The first time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was limping toward me, slowly, but with the unmistakable elegance of the dancer that she was. Two years had passed since American donors and American media had turned Fabienne into a symbol of recovery from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Well-wishers had promised her everything from a new house and an American visa to her own dance academy. At the time she was still hopeful; none of it, however, would come to pass.
The last time I saw the famous Fabienne Jean, she was sitting idle in her basement apartment, unable to work, unable to dance, still nostalgic about her brief encounter with American generosity. She took out her phone and flipped through photos. “Did you see this one, Jacob?” she laughed, showing me a photo of her posing on a Florida beach. Eleven months later, she was dead.
Had America let Fabienne down? For all the promises that American charities and politicians made to rebuild Haiti after the earthquake, it seems we somehow failed to rebuild even a single life — the life, in fact, of the person who received more attention and more promises than anybody else.
“When you promise something to someone, you encourage them,” a Haitian translator who worked as a liaison between Fabienne and her American donors told me. But as time goes by and nothing happens, unfulfilled promises can break someone’s will, even to the point of making them physically sick, he said. “And that’s what happened to Fabienne. It affected her mind, her body, and every part of her.”
A decade after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, nothing symbolises America’s failure to help the nation “build back better” than a new port that was promised, but never built.
After sinking tens of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into an ill-advised plan to build a new seaport, the US quietly abandoned the project last year. It is the latest in a long line of supposed solutions to Haiti’s woes that have done little – or worse – to serve the country’s interests. Read the full investigation at The Guardian’s The Long Read.
Produced with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another.
When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in 2010, it sent the concrete floors of buildings toppling down upon one another, crushing people beneath. It sent mothers and fathers digging for their children, sent tens of thousands of people abruptly into early graves. Their bodies were buried by the thousands at Titanyen.
But a place with space for the dead is a place with space for the living, and in post-earthquake Haiti, space was in short supply. Some 1.5 million Haitians—one out of every six—were displaced by the earthquake, and many were left homeless. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began eyeing the vast stretch of vacant land east of Titanyen as a place to house them, and with the help of the United States Navy and the United Nations, they erected hundreds of small, temporary structures to house 7,500 people at a spot called Corail-Cesselesse. Haiti’s president used eminent domain to declare the land public, which Haitians took to mean free. Within days, people began flocking to the area around Corail, building shacks out of tarps and wood. Soon thousands of people were migrating north to this once-empty landscape, lying down bricks that would become the foundations of their future homes.
Haiti’s earthquake shattered several cities, but it also birthed another. Called Canaan, after the biblical holy land, a place defined by death has come alive.
Without titles, residents risk losing any investment they make and cannot use their property as collateral
CANAAN, Haiti – On a street of rocks and white dust in the centre of one of the world’s newest cities, Alisma Robert pointed to an array of electric cabling strung between rickety wooden poles.
“It wasn’t EDH that built that pole,” said Robert, referring to Haiti’s national electricity provider.
“It was us.”
Nearly everything in the city of Canaan, which was founded in 2010 after a catastrophic earthquake, was built by residents without government help.
After waiting two years for electricity, Robert and his neighbours collected money from each household, erected the wooden poles, and wired up the cables to the house of a family who were connected to the grid.
“I’m a citizen – but not for the moment. I don’t have the benefits of a citizen. We don’t have drinkable water … No public toilets. The government doesn’t do anything for the people who live here.”
The Red Cross has adopted a better approach to help Haitians recover from the 2010 earthquake—but past mistakes might plague its future.
When an earthquake decimated Haiti’s capital and nearby cities in 2010, people around the world pledged $13 billion in aid, $488 million of which was donated to the American Red Cross — the largest branch of the world’s largest relief charity.
In June, an NPR/ProPublica report alleged that the Red Cross had misused and wasted funds it devoted to housing, building only six out of 700 planned homes and failing to shelter anywhere near as many displaced Haitians as it had claimed.
But if the agency misappropriated its resources, it did so largely at the direction of Haiti’s leaders.
Five years after the earthquake, some 64,000 Haitians remain officially displaced, and tens of thousands more reside in temporary shelters or on land from which they face eviction. Roughly 150,000 of them live in a desolate stretch of land at the foot of the mountains north of Port-au-Prince that Haitians call Canaan — the biblical Promised Land.
The Red Cross’s forthcoming work in Canaan illustrates its evolving understanding of the infrastructural challenges that disaster recovery entails. But critics of its effort in Haiti insist that this does not absolve it of what they say were harmful mistakes.
Read the full story at VICE.
In the wake of the massive earthquake that struck on January 12, 2010, resolving long-standing land-ownership issues has been a low priority for Haiti’s leaders, even as they regard tourism, mining, and other industries affected by questions of title as crucial to the island’s economic development. France is helping to fund Haiti’s land-management office, but the Haitian government hasn’t allocated the resources it would take to create a national cadastre (a survey of the country’s land). Joab Thelot, a coordinator for the National Office of the Cadastre, says that it wouldn’t take much—just three million dollars a year—to pay the salaries of trained surveyors and buy the vehicles they would need to get around. In recent years, though, Haiti’s parliament has allocated his office just a third that amount.
Uncertainty over land ownership has played out across Haiti as the country attempts to attract foreign investment in tourism, mining, manufacturing, and agriculture—often without clear knowledge of who, precisely, owns what.
Read the full article at The New Yorker.
Reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.