Thousands of people were evicted from the grounds of the National Stadium (Sylvio Center) on April 10 when the police came and smashed the remaining temporary shelters. People are now living in the parking lot and the surrounding grounds which were already full. The lives of these displaced people have gone from bad to worse. They are more vulnerable than ever as the parking lot and surrounding grounds flood rapidly when the rains come down. Ben Constant, who has been helping the people in the Stadium since he opened the doors after the earthquake, said, “People will die, no questions about it. When the waters come, and they will come, cars can get washed away. The people are not safe living there, but they were not given any other alternatives.”
The National Stadium in Port-au-Prince was transformed into a tent city shortly after the earthquake hit Haiti. Constant, opened the stadium to the public in as orderly a fashion as he could, taking the names of all who moved in and imposing a curfew at night. Ten thousand people were living of the grounds. Rolny St. Louis, the Stadium director, and Constant made the stadium one on the most organized, safest tent cities in the country by providing security, water and getting as much aid from different NGOs as possible. Different medical groups visited daily and set up free medical clinics. That’s over now.
The CA-based Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and other NGOs made the Stadium’s parking lot their prime site for distribution of food and other goods. A shipment of 1,300 tents arrived to great excitement at the end of March. But the tents proved unsuitable. They accommodate three small people. Constant set a few up on the Stadium field so people could check them out. Sentiment ranged from anger and disappointment to realistic acceptance: At least they would have a place to keep their kids dry, one person told me. Tents made for three were given to families of up to eleven. Reports that tents were given out by officials at the Stadium prior to the eviction are untrue.
Rolny St. Louis warned the people they’d have to move after he got a call from the Soccer Federation (a Haitian organization) telling him he needed to clear the people from the Stadium by April 15th. Protests began immediately as people were not told where they could go. AFP quoted St. Louis “We could no longer tolerate people living here. They did everything (in the stadium): prostitution, rape and theft.” I asked St. Louis about this comment. ArialMT””>He told me he never said that. There was only one reported rape at the stadium, no prostitution and little crime. He and Constant maintained security for the people. He was not happy at all to put the people out. He made sure to let as many as he could stay in the parking lot though he acknowledged it wont be safe there after a heavy rainfall.
Prior to the eviction, temporary resident Sommavil Rodney said, “We are not animals. We are not savages. But if they try to get us to go, we will show them we can be savage. The Stadium belongs to the Haitian people,” he insisted, “and they need to be respected. We will die here before we leave.”
Gregory Amazon, who left the stadium ahead of the police eviction, told me that despite the protest that took place early Friday morning, the people had no choice; an elite heavily armed segment of the police department called SIMO came with guns in hand so everyone backed down. Saturday morning the police smashed the shelters to bits as people cried. They watched the little they had destroyed. “I moved back near where my house collapsed and stayed in the second story of a building,” Amazon said. “There was another aftershock yesterday and I was scared. We are being treated like dogs.”
Over a month ago the Haitian government started erecting a tent city in one of the most dangerous parts of the city, where Cite Soliel, Delmas 2 and Belair come together. The tents are flimsy and are in need of plastic sheeting for waterproofing before they can be lived in. Other alternative solutions are starting to be created out side of the cities limits. A humane civilized solution has yet to be presented. But for now at least, the soccer games can begin.
Click here to see a set of images of the stadium before the eviction Additonal information: A link to a story I did for the Atlantic that includes a clip of the former presidents. And Interview with Anderson Cooper and Sean Penn who talks about relocating displaced people living in a tent city in Petionville. No such alternative option was offered to the people at the National Stadium before they wereevicted. The people outside the stadium are now living in the kind of peril. Sean Penn speaks about that the people in the tent city he has been looking after are in. AFP article that incorrectly reports tents being given away by officials and with a quote the the director of the stadium denies