The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Haiti's bad weather:
A heavy balance sheet of misery

Jan 22, 2001

Translated from the December issue of Voix des Travailleurs (Worker's Voice), Trotskyist publication in Haiti.

In the course of the months of November and December, bad weather hit the northern and southern areas of the country, as well as the big panhandle area (Grand Anse). The results were heavy for the poor population in the affected places: several deaths, several more reported missing, dozens of little houses destroyed, animals carried off, crops ruined on the plantations. In Cap-Haitien, several poor neighborhoods situated close to rivers or to the sea were completely carried off by the rising of the waters at Cayes; entire areas were a disaster, as well in the panhandle of the country where the poor population was sorely tested.

Once again, the victims were blamed for having built their slums too close to the edge of the sea or near riverbeds, as if the poor could choose to live in beautiful neighborhoods next door to the bourgeoisie, to high officials, ambassadors, CEOs of industry, or the church hierarchy. As if a worker who makes 36 gourdes per day, or the 70% of the population laid off, could choose to build solid houses on good land, or as if the workers could rent one of those beautiful houses advertised in the Haitian newspapers each day for American dollars.

And still the politicians, the so-called intellectuals, the boot-lickers of the ruling class never tire of digging up the same old story that nobody should build a home just any old place, rather houses should be built according to the plans of the town. Such talk is all the more shocking for the workers or the homeless since it reflects nothing of their reality.

In truth, only the small minority of the rich in this country who make their fortunes from shameless exploitation of the workers, or from speculation on the currency, or from the ridiculously high prices of necessities like rice, corn, peas, etc., from plundering the coffers of the state –can afford beautiful, well-equipped houses. They can make themselves less vulnerable to the caprices of the weather. But the big majority of the population which stagnates in misery, which lives from day to day by resourcefulness, or those the fruit of whose work is stolen from them, are obliged to live in conditions approaching those of beasts of burden. Their lives thus are fragile, vulnerable, with little resistance to natural catastrophes.

This is certainly the picture of societies dominated by capitalism, societies where the most modern technologies, like the Internet and cell phones, remain the possession of only a handful of individuals, while the majority, living in frightful misery, have only the ground to sleep on.

On the other hand, the terrible problems of the population allow the authorities to play the demagogue, pretending to be concerned about the problems of the poor. In November, Haitian national television showed the prime minister journeying to Cap-Haitien, where he declared, "at the express order of his excellency the president of the republic, alerted to this catastrophe, I am here on the spot to make an immediate account to him." And like the salesman he is, he promised the earth to those devastated by the weather. But a month after, certain Cap habitants complained that they had received nothing and others that they had got too little. The same was the situation of other poor people who were also victims of the weather.

In fact, this situation shows us the outline of the solution to the problem of housing. There is land suitable to build solid houses; building materials like sand, cement and iron are available. To deal with immediate emergencies, there are even big houses inhabited only by rats. What has been lacking –up until now –is the will to attack the sacred private property in the means of production which these lapdog politicians of the bourgeoisie swear to uphold.