Saturday, January 30, 2010

Analysis of Race in the 2006 Mayoral Election, Part Two, By Katherine Cecil

As we enter the final week before New Orleans' historic municipal elections, Louisiana Justice Institute presents excerpts from Race, Representation, and Recovery: Documenting the 2006 New Orleans Mayoral Elections, by Katherine Cecil. We believe her analysis of the 2006 elections forms an important basis for understanding the current election.

Suffering fierce criticism over his less-than-admirable leadership skills during the aftermath of the storm as well as for the city’s lack of hurricane evacuation preparation, Mayor Ray Nagin had become politically vulnerable. New Orleanians, returned and still displaced, were to witness a close election in which Nagin’s top four challengers were white. One of the challengers was Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, the son of the last white mayor who had left office nearly thirty years earlier. Times-Picayune staff writer Frank Donze wrote, “Six months ago, incumbent Ray Nagin appeared headed for a problem-free re-election. But the city’s struggle to recover from the catastrophic storm – along with critics attacking Nagin’s performance – has turned conventional wisdom on its ear, leaving him in a fight for his political life.” However, history was on Nagin’s side, and as John Mercurio pointed out on NPR Weekend, “no mayor in New Orleans in the past sixty years has been turned out of office and no first term mayor in the past eighty years has lost office.”

Moon Landrieu’s 1977 departure from City Hall signaled the beginning of the period in which African-Americans would attain a voting majority within New Orleans, and since the early 1980s, elections have involved a variety of cross-racial voting reflecting variations upon the same theme: New Orleans voters have formed trans-racial political coalitions in the election of alternating progressive and reactionary mayors that reflected the mood and tenor of the times. In 2002, Ray Nagin fit within this moderate to conservative continuum.

In elections where black and white voting population levels were not at parity, mayoral victories largely constituted a merging of different black and white interests where policy and platform were more in the foreground than race, where white voters co-opted candidates of color in whom they could find representation to their benefit, where distinctive socio-economic and racial groups made compromises to promote their respective agendas, and at times, merely representation without specific agendas. As political scientists Baodong Liu and James Vanderleeuw found in their research, “whites may develop a strategic approach to maximize their own political power while their ideology may or may not remain the same.” Indeed, if politics is the art of strategically applied comprise within the public sphere, then politics involving significant minority populations, in both senses of the word, would need to be more pronounced in the art and application of concession.

The 1969 and 1973 elections in which Moon Landrieu was voted into office involved concessions of this kind, and in the 1969 runoff, he was elected as a progressive Democrat from a coalition of 90 percent of the black vote and 39 percent of the white vote. Moon Landrieu’s legacy came to be defined by his active promotion of African-Americans within his Administration, as department heads and as prominent political participants. After two terms in office, Moon Landrieu was followed by another progressive Democrat and the first African-American mayor of New Orleans, Ernest Nathan “Dutch” Morial in 1977 and again, in 1982. During his first term, Morial had garnered 19 percent of the white vote and 95 percent of the black vote, which saw a union between progressive white voters and African-American voters, and his rise to power signified a new time in city politics, allowing for unprecedented levels of black representation within local political power structures.

Greatly contrasting to his rival and predecessor, the more reactionary Sidney Barthelemy pioneered his own brand of racial politics, and in 1986, he pushed a pro-business agenda that appealed to white conservatives, and he was brought to office receiving most of his support from the white community, while Bill Jefferson, his principal opponent in the election, had garnered a much larger majority of the African-American vote. In his first election, Barthelemy had merged conservative middle-income white and black voters, and through this coalition conservative interests again found representation in City Hall. This coalition didn’t necessarily include a program for the betterment of all New Orleanians, and as the historian Arnold Hirsch writes of the Barthelemy election, “Morial’s progressive biracial coalition had been transformed into a conservative one that knit together whites and a patronage-oriented black leadership that had no agenda beyond its own perpetuation.”

However, when the white candidate Donald Mintz entered the race in 1990, thinking the incumbent sufficiently unpopular to allow for more crossover voting, Barthelemy switched from being the candidate to receive the most white votes to become the candidate to receive the most black votes, and the contrast of these two elections illustrated the mutability of the candidate’s race as a factor depending upon his or her agenda, his or her primary base of support, and the competition of the opponent in the runoff. Indeed, “Four years later, facing white challenger Donald Mintz, Barthelemy depended on near-universal black support and scant white backing to win.” Intriguingly, it is said that Dutch Morial died before a much-anticipated endorsement of Mintz, and that had he done so, this might have significantly altered Barthelemy’s ability to garner black votes during his re-election bid. When Marc Morial followed in his father’s political footsteps, and entered City Hall in 1994 and again in 1998, the Mayor’s office was led back to a more progressive coalition, which saw a union of white progressives and African-American voters.

The pendulum of moderate progressives to conservative coalitions swung again when Ray Nagin entered into politics in 2002. Nagin had not previously held elected office and came from the private sector. As Vice President of the New Orleans cable company, Cox Communications, he had been a member of the New Orleans Business Council, a majority white organization that represented the top sixty-five businesses in Greater New Orleans. Like Barthelemy, the Republican turned Democrat Ray Nagin came from a pro-business platform and had no agenda for ameliorating the economic opportunities for the majority of African-Americans within Orleans Parish. Nagin was funded largely by a white conservative business elite, and was elected Mayor of New Orleans with 86 percent of the white vote and 40 percent of the black vote, winning against the popular New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Chief Richard Pennington, whose ties to Marc Morial were seen by the majority of white conservative voters as antithetical to their interests, despite his success in reducing crime rates.

As a light-skinned and Catholic person of color, Nagin’s “Downtown” and often-debated “Creole” credentials drew other interesting parallels to the conservative Barthelemy, a mayor viewed by local black media outlets as having enough links to the “Uptown white power structure” to be controlled by it. Like Barthelemy, Nagin was seen as a candidate whose interests intersected largely with those of the white community of most socio-economic levels, and although his first Administration was marked by some effort to oust local corruption, Nagin’s aim was mainly targeted towards African-Americans and the working-class, most notably tax evaders and unlicensed New Orleans cab drivers. But although the majority of black support went to Pennington, Nagin was also elected to office by middle-income African-American and white voters, and like each of the recent mayors before him, Nagin built a coalition in order to win. Had Hurricane Katrina not devastated the city of New Orleans, Nagin would have maintained his more conservative alliance between black and white voters and would have been re-elected to a second term without significant opposition. However, as the 2006 election was to reveal, the city is to a large extent still redefining the nature of these coalitions, and the deterioration of inter-group trust within race relations post-disaster played a prominent role in the election and early recovery period.

(You can read the complete essay online here.)

Born in the UK, and living in New Orleans since 2001, Katherine Cecil began her film career as a researcher and field producer. She formed her small company CecilFilm Productions shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and is currently working as a co-producer on a documentary looking into recent changes to the New Orleans public school system.

New Orleans Coalition Sends Second Shipment of Aid to Haiti

Early this morning, a group of New Orleanians left for Haiti, bringing relief. As journalist Katy Reckdahl reported in today's Times-Picayune,

This morning, an eight-person team of New Orleanians is scheduled to fly to southeast Haiti, where they plan to set up a base camp and begin assessments of infrastructure and buildings. If all goes as planned, the Haiti Emergency Village Project, a coalition of 40 New Orleans organizations, will work with Haitians to quickly build villages for survivors of the Jan. 12 earthquake, using skills learned after the 2005 flooding of New Orleans. Their efforts are facilitated by the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation and financed by private donors.

We first reported
on this local coalition, convened by Louisiana Justice Institute's Co-Director Jacques Morial and Charles Allen III, Director of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, last week on this blog. This is the second trip of aid, sent from New Orleans, arranged by this coalition.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Race, Representation, and Recovery in the New Orleans Mayor's Race, by Katherine Cecil

As we enter the final week before New Orleans' historic municipal elections, Louisiana Justice Institute presents excerpts from Race, Representation, and Recovery: Documenting the 2006 New Orleans Mayoral Elections, by Katherine Cecil. This important paper formed the basis of much of Cecil’s research in completing her soon-to-released documentary RACE, on the same subject. We believe her analysis of the 2006 elections forms an important basis for understanding the current election.

In 2002, Ray Nagin was elected mayor of New Orleans with 86 percent of the white vote, and 38% of the African-American vote. In 2006, Mayor Nagin was re-elected with 83.3 percent of the African-American vote and just 20 percent of the white vote.

Race, Representation and Recovery explores the rhetorical and visual manifestations of race as they figured in the months prior to and within the 2006 New Orleans mayoral election discourses.


Since the end of Maurice “Moon” Landrieu’s term in May 1978, New Orleans had seen black leadership in City Hall, but suddenly, this pattern looked set to change. In the run up to the qualifying period for the 2006 mayoral elections, it had become apparent that the city's 484,674 population had been reduced to perhaps a third of this with citizens displaced all over the United States. The pre-Katrina racial demographic percentages of 66.6% African-American and 26.6% white, had now changed to a more even balance between the races. In the 2006 primary election there was a 15.8 percent decline in black registered voters since the 2002 mayoral runoff in contrast to a 5.1 percent decline in the number of white registered voters. Academic studies have shown that in cities where the racial makeup of voters is “racially competitive,” or at more even levels, racially divided or “block voting” is at its most pronounced. New Orleans mayoral election observers witnessed this factor in 2006, but other dynamics came into play to make this election more complex.

A large number of displaced and returned residents thought that a mayoral election should not even take place until enough people could return home, and that holding one at this time violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which stated that no practice or procedure could deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race or color. To these concerned citizens, the election was therefore illegal. Other factors arose in 2006 that were to draw historical comparisons with direct disenfranchisement techniques such as the poll tax or literacy tests that were used in the past by white officials to minimize African-American voter participation in the South. There was also convincing evidence that the lack of sufficient government funding to assist the Secretary of State in reaching out to displaced voters violated the international Convention on Civil and Political Rights. In a historically racially polarized environment made worse by the horrors of Katrina, how would the rhetorical and visual manifestations of race factor into these historic elections?

As a result of the Federal levee failures, hundreds of thousands of citizens had become evacuees scattered throughout nearly every state of the Union, and as the re-manned pumping stations drained the water from within Orleans Parish, Americans witnessed bickering and finger pointing between leaders at city, state, federal, and presidential levels. To add to this, the deplorable situation so many citizens found themselves in during the immediate aftermath of the storm exacerbated an already racially polarized city, opening up old wounds of suspicion and distrust. After the evacuation of many flood survivors, New Orleanians were then stranded outside of Louisiana in the hundreds of thousands, many separated from their jobs, identification, mailboxes, or permanent addresses.

Furthermore, prior to Hurricane Katrina, a vast number of New Orleans citizens had been living well below the national poverty line, which meant that a significant number of evacuees did not have the benefit of a savings account, transportation, e-mail, or internet access, and many slept on air mattresses waiting for FEMA hurricane relief checks in order to secure a rental for themselves and their children. These citizens, who were the worst off after the storm, were overwhelmingly African-American.

The post-disaster difficulties experienced by those in involuntary exile during the early months following the storm and their struggles in recreating the necessities vital to the recreation of a healthy environment for themselves and their loved ones cannot be overstated. The extensive flooding that resulted from the levee failures had devastated hundreds of thousands of lives and homes. It disrupted the basic functions of the city from the rule of law to the normal school day. It had also destroyed hundreds of polling stations and voting machines, and less than six months after the chaos of the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane, and just over two months following the presentation of a controversial plan advocating the shrinking of the city’s geographical footprint, New Orleans entered into the 2006 Mayoral election cycle. Numerous national and international news outlets maintained the correspondents they had put in place following Katrina, and this local election captured national and even international audiences.

(A second excerpt from this essay will be posted tomorrow. You can read the complete essay online here.)

Born in the UK, and living in New Orleans since 2001, Katherine Cecil began her film career as a researcher and field producer. Cecil has worked on programs and news shows for PBS, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, National Geographic, Associated Press, Greek public television, and Democracy Now!, and was Field Producer and Associate Producer on the documentary “LINDY BOGGS: STEEL & VELVET.” She formed her small company CecilFilm Productions shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and is currently working as a co-producer on a documentary looking into recent changes to the New Orleans public school system. Cecil is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, and the Press Club of New Orleans, and holds degrees from City and Guilds of London Art School, University College London, Tulane University, and the University of New Orleans.

Haiti: Hell And Hope, By Bill Quigley

Smoke and flames rose from the sidewalk. A white man took pictures. Slowing down, my breath left me. The fire was a corpse. Leg bones sticking out of the flames.

Port au Prince police headquarters is gone, already bulldozed. A nearby college is pancaked. Government buildings are destroyed. Stores fallen down. Tens of thousands of buildings destroyed. Hundreds of thousands homeless. Giant piles of concrete, rebar, metal pipes, plastic pipes, doors and wires.

Corpses are still inside many of the mountains of rubble. No estimates of how many thousands of people are dead inside. Electrical poles bend over streets, held up by braids of thick black wires. On some side streets the wires are stll down in the street.

Buildings take unimaginable shapes. Some are half up while the other side slopes to the ground. Some like collapsed cakes. Others smashed like children's toys.

Everywhere are sheet shelters. In parks, soccer fields, in the parking lot of the tv station, tens of thousands literally in the streets and on sidewalks. Thousands of people standing in the hot sun waiting their turn. Outside the hospital, clinics, money transfer companies, immigration offices, and the very few places offering water or food.

Troops and heavy machinery are only seen in the center of the city.

After days in port Au prince I have seen only one fight - two teens fighting on a streetcorner over a young woman. No riots. No machetes.

Hope is found in the people of Haiti. Despite no electricity, little shelter, minimal food and no real goverment or order, people are helping one another survive. Men and boys are scavenging useful items from the mounds of fallen buildings. Women are selling mangoes and nuts on the street. Teens are playing with babies. Beautiful hymns are lifted as choirs calling to god in every sheet camp every evening. People pray constantly. The strikingly beautiful tap tap cabs trumpet in god we trust or merci Jesus on bright colors.

Everyone needs tents and food and medical care and water. But when you talk to them, most will lead you to the ailing great grandma or the malnourished child.

I asked Lavarice Gaudin, who helps the St. Clares community feed thousands each day through their What If Foundation, "What should outsiders do?" Lavarice said "Help the most poor first. Some who labored their whole lives to make a one bedroom home will likely never have a home again. Haiti needs everything. But we need it with a plan. Pressure the Haitian goverent, pressure USAID to help the poorest."

International volunteers who work hand in hand with Haitians are welcomed. Others not so much. Lavarice saw the associated press story that reported only one penny of every us aid dollar will go directly in cash to needy Haitians. "I can understand that they distrust the government but why not distribute aid through the churches and good community organizations?"

"We hope this will help us develop strong leadership that listens and responds to the people," he says. "No matter what, we will never give up. Haitians are strong hopeful people. We will rebuild."

Bill is Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and a long-time Haiti human rights advocate. He can be reached at

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On the ground in Port au Prince by Bill Quigley

Hundreds of thousands of people are living and sleeping on the ground in Port au Prince. Many have no homes, their homes destroyed by the earthquake. I am sleeping on the ground as well - surrounded by nurses, doctors and humanitarian workers who sleep on the ground every night. The buildings that are not on the ground have big cracks in them and fallen sections so no one should be sleeping inside.

There are sheet cities everywhere. Not tent cities. Sheet cities. Old people and babies and everyone else under sheets held up by ropes hooked onto branches pounded into the ground. With the rainy season approaching, one of the emergency needs of Haitians is to get tents. I have seen hundreds of little red topped Coleman pup tents among the sheet shelters. There are tents in every space, from soccer fields and parks to actually in the streets. There is a field with dozens of majestic beige tents from Qatar marked Islamic Relief. But real tents are outnumbered by sheet shelters by a ratio of 100 to 1. Rescues continue but the real emergency remains food, water, healthcare and shelter for millions.

Though helicopters thunder through the skies, actual relief of food and water and shelter remains mimimal to non-existent in most neighborhoods.

Haitians are helping Haitians. Young men have organized into teams to guard communities of homeless families. Women care for their own children as well as others now orphaned. Tens of thousands are missing and presumed dead.

The scenes of destruction boggle the mind. The scenes of homeless families, overwhelmingly little children, crush the heart. But hope remains. Haitians say and pray that God must have a plan. Maybe Haiti will be rebuilt in a way that allows all Haitians to participate and have a chance at a dignified life with a home, a school, and a job.

One young Haitian man said, "One good sign is the solidarity of the world. Muslim doctors, Jewish doctors, Christian doctors all come to help us. We see children in Gaza collecting toys for Haitian children. It looks very bad right now, but this is a big opportunity for the world and Haiti to change and do good together."

Bill is Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and a long-time Haiti human rights advocate.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gulf Coast Community Members Question US Government On Human Rights Record

For the first time, the US government is participating in a process that allows the United Nations to review the human rights records of all member states. The first step of that process began today at Xavier University when representatives from the Obama Administration came to listen to, and answer questions from, people from the Gulf Coast.

The purpose of these consultations by government officials is to assist the government in developing its US Human Rights Report. Similar consultations will take place around the country for the next few months in order to prepare for the United Nations' first Universal Periodic Review in November of 2010. The UN Human Rights Council is expected to review the US report in December and issue a report in early 2011.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process was introduced with the formation of the reformed UN Human Rights Council in 2006. Each UN member state’s human rights record will be reviewed by three of their peers who will review all human rights obligations and commitments to which the member state is a party, as well as any voluntary pledges and commitments made by that country. Last year, the US formally joined the Human Rights Council and pledged to respect human rights at home and abroad.

According to Kali Akuno of the US Human Rights Network, "The UPR process offers an important opportunity to address how the United States is meeting its human rights obligations under the UN charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to pressure the government to live up to its obligations, and to provide concrete and constructive recommendations about steps the US can take to ensure the protection and promotion of rights and dignity for all."

In other words, this is an important opportunity to hold the US government to international human rights standards. International agreements that guarantee rights to housing and protect against racial discrimination often offer more protection than US laws. As Malcolm X observed, "As long as you’re fighting on the level of civil rights, you’re under Uncle Sam’s jurisdiction. You’re going to his court expecting him to correct the problem. He created the problem. He’s the criminal. You don’t take your case to the criminal; you take your criminal to court.”

Addressing the Obama Administration officials at Xavier today, Norris Henderson of Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE) laid out the problems in New Orleans' criminal justice system, asking why a city of this size is planning to build a jail with the capacity to hold 8,000 prisoners. "We are the first to tell other countries what to do," Henderson said. "But, like Michael Jackson, we need to look at the Man in the Mirror."

Today's consultation is another step forward in holding the US government accountable. But there is still a long way to go. "We need to do something dramatic," said Henderson, after describing some of the human rights abuses he's seen and struggled to fight. "We need to shake this system to it's core."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Economic Bailout Leaves Out African Americans and Latinos

A new report from United for a Fair Economy finds that African Americans and Latinos are continuing to disproportionately experience economic hardships, and that targeted economic policies are required to address the racial economic divide in the US. The report, entitled State of the Dream 2010: Drained – Jobless and Foreclosed in Communities of Color, is the seventh annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report from United for a Fair Economy (UFE).

There is no doubt that Wall Street bankers are living in luxury during these hard economic times. New York City Councilman Charles Barron noted, at a recent protest on Wall Street, that Goldman Sachs was giving its traders 18 Billion Dollars of bonuses - nearly two hundred times the amount (100 million dollars) that President Obama pledged in Haiti relief.

As Ajamu Dillahunt, co-author of the report and UFE Board member, has written, "African Americans have gotten less than their share of every federal benefit since the Homestead Act handed out land to white settlers in 1865; since Social Security was set up to exclude domestic and agricultural workers; and since the Urban Renewal program of the 1960s was nicknamed “Negro Removal” because it replaced torn-down white apartments but rarely black apartments."

United for a Fair Economy explains:

In December 2009, The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) boycotted a financial reform vote, demanding that more be done to support suffering Black communities being hit hardest by the recession. The CBC's action was an important step, garnering $6 billion for targeted investments in the House, but much more work remains to be done.

"As recent unemployment statistics confirm, the broad-based economic recovery policies are not reaching those who need it most, including people of color," said Brian Miller, Executive Director of UFE. "Our report contains ample evidence to conclude that without targeted policies, such as those proposed by the CBC, we will never reduce the wide gaps of income and wealth between races."

In December, unemployment for African Americans and Latinos jumped to levels higher than any annual rate in 27 years.

Ajamu Dillahunt, co-author of the report and UFE Board member, explains, "Families survive unemployment better or worse depending on how much of a cushion they have, and African American and Latino families entered the recession with a dangerously low median net worth. In 2007, Blacks had only a dime and Latinos had only 12 cents of assets for every white dollar."

The State of the Dream 2010 report contains a broad range of accessible data and analysis about the current racial divide in terms of unemployment, median income, poverty, net worth, and rate of foreclosures. It includes policy suggestions that would target economic benefits to communities most deeply devastated by the current recession.

"A good model is how we prepare for a potential flu epidemic," says Mike Prokosch another report co-author and UFE Board member. "We give vaccines to the most vulnerable populations first. Economic policies should follow the same approach."

According to ranking CBC member Rep. Maxine Waters, "We can no longer be in denial that certain sectors of our population, including the African American community, are feeling the recession to a greater extent."

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Future of Haiti

Raymond Joseph, the Haitian ambassador to the US, told C-SPAN, "What was not politically possible, was done by the earthquake. We will rebuild differently . . . The future of Haiti will be very different from the past.'' We hope Haiti's future will be better, but we remain very concerned about the signs we have seen so far.

This week, journalist Jeremy Scahill revealed the mercenary companies that are already setting up in Haiti, including "Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater's massive State Department contract in Iraq." Scahill reports that one mercenary group set up a website to advertise their services in Haiti within hours after the earthquake.

The Washington Post reported that Haiti's wealthy were spared much of the destruction. Describing "an extreme, almost feudal divide between rich and poor in Haiti," the Post says "search-and-rescue operations have been intensely focused on buildings with international aid workers, such as the crushed U.N. headquarters, and on large hotels with international clientele. Some international rescue workers said they are being sent to find foreign nationals first."

The Post quotes a church-goer who says that reconstruction dollars will likely be directed to businesses owned by Haiti's elite. "They only give the aid money to the same big families, over and over. So I ask, what is the point? They have given money to these families to help Haiti for 50 years, and look at Haiti. I say the Americans need to make up a new list."

The program Democracy Now, which has featured some of the most powerful and important journalism from Haiti, reported on Friday, "Security 'Red Zones' in Haiti are preventing large aid groups from effectively distributing aid." Author Rebecca Solnit has written an excellent article called When The Media is the Disaster about the ways in which the media is demonizing the people of Haiti, condemning, "those members of the mass media whose misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a second wave of disaster."

We hope that grassroots voices will be able to combat the corporate media's bias, and that the people of US and other countries will be able see past the fear and support our friends in Haiti not just in this relief effort, but in a just rebuilding as well.

As we reported on Thursday, Louisiana Justice Institute co-director Jacques Morial co-convened a gathering to plan next steps in New Orleans solidarity with Haiti. Saturday, the Times-Picayune reported on these continuing efforts - including a plane carrying aid that just left New Orleans - under the headline "New Orleanians pitch in to provide medical aid for Haiti." In the coming days and weeks, there are many fundraisers and other local efforts still to come. New Orleans will not forget Haiti.

New Online Source for News and Journalism from New Orleans Launched

Louisiana Justice Institute congratulates NOLABeez, a new online collaborative project that brings together six ethnic media, representing aspects of New Orleans' diverse population, to provide hyperlocal stories from African American, Latino, Asian, and other ethnic groups.

The NOLA Beez project, an online collaboration of ethnic media in New Orleans, was officially launched in a ceremony that took place at Dillard University on January 12.

"We're proud to present to you an online hive for hyperlocal news content covering the New Orleans metropolitan area," Sylvain said. "This is a site where we can learn about what's happening in our communities — white, black, Latinos and Asians — without any language barriers."

A project of New America Media (NAM) and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, NOLA Beez culls daily and weekly articles and videos from New Orleans' ethnic media, translates them to English when necessary, and posts them online, creating and opening up new lines of communication among and between ethnic and immigrant communities.

An hour before the launching ceremony, Dr. Marvalene Hughes, president of Dillard University, welcomed the project in a private meeting with NAM and NOLA Beez representatives. "This is so timely and relevant, and it's a great honor for our university to host this event," she said.

For John Hoa Nguyen, publisher of Ngoc Lan Thoi Bao, a Vietnamese-language biweekly, the online collaboration is an important step to unite immigrant communities in New Orleans and help the city regain what had been lost and destroyed.

"How can we say that we are rebuilding New Orleans if we don't know what's happening in the Latino community, or if the Latino immigrants don't know what's happening in the black, white or Asian communities?" said Nguyen.

The NOLA Beez media members include New Orleans Agenda, Louisiana Data News Weekly, NOLA TV, Jambalaya News, El Tiempo New Orleans, Ngo Lan Thoi Bao and Louisiana Weekly.

"Our diversity makes the city more vibrant," Dr. Beverly Wright, president of the African American Women of Purpose and Power (AAWPP), said in an interview after the launching. "We're here because we love New Orleans and we want to see it rise again."

New America Media also sponsors similar ethnic media Web sites in San Jose, CA, and in Los Angeles, CA.

Content for this post is from the NOLABeez site, article by Anthony D. Advincula, co-editor of NOLA Beez and associate editor/national media outreach director for New America Media.

Fear Of The Poor Hinders Rescue in Haiti

According to an article last week in the Times of London, "Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue." Author Linda Polman reports that,

The rescue operation is becoming notorious for the slowness with which aid is reaching the victims. Five days after the quake hit, many places are still largely bereft of international aid. Not through lack of funds, supplies or emergency experts. Those are all pouring in from dozens of countries. But most of the aid — and aid workers — seems stuck at the airport.

Rescue teams have pulled survivors from five-star hotels, university buildings, a supermarket and the UN headquarters, all in Port-au-Prince’s better neighbourhoods. In poor areas, where the damage appears much greater, apparently forgotten victims report on Twitter that they have yet to encounter the first foreign rescuer.

Many aid workers are reported to have orders not to venture out without armed guards — which are not there at all, or only after long debates with the UN military command...

The Haitian people seem to scare aid workers more than Somali warlords, Darfuri Janjawid or Afghan Taleban. Frightened Dutch aid workers abandoned a mission without reaching the collapsed building where people were trapped, and frightened doctors have left their patients unattended.

The experience of CNN’s medical reporter, Dr Sanjay Gupta, is telling. In a makeshift clinic he encountered a Belgian medical team being evacuated in a UN bus. UN “rules of engagement” apparently stopped them providing security for the doctors. The Belgians took most of their medical supplies with them, to keep them out of the claws of robbers.

Dr Gupta and his camera team stayed the night, monitored the abandoned patients’ vital signs and continued intravenous drips — and they were not robbed. Some rescuers are leaning so much toward security that they will allow people to die.

The media are not helping. CNN rules in the rubble. “Outside of a military conflict, this is our biggest international deployment since the tsunami in 2004,” according to Tony Maddox, the managing director of CNN International. So the image of the aid operation being beamed back is primarily American — and one of the big problems is the American view of Haiti.

CNN won’t stop telling aid workers and the outside world about pillaging (the incidence of which — for the first four frustrating days at least — did not compare with what happened after Hurricane Katrina) and about how dangerous it is to distribute food, because of the likelihood of “stampedes”.

Nor is the US Government, the biggest player in the aid operation, doing anything to help to relax the atmosphere. On the contrary. When President Obama said that the US aid effort would be “aggressive” he meant it. The humanitarian operation is not led by civilian agencies, but by the Pentagon.
As we continue to watch the coverage of this disaster and it's aftermath, we can't help but think that both the US media and our government have a lot to answer for.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New Orleans Recovery Organizations Combine Efforts for Haiti Relief

The people of New Orleans continue to strive for ways to support the people of Haiti.

Today a group of more than 40 individuals representing almost as many organizations held an all-day strategy meeting to marshal critical relief resources, recovery experience and reconstruction capacity to help the people of Haiti recover from what will likely become the most deadly natural disaster the Western Hemisphere has seen in more than a century.

The gathering was convened by Louisiana Justice Institute's Co-Director Jacques Morial and Charles Allen III, Director of the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and chairman of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and hosted by the Make It Right Foundation at their downtown offices. Dr. Austin Allen, a landscape architecture professor who has worked on recovery and empowerment initiative in the Lower Ninth Ward and Tim Duggan of the Make It Right Foundation conceived the initiative along with Jacques Morial and Charles Allen III.

The goal of this convening was to develop a plan on how to best apply the capacities, experience, understanding and resources of those assembled, to help Haiti on a range of issues, including emergency and replacement housing, water, wastewater and sewage treatment, power, telecommunications, and healthcare.

“While we can’t imagine the epic scale of devastation and death, we’ve learned some painful lessons in our own struggle to recover from the floods that followed Katrina, and it’s our spiritual responsibility and moral obligation to offer the benefit of our experience, understanding and capacity to help the Haitian people in any way they find useful and appropriate,” said Jacques Morial.

The assembled group included recovery and reconstruction leaders, nonprofit providers of emergency housing, architects, engineers, scholars, technical experts, human rights lawyers, arts and cultural organizations, and grassroots efforts like Common Ground Relief Collective.

"People are dying and we need to take action," said Common Ground founder Malik Rahim. "We can't waste time."

The assembled organizations are moving forward together on many fronts from direct emergency relief to long term rebuilding, and are in direct contact with Haitian organizations and individuals as well as Haitian government officials to make sure that their plan is guided by those most affected.

New Orleans and Haiti are connected by geography, history, architecture, and family.
In 1809, half of the population of New Orleans was from Haiti, and their influence is still felt in our city. Their revolution has inspired us, and shaped US history.

The US would not have been able to purchase the massive amount of land that included Louisiana from France if not for the losses France faced from the efforts of Haitians to free themselves. We owe the people of Haiti a massive debt. But instead of supporting Haiti, the US has given Haiti two centuries of military oppression and economic colonialism.

We hope that Haiti is not just rebuilt, but that it receives the reparations it is owed.

For more information on this recovery project or to get involved, contact the organizing committee of the Haiti Emergency Village Project at 866.728.3522.

Photo: Jim Belfon / Gulf South Photography Project.

Global Marshall Plan Required to Rebuild Haiti - By Dr. Ron Daniels

Statement by Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project

The 7.0 earthquake which struck Haiti January 12th was one of the most catastrophic disasters ever experienced in the Caribbean region. Much of the Capital city of Port Au Prince is in shambles and other cities in the Southeastern region of the country have been devastated as well. This cataclysmic event comes in the wake of a series of hurricanes and tropical storms that have ravished the nation in recent years. But, as I stated in an article last summer, it also comes at a time when the “stars appeared to be aligning in favor of progress for Haiti.” A new sense of optimism and hope was beginning to spread as security and political stability improved under the Government of President Rene Gracia Preval. Haiti was abuzz about prospects for economic development and investment opportunities. The week before the earthquake hit, an article by Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald proclaimed “Haiti Experiences Hotel Boom.” The earthquake has interrupted momentum towards significant progress in Haiti.

But, “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” The Haitian people are remarkably resilient and strong. It was this strength and resiliency that enabled their forebears to become the first enslaved people in recorded history to rise up to defeat their slave masters and establish the first Black Republic in the world! Indeed, the whole world is indebted to Haiti for the shining example of the capacity of a courageous people to shatter the shackles of oppression against overwhelming odds. The Haitian Revolution was a triumph for human Rights.

The United States of America is especially indebted to Haiti. Haitian troops fought in the decisive battle of Savannah in the Revolutionary War, and the crushing defeat of the French army by the Haitian freedom fighters persuaded Napoleon that he should cut his losses by selling the huge Louisiana Territory to the U.S. for a mere $15 million. As a result of this deal with President Thomas Jefferson, the size of the American nation dramatically expanded, creating vast new opportunities for security and wealth for millions of new arrivals to this country.

America should always have treated Haiti as a “special neighbor.” However, the history of America and the world’s relationship to Haiti has been far from magnanimous. Haiti shattered the myth of “white supremacy” at the height of the propagation of racism, the holocaust of enslavement and the onslaught of European colonial conquest of the western hemisphere. Therefore, the Revolution, which established an independent nation, was an unwelcome development. Accordingly, Haiti was stigmatized, marginalized, isolated, coerced into paying reparations to France for its “loss of land and property”, and eventually invaded/occupied by the United States. During the “Cold War,” the U.S. supported the brutal dictatorship of the Duvaliers and in general has fostered policies that contributed to the “impoverishment” of Haiti.

It is through the prism of this historical context that we must view the current catastrophe in Haiti. In that vein, nothing short of a Global Marshall Plan is required to reconstruct the first Black Republic. With the U.S. government taking the lead, this horrific crisis presents the challenge and opportunity for the world to mobilize massive resources to rebuild Haiti as an expression of historical gratitude. But, this Global Marshall Plan must be devoid of the failed IMF and World Bank policies, which have crippled Haiti’s development efforts in the past. First and foremost, the Marshall Plan must address Haiti’s vision of its future based on a blueprint devised by the Haitian people.

To read the entire essay, click here.

The Ethics of Disaster Adoption

Recently, we've heard a lot of discussions about mass adoptions of Haitian youth, and some community concerns about this issue. To further the discussion, we are featuring an insightful Q&A on the subject from the UK Independent:

Q. How many orphans are there in Haiti?

A. There were already about 380,000 orphaned children in Haiti before the earthquake. The Caribbean island, which has a population of about 10 million, may now have more than a million children without parents.

Q. Could any of them be evacuated to safety, or even to a better life abroad?

A. Adoption agencies around the world have been flooded by enquiries from the public about adopting Haitian orphans. The Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS), a US advocacy organisation, says it has received 150 enquiries about Haitian adoption in the past three days, compared with about 10 a month usually. Some children – who were already in the final stages of being adopted by overseas parents when the quake struck – have already been airlifted out of Haiti, and the US has eased restrictions as a humanitarian gesture, as have France and Canada.

A chartered Dutch plane will arrive in Haiti today to airlift 109 more children, most of whom have already been matched with families in the Netherlands but whose adoptions have now been fast-tracked. Meanwhile, 53 orphans have already been flown to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Indiana-based Kids Alive International, which runs orphanages around the world, is expected to take 50 Haitian orphans to group homes in the Dominican Republic. The Catholic Church in Miami has asked the US government to allow thousands of orphaned Haitians to settle in America, in a scheme modelled on an initiative for Cuba, Operation Pedro Pan, in the Sixties. Under that scheme, 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children, offspring of parents whom opposed Fidel Castro's government, began new lives in the US.

Q. Is it ethical to relocate children from disaster zones?

A. There are honourable precedents such as the Kindertransport program during the Second World War, which saved 10,000 Jewish children by bringing them from Nazi Germany to Britain. But children's advocacy groups warn against mass airlifts of youngsters overseas in the wake of natural disasters. They cite the 2004 tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake in 2005,
arguing that the clamour surrounding children created a legal and ethical free-for-all.

Given the chaotic state of communications in Haiti right now, a big fear is that some children may be shipped overseas without proper checks to see if any extended family members are alive.

As for the impact on small children, some experts believe foreign adoptions, or being taken into care in an unfamiliar environment, could be psychologically traumatic. SOS Children's Villages, the children's charity has issued a warning that uprooting children in such situations can be stressful and unsettling, and lead to long-term psychological problems for infants who are expected to grow up in an alien culture.

"When you see any child who has lost their family on the news, your natural instinct is to want to go and pick them up and cherish them," it said. "Sometimes international adoption is the right solution for a child, but far more often it is not."

Adoption expert Professor René Hoksbergen, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, also warns that the hurried evacuation of children may send the wrong signal, encouraging people to assume that children in chaotic situations can be easily relocated. Some of the children evacuated from Cuba under Operation Pedro Pan ended up stranded in remote parts of the US, far from other Cubans, and have since spoken of how the experience scarred them.

Q. Is there a better way?

A. Charities argue that it is more important to register all children, trace any extended family members, and work to rebuild the country rather than removing youngsters from their homeland. Unicef says its priority is to ensure that children affected by the earthquake get the help they need. "While both airlifts and new adoptions are based on valid concerns and come from an obviously loving heart, neither option is considered viable by any credible child welfare organization," says the JCICS. "Bringing children into the US either by airlift or new adoption during a time of national emergency can open the door for fraud, abuse and trafficking."

Rest In Peace Myriam Merlet, Haitian Feminist Leader

From our friends at V-Day:

Myriam Merlet, the Chief of Staff of the Ministry for women in Haiti, perished in the earthquake in Port Au Prince. She was trapped in her home and passed away before she could be rescued. Like many who sought exodus from poverty and repression, she fled Haiti in the 1970's. After a politically active life in the Haitian Diaspora, Myriam returned to Haiti with her young family in 1986. As both a political activist and professional, Myriam remained committed to the process of social and political change in Haiti. Myriam is also a published author on women's rights, race and gender issues.

V-Day met Myriam in 2001 when she first requested to bring the V-Day movement to Haiti. Despite riots and coups, she brought The Vagina Monologues to the women and girls of Port Au Prince, raising the issue of violence against women and girls in a region where women suffer some of the worst poverty and gender-based-violence in the world. Myriam was a force of nature and one of Haiti and the Caribbean's most beloved leaders of the women's movement. As a true Vagina Warrior she was an integral part of creating the V-Day Haiti Sorority Safe House in Port Au Prince. She has been with V-Day through our small victories and our biggest moments, from building the safe house in Haiti, to joining thousands of women and men from all over the world in New Orleans for V to the Tenth. She was a leader, a warrior, a mother, and a friend. And she will be greatly missed by V-Day, and her fellow activists all over the world.

"She was one of the most humble, devoted, committed, brilliant, loving women. She was a revolutionary and a visionary and had the hugest heart. And she was fun. She inspired many and lifted many and I am grateful beyond words to have known her and been in this struggle with her. And now, all of us must commit ourselves to Haiti, to women, to their future with all our hearts."
-Eve Ensler

"I look at things through the eyes of women, very conscious of the roles, limitations, and stereotypes imposed on us. Everything I do is informed by that consciousness. So I want to get to a different concept and application of power then the one that keeps women from attaining their full potential…The basis of my work with women us to open them up to other things, give them new tools, give them new capabilities...give women the opportunity to grow..."
"The More People Dream," by Myriam Merlet, excerpt from Walking on Fire: Hatian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LJI Director Tracie Washington named as Board member for the Gulf Coast Trans-Disciplinary Research Recovery Center for Community Health

The Gulf Coast Trans-Disciplinary Research Recovery Center for Community Health (TRRCCH) announced today that they have named Louisiana Justice Institute director Tracie Washington as one of their External Advisory Board members.

The TRRCCH brings together a remarkable array of academic leadership in a new consortium of seven outstanding medical and public health institutions and centers:

* Lovell A. Jones, PhD, (TRRCCH Co-PI) Professor and Director, Center for Research on Minority Health, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas
* Maureen Lichtveld, MD, MPH, (TRRCH Co-PI) Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
* Alexandra B. Nolen, PhD, MPH, Acting Director, Center to Eliminate Health Disparities Associate Director. {AJP/WHO Collaborating Center for Training in International Health, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas
* The University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Miami, Florida
* Armin Weinberg, PhD, Professor and Director, Chronic Disease Prevention & Control Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
* Patricia Matthews-Juarez, PhD, Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine and Associate Vice President, Faculty Affairs and Development, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee
* Faith Foreman, DrPH, Assistant Director, City of Houston, Department of Health and Human Services, Houston, Texas

The TRRCCH Consortium will focus on (1) advancing innovative community-centered, trans-disciplinary research that targets social determinants of health to promote health and prevent diseases in all communities; (2) engaging community participation to work with trans-disciplinary professionals to develop culturally intervention research for vulnerable populations; (3) promoting educational opportunities, job trainings, social entrepreneurship and environmental justice that connects health, environment and economic development; (4) integrating science, practice and policy to develop best health practices that lead to individual, group and community behavior change, and health security for communities; and (5) developing trans-disciplinary and multi-system approaches, models, and materials that can be replicated in other communities that face similar challenges in other regions of the country.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gendered Disaster

In the aftermath of Katrina, INCITE! Women Of Color Against Violence and other feminist organizations brought attention to the way that disaster in gendered, noting that women were especially victimized by Katrina and it's aftermath.

An organization called the Gender and Disaster Network released six principles for engendered relief and reconstruction, stating, "Gender analysis is not optional or divisive but imperative to direct aid and plan for full and equitable recovery. Nothing in disaster work is 'gender neutral.'"

Now in the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake, New Orleans activists from the Women's Health and Justice Initiative, which was started by members of New Orleans INCITE, have spoken out about these same issues. They have forwarded a list of women-run organizations in Haiti, encouraging activists to support relief that focuses on those hardest hit by this disaster. They ask the question, "How can we intentionally support the long term sustainability and self determination of the Haitian people? When crises of this magnitude occur, we all understandably want to act quickly, but we must also figure out how to act thoughtfully in our efforts to develop a comprehensive, sustainable, and accountable transnational radical feminist response."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shame on You Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper, the people of New Orleans taught you, in the days and weeks post-Katrina, about the plight of disaster victims and our desperate need to survive. You learned from us how important is water when you are left without shelter in a warm/tropical climate. You learned from us how desperate a parent becomes when she sits for days on end listening to her child cry out for food. And you learned from us the damage media and journalists can cause by exaggerating rumors of violence and chaos.

We taught you this.

Unfortunately, now some 4.5 years later, you lost these lessons on the way to Haiti, as evidenced by your live story today describing as ‘looters’ and ‘thieves’ the Haitian victims struggling to enter any and every grocery store accessible – to obtain food and water – to survive.

Unbelievably, your report was sympathetic of Tony Bennett, the Miami ‘businessman’ who has armed himself and two (2) Haitian police with glocks and automatic weapons, and barricaded a Port-au-Prince street in order to keep these starving earthquake victims from taking food and water from his store. (To see the report, click here)

What’s wrong with you Anderson?

A responsible journalist would have been questioning the sanity and humanity of Tony Bennett, this Spawn of Satan, for ever contemplating closing his business and denying basic survival means to these victims. Here are a few questions you might have asked him:

 “Why are you treating these victims this way? Is there some big market the rest of the world doesn’t know about for food recovered during a natural disaster? Where, exactly, are you going to sell this water?”
 “Sir, instead of arming what is now your own private militia, why don’t you ask these Haitian police officers to help you distribute these perishables so that these mothers won’t have to pay for water, and food, and baby formula?”
 “Excuse me, Mr. Bennett, I’m just curious. How are you going to sleep tonight, knowing you’ve denied food and water to hungry children?”

See Anderson, you know the difference between “looter/thief” and “survivor” and, most importantly, how to report accurately this distinction. We taught you that. You know how to identify and expose a disaster capitalist. We taught you that. You know how to report accurately from ground-zero of a major natural disaster. We taught you that.

Shame on you, Anderson Cooper, for forgetting your lessons and, in the process, re-victimizing the people of Haiti. You know better.

Tracie L. Washington is an attorney and Co-Director of Louisiana Justice Institute,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why The US Owes Haiti Billions – The Briefest History By Bill Quigley

Why does the US owe Haiti Billions? Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, stated his foreign policy view as the “Pottery Barn rule.” That is – “if you break it, you own it.”

The US has worked to break Haiti for over 200 years. We owe Haiti. Not charity. We owe Haiti as a matter of justice. Reparations. And not the $100 million promised by President Obama either – that is Powerball money. The US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B.

The US has worked for centuries to break Haiti. The US has used Haiti like a plantation. The US helped bleed the country economically since it freed itself, repeatedly invaded the country militarily, supported dictators who abused the people, used the country as a dumping ground for our own economic advantage, ruined their roads and agriculture, and toppled popularly elected officials. The US has even used Haiti like the old plantation owner and slipped over there repeatedly for sexual recreation.

Here is the briefest history of some of the major US efforts to break Haiti.

In 1804, when Haiti achieved its freedom from France in the world’s first successful slave revolution, the United States refused to recognize the country. The US continued to refuse recognition to Haiti for 60 more years. Why? Because the US continued to enslave millions of its own citizens and feared recognizing Haiti would encourage slave revolution in the US.

After the 1804 revolution, Haiti was the subject of a crippling economic embargo by France and the US. US sanctions lasted until 1863. France ultimately used its military power to force Haiti to pay reparations for the slaves who were freed. The reparations were 150 million francs. (France sold the entire Louisiana territory to the US for 80 million francs!)

Haiti was forced to borrow money from banks in France and the US to pay reparations to France. A major loan from the US to pay off the French was finally paid off in 1947. The current value of the money Haiti was forced to pay to French and US banks? Over $20 Billion – with a big B.

The US occupied and ruled Haiti by force from 1915 to 1934. President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to invade in 1915. Revolts by Haitians were put down by US military – killing over 2000 in one skirmish alone. For the next nineteen years, the US controlled customs in Haiti, collected taxes, and ran many governmental institutions. How many billions were siphoned off by the US during these 19 years?

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was forced to live under US backed dictators “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvlaier. The US supported these dictators economically and militarily because they did what the US wanted and were politically “anti-communist” - now translatable as against human rights for their people. Duvalier stole millions from Haiti and ran up hundreds of millions in debt that Haiti still owes. Ten thousand Haitians lost their lives. Estimates say that Haiti owes $1.3 billion in external debt and that 40% of that debt was run up by the US-backed Duvaliers.

Thirty years ago Haiti imported no rice. Today Haiti imports nearly all its rice. Though Haiti was the sugar growing capital of the Caribbean, it now imports sugar as well. Why? The US and the US dominated world financial institutions – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – forced Haiti to open its markets to the world. Then the US dumped millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture. By ruining Haitian agriculture, the US has forced Haiti into becoming the third largest world market for US rice. Good for US farmers, bad for Haiti.

In 2002, the US stopped hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to Haiti which were to be used for, among other public projects like education, roads. These are the same roads which relief teams are having so much trouble navigating now!

In 2004, the US again destroyed democracy in Haiti when they supported the coup against Haiti’s elected President Aristide.

Haiti is even used for sexual recreation just like the old time plantations. Check the news carefully and you will find numerous stories of abuse of minors by missionaries, soldiers and charity workers. Plus there are the frequent sexual vacations taken to Haiti by people from the US and elsewhere. What is owed for that? What value would you put on it if it was your sisters and brothers?

US based corporations have for years been teaming up with Haitian elite to run sweatshops teeming with tens of thousands of Haitians who earn less than $2 a day.

The Haitian people have resisted the economic and military power of the US and others ever since their independence. Like all of us, Haitians made their own mistakes as well. But US power has forced Haitians to pay great prices – deaths, debt and abuse.

It is time for the people of the US to join with Haitians and reverse the course of US-Haitian relations.

This brief history shows why the US owes Haiti Billions – with a big B. This is not charity. This is justice. This is reparations. The current crisis is an opportunity for people in the US to own up to our country’s history of dominating Haiti and to make a truly just response.

Bill is Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and a long-time Haiti human rights advocate. For more on the history of exploitation of Haiti by the US see: Paul Farmer, THE USES OF HAITI; Peter Hallward, DAMNING THE FLOOD; and Randall Robinson, AN UNBROKEN AGONY).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Call for Transparency and Consultation with the Haitian People and Government

Rights Groups Urge Respect for Human Rights in Delivering Aid to Haiti

(January 14, 2010, New York, Washington DC, and Port-au-Prince)– In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, six prominent rights groups issued a statement today calling for relief efforts to be grounded in human rights principles, transparency, and respect for the human dignity of all Haitians. The groups—the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), Partners In Health/Zanmi Lasante, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), and TransAfrica Forum—warned that failure to do so could aggravate the already disastrous impacts of the earthquake.

“There is no doubt that Haiti’s hungry, thirsty, injured, and sick urgently need all the assistance the international community can provide, but it is critical that the underlying goal of improving human rights drives the distribution of every dollar of aid given to Haiti,” said Loune Viaud, Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at Zanmi Lasante. “The only way to avoid escalation of this crisis is for international aid to take a long-term view and strive to rebuild a stronger Haiti—one that includes a government that can ensure the basic human rights of all Haitians and a nation that is empowered to demand those rights.”

The groups cited past relief efforts in Haiti that were uncoordinated, unpredictable, and lacked community participation, often leading to increased suffering. They called on the international community to seize on this opportunity to advance human rights and sustainability in the ravaged country.

“The magnitude of the catastrophe is not entirely a result of natural disaster but rather, a history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment of the Haitian people through a series of misguided polices,” said Brian Concannon Jr., Director of IJDH. “Lack of donor accountability and continued aid volatility will only guarantee even greater suffering.”

In their statement, the groups call on the international community to employ a rights- based approach at all stages of the relief effort, from planning to implementation and monitoring by:

* Following the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which include the right to assistance from the government and the right to return;
* Complying with the Paris Principles on Aid Effectiveness, which aim to ensure aid harmonization, alignment, and management for results with monitorable indicators;
* Recognizing the human rights context that existed prior to the earthquakes and take steps to ensure that humanitarian and development efforts do not exacerbate or reinforce the marginalization of vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the landless;
* Ensuring that relief is coordinated and provided in a transparent process, including through shared needs assessments and a high level of coordination with the government of Haiti itself; and,
* Empowering all strata of the Haitian population to participate in decision-making at each level of the aid and development process, from the initial needs assessment to project planning, implementation, and evaluation.

“All too often, aid has been slow to arrive, uncoordinated, and planned with no input from the people most affected—that legacy must and can end today,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Center. “We have an opportunity to break with the past and ensure that assistance is given in a way that strengthens Haitians’ fundamental rights to food, water, and health. The Haitian people deserve no less.”

To read the full letter, please click HERE.
For more information about the organizations involved, please see their websites:,,,,, and

Friday, January 15, 2010

Systemic Roots to Disasters in Haiti and New Orleans

The crisis in Haiti is systemic in its roots.

Disasters are acts of nature. But as we saw in New Orleans, systems of poverty and exploitation interact and intersect with natural events to create massive loss of life. This is why, when the same hurricanes hit Cuba and Haiti, hundreds die in Haiti while almost no one dies in Cuba. Cuba, a very poor nation suffering from decades of economic warfare from the US, has a better survival rate from hurricanes than Florida or the rest of the US. When Hurricane Georges hit Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, 100 died in Haiti, 200 in the Dominican Republic, and six in Cuba.

In New Orleans, we've seen literally tens of billions of dollars in aid pledged in the years since Katrina, but only a small fraction of that has made it to those most in need. More than 60,000 residential addresses - a third of our city - remain empty or abandoned. At least twelve thousand people in our city - nearly five percent of our population - faced these recent cold weeks with no roof over their heads.

In Haiti, mining and other corporate exploitation made the land more unsafe. Two hundred years of crippling debt imposed by France, the US and other colonial powers drained the country's financial resources. Military occupation and presidential coups coordinated and funded by the US have devastated the nation's government infrastructure.

Please remember the US role in this tragedy. As Haiti's democratically elected president is exiled in South Africa without a passport, remember that it was US forces that came in and removed him from power. As US Congressman Rangel told CNN at the time, "He was kidnapped [by US soldiers]. He and his wife had no idea where he was going. He was very apprehensive for his life."

Journalist and author Naomi Klein reported that within 24 hours of the earthquake, the influential right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation was already seeking to use the disaster as an attempt at further privatization of the country's economy.

Haitian poet and human rights lawyer Ezili Dantò has written, "Haiti's poverty began with a US/Euro trade embargo after its independence, continued with the Independence Debt to France and ecclesiastical and financial colonialism. Moreover, in more recent times, the uses of U.S. foreign aid, as administered through USAID in Haiti, basically serves to fuel conflicts and covertly promote U.S. corporate interests to the detriment of democracy and Haitian health, liberty, sovereignty, social justice and political freedoms. USAID projects have been at the frontlines of orchestrating undemocratic behavior, bringing underdevelopment, coup d'etat, impunity of the Haitian Oligarchy, indefinite incarceration of dissenters, and destroying Haiti's food sovereignty essentially promoting famine."

Please also remember that not all aid is equal. Tracy Kidder, of the Haiti-based organization Partners in Health, said it very well: "There are 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti, and Haiti is still one of the poorest countries in the world - then something‘s wrong with the way things are, the way aid is being administered." Major organizations like Red Cross spend most of their money on salaries for people who aren't from Haiti, and very little of your donation makes it to the people who need it the most. And because their mission is to focus only on emergencies, they will do nothing to address the systemic problems that caused this massive loss of life.

Yesterday, Bill Quigley discussed some of the political solutions to this problem. We have also posted links to some accountable organizations to donate to. And we encourage you to watch the Haiti coverage on the program Democracy Now, which has featured vital commentary from guests like Randall Robinson and Edwidge Danticat. The other lesson from New Orleans is this: Haiti will still be in crisis long after all of the news cameras have left. As concerned family and friends of Haiti, we need to make sure that we stay involved.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ten Things the US Can and Should Do for Haiti, By Bill Quigley

One. Allow all Haitians in the US to work. The number one source of money for poor people in Haiti is the money sent from family and workers in the US back home. Haitians will continue to help themselves if given a chance. Haitians in the US will continue to help when the world community moves on to other problems.

Two. Do not allow US military in Haiti to point their guns at Haitians. Hungry Haitians are not the enemy. Decisions have already been made which will militarize the humanitarian relief – but do not allow the victims to be cast as criminals. Do not demonize the people.

Three. Give Haiti grants as help, not loans. Haiti does not need any more debt. Make sure that the relief given helps Haiti rebuild its public sector so the country can provide its own citizens with basic public services.

Four. Prioritize humanitarian aid to help women, children and the elderly. They are always moved to the back of the line. If they are moved to the back of the line, start at the back.

Five. President Obama can enact Temporary Protected Status for Haitians with the stroke of a pen. Do it. The US has already done it for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Somalia. President Obama should do it on Martin Luther King Day.

Six. Respect Human Rights from Day One. The UN has enacted Guiding Principles for Internally Displaced People. Make them required reading for every official and non-governmental person and organization. Non-governmental organizations like charities and international aid groups are extremely powerful in Haiti – they too must respect the human dignity and human rights of all people.

Seven. Apologize to the Haitian people everywhere for Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.

Eight. Release all Haitians in US jails who are not accused of any crimes. Thirty thousand people are facing deportations. No one will be deported to Haiti for years to come. Release them on Martin Luther King day.

Nine. Require that all the non-governmental organizations which raise money in the US be transparent about what they raise, where the money goes, and insist that they be legally accountable to the people of Haiti.

Ten. Treat all Haitians as we ourselves would want to be treated.

Bill is Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Orleans' Heart is in Haiti

New Orleans and Haiti are linked by geography, history, and family. Many New Orleanians have roots in the island nation, and their revolution inspired enslaved Africans in our city to also rise up at the same time. So news of an earthquake and mass devastation in the country has hit hard here.

As one historian has noted, "During a six-month period in 1809, approximately 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) arrived at New Orleans, doubling the Crescent City’s population...The vast majority of these refugees established themselves permanently in the Crescent City. [They] had a profound impact upon New Orleans’ development. Refugees established the state’s first newspaper and introduced opera into the Crescent City. They also appear to have played a role in the development of Creole cuisine and the perpetuation of voodoo practices in the New Orleans area. More importantly, they were responsible for preserving the city’s French character for several generations."

In addition, almost every hurricane that has hit our city first brought devastation on Haiti. We are linked not just by disasters, but also by first-hand experience with the ways in which oppression based on race, class and gender interacts with these disasters.

After Katrina, Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat raised questions about political and media pundits who expressed shock at the devastation after the levees broke by saying that New Orleans looked more like Haiti than the United States. Danticat observes, “It’s hard for those of us who are from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at a time when an unimaginable tragedy shows exactly how much alike we are...We do share a planet that is gradually being warmed by mismanagement, unbalanced exploration, and dismal environmental policies that might one day render us all, First World and Third World residents alike, helpless to more disasters like Hurricane Katrina."

Our Katrina experience has taught us to be suspicious of Red Cross. Among the aid organizations we've heard recommended are the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Haiti Support Project, and Partners In Health. We've also heard from several New Orleanians connected to the organization Konbit Pou Edikasyon, and we've heard that Wyclef Jean has been mobilizing support for his organization Yele. We encourage you to donate to experienced and accountable relief efforts.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why Can't the Loyola University Institute of Politics Find Any Black Voices They Believe Are Qualified To Speak On Black Politics?

Tonight, the Loyola University Institute of Politics (IOP) will be hosting a closed session on the subject "Black Politics in New Orleans." The guest speaker is Moon Landrieu, the last white mayor of New Orleans. Landrieu's term in office ended in 1978.

Not only is the timing of this selection of a speaker curious, it suggests that former Mayor Landrieu is the best expert to lecture graduate students on the subject of Black politics in New Orleans. While former Mayor Landrieu is certainly is a wise political sage and earned a reputation for racial fairness in his day, he is clearly not best qualified to lead a discussion of contemporary issues related to African Americans and politics in New Orleans and Louisiana. We find it curious that the IOP did not select one of dozens of recognized scholars and African American political professionals who have worked in this field for decades.

The entire community and particularly African Americans should be outraged. For far too long, we've allowed others to define our history, distort our struggles and attempt to determine our destiny. Enough is enough.

As center of higher learning, the Loyola Institute of Politics should be held to a higher standard of honest intellectual inquiry. Further, as a Jesuit-affiliated institution of higher education and a member of the academy, the IOP should not be allowed to miseducate our state's future political leadership by failing the standards of academic objectivity and scholarship, demeaning the integrity of the political struggles of African Americans in New Orleans.

Among the countless speakers who the IOP could have been considered are: Don Hubbard, Jerome Smith, Andy Washington, Dr. Rudy Lombard, Dr. Raphael Casimere, Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika, Lolis Edward Elie, King Wells, Bob Tucker, Ron Nabonne, James Gray, II, Dale Atkins, Dr. Gary Clark, Dr. Silas Lee, Sheriff Paul Valteau, Dr. Ron Gardner, Louis Charbonnett, III, Sherman Copelin, Vincent Sylvain, Doug Evans, Jay Banks, Jerome Bondi, Paul Beaulieu, Beverly McKenna, Renee' Lapeyrolerie, Judith Dangerfield, Sundiata Haley and Lolis Eric Elie.

In addition, we find it interesting that they scheduled this session for tonight in particular. We suggest that IOP members interested in the topic might find tonight's mayoral forum more enlightening:

Tonight at 6:00pm, Dillard University's Deep South Center for Environmental Justice will host a mayoral forum at the Cook Center. Dr. Beverly Wright, President of the African American Women of Purpose and Power (AAWPP) and Nolin Rollins, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans are the primary hosts of this mayoral forum, titled "A Collaborative for the Future; Where Purpose Meets Power." The debate will examine issues that are of interest to the African-American community.