February 20, 2010 in Nation/World

Land seizure possible in Haiti

Issue sensitive, but camp space needed
Michelle Faul Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A woman left homeless by last month’s earthquake stands next to her makeshift home on a hill overlooking Port-au-Prince, Friday.
(Full-size photo)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive says the Haitian government will appropriate land to build temporary camps for earthquake victims. The decision, disclosed in an interview with the Associated Press, is potentially explosive in a country where a small elite owns most of the land in and around the capital.

That elite, a traditionally corrupting force in Haitian politics, has the power to bring down the government.

The government owns some land but not enough, Bellerive said in an interview Thursday, meaning he has no choice but to take over private terrain. He would not say how much land will be appropriated.

A report posted Friday at the Web site of the International Organization for Migration said a minimum of 1,112 acres of flat, non-flood plain land is needed to settle 100,000 displaced people and Haiti’s government has identified only 47 acres.

The Jan. 12 quake left 1.2 million homeless, roughly half of them in Port-au-Prince, meaning the government would need to find a total of at least 6,672 acres for quake survivors in the capital, where about a third of Haiti’s nearly 10 million people are concentrated along with the government and almost all industry.

Bernard Fils-Aime, a businessman, property owner and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Haiti, said he was not aware of anyone in the business community being approached by the government about land. He said the issue would need to be treated cautiously.

“Land is one of our very scarce resources and an issue that has underlined many political conflicts in Haiti since independence,” Fils-Aime said. He said he was sure the issue could be negotiated amicably but warned: “You don’t want to create more conflict.”

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