[Vision2020] One Haitian Woman's Struggle to Save Her People and Their Land

nickgier at adelphia.net nickgier at adelphia.net
Tue Apr 15 10:32:29 PDT 2008

Hail to the Vision!

This is my radio commentary on KRFP FM 92.5 tomorrow morning at about 8 AM and repeated at about 9:30.

I interviewed Afelene Rosemond for 2 hours yesterday at Sister's.  Nancy Casey translated for me.  I thought they were speaking French, but it was Creole, which is actually very different from French.  No wonder I couldn't understand anything with my poor grad school French!

On Wednesday, April 16, Rosemond will be speaking and showing slides in the UI Women's Center Lounge at 12:30.  On Friday, April 18 there will be a Haitian evening at the Unitarian Church at 2nd & Van Buren.  It will begin at 6 PM with Haitian food and Rosemond will present her program.

I'm not sure if I got the facts about hybrid and genetically modified seeds right, so I would appreciate some corrections if necessary from Palouse experts in this area.

Nick Gier


Once called the Pearl of the Antilles, Haiti, only 43 miles from Cuba and sharing an island with the Dominican Republic, continues to experience violence and political instability.  Sadly, the title of Nancy Heinl's book "Written in Blood" accurately describes the history of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The dramatic increase in food prices world-wide--wheat up 130 percent, soy up 87 percent, and rice up 74 per cent in one year--has hit the 8.5 million Haitians, who import 80 percent of their food, especially hard.  Five people have been killed and 200 hundred wounded in nation-wide demonstrations about food prices. 

The riots have continued even after President Rene Preval announced a subsidy that would have reduced the price of rice by 16 percent.  Preval's government has been accused of ignoring clear signs of starvation and deprivation among Haiti's poor masses, who number 6.8 million and who try to live on $2 a day.  

Criminal gangs, which have terrorized Haiti for decades, shot two Jordanian UN peacekeepers in 2007, and on Monday a Nigerian soldier was killed as he delivered food to UN peacekeepers.  

Followers of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide have also contributed to the violence. There is still a lot of support for Aristide among the poor, but most Haitians have given up on their government.  

One woman who is trying to make a grass-roots difference is Afelene Rosemond from the Haitian island of La Gonave.  Rosemond is a 28-year-old single mom with three children.  She has been visiting Moscow since January sharing her experiences with students and area residents.

Rosemond has been a teacher for nine years, and she has decided that in addition to teaching her pupils academic subjects, she also needs to teach them how to cultivate vegetables.  The Haitian economy has been so skewed by the cash from foreign remittances and the selling of timber that many Haitians no longer grow their own food. 

Designated women from La Gonave are sent to the markets in Port-au-Prince where, if not robbed on the way, they limit their buying to vegetables that can survive the 24-hour trip back home.  Making matters even worse is the fact that food prices have doubled in the past six months.

Moscow activist Nancy Casey has been visiting La Gonave since 2003 and one of the things she brings is vegetable seeds.  International agricultural aid is based on hybrid varieties whose seeds do not breed true.  In addition, genetically engineered corn, bean, and rice decimate the native varieties that have adapted to the unique microclimates of Haiti's mountainous landscape.

Deforestation has eroded the soil and the run-off into the sea has destroyed the local fisheries.  In the 1920s 60 percent of Haiti was covered by forests, but now that figure is only 2 percent. Some people on Rosemond's island have to walk as long as 3 hours to get water and some have actually died of thirst.

Rosemond has also formed a theatre group called Fanm Kouraj (Creole for Femme Courage) whose plays focus on issues of social justice.  Rosemond's group has performed once in Port-au-Prince and once on radio, but otherwise they walk up to three hours to perform in their island's villages.

Rosemond told me that Haitian culture is known for its proverbs, so her theatre group has composed plays around famous sayings.  One of them is "Don't throw out the old cooking pot just because you have a new one."  The play is about spousal abuse and men who leave their wives for new girlfriends.

A play about the dangers of peer pressure is based on the proverb "birds of a feather flock together."  The proverb "after the dance, the drum gets heavy" is about a warning to unwed mothers and the risks of premarital sex.
Only 13 percent of Haitian married women use contraception, primarily because of lack of education and supplies rather than Roman Catholic prohibition.  Rosemond became the most popular person in her village when she was given 100 condoms to distribute.  

Having babies is a dangerous practice in Haiti with 1,000 per 100,000 mothers dying in childbirth, compared to 17 in America and 4 in Austria. Abortion is illegal except to save the life of the mother, but still 7 percent of all pregnancies end in unsafe abortions, which make them the second cause of death for Haitian women.
In addition to spousal abuse, there are problems with child servitude and sexual abuse.  In the Third World the temptation to sell one's children is very great, and sadly Haiti has become a center for human trafficking in the Caribbean.

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