27.01.09 08:54 Age: 3 yrs

Living Letters team testifies to the deadly violence of poverty in Haiti


In Haiti, "the deadliest form of violence is extreme poverty, and the grimmest insecurity is food insecurity," according to a Living Letters team who visited the Caribbean nation on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) last November.


"The aggravation of extreme poverty is dramatic due to the hurricanes and the rising food prices. During the week of our visit, it was announced that 42 children had died of hunger," said Geneviève Jacques, leader of the Living Letters delegation.


"Living Letters" are small international ecumenical teams travelling to locations around the world where Christians strive to overcome violence. At the end of November one such team of Christians from France, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Canada and Cuba visited the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and other areas affected by recent hurricanes.


A strong, viable state was needed to rebuild and consolidate the social and economic structures in vital sectors, and to undertake those transformations which may regain people's confidence in its institutions and future, the Living Letters team stated in a report released this week in Geneva.


"The instability and social vulnerability are largely due to the deficiencies of the state and the fragility of democratic institutions", says the report.


"If the current status quo is kept to serve and protect vested political interests, there is a serious risk of violent social explosions, spontaneous or manipulated, as well as of a massive emigration of the better educated Haitians," it continues.


Between 24 and 29 November 2008, the ecumenical delegation met church leaders, Christian institutions, civil society organizations, experts and politicians, in an effort to understand a reality marked by social conflicts and natural emergencies.


Dignity amidst adversity

The Living Letters team was impressed by the resilience of Haitian people who refuse to give up amidst so much adversity.


"Haiti's economic and social situation remains very worrying. However, we have met numerous representatives of civil society and the churches who refuse to give up. The courage and the dignity of Haitians command respect," said Geneviève Jacques, a member of the French Reformed Church and fromer WCC director of programmes.


This strength is also seen in a variety of creative initiatives in the fields of education, promotion and defence of human rights, health, rehabilitation and protection of the environment, accompaniment to people uprooted by natural emergencies or poverty, the defence of Haitian migrants' rights in the Dominican Republic, communal work in shanty towns and the development projects in rural areas, states the report.


In a letter to WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Kobia, the members of the Living Letters team wrote: "Despite this violent past and present, Haitian people are not intrinsically more violent than other nations. What we found in Haiti is the blatant contrast between the shameful and humiliating living conditions in which the majority of Haitians live, and the human dignity they demonstrate in grappling with that situation."

Overcoming stigmatization

Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis used a long conversation with the Living Letters team in her offices at Petionville to call on churches and the ecumenical movement to combat the stigmatization of Haiti at the international level.


Pierre-Louis acknowledged the existence of conflicts over the past few decades, but told the ecumenical team that Haiti is unfairly portrayed as a violent country. "Violence in Haiti has mostly come from the state, from politicians who have created their own forces to hold on to power and pursue their interests", she said.


Violence is also due to international organized crime which profits from the weakness of Haitian institutions to use the island for arms and drug trafficking, she explained.


Under Resolution 18540 (2008) and in line with chapter VII of the UN Charter, Haiti is considered "a threat to peace and security in the region", thereby authorizing the United Nations to maintain a mission for the stabilization of the country (MINUSTAH).


But, as the Living Letters report claims, "Haiti as a country does not represent a threat to anyone, nor to regional or international peace and security".


Consequently, the report calls on the World Council of Churches to lobby vis-à-vis the United Nation to cease working under the umbrella of chapter VII in Haiti, as "this classification is experienced by Haitians as a humiliation and a form of stigmatization for it does not correspond to the present reality of their country."


More information on the Living Letters visit to Haiti


Download the report (in French)


Full text of the letter to the WCC general secretary


WCC member churches in Haiti