While best known for their weekly protests against the wars in the Middle East, the Black Voices for Peace are setting their sights on a new issue.

In honor of African Liberation Day and Malcolm X Day, the group hosted a forum to discuss the nation of Haiti. Leading the forum May 22 was Leon Pamphile, Ph.D., a Haitian native and executive director of the Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti.

AFRICAN LIBERATION DAY—Fred Logan, left, and Leon Pamphile open the Black Voices for Peace forum.

“This is just the first step. We need to put Haiti on our agenda,” said Fred Logan, a member of Black Voices. “In terms of the policy, we need a movement that will force the Obama administration to take a progressive approach to Haiti. I hope we can increase the importance of Haiti to the world at large. “

Pamphile took the audience through Haiti’s history and illustrated the dire conditions Haitians have lived in, long before the earthquake shook their capital of Port au Prince. The nation’s problems are many, ranging from poor education to internal corruption and the ever-present influence of the United States.

Haiti’s literacy rate is approximately 53 percent, which pales in comparison to the 90 percent average literacy rate for Latin American and Caribbean countries. There is next to no public educational system with private schools and church-run schools educating 90 percent of students.

“Haitians are very conscious for the need of education,” Pamphile said. “The country is pretty much divided between city dwellers and countryside. If parents don’t have money to pay for their children’s school, there is no public school for them.”

The country has a history of rampant corruption at the government level, forcing non-governmental organizations to take on the job of providing most of the country’s social services. Some at the forum felt the overwhelming presence of NGOs has left the nation’s government almost powerless.

“We need better balance. I would agree the power of the government has been somewhat weakened,” Pamphile said. “Out of 157 countries, Haiti was something like 152 on the list of corruption.”

Although U.S. occupation of Haiti ended in 1934, many still believe the U.S. has unwarranted control over the nation. Despite beliefs that this control has a crippling effect on Haiti, the U.S. has also provided financial support to help elevate much of the country’s debt.

“Americans have looked at Haiti as an example of what happens when Black men lead government,” Pamphile said. “Haiti is always under the burden of having foreign loans, but now this is being forgiven.”

Born out of President George W. Bush’s administration and its policies in the Middle East, Black Voices continues to protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq. They hold weekly protests every Saturday from 1-2 p.m. at the corner of Highland and Penn avenues.

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