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Haitian leaders call for land and housing rights

February 2012

Two years following the earthquake, community-based organizations in Haiti are still advocating for the same changes and considerations as they did last year, namely land and housing rights, respect for national sovereignty in the reconstruction process and aid accountability.

Grassroots International partners in Haiti commemorated the January 12, 2010 earthquake through marches and demonstrations throughout Port-au-Prince. People who normally live in rural Haiti trekked to the capital to voice their concerns and demand changes. The Peasant Movement of Papaye, marched through the capitol as part of the “Je nan Je” or “Eye to Eye” platform, a collective of Haitian organizations committed to land and housing rights and aid accountability. Participants called for housing rights for earthquake victims and protested the taking of farmland for free trade zones and agrofuel production. (Industrial farming of jatropha—a supposedly green, renewable energy source for overseas markets, poisons the soil and displaces rural communities.) The 15,000-strong march snaked through Port-au-Prince ending at the steps of parliament where platform leaders handed members of parliament a Charter of Demands in favor of housing rights, land reclamation, and farmer-friendly agrarian reform.   Grassroots partners, Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) and Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), marked the 2-year anniversary of the earthquake through a series of events, which began on January 9 with a press conference featuring camp residents. The press conference was an opportunity for camp residents to speak, in their own voice, to the conditions they face in the camps and describe how those conditions violate their human rights. In addition to the press conference, POHDH and PAPDA coordinated cultural activities (including theater, poetry and storytelling) to educate people about rights to housing, and sponsored a public debate at the State University of Haiti. POHDH and PAPDA concluded these events with a right to housing march in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2012, in which a cross section of civil society, including camp residents, participated.  In the U.S., from January 23 through January 25, 2012, Representatives Frederica Wilson (FL), Yvette Clarke (NY), Barbara Lee (CA), Donald Payne (NJ) and Maxine Watters (CA) co-sponsored multiple briefings on Capitol Hill in partnership with the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG). HAWG is a network of over 30 international development, human rights, and faith-based organizations of which Grassroots International is a founding member. The briefings brought together Haiti-based grassroots organizations, their U.S.-based allies, the Haitian Diaspora, USAID, Centers for Disease Control, representatives from the State Department and World Bank to discuss the reconstruction process. An underlying theme which emerged during these conversations is the importance of social and economic justice in the reconstruction process.   Haitian grassroots leaders highlighted the historical injustices that have resulted in under-development in rural areas while creating over-crowding and shantytowns in Port-au-Prince. During a panel on Land and Housing Rights, Grassroots partners, Doudou Pierre of the National Congress of Papaye Peasant Movement (MPNKP) and National Coalition for Food Security and Food Sovereignty (RENHASSA) and Antonal Mortime of POHDH both noted that Haiti’s land and housing crisis predates the earthquake, although it was exacerbated by it. In his remarks Mortime emphasized that “Rampant social and economic inequality are the roots causes of many problems in Haiti, especially land and housing rights.”   Similarly, Pierre remarked that today, “94 percent of small, peasant farmers in Haiti do not have rights to land.” Without rights to land, access to agricultural credit and government investment in rural infrastructure Haitian farmers cannot realize their full productive capacities. Pierre went on to argue that “Haiti’s national sovereignty is intimately tied to food sovereignty, but food sovereignty cannot be achieved without agricultural investments or where agricultural land is being consumed by non-food producing industries.”

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