Route des Rails Moving Day

Wilfrid Asmath and his daughter Madlene

As planned, Brillant and I, along with our driver Erid, I having decided to forego public transportation for the long trip across Port-au-Prince, returned to the Route des Rails tent camp in Carrefour on Friday, January 14, a little after one p.m., to witness the residents’ move to their new houses on the coast at two. We arrived to find a number of the inhabitants in a highly agitated state. Apparently, the local government had changed the terms of the move.

Patrick Toussaint, one of the camp residents, told us that a local government representative had come the day before to tell them that now only ten families would be moved into the 160 new homes supposedly dedicated to accommodate all the residents of the camp. Not only that, but everyone else in the camp was supposed to move, no one had any idea where, by the end of the day.

Patrick Toussaint and his son Fernande in their home

Other camp redidents verified Patrick’s story, and a few expanded on it. Degradala Joseph, who said in English that he was almost crazed from lack of sleep caused by the constantly passing traffic, showed us his photo identification card, along with a photocopy. He said that the government had required the heads of the families living in the camp to make two photocopies of their cards, one to sign and leave with the authorities and the other to keep. Joseph stated that the government representatives told the residents that by signing the copy, they were reserving a new house for their families. Other camp residents energetically supported Joseph’s story and several showed us their identification cards and copies as well.

Degradala Joseph (center) outside his home

The consensus opinion of the camp residents with whom we spoke was that the government had lied to them about the move, never intending to move all of the camp residents to the houses built under the auspices of USAID and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). Instead, the residents were convinced that the government plan all along had been to only move a token ten favored families, although no one seemed to know why they were favored, or even who they were, and then sell the rest of the houses. As it was now approaching two o’clock, Brillant, Erid and I returned to the car for the short drive to the ceremony celebrating the move. At the entrance to the new subdivision, the road was blocked by a coil of barbed wire, which the guard rolled away to let us enter.

Toilets under contruction

At the end of the long central street leading towards the sea, some men were working on setting up a stage. Aside from them, and some workers constructing two buildings to house toilets, which were clearly nowhere near complete, the camp was empty. We stood in the shade of the last house facing the sea for a while, catching the breeze. After a half-hour or so, we retired to the car to await developments. But there really weren’t any.

Over the next couple of hours, small groups of people would gather on the far side of the barbed wire, hanging around for a while before dispersing, to be replaced in a bit by another group. A few people skirted the wire, walking along the levee separating the subdivision from the adjacent refinery complex, on their way to somewhere. The guys manning the barbed wire gate started drinking beer, and showing its effects. Nothing indicated that any organized activity was imminent, and only the stage hinted that anything was planned at all.

Ocean view housing

Erid and Brillant were of the opinion that this was a typical government bait and switch and that no move was going to occur this afternoon. They believed that because the government was only going to move ten families, it would not do so at the announced time when international media might be present to ask awkward questions. It was now approaching 4:30, a full two and a half hours after the ceremony was supposed to occur, and at most an hour until dark. Concluding that Erid and Brillant were right, I pulled the plug on the stakeout.

We drove out slowly through the neighborhood bordering the new subdivision, and here also, the activity was totally routine, with no hint that anything out of the ordinary was about to occur. At the tent camp, residents sat on the curb outside their homes in the now fading light, watching us pass by and getting ready for another night on the median.

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About vichinterlangphotojournalist

Vic Hinterlang has been a photojournalist for the past 25 years. He has worked in Central America, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel and the U.S. His photos have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Economist and The Texas Observer among other publications.
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