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 News and opinions on situation in Haiti

Haiti Report for May 23, 2009

The Haiti Report is a compilation and summary of events as described in Haiti and international media prepared by Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY. It does not reflect the opinions of any individual or organization. This service is intended to create a better understanding of the situation in Haiti by presenting the reader with reports that provide a variety of perspectives on the situation. 

To make a donation to support this service: Konbit Pou Ayiti, 7 Wall Street, Gloucester, MA, 01930.


- Bill Clinton Named As UN Special Envoy for Haiti
– Haiti makes progress but international community remains cautious
-  Floods from Torrential Rains have Killed at Least 11
- Dominican Truckers Blame Haitian Senator for Unresolved Conflict
-  ’Heroes’ Star Condemns Child Exploitation in Haiti
- Miami Herald Editorial – Haiti: Last chance for a new start
-  Daily News Editorial – Hostile to Haiti: Rush Limbaugh is classless in attacking hemisphere’s poorest country
-  Palm Beach Post Editorial - Can Haiti itself be rescued?

Bill Clinton Named As UN Special Envoy for Haiti:

Bill Clinton has been appointed U.N. special envoy for Haiti, a part-time position in which the former U.S. president will aim to attract private and government investment and aid for the poor Caribbean island nation, according to Clinton’s office and a senior U.N. official. Clinton has long shown an interest in Haiti, where he played a role in restoring ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994. Aristide was forced out of office again a decade later.

 Monday’s appointment comes more than two months after U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Clinton and a delegation of business leaders traveled to Haiti to highlight the importance of restoring economic security there. The country has been buffeted over the past year by soaring oil and food prices and a series of devastating hurricanes. A U.N. official said that Clinton would act as a “cheerleader” for the economically distressed country, cajoling government and business leaders into pouring fresh money into a place that is largely dependent on foreign assistance. It is similar to a role he played, alongside former president George H.W. Bush, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

 U.N. officials said they planned to announce the appointment Tuesday, but Clinton jumped the gun, issuing a statement Monday that he was honored to accept Ban’s offer. “Last year’s natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti’s government and people have the determination to build back better,” he said in the statement, which was published in the Miami Herald. (Washington Post, 5/19)

 Haiti makes progress but international community remains cautious:

Considerable progress has been made in Haiti since last year when four hurricanes and a spike in oil and food prices sent the impoverished Caribbean nation into a tailspin, the United Nations envoy said here on Thursday after returning from a four-day trip. “The challenges are great but we have seen significant progress,” said Canadian Ambassador John McNee, who is leading the Ad Hoc Advisory Group of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

 The ECOSOC team, which is tasked with following pledges worth nearly 325 million U.S. dollars made at a donor conference in Washington last month, is expected to produce a report of recommendations in the upcoming weeks, which will include the importance of continued support from the international community and the ability to foster a development scheme involving Haiti’s government, private sector and civil society.

 Speaking to reporters, McNee said he was particularly encouraged by improvements made in the Haitian National Police Brigade (HNP), which has recently trained an additional 6,400 officers in uniform bringing its total force to 9,000. As a result, the “security situation is more stable,” he added. The HNP plans to have 14,000 officers in its ranks by 2011. Haiti’s security has been bolstered with training and money from bilateral donors and the United Nations in the hopes of cracking down on crime, such as in Port-au Prince where foreigners are advised against walking around during daylight hours, and drug trafficking, which continues to plague the country.

 But Brian Concannon, who has worked in Haiti for 15 years and is the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, says funding security at the expense of targeting the root socio-economic causes of crime is “doing things backwards” if the goal is to address long-term development. If the approximately 600 million dollars invested in security over the last five years had been invested in economic projects, donors would have had “a much greater return on creating stability,” he told Xinhua during a telephone interview.

 A weak justice system crippled by corruption has deterred long-term investment by the private sector creating a state devoid of real economic growth. Equally, bilateral donors have typically neglected the Haitian government, wary of its ulterior motives. One of the key pitfalls of international aid to Haiti that often gets “neglected” but “keeps coming back to haunt” donors is developing the government’s capacity to absorb and manage the aid, said Concannon. But the only way for the small country to get back on its feet is with the help of the international community. So Haiti starts all over again. Concannon, who was at the donors conference in Washington, said he was “heartened” that there was a general agreement to engage Haiti’s government and carefully monitor the funds, which can always be used as leverage “to force the government to become more accountable.” (Xinhua, 5/14/09)

 Floods from Torrential Rains have Killed at Least 11:

Floods triggered by torrential rains have killed at least 11 people in Haiti, as the poor Caribbean nation struggles to recover from last year’s disasters, civil protection officials said on Thursday. Several hundred homes have been damaged or destroyed and more than 600 families have been left homeless from flooding during the past three days, according to official reports. “The 11 victims we counted is the death toll we have registered since last night,” Pierre-Louis Pinchinat, assistant director of the civil protection office, said. “But we fear the death toll may be a little higher since the rain continued to fall until today in several parts of the country.”

 Most of the victims were killed while crossing rivers or when their flimsy homes collapsed, officials said. Five died in the northern Artibonite area, three in the Central Plateau, two in the South and one in the Grande-Anse area. Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is vulnerable to floods due to massive deforestation, poor drainage in cities and because many shanty towns were built near river beds. About 800 people were killed last year by a succession of storms and hurricanes. The scars of those storms are still visible in the hardest-hit city, Gonaives. Many Haitians fear they could face new destruction during the hurricane season that begins on June 1. Haitian government agencies have stepped up efforts to set up shelters. (Reuters, 5/21/09)

Haiti’s Artibonite Valley, which includes the flood-prone city of Gonaives, has been put on alert as residents are warned to brace themselves for days of heavy rain. The warning comes after the water mark in some neighborhoods in Gonaives rose as high as three feet. Many homes were flooded and some residents had to be evacuated. No fatalities or emergencies were reported, a UN official said. (Miami Herald, 5/20/09)

Dominican Truckers Blame Haitian Senator for Unresolved Conflict:

Dominican truckers union (Fenatrado) president Blas Peralta Friday said the weeks-long conflict between Dominican and Haitian truck drivers hasn’t been solved due to Haiti Senate president Ana Casis’ political interests. The union leader, who often heads violent strikes in his country, said she’s the Haitian president René Preval’s main rival for which in his view seeks to deteriorate the Haitian crisis for political gains.

Dominican truckers demand that their Haitian pars desist from demanding to carry 50 percent of the freight of merchandise and from charging the RD$4,000 fee for each truck that enters Haiti. He warned that if by tomorrow Saturday the Haitians continue to block the entry of Dominican trucks, they’ll shutter the Dominican-Haitian border and block the Haitian nationals from crossing the border to conduct any type of business in the country. He said the standoff has cost Dominican truck drivers 30 million pesos, not counting what Dominican businesses have lost from the lack of trade. An estimated 400 truck drivers are being directly affected, Peralta said and affirms that Casis funded the recently staged protest in front of the Dominican embassy in Haiti. (Dominican Today, 5/22)

’Heroes’ Star Condemns Child Exploitation in Haiti:

Haitian-born actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays ‘The Haitian on the popular NBC hit television series Heroes is promoting a six-month campaign, highlighting slavery, trafficking and explotion of children in Haiti called “I Too Am Haiti”. “I was a kid myself, I grew up in Haiti. I understand the situation … it’s a disaster,” Jean-Louis said in an interview with VOA. Jean-Louis, who is also a Goodwill Ambassador for Children for the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), says children are suffering in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. “It’s hard because they’re being used, abused and forced to work,” the actor said.

 The “I Too Am Haiti” campaign supports efforts to curb the exploitation of children, sending donations including food and support for training of police officers. Jimmy Jean-Louis, known worldwide for his performances in films such as Tears of the Sun, Hollywood Homicide and Monster in Law, says he wanted to put his fame to good use. “Hollywood is a power, if you get the media’s attention you can get the world’s attention,” he said. Jimmy Jean-Louis has also developed his own non-profit, “Hollywood Unites for Haiti”. His goal is to provide children with sports and cultural activities to keep them off the streets.  “We have a lot of causes to fight for, but I think sports and cultural activities can help open these children’s minds,” Jean-Louis said. (VOA News, 5/21/09)

Miami Herald Editorial – Haiti: Last chance for a new start

OUR OPINION: Leaders must show political will to improve their country

The appointment of former President Bill Clinton as a special United Nations envoy to Haiti may be the best thing to happen to that impoverished Caribbean nation in years. With his star power and global influence, Mr. Clinton can attract support for worthy projects, just as he did for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami of December 2004. Have no doubt — Haiti deserves urgent attention. The recent drowning of Haitians in an immigrant-smuggling incident off Boynton Beach is an indication of the level of desperation that rules the lives of people in that country and compels them to risk all to seek a better life elsewhere.

 Hit with four storms in less than 30 days last year, Haitians have barely begun to recover, but already the new storm season is upon them. Heavy rains this week caused some drownings and the evacuation of many residents from hapless Gonaives, where the worst of last year’s rains wreaked havoc. Mr. Clinton should begin by following up with donors who pledged $353 million recently in a conference sponsored by the Inter American Development Bank. Too often pledges are not delivered on time, or at all. Last year, donors promised to meet Haiti’s $121 million request for post-hurricane assistance, but so far only $71 million has been funded.

 Ultimately, however, Haitians have to demonstrate that they are able to help themselves. Most of the island’s residents survive on less than $2 per day; they are doing well just to get from one day to the next. Haiti’s elite and its political class may have only this last chance to show that they can improve their own country in exchange for aid from abroad. Cleaning up corruption is a necessary place to start. Haiti ranks fourth in corruption among 180 countries, according to Transparency International, with only Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia ranked worse in lack of transparency. That’s why most of the aid to Haiti goes to private groups or comes in the form of non-government investment; no one trusts public officials. Haiti’s leaders must show that they are capable of running a clean government.

 Ridding Haiti of rampant corruption in the judiciary and politics won’t happen overnight — that’s a generational task. But here’s a way for Haiti’s leaders to show they are prepared to make a new start: Find the killers of Radio Haiti Inter Director Jean Dominique, a respected and brave journalist whose April 2000 murder remains unpunished.

 In the nine years since he was gunned down, the case has been handled by six investigating judges, the latest of whom was removed for corruption in March. Mr. Dominique’s murder symbolizes the failure of Haiti’s criminal justice system and the weakness of its institutions. Its resolution would give Haiti’s leaders and its political class an instant boost in credibility. After all, it’s their country, and they’re responsible for its future. If they can’t meet the challenges facing Haiti, even a platoon of Bill Clintons and international donors won’t save them. (Miami Herald, 5/22)

 Daily News Editorial – Hostile to Haiti: Rush Limbaugh is classless in attacking hemisphere’s poorest country

Reacting to ex-President Bill Clinton’s appointment as UN special envoy to Haiti, radio personality Rush Limbaugh had this to say yesterday: “I’m just gonna tell you, if I was named envoy to Haiti, I’d quit government. Envoy to Haiti? You can’t even pick up a prostitute down there without genuine fear of AIDS.”

 The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – our neighbor – is starving. Has been ground under for decades by dictatorships. Has been battered of late by four hurricanes. Is yearning for the world’s help. And Clinton is the best hope the Haitian people have had in a long time. What’s more, you could say the same about patronizing prostitutes in the good old U.S.A. Nice, Rush. Nice. (Daily News, Opinons, 5/21)

 Palm Beach Post Editorial – Can Haiti itself be rescued?

The Coast Guard and local rescue officials performed heroically to save Haitians whose boat sank as they tried to come to this country illegally. If only the response to the long-term crisis could be as effective as the response to the short-term emergency. The best way to keep Haitians from dying while trying to get to this country is to improve conditions in their own country. Yet even as the deaths of as many as 19 people off Palm Beach underline the risks Haitians will take to escape the country, there are hopeful signs. Former President Clinton will be named special United Nations envoy to Haiti, where he is popular because in 1994 he sent U.S. troops to help remove coup leader Raoul Cedras and restore elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

 Mr. Aristide’s later drift toward dictatorship and eventual retreat into exile, however, are symptomatic of the political problems that have complicated Haiti’s recovery. As U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, says, Haitians’ “own contentious attitudes toward each other” have delayed political progress. But he thinks President Clinton can make a difference. Mr. Clinton spoke last month at a conference during which aid organizations and countries including the United States pledged $324'’million in emergency help to Haiti over the next two years. Mr. Clinton vowed that the money would not be wasted. He said the government of President Rene Preval has a plan, “and we can help them have the capacity to implement it.” Rep. Hastings said one of Mr. Clinton’s key jobs would be giving accountability to aid programs. What the donors have pledged is sufficient if, as has not always been the case, those donors follow through on their pledges.

But Rep. Hastings feels “extreme frustration and agitation” that President Obama has not granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitians. TPS would allow Haitians in the U.S. illegally to remain legally and work without being deported. Rep. Hastings, who says the U.S. cannot afford a “failed state” in this hemisphere, said TPS would increase the amount of money Haitians can send home in remittances, helping to stabilize Haiti’s economy. It would not trigger a “mass exodus,” he said, noting that the Coast Guard should and would prevent new Haitians from arriving.

Because last year’s storms hammered Haiti so severely and because of Mr. Clinton’s appointment in conjunction with a new international effort, Temporary Protected Status makes sense for Haitians. It would give the country time to recover and for the new programs to take hold. The emphasis, however, is on “temporary.” The commitment is to help Haiti recover, not to make America a default haven for a country that eventually gives up on itself. (5/21/09)

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