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Chapter Two: Built as temporary housing, Haitian refugee camps become "voluntary prisons."
still have a lot of fucking work to do.”
Penn has only good things to say about President Clinton’s work in Haiti: “He’s been great, a real asset,” he says. “So to have the people on the Haiti desk in the current administration: just great.”
ANOTHER SUNSET is coming. And back at the Corail camp, as I walk back down along the ‘Boulevard de Toilettes.’ A white, UN Security Landcruiser pulls up. Inside are two UN officers. They nice enough, but they’re technically not supposed to talk to reporters without permission.
“One question,” I ask. “How is the crime?”
“This place now?” he says. “It is very calm. Nothing really.”
Beyond policing efforts in the camps, there are also NGOs dedicated to reducing violence, particularly violence against women.
THE LOCAL AGENCY called Kofaviv (which is a Creole-French acronym for The Commission of Women Victims for Victims) is a friendly, welcoming place on the edge of the main city. They are an established organization, working against domestic violence and rape. As I sit and wait for one of the office staff, Sofanie Louis, a woman is sitting inside a pleasant-looking, glass-walled boardroom — its long wooden table down the middle — and she is talking about how she has been enduring domestic violence.
Finally, the interview is ended, and Sofanie Louis is free to talk.
“Kofaviv has 60 agents in the communities and camps,” she says. “And really, now that things have settled down, we don’t see nearly the violence and rape. Still, it exists, but maybe the statistics are half what they were.”
Still, she is not forthcoming with numbers and statistics.
Could we talk to someone who endured this experience post-earthquake?
“You’d have to bring back a female translator,” Sofanie Louis says. “And she’d have to do all the talking. This is very delicate. We have to maintain confidentiality and trust.” After leaning forward, she sits back in her chair. “We’ll call you if something comes up,” she says. She crosses her arms over her waist. There is a raw impatience and overall fatigue among so many people here who have been fighting so hard for so long to try to improve lives.
THESE hard-fought successes don’t mean violence and desperation aren’t easily visible around Port-au-Prince, though this was probably true before the earthquake, too. But the hunger and frustration and hand-to-mouth need at “food donation” sites around the city and beyond can’t help much, either.
One day, driving along in the neighborhood of Pawas (and in much the same way you find a higher incidence of white-paper coffee cups being held by people as you approach a corner Starbucks), photographer Ron Haviv notices a lot of people carrying white plastic sacks. On the side of the sacks is this:
TAIWAN CHRISTIAN FOOD
FOR THE POOR
On the bag is also a Taiwanese flag.
We round a corner, and there, at a Taiwanese organization called Chinque, a truck is off-loading the white bags. The flow of people is enormous. There is a lot of bagged food in the bed of that truck. There is such a need to keep order, police with shotguns are in evidence, and a man at the door brandishes a shotgun, too.
As we get out of the car, one of the police officers, the largest of the group, has grabbed a young, thin, man by the hair and, his weapon slung from his bulletproof vest, the policeman begins to conduct what the French call an “active interrogation.”
He slaps and punches the kid. When the young man admits what he’s done, the policeman tightly handcuffs him behind the back and pushes the young man to the ground. The kid hits his knees, then flops forward — face down — into the dusty street. The big officer sets a circular container of rice, itself set inside a square cardboard box, on the ground next to the young man. Evidence of some sort.
“What did he do?” I ask a smaller, friendlier policeman.
“They won’t let him in,” the policeman says, “so he waits and steals bags of food from the little girls on their way home. He has been doing this for months, and today we finally got him.”
Haviv and I were allowed inside. There, a manager is watching the gusts of people coming and going. He’s smiling “Is like this every day?” I ask. “Is it always like this?”
“We only deliver food on Wednesdays. And yes, always. It gets worse — more and more frantic — each Wednesday as the truck begins to empty.”