Archive for the 'crisis' Category

Self-organization and self-government in Haiti to deal with the crisis

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010


Haitians in makeshift camps organize ‘platoons’ to provide services

By Howard LaFranchi Staff writer posted January 31, 2010 at 11:41 am EST

Small groups have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation in the sprawling ‘tent cities’ that cropped up in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

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Port-au-Prince, Haiti —As Haitians have accepted the stark reality that the camps that sprang up after the horrific Jan. 12 earthquake will be their home indefinitely, people have moved to get their new communities organized.Enter any camp here, from the sprawling, stewing expanse of perhaps 10,000 people in the capital’s central Champ de Mars, to others on soccer fields and golf courses and inside the security barriers of now-crumbled public buildings, and in most cases you’ll find “the committee” – the small group of men and women who have taken it upon themselves to establish security, organize aid deliveries, and maintain a minimum of sanitation.< ..more..!>

Behind these spontaneous and often basic attempts at self-government is a very human desire to put some order – and maybe even a bit of hope – into disrupted and disoriented lives.

“The first distributions of food here were complete chaos. The groups got out of here before emptying their trucks because it was such a mess,” says Ben Constant, president of the “committee” at the Sylvio Cator soccer stadium camp, a few blocks west of the collapsed presidential palace in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. “That’s when we knew we had to get this thing organized.”

Mr. Constant, a well-known Port-au-Prince DJ who before the quake managed the stadium for the Haitian Federation of Football, sat down to figure out who was living in the camp – about 700 families, more than 2,500 people – what was needed, and who could do what.

Clean-up ‘platoons’

Clean-up and security “platoons” were established – the word “platoon” harking back to Constant’s years serving in the US Army and Vietnam (he’s a Haitian citizen who lived in the US for a number of years). A clinic with what he claims is now some of the best emergency pediatric care in the city was set up – open not just to the camp population but to all Haitian kids in need.

And families were assigned a number – it’s all written down by hand on a neat ledger – so that numbers are called when aid arrives, and the distribution is more orderly.

Constant says he felt compelled to organize day-to-day living at the camp because frustration was building “and something bad was going to happen.” The fact he and his family live at the stadium as well was another motivation. “We lost everything like everybody else,” he says. “We’re just trying to make what we can of this situation.”

In some cases, the camp committee members were involved in neighborhood governing boards before the quake, and simply transferred their skills and social-organizing abilities to their new residence.

Kermly Hermé is one of those people. Active in the Bel Air neighborhood before the quake, she is now the doyenne of at least a section of the sprawling Champ de Mars camp.

A large woman with a colorful muumuu and a massive bun fashioned of tight braids, Ms. Herme says the “committee” of nine she sits on has assigned itself such tasks as keeping the nearby port-a-johns “orderly” and getting the sick and wounded to clinics.

She herself has taken on the job of going to market to buy provisions – with the small “dues” the committee collects of camp residents – to prepare a daily hot meal.

Indeed, Herme suddenly excuses herself from an interview and moves to the bubbling pots a few steps away, where a rather forlorn-looking man holds out a Styrofoam takeout container. Without a word she scoops rice onto the plate and then ladles chicken in chickpea sauce over it. The man thanks her and walks on.

Camps outside of Port-au-Prince

The camp organizing is not limited to Port-au-Prince, but appears to have sprung up wherever Haitians find themselves without a house and obliged to join others in makeshift communities.

In Jacmel on Haiti’s southern coast, the 13 individuals attempting to put some order into the lives of 600 homeless people in the crushed center city have even given themselves a fancy title: Management Committee of the Victims at Toussaint Louverture Square.

As was the case with the stadium camp, impending anarchy prompted the committee’s formation.

“A truck from Doctors without Borders came with kits of supplies to hand out, but it was such terrible disorder they left in a hurry,” says Michelet Jerôme. “That got us going.”

The committee now has a security team – petty theft by “outsiders” was becoming a problem – and food, shelter, and health subcommittees.

Another important committee function is to advocate for the camp with the dozens of international assistance organizations that are bringing supplies and services into the city. “We have a serious lack of tents, but if you go into some of the streets in the higher [up the hill] neighborhoods, you’ll see them lined with red tents because they had good contact with the organization that provided tents,” Mr. Jerôme says. “We need a committee to establish relations with these groups.”

Longer-term housing needs

The camp organizing is taking hold just as the Haitian government plans for the longer-term housing needs of perhaps 1 million Haitians during the country’s reconstruction period. Last week Haitian officials said they had already secured 400,000 tents from international donors, and had so far selected sites in Port-au-Prince for two large camps.

Some of the camp organizers say they expect many of the makeshift camps to remain, in part because they are often close to people’s neighborhoods. Others say they will be happy to turn over management to the government. Some, however, fear any attempt to build camps of several thousand families make things worse. Among the concerns: The new camps will be located far from the city center, transportation won’t be adequate, and distribution of food and other needs – still a problem in the makeshift camps – will deteriorate in camps with more people.

Hermé of the Champ de Mars says she can understand that 10,000 people can’t continue living in the city’s central public space, but she also says that past experience suggests to her that the government will have a hard time getting the new camps right.

“If they organize things well from the beginning, with good services and transportation, it can work,” she says. “But already we only find out about their plans on the radio, so it’s not a good start.”

And at the stadium camp, Constant is even less hopeful. “They’re going to try to do something that is impossible,” he says. “I know what we’re going through here with 800 people,” he says. “Can you imagine what it will take to succeed with 5,000 people living in the same camp?”

Work for the poor, commons put to work: the next market wave.

Friday, November 20th, 2009

The next disciplinary market wave — if it will come at all — will likely be greatly dependent on commons at every scale of social action. For this reason, a reasonably strong political recomposition wave around commons to contrast this market wave is the minimum that is necessary for social justice and for saving the planet,

. . . if only . . . .

Take this account on venture capital drying up and web companies start-ups looking somewhere else for their development. As the financial crisis intensifies, small start-ups companies mobilise circles of friends to type up code. If they are not able to mobilise enough commoners to turn into social capital, they will then subcontract to the poor. Non profit companies like samasource are devoted to this task, with an incredible zeal, self-confidence, creative-corporate cool image, and conviction of doing good. Just check them out for what a friend has defined an “unbelievable hubris.” They go out and train refugees, poor women and youth into microwork. This is part of a growing phenomenon quite interesting and scary at the same time. Like in those cases, in which reproduction services like reading bed time stories or helping children in their homework can be subcontracted to poor workers on the other side of the world, eager women- and men-fridays mobilised by www.getfriday.com. With some strong coordinated policy commitment this stuff could be part of a possible way forward for capital: the mobilisation of commons either directly (through the production of commodities), or indirectly (through cheapening of reproduction of labour) for the expansion of markets and diffusion of capitalist work. In this sense, microwork would complement microcredit as a strategy to put the planet to work masked as “war against poverty” . (By the way, on microcredit, it is crucial to remind of the riots it provoked in Nicaragua not long ago.

In short, innovation will be either “financed” by commoning — in the hope to reap a reward through creation of a competitive advantage — or it will be subcontracted to the poor, who in turn depends heavily on commons circuits for their livelihoods, something that gives them the “competitive advantage” vis others cyber workers. But not all is lost. Here an interesting hint on a spill-over affect of this training of the poor for microwork: the discovery of facebook.

Raj Patel on America’s Growing Hunger Crisis and the UN Summit to Fight Hunger in Rome

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

From Democracy Now!: “More than 49 million Americans—or one in seven—struggled to find enough to eat last year, according to a report from the US Department of Agriculture released Monday. That’s the highest total since the federal government began keeping track of food insecurity. Meanwhile, leaders from most of the world are gathered in Rome to tackle hunger on a global scale at the UN World Food Summit, but leaders of the world’s richest countries were largely absent from the summit. We speak with Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System.”

Popular protests against microfinance in Nicaragua

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

From nacla.org/node/6180

Confronted by the bold protests of the Movimiento de Productores, Comerciantes y Microempresarios de Nueva Segovia, or more colloquially as the No Pago (I Won’t Pay) movement, politicians are growing increasingly nervous that the group’s protests are scaring away international investors and could strike a heavy blow against the country’s shaky economy.

The first signs of unrest appeared more than a year ago, following remarks made by President Daniel Ortega at a political rally in the northwestern province of Jalapa. The region was simmering with tension after a large microfinance corporation had six debtors arrested. Their families chose to barricade the highways for 11 days in protest.

“We need to end this policy of usury,” Ortega told a crowd on July 12. “Instead of protesting on the streets, protest before the offices of usurers and plant yourselves before them. Stand firm, for we support you!”

Ten days later, borrowers behind in their loan payments tried to burn down a microfinance office in the department of Nueva Segovia. Some time afterward, debtors stormed another MFI and refused to let personnel leave the building; the resulting showdown with police left one civilian blinded from a rubber bullet. (more…)

South Africa shack dwellers killed

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I report below an updated press statement on the attack on the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), an informal settlement in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The settlement has been for many years at the center of people commoning on housing, electricity and water. The situation in South Africa seems to be at a crucial point and resistance to ANC politics, which is now meeting a wall of violence.

This press statement has been updated. Please use this version from now on. We will update further as we get further information.

Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC)

Emergency Press Release, Sunday 27 September 2009

Kennedy Road Development Committee Attacked – People Have Been Killed

Last night at abo ut 11:30 a group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword attacked the KRDC near the Abahlali baseMjondolo office in the Kennedy Road settlement. The movement was holding an all night camp for the Youth League but the camp was not attacked but the people at the camp were intimidated and threatened.
The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu.” Some people were killed. We can’t yet say exactly how many. Some are saying that three people are dead. Some are saying that five people are dead. Many people are also very seriously injured. The attackers broke everything that they could including the windows in the hall. They destroyed 15 houses before launching their attack. They were knocking on each door shouting ‘All the amaZulu must come out’ and then destroying the shacks. As far as we know two of the attackers were killed when people managed to take their bush knives off them. This was self defense.
The Sydenham police were called but they did not come. They said that they had no vans but they didn’t radio their vans to come. This has led some people to conclude that this was a carefully planned attack on the movement and that the police knew in advance that it had been planned and stayed away on purpose. Why else would the police refuse to come when they are being called while people are being openly murdered? When the attack happened one officer from Crime Intelligence was there in plain clothes. (more…)

Obama meets Lenin

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

. . check it out here

www.commoner.org.uk/?p=80