Challenging the Rhetoric welcomes Ms. Chery who is with News Junkie Post.
This is PART 1 of the interview.
This interview was conducted by Anita Stewart and originally aired on Wise Women Media Radio on August 5th, 2015.
Dady Chery is an activist, broadcaster and author. We will be talking about Haiti extensively and her new book titled “We Have Dared to Be Free.” The book was written between 2010-2015 and is definitely a story that needs to be told.
A bit about the book: about one half of all US households donated money to various charities for Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. There is information in this book that will help many understand why Haiti has not been rebuilt on a large scale and why the relief situation there has not improved.
News Junkie Post turned six years old on June 6, 2015. They are branching out to other media such as books, radio and even down the line, to television. A few months ago News Junkie Post decided to launch News Junkie Post Press aka NJP Press. Ms. Dady Chery will have the distinction of being their first published author.
LINK TO PART 1 AIRED WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 26, 2015 AT 630PM EST:
LINK TO PART 2 AIRED THURSDAY, AUGUST 27, 2015 AT 630PM EST:
LINK TO PART 3 AIRED FRIDAY, AUGUST 28, 2015 AT 630PM EST:
The following interview was originally broadcast on Wise Women Media on August 5, 2015 and later rebroadcast as a three-part series on Challenging the Rhetoric, on August 26-28. For the audio for the first part of the series, scroll to the end of this transcript.
Anita Stewart. Tonight our special guest is Dady Chery. She is a PhD, an author, journalist, activist and broadcaster. She has spent a number of years writing with newsjunkiepost.com; she also has her own web site a dadychery.org. News Junkie Post is now branching out into publishing. This work by Dady Chery, which is her book titled, We Have Dared to Be Free: Haiti’s Struggle Against Occupation, will be the first published book through News Junkie Post Press, or NJP Press. Let me just go ahead and get a little background. Most Americans do not know a lot about Haiti, its rich history, the culture and the ties to France, the past and present resistance, and the ongoing occupation. Most Americans have only heard about Vodou. I don’t know why this. I’ll just open with that as my first question. Dady Chery, thank you for joining us tonight.
Dady Chery. Thank you Anita. It’s a pleasure to be on Wise Women Media.
AS. Thank you. I’ve already read the forward to the book, and let me tell you, I think it’s going to be one of those books I can’t put down. So I’m really excited about it. I had just told you in the pre-interview, I’ve probably read more about the history of Haiti than most of my colleagues, simply because it was an object of interest because of the art. I have a francophone background that drew me to the history of the island. Since Vodou seems to be the first thing that people hear about, the spiritual belief system of the people, let me open with a question from that end, and then we can move on. What would be some of the common misconceptions that people have, especially Americans about this belief system because I find that it is very beautiful and Earth-centered? Can you kind of break it down so Americans understand it a little bit better?
DC. They think it’s superstition; it’s the dark arts, dolls with little pins in them, and so on. It is not that at all. It is actually a way of life. It is a religion that celebrates the ancestors, that celebrates the history of the Haitian slaves: when they were brought to Haiti, those who were the venerable ancestors who actually got them through the voyage, who actually contributed to Haitian agriculture. There is a lot of food in Vodou. Vodou is so connected to agriculture that the Vodou ceremonies are called manje lwa, which means food for the gods. And the Vodou gods eat local foods. It grounds people in the local agriculture. It grounds people into venerating what they need for a sustainable life. That’s really what the religion is about, and I think ultimately that’s what most religions start out being about, and then eventually they become more and more abstract. Vodou is so intertwined with Haitian life that people who practice Vodou don’t even know that’s what they’re doing.
AS. Yes, it’s so Earth-centered and so much like Nature. I relate it a lot to certain traditions within Santeria… very pagan-centric, Earth-centric…
DC. Yes. Absolutely. The trees have spirits, and the dead are very much alive. You can appeal to them. You can call them forth and ask them for advice, and literally bring them back. You have these possessions with these personalities who then advise the participating crowd. Me: I like joy. I’m into joy. It’s an incredibly joyful religion. You can dance with your gods! The music is good!
AS. I love the music! … You’ll be just moved to dance when you hear the rara drums….
DC. The kind of religion where you can actually bring back an ancestor because of the dance, because of the drums, because of a trance: I think it’s absolutely beautiful! I love the joy! I love the fact that it celebrates life. Edward Abbey said “Half the world’s religions are afraid of death, the other half are afraid of life,” and I think Vodou is neither. It’s not afraid of life. It’s not afraid of death. It’s not afraid of sex. There aren’t all these proscriptions about sex and so on. It doesn’t really meddle into people’s sex lives and sexual preferences. None of that. It’s about how you live sustainably.
AS. And so connected to the Earth itself. You say in your book that two of the sustaining things about the Haitian people that have kept them sustainable is not only their belief system in Vodou but also their family structure. Tell us how the family structure would be different from what we know here in America.
DC. The family structure in Haiti is extremely extended. You grow up in a family and if you’re a kid, all the adult males more or less behave like your father, and the adult females behave like your mother. And if you grow up in a family that’s very poor for example, they can recruit family. If your mother has a good friend, she will make sure that her good friend, maybe a bit more prosperous, will actually become your godparent: like your godmother or your godfather. It’s actually something quite serious. It means that if the mother becomes incapacitated, you’ll have a mother. There are the godparents…. People talk about orphans in Haiti. When I heard all this talk about orphans, after the earthquake, I was shocked. First of all, in an earthquake, children die. When buildings collapse, children die. Adults are maimed; they get amputated and assorted other things. And so, you wind up with parents without children, not children without parents. You had all these supposed orphans who didn’t have parents, but then if you look more closely at the whole thing, you see that what they’re calling orphans in Haiti are the children of poor people who are lured into putting their children in places that are called orphanages, but these are Haitians who don’t even know what orphanage means. They bring their kids there to make sure their kids get fed and schooled. People are very interested in having their kids schooled. There are a lot of these places that are extremely unscrupulous. They’re in a lot of poor countries. They just wait for an opportunity. They wait for war, an earthquake, a flood, you name it, and then they scoop these children. They say they’re saving all these orphans, and everybody thinks oh, how wonderful, and then they scoop these children away: children who actually have parents.
AS. What you were saying at the very beginning is that it takes a village to raise a child. That’s a good thing. That’s a beautiful, loving thing where everybody in an extended family, uncles, aunts, or cousins, takes on the role of parent, so the child is surrounded by this wonderful family. Let me ask you this… Do you believe that a lot of this was child trafficking?
DC. Absolutely it was. There were these incredible instances. There were these children in Pennsylvania who were undocumented, and they were just saying, oh well, they are better off in the United States anyway. And for a child to be undocumented, even in this situation, is extraordinary because there’s so much corruption in Haiti that you can usually manage to get somebody to fiddle with some papers, put some stamps on them, and you’re off. But these children were completely undocumented. They were wetting their beds and having all sorts of psychological problems. This was reported in the news in the United States. These kids had actually simply been abducted from Haiti to Pennsylvania. And then there was, of course, the case of Laura Silsby, who was intercepted trying to take some children to the Dominican Republic. She was never actually tried or really convicted or anything, but 22 out these 33 children that she had with her, that she was taking to the Dominican Republic, had at least one living parent. And this was happening within the context of the earthquake.
AS. So the parents or the extended family, trying to do right thing, are giving these children over to these so-called organizations, mainly just to get them fed and in school because they knew that, with the whole system breakdown after the earthquake. In any other country, it could be a volcano, or a tsunami, war, etc., this is what the desperate parents are going to do. They’re of course going to make sure the children are fed, number one…
DC. This was actually even before the earthquake. They kind of lured the parents. You can bring your kids over…. And everybody wants their kids to go to school. They want their kids’ situation to be improved compared to theirs. So more for the education than anything. You bring your kid over, and we’ll have classes, and they’ll get lunch, and they’ll get breakfast, etc. And then, when there is the earthquake, they just pack up all the so-called orphans and take them away.
AS. Oh my goodness! I knew this was happening, because remember, when the tsunami happened on the other side of the globe… somebody broadcasted on CNN somebody saying on the phone that there were 30 children available, and they were making plans to get them out. In my mind, I knew exactly what was going on. That they were trafficking children, and there would be no move to try to find out if these children had living relatives. They were just going to take them.
DC. There were so many children removed from Haiti the year of the earthquake that, at the biggest adoption agency in the United States, their adoption rate went up 26 percent. It was that bad!
AS. That’s just proof of something crooked right there. And then you have to follow the money because, as soon as you follow the money and the profits, then you know that there’s some horrific angle to this. And of course, it’s not going to be the outside story that we will all hear about here.
DC. Another thing about adoptions that most people don’t know is that according to Haitian Law, until summer 2012 the only adoptions that were considered to be legal in Haiti were actually partial adoptions. These were the kinds of adoptions that people would normally do, which is where you have maybe one child too many and you really can’t support them, and you call on a godmother, for example, to help you out. They go and they live with the godparent. This might be just a friend. This is something that is considered a token of friendship. This is something that’s done between friends and it doesn’t involve money. And the kid does light work around the house, works around the garden, makes the beds, does the dishes, and in return gets room and board. The parents together collaborate on getting things like clothing, schooling, etc. for the kid. The kid is usually not a baby either: it is usually a teenage child. The child then eventually goes back to the biological parent, and this expands the family of that person. This is the kind of adoption that was considered legal in Haiti. The child knows her biological parent, knows the adoptive parent, and the parents communicate and they collaborate.
AS. You know, they did that in Europe. When you study history of Europe. They would call it fostering out. A lot of times, it would be a child that needed to learn a skill. He would go and live with an uncle and learn the skill, or he would go and live with somebody else who would teach him about the military, or he would learn something in school. That was the fostering out. More often than not, it was a male child, because they didn’t believe in teaching women.
DC. This is very interesting. In a way I think Haiti is sort of where Europe was before the Industrial Revolution. We have maintained a lot of the original traditions of the island, and they were obviously sustainable. Many well-meaning foreigners come around who think they know better, and they’re going to change everything to their own system, and it just does not work, and it’s full of abuses too.
AS. Going on to the next topic. We were going to talk a little bit about Clinton and all these other movers and shakers in Haiti, including the role of some of the NGOs. Let’s start with Clinton. Why has he made Haiti his sole project?
DC. Well, I would like to know that. Supposedly he discovered Haiti during some pleasure trip, I think possibly his honeymoon, and then he decided he loved Haiti so much that he was going to ruin it, unfortunately for us. But really, what Clinton is doing is nothing new. Haiti was occupied by the United States between 1915 and 1934, and during that occupation they offered the Haitian president this deal, and it was that basically all the important and white-collar jobs in Haiti would go to Americans; 40 percent of the national budget would go to the United States, and the country would be run by a US hand-picked president together with General Russell, who was made the US High Commissioner of Haiti. One could think of Clinton as the current US High Commissioner of Haiti. It really is not that creative, this set up. It’s been done. And the foreigners were American white southerners. They were democrats who had supported Woodrow Wilson during his campaign for the presidency. So now, instead of that you’ve got the NGOs.
AS. People would say that the NGOs are there to help the people, and of course, you’d say that the NGOs are not good for Haiti. Explain why that is because I know that some of our listeners probably wouldn’t even understand that.
DC. They’re not good for Haiti. Some of these people may be well meaning but ultimately the reason why they’re in Haiti is because Haiti is lawless. It is a place where they can experiment. They can do whatever they like. That in itself is not good. Importantly though, most of them are getting money, one way or another, from USAID. And USAID brags about the fact that 80 percent of the money that gets paid to these people, which is of course tax free, is spent in the United States. It comes back to the US. So being a poet, I can’t help but think about this that way: all these people leave in Haiti is their excreta. It’s sort of like poetic justice that Haiti wound up with a cholera epidemic from the foreign invasion because that is all they leave. Another thing they do that is not all helpful, and this is the reason why USAID encourages them, is that they function as a buffer, a block, between the leadership and the people. What I mean by this is if you have a government that’s intolerable, you have an occupation government, and you are trying to have a revolution, trying to have a change, what you want to establish is a government in waiting. You want to be providing medical services, you want to be providing schooling, you want basically to have a government ready. You cannot do that if you have a bunch of NGOs that are administering all of this.
Dady Chery Talks to Anita Stewart About Haiti – Part 2
The following interview is part 2 of a three-part series on Challenging the Rhetoric on August 26-28, which was originally broadcast on Wise Women Media on August 5, 2015. Dady Chery discusses topics in which she delves in her new book, We Have Dared to Be Free: Haiti’s Struggle Against Occupation, published by News Junkie Post Press. For the audio, scroll to the end of this transcript.
Anita Stewart: I went to Twitter to try to get some recent news about Haiti, and I noticed, of course, that Regine Chassagne is there with Arcade Fire…. The other person who was on the same panel today was Chelsea Clinton. She is actually there working, I guess, on behalf of her father, doing work down there for the NGOs.
Dady Chery: It’s a sort of humanitarian imperialism: they’re going to help you whether you like it or not. Now, if Haitians really had a choice, would they really choose to have a bunch of foreigners come to the country to do what they like? I don’t think so. I think that’s the bottom line. These people are not wanted, but they have basically taken all the jobs. To get work in Haiti now, you essentially have to work for an NGO. Hospitals have fallen apart, all sorts of structures have fallen apart and been replaced by NGOs. You have this very large number of NGOs in Haiti. Right now… it’s not one NGO person but one NGO per 1,000 Haitians. At the peak, it was one NGO per 500 Haitians, right after the earthquake. You look around, and it gets worse all the time. As their numbers are increasing, things are getting worse. Ultimately, if Haitians are going to have a choice. If Haitians are going to have a democratic government, then the NGOs will have to abide by rules. They’re going to have to give whatever help they give within the constraints that are imposed on them by the people that they’re helping. They cannot just come and do whatever they like. One example: an NGO decided to set up a cholera clinic right next to a school in a town called Saint-Marc. The people in the town were in an uproar: throwing rocks at them, wouldn’t have it. There were huge protests. So what did the NGO do? It was actually MSF. They called MINUSTAH, the UN forces, to make sure that the protests were put down, and then they said: we’re going to explain it all to you. You really don’t understand. There’s really no risk to any of the stuff we’re doing…. People should be able to say: we don’t want this help. We do not want your cholera clinic here. And that should be that.
AS: It’s like, instead of the people having people rule, they have no voice in the government at all!
DC: And the NGOs, however well meaning they may appear, at the base of it, they are really imperialist. They believe that it’s okay to impose their will on the “ignorant natives.” Ultimately, that is what they’re doing. That is their thinking. There’s really no respect there.
AS: Let’s talk about the money. Now there was a lot money that was collected after the earthquake from people all over the world, but so much from the United States! Do you have any idea on what that figure would have been?
DC: It was billions… I’ve seen figures anywhere between $9 and $13 billion.
AS: So it would have been money when they were doing Red Cross commercials, people giving through their churches. They were making appeals: give $25, give $5 if that’s all you’ve got…. All these well-meaning people who thought that their money was going to help the Haitian people. Can you tell me what’s been done with that money?
DC: There was tremendous good will after the earthquake. This is good will that’s been earned by Haitians because of the way they conduct themselves in the United States. People who had had contact with Haitians who work in hospitals, who are nurse’s aids, who take care of their parents in nursing homes, etc. Everybody wanted to help…. One out of two American adults actually donated for Haiti. It was completely extraordinary: an astounding amount of money. Instead of helping Haiti, it just attracted these incredibly predatory elements. The idea was: well, the government is corrupt, and we’re going to come in and take care of things because we’re not corrupt. But actually, I’m not too sure of that. Yes, it’s true that there was plenty of corruption in the government, but if you look at local government, for example, people in the local government are people who are very well known in their towns and very well respected. Since the earthquake, this new federal government has actually done away with the local governance. They got rid of all the mayors! They got rid of all the local judiciary! This all goes back to Clinton.
The earthquake happened on January 12, 2010. By mid-April, Clinton had the Haitian parliament voting on an 18-month state of emergency that would allow an organization formed by Clinton called the IHRC, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, to get 18 months of carte blanche: 18 months during which they could do anything they wanted without risk of liability so they could supposedly reconstruct the country. They were going to manage all the aid funds and reconstruct Haiti…. This gives some insights into what some people from developed countries would love to have as their ideal government.
What Clinton set up was this organization, top heavy, that would have 14 major donors. Represented among these 14 major donors would be him for the United States, the European Union, France, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, the IDB, United Nations, World Bank, Caricom, OAS, one representative for the NGOs, one for the diaspora, and one for everybody else. These would be the 14. Then there were all sorts of other donors, and that was not even public. It was a strictly pay-to-play affair, where they had to put up $100 million or forgive $200 million of debt, and in addition contribute soldiers for the occupation.
Haiti would also be represented, but… by a prime minister who was basically hand picked by the international community, then an MP of their choice, a senator of their choice, somebody to represent the unions, somebody to represent the business community, and the judiciary, and local government. For all of these people, they would present the Clinton group with a list of names, and they’d get to pick who they wanted. That’s what was supposed to run Haiti for 18 months.
AS: So there was no election for this. This was just a collection of people. People themselves had no input. This was like an election without the people.
DC: In fact, people called it a coup d’etat.
AS: It was a monetary coup that didn’t get bloody.
DC: All of this within three months of the earthquake. Haiti was basically on its back. People were in shock, and all this was happening. In the parliament itself, they had members who had died, and they were trying to fight this…. When they didn’t succeed at fighting it — there were definitely allegations that people had been bribed to make sure there was a quorum and that it was voted on — they just took to the streets! There were massive protests that went on for months. You don’t hear about any of this in the United States, but through all of this, there has always been resistance from Haitians.
AS: I was actually watching YouTube and I saw a lot of it. I was watching the French news, foreign news reports, because it’s just so bizarre that we have this proximity to Haiti, but we get none of its news, and we have to go to news networks of Europe and other places to get information.
DC: My experience with following what’s going in Haiti very closely, is that what people call news in the United States are really campaigns. They are campaigns to get a specific reaction or to get a specific action. They’re not really news.
AS: I call it infotainment.
DC: It is!
AS: If I catch a news program and they tell me what style of shoes people are going to be wearing in the fall, to me that’s not news.
DC: Yeah, and someone’s talking about one thing, and there’s something underneath that’s describing what Rihanna has been doing lately.
AS: We talked about these NGOs, and pretty much, this is lawless.
DC: It is lawless.
AS: What is happening with the elections, because it seems like there are all these people? So who ends up being president of Haiti, and what do you think of the last leader that has been in Haiti since the earthquake?
DC: After that whole Clinton thing, there were huge protests, and to distract people from the protests, more or less, they decided to have elections. Immediately! The elections happened a few months after the earthquake and soon after the cholera epidemic. The cholera epidemic was first discovered on October 21, 2010, and there elections in November.
AS: It’s kind of like you’re sick, and you roll over, and you get out of bed,… and you end up getting even a worse flu, and you end up back in bed…..
DC: Those elections were completely ridiculous. The biggest party, Fanmi Lavalas, could not participate. This is a party that commanded 80 percent of the electorate… More than 80 percent of people boycotted the elections. They wound up with about 20 percent of people voting. After the first round, they didn’t get the right people, and so one person was thrown out, and another one was thrown in and he wound up becoming president. The presidential choices: they were both people who were going to continue to allow the state of emergency, accept the UN presence, and basically do whatever the international community wanted them to do. They were supposed to be good Vichy presidents.
AS: So they were just figureheads… who would carry out the status quo.
AS: Tell me a little bit about the cholera epidemic. That seemed to be a very serious thing. As usual, we didn’t hear very much about it here. I knew some people who were going down there, who were doing relief work that was medical. That is how I knew about it. Without revealing too much that’s in the book, can you tell me what happened, because that puts the blame on UN people?
DC: In summer 2010, about 1,280 Nepalese soldiers, the biggest Asian contingent of UN troops, were sent back to Nepal, to Kathmandu, to train. They got there in the middle of a cholera epidemic. Not only that, but after they finished the training they got some cursory examinations and then they were given about 10 days’ home leave. After this, they were flown back into Haiti and put in three camps around a city called Mirebalais. In one of the camps, there was a septic tank that was just in an absolutely awful state and was spilling into a stream that was joining a river. That river was feeding a lot of the rice paddies. The people who go to work in the rice fields, they don’t carry a lot of stuff with them. They drink the water from there when they get thirsty. They were the first people killed. It was absolutely devastating for these people.
AS: How many people died from that epidemic?
DC: More than 8,800 so far. It was a massive number of people.
AS: How many people actually got cholera and did not die?
DC: Many hundreds of thousands. It’s probably getting close to 500,000 at this point.
AS: Half a million people got cholera and only about 9,000 died. That’s like a miracle.
DC: Actually, nobody should die of cholera. That is something that I find very upsetting. If you look at the Cuban health workers in Haiti, for example, their mortality rate for cholera patients is way lower than anybody else’s. The thing about cholera: you lose a lot of fluids, you lose a lot of salts, and what you need when you are very sick is rehydration. The only reasons for you die from cholera are if you swallow massive amounts of the bacteria, and it makes you so sick that somebody cannot get you to a hospital fast enough for you to get rehydrated.
AS: If you continue going back to that same water source that’s infected, and you don’t know that it’s infected… you put yourself in a worse situation.
DC: Really, people should not die of cholera. It’s not a fatal disease. I consider the 8,800 deaths to be deaths from neglect. I don’t think there were 8,800 cases where people were so incredibly sick that they couldn’t get taken to a hospital fast enough to save their lives.
AS: And… the fact that there were so many NGOs all over the place. There were supposed to have been enough health workers for all the people on the island. There were supposed to be.
Sources: Haiti Chery | Wise Women Media | Challenging the Rhetoric | Photographs one, four and five from United Nations Photo archive; photographs two, three, six and eight from Ansel archive and photograph seven by Blue Skyz Studios.
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