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Witness to Broken Promises in Haiti

PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI. What if one of our notorious Hoosier storms violently destroyed your entire neighborhood, killing scores, and leaving you and your neighbors homeless and penniless?

Imagine that the immediate reaction to this disaster was inspiring, with celebrity-packed telethons being broadcast, leaders of state pledging to rebuild, and rich and poor alike donating to your recovery.

But a year and a half later, you are still homeless. You live in a fetid squatter’s camp made of plastic sheets, scraps of wood, and open sewers. There is no clear plan for you to be relocated to permanent housing, yet you are now slated to be forcibly evicted from even these meager quarters.

You are Haiti.

I am here with Haitian and U.S. human rights lawyers bearing witness to a massive broken promise. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake are still without housing. We visit some of them in a camp called Jgongo, where families are crammed cheek-to-cheek in a make-shift community made up of shacks and tents and broken-down buses and cars.

We walk past temporary toilets that for several months have been “full,” a resident tells us. To both our eyes and our noses, this is a clear understatement. As we move between shelters, we accidentally interrupt a woman forced to squat between two tents to relieve herself. Other women we see are suffering from problematic pregnancies and even open wounds, but are unable to get medical care.

With no sewage system and no source of clean water, it is all too predictable that camp residents are being stricken with some of the hundreds of thousands of cholera cases reported in Haiti since the earthquake. The residents show us multiple shelter sites marked for demolition in keeping with the local Mayor’s pledge to remove them from the site. “This is not much, but where are we to go if we are forced out?,” says one father, standing outside his tent with his family.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. President Barack Obama told the Haitian people after the January 2010 earthquake, "You will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.” The U.S. pledged hundreds of millions in aid, and the UN, the European Union, and seemingly the entire international community followed suit.

Almost 18 months later, only a fraction of the promised money has arrived here.

Since those post-earthquake pledges were delivered, four of five Haitians are now unemployed, the countryside is deforested and eroded, and the dominant international presence here is not home-builders but gun-wielding United Nations troops.

Since those post-earthquake pledges were delivered, the country’s brutal former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, has returned to Haiti, where he cavorts in high-end restaurants and clubs, seemingly immune from prosecution for his U.S.-supported reign of unlawful imprisonments, murders, and stripping clean of the country’s treasury.

Since those post-earthquake pledges were delivered, Haiti’s majority party was barred from the recent presidential election, again with U.S. blessing, disenfranchising most Haitians, especially the poor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. After the earthquake, we told our elected leaders that we cared about the suffering people of Haiti. We told them that we wanted our country to be a supporter of both humanitarian relief and human rights. Our leaders responded.

If they hear we still care enough to insist they make good on their pledges, our leaders will respond for Haiti again.

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