Fault Lines

Fault Lines: Views across Haiti’s Divide

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Fault Lines
    Book Description:

    Beverly Bell, an activist and award-winning writer, has dedicated her life to working for democracy, women's rights, and economic justice in Haiti and elsewhere. Since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake of January 12, 2010, that struck the island nation, killing more than a quarter-million people and leaving another two million Haitians homeless, Bell has spent much of her time in Haiti. Her new book, Fault Lines, is a searing account of the first year after the earthquake. Bell explores how strong communities and an age-old gift culture have helped Haitians survive in the wake of an unimaginable disaster, one that only compounded the preexisting social and economic distress of their society. The book examines the history that caused such astronomical destruction. It also draws in theories of resistance and social movements to scrutinize grassroots organizing for a more just and equitable country.

    Fault Lines offers rich perspectives rarely seen outside Haiti. Readers accompany the author through displaced persons camps, shantytowns, and rural villages, where they get a view that defies the stereotype of Haiti as a lost nation of victims. Street journals impart the author's intimate knowledge of the country, which spans thirty-five years. Fault Lines also combines excerpts of more than one hundred interviews with Haitians, historical and political analysis, and investigative journalism. Fault Lines includes twelve photos from the year following the 2010 earthquake. Bell also investigates and critiques U.S. foreign policy, emergency aid, standard development approaches, the role of nongovernmental organizations, and disaster capitalism. Woven through the text are comparisons to the crisis and cultural resistance in Bell's home city of New Orleans, when the levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Ultimately a tale of hope, Fault Lines will give readers a new understanding of daily life, structural challenges, and collective dreams in one of the world's most complex countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6832-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Edwidge Danticat

    When I was a girl in Haiti, I lived next door to three sisters who did piecework for an American evening gown company. In order to pay for their living expenses and another sister’s education, the sisters strung together sequins and beads that would then be attached to gowns that, once completed, they carried to a factory near the airport.

    Every now and then, Lina, Dieula, and Anisi Espérance would invite a few neighborhood girls to help them with their work. For this we would get a cent or two, a minuscule percentage of the very low wage they were...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  5. Introduction: Thirty-Five Seconds
    (pp. 1-11)

    7.0 EARTHQUAKE ROCKS HAITI. That line burst onto the computer screen in my garret office in New Orleans as the Mississippi River Bridge eclipsed the late-afternoon sun. I stared stupidly. My brain couldn’t shape the words into sense.

    It was January 12, 2010. Haiti had just been shaken by the neck in what one survivor would later describe as “thirty-five seconds of hell.”

    Some would call the earthquake goudougoudou, for the terrifying sound that roared up out of the ground. Most would just refer to it as the evènman, the event. The day was so defining it simply came to...

  6. 1 We Don’t Have Enough Water to Make Tears: Surviving the Earthquake, or Not
    (pp. 12-18)

    “Oh, hey, you haven’t wished me happy new year yet.” That’s what saved the Catholic leader’s life, twelve days into a year that had had about as much happiness as it was going to get.

    Monsignor André Pierre, rector of the University of Notre Dame of Haiti, was racing to a meeting at the archbishop’s office next to the pink and yellow National Cathedral. “I waved to the archbishop up on the gallery from below and then I started running up the stairs,” he said. Then someone stopped him for that new-year greeting:

    At that second everything went black. I...

  7. 2 What We Have, We Share: Solidarity Undergirds Rescue and Relief
    (pp. 19-26)

    “From the first hour, Haitians engaged in every type of solidarity imaginable—one supporting the other, one helping the other, one saving the other. If any of us is alive today, we can say that it’s thanks to this solidarity,” said Yolette Etienne. Yolette is an alternative development expert and a longtime activist who cut her political teeth in the youth rebellion against Jean-Claude Duvalier. At the time of the earthquake she was heading the national program of Oxfam Great Britain; today she does the same for Oxfam America.

    Sitting in my courtyard because for many months she wouldn’t set...

  8. 3 Pearl of the Antilles: The Political Economy of Peril
    (pp. 27-31)

    The geographic catastrophe was natural. The magnitude of death and injury was not. Many earthquakes have registered higher than 7.0 on the Richter scale but resulted in only a fraction of the casualties. Chile, for example, was flailed by an 8.8-er six weeks after twelve, but only 723 people died. The astronomical destruction in Haiti came down to politics and economics. It can be traced to structural violence—the policies and systems that reflect colonialism, imperialism, racism, and patriarchy and that play out in very stark and gritty ways in the lives of the poor.

    You can track the devastation,...

  9. 4 Maroon Man: Social Movements throughout History
    (pp. 32-40)

    Le Marron Inconnu, the Unknown Maroon, faces the presidential palace from the edge of Champ de Mars, the once-elegant plaza at the center of Port-au-Prince. He balances on his right knee and his left leg, which is extended tautly behind him. Around his left ankle remains a shackle from his days of captivity. He has thrown back his muscular chest and shoulders and raised his head to the sky to blow a conch shell, the ancient summons to revolution. He’s a little worse for wear—the blade of the machete he wields in his fist has broken off, and the...

  10. 5 We Will Carry You On: The Women’s Movement
    (pp. 41-48)

    Magalie Marcelin liked to sit very still and twist her braids between thin fingers—languidly, the same way she walked, the same way she responded to something you said. If you didn’t know her, you might not have recognized her capacity. But Magalie was a force of nature.

    She began her activism as a teenager under Jean-Claude Duvalier, when she was part of a political theater group. Some of her fellow actors were arrested, and Magalie went into hiding. She later went to Canada and studied law, returning after the dictatorship to resume her advocacy, especially for women. Under the...

  11. 6 You Can’t Eat Okra with One Finger: Community-Run Humanitarian Aid
    (pp. 49-56)

    Christroi Petit-Homme, a member of Heads Together Haitian Peasants (Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, Tèt Kole for short), lives in the Artibonite Valley—a long walk, a motorcycle ride, and three bus rides away from Port-au-Prince. Like most everyone in his village of Piatre, Christroi lives without access to a doctor or a nearby water source or electricity or a road. Making it past childbirth is not at all assured, and families have few other resources but each other, so mutual support is a survival strategy. Community members are expected to help each other harvest the crops when it’s time...

  12. 7 Fragile as a Crystal (Tales from Three Months Out)
    (pp. 57-62)

    One Saturday night, Djab Beaubrun and Marco Desir came by to get me for a goat roast. Djab had talked so much all week about the happening that he’d taken to just calling it kabrit la, the goat. Though it was clearly a celebration, no one would call it so out of respect for national mourning.

    Djab had some six-part name, but everyone called him Djab, Devil. He and Marco were part-time research and education contractors with Haitian nonprofits—part time being when there are contracts to be found—and full-time political rabble-rousers. That night Marco looked dapper in a...

  13. 8 Children of the Land: Small Farmers and Agriculture
    (pp. 63-71)

    On a dry, lost stretch of land toward the northwest tip of the island is the village of Jean-Rabel. The surrounding region is mainly mountains with a little flatland, hard to farm, hard to irrigate. But there’s no other way to survive besides farming—corn, sweet potatoes, beans, sorghum, plantains, peanuts—so that’s what people there do. They’ve always been proud of working the earth with their hands, just as many generations did before them. And since they’ve always lived on and tended the land, they consider it theirs, just as their forebears did.

    Today, most of the area is...

  14. 9 Grains and Guns: Foreign Aid and Reconstruction
    (pp. 72-85)

    Patrick Elie put his life on the line to document and expose the collusion between the U.S. government, Haitian military leaders, and drug runners that allowed the illegal military regime to thrive from 1991 to 1994. As the National Coordinator against Drug Trafficking during Aristide’s first term, Patrick possessed knowledge that made him a linchpin in exposés in U.S. congressional hearings, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other forums,¹ which helped reverse the coup d’état. Others of us were involved, too, but Patrick was the front man and so took the flak. He was followed, threatened, and jailed...

  15. 10 The Ones Who Must Decide: Social Movements in the Reconstruction
    (pp. 86-92)

    If you had picked your way through the hills of debris on dead-end Gabriel Road, slid through a narrow opening in the metal gate, and cut past tents, clotheslines, and chickens, you would have found yourself in front of a wholly nondescript tan building. No matter the time of day, you would have found its interior packed with people engaged in intensive conversation on some element of the same dual themes: how to respond to survivors’ immediate needs and how to impact the country’s future. Eight nonprofit and community groups whose offices either no longer existed or were uninhabitable were...

  16. 11 Our Bodies Are Shaking Now: Violence against Girls and Women
    (pp. 93-101)

    “The way you saw the earth shake, that’s how our bodies are shaking now.”

    The elderly speaker was a member of the Commission of Women Victim to Victim (Komisyon Fanm Viktim pou Viktim, or KOFAVIV), a group of rape survivors and former child slaves promoting women’s and children’s rights. About thirty Haitian women and I were packed together under a blue tarp in a camp that served as KOFAVIV’s new headquarters since its office, and most of the members’ homes, had been decimated.

    On top of everything else that women and girls have suffered since the earthquake has been an...

  17. 12 The Creole Connection: People-to-People Aid and Solidarity across Borders
    (pp. 102-111)

    “One thing about New Orleans: we understand about crisis.” Someone told me that in the Big Easy, at a blues show at Tipitina’s where I had gone a few evenings after the event, hoping to let down for a fleeting moment. Over the course of the evening, I heard of four separate benefits for earthquake survivors.

    For us, it was personal.

    It had all played out in our town five years prior, though of course on a different scale: not just the disaster but the disaster response. There as in Haiti, we saw the opening of a collective heart and...

  18. 13 We’ve Lost the Battle, but We Haven’t Lost the War (Tales from Six Months Out)
    (pp. 112-117)

    Haiti during the World Cup operated under the same rule as New Orleans during the Super Bowl: don’t make plans to do anything with anyone during a game. I knew this, but my mind was focused on other things, and I made the mistake of going to a cell phone store in down-town Port-au-Prince during a soccer match. Employees sat hypnotized in front of the big-screen TV, unwilling to have their attention distracted by customers.

    When Argentina, favored among the finalists, lost its match, I could finally conduct my business and leave the store. Throngs of mourners danced through the...

  19. 14 Social Fault Lines: Class and Catastrophe
    (pp. 118-123)

    Champ de Mars was, until a few years ago, the chicest address in Haiti, a Caribbean-scale Champs-Élysées. On one side of the tree-lined square was the frost-white presidential palace, a relic from the U.S. occupation built to resemble the White House. Peacocks sauntered across its grounds. Spacious parks were lush with trees and grass, fountains flowed with water. Four movie theaters and upscale markets lined the remainder of the square.

    Over the years, I have spent a lot of time at two addresses on Champ de Mars. The first was that palace.¹ The second, more recently, was a sprawling displacement...

  20. 15 Monsanto Seeds, Miami Rice: The Politics of Food Aid and Trade
    (pp. 124-130)

    On June 4, 2010, thousands of peasant producers marched down kilometers of dirt road in the Central Plateau farm belt, kicking up dust. Wearing matching straw hats and carrying banners reading “Monsanto GM [genetically modified] and hybrid seeds: Violent poison for peasant agriculture,” they were simultaneously celebrating World Environment Day and protesting a recent donation of Monsanto seeds. At their destination in the remote town of Hinche, they set fire to a pile of those seeds, which they called their “declaration of war.”

    A few months prior, the Ministry of Agriculture had given Monsanto permission to donate 505 tons of...

  21. 16 Home: From Tent Camp to Community
    (pp. 131-139)

    An out-of-business Hyundai dealership.

    A field next to mass graves.

    An eight-foot-wide median between four lanes of whizzing traffic, in a perennial thick gray haze of exhaust.

    A scalding savanna of white shale at the foot of a denuded mountain.

    A shared feature of these locales was that homeless earthquake survivors had taken up lodging on them. In a city choked with pulverized concrete and other detritus, where no one in charge had provided a better option, these were the best spaces to be found.

    One of the estimated 1.5 million homeless people¹ who had been left to fend for...

  22. 17 For Want of Twenty Cents: Children’s Rights and Protection
    (pp. 140-145)

    Jean-Jean, six, was part of a pack of kids that raced to meet me each time I arrived at their camp in Port-au-Prince. Jean-Jean was usually at the front, all flashing eyes and big toothy grin, out-shouting the others or engaging in some ridiculous antic for my attention. On one visit, Jean-Jean’s mother appeared dragging a very different little boy, slow and sad, by the arm. Jean-Jean feebly raised his eyes to mine; the whites were just a few shades this side of French’s mustard. Hepatitis.

    “How long has he been like this?” I asked, trying to mask my panic....

  23. 18 The Super Bowl of Disasters: Profiting from Crisis
    (pp. 146-153)

    “The gold rush is on!” was the headline of Ambassador Merten’s February 1, 2010, cable to Washington. “As Haiti digs out from the earthquake, different [U.S.] companies are moving in to sell their concepts, products and services.”¹

    Many a corporation, lobbyist, and consultant have seen Haiti’s losses as their gain, leveraging humanitarianism for profit. Plenty of the $1.1 billion in U.S. disaster relief has gone not to desperate Haitians but to inside-the-Beltway contractors. In the first year, the U.S. government awarded more than fifteen hundred contracts, worth $267 million. All went to U.S. firms except twenty, worth $4.3 million, which...

  24. 19 The Commonplace amid the Catastrophic (Tales from Nine Months Out)
    (pp. 154-158)

    Luc showed up at the open door of the office where I was working. He was looking for his chicken. Luc was two years old and, at least to the casual eye, seemed to have survived both the quake and its aftermath unscathed. He normally wore a hundred-watt grin and spent most of his time scooting in and out of the courtyard and up and down neighbors’ steps, looking for bugs and for people who would play with him.

    We found Luc’s chicken, which had installed itself on the Internet router.

    Amid the pall of suffering, Haiti was still full...

  25. 20 Beyond Medical Care: The Health of the Nation
    (pp. 159-167)

    The measure of Haiti’s health care after the earthquake could be taken by the state of its Ministry of Public Health. Not just the output, but the actual ministry. Until the building was bulldozed to the ground, its outer walls were nonexistent. The floors rolled like a wave. The cement pillars tilted. The roof was carved into geometrical slices. The quake also destroyed eight major hospitals and seriously damaged twenty-two more, plus medical and nursing schools. It killed hundreds of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers.

    The calamity simultaneously wiped out caregivers and facilities and created a greater need...

  26. 21 Hold Strong: The Pros and Pitfalls of Resilience
    (pp. 168-175)

    Yolette Etienne didn’t even mention that her mother had been killed and her house turned to powder. It was exactly one week after the earthquake, and Yolette, then director of Oxfam Great Britain in Haiti, was standing in the wind at the top of a hill telling a journalist from Channel 4 in the UK about the work ahead. Only when he inquired did she say yes, we buried my mother in the garden the morning after, just before I had to go to a staff meeting. She concluded by saying, “We only can maintain hope, and we can transmit...

  27. 22 Mrs. Clinton Will Never See Me Working There: The Offshore Assembly Industry
    (pp. 176-183)

    “Haiti offers a marvelous opportunity for American investment. The run-of-the-mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day’s labor for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day’s work costs $3,” wrote Financial America in 1926.¹ That may be the most honest portrayal of offshore industry in Haiti to date. Today, the United States, the UN, multilateral lending institutions, corporate investors, and others are more creative in their characterizations. They spin the high-profit labor as being in the interest of the laborer, and as a major vehicle for what they call “development.”

    In the export assembly sector (factories...

  28. 23 The Central Pillar: Peasant Women
    (pp. 184-189)

    After decades of working underground, in 1987 about eleven hundred people gathered in an airless auditorium on a dusty field for the First National Congress of Democratic Movements. For three days they listened, debated, and strategized about the creation of what they hoped would be a just and democratic society. Family farmers, people of faith, students, human rights activists, progressive academics . . . they were all there. We heard about their struggles, and we committed ourselves to their causes.

    With one exception. No issue specifically related to women appeared on the program. Aside from one established leader, no woman...

  29. 24 Elections (In the Time of Cholera)
    (pp. 190-196)

    The purple-black thumb on the white hand was arresting. Indelible ink could be seen on the right thumbs of Haitians all over the country, showing that they had voted in the first round of national elections on November 28, but my neighbor was French. When I inquired, she said that she and a fellow Frenchwoman had applied for electoral cards on a dare. They had cast ballots without anyone questioning them.

    As fraud went, that was trifling. Local authorities intimidated, committed violence, stuffed voting urns, and faked ballots. Boxes full of votes became balls in soccer matches. Ballots wound up...

  30. 25 We Will Never Fall Asleep Forgetting (Tales from Twelve Months Out)
    (pp. 197-200)

    When Wilson came to the Toussaint Louverture Airport to collect me in his taptap, his news update was even more politically retrograde than usual. He told me jubilantly about the January 16 return of Duvalier after twenty-five years in France. The order-über-alles Wilson explained, “The thing about Duvalier, you had peace as long as you weren’t in politics. If you didn’t speak out, they wouldn’t arrest you. You had no problem.”

    Baby Doc had likely returned, at least in part, to try to liberate $6 million in stolen assets from his frozen bank account in Switzerland. He appeared to have...

  31. Epilogue: Bringing It Back Home
    (pp. 201-206)

    The people this book depicts deserve a clean, happy ending. None is forthcoming. Yet. Here is where we leave some of our cast of characters.

    To the naked eye, nothing has changed in Tibebe’s life in the year since twelve. Her poverty is unrelentingly what Haitians call kraze zo, bone crushing. She still lives on the slab where her house used to sit. Her foot has never recovered from two injuries shortly after the earthquake, and her heart has been giving her trouble, too.

    But something profound has shifted in Tibebe’s life. Since the event, she has “been inspired,” as...

  32. Notes
    (pp. 207-224)
  33. Index
    (pp. 225-236)