Sunday, March 06, 2011

Haiti and Healing

I know it's hard to take time away from what's happening in the Middle East, but if you can, spare a little time to come and take a look at what's happening in Haiti. Maybe there's something to be learned there about not letting ex-dictators retire with impunity, no? Just before protests started to unfold in Tunisia and Egypt, Baby Doc Duvalier had returned to Haiti. Amnesty International released this video as a reminder of the legacy of human rights violations from the Duvalier era and has called for investigations into those abuses:

Amy Wilentz (Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and Now) was interviewed by NPR regarding his return and offered up some insight in the Nation Haiti: Not for Amateurs,
Rainy Season: Haiti-Then and NowLost in the uproar over the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier to Haiti and his to-ing and fro-ing from hotel to courthouse to hotel to mountain home, is the much more important political crisis. On election day in November, only 22.3 percent of Haiti’s eligible voters cast their ballots in what turned out to be an election plagued with fraud. The reason for the low turnout was apathy, coupled with the catastrophic loss of identity papers in the earthquake of January 2010. Given the miserable conditions of so many Haitians since the earthquake, the anemic turnout provided resounding evidence that Haitians don’t believe their vote matters.

And they are right...
More Haiti commentary from Amy Wilentz at the Los Angeles Times and CNN.

Haiti Noir (Akashic Noir)Edwidge Danticat, as always, has been putting out more books and commentary about Haiti.  See the story collection she has edited, Haiti Noir and her book of essays, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, which you can also listen to as part of Princeton's Toni Morrison Lecture Series.  And if that's not enough there is a childrens book about the earthquake: Eight Days (more on that from NPR).  In the New Yorker, she reflects on the anniversary of the quake, see also the Miami Herald (recovery is a Sisyphean task). And for more of her insights on how art and literature contribute to the healing of a nation see this wide-ranging interview at Guernica,
Guernica: I remember being fascinated as a young girl in Port-au-Prince by what people in the streets would turn into art pieces—using a small stone, a chacha branch, whatever was available to them as canvas. Haitians truly have art in their soul.
Edwidge Danticat: Yes, it shows you that art will not be denied. Think of the daily functions of art in Haiti. The lottery stands. The tap tap camions. It’s all covered with beautiful art. My friend, the painter Ronald Mevs, used to say that Haitians are born surrealists. We are doing collage all the time, in daily life as well as in our art. So old oil drums become metal sculpture and old carnation milk cans become lamps, called tèt gripads, like bald-headed girls. Art is our communal dream.
Guernica: How has Haitian art changed peoples’ perception of Haiti?
Edwidge Danticat: People sometimes think they know Haiti through what they have seen in the news. When they see a piece of art that we’ve produced, listen to a song, or read a piece of literature that we’ve written, we become closer to them. We are now part of them when the art stays with them. They then come closer to meeting us, and closer to the different layers of who and what we are.
And finally see this LAT interview with Paul Farmer, who we read about in Tracy Kidder's Mountains beyond Mountains for more on the health of Haiti,
Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader (California Series in Public Anthropology)
Q: Was all the money donated after the earthquake put to good use?

Farmer: The $2 billion that came in after the earthquake, almost none of it went to the public sector. That was earthquake relief, not reconstruction. The relief monies were used in a pretty good manner. I don’t think people need to feel bad about the relief -- a lot of medical care, a lot of people who lost homes. It’s the reconstruction that’s the problem. It’s rebuilding. That money, a lot of it is tied up, it’s quite literally tied to aid or tied to some conditionality and hasn’t arrived yet. Schools, roads, water, hospital systems. We regard the Mirebalais hospital as reconstruction, not relief.
Dahl: That’s where more of the focus has to go. But I do think people get stuck, almost creating a rut in the ground saying the money hasn’t been well spent so we shouldn’t release any more money. We don’t think the Haitian people deserve this at all. It takes a while to rebuild. If you want to, there are all sorts of ways to do things like monitor how money’s being spent.

Q: Will the return of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier have any impact on the work you do and the reconstruction?
Farmer: I have no idea. It just seems to add more turmoil. I can’t see anything good that would come out of it unless there’s accounting for crimes.
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