This Ungoverned Haitian City Is Fighting to Stay Alive

June 10, 2019

A short drive north from Haiti’s overcrowded capital of Port-au-Prince, a metropolis is rising from a previously desolate landscape. Some 250,000 people have flocked to Canaan in the eight years since an earthquake ravaged Haiti, destroying 100,000 homes. Born out of a disaster, it’s a city without a government, and for many, it’s an experiment in self-determination. But its future is increasingly uncertain.

Absent any authority, Canaan’s residents must settle disputes on their own. They form committees and negotiate with NGOs to solicit water wells, public plazas and schools. They’ve built houses, shops and small businesses from scratch. Without formal jobs, they work as part-time masons, motorcycle taxi drivers, midwives, handymen and street vendors. In one neighborhood, they’ve set aside space for a cemetery — indicating plans to reside here the rest of their lives, and then some.

First grade teacher Andre Lydie works with her students on a lesson in the main sanctuary of the Church of the Nazarene, which doubles as an elementary school and is split into four classrooms during the week, in the Onaville section of Canaan. The church/school was founded by Pastor Marc Loumette in 2010. Seventy percent of the students are unable to pay their full school fees, but Loumette says he wouldn’t dream of kicking them out of school, though he has been unable to pay the teachers their salaries in four months.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

But without roads, transporting goods across the city is a long, expensive trek. The American Red Cross and its partners are preparing to build 2.5 kilometers of paved road that will connect Canaan to the national highway at its perimeter, but Haiti’s government isn’t funding it. In fact, Haiti’s government hasn’t even identified and paid the owner of the land on which the city stands, meaning its appropriation may be legally void. The hundreds of thousands of people living there could someday be evicted.

After the earthquake, then–President René Préval declared the land public, setting the exodus into motion. Since then, Haiti’s national leaders have allowed the city to exist, but otherwise ignored it. Meanwhile, the three local municipalities over which the city now spans have been fighting with one another for control, while the residents of Canaan form tenuous committees in an attempt to bring order to their communities.

The problem is security of tenure.

Leslie Voltaire, urban planner, on the absence of legal land ownership in Canaan.

The failure of Haiti’s federal government to recognize Canaan as an independent municipality and dish out land titles is at the heart of the uncertainty over Canaan’s future.

“If the state cannot give you the land, it will be very difficult for a bank to finance a house on that land, because the bank cannot recuperate the land,” says Leslie Voltaire, an urban planner who consults for Haiti’s post-earthquake housing and reconstruction agency. “The problem is security of tenure. To know that If I build on this land, nobody will come and put me out. We need a guarantee that no one will take it from you.”

And yet, without that guarantee, life in Canaan goes on. Built from scratch by people in poorly governed, disaster-stricken Haiti, the city is emerging as an alternative model of urban existence — and its struggle is holding out lessons for similar future pockets that spring up in the aftermath of disasters. The UN estimates there are 65 million displaced persons in the world today, more than at any time since World War II. Most live in camps where their lives are tightly restricted by host governments. They are barred from owning land or holding jobs, destined to remain dependent on foreign aid.

Eddy Bien Aime repairs a pair of sandals at his business on the main road to the Canaan II section of Canaan. Most of Bien Aime’s business involves selling footwear that he has bought secondhand and refashioned. He moved to this area on Jan. 16, 2010, just days after the quake, and took over a large parcel, some of which he has since given away. “Downtown, there are killings. I have to be careful when I come back from there that people don’t rob me. Here in Canaan, it feels better,” says Bien Aime.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

Canaan is the opposite. Instead of being micro-managed, it has no formal government at all. The pioneers of Canaan formed hundreds of committees that each work on a particular task or oversee the development of a particular neighborhood. These informal power structures give street names to the dirt alleyways, and set aside space for future hospitals and schools.

But Canaan’s lack of governance might be its undoing. Residents yearn to register their homes and businesses, to pay taxes to earn recognition from the state. In turn, they demand services that only a government can provide: courts, electricity, security. Until those arrive, thousands of people will continue migrating to a city without a core.

One sunny afternoon, an elderly couple wander through a small cornfield littered with car parts. When Leon Jean and her husband, Alexandre Michelet, left the countryside in 1986 in search of farmland, this flat expanse was theirs for the taking. Apart from a few neighbors, “It was just animals that walked on that land,” recalls Leon.

Destine Jean Robert, 40, adds cement to the wall of a home he is constructing for his nephew in the Canaan 1 section of Canaan. Destine, who is building his own house next door, currently lives downtown in a neighborhood called LaVille, but he hopes to move once the house is done. “If I had the money to buy all of the supplies, I could do it all in two months,” he says. “Here, we don’t put our hope in the government. We just struggle along with what we have.”

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

Haiti’s history is unique. At the turn of the 19th century, Blacks rose up against their European slave owners to make Haiti the world’s only nation born of a successful slave rebellion. But Haiti’s leaders began taking territory for themselves and parceling it out to their cronies. Today, half of all Haitians live in poverty, surviving on less than $2.41 a day. A quarter live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.23 a day, according to the World Bank, making Haiti the 13th poorest country in the world for which data exists. It is also a deeply unequal society, studies have shown. That, coupled with the fact that Haiti is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, means disputes over land are commonplace.

There are nicer places to live. But you take what God gives you, and here we are content.

Raphael Philippe, Canaan resident

The earthquake of January 12, 2010, made things worse, initially displacing 1.6 million of Haiti’s 10 million people. Two years later, Haiti’s government estimated that half a million people in the Port-au-Prince area alone still had nowhere to live. Sensing opportunity in the empty space north of the capital, Haiti’s president declared it public domain. In a matter of months, Leon’s lonely farm became engulfed by a rough-and-tumble city in the making as thousands of people began migrating there, claiming pieces as their own. Canaan, named after the Biblical land of promise, was born.

They came from all walks of life. Some were working-class families with hopes of building their first home. Back in Port-au-Prince, 36-year-old Raphael Philippe paid $130 a month in rent for an apartment that came crashing down in the earthquake. For three years, he and his family lived in a tent before moving to Canaan. “There are nicer places to live. But you take what God gives you, and here we are content,” says Philippe. Six days a week, he and his wife wake up at 5 a.m. to make the two-hour journey on a series of tap-taps — colorfully painted pick-up trucksthat ferry commuters —to a grocery store in Port-au-Prince, where they work as cashiers. “It’s far. But it’s better to have a house that is your own.”

Other early settlers included religious leaders who saw an opportunity not just to live, but to worship. “First I came to find my own land. And since I’m a pastor, I wanted a church,” says Nazerene Pastor Marc Loumette. He opened a primary school, offering scholarships to kids whose families couldn’t afford the $70-a-year tuition. He teaches his students civics and stresses the importance of a government, planning field trips to Haiti’s National Museum and palace to offer inspiration.

From left: Estimei Volmy, Simeus Salma, Louis Midelove, Pierrelien Patrick, Victor Layers and Condiac Julien look at maps provided by UNA/Habitat of developments that are slated for their community at a meeting of the Table Quartier d’Onaville community group, in a church building made of wood and vinyl posters, in the Onaville neighborhood of Canaan.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

When the house on Leon’s farm collapsed in the earthquake, there was no one around to help her and her husband — both elderly — repair it. “Now that there are more people, it’s better,” says Leon.

But absent a police force, they’re vulnerable to theft due to their proximity to the road out of town. One night, five of their seven cows were stolen. The theft ravished her family’s income, but it didn’t rattle Leon’s faith in Canaan’s future. “The whole country has insecurities.”

Besides, a city is more than its people. Canaan has parks, schools, hospitals, shops, markets, businesses, restaurants, small cinemas and bars. “It’s the best example of housing after the earthquake — the only example of a viable community for the millions of people in Haiti,” says Voltaire. “They have done a lot without the government. A lot. They are doing a pretty good job.”

A vendor stands in a neighborhood snack shop (his wife’s business) and a workshop for making speakers (his business) in Canaan’s Corail neighborhood. He makes the speakers by hand from plywood, felt and parts salvaged from broken speakers that he buys secondhand. The biggest units he sells to discos and DJs for over $600 (U.S.) apiece. Lately, business has been slow and he has decided to sell the shop so he can afford to buy the parts to finish a few more, which he plans to set up to play music onto the street to attract customers.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

But he worries that the city’s residents “are thinking small.” Without titles to the land or their homes, residents can’t easily receive loans that would allow them to grow their businesses or stock their shops. Currently there’s no authority that’s prepared to give them these documents. Voltaire says the people of Canaan deserve a government. “They’re asking for roads, they’re asking for police, they’re asking for justice, because when there’s conflict, they have to sort it by themselves. They’re asking for water, electricity,” says Voltaire. “They should be allowed to elect their own mayor and think for themselves.”

For now, Voltaire says the only solution may be to let one of the neighboring municipalities vying for control over Canaan step in where Haiti’s federal government has not. So far, however, Canaan’s experience with these municipalities has been anything but pleasant. Municipal workers walk the dirt paths and alleyways of the city extorting money. Sometimes they seize construction materials like cement and iron when people refuse to pay.

Federal government support remains the city’s best chance in the long run, suggests Voltaire. “If the government takes Canaan seriously — opening roads, avenues, inviting the private sector, the banks, the shops — there is hope,” says Voltaire.

At the moment, that’s a big if.

Critics of the international agencies, NGOs and Haitian president who sparked the mass migration to Canaan worry it may end up little better than a sprawling urban slum, a squatters’ camp for people displaced by the earthquake — which, initially, it was. Oxfam called Canaan “a manifestation of institutional weakness,” a test of whether Haiti’s government and international donors can succeed at developing “livable neighborhoods.”

But Canaan’s underlying structure differs from many of the world’s other migrant cities. Take Kakuma, the refugee camp in northern Kenya that opened in 1992 to house the lost boys of Sudan. Unlike Canaan, Kakuma is run under a set of strict rules by Kenyan authorities and UN agencies that oversee it. Its 176,000 inhabitants are legally barred from building permanent homes, holding jobs or owning farmland. Kenya even forbids refugees from venturing outside the camps. As a result, Kakuma today is little different from when it first appeared 25 years ago. In some ways, it’s worse—food rations have recently been cut, and there’s nothing the refugees can do but sit and hope for the best. An entire generation of children has grown up without any agency over their own lives.

In Canaan, on the other hand, residents open businesses, and they build: Each day dozens of trucks leave the sand mines in the mountains that form Canaan’s backbone, ferrying sand for concrete. Thousands of houses and other structures are now visible in Open Street Maps.

Sylphat Wilguive, 48, fabricates a set of dentures in his home in Jerusalem, just outside of Port-au-Prince. Sylphat had begun to construct a full dental clinic adjacent to his home when he was suddenly paralyzed, rendering him unable to work. The money that he had set aside over the years from the “Good Samaritan,” a clinic he once ran in the Delmas neighborhood, all went to pay for his medical treatment. He now does the work out of a room in his house, often treating needy neighbors for free.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

“They may not have the academic skills to plan their neighborhood, but the Haitian people have a vision,” says Clement Belizaire, who heads Haiti’s government agency that’s theoretically responsible for overseeing the planning and development of Canaan but that hasn’t been allocated the funds to do so. “They want to have public spaces, they want to have the life of a normal family. So they try to plan on a very micro level.”

But if neither the central nor local governments invest in developing Canaan and it remains informal for too long, it may become impossible to turn this rapidly expanding city into a legal and fully functioning municipality, suggests Belizaire. “If you let the informal invade the area, you won’t have room for the formal. And it will be a very long process to rehabilitate and have a great Canaan,” he says.

There’s more at stake than just Canaan’s own future. If the city does become viable, it may offer lessons for other poorly governed cities beyond Haiti’s borders. After all, Canaan may be the world’s newest ungoverned city, but it isn’t the first.

The most populous region in Somalia remains partially ungoverned and wholly insecure: In October a truck bomb in Mogadishu killed more than 500 people in just one of many attacks attributed to the terrorist group al-Shabaab. In an article called “Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse,” Peter Leeson, a law professor at George Mason University who studies the economics of anarchy, argues Somalia’s government “did more harm to its citizens than good,” and concludes that “Somalis are better off under anarchy than they were under government.”

It’s unclear whether the same might be true in Haiti, where people live neither in anarchy nor under true governance, but somewhere in between. That could pose a problem when it comes to issues that are too big for a community to solve on its own.

A resident volunteering with the community group Organisation Pour le Développement de Canaan (OPCD) calls out to local men to come help raise the first of three light poles they have constructed by hand in the Canaan I section of the Canaan settlement. The group pools money to buy materials and meets on Sundays to cast the three bags of cement and four pieces of 3/8″ rebar each one requires into poles. Since last July, they have raised 15 of the 51 they estimate they need to reach the main road.

Source Allison Shelley for OZY

A study last year by the Technical University of Munich reported that parts of Canaan are prone to flooding, a risk exacerbated by the hurricanes that hit Haiti each year. Erosion from the mountains and the sand mines that form Canaan’s northern rim threaten to send rivers of mud into the city. Born out of a disaster, some fear Canaan may one day be decimated by one.

But Canaan’s unsteady land also offers some optimism. The Red Cross has begun projects to mitigate erosion and flooding, and the Technical University of Munich is studying the agricultural and forestry potential of the land to see whether plants could be grown for energy, food or medicine. Already, researchers discovered 85 species of plants growing in the private yards of Canaan residents. And the ongoing construction of the Lafiteau port just west of the city gives hope to those who believe industry will take advantage of the free trade zone there, generating jobs for people in nearby Canaan.

Whether Canaan flourishes or fails, this ungoverned Haitian city may yet give the world a lesson in post-disaster urbanism.

Text by Jacob Kushner; photos by Allison Shelley. Reporting for this story was made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

May 27, 2019

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady decline of the US as the world’s largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported wellbeing, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

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The UN placing is the latest accolade for Finland, a country of 5.5 million people that only 150 years ago suffered Europe’s last naturally caused famine. The country has been ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the world’s most trusted and its banks the soundest.

“That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable,” said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. “GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

“In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive – he is just common sense,” added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 presidential election.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report devotes a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

“America’s subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the report’s authors.

Despite African countries getting the worst happiness scores, one west African nation has bucked the trend. Togo came bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita suggests, especially in contrast to fast-growing east Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The authors attributed this to “the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse”.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history – the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities – has not advanced happiness at all, the report found.

“Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they stayed at home,” according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

1. Finland (5)

2. Norway (1)

3. Denmark (2)

4. Iceland (3)

5. Switzerland (4)

6. Netherlands (6)

7. Canada (7)

8. New Zealand (8)

9. Sweden (10)

10. Australia (9)

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

147. Malawi (136)

148. Haiti (145)

149. Liberia (148)

150. Syria (152)

151. Rwanda (151)

152. Yemen (146)

153. Tanzania (153)

154. South Sudan (147)

155. Central African Republic (155)

156. Burundi (154)

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Brazil’s sole openly gay congressman leaves country after death threats | World news | The Guardian

May 27, 2019

Brazil’s first and only openly gay congressman has announced that he is leaving his job – and the country – after receiving death threats.

In a newspaper interview on Thursday, Jean Wyllys said he was currently outside of Brazil and had no plans to return after a growing number of threats over the past year.

Wyllys, who was re-elected in October and had been set to begin a third term in February, was a close friend of Marielle Franco, the gay Rio councilwoman who was shot and killed along with her driver in March.

His departure is likely to add to fears among Brazil’s LGBT community that homophobia is set to rise even further under the government of president Jair Bolsonaro, who has won notoriety for his overt homophobia.

In the interview, Wyllys said his decision to leave wasn’t because of Bolsonaro’s rise, but rather the climate of heated rhetoric and intensifying violence toward members of the LGBT community in the wake of last year’s heated election campaign.

Bolsonaro made no explicit comment on Wyllys’s announcement, but soon after posted a thumbs-up emoji on his twitter feed. Bolsonaro’s son Carlos – also a Rio city councilman – greeted the news with a tweet saying: “Go with God and be happy.”

Wyllys told the Folha de São Paulo newspaper that the decision had been a painful one, but he asked: “Why would I want to live four years of my life in an armoured car with bodyguards? Four years of my life when I can’t just go where I want to go?”

Wyllys first found national fame when he won Brazil’s version of Big Brother, and went on to become one of the country’s most high-profile advocates for gay rights – a role which led to frequent attacks from the religious right.

“It is a difficult battle to fight. Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote, you know?” he told the Guardian in 2012. “But this is my vocation. My calling. I feel that I need to be here.”

Wyllys said that the former Uruguayan president Pepe Mújica had advised him to take the death threats seriously. “He told me: ‘Take care, man. Martyrs are not heroes.’ And he’s right: I don’t want to sacrifice myself,” Wyllys said.

In Congress, Wyllys was frequently at odds with Bolsonaro, a congressman for 28 years with a long history of homophobic, racist and sexist comments.

In their most notorious public clash, Wyllys spit towards Bolsonaro on the floor of the lower House of Deputies after Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to impeach then-president Dilma Rousseff to a dictatorship-era torturer.

In a tweet on Thursday, Wyllys said: “Preserving a threatened life is also a strategy to fight for better days. We did a lot for the common good. And we will do much more when new times come.”

Preservar a vida ameaçada é também uma estratégia da luta por dias melhores. Fizemos muito pelo bem comum. E faremos muito mais quando chegar o novo tempo, não importa que façamos por outros meios! Obrigado a todas e todos vocês, de todo coração. Axé! ✊ https://t.co/Xy6SyDNXDy pic.twitter.com/Tf6SGmZFHq

Despite Brazil’s image as an inclusive nation that is home to the world’s largest gay parade, homophobia is rampant, and often violent. In 2017, at least 445 LGBT Brazilians died as victims of homophobia – a 30% increase from 2016.

March For Our Lives pushes to expand the voter rolls across the country

May 21, 2019

There were many organizations at the rallies ready to provide that opportunity on Saturday. That could add thousands of people to the voter rolls.

HeadCount, a nonpartisan organization that registers young voters at concerts, partnered with the students behind March for Our Lives and sent close to 1,000 volunteers to register marchers at Saturday’s crowd in Washington, which numbered 800,000 people, according to organizers.

HeadCount spokesman Aaron Ghitelman said volunteers, who were dressed in neon yellow or neon green shirts, were coming back with 10 to 20 filled-out voter forms each. And the young people who filled out those forms are from all over the country.

“That’s a really invigorating number,” Ghitelman said of the Washington returns. “I mean, damn that’s awesome.”

HeadCount also sent volunteers to the many other marches that occurred throughout the country, and several other organizations also worked to register students, parents and teachers at the massive demonstrations.

Diane Burrows, a vice president of the League of Women Voters in New York, said her group had trained and sent out about 50 volunteers into the city’s march on Saturday. Each carried a clipboard and 10 registration forms, and several of them had come back to their headquarters for more.

“The engagement has really increased and I think it’s an awareness,” said Burrows, who said the group had probably registered hundreds of geographically diverse voters. “People are really understanding the power of the vote and that’s what’s really motivating a lot of them. They’re figuring out the importance and power of civic engagement.”

Voter registration is the first option offered by the website of the March for Our Lives movement — powered by Rock the Vote, a progressive organization that encourages young people to vote — and visitors are given the ability to download “voter registration toolkits,” which are state specific.

Hogg told MSNBC on Saturday that the movement plans to continue to engage prospective voters and legislators.

“We have another national school walkout on April 20, on the anniversary of Columbine, where students are going to be walking out,” Hogg said, referring to the Columbine High School massacre in which 13 were killed in 1999. “And hopefully they’ll organize it in their own communities, so they can walk out and register to vote.”