Nytimes_logo_1.gif (1794 bytes) @wehaitians.com   *No one writes to the tyrants
News & Analysis This Month ... Only our journal brings you hours of fine reporting and research.
Correspond with us, including our executive editor, professor Yves A. Isidor, via electronic mail:
Want to send this page or a link to a friend? Click on mail at the top of this window.

smart.gif (1977 bytes)

journal.gif (11201 bytes)
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D.) *Voodoo

Photos: *April 25-27 *April 22 *April 19 *April 18 *April 7-10 *March 26  In Book & Arts/In Book Review: *Haiti: The Fall of the House of Aristide (The Unending Transition to Democracy)  In Books & Arts/Ideas: * Is a dollar a day poverty? Or do the intangibles count? * The true cost of hegemony: Huge debt. *A tyrant disappears. So who feels safe? In Special Reports: *Exile in France Takes Toll On Ex-Tyrant 'Baby Doc' * U.S. Citizen Petitions Human Rights Commission After Being Attacked In Haiti *A Haitian Survivor Mourns, and Keeps Fighting  In Editorial/Columns: *Waiting in totalitarian dictator Aristide's hell, more Haitians are likely to risk their lives in perilous waters to come to Uncle Sam's paradise

Posted at 2: 19 p.m., Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Haiti rejects U.S. getaway allegation
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 30 - The Haitian government denied U.S. accusations that Haiti is being used as gateway into the United States by foreign nationals, including Pakistanis and Palestinians.

Speaking after a decision regarding a Haitian immigrant, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Friday said national security would take priority in immigration cases, and migrants could be detained while their asylum cases were pending.

Ashcroft also cited State Department information that purportedly showed an increase in third country nationals, specifically Pakistanis and Palestinians, using Haiti as an illegal entry point into the United States.

"Haiti doesn't welcome or shelter terrorists," Haendel Carre, spokesman for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said Tuesday. "We don't understand why Haiti is being abusively singled out."

The State Department has refused to say how many foreign nationals have allegedly used Haiti to enter the United States. When asked to supply numbers, State Department spokesman Chip Barclay said Tuesday the department "stood by its assertion" but could not supply numbers.

The U.S. Coast Guard (news - web sites) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, which maintains statistics on interdictions and migration, were also unable to back up the claim with figures from Haiti.

The accusation is the latest blow to the Caribbean nation, already blacklisted by foreign donors for its lack of democratic reforms and shunned by the United States for its failure to curb drug trafficking.

Ashcroft issued his opinion Friday after the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals upheld a judge's decision to release Haitian asylum-seeker David Joseph on $2,500 bond. The appeals board concluded it did not have authority to deny bond based on the national security concerns.

Joseph was among 216 Haitians whose boat ran aground in Key Biscayne on Oct. 29. Ashcroft's decision means that Joseph and others who have been granted bond will be detained until their applications are processed, said Cheryl Little, director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 2:25 p.m., Monday, April 28, 2003
90,000 Haitians crowd Catholic Conference
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 27 - Crowded under canopies, some 90,000 Haitians prayed Sunday for miracles to cure the array of ills bedeviling their nation, among the world's poorest (photos).

Some fell into trances, others pleaded for cures for physical ailments or even just a little money to survive.

Dozens raised Haitian passports to heaven and prayed that U.S. consular officers would be compassionate and grant them visas to escape their poverty.

Only carnival festivities attract more people than the annual Catholic Charismatic Conference in the Caribbean nation of 8 million.

"Its success reflects our deepening despair and lack of confidence in rational solutions to Haiti's mounting economic and social problems," said sociologist Laennec Hurbon, who works for the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research.

"People believe that only miracles can save them," he said of the crowds thronging the grounds of St. Louis de Gonzague School in suburban Delmas.

Many of the worshippers were from the Protestant Pentecostal movement. Others follow a homegrown voodoo fusion of West African and Roman Catholic beliefs. The three-day Roman Catholic meeting ends Sunday.

"The only solution to the problems of our nation is the best solution — faith in Jesus," said Gertha Lucie Louissaint, 36.

Haiti has endured 20 years of political instability. Its most recent crisis started since flawed 2000 legislative elections swept by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Lavalas Family party. International donors froze $500 million in aid because of irregularities in the vote.

Street gangs claiming links to Aristide's party have attacked demonstrators, journalists and opposition politicians.

People have long turned to the gods to ease their suffering.

"What do I know about politics?" said Yvann Pierre-Louis, a 40-year-old widow with seven children. "I have nobody but Jesus to turn to in my distress."

Conference participants paid about $4.50 to cover the costs of the rented canopies, chairs and parasols that were handed out during the ceremony.

Outsides, scores of others who could not afford the fee, listened to the exhortations and hymns blaring through speakers.

"Down with Satan!" Trinidadian Rev. Yan Taylor yelled, stamping his foot as if that would put down the forces of evil.

"Hallelujah! Amen!" roared the tens of thousands who raised their hands in the air in unison, invoking the Holy Spirit to defeat the powers of darkness.

"Everything's possible when you believe in God," they sang.

Several people claimed they were cured. A man climbed the podium to say he had recovered his hearing, but his rambling responses to questions left the crowd in doubt.

But applause met the stumbling steps of a teenage boy, said to have been crippled for years, who walked falteringly after a priest laid hands on his head and prayed.

Millions in Haiti place faith in voodoo. The religion evolved from West African beliefs and developed further among slaves in the Caribbean who adopted elements of Catholicism.

In an executive decree earlier this month, Aristide invited voodoo adherents and organizations to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, has said he recognizes voodoo as a religion like any other, and a voodoo priestess bestowed a presidential sash on him at his first inauguration in 1991.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 1:49 p.m., Friday, April 25, 2003
Diplomats puzzled by claim migrants use Haiti to enter U.S.
By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald Writer

U.S. consular officials are ''scratching our heads'' over U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's claim that Pakistanis, Palestinians and others are using Haiti as a staging point for trying to get into the United States.

Ashcroft made the claim in a ruling Wednesday that Haitians need to be detained while they seek asylum.

Among other reasons, Ashcroft cited national security concerns. A State Department declaration, he said, 'asserts that it has `noticed an increase in third country nations (Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.) using Haiti as a staging point for attempted migration to the United States. This increases the national security interest in curing use of this migration route,' '' he wrote.

A spokesman for the State Department's Consular Service said his agency is puzzled by Ashcroft's comment. ''We all are scratching our heads,'' said spokesman Stuart Patt.

'We are asking each other, `Where did they get that?' ''

Patt said he doesn't know the source of Ashcroft's information. He said the agency has no published reports addressing that concern, though he did not rule out any internal documents on the matter.

Petty Officer Anastasia Barnes, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said none of the migrants picked up in an Oct. 29 incident near the Rickenbacker Causeway -- or any other time by cutters stationed near Haiti -- fit the profile listed by Ashcroft.

Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for Ashcroft's office, could not immediately say where the attorney general got the information. He directed inquiries to the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS spokeswoman redirected questions to Martinez.


Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who is on the House Homeland Security Committee, said he has not heard any evidence, testimony or briefing from the CIA or FBI indicating Haiti harbors or promotes terrorist groups or activities.

''This is outright discrimination and racism by this Bush administration. There is justice in America for everybody but Haitians,'' Meek said.

``Someone needs to call the president and let him know we are at war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, and not the Haitian people.''

Miami Immigration attorney Ira Kurzban, who represents the Haitian government in the United States, said the ruling ``is part of a concerted plan involving the destruction of the Haitian people by creating the chaotic economic conditions in Haiti while forcing people to go back there.'' `


As a result of Haiti's ongoing political turmoil, the United States has cut off aid to the Haitian government. It does, however, support health and other projects by funding private groups.

''There is no basis of fact for the attorney general's claims. No information of this nature has been presented to the Haitian government,''

Kurzban said. ``It's a false claim. It's used to perpetuate a discriminatory policy against Haitians.'' Kurzban said that unlike Cuba, Haiti is not on the United States' terrorist watch list.

''The attorney general has no problem in allowing Cubans in,'' he said. ``Yet Haitians are looked at as a national security threat, not withstanding our relations with Haiti and Haiti has never been designated as a terrorist state.''

Current U.S. policy calls for the detention of any foreign national -- except Cubans -- who arrive by sea without proper documents. Cubans are an exception because of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who reach the United States to apply for residency one year and a day after their arrival.


A source close to the Haitian government, dismissing Ashcroft's claims, noted there is a long-standing Lebanese community in Haiti. The source did say, however, that Haitian government officials have received inquiries from Pakistanis asking how they can get visas to come to Haiti.

Some may want to go on to the United States, but they aren't terrorists, the source said.

``They are just people like the Haitians, looking for increased economic opportunity and to improve their lifestyle. Why would a terrorist want to go through Haiti when chances are great they've got relatives in Dearborn, Mich., home to one of the largest Arab communities outside the Middle East?''

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of April 25, 2003.

Posted at 11:15 p.m., Thursday, April 24, 2003
Ashcroft: Security fears merit detentions
By Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON, Apr. 24 - Most illegal immigrants can be jailed indefinitely without bond when national security risks exist, Attorney General John Ashcroft has declared in a legal opinion. Immigration advocates are calling that an abuse of power in the name of fighting terrorism.

The order means such aliens will not be released on bond while their cases are being decided by immigration judges if the government can show national security issues are involved.

"Such national security considerations clearly constitute a reasonable foundation for the exercise of my discretion to deny release on bond," Ashcroft said in the 19-page opinion, which was signed last Friday.

The opinion was requested by the Homeland Security Department, which now enforces most immigration laws, after the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld a judge's decision to release Haitian asylum-seeker David Joseph on $2,500 bond.

Cheryl Little, executive director of Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, said Ashcroft's opinion is the latest in a string of government decisions "manipulating our very serious national security concerns to justify targeting nationals of Haiti." Advocates for Latino and Muslim immigrants made similar comments on behalf of their constituencies.

Ashcroft's opinion says the attorney general has broad discretion in determining the status of would-be immigrants. During an appearance Thursday in New Orleans, Ashcroft defended his decision and said aliens held without bond have the right to defend themselves in court. He said he would continue to seek new, legal ways to detain people suspected of terrorism.

Immigration advocates have been troubled by Ashcroft's continued influence over immigration policy after most of the nation's immigration apparatus was transferred to the Homeland Security Department March 1. Since then, Ashcroft has given the FBI, U.S. Marshals and local police authority to arrest people on immigration violations.

"As disturbing as this decision is, it's really not that surprising, because Ashcroft has managed to keep his finger in all the immigration-related pies and ensured he can exert his authority shoulder-to-shoulder with (Homeland Security Secretary) Tom Ridge," said Angela Kelley, deputy director of the National Immigration Forum.

In the David Joseph case, which prompted Ashcroft's legal opinion, the immigration judge and appeals board concluded they did not have authority to deny bond based on the national security concerns cited by the government, which has sought to detain more illegal immigrants since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Joseph was among the 216 Haitians who arrived in Miami by boat on Oct. 29, then leaped from the craft into Biscayne Bay and ran along a major causeway. The scene was captured live on television.

Little, whose group represented Joseph, said the appellate ruling questioned the Bush administration's decision to detain all Haitians.

A total 100 Haitians who arrived on the same boat as Joseph had been granted bond by judges. Ashcroft's decision also will affect them "and then some," Little said.

"It's a very sweeping decision. The attorney general has designated it as precedent setting, meaning it could apply to all previous decisions made regarding bond," she said.

Several federal agencies have opposed the release of the Haitians on bond, arguing it could trigger a wave of immigrants attempting to reach U.S. shores. That would overtax the strained Coast Guard, Border Patrol and other agencies and interfere with their anti-terrorism activities, the government said.

In addition, the State Department has warned that Haiti has become a staging point for non-Haitians considered security threats, including Pakistanis and Palestinians, to enter the United States.

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights said it will fight to overturn Ashcroft's order. Dina Paul Parks, the New York-based coalition's executive director, said the decision further erodes immigrants' legal rights.

"If you were lucky enough to get a sympathetic judge you could potentially get released on bond. Now even that prospect is taken away," she said.

Ashcroft's decision applies to all illegal immigrants except Cubans, who by law automatically are permitted to stay in the United States if they reach its shores.

___ Associated Press Writer Curt Anderson contributed to this report. ___ On the Net: Justice Department (news - web sites): http://www.doj.gov Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center: http://www.fiacfla.org  

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 5:45 p.m., Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Haitian smuggling boat captain sentenced to 5 years in federal prison
By Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald Writer

Three Haitian alien smugglers will spend between 15 and 60 months in federal prison for their roles in bringing 229 refugees on a rickety wooden ship to the Rickenbacker Causeway last year.

Boat captain Edner Dorvil, 52, received the harshest sentence due to the large number of migrants on the boat, which only had two life jackets. He got five years in prison.

Prosecutors say Dorvil is a professional smuggler who has coordinated or conducted at least three prior smuggling voyages for profit starting in 1994.

Dorvil received cash, real estate, jewelry and other property -- including a goat -- as payment for the October trip.

Agents recovered a black gym bag containing various items, including two pictures of Dorvil and a handwritten ledger of 123 names. Next to many of the names were numbers representing payments -- some as high as $5,000 in Haitian currency, the equivalent of $609 in the U.S.

Two other defendants who were paid to steer the boat were also sentenced Wednesday. Sali Altanese Jean, 48, received 27 months and Elie Louis, 30, got 15 months.

Three other crew members -- a ticket-taking security guard, a mechanic and a man who steered the boat -- have already been sentenced to 15 months, 27 months and 33 months, respectively.

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of April 23, 2003.

Posted at 3: 41 a.m., Sunday, April 20, 2003
Haiti's uncommonly genocidal dictator Aristide says 'YES' to slavery and racism, his confederate flag affirms both - more:Slavery in the family
Posted at 10:18 p.m., Thursday, April 17, 2003
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier arrested for non-payment of $628.00 or so
Posted at 4:10 p.m., Tuesday, April 15, 2003:
Boat capsizes off Dom. Rep. killing four
By Andres Cala, Associated Press Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Apr. 15 - Its mast blown off and captain dead, a boat loaded with more than 100 Haitian migrants struck a reef and capsized after drifting for a week. Four passengers drowned and at least 18 were missing.

The boat, which set off from Haiti's northern Cap-Haitien city on April 8, tipped over late Monday about 200 yards off Punta Rusia in the northwest Dominican Republic, the Dominican navy said.

A fisherman who saw the 30-foot sloop hit the reef picked up dozens of people and ferried them to shore, U.S. Coast Guard  spokesman Ryan Doss said by telephone from Miami.

A Dominican coast guard boat patrolling the area arrived early Tuesday and rescued many others, a Dominican navy statement said.

Officials said some of those reported missing may actually have made it to shore and hid from authorities.

The four victims were brought to a hospital in Villa Vasquez, about 125 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, administrator Luis Brea said. They appeared to have drowned, he said.

A survivor being treated for dehydration at a hospital said the boat's mast blew off on the second day, striking and killing the captain and another man. On the third day, they ran out of food, he said.

"We were lost, and the wind took us until we hit something, and we started sinking," Henri-Claude Beausejour, 26, said by phone. He said he paid $220 for the voyage.

Beausejour said they were hoping to reach the Turks and Caicos Islands, a wealthier British territory north of Haiti.

The fisherman told U.S. authorities he saw at least 15 migrants make it to shore and run into the mangroves, Doss said.

He said the U.S. Coast Guard sent a C-130 plane, two cutter ships and a helicopter to the rescue.

A Coast Guard ship and helicopter remained searching for survivors Tuesday afternoon, along with two Dominican coast guard ships, he said.

Thousands of Haitian migrants risk their lives to escape their impoverished and politically embroiled country by crowding into homemade boats and heading north. Many die at sea.

"The economic situation is deteriorating and driving people to risk their lives at sea," said Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, director of Haiti's national migration office. "We warn them not to go, but their desperation is greater than their fear."

The flow of Haitians sneaking into the Bahamas and the nearby Turks and Caicos Island is intensifying, prompting concern from both governments and bringing some calls for mass deportations.

About 400 Haitians arrive monthly in Turks and Caicos, where the police force is getting more vehicles, equipment and staff to seek out illegal migrants.

There are about 8.3 million people in Haiti, while an estimated 8 million live abroad — including 1 million in the United States, 600,000 in the Dominican Republic, 200,000 in Canada, 20,000 in Turks and Caicos and up to 40,000 in the Bahamas, according to the Ministry of Haitians Living Overseas.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 10:15 p.m., Monday, April 14, 2003


Big questions for the small flock

A Haitian church in Grove Hall feuds over money and authority, and both sides call in the lawyers

By Ric Kahn, Globe Staff, 4/13/2003

Simon Demosthene juggles two jobs: processing loans for a mortgage company, and binding doctoral dissertations at a Harvard University library. He has his own mortgage to pay on a home in Hyde Park, and a wife and three children to support. Regularly, he said, he sends money back to Haiti, for his mother and father and brother, and the six children his sister left behind when she died.

In the Haitian community, they call this blood money. Not dirty drug money, but hard-earned, eked-out pay.

Each Sunday for years, Demosthene said, he faithfully gave a piece of his precious paycheck to the First Haitian Baptist Church - sometimes $60 a week - to help keep his house of worship humming.

''It's like a network of families,'' Demosthene, 40, said of the Sunday services there.

Now, though, the family is feuding. Saying they are concerned about the fate of the church's money, Demosthene and a group of others dubbing themselves the Fiduciary Council have cut back on their donations and have hired a lawyer to follow the trail of dollars.

The family fight, made nastier by claims from both the pastor and the dissidents that each side has threatened the other, has left an emotional crack in the foundation of the venerable church on Blue Hill Avenue in Grove Hall, which swells with hundreds of worshipers on Sundays.

Last month, congregants found unsigned fliers disparaging dissidents scattered about the church. In a brief interview in his office, pastor Verdieu LaRoche said he had nothing to do with the fliers. He was in Haiti helping the needy at the time they were found, he said. He suggested the fliers were part of a disinformation campaign planted by dissidents.

Demosthene said LaRoche's suggestion is ludicrous, and he blamed the fliers on the pastor's supporters. One of the lines in the flier likened Demosthene to Saddam Hussein. When he read that, Demosthene said, he was flush with anger and thought: ''This is no longer a church.''

Sitting in his church office behind a desk holding a book about hell, LaRoche dismisses any complaints lodged by the Fiduciary Council, saying they have no official standing in the church.

For the interview, LaRoche was joined by his son Donald LaRoche, who serves as his administrative assistant, and Monteus Jean-Louis, a deacon and founding member of the church, which dates to 1969.

''The deacon board does not recognize that group,'' said Jean-Louis.

''The church is very solvent,'' said Donald LaRoche, 31.

Asked particulars about the finances, Jean-Louis echoed the pastor: ''See the lawyer.''

Attorney Timothy Cutler said he represents the church and that it has a constitutional right to keep its finances private.

''The church has a First Amendment right to manage its affairs,'' said Cutler, ''and does not have to open up its affairs to the world.''

If congregants want to ask to see the books, he said, they need to follow church hierarchy and first go through the deacons, who would then go to the pastor.

Members of the Fiduciary Council said they requested a meeting with the pastor through the deacons last November, but never got one.

By then, dissidents said, they'd already seen warning signs about the church's dollar signs.

What about the vacant city-owned land across the street from the church that congregants wanted the church to buy for parking, so worshipers like Prophete Sylvestre wouldn't have to drive around for 15 minutes looking for a space and miss part of the service?

The church did not have the money to buy it, dissidents say the pastor told congregants. A city official said the church lost the bidding for the property; the church offered $1, and the winning developer offered $95,000.

What of the big brassy chandeliers, damaged by an old fire, that remain extinguished during Sunday services?

The church did not have the money to fix it, dissidents say the pastor told congregants. Cutler said the fire damage was not covered by insurance.

''I know the church collects a lot of money from us,'' said Eveline St. Phar, 43, a member of the Fiduciary Council from Mattapan who said she used to tithe 10 percent of her earnings. ''Where's the money?''

It's not as if the church had expansive activities for youths or senior citizens, St. Phar said. As Donald LaRoche described the church's focus during an interview: ''It's a house of worship.''

Dissidents said they went to the deacons in November and asked them to arrange a meeting with the pastor. Cutler said the group shortcircuited church rules by hiring a lawyer while the deacons were still investigating their complaints. The dissidents say they sought legal aid only after the pastor stonewalled their request to meet.

Observers in the Haitian community say it is a measure of the dissidents' deep dissatisfaction that they took their gripes outside the church, since many Haitians experienced official corruption in their homeland and brought to the diaspora a residual distrust of officialdom.

In December, the pastor filed a complaint with Boston police, alleging that a group of congregants had called him at home and threatened to hurt him and burn down the church. ''He was scared,'' Cutler said.

Demosthene, one of the Fiduciary Council members the pastor blamed, said his group vehemently denies making the calls and felt the pastor trumped up the accusations to stifle the bubbling dissent.

In January, the Fiduciary Council's lawyer, Peter Stanton, wrote a letter to the pastor. ''As Pastor and Trustee of the church you have a fiduciary responsibility under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to account to the members of the church for the disbursement of funds collected from the members.''

Stanton said the church missed a March 26 deadline to turn over financial documentation and last week he asked the attorney general's Public Charities Division to investigate on behalf of the Fiduciary Council, which says it has about 60 members.

''They have a right to know how the money is being spent,'' said Stanton, who said he has seen what he believes are internal documents indicating the church has regularly taken in around $200,000 a year.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said religious organizations are exempt from filing annual financial reports, but added that the office does investigate complaints.

Meanwhile, the clash continues.

In January, Demosthene filed his own complaint with Boston police, saying the pastor's son had threatened him and other members of the Fiduciary Council. According to the incident report, the threat was: ''Those who are involved in this group put his wife, his children, and his house in danger.''

Donald LaRoche denied that. ''We're Christians here,'' he said.

Cutler said the dissidents had an ax to grind. ''There have been times when a member or believer has disagreed with the Church's inclusive approach of inviting non-Christians to attend and speak at the Church,'' Cutler wrote in response to an e-mailed set of questions.

The Fiduciary Council, however, said that is just a smokescreen to cover up their complaints that the pastor runs the church with a strong hand reminiscent of the regimes many of them fled and that his biblical sermons lack heart.

''The pastor wants to do everything by himself,'' said Sylvestre, a 48-year-old computer networker from Pembroke, and a member of the Fiduciary Council.

Donald LaRoche responded: ''We don't vote in here. You won't see people raising their hands.'' He added: ''They can leave if they want.''

Demosthene said that others have left the church in disenchantment in the past, but that he will not flee the fight to reform the place where he worships.

''If we have no plan now,'' he said, ''what will be the future of the church for my children?''

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly section on 4/13/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

Posted at 2:55 a.m., Friday, April 11, 2003
Haiti officially sanctions Voodoo
By Michael Norton Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 10 - Haiti's government has officially sanctioned voodoo as a religion, allowing practitioners to begin performing ceremonies from baptisms to marriages with legal authority (photos).

Many who practice voodoo praised the move, but said much remains to be done to make up for centuries of ridicule and persecution in the Caribbean country and abroad.

Voodoo priest Philippe Castera said he hopes the government's decree is more than an effort to win popularity amid economic and political troubles.

"In spite of our contribution to Haitian culture, we are still misunderstood and despised," said Castera, 48.

In an executive decree issued last week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide invited voodoo adherents and organizations to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

After swearing an oath before a civil judge, practitioners will be able to legally conduct ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, the decree said.

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, has said he recognizes voodoo as a religion like any other, and a voodoo priestess bestowed a presidential sash on him at his first inauguration in 1991.

"An ancestral religion, voodoo is an essential part of national identity," and its institutions "represent a considerable portion" of Haiti's 8.3 million people, Aristide said in the decree.

Voodoo practitioners believe in a supreme God and spirits who link the human with the divine. The spirits are summoned by offerings that include everything from rum to roosters.

Though permitted by Haiti's 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.

"It will take more than a government decree to undo all that malevolence," Castera said, and suggested that construction of a central voodoo temple would "turn good words into a good deed."

There are no reliable statistics on the number of adherents, but millions in Haiti place faith in voodoo. The religion evolved from West African beliefs and developed further among slaves in the Caribbean who adopted elements of Catholicism.

Voodoo is an inseparable part of Haitian art, literature, music and film. Hymns are played on the radio and voodoo ceremonies are broadcast on television along with Christian services.

But for centuries voodoo has been looked down upon as little more than superstition, and at times has been the victim of ferocious persecution. A campaign led by the Catholic church in the 1940s led to the destruction of temples and sacred objects.

In 1986, following the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier's dictatorship, hundreds of voodoo practitioners were killed on the pretext that they had been accomplices to Duvalier's abuses.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Former Aristide loyalist is now a leading voice for change in Haiti
By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald Writer

She is a prominent Haitian journalist who has made a name for herself attacking the very regime she once supported.

And as one of Haiti's more well-known radio journalists, Nancy Roc isn't shy about speaking her mind. Not about the endangered plight of Haitian journalists.

Not about the dismal failures, as she sees them, of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Family Party.

And certainly not about ''the profound revolt'' she feels when she sees the current conditions people in Haiti are living in: misery, corruption, destruction of the environment.

''I do not have any more hope,'' says Roc, who served as Aristide's press secretary in the early 1990s and has since become one of his harshest critics. 'People ask, `Nancy if you do not have any more hope, then why do you fight?' ''

The answer, says Roc, is simple: Haiti needs more courageous souls.

''If each of us do half of our duty to that country, we would not be in this state,'' says Roc, who is in South Florida at the invitation of the Weston-based Haitian Resource Development Foundation to promote her new book, Les Grands Dossiers de Métropolis (Large Files of Metropolis).

Roc, 40, believes one person who did his duty was Jean Dominique. An internationally known Haitian journalist, Dominique was killed three years ago Thursday after being gunned down outside his Radio Haiti Inter station in Port-au-Prince. Most private radio stations in Haiti suspended newscasts Thursday to commemorate Dominique's death.


Roc says Dominique's death and the failure of a recent government indictment to say who ordered it serve as a reminder of the constant threat Haitian journalists face.

The book, written in French, is a compilation of 20 of Roc's commentaries, all of which appeared as topics on Métropolis, the 90-minute French-language radio show she hosts on Port-au-Prince-based Radio Métropole. Written from the perspective of a Haitian intellectual, the pieces are highly critical of Haiti's political and social conditions and relay Roc's disappointment in the Aristide government, the Lavalas party and even the Haitian people.

She will have book signings from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Sant La Haitian Community Center, 5000 Biscayne Blvd., and from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., sixth floor.

''Haiti is a country that is totally disintegrating,'' Roc says. ``2004 is a very important year for us. It's a year of challenges and pain if we do what we have to do -- search for our real identity. I don't think we have cut the abscess -- racism, corruption -- that came from 1804.''

Born in Port-au-Prince, Roc grew up in Africa, where her father worked as a surgeon in several countries. She returned to Haiti at age 23. She has been educated in France and the United States, and holds a fine-arts degree from the University of Arizona.


Journalism, she said, is more than a job. It's a vocation, which she chose because of her love for people and passion in helping good win over evil.

Like many Haitian journalists, she has been the victim of harassment and attacks, including an incident in April 2001 when someone ran her car off the road, leaving her with 18 stitches. She alleges the culprit was a government official.

''I choose to stay in my country,'' says Roc, who has had to hire two security guards. 'I will not get in this game of leaving. We need some people to dare to say `No' and not accept the unacceptable.''

Still, she doesn't blame those who have left. According to the Paris-based watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, 29 journalists have fled Haiti since 2000.

''Being a journalist in Haiti right now is one of the most dangerous professions. It is very, very dangerous,'' Roc says. ``Once the media is in danger, the whole society is in danger.''

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of April 4, 2003.

Posted at 1:35 p.m., Wednesday, April 9, 2003
Ex-President Clinton urges aid for Haiti
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 9 - International agencies that are withholding aid from Haiti should make exceptions for humanitarian causes, such as the country's AIDS crisis, former President Bill Clinton said during a visit (photos).

Haiti, which has the highest rate of HIV infection in the Caribbean, was Clinton's last stop on Tuesday in a five-day regional tour focused on efforts against the virus.

During a visit to Haiti's National Palace, Clinton met with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife, Mildred, who is in charge of coordinating the country's struggle against AIDS.

With an estimated 300,000 of Haiti's 8.3 million people infected, AIDS is the leading cause of death for sexually active adults, killing thousands each year.

The international community has withheld some $500 million in aid since flawed May 2000 elections.

"I think there should be a humanitarian exception to the embargo on aid," Clinton said. Other countries have withheld some $500 million in aid to protest flawed elections in May 2000.

On behalf of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the former president also signed a memorandum of understanding with Mildred Aristide pledging to help Haiti find funding and plan projects to fight the virus.

"We want to find funds and resources to make sure everybody who is infected with AIDS has access to care," Clinton said, though his foundation does not itself give direct funding.

Since Clinton's term ended in January 2001, his foundation's AIDS initiative has had experts working in the Caribbean and Africa to help expand access to treatment.

The Caribbean has the world's second-highest infection rate after sub-Saharan Africa. Outside of Cuba, where infection rates are low, an estimated 2 percent of people in the Caribbean, or 500,000, are infected.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 11:29 p.m., Tuesday, April 8, 2003
France rejects Haiti's repayment demand
By The Associated Press

PARIS - France, Apr. 8 - On Tuesday dismissed a Haitian demand to repay billions of dollars handed over by the Caribbean country in the 19th century for recognition of its independence (Clinton-L'Ouverture photos).

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide made the demand for restitution on Monday as Haiti marked the 200th anniversary of the death of its founding father, Toussaint Louverture. Aristide put the sum owed by France at $21.7 billion.

"France notes that, since the return of President Aristide, the international community has, globally, lent nearly 2 billion Euros, including more than 200 million euros in French aid," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau.

"Bad governance, the degradation of security linked to the current grave political conflict are the main reasons for the social, economic downward drift of the country," he said.

Rivasseau said France has redirected its aid to directly benefit Haiti's population, especially farmers.

Haiti became the world's first free black republic after declaring independence on Nov. 28, 1803.

But only in 1838 did France recognize Haiti's independence — after Haiti began paying France an agreed amount of 90 million gold francs to compensate former plantation owners.

While various Haitian groups have demanded reparations for slavery, European governments have refused.

Today, what was once France's wealthiest colony has become one of the world's poorest nations, hindered by political upheaval and dictatorships.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 12:55 a.m., Tuesday, April 8, 2003
News Analysis
Uncommonly empty chicken head and comedian-dictator Aristide, who hopes to become a multibillionaire, proudly offers Haiti to the devil
By Yves A. Isidor, wehaitians.com executive editor

CAMBRIDGE, MA, Apr. 8 - It is always a bad idea to compare a de facto president, a rapacious former dirt-poor man, an uncommonly totalitarian dictator, and most importantly, a notorious chief bandit with no vision whatsoever for Haiti to a Voodoo priest.

The comparison never rings true, and you end up sounding silly. But what do you do when the object of your disapproval compares himself to a Voodoo priest, as vicious tyrant Jean-Bertrand Aristide did on Apr. 4, when he signed a decree, making Voodoo an official national religion?

In fact, bestial dictator Aristide went further than that, telling Voodoo priests and Voodoo priestesses they now have the (legal) rights? to preside over funeral ceremonies, baptize babies and pronounce men and women husbands and wives. Why not men and men husbands and wives, women and women husbands and wives, too?

To be clear about the contents of the primitive dictator's decree - despite there is a parliament in the mountainous nation, regardless of how illegitimate or de facto it may be - he offered Haiti to the devil. The devil may now, as he wishes, kill more Haitians, and in fact millions of them, particularly those attempting to promote democracy and human rights.

Still more silly brutal dictator and mentally unstable Aristide has been of late. In an Apr. 7 so-called speech, commemorating the 200th anniversary of François Dominique Toussaint Louverture's death, the precursor of Haiti's independence, which the then soon-to-be new nation declared on Nov. 28, 1803, but before proclaiming itself a free nation and vows never to again become a colony of France, on Jan. 1, 1804, he demanded that France paid (reparations) U.S.$ 21.7 billion to Haiti for subjecting his forefathers to slavery.

Also, central to Caribbean Stalin surrogate Aristide's Apr. 7 verbiage was Haiti, forced to pay to France an agreed amount of 90 million gold Francs so in turn the European nation would compensate former French colonists for the lost of their plantations, still France recognized Haiti's independence many years later, in 1838.

The dictator, who has repeatedly proved extremely dangerous to the Americas, never mentioned that his many years as de facto president of Haiti, of course, represent a gigantic slice of the Caribbean nation's sad, if not painful, history. Gross incompetence, degradation, rampant de facto government corruption, and why not drug trafficking too, all and many others of the same, have caused Haiti, France's wealthiest colony, to be today one of the dirt-poor nations in the world.

For the former the little red priest of the shantytowns, who also threw a rhetorical hand grenade at the United States, claiming that it has long imposed an economic embargo on Haiti with the purpose of exterminating the whole of the Haitian populace,    pennies, too, from France would amount to less than total compensation for Haiti's wealth stolen, but they would be a beginning, of a sort. 

The little drug dealer, who has defrauded his fellow Haitians of more than U.S.$200 million, in a pyramid scheme, will indefinitely be waiting in vain to receive a big fat check, as it goes in the vernacular (apparently for the Haitians), so he may say, and loudly so "I now have billions of dollars; I am now ready." This can be explained by joining the Forbes Magazine annual list of multibillionaires. Why not paying for the cost (accounting) of employing tens of thousands more bandits to murder more Haitians, too.            

Posted at 3:35 p.m., Monday, April 7, 2003
Haitians mark founding father's death
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 7 - He was born into slavery but rose to lead his people to freedom, laying the foundation for Haiti to become the world's first independent black republic.

With Haitians marking the 200th anniversary of Toussaint Louverture's death Monday, he is being recalled as a leader whose ideals shaped the nation, even though he died in a French prison before his vision could be realized.

Toussaint, the name by which he is usually called in Haiti, demonstrated self-sacrifice that still "demands the utmost from us all," President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said in a speech last month.

Immortalized in the names of streets and schools, Toussaint has taken center-stage in recent exhibitions, ceremonies and radio programs leading up to the anniversary. The government declared Monday a holiday and pronounced 2003 "The Year of Toussaint."

Francois Dominique Toussaint Louverture was born in 1743 on the Breda plantation in northern Haiti, then called Santo Domingo. His father had been enslaved in the part of West Africa now known as Benin and was shipped across the Atlantic in a slave ship.

The young Toussaint, nicknamed "Broomstick" for his slimness, caught his master's attention with his intelligence and eventually became steward of the estate's livestock.

By the time a slave uprising broke out in 1791, his master had granted him freedom. Toussaint joined the revolt and became its leader.

His name Louverture means "the opening," and some Haitians say it was because he opened the way to freedom. On Feb. 4, 1794, the slaves were emancipated, ending more than 250 years of bondage.

Toussaint became a French army general and governor of Santo Domingo. He fought successfully against English invaders and an insurrection of light-skinned counterrevolutionaries.

But in February 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent a force to re-establish slavery. Toussaint turned to guerrilla warfare inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution and its motto of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

When a truce halted the fighting, Toussaint was lured into a trap, captured and sent in chains to France on July 8, 1802.

"In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Santo Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots, for they are numerous and deep," he said as he left.

Toussaint died in a dungeon at Fort Joux in the French Alps on April 7, 1803.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines took over as rebel leader and, with his slogan "Cut off their heads and burn down their houses," led his army to decisive victory on Nov. 18, 1803. Ten days later, independence was declared.

Today what was once France's wealthiest colony has become one of the world's poorest nations, hindered by political upheaval and dictatorships. Aristide has said he aims to lead a "rebirth," but many in Haiti — which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic — still subsist on $1 a day or less.

"Toussaint's example used to make me feel proud. Now Haiti is in such a mess, I could care less," said Alcide Louis, 83, who ekes out a living selling hot cakes on a dusty street.

Others say Toussaint's example of seeking justice and peaceful coexistence has relevance today. He "decided to create another world, where white and black would not tear each other apart," first lady Mildred Trouillot Aristide said recently.

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 2:40 a.m., Saturday, April 5, 2003
Arsonist kills four in B'klyn, N.Y.
By Tom Raftery, Fernanda Santos and Tracy Connor, Daily News Writers

A gasoline-fueled inferno that killed four people in a Brooklyn rowhouse yesterday was the second arson fire there in a year - and investigators zeroed in on an illegal social club and gambling joint in the basement (How Books Have Shaped U.S. Foreign Policy)..

Four tenants and six firefighters were hurt in the three-alarm blaze, which rocketed up the main staircase of the building on Bedford Ave. and tore through the roof within minutes, officials said.

"Whoever did this is going to pay for it - the law and God will punish him," said Jean Patrick Inevil, 32, the son of the building's owner.

Fire marshals and police were interviewing Inevil about a possible connection between the social club, yesterday's fire and a previous one in June.

"It's like a mini-Atlantic City down there," said Catherine Johnson, 38, who lives next door.

After the fire, the basement was discovered to be strewn with beer bottles, and several joker poker and slot machines had been busted up by police. There was a wooden booth with plexiglass windows that neighbors said took $2 wagers on a numbers game. Inside, two phones, three TV sets and a surveillance monitor could be seen. A sign outside advertised hours of operation in English and French.

Doused with gas

The blaze broke out shortly before 3 a.m., when the stairway on the first floor - where Inevil, his stepbrother Jean Etienne and his mother, Marie Etienne, live - was doused with gas and set ablaze.

Firefighters were on the scene within minutes but flames already had engulfed the building.

"The fire was up the stairs, showing at the windows on the second floor, into the third floor and through the roof," Deputy Chief John Casey said.

Ismela Lerius, 37 - who lost everything she owned in the June fire and had just moved back in - grabbed her 8-year-old daughter, Daniela, and managed to flee her second-floor apartment. But her live-in boyfriend, paraplegic Rene Voltaire, 46 - who also had been injured in last summer's blaze - was stranded.

He was rescued by Inevil, who said he was playing pool in the basement when he heard the doorbell ringing, saw the flames and raced up the fire escape.

"Either we'll make it or die together," Inevil told Voltaire before hoisting him on his shoulder and carrying him to the fire escape.

Inevil said he tried to reach the third floor, where he heard people screaming, but was pushed back by the flames.

Four people on the top floor died. Two were identified by family members as Marcel Saint-Jour, 22, and Roger Prophete, 79.

Prophete's daughter, Marie Mathurin, said she had not yet broken the news to her mother in Haiti. "They've been married for over 50 years," she said.

The building's owner, Lucien Etienne, denied there was a club in the building, though he said he was shooting pool in the basement. "What club? What club?" he said. "It's terrible. They were innocent people. Someone came in at 2 in the morning and poured I-don't-know-what on the stairs and lit it on fire."

With Michele McPhee and Kerry Burke Originally published on April 3, 2003

Copyright © 2003 New York Daily News and KnightRidder.com

Posted at 11:00 p.m, Thursday, April 3, 2003
Former U.S. President Clinton to visit Haiti
By Yves A. Isidor, wehaitians.com executive editor

A cure may be far from being found for AIDS, the deadliest epidemic in modern history. But William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton, a former United States' president, believes in the meantime something else can be done - help raise the cash needed to help pay for the economic cost of caring for citizens around the world who are, at least, H.I.V. positive so their suffering may lessened and lives prolonged.

The efforts of Mr. Clinton to help alleviate the suffering of citizens suffering from H.I.V. are so understandably appreciated that  Haiti, a nation with the highest rate of H.I.V. cases, outside of  the African continent, is enthusiastically awaiting his April 8 visit.

Given Mr. Clinton's schedule during his short visit in the Caribbean nation, he will confer with many medical specialists and representatives of medical establishments.

For Haiti's sake, will Mr. Clinton tell tyrant Aristide, whom he returned to Haiti after three years in exile, in Washington, D.C. and, in 1994, "I have been watching your progress to ferocious totalitarian dictatorship from apprentice dictatorship, and with great chagrin so? I hope so, and that the message of advise well be: "it is time for you to play by democratic rules; no more dictatorship whatsoever; and,.do you understand?."

Posted at 12:50 a.m., Thursday, March 3, 2003
Three years after journalist's killing in Haiti, rights advocates say materminds must be brought to trial
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Apr. 2 - Three years since Haiti's most prominent journalist was shot at his radio station, human rights monitors say those who masterminded the murder remain at large.

"For justice to be served, the whole truth must be uncovered," Amnesty International said in a statement the day before the anniversary of Jean Dominique's killing.

The London-based rights group said an indictment belatedly handed down March 21 against six alleged killers is "an important step — but in addition to the people believed to be the actual killers, those responsible for promoting and planning the murders must be brought to trial."

Some government critics planned a protest Thursday outside Radio Haiti Inter, the station Dominique owned.

His widow Michele Montas, a journalist who has run the station since his death, halted broadcasts in February, citing death threats.

Once a staunch supporter of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Dominique was killed April 3, 2000, as he broadcast increasingly strident criticisms of Aristide's Lavalas Family.

The 69-year-old was shot seven times in his station's courtyard. Security guard Jean-Claude Louissant also was killed.

The investigation into the killing was plagued by setbacks, threats and violence. The first two investigating judges resigned.

In a report last month, Judge Bernard Saint-Vil listed no motive and acknowledged the investigation remains incomplete.

Those indicted — Dymsley Millien, Jeudi Jean-Daniel, Philippe Markington, Ralph Leger, Ralph Joseph and Freud Junior Demarat — have been under arrest for more than two years. If convicted, they could face life imprisonment.

Saint-Vil took over in July, six months after Judge Claudy Gassant fled death threats, seeking refuge in the United States.

Gassant had recommended charges against four Aristide supporters including prominent senator and former police chief Dany Toussaint but Saint-Vil cleared them, saying there were "no grounds to prosecute."

Human rights lawyer Renan Hedouville said it appears "the authorities are unwilling to shed light on this political assassination. They want silence to reign."

But, speaking to police Friday, Aristide said the investigative report was a "good step," in spite of its "weakness."

Montas, who left Haiti for New York after she shut down the station, said she would appeal the indictment.

"Those who planned the murders are still free to strike, nearly three years later ... in complete impunity," she told independent Radio Kiskeya by telephone Wednesday.

"Who paid to kill Jean Dominique?" she added. "Who protects those who ordered the murder?"

The indictment followed a Christmas Day shooting attack at Montas' home in which a security guard was killed.

Press freedom groups accuse some officials of encouraging attacks on journalists, a charge the government denies.

Journalist Brignol Lindor was hacked to death by Aristide supporters in 2000. The indictment of 10 men does not include the mayor who allegedly instigated the attack.

Last year, more than 90 journalists reported being harassed or roughed up, and 20 have fled the country in the past 15 months, citing death threats. (mn-imj/maf)

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press

Posted at 2:15 p.m., Wednesday, April 2, 2003
Michele Montas, a Haitian widow on BBC
Courtesey of Haiti Support Group

Note for UK readers: A short interview with Radio Haiti Inter's Michele Montas will air on BBC Radio Four's "A World In Your Ear" programme on April 6th at 20:00.


Haiti: Three years later, instigators of Jean Dominique killing still unidentified

On the third anniversary of the killing of journalist and activist Jean Dominique and radio station guard Jean Claude Louissaint, Amnesty International reiterates its call for full and impartial investigations into their case, leading to full justice (Michele Montas: A Haitian survivor, and keeps fighting).

“For justice to be served, the whole truth must be uncovered,” the organisation said. “The indictment issued by Judge Bernard Saint Vil on 21 March is an important step – but in addition to the people believed to be the actual killers, those responsible for promoting and planning the murders must be brought to trial. Anything else is less than full justice.”

Jean Dominique and Jean Claude Louissaint were gunned down by unidentified attackers outside Jean Dominique’s radio station, Radio Haïti Inter, on 3 April 2000. The attack on this most well-known and outspoken journalist, a survivor of decades of past dictatorships, had massive ramifications (Uncommonly bestial dictator Aristide vows to kill Haitians if they refuse to give up homes and land).

“The killing of Jean Dominique marked the beginning of a steep decline in the respect for human rights in Haiti,” Amnesty International said. “Since his death, threats and attacks on journalists, human rights defenders and justice officials have become commonplace, while the justice system itself has become increasingly politicised. The police is increasingly perceived as partisan, while illegal armed groups commit growing numbers of human rights abuses with impunity.”

“Full and impartial justice in this one high-profile case would go a long way towards reversing these dangerous trends in Haiti,” the organisation added. “However, the authorities appear unwilling to confront these issues. Instead they are offering Haitians half-measures; this case matters too much for that.”


The three-year investigation into the killings has been beset by violence and threats. One suspect was lynched, and another reportedly died in disputed circumstances. Several previous investigating judges resigned after receiving threats; one, Claudy Gassant, fled Haiti due to security concerns after the president failed to renew his mandate to investigate the case. In 2001 Gassant issued an earlier indictment naming a number of suspects, including an influential Haitian senator, not included in the final document.

Jean Dominique’s widow, Michèle Montas, has been pushing tirelessly for justice in his case. Her life has been repeatedly threatened, and on Christmas Day 2002, she survived an attack in which her bodyguard, Maxime Séïde, was killed. On 22 February, she and her staff were forced to close Radio Haïti Inter indefinitely due to ongoing threats.

Sent by the Haiti Support Group www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org

A prize for a Haitian human rights fighter
By Tequila Minsky
Courtesy of Haiti Support Group

Amnesty International announced Dominican-born Ms. Sonia Pierre the winner of its 2003 Human Rights Ginetta Sagan Fund Award. The Award is given annually in recognition of individual accomplishment for a woman working on behalf of women or children's rights. The purpose of the Award is to bring international attention to an issue or region in crises, to a person not already well known.

Ms. Pierre was chosen from 20 nominees and was nominated by  lawyers from the Berkeley Human Rights Law Clinic.

The Award acknowledges Sonia Pierre's tireless work on behalf of the civil and human rights of her people, Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. It is the belief that this award will also serve as an encouragement everywhere for women struggling for human rights.

When Sonia Pierre was 13, she was arrested for being the spokesperson at a demonstration on behalf of braceros-Haitian sugar-cane cutters-who lived in her migrant labor village in the Dominican Republic. The demonstration lasted five days.  Workers had some demands met; their living quarters were painted, they got better working tools and machetes, and some got pay raises.

Ms. Pierre's action drew both public attention and positive results. During the following three decades Sonia Pierre has never shied away from controversy and working on behalf of her people-Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic.

Ms. Pierre's Haitian-born parents came to work in the Dominican Republic 61 years ago. She was born in a batey-a shantytown enclave- which is  on the edge of what were sugar-cane fields where her father worked. Her parents still live there.  The batey, known as Batey Lecheria and 45 minutes from the center of Santa Domingo, the Dominican capital, now stands at the edge of an orange grove and  is one-half mile from a free-trade zone factory.

Trained in social work and having attended law school, Ms. Pierre works through the organization Movement of Haitian Dominican Women, Movimiento de Mujueres Dominico-Haitianas, an organization she founded and has directed for 11 years. The organization known as MUDHA is committed to championing the civil and human rights of Dominican nationals of Haitian descent residing in the Dominican Republic. It speaks out for  Haitian immigrants and their children and has developed educational programs and  works defending the rights of women in the Dominican Republic including labor issues and the promotion of health care and legal education.

Part of Ms. Pierre's work focuses on the  regularization of citizenship for children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic.  Most of these children have no birth certificates and are not considered Dominican residents.

"You have children who are born in this country but they don't have legal papers, birth certificates, health care or education." Ms. Pierre said, "This prevents them from doing what they want in life."

These children by law are legal residents of the Dominican Republic but authorities block legal residency by not giving them birth certificates.

The Dominican constitution says:    "All people born in the Dominican Republic are citizens except those born of diplomats or those in transit."

Often parents in the batey are not familiar with procedures for declaring birth. If they miss the 90-day after birth  filing period, there are many obstacles to obtaining birth certificates:  a Dominican citizen over age 50 must vouch for the child,  a completed application must be taken to the 14 provincial offices, and a central office makes the final decision.

The older the child, the more difficult it is to get a birth certificate.

The Movement of Haitian-Dominican Women, MUDHA, runs seminars for parents and in the past 10 years has helped over 5,000 children obtain their birth certificates as part of The Right to a Name and Nationality Campaign.

In 1999, University of California at Berkeley's International Human Rights Law Clinic, the Center for Justice and International Law in Washington DC and MUDHA filed an action before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights

on behalf of two girls who though Dominican born were being denied their citizenship.

Without a birth certificate a child cannot attend school and lives in fear  of expulsion. After an intense four year battle, and a mission from the Organization of American States which visited Santo Domingo and discussed the lawsuit with the OAS human rights commission, in an unprecedented move, the Dominican government issued birth certificates to the two girls. Estimates of the number of Dominican-born children of Haitians without certificates range  from 70,000-200,000.

Another ongoing human-rights violation plaguing Haitians living in the Dominican Republic is random and arbitrary deportation.   In August 2000, Ms. Pierre presented the case of seven such workers to the Inter-American Court of the Organization of American States.  The court ruled in favor of the workers and denounced the deportation practice. Despite this particular success random deportations continue. Haitians in the Dominican Republic are arbitrarily  rounded up, driven to the Dominican Republic/Haiti border and pushed across. Although there are no exact numbers, it is estimated that in the past year 45,000 Haitians were deported. Many have spouses and children left behind and some manage to find their way back.

Her work defending the rights of workers and protesting deportations and advocating for children's citizenship is sometimes assisted by university law school clinics such as the International Human Rights Law Clinic at Berkeley School of Law and the Human Rights Law Clinic of Columbia University which help her navigate the legal waters and represent clients in an international legal forum.

The formal presentation of the Ginetta Sagan Award will be in April at Amnesty International's Annual General Meeting in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The assembly is  called "Imagine", after John Lennon's song.  During the three day conference  of speakers and panelists, films and seminars, activist allies will explore  concrete strategies and models for organizing activism.

The Award which recognizes human rights work in the area of women and children is named for Ginetta Sagan who as a teenager was a  member of the Italian resistance in World War  II. She helped save countless lives during the war, survived imprisonment and torture, and became a life long advocate of human rights. Years later she joined a fairly newly founded Amnesty International,  an organization that worked on the issues she felt deeply and was also was dedicated to bringing attention to  international  human rights abuses. She later founded the west coast Amnesty International USA office.

The Amnesty logo, barbed wire surrounding a candle is taken from one of Ginetta Sagan's life's experiences. She saved a piece of the fence that separated Italy from Switzerland at the crossing where she helped lead 300 Jews to safety over the Italian mountains.

A $10,000  grant is given to the Award recipient. Another aim of the Award is to enhance the recipient's ability to live and work freely,  and to continue, expand, and improve her work.  It is not just to acknowledge past achievement but to offer support for future projects.

Previous year’s recipients of the Award have come from Rwanda, Uganda, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Peru and Pakistan.  Ms. Cosette Thompson, director of Amnesty International USA's west coast office says, "This is the first time we've given this award to someone from the Caribbean region and the first time the award has been given to someone works in the area of Haitian diaspora rights.

Ms. Pierre also seems to be bringing together in New York City the two sides of the island Hispanola. In the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, a bastion of Dominican life,  a reception will be held in her honor. The following day, Haitians in Brooklyn are honoring her. Ms. Pierre then will participate in a panel at Teachers College, Columbia University, bringing together the two: Diasporic Connections: Haitian and Dominican Communities and Students in NYC. This  will feature Dominican-American Angie Cruz, author of Soledad and Haitian-American Jaira Placide, author of Fresh Girl.

Ms. Pierre works through MUDHA on a long list of concerns. The organization has established a clinic in one batey, with a doctor on site three days a week.

Establishing schools in the bateyes, improving working and living conditions, conducting workshops on legal rights, and giving support to women's reporting of violence and rape are part of the work.  MUDHA has also recently assisted hundreds of political refugees from Haiti.

Ms. Pierre frequently speaks publicly against government of Dominican Republic's policies that discriminate. A few years ago, a letter from Amnesty International provided her with some security against personal threats meant to intimidate and quiet her. Now the same organization is formally recognizing the contribution of her work on behalf of women, children and  workers of Haitian descent living with limited human rights in the Dominican Republic.

"I do this work as a woman, the daughter of a Haitian woman, who lived and still lives in a state of invisibility," she said.  "My mother has made contributions to this country as have a lot of migrants." Women from the bateyes are not used to being visible.

"My greatest hope is that migrant workers achieve their rights." Ms. Pierre said, "I want their contributions  acknowledged. I want them to achieve legal status and participate fully in society."

Ms.Pierre's response to receiving the Ginetta Sagan Award, "This prize comes to me, but not to me alone. It is a prize that belongs to all of us working on behalf of human rights in the Dominican Republic. I've been able to do the work of MUDHA because those who work there share my vision as does members of the international community who have stood by me and MUDHA to carry out the work. This work is not something I could carry out alone. I am just a symbol."

Sent by the Haiti Support Group www.haitisupport.gn.apc.org  

Posted at 1015 p.m., Tuesday, April 1, 2003
Police leadership in Haiti worries foreign observers
By Marika Lynch, Miami Herald Writer

When top diplomats traveled to Haiti last month to push for an end to the country's three-year-old political stalemate, they pointedly asked Haitian officials to change the country's police leadership (photos).

The young and fumbling force has been accused of standing by as gangs beat up opposition protesters, and the United States has alleged that the top brass dabbles in the drug trade. The diplomats said a change would help create a secure environment so Haitians would feel comfortable campaigning and voting in new legislative elections -- the widely viewed solution to the country's festering political crisis (Uncommonly vicious tyrant Aristide vows to kill Haitians if they refuse to give up homes and land).


President Jean-Bertrand Aristide picked a new police leader, but his choice has caused consternation among the diplomats, opposition leaders, and human rights activists. The naming of presidential advisor Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste as chief renewed questions about his role in the 1991 slaying of Sylvio Claude, a one-time presidential candidate who fought against the long-ruling Duvalier family. And human rights observers question whether a man who was security advisor to the president, but never a police officer, should head the force.

No one was charged with Claude's murder, but his daughters believe Jean-Baptiste, then a government representative in the southern town where Claude was attacked by a mob, covered with a gasoline-loaded tire and burned, ordered it. ''It's unacceptable, impossible. They can't put him with the National Police,'' said daughter Marie Denise Claude, who says she has pictures of Jean-Baptiste with her father's burned body.

Jean-Baptiste's confirmation is pending Senate approval. In a speech Friday, Aristide said he was proud to have such a ''serious'' person head the force. Presidential spokesman Luc Especa said the allegations were just a smoke screen, a not-so-veiled attempt to criticize Aristide.

Haiti has been embroiled in a stalemate since the flawed May 2000 legislative elections. Aristide pledged to call a new vote this year, but the opposition and some civic groups say they won't participate until the government beefs up security. The Organization of American States, which has tried to broker a solution, led a high-level delegation to Port-au-Prince last month, and gave leaders ten days to make reforms Aristide agreed to, but failed to make, last summer.

The OAS will meet Thursday to evaluate the government's reaction.

Beyond changing police brass, the OAS diplomats asked for the arrest of Aristide supporters accused of violent acts after an alleged 2001 coup attempt, among other measures.

The diplomats also asked Haiti's opposition, an assembly of small political parties, to agree to elections should the government live up to its part of the bargain.

The government scrambled, issued warrants for at least ten Aristide supporters implicated in post-coup violence, changed top police ranks, and named commissions to investigate five political murders.

''The government has made some significant efforts,'' said Jonas Petit, spokesman for Aristide's Family Lavalas party.

But critics say the government fell short on key issues:

• The government searched for the country's most prominent fugitive, Amiot Metayer, a self-proclaimed Aristide supporter who leads a political gang called the Cannibal Army in the port town of Gonaives. Metayer, accused in the murder of an Aristide foe on the 2001 alleged coup, has been free -- and has even given press conferences in front of the Gonaives police station -- since he broke out of prison last August.

Meanwhile, the Haitian judge who initiated the case, Marcel Jean, called the chase a ``bluff.''


''They pressured me to release him,'' said Jean in an interview in South Florida, where he has sought refuge fearing for his life. Three times, envoys from the National Palace -- including Aristide's Security Chief Oriel Jean -- asked him to drop charges against Metayer, Marcel Jean alleged.

• The OAS also asked Haitian officials for a resolution in the case of Jean Dominique, Haiti's most prominent journalist, slain in his radio station courtyard in April 2000. A judge issued an indictment last week. The report named six men -- former policemen and convicts -- but didn't say who was behind the crime.

Top of page
Wehaitians.com, the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
More from wehaitians.com
Main / Columns / Books And Arts / Miscellaneous