Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"Bodies being eaten by dogs in the street'

A YOUNG internationally-known human rights campaigner and aid worker has made a brief but shocking appeal from Haiti in a letter to friends. Caoimhe Butterly, from Ireland, has worked in occupied Palestine -where she was shot by Israeli troops, and in Lebanon, as well as with homeless families in New York. Now she is in Haiti with the Turkish NGO IHH. Caoimhe writes:

" Should have written more but the situation here is actually horrific- and nothing is really moving..People hungry, wounded, grieving, homeless and desperate and the larger humanitarian organisations are completely failing in responding to what is going to become a full-blown crisis.

Bodies are still rotting or being eaten by dogs in the streets, and hundreds of thousands of people are sleeping in the streets and in make-shift camps of plastic sheeting. Many areas outside of the capital have not received any relief or medical teams since the earthquake and even the situation in the capital is desperate. And so many stories- entire families wiped out- and hurried burials in mass graves/ burning of bodies unclaimed in the streets means that many still wait for confirmation of their loved ones deaths..

If you guys know anyone coming here, please give them my number- we're working at St Clare's Church and Fathiyeh Mosque co-ordinating a more grassroots network of distribution and medical teams to the camps and there is need for medical personnel, medical equipment and supplies".

Caoimhe's concern as to whether aid is reaching people who desperately need it is shared by another witness. On 31 January 2010 22:59, Flavia Cherry, chair of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), wrote the following description of her experience in Port-au-Prince:

"It is good to see that some efforts are being made to reach women in desperate need, but those of us on the ground are yet to see this happen in many of the areas where there is desperate need for food and relief. Aid agencies MUST find a more humane way to reach out to the women and children who are most vulnerable and desperate. I know that the need is great, (but) there is no excuse for what is the reality on the ground here in Haiti, as Caribbean citizens offered help and many have even been denied entry. It is obvious that the aid agencies (well intentioned as they may be) are unable to handle the scale of the problem here in Haiti. So why are they not being inclusive and involving more Haitian and Caribbean institutions in the relief and recovery efforts? Something is very wrong about the picture here in Haiti because while international agencies are dropping the ball in an attempt to monopolize aid efforts, Haitians are dying. Apart from lines for women, there is an urgent need for volunteers to go into the camps to reach women, children, disabled and elderly people who are unable to move.

It is a disgrace for so much money to be circling around to all kinds of aid groups, and every single day I see so many people hungry, desperate. This situation is simply not acceptable. There are women in camps who have not had anything to eat for days. There are many available Hatians who are willing to assist as volunteers to get the aid to those who need it, and CARICOM was willing to send help, but something seems to be really wrong. Why are Caribbean Governments not allowed to play a more pivotal role, especially as there are many CARICOM citizens and regional security officers who speak Creole and would be able to communicate better with the people of Haiti.

What I see on the ground is lots of big fancy air-conditioned vehicles moving up and down with foreigners, creating more dust and pollution on the roads. Thousands of millitary officers everywhere, heavily armed
like they are in some kind of battle zone. The girl guides and boy scouts of Haiti are also out in their uniforms, but unlike the army of troops, they are up and about, assisting in many ways. I saw of group of the boy scouts and girl guides directing traffic today, Sunday!

From the very beginning, I have been asking why aid agencies did not arrange separate lines for women, children and disabled people. It is obvious that if you leave people hungry for 5 to 8 days without food,
they will be desperate and when food finally arrives, it will be survival of the fittest. The international agencies allowed confusion to reign supreme for more than two weeks while sensational and racist
media people were merrily portraying images of hungry people fighting for food. At least now that they have suddenly realized the need for separate lines, I hope that this happens at every single distribution
point, because as I am writing this email, that certainly is NOT the case."

The United States military has taken control of Haiti's ports and airport, not the first time it has occupied the country, but 'military efficiency' does not seem to br0ught much benefit to the suffering people. The way in which powerful governments are more interested in gaining military, political and economic advantages out of Haiti's suffering, and the reported tardiness of big aid bureaucracy, contrast with ready human response of ordinary people and skilled professionals from around the world.

In the United States, Haitians and American supporters have a Haiti Emergency Relief Fund which is channelling aid to trade union and grass-roots organisations in Haiti, and sent a truckload of medical supplies to the Airistide Foundation in Port au Prince. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez announced that he would write off the undisclosed sum Haiti owes Venezuela for oil. And in a reminder of the old saying that it's the poor that help the poor, we read of of money being raised for Haiti in Gaza, and funds being diverted by popular agreement that had been intended for Daheisha refugee camp in the West Bank.

In London, singer Billy Bragg will be joined tonight by Cuban salsa dancers Son Mas and Omar Puente, poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze and others in a Concert for Haiti being held at the TUC's Congress House. But if you haven't got your ticket too late - I hear it has been completely sold out. For once it's a TUC sell-out we won't complain about!

Trade unionists are endeavouring to get funds to sisters and brothers working in the Haitian trade union movement, rather than trust governments and government-run organisations.

The urgent need to get aid to the people of Haiti now is not blinding people to the history of plunder and exploitation which impoverished this state, nor preventing them discerning another application of the "shock doctrine", previously seen in New Orleans and Iraq among other places, by which powerful capitalist interests and 'neo-liberal' crusaders hope to use wars and natural disasters to impose their will on helpless peoples. At least the dogs on the street are only driven by their own hunger.

Brent Trades Union Council in North-West London is hoping to have a speaker on Haiti at its AGM on Wednesday evening, February 24. Watch out for more information on:

There is also a public meeting in central London next week:

Thursday 11 February 2010
Brockway Room, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square
London WC1

* Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide,
and the Politics of Containment

* Selma James, writer and solidarity activist, Global Women's

* Nick Dearden, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign

Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, freed as a result of an inspiring slave revolt. Yet it has been subject to domination ever since, from US occupations, to the crippling 135-year debt imposed by former colonial master France, to Western-backed dictatorships and IMF-imposed free market economic 'reforms'.

Now, as US troops patrol the country, free market economists are seeing new opportunities to privatise and 'restructure' Haiti's economy, while its external debts have still not been cancelled by rich donors.
The 'shock doctrine' looks to be striking again.

Join the discussion about what solidarity we can offer to those in Haiti seeking an alternative future.
Organised by the Radical Activist Network, [2]

(thanks to Mike Phipps for passing on message from Caiomhe and information from RAN)

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