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Haiti: Two Years After Deadly Earthquake, Life Largely Unchanged

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By Starla Muhammad, Staff Writer
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

(FinalCall.com) – “Occupy” Haiti? Activists argue this is exactly what the U.S., UN and thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are doing in the world’s first independent Black republic after a devastating earthquake shook this Caribbean nation two years ago.

So-called great liberators under the guise of humanitarian aid and rebuilding have become entrenched, calling the shots while the masses of Haitians continue suffering.

Rubble-lined streets, families wallowing in tent cities, cholera, and lack of fresh water is as big a problem today as it was in the immediate aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude quake that decimated Port-au-Prince and other areas of the country, Jan. 10, 2010.

Two years later, nothing has changed, said some activists, in describing the lot of the average Haitian.

The same questions raised one year later are still being asked two years later. What happened to the money? Who is profiting from Haiti’s misery? Are UN peacekeeping troops really peace breakers? Unanswered questions and continued interference by a foreign presence in their homeland have frustrated and angered Haitian activists. Haiti has been forgotten, they said.

Does anybody really care they ask?

“Nobody cares,” Ezili Danto of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network told The Final Call. Ms. Danto has stopped granting interviews because most media outlets are asking her about the two-year anniversary of the earthquake but neglect to ask about Haiti any other time.

She said despite the billions of dollars of aid pledged to Haiti by many countries there has been no “systematic relief.”

“Instead, half-a-million Haitians—500,000—have been infected with UN-cholera and 7,000 Haitians are dead from the UN/US/international ‘help’ that brought the most virulent strain of the cholera bacteria into Haiti,” wrote Ms. Danto on www.ezilidanto.com. However, the Haitian people are strong, resilient and will not be deterred by current obstacles, she added.

“Not deterred that the foreign NGO/charity industry, USAID special subcontractors and most of the donor countries kept most of the billions in earthquake relief collected under Obama/Clinton/UN oversight.”

“Not deterred that this newly US-hobbled-Haiti is now the ‘hot’ place for the super-rich, the wannabe humanitarians, their adrenaline-addicted celebrities, adventurers and the paid-to-lose-progressives to setup shop, take on their right wing counterparts with a hustler’s wink and for the Kim Kardashian ilks to come for spa treatments and acquire exotic ‘tribal crafts,’ ” added Ms. Danto.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, a son of the Caribbean, said recently many do not want to see Haiti rise up and become independent and self-reliant. In the Muslim leader’s historic first trip to Haiti in December, he delivered a powerful and timely message to the Haitian people. Min. Farrakhan reminded listeners at an outdoor rally of the great legacy of Haitian heroes Makandal, Boukman and Jean Jacque Dessalines that led to the overthrow of their French colonial slave masters and independence Jan. 1, 1804.

“The reason you suffer is because the enemy knows that what you did in 1804 can be done again. So, from France, from England, from America: No matter what they say, they do not want to see Haiti rise again,” said Min. Farrakhan, whose words were translated into kreyol as he spoke Dec. 14 from a stage in downtown Port-Au-Prince. In the background was the still destroyed National Palace and a tent city that is home to displaced Haitians.

Money pledged, money spent, where?

“The only thing I can tell you is the same thing everybody else has been telling you which is the same: There’s still no work being done in Haiti. Relief money in Port-au-Prince has not reached the Haitian people at all,” Carmella Coqmard Muhammad told The Final Call.

Ms. Muhammad’s parents are from Haiti. She still has relatives in the capital Port-au-Prince and Cap Hatien in the North. The Haitian people are “absolutely frustrated,” said Ms. Muhammad.

Worldwide sympathy was accompanied by billions of dollars raised by various charities and groups in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. According to the UN, $4.6 billion has been spent on relief efforts. But that is about half of the money pledged to help Haiti recover and rebuild. Yet little if any progress that directly impacts and improves the lives of the people is being seen

Only about half of the earthquake rubble has been removed. According to the Associated Press, only four of the 10 largest projects funded by international donors have broken ground.

“It turns out that almost none of the money that the general public thought was going to Haiti actually went directly to Haiti. The international community chose to bypass the Haitian people, Haitian non-governmental organizations and the government of Haiti. Funds were instead diverted to other governments, international NGOs, and private companies,” human rights activists Bill Quigley and Amber Ramanauskas wrote in a Jan. 3 posting on CommonDreams.org. entitled, “Haiti: Seven Places Where Earthquake Money Did and Did Not Go.”

According to Mr. Quigley and Ms. Ramanauskas:

The largest single recipient of U.S. earthquake money was the U.S. government. The same holds true for donations by other countries;

Only one percent of the money went to the Haitian government;

Extremely little went to Haitian companies or Haitian non-governmental organizations (NGOs);

A large percentage of the money went to international aid agencies, and big well connected NGOs;

Some money went to for-profit organizations whose business is disasters;

A fair amount of the pledged money has never been actually put up;

A lot of the money put up has not yet been spent;

Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica, told The Final Call transparency and accountability for where the money has gone is still needed. TransAfrica, along with several other groups in a Jan. 11 press release, called for immediate changes to recovery efforts to ensure that critical human rights concerns are addressed in Haiti. Representatives from TransAfrica, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Film at 11, Let Haiti Live and the Center for Constitutional Rights made recommendations including making non-profits more accountable for the money received.“Too many people have been left behind and too much money (has) been wasted to continue with business as usual,” said the group.

Haiti has often been dubbed, “The Republic of NGOs.” Reports vary on exactly how many of these groups function there. Conservative estimates say at least 3,000, but some argue the number could be upwards to 10,000. These organizations have been in Haiti for decades.

Ms. Muhammad said most of the frustration and anger of Haitians is directed toward the non-profits and charities. “These organizations promise a lot and give nothing. I can’t say it is the government itself that they are disappointed with because he (President Michel Martelly) just got there. For them, they don’t expect anything from him. They don’t look to the government for help,” said Ms. Muhammad.

Little progress, little power

Over half a million Haitians are still living in nearly 800 tent camps and political log-jams between President Martelly and the Haitian parliament have caused some problems.

After rejecting Mr. Martelly’s initial two choices for prime minister, parliament finally approved Dr. Garry Conille, an aide under the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton now serves as the UN special envoy to Haiti. Some view this as further evidence of U.S. meddling in the affairs of Haiti.

“It is clear that in Haiti today there is a shadow government, with the presence of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in the National Palace and at the head of a so-called ‘Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Development and Investment.’ It is no secret to informed people that the invisible hand of Bill Clinton is in the appointment of Garry Conille,” wrote Yves Pierre-Louis in article in Haiti Liberté prior to Mr. Conille’s confirmation.

“What’s more, Conille directed Clinton’s offices as co-chair of the Interim Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti (IHRC) and Special Envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. To impose Garry Conille as Prime Minister, all the country’s laws will have to be violated in the interests of the imperialist powers and the big, local predators,” continued Yves Pierre-Louis.

“It is a common misconception, both in Haiti and abroad, that the country’s president holds executive power. In fact, his main power is to nominate the man or woman who does: the Prime Minister,” wrote Kim Ives in a separate article for Haiti Liberté.

The non-profits use Haiti as a way to make money, said Ms. Muhammad. While traveling with a delegation from the Nation of Islam last August, Ms. Muhammad said the group witnessed a construction project while en route to a city in the mountains.

“We saw a prison being built that will facilitate children from around the age of six I was told, seven and eight. How are you going to put a six-year-old in prison? Who was building that prison? The Clinton Foundation,” said Ms. Muhammad.

Critics argue that the thousands of non-profits over the course of years have made it nearly impossible for the Haitian government to provide services for its people. These groups get more funding and have greater capacity than the government. The funding often comes from the United States, the United Nations and other countries and major international agencies. This is becoming more evident after the 2010 earthquake.

According to a 2010 brief by the United States Institute of Peace, the Haitian government has had little chance to develop the human or institutional capacity to deliver services. “The Haitian people have learned to look to NGOs, rather than the government, for provision of essential services,” said the brief.

Mr. Clinton helped broker a $45 million deal between Marriott and Digicel to build a 174-room hotel which is supposed to create 175 jobs. But meanwhile hundreds of tent cities remain.

The thing with the Haitian people is, everybody has taken from them, said Ms. Muhammad “They use Haiti as a way to make money,” she said.

Peacekeepers or mischief makers?

Patrick Muhammad, of Phoenix, Ariz., was born in New York to Haitian parents. He moved back to Haiti as a toddler with his mother, where he was raised until age 15, when he returned to the States.

Mr. Muhammad also has family still in Port-au-Prince and said according to an aunt, there are reports of Haitian children orphaned by the earthquake being removed and “adopted out” to other countries. While also traveling with the Nation of Islam delegation last August, Mr. Muhammad spoke with those displaced by the tragedy. They told him non-profit staffers, coming to “help,” often ate delicious meals but threw away the remainder—sharing nothing with people in need.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was set up by the UN Security Council in 2004 to “ensure a secure and stable environment” and “support the then Transitional Government.” Eight years later over 12,400 uniformed personnel make up MINUSTAH in Haiti.

UN troops have been accused of a plethora of outrageous acts, including sexual assaults of men, women and children, murdering innocent civilians and looting. When cell phone was video released last summer of troops from Uruguay allegedly sexually assaulting 18-year-old Johnny Jean on a MINUSTAH base was circulated, outrage followed.

There have been increased calls by Haitians for the UN forces to leave.

“There is a history of sexual abuse by these so-called ‘peacekeepers.’ There is outrage that these soldiers brought the deadly cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 6,000 Haitians and sickened hundreds of thousands,” said an article written by G. Dunkel posted on the website for International Action Center, founded by former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark.

“‘MINUSTAH’ is a stabilization force in name only,” continued G. Dunkel. “Its real purpose is to maintain domination of Haiti so that U.S. geostrategic and economic interests are maintained.”

The Final Call was referred to Vannina Maestraccia, associate spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for comment. Ms. Maestraccia forwarded this writer’s questions to Silvie van den Wildenberg, spokesperson for the MINUSTAH. She did not respond.

Ray of light in the darkness

Ms. Muhammad said she finds it difficult to reach out to all of her family still in Haiti because there is so much need. “When people are in that kind of condition reaching out to them is not enough, just to say ‘hello.’ You have to have some kind of avenue, some venue for them. Some kind of help,” she said.

“It’s almost like if you don’t have anything to help them with, reaching out to them is just a constant reminder that you’re doing better and they’re not,” she added. The spirit among Haitians is one of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, said Ms. Muhammad.

Haitians look to Haitians in the Diaspora to come back and help rebuild and provide assistance, Ms. Muhammad continued. She is working along with her family for one of her cousins to relocate from Port-au-Prince to the U.S. so he can attend college.

“With people in Haiti, it’s ‘life goes on.’ They’re used to not getting any aid anyway. The majority of the sentiments of Haitian people is ‘ede tèt ou,’ meaning help yourself. The only person that is going to liberate Haiti and bring democracy to Haiti is the Haitian people,” Ms. Muhammad added.

Ms. Danto expressed her thanks to the Nation of Islam and Min. Farrakhan for purchasing a $150,000 Mobile Max Pure solar water purification system delivered to Haiti in August by the delegation from the United States. The system was placed in a community of voodoo practitioners. Min. Farrakhan has promised two more systems, one for the Christian community, and another for the Muslim community.

Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and founder of the Haiti Support Project, is leading a delegation of 38 Black and Haitian Americans to Haiti, Jan. 17-21, to further assess the progress of recovery and reconstruction.

The group will also “explore ways to engage people of African descent from the U.S. in the process of building the new Haiti. “As we have observed repeatedly, people of African descent everywhere owe a special debt to Haiti for waging and winning a revolution which became a beacon of hope for Africans at the height of the holocaust of enslavement,” said Dr. Daniels in a Jan. 15 statement.

Mr. Muhammad said the Minister’s visit to Haiti had a deep and profound impact on friends and family that he spoke to. At a Dec. 14 downtown rally in Port-au-Prince, Min. Farrakhan told the Haitian people he felt their pain but assured them they were living at the end of White supremacy.

“Soon Haiti will be free! Soon, and very soon, the enemy will be removed from power not only over your lives here, but he will be removed from power over the people of our planet! So what is your and my responsibility in an hour like this? Ayiti (Haiti) Toma!—This is your land! Everything under this land is your rightful possession!” said Min. Farrakhan.

Jay-Z's Rocawear Could 'Fade to Black'

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Special to the NNPA for the Afro-American Newspaper –

Rapper Jay-Z’s Rocawear has hit hard times.

Like many companies in today’s economy, Jay-Z’s clothing line is experiencing some rough times.

According to the New York Post, half the staff of the rapper’s Rocawear men and boys division in its Big Apple headquarters was laid off in early January. According to the New York State Department of Labor the urban apparel brand let go 28 of its 56 workers for “economic reasons.”

Moreover, an insider told the Post that the rapper used to be a strong presence in the office, but rarely shows up these days.

“It’s kind of like he’s given up on the brand,” the source said.

Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, sold Rocawear for $204 million in 2007 to Iconix Group, which also owns Starter and Ed Hardy.

Following the brand’s purchase, the rapper continued to oversee the company until his contractual obligations expired. Now, he refuses to promote the brand as sales continue to decline.

“Jay-Z doesn’t do anything without getting paid a lot of money–a lot more than Rocawear is generating,” an insider told the Post.

The rapper launched the brand in 1999 with Roc-A-Fella Records partner Damon Dash.

The clothing line notably made headlines in November after receiving criticism for its “Occupy All Streets” t-shirts.

According to TMZ, protesters criticized Jay-Z for trying to capitalize off of the “Occupy” movement happening across the U.S.

The shirts were pulled from the company’s Web site, but later resurfaced.

Controversy Surrounds Microsoft’s 'Avoid Ghetto App'

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Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Over a week ago, Microsoft was awarded a patent for a new feature to appear on new Windows phones with GPS devices that would take into account the weather and crime statistics of neighborhoods when giving directions. The patent filing states that the technology would help users avoid “unsafe neighborhoods or being in an open area that is subject to harsh temperatures.”

Some have dubbed this new feature the “ghetto app,” and it has drawn criticism for being racist.

“It’s pretty appalling,” Sarah E. Chinn, author of “Technology and the Logic of American Racism,” told AOL Autos last week. “Of course, an application like this defines crime pretty narrowly, since all crimes happen in all kinds of neighborhoods. I can’t imagine that there aren’t perpetrators of domestic violence, petty and insignificant drug possession, fraud, theft and rape in every area.

“A more useful app would be for young Black men to be able to map blocks with the highest risk of being pulled over or stopped on the street by police,” continued Chinn. “That phenomenon affects many more people than the rare occurrences of random violence against motorists driving through ‘bad’ neighborhoods.”

But Mary Mitchell, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, is calling out the outrage over the app. She says those who are opposed to the app are smug, considering that the “ghetto app” was labeled as such by the media and pundits, not by Microsoft itself.

“Although the murder rate is down more than 2 percent citywide, neighborhoods plagued by gangs and drugs, like Englewood, saw a dramatic increase in homicides,” said Mitchell. “It is no wonder so many Black people have fled to the suburbs.

“But whenever anyone dares point out that this madness is not happening in all of the city’s neighborhoods and is primarily occurring in neighborhoods that are predominantly Black, many of us bristle over the ugly truth,” she continued. “In this instance, asking if the so-called ‘ghetto app’ is racist is asking the wrong question.

“The question we should consider is whether it is racist to refer to Microsoft’s pending patent as a ‘ghetto app’ in the first place?” contended Mitchell. “‘Ghetto’ was scuttled by the media decades ago because it was deemed to be an offensive term used to describe low-income and crime-affected neighborhoods. Today, people throw the word around as if it were innocuous.”

New Research: Requiring Large Mortgage Down Payments Would Hurt the Economy

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75 percent of African-American families could be denied homeownership

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

As the nation continues to grapple with a weak housing market, policymakers are seeking safeguards to ensure that American families will never again face such massive foreclosures and billion-dollar losses of wealth. Some have suggested that the best guarantee against future housing crises would be to require down payment for many home purchases to be 10 or even 20 percent.

But after the Center for Community Capital and the Center for Responsible Lending analyzed nearly 20 million loans originated between 2000 and 2008, researchers found that while high down payment requirements might lower foreclosure rates somewhat, these larger down payment requirements would prevent a much greater share of credit-worthy borrowers from getting lower-cost mortgages. If mandated down payments were at 20 percent of a home’s purchase price, that requirement alone would exclude 75 percent of qualified African-American and 70 percent of Latino borrowers from lower-priced loans, or from becoming homeowners altogether.

By CRL’s estimates, the average American household earning $50,000 a year would need more than 10 years to save for a 10 percent down payment on a home. For black households, averaging $32,000 a year, the years needed to save would rise to more than 14 years to save for that same down payment.

The new research also found that it was dangerous loan features and the lack of mortgage underwriting standards – not low down payments – that caused the current housing crisis. Lenders that never considered a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, broker kickbacks for steering mortgage applicants into high-cost loans, and prepayment penalties were far more responsible for the foreclosure tsunami than down payments.

The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act already eliminated many of these risky loan terms.

If the American Dream is to be real for this and future generations, it must be accessible — especially for those who have historically been locked out homeownership.

Right now, without government-mandated high-down payments, minority homeownership already lags behind that of white families.

Last year in a related study, the Harvard-based Joint Center for Housing Studies also found that low wealth levels make down payments a major barrier to homeownership especially for minorities. “At last measure in 2007” cited the Harvard report, “the median minority renter had only $300 in cash savings and $2,700 in net worth, while the median white renter had roughly three times those amounts.”

No one wants or needs another housing crisis. So government has an important role to play in developing safeguards against the billion-dollar losses of recent years. That would be a good thing.

But we also know that government policies work best when they level the playing field and expand opportunities for everyone. Working families who pay their bills on time and keep debt to modest levels should not have to wait 10 years or longer just to amass down payments for modest homes. High, government-mandated down payments would do just that.

If as a country we believe in the pride of homeownership and the ability for every family to own a home, let government reforms reflect that basic value. A balance between fair access to homeownership and safety in mortgage markets would help everyone – consumers of all colors and businesses alike.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Coke and the Scheme to Depose the King

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By William Reed, NNPA Columnist –

How far should corporate social responsibility go? Can groups seeking to depose Swaziland’s king use Coca-Cola to help do it? Citing charges of “human rights abuses” and “looting of the national wealth” groups opposed to King Mswati are seeking the world’s support in their demand that the beverage behemoth “withdraw its support” from him.

Mswati III (born Makhosetive Dlamini on April 19, 1968) is the King of Swaziland and head of the Swazi Royal Family. He succeeded his father Sobhuza II as ruler of the kingdom in 1986 at age 18. Mswati III is one of the last absolute monarchs in the world. He has the authority to appoint the prime minister, members of the cabinet, and the judiciary. The king is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state.

The Swaziland Democracy Campaign says: “Coca-Cola must know they’re doing business with the wrong people … Their profits don’t help the average Swazi while the king is getting richer by the day.” The king’s opposition is steeped in efforts to get him to accept “democratic reform.” Labor unions and pro-democracy campaigns have joined forces to stage noisy public protests calling for political change. The king’s critics also blame him for “poor economic management” and “widespread corruption.

It seems that Swaziland activists ascribe too much power to Coca-Cola. A country the size of Connecticut, Swaziland has an annual GDP of $3.65 billion, mostly from agriculture, forestry and mining. Swaziland has excellent farming and ranching land, and 80 percent of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture. The Coca-Cola Company is a $15 billion a year transnational and the concentrate that is the most important ingredient in the company’s African product comes from a huge industrial plant in Mapatsa, Swaziland that it has operated since 1987. Coke is not in Swaziland to arbiter its politics, it is there because of favorable taxes and an abundance of cheap labor and raw sugar.

The consensus is that “Mswati isn’t likely to be deposed.” Swaziland has a population of 1.4 million homogeneous people who share language, culture and loyalty to their king and country. There are no tribal conflicts; the country is stable, orderly and at peace with her neighbors. The Socialist People’s United Democratic Movement is Swaziland’s largest opposition party.

Coca-Cola has 160 plants and 7,000 employees in Africa, but it’s “not the boss” of the King of Swaziland. The kingdom is a land-locked country in Southern Africa, bordered on the north, south and west by South Africa and to the east by Mozambique. Reports show that 63 percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and 30 percent live in extreme poverty. The nation, as well as its people, is named after the 19th century King Mswati II. The capital city, Mbabane has a population of 50,000.

Mswati III is not about to abdicate his throne. According to the former CEO of the Office of the King, Mswati III earns a salary as head of state, has investments within and outside the country and owns an unspecified amount of shares in different companies within Swaziland. King Mswati is reportedly worth $200 million. This does not include about $10 billion that King Sobhuza II put in trust for the Swazi nation during his reign, in which Mswati III is the trustee.

King Mswati has more than 200 brothers and sisters and the task of taking care of them all. So beyond Coke, Mswati’s fate is in profits from the royal-owned company, Tibiyo TisukaNgwane, established by his father, King Sobhuza II to provide for his offspring. Nearly 60 percent of Swazi territory is publicly held by the crown in trust of the Swazi nation. All seems in accord with the law of the land as Mswati enjoys wealth through the Tibiyo Tisuka parastatal investment companies and extensive shares in numerous businesses, industries, property developments and tourism facilities.

William Reed is publisher of Who’s Who in Black Corporate America and available for speaking/seminar projects via the BaileyGroup.org

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