Today, we visited a neighbourhood in the upper Delmas Road section of Port au Prince, called Jacquet. It’s an area where residents have begun to take the organizing of their community into their own hands, led by young people who do not necessarily come out of the Lavalas political parties of ousted President Aristide and the current President Preval.
The young people recently took the initiative to organize a primary school to serve young people in the neighbourhood. The school operates on next to no budget and salaries, and classroom content favors inclusive teaching methods with a strong component of Haitian history.
The community has also taken the lead in organizing weekly clean-ups of garbage and litter. There are still some wrinkles to work out, as the city has not always come through in a timely way with pick up of the resulting pile of trash.
The community has organized an association to coordinate the volunteer efforts and to give local residents a voice. It is called “Societe djol ensemble”, something like, “Association to get together and talk.”
According to an American journalist with whom I talked today, popular campaigns and organizations such as this one are beginning to emerge across the city. But he travels regularly to Venezuela and says there is a world of difference between what is happening in the two countries. In Venezuela, new forms of popular power are emerging; that is not the case in Haiti. The trauma of the 1991 and 2004 coups is deep and has caused considerable damage.
Today is a national holiday in Haiti. The streets are full of people relaxing and having a good time. Many market stalls are open. It was a pleasure to walk through them. What is often distressing to see here is that the streets are ALWAYS full of people, and that’s not a good thing. It’s because so many do not have work. The estimated rate of unemployment is 80%, and this is the number one concern that Haitians will voice to an enquiring foreigner. Thanks to several centuries of racism and foreign domination, Haiti is a society of enforced idleness.
There is an optimism that prevails nonetheless. Many take encouragement from the support that Venezuela and Cuba offer.
Haiti recently attended its first meeting of the Petrocaraibe association. I am told that Haiti will still pay the world price for oil to Venezuela under the program. However, it will receive 20% of that back in the form of credits to be used is social programs. Other Pertrocaraibe countries receive a greater credit. A union leader I asked guessed that the ALBA (Latin America’s alternative economic association, led by Cuba and Venezuela) receive a larger credit than Haiti. When I asked about the prospects for Haiti to join ALBA, the union leader’s reply was “Not under Preval, and not while MINUSTAH (the United Nations occupation force) is still here.”