Saturday, September 25, 2010

Haiti Catastrophe Continues

Five dead as storm hits Haiti camps 

Press Association, Saturday September 25 2010

A freak storm has blasted through Haiti's capital, killing at least five earthquake survivors as it tore down trees, billboards and tent homes, authorities said.
Three adults and two children were killed in the tarp, tent and shack camps that still dominate Port-au-Prince more than eight months after the January 12 earthquake, civil protection head Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste told the Associated Press. Several more were injured.
"We are investigating to see how many tents and camps were damaged," Ms Jean-Baptiste said.
The storm passed through the mountain-ringed bowl of the Haitian capital, exposing rubble-filled neighbourhoods to wind and rain at levels far below a sustained tropical storm. But that was enough to provoke panic and chaos, especially in encampments still home to more than 1.3 million people.
Gales sent tarps and poles flying, threw tin roofs into the sky and opened family shacks to falling rain. Wind rattled walls and windows of standing buildings with a clamour reminiscent of the quake itself.
"It was just a storm. Just a wind put us in a corner!" said Bresil Vignion, standing in the wreckage of his family's tin shack in a camp along the Canape-Vert road. "Tonight we don't know where we are going to sleep."
Reports of storm damage and deaths were slow to filter in as mobile phone reception remained degraded hours after the storm passed.
The sudden storm was not associated with any tropical system, Michael Lowry of the US National Hurricane Centre told AP. Meteorologists saw only a low-pressure system move across the Greater Antilles.
But for those living in this ravaged city, where reconstruction has barely begun, it was a forceful reminder of the danger still posed to a vulnerable country by an active Atlantic hurricane season months from being over.
"After what happened today, we hope we don't get a second one like it," said Patricia Pierre-Saint, a 47-year-old phone-card vendor who lost her home, child and husband in the quake.
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Zombies of Haiti (video)

How to Make a Zombie, Haiti-Style

Lee Speigel
Lee Speigel Contributor
(Sept. 21) -- The undead are all around us, and have been for decades.

Zombies are in our mass consciousness, invading art, literature, entertainment and even education. But at the heart of this fear-mongering revolution is a single question: Is it all pure fiction, or are there in fact real zombies?

That depends on your definition of the word "zombie."
'Night of the Living Dead'
Everett Collection
Zombies invade a rural area in the 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead."

For filmmakers in Hollywood, zombies are half-dead figures that lumber toward you with arms outstretched, stinking of rotting flesh. But in Haiti, could zombies be unfortunate victims who have been forced into slavery while under the influence of highly potent drugs?

While movies depict zombies as flesh eaters who spread their affliction like an illness, the voodoo culture and religion of Haiti has its own recipes for making a zombie -- a term derived from the word "Nzambi," meaning "spirit of a dead person" to the Bacongo people of Angola.

A leading theory holds that a voodoo priest, or bokor, is able to concoct a poison that can render a victim weak and appear dead.

"It's not what we see in Hollywood, of course. Strictly speaking, a zombie is a reanimated corpse that's been brought back to life to serve as a slave for a voodoo priest or priestess," said Brad Steiger, one of the most prolific authors of books dealing with unexplained phenomena.

In his recent book, "Real Zombies, the Living Dead and Creatures of the Apocalypse" (Visible Ink Press), Steiger explores the history of reported zombies in the real world.

"I have an account of a man from Miami who went to Haiti and was dancing with a very lovely Haitian lady, and he felt a little prick on his arm and didn't think anything of it. Next thing he knew, he woke up, was still in his suit and tie, but he was soiled and dirty and was holding a hoe in somebody's field.

"But he regained consciousness and managed to make it back to Miami. But this sort of thing still goes on with unscrupulous priests and priestesses. Generally, we're talking about a religion that is followed by 80 million people worldwide."

One man who took a "hands on" approach to the zombie culture is anthropologist Wade Davis. In 1982, Davis infiltrated the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, resulting in his 1985 eye-opening, international best-selling book (and subsequent movie) "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (Random House).

Davis investigated the most famous documented case of a reported real-world zombie, Clairvius Narcisse, who, in 1962, was pronounced dead in a Haitian hospital and later buried.

After 18 years, Narcisse showed up alive and told his story of having been drugged, buried, removed from a grave and put into slavery on a plantation with other men who allegedly shared the same fate.

"We have this case of Narcisse. From all scientific evidence, he was dead, and he came back into the realm of the living," Davis told AOL News. "Precisely because the scientists involved didn't believe in magic, there had to be a material explanation."

Davis explains that the Narcisse incident drew the attention of researchers back to "a series of reports found throughout the popular and academic literature of the reputed existence of a folk poison said to bring on a state of apparent death so profound that it could fool a physician."

Haitian bokors eventually gave Davis samples of the "zombie poison," which led him to zero in on a drug called tetrodotoxin -- the often deadly poison of a puffer fish.

Zombie painting
Image by Ricardo Pustanio
This painting depicts a Haitian zombie, based on numerous accounts of people being turned into mindless slaves by voodoo priests.
"Tetrodotoxin turns out to be a very big molecule that blocks sodium channels in the nerves, bringing on peripheral paralysis, dramatically low metabolic rates and yet consciousness is retained until the moment of death," said Davis.

After a bokor has placed the tetrodotoxin into someone's body, and that person is pronounced dead and subsequently buried, the bokor reportedly unearths the body and applies a chemical paste to keep the unfortunate victim in a zombified, trancelike state.

Presumably, this "undead" person is then used as the bokor's slave labor.

Davis suggests it makes sense that some unscrupulous priests in Haiti would take advantage of such a poison.

"They identified in their environment a natural product -- in this case, a fish -- that had the capability of bringing on a state of apparent death.

"When I collected samples of the poison at several locations and found that these fish were the one consistent ingredient, it struck me that there was really something going on here."

That said, Davis doesn't believe there's an assembly line creating zombies in Haiti.

"What I always suggested in my work was that zombies, as an idea, by definition, exist in Haiti.

"All religion is defined by how people deal with the finality of death and the mystery of what lies beyond," said Davis. "Any phenomenon that walks that line and dances along that edge between life and death is fascinating to us."

Kim Paffenroth, a professor of religious studies at Iona College in Rochester, N.Y., has a slightly different perspective on the religious significance of zombies.

"I was 12 years old when the first 'Dawn of the Dead' film came out, so I had that adolescent male fascination with these things," said Paffenroth, the author of several books on the Bible and theology, including "Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth" (Baylor University Press).

"And when, as an adult, I became interested in religious studies, I started looking at how the darker Christian themes of sin and evil are expressed in literature, art, film and television, and then the zombie stuff sort of made sense to me in a new way."

Paffenroth has an interesting take on why many people believe that zombies (among other ghouls, like vampires) signal a coming Armageddon to our world.

"It's a pretty perennial fear of the fragile nature of civilization. Every time there's an oil spill or a stock market crash, people get anxious, and, if anything, I think these more supernatural ways of dealing with it are a little safer outlet."

Paffenroth sees zombie films as a kind of heavy-handed critique of American society.

"I now realize, as I look at some of the fans out there, they look at zombie movies and they see the message as: 'Well, I need to own more guns, because then I'll be safe.' I can see where, on the surface, that's what the movies are saying, but it's kind of a really literal way to read it."

In his investigations, Steiger has come up with a theory about why zombies are generally depicted in end-of-the-world scenarios.

"A lot of people think the Apocalypse is just around the corner and many of us have been brought up to believe that the dead will raise from their graves on Judgment Day, which is why I think the zombie has reached this incredible surge."

Agree or disagree, it's undeniable that zombies are in the midst of a resurgence, the likes of which hasn't been seen since they emerged from the ground in George Romero's classic 1968 black-and-white thriller "Night of the Living Dead."

Sponsored Links
Whether they're starring in the popular 3-D "Resident Evil: Afterlife" film, playing the lead roles in AMC's upcoming series "The Walking Dead" or even fighting for the right of free speech, zombies are definitely in vogue.

And while there are some who speculate that a real zombie outbreak on Earth would be doomed to failure, there's at least marginal evidence that some form of zombie-ism exists and is taken seriously in Haiti (not to mention the creative minds of filmmakers).

So, the next time you find yourself alone in a field or a dark alley, it would probably be prudent to look over your shoulder -- you never know when you'll be menaced by something that's fairly easy to outrun.
Filed under: Weird News, Crime

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

2010 AOL Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Life In Devastated Haiti

Life In Devastated Haiti
By Stephen Lendman

Nine months after the January 12 earthquake, Haitians still have little relief. Over one and a half million left homeless continue struggling to survive, despite billions in aid raised or pledged. It's for development, predatory NGOs, not them. That's the problem, and they suffering as a result, little media attention paid to their plight.
On September 15, Los Angeles Times writer Joe Mozingo headlined, "No plan in sight for Haiti's homeless," saying:
Where to put them is contentious, reconstruction "hang(ing) on the potentially explosive issue" of who owns the land. For example, pre-quake, tenant farmers used to plant corn and sugar cane on a wealthy family's 20-acre parcel "below the city's main transmission lines of the Delmas 33 road."
"Now an estimated 25,000 people call it home," living in one of many temporary camps, poorly protected against heavy rain, severe weather or hurricanes. When security men try to evict them, they're chased off with "rocks, sticks and machetes."
"It's not like we're comfortable here," says Katlyne Camean. "Last night when it rained, I filled three buckets of water from my house. But no one is telling us where they want us to go. I don't want to go somewhere worse."
They're pitted against an indifferent government, woefully little aid, and conditions unacceptable for anyone, including inadequate food, poor sanitation, little safe drinking water, weather-beaten makeshift shelters, too little of everything needed, no resolution of their homelessness, and the world community turning a blind eye to their plight.
Rubble is everywhere, only 2% of it removed. On September 11, AP's Tamara Lush reported that Port-au-Prince is strewn with "cracked slabs, busted-up cinder blocks, half-destroyed buildings," demolished homes, and "pulverized concrete" on streets and sidewalks. "By some estimates, the quake left about 33 million cubic yards of debris in Port-au-Prince - more than seven times the amount of concrete" used for Hoover Dam.
Overall, it's little different from nine months ago, authorities offering excuses that don't hold water, including little heavy equipment, problems navigating some roads, and few dump sites to put rubble collected.
There's no master plan, says Eric Overvest, the UN Development Program's country director. Also, no one's in charge, Haitian architect Leslie Voltaire saying:
"Everybody is passing the blame on why things haven't happened yet. There should be one person in charge. Resettlement has not even begun yet, and it can't until the city has been cleared."
Allocating funding for other purposes and bureaucratic delays complicate things. Most of all, it's Haiti, the hemisphere's poorest country, exploited ruthlessly for centuries. If a comparable quake struck San Francisco, restoration would begin at once. It takes time, money and commitment, available to well-off White communities, not poor Black ones.
Katrina-ravaged New Orleans residents understand, facing dire conditions five years later, those in Black communities on their own like millions of other poor Americans unaffected by natural disasters. In many respects, their lives are little different, given little aid during dire economic times.
Refugee International (RI) on Haiti
RI "advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises." Its challenge is helping 41 million world refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), living in limbo without citizenship rights.
Emilie Parry and Melanie Teff just returned from Haiti after conducting RI's second field assessment "of the humanitarian response and related protection issues..."
Parry's September 13 article titled, "Haiti: Emergency Paralysis" describes what she calls:
Haitians "caught up in a protracted state of emergency. In the way that a spinal cord injury's paralysis leads to bedsores, atrophy, and skin rot in the patient, the (poor) humanitarian response in Haiti feels paralyzed. The local community networks and linkages are atrophying, the spontaneous camps are developing bedsores, and the momentum, the window of opportunity within this emergency, may be turning to rot."
Why? Because of world indifference. Planned reconstruction is for profit, leaving poor Haitians on their own to survive, the world community indifferent to their plight.
RI spent time in Haiti shortly after the quake, reporting on March 2 "From the Ground Up," explaining the toll on survivors, their desperate need for everything, including "food, water, shelter and protection from abuse and exploitation." They need an enormous amount of humanitarian aid. It's pledged but not provided.
RI recommended linking humanitarian efforts to Haiti's civil society network, comprised of grassroots community-based organizations plus the well-established internal NGOs. Most, however, are more self-serving than for poor Haitians, a topic a previous article addressed, accessed through the following link:
RI said few needs so far were addressed, including little or no "coordination and communication between Haitian civil society and UN and international NGOs...." Grassroots locals were mostly shut out to give corporate and well-connected NGOs free reign to profit from the vast human misery.
Locals had "a hard time accessing meetings at the UN compound in Port-au-Prince" to be part of a coordinated response. RI also interviewed displaced Haitians "who expressed concern about security," especially women and children vulnerable to rape other violence, and abuse. Then and now, they also lacked minimal amounts of everything, RI saying:
"Most people who lost their homes sleep under makeshift dwellings of sheets and sticks providing little protection from rain," and none from hurricanes. "The sanitation in the camps does not meet minimal international standards. The need for shelter poses immense logistical challenges....intrinsically linked to land ownership and property rights," an issue the Preval government is doing nothing to resolve.
Affected Haitians then and now need everything they're not getting, receiving pathetically little of the pledged aid. "By all accounts, the leadership of the humanitarian country team is ineffectual. Following the earthquake, it took three weeks for the Humanitarian Coordinator to call a meeting with aid organizations."
Damage to affected and surrounding areas "have far-reaching implications that go beyond" reconstructing Port-au-Prince. The entire country needs help, mostly for its deeply impoverished, neglected and exploited people, the quake affected ones desperate for help, so far not forthcoming.
In her September 13 article, Parry said:
" every part, semi-open space or crossroads in Port-au-Prince and the environs, we see a gathering of quake-displaced persons, make-shift lean-tos (few donated), tents....packed closely together, filling every space. There are no latrines, no showers, no (minimal) SPHERE standards observed, and no communications with international or local agencies responding to the emergency."
Chaotic conditions have risen to "extreme heights." Everything needed is in short supply or not provided. Security is lacking, forcing women to sleep in shifts to protect them and others from rape and abuse. The problem for thousands of unaccompanied children is enormous.
Present day Haiti is like January's, except for "the overwhelming stench of sewage and garbage," and the toll on Haitians after months of neglect.
"Children and adults have developed skin rashes and infections due to the poor water and sanitary conditions in the camps. The tents and lean-tos are tattered and torn; hundreds blew away in the recent storms, none remain dry (when it) rains, and it is the middle of hurricane season."
Across the city and surrounding areas, grassroots networks "are weakening," without enough resources, support, or ability to work with established NGOs or world humanitarian organizations.
Of the 1,000 - 1,300 camps, only six are policed by UNPOL/MINISTAH - there but doing little besides writing up incidences of rapes, other crimes, and botched "street abortions" for girls as young as 10.
Camp Coordination and Management, under the leadership of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) "is a confused and contradictory mess, with an overwhelming number of cases where local camp groups have no idea" who's in charge or what needs to be done to help.
"The numbers in the camps have grown," some displaced people having returned to Port-au-Prince from rural areas. Nothing is being done to help them. Little coordinated aid is provided, many camp residents saying "they feel they are being left to rot, left in the camps to die."
Scheduled November Elections
On November 28, first round legislative and presidential elections will be held. Democracy, however, will be absent because the nation's most popular party, Fanmi Lavalas, and 13 others are excluded, the system rigged to "elect" Washington friendly candidates.
Lawyer Ira Kurzban, an immigration and employment law expert and former legal counsel to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, calls the process "unfair, unconstitutional and undemocratic."
Haitians know a charade is planned. Many will opt out, their choice in April 2009 for the sham process to fill 12 open Senate seats that saw an estimated 5 - 10% turnout. Why bother this time when virtually no one running gives a damn about ordinary Haitians. It makes a mockery of real elections - illegitimate, farcical, and little more than bad theater. Nonetheless, unless the fluid date is changed, it'll be hailed as democracy in action. Millions of Haitians know better.
A Final Comment
Haiti remains in emergency. For growing numbers, aid is "too little, too late." It presents an enormous challenge for those who care, to "do better, in order to support the possibility of hope, the possibility of recovery, and the opportunity to build back better."
So far, it's planned only for the privileged, ordinary Haitians are on their own to survive. Other generations faced it earlier for centuries, helped only by the brief interregnum under Aristide, why millions in the country so badly want him back. His presence alone would make a world of difference, helping and providing many with what's now fading - hope.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Former Haiti president Aristide ready to return

The Return of Aristide

 The kidnapping and exile of the duly elected President of Haiti Jean-
Bertrand Aristide may rank as the most blatant crime of the last century. Could you imagine the President of the United States kidnapped and exiled in a foreign country and told that he would be shot on sight if he dared to return to comfort those who elected him during the greatest earthquake on record? That is part of the tragedy of Haiti. Part of what it will take to restore Haiti is the return of Aristide.

Johann Hari: Suffocating the poor: a modern parable

They democratically elected a president to stand up to the rich and multinational corporations - so our governments have him kidnapped

Today, I want to tell you the story of how our governments have been torturing and tormenting an island in the Caribbean – but it is a much bigger story than that. It's a parable explaining one of the main reasons how and why, across the world, the poor are kept poor, so the rich can be kept rich. If you grasp this situation, you will see some of the ugliest forces in the world laid out before you – so we can figure out how to stop them.
The rubble-strewn island of Haiti is now in the middle of an election campaign that will climax this November. So far, the world has noticed it solely because the Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean wanted to run for President, only to be blocked because he hasn't lived in the country since he was a kid. But there is a much bigger hole in the election: the most popular politician in Haiti by far, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He's not there because, after winning a landslide election, he followed the will of the Haitian people who demanded he take on the multinational corporations and redistribute enough money that their children wouldn't starve – so our governments had him kidnapped him at gunpoint and refuse to let him back.
But we have to start a little earlier if this is going to make sense. For over two centuries, Haiti has been effectively controlled from outside. The French enslaved the entire island in the eighteenth century and worked much of the population to death, turning it into the sugar and coffee plantation for the world. By this century, Western governments were arming, funding and fuelling the psychopathic dictatorship of the Duvalier family – who slaughtered 50,000 people – supposedly because they were "our friends" in the fight against communism.
All this left Haiti the most unequal country in the world. A tiny elite lives in vast villas in the hills, while below and all around them, the overwhelming majority of the population live in tiny tin shacks with no water or electricity, crammed six-to-a-room. Just 1 per cent own 50 per cent of the wealth and 75 per cent of the arable land. Once the Haitian people were finally able to rise up in 1986 to demand democracy, they obviously wanted the country's wealth to be shared more fairly. They began to organize into a political movement called Lavalas – the flood – to demand higher wages and higher taxes on the rich to build schools and hospitals and subsidies for the half-starved poor. This panicked the elite.
And nobody panicked them more than a thin, softly-spoken, intellectual slum-priest named Aristide who found himself at the crest of this wave. He was born into a bitingly poor family and became a brilliant student. As a priest he soon became one of the leading exponents of Liberation Theology, the left-wing Catholicism that says people shouldn't wait passively for justice in the Kingdom of Heaven, but must demand it here and now. (The current Pope tried desperately to stamp out this "heresy".) Aristide explained: "The rich of my country, a tiny percentage, sit at a vast table overflowing with good food, while the rest of my countrymen are crowded under that table, hunched in the dirt and starving. One day the people under the table will rise up in righteousness."
On this platform, he was elected in 1990 in a landslide in the country's first free and fair election, taking 64 per cent of the vote. He kept his promise to the Haitian people: he increased the minimum wage from 38 cents a day to $1, demanding the multinational corporations pay a less insulting wage. He trebled the number of free secondary schools. He disbanded the murderous national army that had terrorized the population. Even the International Monetary Fund had to admit that over the Aristide period and just after, Haiti's Human Poverty Indicator – a measure of how likely your kids are to die, starve or go uneducated – dropped dramatically from 46.2 per cent to 31.8 per cent.
But why would foreign governments care about a small country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, with only ten million inhabitants? Ira Kurzban, an American lawyer based in Haiti, explains: "Aristide represented a threat to [foreign powers] because he spoke for the 85 per cent of his population who had never been heard. If that can happen in Haiti, it can happen anywhere, including in countries where the [US and Europe] have huge economic interests and extract natural resources. They don't want real popular democracies to spread because they know it will confront US economic interests." Oxfam called this phenomenon "the threat of a good example."
So after Haiti had experienced seven months of democracy, the US toppled Aristide. Ordinary Haitians surrounded his home
In 1994, the Clinton administration agreed to return Aristide to power – provided he castrate his own political program and ignore the demands of his people. They made him agree to privatize almost everything, freeze wages, and sack half the civil service. Through gritted teeth, he agreed, and for the remainder of his time in office tried to smuggle through what little progress he could. He was re-elected in an even bigger landslide in 2000 – but even his tiny shuffles towards redistribution were too much. The US and French governments had Aristide kidnapped at gunpoint and dumped him in the Central African Republic. They said he was a "dictator", even though the last Gallup poll in a free Haiti found 60 per cent supported him, compared to just 3 per cent backing the alternative imposed on the country by the US.
The human rights situation in Haiti then dramatically deteriorated, with a massive campaign of terror and repression. The Lavalas Party was banned from running again, with most of the country's democracy activists jailed. There were huge military assaults on the slums which demanded Aristide's return. A US Army Psychological Operations official explained the mission was to ensure Haitians "don't get the idea they can do whatever they want."
The next President, Rene Preval, learned his lesson: he has done everything he was told to by corporations and governments, privatizing the last remaining scraps owned by the state, and using tear gas to break up strikes for higher wages. The Haitian people rejected the whole rigged electoral process, with turn-out falling to just 11 per cent. Today, Aristide is a broken man, living in exile in South Africa, studying for a PhD in linguistics, banned from going home.
This is part of a plain pattern. When poor countries get uppity and tried to ask for basic justice, our governments have toppled them, from Iran wanting to control its own oil in 1953 to Honduras wanting its workers to be treated decently in 2009. You don't have to overthrow many to terrify the rest.
It doesn't have to be this way. This is not the will of the people, in the US or Europe: on the contrary, ordinary citizens are horrified when the propaganda is stripped away and they see the truth. It only happens because a tiny wealthy elite dominates our foreign policy, and uses it to serve their purposes – low wages and control of other people's economies and resources. The people of Haiti, who have nothing, were bold and brave enough to campaign and organize to take power back from their undemocratic elites. Are we?
For further reading
Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward (Verso, 2007)