineer who moved to Haiti in the 1920s.
Wynne is among a handful of conservationists here who have been waging
an uphill battle to help save the countryside from deforestation.
She shows schoolchildren and farmers how to terrace properly to keep
slopes from crumbling during downpours.
She also shows how to turn recycled paper into briquettes, an alternative
fuel source to charcoal.
''The main problem is the erosion of the soil, the way the people take
care of the earth. They work it with no respect,'' she said.
In addition, the country's protected forests and reserves have been
mismanaged and cut down to be used for fuel. Now, a once lush countryside
is embarking on disaster.
''They build houses in the riverbed, in the ravines, where the current
should go,'' Wynne said. ``When the water goes down, it's blocked by
To illustrate her point, Wynne takes visitors on a brief tour of Kenscoff.
Here, onion and spinach farms are planted along the slanted slopes.
Although they appear to be terraced, they are not, she says, pointing
to where the soil is beginning to turn brown and barren.
She points to a farm where the peasants have built canals or ''exits''
instead of ditches to hold the water and channel it away from crops.
The ditches also would serve to keep runoff from the mountainside from
picking up speed.
''This is the problem of Haiti,'' Wynne said. ``They build exits all
over the hillsides. The exits wash the soil down.''
Ditches are needed to catch the runoff.
When the runoff picks up speed, ''this is where it does the damage,''
Wynne said. ``You should never let runoff water pick up speed.''
The reef-fringed island of La Gonave, off the coast of Port-au-Prince,
stands as a testament for how proper watershedding can halt destruction.
When Tropical Storm Hanna dumped torrential rains on the denuded hills
for six hours last month, the island received only a downstream trickle
instead of the usual flash floods.
The area benefited from a $10 million USAID watershed project grant
in May 2008.
In exchange for food, World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization,
recruited locals to build a series of parallel walls descending the
mountain, thus slowing the cascading floodwaters.
''Nobody died. Crops were saved,'' said Rachel Wolff of World Vision.
At one time, Haitians respected the land. But an exploding population
and deepening poverty have created a vicious cycle.
It is not at all uncommon to hear among the poorest that if they don't
cut down the trees or farm on the slopes, their children will die of
Until recently, Haiti's governments have lacked the political will to
address its environmental problems, even as legislators passed laws
instituting forest brigades and USAID poured millions of dollars into
But two decades of trying to raise awareness on the importance of conserving
the environment seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
''The more poverty increases, the more erosion increases,'' said Dupuy,
with the UN Development Program.
``There is no management of the territory, no employment to give people
jobs. So you have a mass of people who are deep in poverty and what
do they do? They tap the environment for revenues by cutting down trees
All of that accelerates disaster, he said.
Dupuy sees the recent devastation as an opportunity for Haiti to reclaim
''There is an opportunity to build back better, to reconstruct the city
and avoid rebuilding the vulnerability,'' Dupuy said. ``If we don't
seize this opportunity, it will happen again and again with a greater
Following 2004's Tropical Storm Jeanne, the international community
pledged millions of dollars to dredge the rivers and to create watershed
projects in Gonaives.
Very little was done, and government officials are still trying to research
where the money went.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what the government will do about Gonaives,
Haiti's city of independence that is all but destroyed today, encased
in more than 105 million cubic feet of mud.
Pierre-Louis, who officially became prime minister two days before the
fourth hurricane battered Haiti, says it's time for everyone, the government
included, to get serious about saving the environment.
She speaks of passing laws and erecting billboards throughout the country
that warn ``You Cannot Build Here.''
She even goes as far as saying that people should be arrested and homes
demolished if they don't abide by the law.
''It's time for us Haitians . . . to start thinking about what are we
going to do so that so this does not happen again,'' Pierre-Louis said.