Conferences that get people involved

Tuesday 19th was a day of reflection. 10 speakers gave talks on national sovereignty, food sovereignty land reclamation and agrarian reform, working conditions in mines, and getting women and young people involved in social change.

Michel Soukar and Michèle Pierre Louis opened the conference with a talk on Haiti’s national sovereignty. It was a chance to recall key moments in the history of the country’s independence and to reflect on the perspectives for Haiti in the new world order. National sovereignty is born of independence, which came at a high price for Haiti (trade embargoes, debt...) In the 21st century, sovereignty is an issue which is confronted with new questions about international common markets, new technologies and the relations (especially in terms of the economy) between all countries in the world. Power lies no longer in the hands of political leaders but large global corporations. For Michel Soukar, ’we cannot rewrite history, but we can choose how we write the next chapter.’

Jean-Baptiste Chavannes then spoke about food sovereignty and reminded people of the important role that farmers and organic farming have in feeding the country: ’the farmers have the role of producing and giving life.’

Then came Joao Pedro Stedile of MST, Camille Chalmers and the Director of the institue for agricultural reform in Haiti (INARA). They spoke about land recovery. What kind of agricultural reform we need was the question they answered with numerous proposals, such as guaranteeing farmers’ acquisition of land, preserving soil without using chemicals, autonomy, water management... ’The objective of agrarian reform is to give farmers control of the land.’ For Camille Chalmers it is essential to know the forces working against the farmers to better combat them. Everywhere, multinational companies take hold of land. Currently in Haiti, the most viable projects are those open to foreign investment, high-end tourism, etc. The problem is that ’ farmer mobility is reduced and does not allow them to make strategic connections with other sectors.’

An account of the working conditions in the mines of Haiti and the Dominican Republic followed, and very much moved the audience. There are officially 6 mines in the Dominican Republic and 1 in Haiti, but in reality there are many more. To look for non-visible gold, companies use chemicals such as lead, mercury or cyanide. These methods have disastrous consequences for the environment (for every 4 grammes of gold extracted, 20 tonnes of toxic waste is produced) and even more so for the population (water contamination, serious illnesses, disfigurement, death). Martelly, the current President, has already signed 3 contracts with mining companies...

Colette Lespinasse and Danielle Magloire then spoke abut the condition of women in Haiti, who work a lot in often terrible conditions, suffering from inequality especially in terms of household tasks and family land sharing. But they reminded everyone that ’there will be no change in Haiti without women.’
Anna, a young woman from the Dominican Republic and Annette, a young Haitian woman, spoke about the imperative of young people being proud to be farmers, and learning about political and economic issues in order to move the country forward. Young people have means of communication such as mobile phones and Facebook, which have already proven their usefulness in people’s organisation and uprising. Annette resumes: ’a young person is like a mango; they must grow and ripen to be able to make decisions for the country. They need training and a path to follow. We need a project for society to make change possible.’

The day was rich in ideas and exchanges, as each talk was followed by comments and questions from the audience to take the debate even further.

See more