Saturday January 12 marked the three-year anniversary of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti. Yet, despite the huge influx of donations from generous individuals in the U.S. and around the world to NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), particularly the Red Cross (the largest recipient, which received at least $479 million), life for Haitians has changed little. While over 300,000 displaced Haitians remain in tent cities, part of the Red Cross's money is being used to construct a luxury hotel and conference center. NGOs are also spending large amounts on staff salaries. For example, the CEO of the U.S. Red Cross is paid at least $600,000 a year. Meanwhile, It has been estimated that it could take 10 years for Haiti to start seeing any significant recovery.
Last weekend, protests occurred in front of Red Cross offices including London, England; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Oakland, California on January 11th; and Los Angeles, California on January 14th. Fifteen people turned out in the late morning at 11355 Ohio Avenue in West LA.
The event was called by Global Women's Strike, Women of Color in Global Women's Strike, and the Haiti Working Group/LA and endorsed by the Haiti Action Committee, Alexandria House, IAC/LA, Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, Kids Village@OccupyLA, the Martin Luther King Coalition, Pat Alviso, member of Military Families Speak Out, and WomensCircle@OccupyLA.
The Red Cross building is located far back from the street. We stood in front of the long roadway that meanders uphill to both the Veterans (VA) hospital and Red Cross, and received a fair amount of positive responses from passing motorists, both on Ohio Avenue and coming in and out of the roadway. Chanting was lively and passionate. Our many chants included “Red Cross, where is Haiti's money?” “Red Cross-Double Cross,” and “Viva Haiti!”
Participants of our speak-out included Margaret Prescod from Women of Color in Global Women's Strike. Here is part of her statement: “Haiti has more non-governmental organizations per square mile than any other country in the world, yet three years after this devastating earthquake, there are hundreds of thousands of people living in tent cities. One of the tent cities I visited, that had about 25,000 residents, told me they got a letter from the Red Cross saying that they could no longer assist them with getting clean water because of lack of funds. Would you believe that? The Red Cross complaining about lack of funds? This in the middle of a cholera epidemic where water is vital.
“Meanwhile, what is the Red Cross doing with the money? We know that some of the money that they collected for disaster relief they are planning on building a luxury hotel and conference center with the people's money. How dare they!
“. . . All of the generous people who donate to the Red Cross have no idea that very little of those resources get to the victims of the disaster. It's being used for administrative costs. The CEO of the Red Cross is earning $600,000 a year."
She also noted, “You might know that Haiti is an indigenous name, and that name remains.” Pastor Logan added that the word Haiti meant “elevated mountains.”*
The pastor himself also spoke. “. . . As we continue to see the devastation of people of African descent, we understand the blatant racism that's involved in the misallocation of resources. In the hood we call them pimps when [they] misuse people for financial gain. These are disaster pimps. The newest disaster pimp on the block is the Red Cross pimping the misery of people, pimping the misery of earthquake victims, suffering from cholera, suffering from a lack of housing, a lack of infrastructure, a lack of education. The aftermath and the aftershocks of this terrible earthquake continue to reverberate throughout Haiti. We're here today because we want to raise awareness of the constant contradiction of raising money to help Haitian people that have not used the money to use the Haitian people, to declare that some of those funds are being used for a luxury hotel when people can't live in Haitian housing. It's obnoxious, it's an abomination before God.
“And I stand as a faith leader today along with my good sister Margaret Prescod; along with my brother Nkrumah; along my First Nations brothers and sisters, who of all people know how it is to be misused and pimped and decimated; along with all my other brothers and sisters who are here. We stand in solidarity today because if we don't stand somewhere, we'll be pushed around everywhere.”
He closed with a prayer for the suffering people of Haiti and even those responsible for the misuse of money. He observed that this was appropriate for a protest “because prayer is a form of protest as well--we have the audacity to believe that God is on the side of those who are oppressed and that God hears our cries. . . .”
Some speakers mentioned that had it not been for the revolution in Haiti, there would very likely still be slavery.
There was also mention of current attacks against former Haiti president (and victim of two U.S.-sponsored coups) Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who remains highly popular with the Haitian people. These attacks are seen as an attempt to discredit Aristide's highly popular party, Lavalas. (Lavalas, in Haitian Creole means “flash flood.” The movement “flooded” across Haiti. Source: the Porto Alegre Declaration on Haiti, January 2005.)
Other points made during the speak-out concerned the role of the U.S., which used aid money collected by different countries and repaid itself $655 million to its own Department of Defense, $50 million to Homeland Security, and more money to the Department of Agriculture.
Also, it was noted that $670 million a year is spent on the U.N. occupation of Haiti when the people of Haiti could meet so many desperate needs with that money.
The relevance of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday fell the following day, was emphasized by Kwazi Nkrumah of the Martin Luther King Coalition. King stood against injustice anywhere and everywhere and asked others to do the same. He also observed that a society that spends more resources on warfare than on human needs is one nearing spiritual death--symptoms of which include lack of social responsibility. Thus this action was intended to give the Red Cross “an infusion of Dr. King's antidote.”
After the speak-out, we decided to relocate to the Red Cross building, which, as mentioned earlier, is not clearly visible from the street, and meet with or present a packet of information to representatives. We marched up the hill, led by Aztec drummers, and shortly after reaching the front of the Red Cross parking lot, were approached by security men representing Veterans Affairs. (The Red Cross leases Federal land also occupied by a Veterans Affairs.) We were asked to proceed no further and stop any photography, recording or video.
Though we were on the sidewalk, the police told us we could not demonstrate on Federal land. It was pointed out to them, to no effect, that we the people are supposed to own Federal land and thus have the right to exercise free speech on it. We contacted a National Lawyers Guild lawyer by phone. The police refused to speak to him directly, but messages were exchanged. The lawyer concurred that we were entitled to be there with our signs and chants, and the vigil resumed. However, we as a group still wanted to send a delegation in to the Red Cross. After many minutes of sometimes tense negotiations (one participant described the security as “very hostile”), and the threat of being arrested and receiving a Federal charge of disorderly conduct if we did not leave, two representatives of Red Cross came out to us, the regional CEO and Director of International Affairs
The representatives said they understood our concerns about Haiti, that their work in Haiti had not been without problems, and agreed that a lot of work remains to be done there by Red Cross. One of them described Haiti as a particularly difficult area to work in. Although, he expressed satisfaction in progress he claims the Red Cross made in improving Haiti's water. We were given printed material about Red Cross activity in Haiti (which is also available online at http://www.redcross.org//what-we-do/international-services/haiti-assistance-program
), and it was agreed there would be a follow-up meeting.
For those interested in supporting the people of Haiti, by means other than the Red Cross and other NGOs, the organizers of this event recommend pledging regular donations to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF). HERF is led by Haitians, and every bit goes to those it is intended for, particularly women’s self-help survival initiatives and food co-operatives – there are no overheads. See: www.haitiemergencyrelief.org (Coverage of a local fundraiser for HERF circa 2011 can be found here: http://la.indymedia.org/news/2011/09/247858.php
*This was not brought up during the speak-out, but Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States describes how the native Arawaks were completely annihilated by 1650 due to European brutality, mass suicides, and flight (page 5). Interestingly, as soon as slaves started arriving from Africa circa the early 1500s, they very quickly began "teaching disobedience to the Indians" (Zinn, 32).