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Sender: o-imap@webmap.missouri.edu
Date: Sun, 8 Dec 96 13:51:13 CST
From: NY Transfer News Collective <nyt@blythe.org>
Subject: This Week in Haiti 14:37 12/4/96
Article: 1985

Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit

Cité Soleil: Government throws oil on fires of frustration

Haiti Progres, This Week in Haiti, Vol.14 no.37, 4–10 December 1996

It is like entering the gates of Hell. Rusted tin and cardboard hovels squat in fetid fields of garbage mixed with human and animal excrement. Hunger-swollen children scamper feverishly down charcoal-dusted alleyways while solemn adults lean listlessly in doorways. Dust, stench and heat hammer the senses. Winding through the shacks and garbage fields is a small canal 8 feet wide, 2 feet deep, and pitch black.

This is Soleil 9, a desperate corner of the giant Cite Soleil slum on the north-western flank of the capital. The toxic black liquid which coats the canal banks and flows sluggishly into the bay of Port-au-Prince is carcinogenic waste motor oil, dumped everyday by the Varreux plant of Electricite d'Haiti (EDH), about one half mile away.

EDH uses the oil to lubricate the giant turbines at Varreux which generates hundreds of kilowatts, going in large part to power the refrigerators and air-conditioners of Haiti's elite in the far- off mountain heights of Petionville, while only a trickle goes to light up a few bare bulbs which dot the dark and smokey slum next door. They never give us any electricity, but every day they send us their oil, quipped one resident.

But at 1 a.m. on Nov. 29, Soleil 9 was lit up -- by a giant oil fire when the canal ignited. Another fire had started on the afternoon of Nov. 27 as well. The two blazes destroyed close to 200 shacks, according to local residents. Many of the tiny ramshackle structures house 8 to 10 people and rent for 125 gourdes ($8.30US) a month.

I lost my home with all my things inside, all my money, explained one distraught woman. All I have left are my 6 children who lived with me in the house and the clothes on my back.

Another victim was a young man from the countryside whose family had sent him to Port-au-Prince to attend school. I had malaria fever and missed the whole month of October, the student explained. Now I've lost everything. The fire burned my uniforms and my books. I have no money at all and I can't ask my parents to send me money again.

But the overwhelming sentiment expressed by residents of Soleil 9 is anger. We have repeatedly called on the Haitian government to help us with this problem, but they ignore us, explained Estin Gilles Williams, a member of the Organization Jeunes Bas Soleil 9 (OJBS9), one of the most active popular organizations in the area. If the government had responded in some way, this might not have happened. They live like humans, while we are forced to live like animals.

The young men in OJBS9 feel that they have been betrayed by the Lavalas government, because they resisted and fought the military rule of the 3 year coup d'etat. Rather than make false promises, the government should just say it's going to do nothing, said another bitter OJBS9 militant. When we protest, they send in the police and call us the 'Red Army.'

Red Army was the spin word which Haitian authorities and the U.S. Embassy and mainstream press coined late last year to characterize popular organizations in Cite Soleil to cast them as dangerous and revolutionary. In fact, there is no Red Army. However, following the U.S. military intervention in Sept. 1994 under the banner of disarmament, Cite Soleil became even more militarized than it was during the coup. On the one hand, Macoutes and putschist henchmen easily hid arms from the cosmetic confiscation drives of the U.S./U.N. troops. With the weapons, ruthless gangs continued to bring crime and violence throughout Port-au-Prince and in particular to victimize the residents of Cite Soleil.

Then, in November 1995, a nationwide disarmament mobilization took place following the ambush killing of Deputy Jean Hubert Feuille and a fiery speech by then President Jean Bertrand Aristide at the National Cathedral castigating the U.S. and U.N. for not carrying out a real disarmament, or even wanting to. Neighborhood vigilance brigades raided dozens of putschist arms caches. The raiders turned over some of the weapons to the police, but, not trusting entirely the police and occupation troops, kept some weapons for self-defense. (Some youths may also have used their newly acquired weapons for crime, which is the picture Haitian government and occupation forces have sought to emphasize.)

In the weeks that followed, Cite Soleil was the scene of several pitched battles between armed youths and police, usually after incidents of police brutality.

Violence flared dramatically last March 6 in Soleil 9, when the Haitian National Police (PNH) descended with guns blazing. Official reports said about 20 people died that day. Residents of Soleil 9 say that more than 40 people were killed in violence which was brutal and arbitrary. For example, in a case of mistaken identity, a policeman executed at point blank range a man who was taking care of his infant daughter. His fly-blown body lay in the street for 4 days.

One of the main leaders of the OBJS9 was Telixson Nexil, who people in the neighborhood had nicknamed Americain because he was always generous in giving money from his pocket, what little he had (in Haiti, American tourists are considered easy marks for beggars). Last May, the police arrested Telixson, along with 3 neighborhood friends -- Telus Dieumaitre, Casseus Jean-Francois, and Wilfrid Jean -- while they were playing dominos at his aunt's house in the northern town of Limbe, which they were visiting. Residents of Soleil 9 say they were charged and convicted on false accusations of being brigands and members of the Red Army. After appearing before Judge Edner Jean-Pierre, the 4 were sentenced to do time in the National Penitentiary, where they are now held.

Macoute soldiers who repressed us during the coup are now high- ranking officers in the new police force, an OBJS9 youth, who did not want to be identified, said. Meanwhile, our leaders, who defend our interests, are put in jail. Is this what we fought and died for during the coup? Is that what they call democracy?

In early December, the residents of Soleil 9 plan to hold a demonstration to demand the release of the OBJS9 members as well as government action to stop the flow of oil - which they call the grease - into the canal.

The direction of EDH has always helped finance the work of cleaning the Boston canal, said a Dec. 2 EDH press release, referring to the U.S. city nickname given this part of Cite Soleil. This year specifically, $18,315 were allocated to this end via the Delmas Mayor's office. Unfortunately, these projects did not achieve the expected results... In pursuit of a definitive solution, EDH is in the process of building a waste receptacle (puisard) to hold the waste petroleum from the Varreux plant.

The people of Soleil 9 view such promises very skeptically, whether coming from EDH or the government. [Prime Minister Rosny] Smarth says that he is going to clean up the grease in the area, explained Williams. But if EDH continues to throw its grease on us, it is like washing one's hands and drying them in the dirt. It would be better if he did nothing and instead found us a new place to live.

Smarth, Social Affairs Minister Pierre Amedee, and Interior Minister Jean Moliere visited Soleil 9 on Nov. 28, after residents denounced government indifference to their plight on the airwaves. However, the visit seemed to only increase resentment. After stepping from their giant jeeps in pressed suits, the ministers heard little of what the people had to say. When the Prime Minister got to the head of the canal, I said 'You see our situation here in Cite Soleil', one outraged woman recounted. The Prime Minister then held his nose and I said to him 'You see how you are holding your nose when you come here just for one day, how you can't even breathe. I live here every single day, morning, noon, and night. Here is where I eat, drink and sleep. So what do you have to say about that, Prime Minister?' But then, the big shots took him and put him in a car and drove away with him.

Other residents felt the visit was entirely hypocritical. It looks like those guys only came because they thought we were going to burn down EDH, shouted another man. Otherwise, those guys never come here. There was even war going on here, and those guys never came. So they didn't come because of this canal.

Ironically, rather than addressing the problem of Haiti's accelerating urbanization, the government of President Rene Preval is aggravating the situation. By implementing foreign dictates such as lowering tariff walls, the government is allowing cheap agricultural imports to flood Haiti and destroy the livelihood of thousands of Haitian peasants, who then have no choice but to pour into the cities - primarily the capital - in search of a way to survive. They pack into shantytowns like Cite Soleil, which are becoming popular time-bombs whose fuses have been lit by neo-liberalism.

The oily canal which snakes through Cite Soleil is poisoning both Haiti's people and its eco-system. The fires are only dramatic warnings about the subtle everyday destruction occurring. Meanwhile the Haitian government remains immobilized to act, due to its fixation on foreign aid to solve every problem. Our government looks only abroad for solutions to our problems here at home, said one OJBS9 militant. They don't have the imagination to use the human resources which are right here. They wish we would just disappear. This situation has to change.