Pepper Water and Protests in Haiti

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Pepper Water and Protests in Haiti

Scott Freeman

Tear gas is not uncommon in Port au Prince. Over the past decade, whether it has been protests over food shortages, controlling political demonstrations, or ‘peacekeeping’ actions by the infamous MINUSTAH UN forces, tear gas and other methods of crowd control have been a reality of the political and social landscape in downtown Port-au-Prince. A veteran reporter in Haiti told me that he had developed all sorts of strategies to deal with tear gas, ranging use of lime under his nose to more preventative measures like always having a paint masks handy. Continue reading

Martelly at Howard University: A Concerning View on Poverty and Education?

President Martelly Speaks at Howard University

President Martelly Speaks at Howard University

Martelly’s speech last Wednesday at Howard University drew attention to his administration’s focus on free and universal education.  But while promoting both his education agenda and a nascent collaboration with Howard University, the President of Haiti also portrayed a disturbing depiction of the Haitian people.

Both Martelly and the Howard University administration discussed planned educational exchanges, promising an educational partnership that draws on solidarity between the prominent historically black University and the first black Republic. “African Americans and Haitians are connected by history,” Martelly said. “But we can also be connected by choice — united in partnership.” Continue reading

Streaming video: (Un)Making a Dominican: The Context for Denationalization


“The Price of Sugar” screening was well attended, and for those who weren’t able to come, the film sparked a rather intense discussion about Dominican citizenship, and the current judicial and executive decisions affecting the country.

As a follow up  to these discussions, we wanted to draw attention to an event occurring this evening (December 5th, 6pm) at the CUNY graduate center:

“Join us for a public event and conversation addressing the recent ruling of the Dominican Constitutional Court to strip Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. In solidarity with other organizations and worldwide actions, scholars, artists, students, and activists discuss the ruling and its effects. Film Screening of Birthrights Crisis will help illuminate the history of the issue, along with a musical performance by Kalunga Neg Mawon Haitian-Dominican Music band.”

Historical ‘Anti-Haitianism’ and the Rulings of the Dominican Constitutional Court

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

The Constitutional Court decision made by the Dominican Republic two weeks ago is the most recent of the ongoing rulings that affect Haitian citizenship in the country (Reuters, BBC). The law stipulates that individuals of foreign descent born after 1929, the vast majority of whom are Haitian, could have their Dominican citizenship revoked. Such denationalization comes with heavy prices: schooling, voting privileges, social services, and health provision all hang in the balance for hundreds of thousands of Haitian descended Dominicans. Advocacy groups and scholars, as well as multilateral organizations (Unicef, Amnesty International) have vocalized and mobilized opposition to the ruling. Continue reading

Focus on Haiti Introduces Series on Cholera

After a lull in media coverage, Haiti’s cholera epidemic resurfaced in international news. A new scientific publication has been released, citing that the most likely source of cholera in Haiti was MINUSTAH, the UN peace-keeping mission in Haiti. This goes against previous findings from the same council two years ago, and sparks further debate on culpability of the epidemic, and the effects of international institutions in Haiti.

As the epidemic continues, Focus on Haiti introduces a new series of posts on cholera. The series will be fundamentally interdisciplinary. Cholera’s effects, after all, are multifaceted. Even individual effects are both profoundly physical and emotional. Cholera’s genesis in Haiti begs analysis from both the social sciences and the natural sciences. The epidemic raises questions of public health, and international legal responsibility. And throughout these interdisciplinary conversations lies critical questions of foreign interventions in Haiti.

This series seeks to follow the web of cholera, to find what is uncovered by following the threads in different directions. The perspectives shared here will hopefully spark debate, and raise concerns so that media lulls do not dictate our awareness of these realities.

Our first post investigates the medical and scientific research on cholera. Read on.


-Scott Freeman

Images and “Saving”

By Scott FreemanVisiting Scholar

As an anthropologist, and one that focuses on Haiti, it is imperative to think and reflect on representation: how we represent those we work with, and to what end. These representations are not some sort of post-modern exercise in self absorption (though in academia, anything can become an exercise of self absorption). The ways in which objects, places, and people are represented has a profound effect materially. In the case of Haiti, it legitimizes extractive occupations and the continual presence of international powers using Haiti for markets and labor. It also legitimizes the short term mission trips that populate many of the flights to Haiti.

I recently gave a guest lecture at Montgomery College in Maryland. During that lecture and the following discussion, we thought through some of the work of Mary Renda (“Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of US Imperialism, 1915-1940” (2000)), in which she discusses the occupation of Haiti by US marine forces. Peppered through are the words of the US marines, led by Smedley Butler. He referred to the Haitian soldiers as “my little chocolate fellows.” Using this phrase, we turned to the ideas of paternalism. Within those four words, we uncovered the pejorative and racialized account of Haitians that legitimized an occupation. Writing back to the Senate, the Marines expressed that they had encountered “a huge estate that belonged to minors.” This language fostered a moral superiority that legitimized an invasion.

During that lecture, the students and I discussed not only how this language dehumanizes and diminishes, but also how there are material consequences of those actions. Private industry (bankers, railroad owners) pressured the US occupation of Haiti, and the private gains that were at stake motivated Woodrow Wilson’s administration to enter and formally begin the occupation. But only, of course, with the moral superiority that permeated those paternalistic statements.

Our discussion then turned to the earthquake of 2010, and how this discourse continues through the present day. I asked students to look through the winning photographs from the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2011. The photographs are startling, so advance with caution. Certainly, they depict the death and sorrow that permeated the earthquake. But there is a startling and dehumanizing of representation that runs through these photos. Images of violence, the grotesque, and a type of neo-colonial salvation are side by side, and in the collection, the narrative of primitivism and violence are kept alive and well.

Looting and pillaging are depicted repeatedly throughout the collection, giving a sense of widespread social disorder. Yet other authors and scholars have repeatedly contested this, arguing that following the earthquake, “there was no violence or ‘a day without rule.’ In the midst of near disaster, people were trying to go on” (Katz, 2012).

Alongside violence, the series of photographs highlights the elderly and defines Haiti through an odd lens of helplessness. Looking down from above, we see the elderly given a bath on open toilet seats. There are no faces, just bodies. In that moment, an unclothed elder is juxtaposed with open toilet seats as he is bathed by an attendant. There is a mixing and molding of profane (toilets, waste) and helpless immobility (elderly, wheelchairs). With these images we are urged to think about Haiti and the earthquake in terms of helplessness, a helplessness that exists in a space of ‘contaminated mortality.’

But perhaps the most significant images are those of the foreign relief worker saving a Haitian baby. Or the foreign doctor hugging a child. In these moments of caring, of power and compassion, the foreign, white, aid worker is comes to the salvation of children. Juxtaposed with the previous photographs, that salvation becomes defined against a contaminated helplessness and violence, proposing the foreigner as savior for the catastrophe.

Gina Athena Ulysse, the talented performer and anthropologist, does a far better job than I at deconstructing these representations of Haitians. She writes how Haitians have often been portrayed historically as fractures and fragments, bodies without minds, heads without bodies, or simply roving spirits (see Tectonic Shifts, 2012). In these photos, these fragments are spread in a very particular narrative of disaster. Fragments of bodies. Helplessness. Not the Haiti of solidarity, the cooperative, the neighbor lending hand to neighbor. Rather, Haiti the odd, the irregular, the ‘exceptional’ (as Troulliot might have us say). In the midst of all of this, the cure presented is the white savior.

Writing from a school of international affairs, one must think about the effects that these images continue to have on conversations of politics and policy. Do these types of images play roles in justifying international meddling in Haiti’s affairs, the removal and appointment of Presidents? Do they serve to further legitimize the interventions of the supposed “10,000 NGOs,”?

It is not only the writings we must write against, but also the narrative images that propel the “saving” of Haiti. Images may pull at our heart strings, and compel some sort of continued engagement, but perhaps one of the roles of this post (and perhaps this blog), is to ask for a moment to think, a moment to understand the way that other people are being spoken about and represented, and how historically these representations have occurred. If we commit to learning from the past, then we should realize that the these narratives and images of dehumanization coupled with salvation have many times before been a first step towards control and violence.

C-SPAN link for Panel on Haitian Politics and International Aid

The discussion between a journalist, former ambassador, and aid executive was one of the most engaging conversations that has taken place this semester…

Weren’t able to make it to the panel? Don’t worry, the most recent event put on by the Western Hemisphere Working Group at GW and Focus on Haiti will be archived online at C-SPAN.

Watch the discussion on the link below: