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For your reading pleasure and personal edification: “State”

A new book by Robert Arnaud and Paolo Woods reviewing the meaning of "State" as it applies - and doesn't in Haiti.

A new book by Robert Arnaud and Paolo Woods reviewing the meaning of “State” as it applies – and doesn’t in Haiti.

A new book by Arnaud Robert and Paolo Woods entitled, “State” was released in France in September and just this week has become available for pre-order on Amazon. It has been generating a good deal of attention both here and abroad for its examination of the national identity forged in Haiti in spite of the State.  Through photos and text, Robert and Woods show how the country of Haiti is actually held together by resistance, humor, creation and culture.  It articulates a nation in the absence of State.

Their choice of Haiti as a subject was hardly a good one from the perspective of news. Photo editors complained that they had had their fill of images depicting the ravages of the earthquake and the cholera epidemic that swept the country. Misery reporting overload obliged Woods and Robert to stay away from the photo stories that had typically come out of the island. Working on pieces for a variety of European and American publications from a new location and a new perspective, they based themselves in Les Cayes and thereby escaped the usual tug of the news cycle in Port-au-Prince. In so doing, they were able to delve into several topics of great importance that had been largely overlooked.

Among the many aspects of Haitian life that they took on, the one that has generated the most controversy is also perhaps the most intriguing. Woods and Robert spent a great deal of time with Haiti’s moneyed elite. On the instituteartist website, (Click here to view: http://www.instituteartist.com/) Woods is quoted as saying, “The country’s top-tier wealthy citizens have been denounced as corrupt profiteers, but I have a strong respect for them.  They are entrepreneurs who have made their fortunes here and could have easily taken their money and moved to Miami to lead very comfortable lives.  But to stay, to live and work in Haiti is not easy.  You have to love your country enormously to do that.”  In fact, he points out, the top 500 taxpayers in Haiti represent 1% of the population, yet account for 80% of their tax revenues. (How’s that for a tax burden?) Woods believes that wealthy individuals may well represent the winds of change for Haiti; change for the better that outsiders have tried and failed to accomplish.  Perhaps outrageous, and definitely inflammatory, it’s an opinion that bears consideration. Change born from within instead of imposed from without. It might be the change that succeeds.

“State.”  Buy it or borrow it, and then read it. At least look at the pictures and see what you think.  (I feel another book club coming on…)

One of a kind "Reading Angel." by Edward Dieudonne

One of a kind “Reading Angel.” by Edward Dieudonne

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

The Fat Lady Sang

Cineus Louisme, showing us one of his terrific new tree of life designs.

Cineus Louisme, showing us one of his terrific new tree of life designs.

Brutus Wiseton, shown here with his wife in the doorway of their home.

Brutus Wiseton, shown here with his wife in the doorway of their home.

One of the things that we do at Beyond Borders that perhaps does

the most good, and gives us the greatest joy, is to bring artists from Haiti to visit the United States for a couple of weeks.  While they are in this country, they demonstrate their craft at shops and special events; they sell their work, meet the people that buy their art, and gain a larger view of the business of selling art beyond what they do in their village workshops. It is a tremendously valuable experience for these select artists; they have an incomparable opportunity to learn and then to share their knowledge. They work hard while they are here to be sure, but they are also able to earn relatively large sums of money in a short amount of time. In every case, they have been able to return to Haiti and use those earnings to dramatically improve their own lives as well as those of their families. When you stop to consider how much money the United States, and indeed the world as a whole has poured into Haiti in foreign aid, (According to the USAID website, $318 million was appropriated to Haiti by the United States alone in fiscal year 2013.) you would think that the US government would be HUGELY in favor of Haitians earning their own money and stepping away from the cycle of dependency that has been created over the decades and been re-enforced to an astonishing level, since the 2010 earthquake.  YOU WOULD THINK! Haitians learning, earning, and being empowered to stand on their own two feet.  Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Yet, the US government works in mysterious ways.  (That’s the kindest way I know how to put it.) Beyond Borders contacted two of our long-standing, solid producing artists and said, “Do you have a passport?  Can you get one?  We’d like to bring you to the US for a couple of weeks.  What do you think?” The artists, Cineus Louisme and Brutus Wiseton were over the moon with excitement.  They had seen what a huge boost it had been to other artists we had brought over in the past and they were eager to have those same experiences.  They got their passports, we purchased their roundtrip plane tickets, they filled out their visa applications, we bought, BOUGHT (Yes, you read that correctly, at $135 a pop.) their visa appointments from Soge Bank, (A Haitian national banking franchise) and then, when the appointment day rolled, around they went in to the US embassy in Port-au-Prince and were both turned down cold.

At that point, Beyond Borders as a whole sprang to action.  We brain-stormed.  We called people.  We wrote e-mails.  We posted on Facebook.  We asked questions.  We called in favors.  In short, if there was a tree to bark up, we did.  Last week’s phonecalls to the embassy again went unanswered.  It’s tough to know what to fix, if you don’t know what’s broken.

We’re still clueless.  Did we not apply in time?  We started the process six months ago.  Was that not enough?  Was there something out of order in their paperwork?  If so, what?  Not enough money in their bank accounts?  How much do they need? After writing and calling and what felt like begging and pleading, we are no further ahead in our goal to get Cineus and Brutus here by mid-November than we were a week ago.  Though we have not given up the hope of bringing them in at some point in the future, for now, the fight is over.  The fat lady sang.

The Price of Poverty: 300,000 Cinderellas and No Ball

Beyond Borders - fighting poverty with art. Fair trade keeps families healthy, safe, and together.

Beyond Borders – fighting poverty with art. Fair trade keeps families healthy, safe, and together.

When I was little, I loved the story of Cinderella.  In fact, I had it read to me so often that there came a time when I could recite it, word for word, knowing exactly when the page turn came and frustrating every attempt to shorten the story before bedtime. (I’m not kidding, you can ask my mom.)  I knew exactly how that story went and no one was going to change ANYTHING about it.

What I didn’t know was that it really was a story of human rights violation.  Poor Cinderella was bound in perpetual servitude to her wicked stepmother and two ugly stepsisters.  She worked from morning ‘til night with no monetary compensation, she wore rags for clothing, her meals were crumbs and leftovers, and she slept by the hearth for warmth.  By any other name, she was a slave. Thank heaven for that ball!

Jean Robert Cadet didn’t have it quite so lucky.  No fairy godmother, no fabulous ball at the palace, and no glass slipper that fit only him.  His mother died before he turned four and he was given as a “domestic gift” to his father’s mistress. From then on, he labored; assigned the most menial, distasteful of tasks and given crumbs for food.  Rest was found at the end of each arduous day under the kitchen table.  The physical and mental abuses he endured were unspeakable.  Eventually, at the age of 16, he and the woman to whom he was “given” moved to the States.  Shortly thereafter, she threw him out.

As are an estimated 300,000 child slaves in Haiti today, Jean Robert was a victim of the restavek system.  Restavek is

The Jean Robert Cadet Restavek Organization is working hard to keep families intact and enable little sisters to walk hand-in-hand with their big brothers home from school.

The Jean Robert Cadet Restavek Organization is working hard to keep families intact and enable little sisters to walk hand-in-hand with their big brothers home from school.

a seemingly innocuous Kreyol term meaning literally, “to stay with” but in reality representing a harsh childhood of servitude and it is, unfortunately, woven into the fabric of Haitian poverty. Children born into families who have no way to care for them are not uncommonly “given” or even sold to families of greater means.  The handshake agreement is that the child will be fed, clothed, and schooled in return for “some” extra help around the house.  In function, it rarely turns out that way; the children are exploited, often grossly, by the receiving family.

The “magic” occurred for Jean Robert when a social worker found him sleeping in a laundry mat. She got him enrolled in school, from which he graduated in 1972.  He enlisted in the Marine Corps, and following his discharge, attended college and became a high school French teacher.  Today, he is the head of the Jean Robert Cadet Restavek Organization, working tirelessly as an abolitionist, not only advocating for cultural change, but also assisting restavek children by giving them clothing, decent food, clean water, and providing for their education.  Collaborating with universities in the US, he has developed a kindergarten curriculum that is in place in Haitian schools which teaches children – all children – of their worth as human beings.  The material for the students is presented in discussion, stories, and music to convey its vital message. (To read more about Jean Robert Cadet and his work, click here:  http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/09/08/haiti-anti-slavery-foundation/2782649/ )


For today’s restavek children of Haiti, their “fairy godmother” comes as a middle-aged male, wearing a baseball cap and blue jeans.  He fully understands the gravity of their plight, and though he has no wand to wave, his dedicated efforts as their tireless advocate could well be their salvation.

Port-au-Prince: The Chill Factor


Surprised Angel (on silver skates, executing a perfect triple lutz)

Imagine this as Surprised Angel on silver skates, executing a perfect triple lutz,

Usually, when I write a story for Beyond Borders, I try to tie it into the art that we carry.  And usually, this is not a problem; our metal sculptures range greatly in theme and design and I can always find something to fit.  In fact, it is not unusual for me to I start with the  sculpture and build a story around it. However, this time is different, and I’m going to beg your forbearance and ask you to use your imagination as you ponder the attendant photos because the story is at once so absurd and intriguing that I can’t NOT write about it.  The story is about ice skating in Haiti.

The idea for bringing a professional ice skating performance to Port-au-Prince began when Haiti’s tourism minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, met Francois Yrius of Super Canal Prod, a Guadeloupe-based exhibition company at a music festival last year. Using what must have required nearly every persuasive technique in her arsenal, Villedrouin convinced Yrius to put aside his reservations and produce an international ice show spectacular.

It may come as no surprise that there were a few setbacks along the way, starting with Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent state of emergency that was declared last November, when the show was in its formative stage.  In fact, the opening had been cancelled more than a dozen times for various reasons, many having to do with the difficulty of keeping the ice frozen. At first, Yrius tried to hold the event outdoors, but organizers finally surrendered to the heat and moved into a gym. Now that the heat of the long tropical summer has set in, the electricity to run the generator that keeps the ice solid costs a whopping $1,600 an hour. It might give one pause to contemplate such expenditure in a country so monumentally afflicted by poverty, but the ice was made, the Haitians were skating on it, and the tickets had been printed, so one is left merely to shake one’s head in wonderment.

If you close your eyes and concentrate, she becomes Child Angel with Stars on Ice.

If you close your eyes and concentrate, she becomes Child Angel with Stars on Ice.

At long last, the show finally, FINALLY did open on Monday of this week.  The skaters, including Fernand Fedronic of France, and Shawn Sawyer of Canada, performed to a light, but enthusiastic crowd.  The costumes were elegant, the torch routine was anything but, and Sawyer’s backflip was fearless and flawless. (Watch the highlight video here: http://www.haitianinternet.com/articles/newsletter/video-haiti-on-ice-it-is-finally-happening.html ) Is ice skating destined to become Haiti’s next national obsession? Well, let’s just say, it might be a slow go.  They did, at long last, get the ice to freeze.  That was a start.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Cupping coffee

IMG_2075 (640x480)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Haitian coffee and where to get it in the United States.  At that time, I rather brashly suggested a taste-test and promised that one would be forthcoming.  So for those of you who have been waiting for me to do that, you may at this point be suspecting that I have been stalling.  In that assumption, you would be correct.


Let me tell you about taste-testing coffee.  First of all, isn’t a taste test, it is a “cupping.”  And it’s fairly complicated, no less so than wine-tasting.  There are protocols to be observed, such as evaluating the aroma of freshly ground beans, and then dampening a precisely measured amount of grounds in a precisely measured amount of water heated to a degree that must be consistent from cup to cup and, yes, precise.  Furthermore, to achieve a reasonable level of accuracy you would do this three times for each type of coffee that you cup. See for yourself, bearing in mind that it is only a ROUGH procedural guide.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5vz7sxlkQI Lord knows what the serious cuppers do!


Then there is the lingo.  I listened to some reviews of other coffees and the reviews included phrases like, “raspberry notes, “and “jasmine overtones, with a long, hazelnut finish.” While I was doing my level best to be attentive to taste and smell as I sampled the coffees separately over a week of breakfasts, I kept coming up with “herbal,” “smoky” and “oaken,” which lead me to the following observation about myself:  I write for a living, but I don’t taste for a living. My vocabulary is fairly sophisticated, my palate is not.  This then begged the question, “Should I be doing this???”


I believe the answer is no, to tell the truth.  So this is what I’m going to do.  I will tell you that, after sampling, Rebo’s “Melange Gourmet,” La Colombe’s “Mare Blanche” and “Lyon” and Just Haiti’s “Kafe Solidarite,” on successive mornings, the latter, Just Haiti’s “Kafe Solidarite” is what I have been drinking ever since.  It is smooth, not bitter, and I like it. Plus, they are a small fair trade company and they stuck a “Freshly Roasted Coffee for Linda” label on the package.  Nice!  So if you want some “Kafe Solidarite” freshly roasted for YOU, here’s where you can get it:  http://justhaiti.org/


Bottoms up!


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Woman’s World

The incomparable Cher in a promo for her new single, "Woman's World."

The incomparable Cher in a promo for her new single, “Woman’s World.”

A few nights ago, I watched the Macy’s “Fourth of July Spectacular – Live from NYC” with friends in the air-conditioned comfort of their Tucson living room.  Cher was one of the guest performers, strutting her stuff and belting out, “Woman’s World” with power and style that hasn’t wavered one inch off the mark since she first performed, “I Got You Babe” as a 19-year old with Sonny Bono back in 1965. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLpO7g5cZrE

“What a gal,” we all marveled, “She’s got some kind of something that gives her this staying power.” The tweens and their moms and grandmas all clenched their fists above their heads in a show of female solidarity as they sang the lyrics along with the superstar, “And I am stronger, strong enough to rise above.  This is a woman’s world.  This is a woman’s world.”

Would that it were so. Not so much in places like Haiti, where the challenges of being female are eye-popping, to say the least.  According to a report from the Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti, women have a literacy rate which hovers just over fifty percent.  Forty percent of all Haitian households have a female at the head, and sixty percent of those live in extreme poverty.  Topping it off, eighty-three

REC430 "Sunflower Season" by Rosetania Brutus

REC430 “Sunflower Season” by Rosetania Brutus

percent of all economically active women in Haiti work within the informal sector, with “informal sector” having the connotation of being, “under the table,” or “off the books.” Strictly interpreted, this condition may manifest as unreported employment, hidden from the state for tax, social security or labor law purposes, but legal in all other aspects. In other words, 83% of all working women in Haiti have little to no economic security.

The incomparable Rosetania Brutus, breaking into what has tradtionally been a man's world of metal art.

The incomparable Rosetania Brutus, breaking into what has tradtionally been a man’s world of metal art.

In Croix-des-Bouquets, where the local trade is centered around metal sculpture, women are definitely on the periphery, but there are a few who are not content to stay there.  They are challenging the notion that it is “men’s work” and going into business, either for themselves, or in partnership with male relatives.  Rosetania Brutus is one such pioneer.  Having learned from her father, she moved into her cousin’s workshop and began creating her own designs. Now, a few years later she is proud to declare that, “They work for me!”  Her delicate features do not hide the taut musculature of her arms.  Indeed, it is hard, physically demanding work, but that does not dissuade her.  She says in halting English, “I know it is not a usual job for a woman.  I can’t explain – I just like it.” Whether she likes it for its creative aspects, or the financial security through fare trade that the work provides, she intends to make the most of it.

And though I doubt that she was tuned in to the Macy’s celebration as we were the other night, I think Rosetania could sing of her dream along with Cher and her other “sisters” at the New York City pier: “All the women of the world stand up, come together now.  This is a woman’s world!”


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Starting the day with coffee from Haiti


Taking care of the coffee crop. Haitian Farmer One-of-a-Kind Sculpture ID# HT1516

Taking care of the coffee crop. Haitian Farmer One-of-a-Kind Sculpture ID# HT1516

As my family will attest, coffee starts my day.  I need it – they need me to have it.  The day just goes better if I’ve paddled out to the kitchen in my jammies and headed straightaway to the stove to make and subsequently drink a cuppa Joe.  Yes, I still do this the old-fashioned way.  No high-tech Keurig for me, though I do admit it has its appeal and my eye has strayed from time to time. I make my coffee in a French press.  No muss, no fuss, I can do it in my sleep and in fact, that’s probably the way it happens most of the time.  So the last time I was in Haiti, I left with a few vacuum-sealed packages of local Rebo  Deluxe Coffee in my carry-on bag.  Good souvenir, I thought with a fair amount of satisfaction.  No chance of languishing in obscurity on some dark shelf.  I would drink and enjoy it to the last drop.

And now, I am out, which of course made me think about getting some more.  So where does one buy Haitian coffee in the US?

Once upon a time, Haitian coffee was plentiful worldwide.  During the French Colonial period, Haiti was the second largest coffee producing country on the planet and it was in the top three until as late as 1949. Dictators and trade embargoes did the coffee planters no favors and in fact, coffee production nearly died out entirely by the late 1980’s. Verdant acres of coffee trees were abandoned on the mountainsides, left to grow wild or die trying.

Fast-forward to post-quake Haiti and there has been renewed interest in reviving coffee production as a means of re-building the agricultural sector.  The Rebo company is in the process of expanding its export market, primarily to Haitians of the Diaspora, while at least a handful of importers are buying coffee from  Haitian farmers and co-ops under Fair Trade/Direct Trade agreements for roasting and selling in the US and Canada.  Haitian coffee is thus available to me, right here, right now – I can buy it online!

Ready to brew!

Ready to brew!

Thus, I shall order up.  From www.kafepanou.com I will get a bag of Rebo “Gourmet,” which is an arabica typica varietal.  From www.lacolombe.com I will get “Mare Blanche,” also arabica typica.  And from  www.williams-sonoma.com I COULD order “Lyon,” but it is cheaper to order it from La Colombe, since THEY sell it to Williams-Sonoma, OR just run up the street to W-S and pick it up myself, which I will do and at least save the shipping. “Lyon” is a blend of Peruvian, Brazilian, and Ethiopian, coffee beans along with Haitian blue forest semi-wild, heirloom beans.  And a portion of my purchase of “Lyon” goes to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which is an environmental preservation organization, so isn’t that nice? I’m gonna stop writing now and go buy some coffee.  Shall we have a tasting?  Oh, I think so!


To be continued…

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus


Fair Trade – Good for Everyone

IMG_1318 (640x486)Since 2007, Beyond Borders has been a member of the Fair Trade Federation, at that time becoming an officially recognized participant in the global fair trade movement. We have always been committed to building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty. Membership has put a stamp on those efforts. In keeping with fair trade practices, our purchasing and production choices are made with concern for the well-being of people and the environment. We work to create opportunity for so that our craftsmen and artisans may have viable economic options to meet their own needs. We engage in trading practices that honor the value of labor and dignity of all people.

Fair Trade Federation members are required to demonstrate compliance with the Nine Principles of Membership.  We are evaluated on these principles not just once to get in the door, but every single year.  The Nine Principles are as follows:

*Creating Opportunities for Economically and Socially Marginalized ProducersCaleb Belony with Casey and clan (480x640)

*Developing Transparent and Accountable Relationships

*Build Capacity

*Promote Fair Trade

*Pay promptly and fairly

*Support safe and empowering working conditions

*Ensure the rights of children

*Cultivate environmentally stewardship

*Respect cultural identity


YThere is actually a 34 page down-loadable pdf.document on the Fair Trade Federation website  which outlines very specifically The Fair Trade Federation Code of Practice. (View it here: http://www.fairtradefederation.org/fair-trade-federation-code-of-practice/ ) This is a REALLY BIG DEAL and we take our responsibilities of membership very seriously, going above and beyond the minimums required.  For example, we pay  100% for every order up front – not  simply for the cost  of materials with the rest payable on delivery. Beyond Borders sends an average of $30,000 for orders to our artists in Haiti with completed goods shipped to us in return on a monthly basis. The impact of this type of trade in the lives of the artists is enormous.   Yinder Decembre, a talented sculptor  of  beautiful sun-faced children puts it this way, “These children represent the sun shining on the future.  If I can sell my work, I can  build my house and take care of my brothers and sisters.  I have faith that everything will be okay.”

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus



Madam Sara

“Off to Market” one of a kind sculpture by Louiceus Antelus

Banana seller in Port-au-Prince

Some of my favorite Beyond Borders sculptures are those of market women. The sculptures are based on women we’ve seen in Haiti, women our artists know well. With

her basket-laden head, steadily severe gaze, long, even gait, and impossibly upright posture, a market woman is beautiful, dignified and fascinating. But who is she, really?

Well, at the risk of going too academic, and thereby ruining the mystique, I will tell you that there have been cultural anthropologists who have written hefty tomes in their study.  Market women are not merely quaint and colorful features of the landscape. For one thing, they are communication transmitters of no less importance than a satellite beam.  Market women aren’t known as “Madam Saras” for nothing.  A “Madam Sara” is a variety of weaver bird, introduced to Haiti from sub-Saharan Africa and thereby sharing a curious similarity with the country’s historic human population. It is busy, bustling and above all, noisy. Madam Sara carries in her kerchief-wrapped head news of all variety.  With greater range and reception than a 4G cell phone, she dispenses information political, meteorological, seismic, and societal.  My new favorite Kreyol word is “teledyol,” literally, “telemouth,” describing the time-honored means of Madam Sara transmission. You can laugh, but this is a truism of Haitian cultural organization.  She is broadband.

Madam Saras are also an economic force, with operating hours running from dawn until dusk, seven days a week.  Bearing their goods in baskets on their heads, they carry produce from rural fields, which may be a day’s distance walking from city markets.  More prosperous women, known as “Gran Saras” may have the use of a donkey or truck, though their utility must be weighed against operating costs. Goods rarely flow in both directions, a fact which surprised me.  The profit margin in Port-au-Prince is generally 100% greater than that realized up-country, and goods turn over an average of 15 days more quickly in the city. These women don’t have the luxury of 15 days’ time to sell out, especially not if the product is perishable.

They come to the city, arriving on Thursday night or early Friday morning, selling from their blankets all day

long, and sleeping in place at night.  When the weekend is over and Monday morning arrives, they return to the countryside to renew their supply of merchandise and begin the routine all over again.

Madam Saras, ready to do business

Though their collective literacy rate is somewhere in the basement, their business acumen is indisputable. With success defined as being able to feed her family for another week, a successful Madam Sara has a mastery of working capital, long-term supply costs, zero opportunity costs, marginal utility, and arbitrage.  She may not know them by those names, but she absolutely knows the concepts. The goods are on her head, the market savvy is in it. No wonder she doesn’t smile very often. There are heavy matters to consider, and heavy burdens to be born.

Resurrection and Reforestation

As the eastern seaboard of the United States begins to dig itself out of the mess that Hurricane Sandy left in her wake, the work ahead seems staggering.  The muck and sludge is almost unfathomable. The destruction and number of lives lost are beyond heartbreaking. How do you clean up?  Where do you even start?

Those same questions apply in Haiti as well, for it too is recovering from its own battle against Sandy’s wrath. The Caribbean islands are besieged regularly during hurricane season, which runs roughly from June through November. The reality there is that 6-8 hurricanes will develop annually in the Tropical Atlantic Basin, though some years are better than that and some are worse. 2010 saw a “bumper crop” with 11 named hurricanes.  What makes Haiti so vulnerable to massive destruction in violent weather is its lack of natural tree cover, which exacerbates water run-off and mudslides and results in tremendous erosion, soil degradation, and watershed destruction in addition to loss of property and life.

In fact, only two percent of Haiti’s original forests remain intact.  Deforestation has a long and sordid history on the island of Hispanola, dating back to colonial times.  With the arrival of European colonists, land was cleared of trees so that plantations could be established.  Not only that, valuable tropical woods were harvested with reckless abandon and sold to eager markets abroad. After the colonial period, Haiti suffered from its isolation, and slash-and burn subsistence agriculture began taking its toll.

Now in the 21st century, the culprit is an insatiable need for household cooking fuel.  Trees double as a source of fuel and cash for families who not only use the wood to cook with but also sell it as charcoal in energy-starved Port-au-Prince. (Charcoal is made by burning wood and other carbon-rich substances in an oxygen-proof furnace.) Over time, according to Newsweek and The Daily Beast, the charcoal trade has grown to account for 20 percent of the rural economy and 80 percent of the country’s energy supply. Haitians currently burn an estimated 30 million trees’ worth of charcoal annually.

The barren landscape tells the story of 36 million tons of topsoil being eroded by wind and rain each year, silting lakes and waterways and carrying away nutrients upon which agriculture depends.  Meager drainage systems that do exist suffer extensive damage during storms and clean water sources are compromised, elevating the danger of water-borne disease, cholera being a primary threat.

As if that isn’t alarming enough, results of a recent geological study conducted at the University of Miami indicated that so much of Haiti’s mountainsides have eroded due to deforestation that it may have actually weakened the earth’s crust and contributed to the severity of the 2010 earthquake. The researchers suggest that landslides and heavy rains have carried so much eroded material downstream over time that the surface load of the crust was greatly diminished.  Fractures in Earth’s bedrock from the movement of tectonic plates, known as faults, build up stress as they attempt to slide past each other, periodically releasing the stress in the form of an earthquake. With critically reduced load-bearing capability in the denuded mountains of Haiti, the stage was set for that catastrophe.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon.  Solar and hydropower, as well as biofuels, have all been used in Haiti with encouraging results and their potentials can be further pressed .  Until these renewable energy sources can be maximized, imports of subsidized propane from Dominican Republic can be increased.  In combination, these alternatives can eradicate the need to harvest trees for charcoal produced-energy. There have been victories outside of Haiti, too which can be drawn upon and adapted.  In Ethiopia, it was political will that turned the tide of environmental degradation, in Uganda, it was a civil movement.  Money is, of course, a vital component, but donors are willing to line up behind success. Clearly, it will take popular action, governmental resolve, and international support to restore Haiti’s forests.  As one environmental aid worker observed, “Haiti’s resurrection begins here.”

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus/Beyond Borders

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