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Congressional Black Caucus Hears Haitian Voices in Recovery Review
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Camille Chalmers, executive director of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA) testifies to the Congressional Black Caucus.
It was not a typical day in Washington, D.C., when, on July 27, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) hosted a briefing, "Focus on Haiti: The Road to Recovery — A Six Month Review." This briefing — the first time Haitian civil-society leaders had the opportunity to give direct testimony to U.S. policymakers on their perspective of relief and recovery efforts — was an important step forward in work to include Haitians in the recovery process following January's devastating earthquake.
The event was supported by the Haiti Advocacy Working Group (HAWG), an ad hoc coalition of faith-based, human-rights, and social-justice groups, including UUSC, that have come together since the earthquake to promote a Haitian-led just recovery. For six months, HAWG has been frustrated by the failure of Congressional committee hearings to include Haitian civil-society leaders. The group has worked hard to redress this glaring omission.
The CBC has been a steady supporter of the Haitian people through decades of struggle. As CBC member Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, the White House's point person for Haiti, "The Congressional Black Caucus means business. We intend to hold ourselves accountable and everyone else."
Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas).
At the CBC briefing, UUSC partner Camille Chalmers, executive director of the Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development (PAPDA), spoke through an interpreter to a packed hearing room. He delivered a powerful message [PDF]: "This earthquake has presented an unprecedented opportunity to change social structures that prioritize the needs of the wealthy over the poor, the urban minority over the rural majority, the State over Civil Society and foreign investments over national priorities." He called for "mechanisms for the inclusion of public opinion and Civil Society" while noting that despite the "great wealth of national expertise and local inclusion, reconstruction planning has been quite exclusive."
Loune Viaud, of Zanmi Lasante (Haiti's Partners in Health), echoed this call for inclusion [PDF]. "We need Haitians to lead the reconstruction efforts. We need our partners to take a rights-based approach in the construction of a new Haiti," he said. "This means supporting the capacity and the leadership of both the Haitian government and Haitian communities; it means deferring to the experiences of Haitians and guaranteeing our participation in the rebuilding of our country; it means unconditionally respecting all of our human rights — including the right to food, the right to decent housing and sanitation, the right to health, the right to potable water, the right to education, and the right to security."
In addition to the testimony, UUSC delivered a letter to the CBC from partner APROSIFA [PDF], which urged the caucus and all members of Congress involved in policy dictating relief efforts in Haiti to eschew political maneuvering in favor of letting "compassion, love, and solidarity guide them, while they keep standing by the Haitian people."
The CBC briefing was an important opportunity to raise the concerns UUSC partners have on the ground and to lift up civil-society voices that have been systematically left out of the recovery process. HAWG will be working to ensure that this is just the beginning of effective recovery policy that is grounded in Haitian perspectives.