Two Haitians use crowbars, shovels and their hands to clear rubble in an attempt to reach survivors at the Montana hotel that collapsed after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince Haiti, January 12, 2010. Photo credit: United Nations Programme Development Flickr

Haiti’s prime minister calls for solidarity ‘to act quickly and well’ in rescue work after devastating earthquake

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry says “unity” is imperative for an embattled Haiti to recover from major tremor, and prepare for tropical storm.

Days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked southwest Haiti, emergency services frantically are working around the clock alongside Haitian citizens even as aftershocks rumble the ground. Using shovels, axes, caterpillars and their bare hands, rescue workers race to pull victims from downed structures. Others remove road-blocking debris, just before Tropical Storm Grace is scheduled to hit an island already vulnerable to major storms, and reeling from political instability.

Reuters reported that Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said 1,297 were killed in the quake and 5,700 have been counted as injured. As well, local hospitals are filled to capacity, resulting in transporting injured citizens to the tarmac of Les Cayes airport and sending others to hospitals located in the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

“The seriously injured were evacuated. Volunteer doctors are already on the ground working to assist the victims,” posted Haiti’s prime minister, Dr. Ariel Henry following his on-the-ground assessment of damages in Les Cayes, near the epicenter of a tremor. The quake, occurring right by the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault line, has gravely affected the areas of the South, Nippes, Grand-Anse and the northwestern city of Jeremie.

Prime Minister Henry, a 71-year-old neurosurgeon who just took office on July 20, 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, is also the acting president. 

“We call for the solidarity of all,” said Prime Minister Henry who publicly asked oppositional groups for unity in the country’s emergency efforts. More pointedly, PM Henry directed his request to the Force Revolution G9 Family and Allies, a coalition of armed street gangs headed by former police officer Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier. 

The loudest group fighting to remove what they see as a small, exclusive “bourgeosie” controlling Haiti, Cherizier was a huge critic of President Moïse, but announced he had no connection to his killing. The president was shot multiple times at close range in his home. His wife, Martine Marie Etienne Moïse, suffered a superficial gunshot wound. 

The Haitian Times reported that Cherizier accused “human rights advocates, journalists and business owners” as those behind the murder of President Moïse. “Just as you invested your money to kill President Jovenel Moïse, we are going to invest ourselves with all our strength to get you off this land,” Cherizier is recorded as warning those he implicated in Moïse’s assassination.

To emphasize his position, Cherizier led a march to demand justice for slain Haitian President Jovenel Moise in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in late July. Yet, he is not the only Haitian rejecting the presence of the U.S. Reports from the Mint Press said some Haitians hurled insults at the U.S. delegation who attended Moïse’s funeral. U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Michele Sison and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield fled before the service was over when police shot warning fire into the air after crowds began to express angst at seeing the Americans.

. . . .
A Haitian man and MINUSTAH peacekeepers plannig a way to access the interior of the Montana hotel that collapsed after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince Haiti January 12, 2010. Photo credit: United Nations Development Programme Flickr

While fighting has been put on hold in devastated areas, outside organizations have issued public appeals to keep Haiti safe in order for them to safely bring in supplies and aid. Bruno Maes, the United Nations Children’s Fund asked for a “humanitarian corridor,” just weeks after he declared on Twitter that “UNICEF is urging to end gang violence in Haiti and calling for a safe passage to reach affected families with humanitarian assistance in the most impacted areas of Port-au-Prince.”

Also, PM Henry called for “humanitarian, health, and logistical assistance to house the victims.” Despite “security and logistical challenges,” UNICEF said that they expect “to provide aid by utilizing contingency stocks pre-positioned in warehouses,” in Haiti.

However, some Haitians are hesitant of agencies such as the United Nations offering assistance. ​“We remember that the U.S. came and took our charismatic leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide [in 2004],” Willien told the Mint Press. “That coup d’état is the cause of the state we are in today.”

PM Henry once served as the chief of staff at Haiti’s Ministry of Health. During his tenure, he faced a cholera outbreak in the country as Haiti was slowly recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake. United Nations peacekeepers deployed to Haiti for recovery efforts brought the health crisis to Haiti by dumping fecal matter and other refuse in the streams and waterways of the country. The pandemic reached its height in 2013, killing 10,000 people.

. . . .

But, time is ticking for Haiti, a country that is also on watch for Tropical Storm Grace. Because of massive deforestation, Haiti does not have a natural barrier to capture or block strong rain and wind. Consequently, storms are as crippling as earthquakes. 

“We haven’t had time to catch our breath yet and here comes Grace,” Akim Kikonda told the Financial Times from Port-au-Prince. Kikonda, who is an aid worker for the Catholic Relief Services tweeted that the organization is “closely monitoring the situation” in the wake of a tsunami warning and still massive damage in the area.

Haiti’s environmental issues have long been documented. A country once opulent in lush vegetation and the richest colony in the new world, it’s terrain and economy were stripped in its efforts to pay off debts to France. In 1791, enslaved Africans and Natives revolted in the only slave uprising to successfully win independence. While the Haitian Revolution ended in an independent Black nation in 1804, it was saddled with crippling reparation payments to former French plantation owners and French colonial authority

Since it was recognized as a country in 1825, 80 percent of Haiti’s revenue has gone to paying off its debtors. One of the largest industries, following the sugar harvesting and production, was exporting mahogany to France. To further deforestation, wood is still used as the main source of heating and coal on the island. Coupled with extreme poverty and an agricultural industry that heavily trades with the U.S.; over the years, Haiti has not done enough to replenish its depleted soil. With the trees gone, soil erosion has sped up, thus placing Haiti in the position of taking direct hits when storms come. Added, the sister-country bordering Haiti, the Domincan Republic, has closed its borders since the Moïse assassination, thus preventing those to find retreat from the pending storm and ongoing internal turmoil.

Prior to the earthquake, there have been both pleas and rejections for U.S. intervention following President Moïse’s murder. President Joe Biden said in statement that the U.S. “remains a close and enduring friend to the people of Haiti.” He stated that the Administration will “assess the damage and assist efforts to recover those who were injured and those who must now rebuild,” through non-profit organization, USAID.

Since July 22, the U.S. has in place, Ambassador Daniel Foote as a Special Envoy in Haiti. The Office of the Department of State detailed that Ambassador Foote will “engage with Haitian and international partners to facilitate long-term peace and stability and support efforts to hold free and fair presidential and legislative elections.” So far, no word from Ambassador Foote on how the natural disaster impacts the coming elections.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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