World / Latin America

Haiti makeover leaves many homeless

By Associated Press in Port-au-Prince (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-23 07:37

The pictures of broad avenues in the Haitian government's promotional materials are clean and unbroken, dotted with palm trees, parks and manicured expanses of grass. The new ministry buildings are sleek and modern but retain some of the neoclassical architecture of the former structures lost to natural disasters.

This is the grand, dreamlike vision of Port-au-Prince that President Michel Martelly said will replace what was toppled when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake left much of Haiti's capital in ruins in 2010. Sketched plans look more like a wealthy Miami suburb than the gritty downtown of old that housed both state institutions and shabby tenements.

"These plans will take a long time to finish, perhaps another 10 years," said Harry Adam, executive director of the government agency responsible for the construction of public buildings. "But I think it's realistic. We can do it."

Demolitions began in June to build an "administrative city" covering 30 hectares downtown.

But the plan, hailed as a sign of post-quake rebirth by some residents, has also set off a firestorm of criticism for creating a new wave of homelessness after many poor renters were given only minutes to vacate their dwellings before bulldozers arrived.

While there are no figures available on the number of people left homeless by the demolitions, the city center has become dotted with new encampments of tarp shacks in recent weeks. Hills of rubble left by bulldozers have grown so large it almost looks like a fresh earthquake just hit.

Bitter quake survivors, some only recently moved by aid groups from squalid tent camps to downtown apartments, are back to living beneath tarps or staying with friends.

One of them is Jean-Louis Wilner, 32, a father of a 2-year-old boy. After a couple of years living in a tent camp, he thought he had finally made it. He had a deal on a subsidized rental apartment for a year, and a small business selling cold drinks. Now Wilner wonders if he'll make it through the hurricane season. Like others, he claims his possessions were either lost beneath rubble or stolen by thieves when he rushed items out into the street. "This country doesn't respect human beings. I'm worse off than after the earthquake. It's humiliating," he said.

Opposition politicians say they plan to mobilize the newly displaced families in street protests against Martelly's government.

"They only give them a warning of a few minutes, and then they start bulldozing? I consider that a crime. These families have nowhere to go and are now homeless again," said Moise Jean-Charles, an opponent of Martelly.

Government officials say communication about the demolitions could have been better, and they contend that some building owners who were notified failed to pass the news to their tenants of the coming bulldozers.

Public notary Jean-Henry Ceant, who is helping people with their claims, said owners of buildings with proof of their investments are being quickly compensated. But that's a tall order in Haiti, where the land registry is in shambles and it's not always clear who owns what.

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