Zokiki – Unavoidable “juvenile delinquency?”

Pétion-ville, HAITI, November 6, 2012 – In spite of an offensive against the zokiki phenomenon last year, the series of activities is far from being eradicated. In pursuit maximum profits, owners and managers of night clubs continue to exploit under-aged youth who come to their establishments to drink alcohol, consume drugs and engage of all kinds of imaginable activities. Abandoned in a society that does not take into account the importance of leisure activities for young people, these teenagers take full advantage of a “laissez-faire” situation.

Fifteen-year-old Marie Pierre is proud of her participation.

“I always go out to zokiki clubs. Each time, I put on really sexy make-up and dress zokiki style, which means ‘almost naked,’” she told Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) which undertook a two-month investigation into the phenomenon. “The only thing I can say about this so-called fight against the zokiki phenomenon is there isn’t one. It doesn’t exist. I say that because when I’m in the streets at midnight and I meet police officers, they don’t say anything!”

The phenomenon called zokiki appeared recently in Haitian urban society. The “juvenile delinquency” activities grouped under that label also include the “after-school” illegal clubs and “ti sourit” (“little mouse”) parties. Zokiki activities really took off after the January 12, 2010, earthquake. For many, they are a logical culmination of the disintegration of the cultural, moral and social tissue amongst Haiti’s youth. Many teenagers, younger than 18, drink, take drugs, engage in “strip-tease” acts, and also in a series of sexual acts that are not appropriate for their age. The Haitian Constitution defines adulthood as beginning at 18. (However, because of inconsistencies in Haitian law, the legal drinking age can be interpreted to be 16.)

Photo: Evens Louis

According to psychologist and professor Lenz Jean-François, the proliferation of “zokiki” is linked to the breakdown of Haitian society.

“Disintegration happens when a society enters into a period where it has lost its way,” explained the professor, who teaches at the State University of Haiti. “This same disintegration is responsible for encouraging young people to seek to replicate the models they see in front of them, or for encouraging them to do whatever they want, in a society where everything is permissible… All of a sudden, there are no longer any shared values. As long as we live in a society where each person only thinks about him or herself, it will be as if each is person is completely alone… This is why I think that the zokiki phenomenon is an indicator of the how our teenagers are living. It informs us of their human condition.”

The authorities take action

While the authorities might not understand the origins of zokiki, they are aware of it, and they have taken action.

“Since we are an institution charged with protecting youth, of course we are aware,” explained Jean Gardy Muscadin, director of the Haitian National Police’s Brigade for the Protection of Minors.

Early in 2012, the Brigade and the state’s Institute for Social Well-Being and Research launched an offensive against the phenomenon. Soon thereafter government’s top prosecutor (like an attorney general), Commissaire du gouvernment Jean Renel Sénatus joined the struggle, setting up a special unit to handle crimes and charges related to minors. His actions even earned him the nickname “Commissaire Zokiki.

In January 2012 alone, at least 64 people “were arrested ‘caught in the act’ of sexual orgies, strip-tease and the consummation of drugs in clubs and homes in Port-au-Prince, Delmas and Pétion-ville,” according to Le Nouvelliste dated February 1, 2012.

In an exclusive interview with HGW, the former commissaire explained that in addition to pursuing “judicial repression” against criminals, “it is also my job to protect all vulnerable groups in society.”

Speaking about his focus on zokiki, he continued “this little innovation I brought to the court showed people that the prosecutor is a lawyer who defends society in the same way as any other lawyer would do… no matter who you are, if you are exploiting a child, no matter where, no matter when, we can arrest you.”

However, the former prosecutor noted that arrest is not enough, because the [night club] sector “is completely without rules.”

“To open a nightclub, you just need a license from the state tax agency. City officials have no way to inspect or to assure the respect of norms,” he said.

The former commissaire ended by saying “Our biggest challenge is related to our lack of means… If I had the necessary power, I would force the entire world to respect the law. Because if a person, or an institution, or a country lacks discipline, it will not advance.”

But the former prosecutor no longer has any power.

On September 27, the Minister of Justice suddenly removed Sénatus from his post for alleged “insubordination,” an accusation and an action that have provoked numerous criticisms.

Cartoon in Le Nouvelliste the day Sénatus was fired. The people are saying,
"The crack-down is over! Goodbye Commissaire Zokiki!

The police don’t have the power or the means, either.

“We have no way to control this sector. We can only intervene when someone calls to report something,” Chief Muscadin said.

Zokiki” clubs and “party houses” all over the place

Not surprisingly, a mini-investigation by HGW discovered many places where “zokiki” activities take place, as well as a number of young people willing to talk about it.

“I can tell you right now, the prosecutor is wrong. I think he needs to do his homework. Because I know a lot of people who are under 18 who go to nightclubs. Me, I still go!” 17-year-old Marie-Isabelle Sait-Etienne said.

HGW had no trouble finding clubs. Level One/Escape is in the Jacquet area. It has a pool. On a recent night, some young people were smoking cigarettes and marijuana, others drank, and some of the girls were very scantily dressed. There was nobody at the door to check IDs for ages.

Above, the Level One/Escape club in the Jacquet area of Pétion-ville. The club
(known by its former as well as current name) is located across from a school,
below. Grafitti on the wall says "zokiki."
Photos: Evens Louis

Pierre, 15, said she has a lot of options.

“Sometimes I go to Club D, or Extrême Dynamique. Or, I go to “ti sourit” activities in Peguyville,” she said. “I always get in. Nobody ever asks for ID.”

Extrême Dynamique club in Pétion-ville. Photo: Evens Louis

HGW did not find one zokiki participant who said he or she had ever been asked to prove his or her age at the door.

The investigator also spoke to zokiki organizers, like Jean Ronald François. He swore that ever since the prosecutor’s offensive, he has not permitted minors to participate. But he also admitted that his programs are not innocent.

“Sometimes things happen, like when a girl takes off clothing, the boy has to do the same thing. During this kind of party, you see boys in undershirts and girls in their push-up bras,” François said.

Edouard Paul is 17 years old and lives in a poor neighborhood of Pétion-ville. He told HGW he thinks zokiki activities are the reason “a lot of adolescents 14 to 18 years old are pregnant or are already mothers. This happens when there are ‘anything goes’ parties.”

“The prosecutor can’t eradicate this phenomenon, because even if young people cannot get into night clubs, they will organize what is called ‘party house,’” he added. “What’s worse, we see that ‘the mulattos’* are the exception that confirms the rule! They all have these kinds of parties and activities. The police patrols know it but they don’t say anything.

Photo from a typical party of Haitian privileged teenagers, with
at least some under-aged guests. The Facebook page owner
writes "Some call me an alcoholic. I just call it a damn good time."

His friend agreed with the obvious prejudice.

“The laws are supposed to be applied equally to everyone. But you should see… there are even government officials who go with their children to the Ibo Lele [Hotel] parties,” Rockaz Romulus, 21 years old, added.

A city and a society with no amusements

According to the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Data, almost half of Haiti’s population – 43.6 percent – is under 18 years of age. A document from 2009 adds that “all ages taken together, the large majority of young people – 1.23 million – are concentrated in the West Department,” home to the capital region. At the same time, according to UNICEF, only 20 percent of Haitian youth ever attend high school. And many international agencies say Haiti’s unemployment tops 70 percent.

How should these young people – who don’t go to school and who don’t work – spend their time?

Almost everybody interviewed talked about the problem of “leisure time” or “amusement” for young people. Amusement and relaxing is key for good mental health.

Paul, the 17-year-old, talked about his frustration: “The prosecutor is fighting against ‘zokiki,’ but he doesn’t offer any alternative. Aside from those clubs, there is nowhere else to go.”

Professor Jean-François agrees.

“Whether you are talking about physical or mental development, young people need leisure activities,” the professor explained. However, “the social disintegration in which we are living leads to this kind of leisure activity, which in turn reinforces the disintegration of society by affecting how young people think about their relationships with each other and with society. This means that when a young person goes to a ‘ti sourit’ he is led into behavior which discriminates against his peers, behavior where young man can do almost anything to a young woman, who has become an object.”

In their 2012 carnival song, the rap group Barikad Crew sang “all little teenagers are corrupt!”

Image from Barikad Crew Carnival 2012 video, filmed with school children.

But is that corruption by choice? Not entirely, according to the professor, in a country there almost all of the media content “is based on mediocrity, on what I would call the ‘ideology of nothing.’”

Even if the authorities had more “means,” the structural causes of “zokiki” are unavoidable, he added.

“We live in a country where insecurity touches every facet of life, even leisure,” Jean-François noted. “Young people are practically forced into this kind of leisure activity. In the end, we can’t really say it is a choice they have made, because all aspects of society is pushing them in this direction.”

* Note from the editor 1: This is a typical confusion of class with color. While many of Haiti’s elite are lighter skinned, there are also many dark-skinned elite. Paul and Romulus are obviously referring to the elite, since they cite the Ibo Lele Hotel.

* Note from the editor 2: The names of minors have been changed.


A Tale of Two Cities


Port-au-Prince, 24 September 2012 - One city was built just last year. A project costing over US$2 million. Dozens of brightly painted new homes, scattered across a two-hectare site. Today they are empty. Some have been vandalized… and worse. The scene is desolate and can be disgusting. But the project’s backers say it was a “success.”

The other city is the “heart of Haitil,” Port-au-Prince’s downtown. Despite hundreds of thousands dollars spent on plans and conferences, it remains dirty, disorganized, and un-reconstructed. The government is starting to build its own buildings, but what is everyone else supposed to do?


Dossier 20 - Housing Exposition Exposes Waste, Cynicism

Dossier 21 - Reconstruction of the capital's downtown? Or of the ministries?



The Morne à Cabri mystery houses

Croix-des-Bouquets, HAITI, July 10, 2012 – For the past eight months, a giant housing project of at least 3,000 homes has been quietly under construction in the desert near Morne à Cabri about 15 kilometers east of the capital.

The little houses are there, visible to all. But that is perhaps the only aspect of the project that is clear. Everything else remains a mystery.

Partial view of the housing project from the air. Photo: UCLBP

What is the exact number of lodgings to be built? What is the total budget? When will the construction be completed? Under what conditions was the contract signed, and by whom? What firm is executing the project, and what firm is overseeing the project? Does the project fit with the government’s new housing policy? Who is or are the landowner(s) and how much money did he or they receive?

Are the houses meant to be “public” housing for the victims of the January 2010 earthquake?

Or – like the housing being built in the north near the new industrial park in Caracol – are they “private,” meant for the eventual workers at another industrial park, planned by the government? Or maybe for the workers that will work at a third set of factories, planned for the private “integrated economic zone” of Corail, more commonly known as “NABATEC”?

Is the “public” subsidizing the “private” by making it cheaper and easier for foreign corporations to set up factories where they can hire workers for the lowest salary in the hemisphere?

A woman walks by the half-built houses. Photo: HGW/Evens Louis

On the ground, many mini-houses, but no sign explaining anything. Nothing to say who is doing what, for how long, and at what price to the Haitian nation. And despite two months of research, interviews or attempts at interviews with almost a dozen officials, much information remains hidden.

Haitian officials have decided to keep their mouths shut about the circumstances that led to the country’s largest housing project, even though that silence is a flagrant violation of Article 40 of the Haitian Constitution, which states:

“The State is obligated to publicize via the written, spoken and televised media, in Creole and French, the laws, orders, decrees, international accords, treaties, conventions, and all that concerns the life of the nation, except for information that would put in jeopardy national security.”

From Fort National to Morne à Cabri

In the 30 months since the January 12, 2010 earthquake, the Haitian nation has seen a number of new housing projects. The Morne à Cabri project will have at least 3,000 units, according to a document recently circulated by the prime minister’s office. The earthquake-proof houses – some with two stories – have at least four rooms, including two bedrooms, a kitchen, a porch, a bathroom with a shower and a toilet.

A Haitian-Dominican works on one of the anti-earthquake houses.
All of the workers journalists met were either Dominicans
or Haitians from the Dominican Republic.
Photo: HGW/Evens Louis

On June 21, Prime Minister Laurent Salvador Lamothe shined light on the project during a meeting of the Economy and Finances Commission of the Haitian Senate. He said that the project at Morne à Cabri was in fact the project originally planned for Fort National.

That development – a series of high-rises – was specifically meant to benefit the displaced families of the impoverished Fort National neighborhood, which was devastated by the earthquake. The project was blocked by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), a committee set up to oversee the "reconstruction." Its mandate ended on October 21, 2011.

Image of the Fort National project that was rejected by the IHRC and also criticized
as being likely to only benefit the "middle classes," according to UN-Habitat.
[See Fort National, Stuck Between Rubble... and Doubts]

According to Lamothe, the Morne à Cabri project costs US$44 million and is financed by the “Petro-Caribe Fund.”*

A document entitled “Implementation of Three Projects – Call for Bids” related to the bidders on three reconstruction projects – Fort National, Bowenfield and the Parliament – uses a bid much higher than the US$44 mentioned by Lamothe. According to this page – whose authenticity has not been verified, but which is accepted by many journalists and others are being trustworthy – the Fort National housing project would be executed by a Dominican Republic firm called Constructadora Rofi S.A. for the sum of US$174,308,897. The Miami Herald has also used the US$174 million figure.

According to the same document, engineer Jude Hervé Day – who later became Minister of Planning for the Dr. Garry Conille government, in 2011 – was a member of the three-person evaluation committee that selected Rofi S.A. for the project. (By refusing to grant Haiti Grassroots Watch and Le Nouvelliste an interview, Day did not allow journalists to confirm the authenticity of the document or the signature – his? – at the bottom of the page.)

Signed on November 3, 2010, the document indicates that the other two contracts were given to two other Dominican companies: Constructadora Hadom and Construcciones y Diseños.

Both Rofi and Hadom are owned by or are under the control of Dominican Senator Félix Ramon Bautista, according to Le Monde journalist Jean Michel Caroit.

Suspicions and accusations

The Fort National project and the two others are among the six contracts denounced in the “Preliminary Report” of an audit requested by former Prime Minister Conille, in March 2012. Conille asked for the audit of 41 contacts allegedly signed without any bidding process during the government of President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive. At that time, an “Emergency Law” allowed contracts to be signed with no bid. (Although the “Preliminary Report” has never been authenticated, many journalists and media accept it as true.)

According to the document, the participation of Bautista’s three companies in a “restrained bidding” process for six contracts meant that “the principle of true competition was not respected and it is entirely possible that the three firms made a deal amongst themselves.”

“The signature of those contracts is not only harmful to the interests of the State, but it was also done in an irregular manner,” the report adds.

(It is widely believed that the audit – and the contradictions surrounding it – are likely among the reasons Conille resigned on February 24, 2012.)

A Dominican investigative journalist also looked into the contracts. In one of her “Nuria-Investigación Periodistica” television programs on March 31, 2012 Nuria Piera alleged that Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly received – directly or indirectly – almost US$2.6 million from Senator Bautista in exchange for lucrative contracts for his companies. [View the program (in Spanish) on her site or view this excerpt.]

Today, the audit is complete. Although the results are not public, on June 21, 2012, while announcing that his government had received the definitive report, Lamothe revealed a few details. According to a news release from the prime minister’s office, “The audit commission created by the previous government has recommend to unilaterally annul all of the contracts for which no money has been spent.”

And for the contracts that are already being executed? The prime minister's office they will be subject to an “analysis.” Also, it said, according to the Cour supérieure des comptes et du contentieux administratifs (CSCCA or Supreme Court of Accounts and of Administrative Litigations)) – which, among other tasks, looks at and approves all contacts – “the contracts were awarded in a completely legal manner according to the Emergency Law.”

 But legal does not necessarily mean unquestionable.

A document obtained by Haiti Grassroots Watch [available for download here] shows that one of Bautista’s companies – Hadom – was hoping for at least 11 contracts worth almost $350 million. How many contracts did the three companies win altogether?

“In a single day, November 8, 2010, Jean Max Bellerive, the predecessor of Conille, gave eight construction contracts, for a total of US$385 million, to three companies belonging to Dominican Senator Félix Bautista,” Caroit wrote in Le Matin on April 9, 2012.

Bellerive has rejected the accusation.

Silence, or almost, on the Morne à Cabri project

By all counts, the Morne à Cabri housing project is moving forward. However, will the contract be analyzed and revised, as the audit has recommended?

The list of authorities and entities refusing to speak – or at least, to speak about the contract – is long.

Harry Adam, director of the new Unité de Construction de Logements et de Bâtiments Publics (UCLBP – Unit for the Construction of Housing and Public Buildings), refused to discuss the project’s contract, but had no problem chatting about the project itself.

“We are taking over the project,” Adam explained. “The [UCLBP] is just looking after a contract that was signed by the Préval-Bellerive administration.”

However, his office doesn’t even have a plan for the project, Adam admitted, and he suggested journalists visit the Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation (MPCE in French), for more information on the plans and the contract.

Urban and post-disaster housing expert Priscilla Phelps, a consultant to the UCLBP, spoke of the absurdity.

“It’s ironic that the largest housing project in the country is not under the control of the UCLBP,” she said, noting that “it’s not even clear what agency or human being is supervising the development.”

Phelps also said she did not know which state agency approved the project. An advisor to the IHRC when it existed, she said she had never seen any proposal for a project in what she calls a “questionable” location.

Page from a document called "Priority Projects" released by the prime
minister's office on July 2, 2012.

There are other questionable factors, Phelps noted, including the fact that she has never seen the plan or any budget… nothing more than some artist’s drawings. She is also worried about the supervision issue.

“Normally, a second firm – independent of the first, of course – would supervise the executing firm in order to assure all the expenses are justified and that the budget is respected,” she said, adding that, “that’s not the case for Morne à Cabri.”

Adam recognizes that the UCLBP doesn’t have much power to supervise the project, but, he said, “we are following the project.”

An engineer from the Rofi company, Maximo Mercedes, said the MPCE was supervising the project. However, during three visits to the site, journalists never saw any representative of the Haitian government.

Mysterious ministries

Not one person from the Ministry of Planning (MPCE), past or present, was available to speak with journalists despite a hand-delivered letter, numerous visits, emails and over a dozen telephone calls.

The former Minister of Planning, Hervé Day, whose name is listed as being a member of the committee that evaluated the contracts, refused to speak, on the pretext that he was no longer a member of the government. “You had reached me 24 hours too late,” he said.

The response from the current Minister of Planning, Josépha Raymond Gauthier, was the same. Her secretary said repeatedly that the minister was out of the country, but made many promises to call journalists to set up an appointment in the future. That never happened. But when a French film crew called, they got an interview the next day.

Dr. Conille, the former prime minister who requested the audit, prevaricated, saying “let’s wait for the installation of a new prime minister,” but numerous attempts to reach him after Lamothe took office were futile. His predecessor, Bellerive, promised interviews twice before he disappeared.

An uncourteous court and an ignorant EPPLS

The Supreme Court of Accounts and of Administrative Litigations (CSCCA in French) is supposed to give  advice on all the contracts, accords and convention that the government signs. But on two visits, a journalist was rebuked.

“You don’t have the right to that information. Who are you to ask me about the contracts? A state agency? A company?” were among the rude and hostile responses.

But at least one state official did agree to speak. But just like the other state agency linked to the housing issue (the UCLBP), the director of the Entreprise Publique de Promotion de Logements Sociaux (EPPLS or Public Enterprise for the Promotion of Social Housing) said his agency is not in charge of the project.

“I heard people talking about a big housing project, but so far I am completely ignorant about it,” EPPLS director Elonge Othélot confided during an interview in June. “I really don’t know anything. I am planning to visit there next week.”

Housing for the displaced, or for workers?

At the same moment that the 3,000 homes are being built, the government is in the process of putting together a new housing policy. The subject, and a draft document currently in circulation will be the subject of a two-day colloquium on July 24 and 25.

Cover of the draft housing policy. To download it, click here.

“The government is working very hard to come up with this housing policy,” Phelps reported.  “However, what happened is that… they were left with a project that in many ways doesn’t conform to the new policy.”

Maybe the objective was not public housing?

While the Morne à Cabri project might not fit the new housing policy, it does fit very well with another policy: its clarion call: “Haiti is open for business.”

The Morne à Cabri housing project is very near an area that national and international officials have chosen for the construction of a mega-development that includes factories and urban zones. In addition, a new document from prime minister’s office entitled “Priority projects – Financed by Petro Caribe and debt relief (IMF)” says the “Morne à Cabri industrial park” is one of the government’s “priorities.”

Giant project planned well before the earthquake

The new housing project and eventual industrial park are also just steps from another proposed development, this one definitely private.

Since at least 2009, a Haitian company called NABATEC – a partnership between two other companies, NABASA and TECINA – has been promoting what was once called “Haiti Habitat 2004” and is now known as “Haiti Habitat 2020”. The project is what the government and the World Bank call an “Integrated Economic Zone” that would have a free trade zone component, an industrial park, an urban development with various levels of housing (factory workers, professionals) and tourism installations. Maps and documents indicate that it is located just to the west of the Morne à Cabri housing project.

A 2011 report from the World Bank [available for download here] says that NABATEC owns 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) and that the “Integrated Economic Zone” or IEZ of Corail is the most promising of 20 sites ranked by the its International Finance Corporation (IFC).

“The Corail project, commonly known as the NABATEC project after its developer, NABATEC S.A., is the clearest application of the IEZ concept among any proposed project in Haiti today,” the report notes.

Two maps from the IFC report.

NABATEC's president, Gérard-Emile “Aby” Brun, said that his company does own 1,000 hectares, includng the land under the nearby Corail-Cesselesse refugee camp, which he and NABATEC had hoped would eventually become one of the housing projects in their development. But the firm doesn’t own the Morne à Cabri land. The developer added that, as far as he is concerned, the NABATEC project has essentially “fallen apart” because of the invasion of some 60,000 squatters into the region after the René Préval government declared the land “public utility.” The new excrement treatment plant “in the middle of the industrial and touristic zone” has also bunged up his firm’s plans.

“I still hope we can salvage part of it. But I’m going to have a hard time convincing my investors to come back in,” he said in a telephone interview, adding, “I haven’t heard about a Morne à Cabri industrial park, and I haven’t seen any master plan.”

Two maps of the proposed NABATEC or "Corail" Integrated Economic Zone
from the IFC report

Is the new housing project – built with Petro Caribe funds – part of a broader plan to turn the entire region into an industrial zone? Is that plan connected to with the “Corail project?”

Either way, it appears the choice of location is not as “questionable” as Phelps imagines.


Map of are declared "Of Public Utility" by the René Préval government in 2010.
The shaded area is the Corail-Cesselesse camp region.
Source: IOM

Recently, Prime Minister Lamothe told the public that victims of the earthquake, including from Fort National, would be moved into the Morne à Cabri project. Truly?

At the end of a two-month investigation, journalists learned a great deal, but mysteries remain, and there are even more questions than at the start of the enquiry:

Will poor urban families from Fort National really be transported into the quasi-desert?

Who owns the land? And how much money will the landowner(s) receive?

What is the project budget?

Who is overseeing the development?

In a country with so much unemployment, why wasn't Rofi asked to hire Haitian workers?

Who are the elected officials that approved the use of public funds for projects that seem meant to mostly benefit private investors in search of the lowest wage in the hemisphere?

A view of the new housing project. Photo: HGW/Evens Louis


* This fund is the result of an accord that allows the Haitian government to get petroleum products from Venezuela and then send them to local companies. A percentage of the revenue becomes a 25-year loan with an interest rate of one percent. The government often uses the money to finance development projects.

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations and students from the State University’s Faculty of Human Sciences.

This report made possible with the support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti.


Gold Rush in Haiti!

Who will get rich?

There’s a gold rush in Haiti.

But a new investigation from Haiti Grassroots Watch reveals that the public has been mislead by reports in the media and by certain statements from mining companies and Haitiian government officials.

The gold rush that has been quietly shaping up over the past several years promises to produce some $20 billion in wealth, but where will the money go? Who will get rich? And at what cost?

A ten-month investigation by a team of students, journalists and community radio members made startling discoveries, like:

• Almost 1,500 square miles (about 2,400 square kilometers) of Haitian territory – 15 percent of the country – are already under research, exploration or exploitation licenses or “mining conventions” controlled by US and Canadian firms.

• Eurasian Minerals, one of the firms, has collected 44,000 samples alone.

• Newmont Mining, the world’s Number 2 gold producer and operator of the largest pit mine in the Americas, is heavily invested with Eurasian, and is considering at least five possible mine sites.

• Haiti’s former Minister of the Economy and Finances is now a paid consultant for Newmont.

• Two Haitian ministers recently signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Newmont and Eurasian that says – in violation of Haitian law – Eurasian and Newmont can begin drilling at one of their exploration sites. Haitian legislation states no drilling can occur without a mining convention.

• With only a handful of operating vehicles and geologists on its staff, the state mining agency lacks the means to supervise the drilling and research happening across the country’s north.

• Nobody appears to be telling the communities in Haiti’s north what is going on, and what deals have been made behind closed doors.

To learn more, read the four-part series

Gold Rush in Haiti – Who will get rich? and Haiti's Grim History of Being "Open for Business"


Watch this video we made the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, who supported this investigation.

Watch the Democracy Now! segment based on the story, from May 31.

The Haitian weekly Haïti Liberté partnered with Haiti Grassroots Watch on this report.


Partners in deforestation and slumification

Port-au-Prince, 21 May 2012 –  Working together with a local official, two humanitarian institutions have – unwittingly or not – contributed to the deforestation of part of Morne L’Hôpital, a mountain that overlooks the capital and which is under special environmental protection.

An investigation by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) in the Upper Turgeau region of Port-au-Prince discovered that about 100 “transitional shelters” ­­– often called “T-Shelters” –were donated to earthquake victims and built in places where, prior to the 2010 catastrophe, there were trees, bushes, or at the very least, no houses. Today, thanks to the donations of the 12-by-18 square meter wooden shacks, an illegal slum has grown, and the slopes above Port-au-Prince are even more denuded.

New slum on Morne L'Hôpital, comprised mainly of T-Shelters donated by NGOs.
Photo: Evens Louis

Humanitarian organizations Agency for Assistance in Development and Technical Cooperation or ACTED (in French: the Agence pour la coopération technique et au développement) and GOAL assisted at least 100 displaced families by constructing little houses in green spaces in the protected area. The mountain slope – which cuts through parts of Pétion-ville, Port-au-Prince, and Carrefour – is covered by a 1963 law and a 1986 decree which stipulate that the slope should be specially protected.

One of the institutions – GOAL – was funded by the US government for the project. The other – ACTED – by the American Red Cross.

Two new homes where before there were none. On the left, ACTED-built, on the right, GOAL-built. Photo: Evens Louis

The laws set forth a whole series of rules regarding what is permitted, and what is not, on the slope. The government agency Organism for the Oversight and Planning for Morne L’Hôpital or OSAMH (in French: Organisme de Surveillance et d’Aménagement du Morne l’Hôpital) is tasked with overseeing the protected zone.

Nevertheless, the two non-governmental organizations (NGOs), who both admit knowing about the protected status of the region, built T-Shelters there, in part thanks to assistance from the president of the Turgeau Communal Council Board (CASEC), engineer Raoul Pierre-Louis.

(In Haiti, each “commune” – a subdivision of the “department” or province, is divided into “communal sections.” According to the 1986 Constitution, each communal section is supposed to have an assembly – like a mini-parliament – and an executive committee or board of three. The assemblies have rarely functioned and so in many instances, the executive council is chosen by the central government or is elected directly. Pierre-Louis was elected, but like all over CASECs and mayors, his term has expired.)

“Because of the destruction of homes caused by the earthquake, we needed to see how, temporarily, we could find a way to rehouse people,” remembered Fredly Anténor, coordinator of the construction team for the Irish NGO GOAL.

ACTED and GOAL are just two of the many NGOs that built T-Shelters to help families leave the sordid refugee camps set up after the earthquake. Despite the fact that many actors criticized the focus on T-Shelters as a response to the emergency situation created by the 1.3 million displaced people [see Abandoned Like A Stray Dog], several dozen humanitarian institutions built over 110,000 of the little supposedly temporary houses for a total cost of US$500 million.

An ACTED T-Shelter in a formerly green space. Photo: Evens Louis

Over at ACTED, Marianna Franco, head of the development program which built 28 T-Shelters on Morne L’Hôpital, gave much the same explanation: “When the idea for T-Shelters came along, there wasn’t any kind of urban development plan for Port-au-Prince or the metropolitan area. There still isn’t! So, we built T-Shelters where we could find space.” 

According to Franco, her agency worked with the CASEC and made sure that all T-Shelter beneficiaries had property titles. However, according to CASEC president Pierre-Louis, ACTED did not follow correct procedures.

The “weak state” in plain view

A law – published in the official government journal Le Moniteur on November 6, 1986, is very clear about Morne L’Hôpital:

“Residential construction is not permitted unless permission is obtained from the relevant agencies… [Article 9]

“It is not permitted to graze cows or goats; to cut any wood or bush, to undertake any kind of planting that involves hoeing… or do any kind of burning for whatever reason.” [Article 11]

But plots were cleared, trees cut, and foundations prepared for at least 100 of the new little houses, and probably more.

A slope near the protected zone, where clearly someone or some agency has
protected the left portion, indicating that it is possible to keep people from
building on the fragile hillsides surrounding the capital.
Photo: Evens Louis

The director of OSAMH, agronomist Montus Michel, recognizes that his agency is weak. He lacks the necessary human resources, financial resources, and also authority in the field.

“The state can’t really intervene [at Morne l’Hôpital] without the accompaniment of the police and representatives of the justice system. It’s written in the law. When OSAMH wants to go into the field, its agents should be escorted by someone from the legal system,” he said.

While the law might state that imperative, the reality is different. Agents work on their own.

“As far as surveillance and control of activities at Morne l’Hôpital go, and as far as protecting the ecosystem goes, OSAMH is very weak, but this is due also to the general weakness of the state,” Michel admitted.

A sign of that “weakness?”

GOAL said it did indeed know that the region was protected, and that the agency OSAMH was responsible for overseeing it. GOAL representatives also said that they met with an OSAMH agent.

“We worked with OSAMH starting from the beginning. OSAMH is the one that gave us the geographic limits of where we could build,” Fredly remembered, and one of his colleagues added that the agent’s name was Canez Dellande.

OSAMH director Michel rejected the statement.

“GOAL?” he asked. “That is a total lie.”

“We never delegated anyone to work with them. We could never send an engineer out to set the limits if the NGO didn’t first give us a plan that outlined their activity… Canez doesn’t have the right to do that kind of work, to meet with representatives of an NGO in order to allow them to work on Morne l’Hôpital. That relationship is supposed to be institution to institution,” the director said.

But Michel also recognized that his agent never told him about the initiative.

In the meantime, it appears that the NGO ACTED worked on its own, because Michel said he never met with any representative of that institution either.

Another state institution…

In addition to reportedly working with an OSAMH agent, GOAL representatives said they collaborated closely with CASEC president Pierre-Louis, who is in fact another representative of the state.

“We built a total of 2,483 T-Shelters [in the 6th communal section of Turgeau],” Pierre-Louis said. “There is a signed document for all the shelters that GOAL built. The same goes for CORDAID and IOM [two other organizations that built T-Shelters in Turgeau].”

“All of the Upper Turgeau T-Shelters were built with the permission of the CASEC,” GOAL country director Derek Butler confirmed.

And, according to both Butler and Pierre-Louis, all the T-Shelters were built in spots that held houses before.

But HGW investigations revealed the contrary. At least 100 little homes were built in places that previously before had no construction.

When confronted with this truth, Pierre-Louis rejected the statement, and then added, “in any case, they are temporary. They need to be moved.”

But that seems unlikely.

From temporary to permanent

All over the country in the earthquake-affected zones, T-Shelter recipients are busy converting the shacks into permanent homes with concrete walls, extra rooms and other additions.

When questioned, GOAL said it was aware of the phenomenon.

“When you build a temporary shelter for someone, it is very likely that it will become permanent. We have seen people doing the transformation,” a GOAL agent admitted to Pierre-Louis during a telephone call for which HGW was present. “Therefore, we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s see how we can help these people turn their temporary shelters into permanent homes.’”

A family in the process of converting their GOAL T-Shelter into a permanent home.
The foundation has been prepared and the flimsy iron rods indicate where the walls
will be.
Photo: Evens Louis

In an interview with HGW, ACTED said much the same.

Pierre-Louis was visibly displeased.

“We signed papers that say ‘shelter’ not ‘house,’” he told HGW. “We have a land ownership problem. That land does not belong to the displaced people. You cannot build a permanent home in a place that does not belong to you.”

Who has the power to protect and to decide?

When it comes to the case of the T-Shelters built in formerly green spaces on Morne l’Hôpital, it is clear that two state authorities – CASEC president Pierre-Louis and OSAMH – failed in their mission to respect and assure respect for the law.

But, there is also another authority implicated in the expansion of the slum on Morne l’Hôpital.

The GOAL T-Shelters were built with money from the US government, from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). Parallel to that grant, however, and ironically, immediately after the earthquake another agency – the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – published a document announcing that the catastrophe had created an opportunity to protect the zone.

“The steeply sloped Morne l’Hôpital benefits, at least theoretically, from its special legal status as a ‘public utility,’ a protected area off limits to construction,” notes the document, which also says USAID partners with OSAMH. “The post-earthquake period provides an unprecedented opportunity to assert control over Morne l’Hôpital as a legally protected zone and prevent new housing construction on fragile slopes.”

HGW requested, without success, an interview with USAID’s Haiti office in order to better understand why one US agency financed the deforestation of Morne l’Hôpital while another suggested the exact opposite.

HGW also wrote to the USAID supervisory office in El Salvador, but received no response.

OSAMH director Michel does not deny the responsibility of the government in the expanding slumification, or in the continued construction of the homes by the well-to-do in the protected area. But the agronomist also feels that certain NGOs are irresponsible.

This T-Shelter-turned-corner store is selling charcoal. Was it made on Morne L'Hôpital?
The store is called "God is Good" but in this case, it appears ACTED was "good," also.

Photo: Evens Louis

“We can’t stop the NGOs from doing work inside the 2,000 hectares… But they should be follow the law and meet with OSAMH to see how things out to be done,” Michel said. “Because, if we let NGOs come, independent of OSAMH, and help increase the slums on Morne l’Hôpital, well, that is very bad for the country.”

As for Pierre-Louis, he said, cynically: “The slumification of Port-au-Prince has just started.”

“The problem isn’t the slums, but it's when the slums stay slums for too long,” he added. Pierre-Louis sees slums as a natural phase in “the process of urbanization.”


Kettie Guerrier and Milo Milfort for Haiti Grassroots Watch

This report made possible with the support of the Fund for Investigative Journalism in Haiti

Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of AlterPresse, the Society of the Animation of Social Communication (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Broadcasters (REFRAKA), community radio stations from the Association of Haitian Community Media and students from the Journalism Laboratory at the State University of Haiti.

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