The road to Jacmel is paved with good intentions – in fact, it is the best-paved road in all of Haiti. I was told that the road was built by France as a friendship gift to Haiti, but Haitians don’t see it as enough repayment for all that France has taken from Haiti since colonial times. Centuries ago, when France herded African slaves to Haiti to work in the sugar cane plantations, they filled the slave ships returning to France with Haiti’s precious tropical timber. Thus began Haiti’s deforestation, from which it has never recovered.
Once outside the congestion of Port au Prince, you begin the ascent into the southern mountains. The air begins to clear. The ride is lovely as we wind past towns and villages where efforts at reforestation are clearly visible. The southern mountains are far greener than the larger central mountain range on the way to the central plateau.
We are on our way to Jacmel to meet with Gerald Mathurin of KROS (Kordinasyon Rejyonal Oganysasyon Sides). KROS is one of the organizations that are working together to build a national coalition of peasant organizations. The idea is similar to the National Family Farm Coalition, which brings together small farmer organizations into an advocacy coalition, although this is a world away from the U.S. reality.
We arrive at the KROS office which is a large training center outside the city of Jacmel. The complex is shared by local cooperatives – KROS member organizations – that produce honey, coffee, natural fertilizers, and products based on sugar cane, among other things.
KROS is knitting together local community associations – peasants, fisherfolk, women and youth – across the three arrondissements or counties of the Dept. of the Southeast. « Our goal is to create regional representative bodies that can actively negotiate and determine the shape of development projects across Haiti’s southeast, » Mathurin says. « We also hope to create a regional development bank overseen by representatives of the local associations. » As a first step, KROS is linking community revolving loan associations and credit societies in a regional network.
Gerald also tells us about KROS’ « model schools » program. KROS builds schools and develops curriculum in key areas, not only in response to community demands but as a way to show the government what can be done – and should be done — by the government, since public education is badly lacking in Haiti.
« Perhaps the most important thing we’re trying to do, » Mathurin observes, is « citizenship for the peasants. » What he means is not specific citizenship rights for the Haitian rural majority in and of itself, but rebuilding the image of peasants in the national consciousness as a valued and productive sector of society.