HAVANA TIMES, Jan 21 — Alejandro Ramierez Anderson, 35, a Guatemalan who studied to become a film director in Cuba and resides on the island, is in the hard hit Haitian port city of Jacmel, 40 kilometers south of the capital Puerto Príncipe where over half of the housing was destroyed and several thousand died. Dismayed by the press coverage he’s seen in the days following the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, he decided to send out an open letter with his vision of the events.
THE MEDIA MISINFORMS ON HAITI
“The media misinforms.” I once read that in a book by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, and never as much as now have I noted it so clearly.
Since I currently have access to foreign television networks, these monsters of information are making me realize as never before how much they manipulate the news. The world is viewing scenes where —due to mismanagement by humanitarian aid agencies and the disorganization of authorities that supposedly must provide assistance— people are fighting each other over relief assistance.
What is this throwing bottled water at people from helicopters? This is not a dignified act. The assistance is failing to arrive because aid agencies are afraid of the destination. They’re doing much more damage than what has already been done.
I have not been in Port au Prince, but I can say that the present situation in Jacmel is not how it’s being reported.
The media choose the most shocking scenes, the most morbid and most sensational ones, and then they repeat them again and again, gradually creating a completely distorted image of reality.
Haitians are a people who are suffering from this earthquake, the worst misfortune in years and one that is on top of all the problems they already shoulder. Yet despite this, within this people is a drive to move forward, to organize themselves to solve their own problems.
I was witness to victimized families whose neighbors were the ones who helped them in the most difficult moments, given the lack of governmental or official aid.
It was the people themselves who helped by digging through the rubble to pull out those still alive (though where they couldn’t lift the cement walls, there was nothing they could do). These were families from several towns far from Port au Prince. Other families offered their homes to people who found themselves without a roof.
In the Jacmel soccer field, where today 3,200 people left homeless are taking refuge, they have set up an entire system of collective kitchens. Mothers and other women take turns cooking for that entire community, men chop firewood and load sacks of food, and children form organized lines to fill water jugs. These kids, still playfully smiling, now carry these containers to their families that take refuge under nylon roofs.
At the office of CROSE (the Regional Coordinator Southeastern Organizations), many people arrive daily to find out what volunteer help they can provide. Some gather statistics on the number of houses affected and families with problems, combing all of the neighborhoods in Jacmel on foot, even in the mountains.
The press speaks of growing insecurity, that one cannot travel anywhere because of all the looting. I don’t deny there could be criminal acts occurring, but it’s logical that people would take goods from stores that have collapsed. They have been hungry for centuries, so it’s unreasonable that they would leave food buried in these moments.
Nonetheless, I’ve walked all of the streets of Jacmel —with my two cameras hanging from my neck— without feeling the slightest sense of aggressiveness or seeing any strange looks (something I can’t do in Guatemala City or Caracas). The whole town received me with affection and even took me to the most severe problem areas. I felt sorry for my complete lack of Creole or French, because residents recounted stories that I couldn’t understand. However many Haitians speak Spanish and were able to convey their feelings to me, an unknown white guy who was invading their space.
We made the trip from Jacmel to Anse-à-Pitre in one of the CROSE jeeps, a Nissan 4×4 full of suitcases and bundles. Over the 115 miles that separate these two communities, we didn’t run into a single problem with looting, which the media usually describes. What I did see was many people on their donkeys going to the field to work, coal merchants attending to their ovens; women carrying water, as always; and people selling their products in community markets.
The prices were higher – sure; and the price of gasoline has shot up, which hikes the cost of everything else. But people in the countryside are leading their normal lives. They’re trying to make a living through their work, which often doesn’t bring in enough to eat.
So how can the media say that everything is a disaster if there is a mountain of hearts that still beat with the human feeling of solidarity, which is always noticed more among those who have less? And in these moments, this town is possibly one with the least – and the most.