January 12, 2013: What are the Memories? Where are the Lessons?

Crosses pay tribute to the victims of the 2010 earthquake in Titanyen. Photo by Ben Depp (2011)

Today, the Haitian Collective to Defend the Right to Housing commemorates the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Titanyen, the site of the earthquake’s mass graves.

January 11, 2013
Haitian Collective to Defend the Right to Housing

It has been three years since falling rubble, bits of concrete, iron bars, and collapsing walls killed countless courageous women and men while they were at work, at school, in their homes or on the streets. In less than one minute, we lost many beautiful people – people filled with love, whose hearts were filled with hope. We lost elders, children, youth, academics, professionals, factory workers, peasants, and vendors. They were lost. We lost them.

Today, we have come to Titanyen where so many of their bodies lay in mass graves, to ask ‘Where have they gone?’ What have we done with their memories, their stories, their suffering?

The Haitian government promised not to abandon the memory of the earthquake’s victims. A registry of victims was supposed to be made. Where is that registry? Who can tell us where those names are or how many there are? How does a family ensure that their loved ones have been registered?

We have come to Titanyen to see for ourselves how the memory of those that left us – too quickly, too soon – has been preserved. This is a symbolic place, a place of death that once received the bodies of Duvalier’s victims, and has now received the bodies of our brothers and sisters consumed by the earthquake.

When we see the ongoing management of the country, the way that houses continue to be built, the conditions in which people continue to live, we relive the trauma of January 10, 2012.  Occasional tremors remind us that another earthquake could still occur.

When we see the number of people living in unsafe, damaged buildings, buildings marked for demolition that are still being rented… we believe that the memory of the dead has not been respected.

When we see the way that the government has averted their eyes, we see the damaged homes, leaning walls that could fall at any time, especially in the slums, we say there is no respect being shown to the earthquake victims’ memory. We have not learned any lessons from what happened in 2010.

When we see that slums have continued to expand in all four corners of Port-au-Prince, that houses are being rebuilt in the same way as those that collapsed, we see that we have not learned any lessons.

When we see the conditions in which more than 300,000 people still live in displacement camps, under tents, not knowing when they will escape the hell that the camps have become… we don’t feel, we don’t hear and we don’t see any housing programs that will serve them… we believe that we have not learned any lessons.

How many more people will have to die? How many more will end up buried in Titanyen? How many more cries must be uttered before Haiti is conscious, before things in this country change?

Even if the government is as much a corpse as those buried here, the Haitian people are still alive. As long as we have breath, we will not allow them to bury us alive. We must stop digging our own graves, graves in which we could be buried at any time. We must stop allowing our country to develop/evolve in unending disorder. And so, here in the midst of the dead, we launch a call to our fellow citizens to wake up!

We who did not perish in the earthquake have a responsibility. Our responsibility is to organize, to mobilize, to say No, things cannot continue this way. We have lost too many people. We must learn, we must have memory. We do not want another catastrophe.

In the memory of the earthquake’s buried victims, both here in Titanyen and in many other places in Port-au-Prince, we ask:

  • For an end to anarchic construction [implementation and enforcement of zoning and land use regulations]
  • For the government to assist those who are in need of homes – help them access land, credit and technical support to build proper neighborhoods with dignified housing
  • For all state institutions that comitted to create an archive and registry of earthquake victims to publicize information about those lists – how to access and use them
  • For more respect to be shown to the site of Titanyen, where our brothers and sisters that died under the Duvalier dictatorship, in the earthquake, and as a result of the cholera epidemic are buried. Titanyen is a historic site that must be protected and preserved. Titanyen should be a welcoming place where the bodies of our friends, our familes and our comrades can rest in peace. Titanyen should demonstrate that we are a people that have memory, that have learned our lessons, and that have not forgotten those that have gone.

It is in this spirit that the Collective to Defend the Right to Housing remembers our responsibility to fight for change.

We must never forget the victims of January 12, 2010. We must never forget the lessons the earthquake taught us. Let us mobilize to construct our country in a new way!

Please join the Collective in their mobilizing work by signing this petition for affordable housing and a halt to illegal, forced evictions in Haiti: www.change.org/UnderTents

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