(IPS) HAITI: Civil Rights Delegation Calls for Reparations
This article originally appeared on the Inter-Press Service at http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50292.
ATLANTA, Georgia, Feb 11, 2010 (IPS) – A U.S. delegation to Haiti led by civil rights veteran Joe Beasley is calling for a 30-billion-dollar restitution payment by France to help Haiti rebuild after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, and the end of what Beasley refers to as an unofficial blockade of Haiti.
Beasley, 73, was part of a six-person delegation that travelled to Haiti Jan. 22 to 27. The group spent two days in the Dominican Republic trying to gain official clearance to enter, Beasley said. After being unsuccessful, they decided to enter Haiti on their own and stayed for three days.
“It’s absolutely worse than anything I’ve ever seen before or been able to imagine in my mind,” Beasley told IPS.
“One third of Port-au-Prince was destroyed,” added delegation member Bruce McMillian. “There’s homelessness and hunger everywhere.”
“The 30 billion could really put Haiti on path to being a prosperous, modern nation,” he said.
McMillian says the money should go to a special fund the government has established to receive foreign aid with the promise of complete transparency.
“We believe the NGOs in Haiti are just as much of the problem as they are the solution,” he said. “According to certain officials in Haiti, only 20 percent of the aid sent to Haiti works its way down so it’s actually reaching the people.”
“It’s our belief the Haitian people should control their own fate and destiny,” he said.
Beasley and others say they are working to educate the U.S. public about the situation in Haiti, particularly the political context that led to Haiti’s extreme poverty.
“I think there are so many preconceived notions about Haiti that are negative and that need to be clarified,” he noted. “I think this earthquake has provided us an opportunity to not only talk about the disaster, but to tell the truth about Haiti, the historical reality around Haiti and why it happened to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”
Beasley argues the U.S. and other countries were threatened by the challenge to white supremacy the Haitian revolution in 1804 represented.
“In the U.S. at the time of the Haitian revolution, Thomas Jefferson was the president. He picked up the notion that these ‘black savages from Africa’ were able to overthrow the strongest army at the time, Napoleon Bonaparte of France,” Beasley said.
“That [challenge] was an idea the Western world was not willing to entertain. In the U.S. in 1804, we still had slavery for another 60 years and another 100 years in Brazil,” he said, adding, “I think the Haitian revolution transformed the world.”
“I’m 73 years old. I grew up on a plantation in Fayette County [Georgia]. We had no rights that white people had to respect. I was a person enslaved, and I read about the Haitian revolution as a boy when I was 10 years old,” Beasley said.
Some in the U.S. were shocked at recent reports that people in Haiti had resorted to eating dirt cookies, but Beasley noted that some Blacks in the U.S. South had done so as recently as the 1940s.
“We had to make [them] in Fayette County, we used to eat mud as a part of our [diet], so it isn’t unique to Haiti. I remember in Fayette County, there was white mud, with my mother, but we learned to like it. It was a supplement to our diet. I’ve eaten mud in Georgia right here,” he said.
The Haitian revolution “gave me great inspiration that it didn’t have to be that way. That’s way before the Civil Rights Movement… that there could be some possibility, that we [Blacks] could have our dignity,” Beasley said.
“At one point [Haiti] was considered the Pearl of the Antilles, but now… it’s poorest because it has enemies in the world that have relegated Haiti to the sidelines of the community of nations,” he stated.
The delegation included Beasley, founder of African Ascension and southeastern director of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; McMillian, a Federal Aviation Administration employee assigned to African Ascension; Latron Price, vice chair of African Ascension and managing partner of Inertia Petroleum; Kevin Griffin, president of International Supplies and Construction (ISC) and the KG Group; Patrick Holbert, a videographer; and Roland Wilfong, CEO of Arkadis, Inc.
Some members of the delegation had ties to the U.S. government. For example, ISC supports U.S. coalition military forces and has completed over 4,000 contracts, according to a press release. Inertia Petroleum is a division of KG Group and the ISC.
However, Beasley said it was important to include the private sector in the relief effort.
“We need to rebuild Haiti and we need to include people with the expertise and the resources to do so,” he said. “We also understand that business people are also humanitarians.”
One of the delegation’s most urgent missions was to find children who had previously been living in an orphanage which was destroyed, and to provide the orphanage director with money, Beasley said.
“We had an orphanage in Haiti, we’ve been supporting over time… We communicated with the leader of the orphanage. One girl had her arm broken, but the rest had escaped without injury, they escaped out into the yard, into the court. But they were left homeless and in the streets of Port au Prince,” he said.
“We want to relocate the orphanage from Port-au-Prince to Papio, that’s a place where we built a church and a school and a health clinic,” Beasley said.
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