Sunday, October 05, 2014

Lambi Fund Reflects on the Death of Baby Doc Duvalier

Jean Claude “Bébé Doc” Duvalier died Saturday at the age of 63. His passing leaves millions of Haitians, and others as well, pondering his life and his legacy for the people of Haiti. Marie Marthe, Lambi Fund of Haiti’s Executive Director, had this poignant response to his passing:

“Is this the only way we will ever see justice in Haiti? For the women who lost their husbands among the disappeared? The street killings, the jailings without limit, silenced by men with guns? Where is our justice? Will be ever heal? Will Haiti ever be free again?” 
Former President Bill Clinton shakes hands with Baby Doc Duvalier

I am not Haitian and so, perhaps, Baby Doc’s death provoked less painful thoughts for me. I thought of my father, who passed away on May 1, 2013. His memorial service last June was, New Orleans style, a celebratory affair as tales from my father’s rather storied life were told in rapid succession by 100 or more mourners/guests. After a momentary loss of words, the following tumbled from my lips, the perfect metaphor for my father’s life. 

It was a beautiful spring afternoon, May 2, 1972. I was shucking afternoon papers along Laurel Avenue in Charlotte, NC.  The headlines boldly pronounced the sudden death of J. Edgar Hoover who’d died that morning, after the morning papers had gone to bed. Suddenly, I heard a cacophonous honking as my father’s purple Valiant careened around the corner, and I heard my father’s loud and joyous cry, “Hoover’s Dead, Hoover’s Dead.” 

Thirteen years previously, my father had been offered a history professorship with George Washington University. Before he’d taught a day, my father, who had been secretary of the Communist Party at Harvard University in the late 1940s, was dismissed from George Washington and subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. My father took the 5th Amendment, refusing to testify. He later sued George Washington and received a year’s salary. Two years later, as the Anti-Red Crusade lost its grip on the soul of American politics, my father landed a position at a small liberal arts college, Cornell, in Mt. Vernon, IA. Life went on. 

As it turned out, J. Edgar Hoover, a George Washington Law School alumnus, served on GW’s board of directors. A background check was performed routinely on all prospective employees, which is how they’d turned up evidence of my father’s past affiliation with CP-USA.  

My father was not a vengeful man, but I was raised on a steady diet of anti-Hoover/anti-FBI rhetoric. And true to his rhetoric, in reading his heavily redacted FBI file years later, there was an almost Keystone Cop quality to their behavior as they tailed my father’s political activities for the next twenty years.

Hoover was no Baby Doc. Tens, not tens of thousands, died at Hoover’s hands. Certainly Fred Hampton comes to mind. And one cannot dismiss the possibility that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by the FBI as well. But Hoover’s legacy is with us today, just as the legacy of the Duvaliers lives on in Haiti. 

So I can only imagine the emotions Haitians must be feeling in the wake of his death. Was it something akin to the joy my father felt that beautiful spring day? Or was it something more complex, more nuanced. 

Max Blanchet, current Lambi Fund Board member, and past president, put it quite succinctly: “May his pestilent soul rest forever in hell.” 

How has the death of Baby Doc affected you? Let us know. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Haiti, Nebraska and Alberta: Connecting the Dots

May Boeve, Executive Director of, the leading organization in the United States in the struggle to combat climate change, announced at the Environmental Grantmakers Association Fall Retreat yesterday that “The Supreme Court of Nebraska invalidated the proposed route of the XL Pipeline through Nebraska.”

Why is this important for Haiti? Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's nation most vulnerable to climate change. According to the insurance industry, through 2012, Haiti experienced the 3rd highest level of climate change induced damages of any nation in the world.

It is Canada, not Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, that has the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated at nearly 200 billion barrels.The Alberta Tar Sands contain the equivalent of the rest of the known oil reserves in the entire world. But Canada’s oil, buried deep within the sands of northern Alberta Province, require nearly as much energy to pull out of the ground as the energy that they produce. As Dr. James Hansen, the world’s leading scientist on climate change, has put it, if the tar sands of Canada are fully developed, “it’s game over for the climate.” 

The XL Pipeline would bring the large majority of oil from the tar sands of Alberta to market. The decision to build, or not to build, the pipeline will be made by President Obama sometime after the November 2014 election. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision throws one more obstacle in the path of the XL Pipeline.

Desolate land from deforestation in Haiti seems to mirror the desolate land of the Tar Sands

Needless to say, if it is game over for the world, it is game over for Haiti. That is why this is an important issue for everyone who cares passionately about the future of Haiti. To learn more about this issue, Wikipedia has an excellent article at: 

More than 100,000 people in the United States have signed a pledge of resistance to engage in civil disobedience should Obama approve the XL Pipeline this coming November. To learn more about the Pledge of Resistance, go to:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Of Mice, Men and MINUSTAH

On a fundamental level, The Lambi Fund of Haiti is an organization that focuses on the rural. With our belief that through the support of grassroots peasant organizations the true strength of Haiti can be realized, this type of rural focus is essential. But, since our ultimate hope lies in the realization of meaningful democracy, we cannot deny, nor ignore the 50% of the Haitian population that lives within the country’s capital, Port Au Prince. Yet, the issues faced by Haiti’s urban-dwelling population are often very different from those faced by the rural peasant associations that Lambi Fund works with.

Last week, 329 prisoners escaped from a Haitian prison in Croix-des-Bouquets, near the heart of Port Au Prince. And as of last Tuesday, only a few of the escaped had been recaptured. Haitian police are currently fanned out across the country in search for the remaining escaped prisoners. Ironically, the Haitian police force has received help from the Dominican Republic. At this point, it is still not clear whether the break was meant to free a particular prisoner or the work of a collective group.

Security, or lack thereof, is an all too important issue facing urban dwellers in Haiti. But it is interesting to consider the way that outsiders view security in Haiti. On one hand, there are numerous US reports that consider the safety of traveling to Haiti.  Yet this recent prison break found scant coverage in the U.S. or European media. Why no coverage? If a prison break of this magnitude had happened elsewhere, it would have at least been mentioned in the US news. But even with Haiti’s relative proximity to the United States, despite the presence of a diaspora population of more than one million Haitians, the story was not told.

Speaking of untold stories, the recently released UN Human Development Index ranked Haiti 168th out of 187 countries, just above Afghanistan, which has been plagued by over 40 years of constant war. Curiously, Haiti’s relative position has dropped steadily since the earthquake in 2010 (from 150th in 2009, to 158th in 2011 to 168th today), losing ground even as billions have been invested for reconstruction.  And yet, Haiti’s homicide rate and prison population are relatively low when compared to some of the higher-ranking countries on the list. Indeed, Haiti’s violent death rate is indistinguishable from that of the United States (95th vs. 92nd). Which begs the all important question – if violence in Haiti is not actually a problem, why is MINUSTAH still occupying the country four and a half years after the earthquake? If they are not there to protect the population from itself, could it be that they are there to protect something or someone else from the population?

What are your thoughts?

As of August 19th, the majority of the escaped prisoners have not been recaptured.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ile a Vache: Paradise Lost?

When we hear about the creation of new jobs in Haiti, this is often seen as a positive change. And rightfully so, given the country’s high unemployment and underemployment rates. There are more people in Haiti that want to work than there are jobs for them to fill. But when the creation of jobs results in the loss of livelihood for others, are more jobs always a good thing?

Ile a Vache, a 20-square mile island off of Haiti’s southern coast, known as one of the country’s most pristine and beautiful islands, has recently become a hub of booming development. An airport is being built, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, and golf courses. All of this is in the name of a new mandate for ecotourism being pushed by the Haitian government. The gradual transition to a resort town is already well underway, but what about Ile a Vache’s 20,000 residents?

Since Ile a Vache is so small and so remote, most of the population is made up of farmers and fishermen whose families have called the island home for generations. In May 2013 a decree was put forward by the Haitian government, which annulled all property rights of the islands residents for five years and declared the island of Ile and Vache a zone of tourism

The project of turning Ile a Vache into a resort town was never explained to the island's residents. The people of Ile a Vache still do not know what is being built or why their homes and farms must be plowed under to carry forth this ecotourism push.

In the US, we equate increasing numbers of jobs with increasing amounts of success. But how can the Haitian people of Ile a Vache be productive and successful when their traditional livelihoods are taken away along with the land of their ancestors?

While we cannot speak for the Haitian government or any of the few news sources reporting on the issues in Ile a Vache, Lambi Fund of Haiti is concerned with the situation on the island and believes that it needs increasing attention. In Ile a Vache, the peasants, the very people who Lambi Fund exists to serve, are losing their historic lands and livelihoods to this new push for ecotourism.

But shouldn’t the people of Haiti have a say in determining what their own future looks like? You can read more about the situation in Ile a Vache in the most recent edition of CounterPunch, an on-line journal started by the late British journalist, Alexander Cockburn.

Photos by Marie-Chantalle.