This project has sparked one of the largest social movements in Haiti and its diaspora since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
President of the Canadian Investigation and Security Center (CISC) and the Quebec Security Academy, Michel Hilaire, a Haitian entrepreneur living in Canada, says he donated one million gourdes as well as various tools to support the construction of the canal on the Massacre River.
Launched in 2021, but suspended on the heels of Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, the project to establish a water intake at Pittobert in order to irrigate 3,000 hectares of land in the Maribaroux plain was relaunched by the people of the area at the end of August 2023.
The Dominicans, with whom Haiti shares the river, express their objections. In retaliation, President Luis Abinader closed, then partially reopened the border. And, the project has sparked one of the most significant social movements in Haiti and its diaspora since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
On site, sweat mixes with song, punctuating the efforts of hundreds of citizens from the area and elsewhere. All speak of their determination: “Kanal la pap kanpe,” they say in response to the multiple requests to stop the work issued by the Dominican President, Luis Abinader, whose administration had previously admitted the legality of the construction in a public note released on May 27, 2021.
Like several other Haitians from the diaspora, Michel Hilaire personally visited the site on October 13, 2023 to see how the work was progressing, after having handed over the cash portion of his contribution to the singer Anie Alerte, one of the many points of contact for the supporters.
But the entrepreneur wants to go further. On September 26, he initiated the “Mouvman Kanal Pap Kanpe” (MKPK) in Montreal to fundraise. Ultimately, he hopes to set up a community agricultural bank serving planters in order to strengthen agricultural production in the Maribaroux plain.
A Canal Fund management committee was set up on September 19, 2023 to receive and manage part of the money and donations received. According to its treasurer, Gaston Étienne, the construction of the canal is representative of “the recovery of national dignity.”
As of November 6, 2023, the committee has received more than 23 million gourdes and US$94,000 according to their online fundraising platform. The expenses amount to 17 million gourdes.
According to the committee, members of the public have made warehouses available to the committee to store donated materials.
Volunteer engineers are responsible for selecting qualified labor to work on the site. Workers receive between 3,000 to 7,500 gourdes per week and at least one hot meal per day, Gaston Étienne tells AyiboPost.
The proliferation of private fundraising initiatives in the name of the canal is causing concern on site and raising questions of accountability, according to interviews conducted by AyiboPost with project stakeholders. Singer Anie Alerte was contacted by AyiboPost before publication, but she did not respond.
Several dozen agents from the “Protected Areas Surveillance Brigade” (BSAP) take turns to secure the site. They receive donations directly for their presence, according to the committee.
“We do not let ourselves be intimidated by the parade of Dominican soldiers,” a BSAP agent who did not wish his name to be used told AyiboPost. The man claims to have worked for several years without pay. He is delighted to “receive food and drink” from the population.
Agents assigned to the Board of Directors of the Haut-Maribaroux municipal section also participate in securing the worksite, according to Council spokesperson, Bijoux Benson.
Back-to-back on duty, BSAP agents assigned to the Nord department come to assist on-site. | © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost
On Tuesday, November 7, the Dominican authorities carried out a show of force at the border. In Ouanaminthe, soldiers crossed a wall – considered in the area as a dividing line between the two countries – while at least one helicopter crisscrossed the sky.
Dénio Ulysse, a resident of Bas-Maribahoux present on the scene, denounced the irruption of around forty Dominican soldiers on the “national territory,” which could be likened to a violation of the integrity of the Haitian territory.
“The BSAP agents were completely unarmed, with the exception of one who was quickly overpowered by nearly thirty Dominican soldiers,” underscores Ulysse.
Following this incident, the North-East director of the BSAP, Samson Camiel, was physically attacked by the population of Ouanaminthe because he had disarmed the members of the corps earlier in the morning, reports Ulysse.
It is unclear whether the Dominican soldiers actually set foot on national soil.
For Edwin Paraison, former Minister of Haitians Living Abroad and former Consul of Haiti in the Dominican Republic, “the fence is not the border.” Doctor Maismy-Mary Fleurant agrees. According to this researcher, whose work focuses on the border, the Dominican Republic built its wall three or five meters from the demarcation line. Additionally, the space between the wall and the border posts, where Dominican soldiers patrol, belongs to the neighboring republic, and not to Haiti, says the specialist.
It should be noted that Dominicans crossed the border in 2021 to intimidate canal workers.
The Ouanaminthe town hall is not involved in the project, according to the treasurer of the Canal Fund management committee, Gaston Étienne. Contacted by AyiboPost, magistrate Demetrius Luma did not respond to requests for an interview.
The government wants to get involved in the construction of the canal, which has become a diplomatic dispute with the neighboring country.
On Saturday October 28, 2023, a meeting between a technical team hired by the canal committee and a delegation sent by the government was aborted. According to members of the committee, this meeting ended in failure due to the presence of local political figures decried by the population.
The initiative benefits from a strong female presence. Some like Emmeline Anténor, 22 years old and originally from Cerca-Carvajal in the Center department, came to the site because of the recent developments.
However, upon her arrival, Anténor reported being struck by “the atmosphere of collective work and the determination of everyone for the construction of the canal.”
Milourie Sylfrard stands out for her enthusiasm and her know-how. Originally from Mont-Organisé, a commune in the North-East, the lady works as a foreman on the construction site.
The project, according to Milourie Sylfrard, is of “capital importance since it will strengthen agricultural production for local consumption.”
An argument echoed by Joasa Jésula, resident of Ferrier. Getting involved in the project represents “the best way to contribute to the upcoming irrigation of the Maribaroux plain, renowned for rice cultivation,” she told AyiboPost.
Due to the ongoing water shortage in the plain, Jésula reveals that last season she lost rice harvests estimated at 200,000 gourdes. “I work here for free, all I want is to finalize the canal,” she says.
Junior Legrand participated in this report
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