Haiti commemorated the sixth anniversary of its tragic Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake Tuesday with a low-key wreath laying ceremony at the barren mountaintop where many of its dead lay buried in mass graves.
President Michel Martelly, donning a white guayabera, and first lady Sophia Martelly arrived shortly after 10 a.m. at Parc Christophe on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, site of an almost completed marble and iron memorial that pays homage to the estimated 300,000-plus dead.
After briefly reviewing a black and brown marble headstone bearing his name and the words, 12 January 2010 We Will Never Forget in Creole, Martelly joined Prime Minister Evans Paul. Each laid a wreath of white roses before a gigantic rock that has come to mark the site. This year, the rock was surrounded by long-stem white roses and white candles, several of which spelled out the date of the tragedy.
There was no podium speech from the president as in years past or foreign dignitaries. But as Martelly made his way out of the park, he told journalists that today was purposely chosen as “A Day of Reflection,” so that Haitians can remember that they had a responsibility in “the dimensions of what happened.”
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“We amplified it because we didn’t construct well; we didn’t properly prepare ourselves, we didn’t really secure the people in respect to the construction codes so we could avoid this catastrophe,” he said. “Today, is an opportunity for us to say ‘We’re going to do better; we’re going to do better at all levels, not just in construction but in our attitude.’ ”
For months, Haiti has been embroiled in yet another paralyzing political crisis, this one triggered by its violence and fraud-marred Aug. 9 legislative first round elections and the Oct. 25 legislative runoff and presidential vote. Local observer groups and opposition candidates have alleged “massive fraud” and called for an inquiry into the balloting.
I am asking everyone to look at themselves, and to ask themselves what they can do to bring their stone to the reconstruction of the new Haiti.
Haitian President Michel Martelly
Opposition presidential candidate, Jude Célestin, who qualified for the second round against Martelly’s presidential pick, entrepreneur Jovenel Moïse, has said he will not participate in the Jan. 24 presidential runoff. He has called on the government to adopt both his conditions for running, as well as a host of recommendations by its electoral evaluations commission that said the vote was plagued by irregularities and fraud.
The former head of the Centre National d’Equipement (CNE), Célestin supervised the removal and burial of nearly 300,000 quake dead by his mostly female heavy equipment operators in three different sites at Parc Christophe. The site where the monument is located is the biggest of the burial sites.
Célestin was not at the commemoration but this year’s theme, which hung on a back drape, “We were there for one another,” served as a reminder of how Haitians were the first rescuers after the tragedy.
Though Martelly tried to shy away from addressing the electoral crisis that continues to overshadow life in Haiti, he called on Haitians to come together, while making a subtle reference to the crisis.
It’s time, Martelly said, for Haitians to “prioritize Haiti’s interests over personal interests. It’s not just a question of only winning power but it’s a question of what are you going to do, what plan do you have, is it Haiti that you see first?”
“Criticism is easy,” he noted, “but I am asking everyone to look at themselves, and to ask themselves what they can do to bring their stone to the reconstruction of the new Haiti.”
According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of Haitians displaced by the earthquake has dropped from 1.5 million to 59,720.
Six years since, we still do not know the exact number of our dead, nor all of their names.
Haiti’s leading feminists organizations
Lasting 35 seconds, the quake also injured 300,000. Its death toll — announced as 316,000 by the previous government — remains a matter of debate.
“Six years since the country was devastated by the earthquake of January 12; six years since we carried the pain of the sudden death of thousands of our compatriots of both sexes; six years since, we still do not know the exact number of our dead, nor all of their names,” the feminists organizations Kay Fanm and Solidarité des femmes haïtiennes (SOFA) said in a statement.
Calling the tragedy, which also killed a number of leading Haitian intellectuals and feminists, a “massacre,” the organizations said, “January 12 was not only the result of a natural disaster, but also the result of inconsistencies in matters of urban planning, construction type, environment.”
Tens of thousands of Haitians, they note, continue to live in deplorable, substandard housing. Less than a mile from the memorial site, for example, stands Canaan, a post-quake community with more than 300,000 residents that has come to symbolize the failure of the shortcomings of the reconstruction effort.
Of the $12.5 billion pledged by foreign donors to help Haiti rebuild, it remains unclear how much has been disbursed or obligated. At some point, donors stopped distinguishing between regular aid and earthquake aid, say those who previously tracked the funds.
Claude Prépetit, a local seismologist, said while Haiti has improved its mapping of its fault lines, the country remains at risk of repeating the tragedy. Tremors were reported on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.
Haitian authorities, Prépetit said, must improve supervision of new construction and do more to educate the population on how to respond to a quake.