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Photos:*Feb. 25 *Feb. 22-23 *Feb. 21 *Feb. 7 *Haiti, a narcotics nation In Special Reports:Visit shows depth of detainees' pain Fortress America In Book & Arts:*An Arab Gadfly With a Memorable Bite *For AIDS, defining moment on film In Editorial/Colum:*Waiting in totalitarian dictator Aristide's hell, more Haitians are likey to risk their lives in perilous waters to come to Uncle Sam's paradise
Posted at 2:10 p.m., Wednesday 26, 2003
Nepal: The bridge wore diapers
By Agence France-Presse
A 6-month-old girl and a 3-year-old boy were married in a southern village despite laws against child marriages, the newspaper Taja Khabar reported. The parents, members of a farming caste, arranged the marriage of Sunita Kumari and Shambhu Malli because they feared that the children would be unable to find partners later in life, the newspaper said. As a Hindu priest performed the ceremony, the infant bride apparently grew alarmed by the commotion and started to cry. Her mother called the ritual to a temporary halt and the newlyweds were breast-fed.
A press chill in Haiti; Journalists are running scare
A Miami Herald Editorial
Like the proverbial canary in a mine shaft, independent media are a reliable sign of the health of a democratic government. In Haiti, judging by the deteriorating health of its media, democracy is in trouble. Two reports -- one from the Inter American Press Association and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists -- document the regrettable trend.
The Bush administration and Miami District Immigration and Naturalization Service should pay special attention. Haiti's failing media represent yet another sign that Haiti's woes no longer can be considered exclusively economic.
Attacks on the media -- and the failure of the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to stop the attacks or to punish the perpetrators -- are clear evidence of Haiti's simmering political anarchy. Haitians who seek political asylum in America no longer should be presumed to be fleeing economic deprivations. Many now leave in fear of their lives because of their political activism, or as the reports show, for merely expressing their views in the media.
Haiti's political climate has been spiraling out of control for years. The attacks on journalists, though onerous, are one manifestation of the deterioration. Last April, Radio Haiti owner Jean Leopold Dominique was assassinated, and in December Radio Plus reporter Gerard Denoze was killed. Also in December, gunmen attempted to kill Dominique's widow, Michele Montas, who had continued his work. Though Ms. Montas was physically unhurt, one of her bodyguards was slain in the attack. The assaults have continued unabated this month with separate assaults against two Radio Metropole reporters.
Ms. Montas, who is in Miami to receive an award from the People for the American Way, announced last week that Radio Haiti transmissions would be suspended indefinitely in an effort to prevent attacks against other reporters. Last week, six journalists fled the country. Four of them asked for political asylum in the Dominican Republic and the other two arrived in the United States and France with similar requests.
The pattern of the attacks show that the incidents aren't isolated and that the Aristide government, whether deliberately or through ineptness, is unable to stop them.
The judge handling the case of Mr. Dominique's death is expected to release a report on the government's findings within a few weeks. The increased number and severity of the attacks against journalists is proof of an organized effort to silence the voice of Haiti's independent media. The Bush administration must change current U.S. policy to reflect this new reality. America historically has been a haven for political refugees. The doors shouldn't be slammed on Haitians.
This Miami Herald editorial was first published on February 26, 2003
Posted at 1:49 a.m., Wednesday 26, 2003
Louima turns to Haitian philanthrophy
By Ian James, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 25 - Five years after the assault by New York police that brought him a record $8.7 million settlement, Abner Louima is turning his attention to his native Hait (photos)..
The man whose case came to symbolize police brutality in the United States says he's convinced he can make a difference in his impoverished homeland.
"Maybe God saved my life for a reason," Louima said in a rare interview during a visit last week. "I believe in doing the right thing."
Louima, who now lives in Florida, is setting up a nonprofit group, the Abner Louima Foundation, and hopes to raise money to build a community center and much-needed hospital in Haiti.
He says he plans to use his own money and donations to open community centers in Haiti, New York and Florida for Haitians and others seeking legal, financial or other aid.
In the hills that fringe Port-au-Prince, Louima also is paying school tuition for 14 poor children in Thomassin, a small community where he grew up.
"He's helping the kids a lot. Without this, they couldn't go to school," said Luckner Clairmont, a 24-year-old teacher at the concrete schoolhouse set amid fields where families eke out a living growing beans and bananas.
Few houses in the neighborhood have phones, blackouts are common and regular work is rare.
Many parents can't afford the tuition of $5.20 a month. "At least with (Louima's) money we're able to pay some of the teachers," Clairmont said.
Nearby, chickens scratch in a yard where Louima spent his early years. Nowadays he lives in the Miami area, but when he visits he brings clothing, jewelry and cash to his grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins.
"Of course he's changed a bit, but he seems to be doing good," said his grandfather, 90-year-old Sevola Louima, who wears a pullover with a U.S. flag on it and gushes that he found New York "beautiful" when his grandson took him last year.
Louima left the countryside when he was 14 to attend school in Port-au-Prince. He followed his parents to New York City in 1990 and worked as a security guard and car salesman.
His life changed forever on Aug. 9, 1997, when he was sodomized with a broomstick in a police precinct restroom after being arrested in a brawl outside a Brooklyn nightclub. Louima suffered severe internal injuries.
One officer is serving 30 years for the attack, and another is serving a five-year term for perjury.
Louima sued and in 2001 the city and police union agreed to pay $8.7 million, the largest settlement ever in a police brutality case in New York. After legal fees, Louima walked away with about $5.8 million.
Now the 36-year-old wears a gold watch and owns homes in suburban Miami and Port-au-Prince, plus investment properties in Florida.
Louima moved to Florida with his wife and children in 2001. His daughter is now 12 and his sons are 6 and 3.
"The publicity in New York wasn't really affecting me directly, but on the other hand it was affecting my children ... so I chose to leave," he said. "I can go to someplace in Miami and no one knows who I am."
"I try right now to lead a normal life, which I missed for the past five years," said Louima, who enjoys watching his kids play basketball and soccer.
In Haiti, Louima has met with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former priest whom Louima happens to know from his school years. Louima wouldn't say what they discussed, saying it had to do with "personal things."
He said he takes no side in Haiti's politics but hopes its leaders will find ways to improve life for the country's poor. Hunger is widespread, and a vast majority live on $1 a day or less.
By giving back to Haiti, Louima said he aims to set an example.
"I always have hope," he said. "And something must be done."
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press
Bush taps career diplomat Foley for Haiti
By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 - President Bush picked career diplomat James B. Foley on Tuesday to be ambassador to Haiti.
Foley is now the State Department's deputy chief of mission in Geneva. Previously, he served as the department's deputy spokesman and deputy director of the NATO secretary general's private office Brussels, Belgium.
He also was a consular officer and political officer in the Philippines.
The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press
Posted at 2:01 a.m., Sunday, February 23, 2003
Haitian radio station to close after renewed threats to staff
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 21 Almost three years after her husband was killed, the journalist who runs one of Haiti's most popular radio stations said today that the station was going off the air because of threats against its staff (An Arab Gadfly With a Memorable Bite).
"We will shut down tomorrow because we have been subject to constant threats," Michèle Montas said in a statement read on the air on her station, Radio Haiti Inter, this morning. "We have lost three lives Jean Dominique, Jean-Claude Louissaint and Maxime Seide and we refuse to lose another one."
Mr. Dominique, who was Ms. Montas's husband and one of Haiti's most well-known journalists, was shot to death as he arrived at the radio station along with Mr. Louissaint, the station's caretaker, on April 3, 2000. Mr. Seide, Ms. Montas's bodyguard, was killed when armed men attacked her home on Christmas Day (photos).
"We don't know exactly when we will go back on the air," Ms. Montas said. "But we will not take exile for a third time, because we have only freedom of expression as a weapon."
Radio Haiti Inter mixes political commentary and investigative reporting in its programming, and was one of the first stations to broadcast in the Creole language of Haiti rather than in French.
Mr. Dominique and Ms. Montas were forced to flee Haiti twice as a result of attacks on Radio Haiti Inter, once during the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1980 and again under the military government that ruled Haiti in the early 1990's.
Earlier this week, another station, Radio Métropole, stopped broadcasting news for 24 hours to protest attacks against its journalists by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who became Haiti's first freely elected president in 1991 and began his second term in 2001.
The investigation into the killing of Mr. Dominique has become an emotional flash point in this impoverished Caribbean nation of eight million. Three judges investigating the case have quit, saying they have been subjected to threats, pressure and obstruction from people close to the government of Mr. Aristide.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Speaking before Haiti's president, priests urge greater efforts to ease poverty
By The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 22 - Roman Catholic Church leaders urged greater efforts to ease Haiti's deepening poverty Saturday at ceremonies attended by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and other top officials.
Vatican representative Cardinal Roger Etchegaray read a statement from Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II stressing the significance of 2004 as Haiti's 200th anniversary of independence from France (photos).
"I hope that the anniversary of this event of which the Haitian people are so proud because it was the first country in all of Latin America to proclaim its independence will be an event to promote our ability to live together," he said, citing the pope's statement.
He and other church leaders spoke during an ordination Mass for Monsignors Simon Pierre Saint-Hillien and Pierre-Andre Dumas as auxiliary bishops. About 2,000 attendees filled Port-au-Prince's main cathedral, with Aristide in the front row.
"Listen to the cries of the poor. It is us today who have a shared responsibility, and with every day that passes, that responsibility triples," said Bishop Hubert Constant, of the northeastern region of Fort Liberte.
"The people are in effect in the process of dying of hunger. To hear their cries is to share their suffering," Constant said. "Do not try to smother the beating of your hearts when they say to each one of you, 'Do not flee your responsibilities.'"
Poverty has worsened in Haiti as fuel prices have shot up and the currency, the gourde, has lost nearly half its value over the past six months.
Aristide, who later attended the opening of a medical clinic, has said his government could do more if the international community releases hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen aid and loans.
The aid has been blocked since disputed 2000 legislative elections that were swept by Aristide's Lavalas Family party. Aristide has pledged new legislative elections this year.
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.
Posted at 3:45 p.m., Friday, February 21, 2003
Rights activists report threats, intimidation in Haiti
By Ian James, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 21 - Human rights monitors have received death threats while investigating the killings of three men allegedly shot by police, the National Coalition of Haitian Rights said Friday (Haiti, not yet ready to benefit from information and communication technology).
An employee received the threats made by phone last week, said Pierre Esperance, the organization's director.
"They said they will burn NCHR's office and they will kill people," said Esperance, who in 1999 was shot and wounded in an attack outside the office (photographs).
"The human rights situation in Haiti is deteriorating," he warned.
A coalition of rights groups including Human Rights Watch, the International Human Rights Law Group, the Washington Office on Latin America, and the Haiti Democracy Project wrote to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide this week requesting an investigation into the threats.
Government officials have not responded and did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The monitors are investigating allegations that police killed three brothers, who were abducted by masked gunmen on Dec. 7. Their bodies were found in the city morgue the next day, all three with bullet wounds to the head.
Police have named seven suspects in the killings of Angelo Philippe, 22, Andy Philippe, 20, and their adopted brother Vladimir Sanon, 21, but no one has been charged.
A police report said a neighbor whose girlfriend had fallen in love with Angelo Philippe allegedly asked three police officer friends to go after the brothers.
In an unrelated case, relatives of Erick Pierre, a 27-year-old medical student shot to death last month, said they had gone into hiding after receiving death threats.
People fired shots outside the family's house last week after relatives submitted a report to prosecutors alleging Pierre was killed for political reasons, the victim's 29-year-old brother, Louis Pierre, said.
They also received phone calls warning that if they did not stop pursuing the case, "they're willing to kill another one of us," he said. "Every day we have to find a different place to hide our mother."
Journalists also have been threatened and attacked. Human rights groups are urging the government to bring to justice those responsible for a Dec. 25 attack on the home of journalist Michele Montas, in which a bodyguard was shot and killed.
They also have urged action in bringing to justice the killers of Montas' husband, radio journalist Jean Dominique, who was shot at his Radio Haiti-Inter station April 3, 2000.
Montas said the station would go off the air Saturday following threats of attacks during carnival next week.
The Organization of American States' special mission on Haiti on Wednesday urged the government to increase human rights efforts and said it "deplores the recent acts of violence and intimidation." (imj-kd/maf)
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.
Posted at 3:07 p.m., Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Four Haitian journalists enter Dominican Republic in search of political asylum
By Andres Cala, Associated Press Writer
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Feb. 18 - Four Haitian journalists who fled the country after alleged harassment are in the Dominican Republic looking for a country to give them asylum, a media group said Tuesday.
The four went into hiding Nov. 21 after alleged threats by the "Cannibal Army," a group of thugs who support President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said Oscar Lopez of the Dominican Journalists Association.
They crossed the border on Friday with one-month visas, but won't file for asylum in the Spanish-speaking country, Lopez said. It wasn't immediately clear where they intended to seek asylum.
The journalists worked for independent radio stations in Gonaives, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
The Cannibal Army, led by escaped convict Amiot Metayer, is "looking to assassinate them because of their reporting on this group and the precarious conditions in Haiti," Lopez said.
Haitian police last week escorted the journalists to Port-au-Prince and then to the Dominican Republic through the Jimani crossing.
The four journalists are Jean-Robert Francois of Radio Metropole; Henry Fleurimond of Radio Quiskeya and Jeaniton Guerino and Gedeon Pesendien, both of Radio Etincelles.
Joseph Guyler Delva, general secretary of the Haitian Journalists Association, accompanied them into the Dominican Republic, Lopez said.
Cannibal Army members allegedly set fire to a radio station in December in Gonaives and later opened fire in front of a hotel where the journalists were hiding out.
In 2002, some 64 journalists were threatened or assaulted 62 by government backers and two by opposition supporters. Some 20 journalists fled the country.
On Saturday, a group of pro-Aristide supports set fire to the home of Radio Metropole's political affairs reporter, Jean-Numa Goudou, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. No injuries were reported.
Aristide has condemned threats against reporters. But in 2002, he also criticized those who he said were "telling lies."
Metayer, jailed on arson charges, escaped from prison with more than 150 others in August when supporters bulldozed a hole in the wall.
Meanwhile, a political deadlock has hampered progress in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country since Aristide's party swept 2000 legislative elections, which the opposition charged were rigged. Since then, international donors have withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in aid until the government and opposition agree on new elections.
Aristide has promised new legislative elections this year, but the opposition has accused his government of drifting toward dictatorship and has refused a vote without security guarantees.
Despite opposition demands that he resign, Aristide has said he will serve out his term, which ends in 2006. (ac-fg)
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press
Black America's new diversity
By Haya El Nasser U.S. Today's Writer
"More are from Haiti and Jamaica"
BOSTON -- The children stepping off school buses in the Dorchester section of this city are black. The owners of the grocery stores, nail salons and cafes are black. So are most of the customers.
But blacks in Dorchester are as varied as the aromas wafting from the Jamaican and Cape Verdean restaurants along Bowdoin Street. In the hip Restaurante Cesaria, diners chat in French, Portuguese, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Cape Verde Creole, Jamaican English, English with an American twang, English with a British accent. The musicians who entertain diners come from Angola, Nigeria, Senegal and the West Indies.
Diversity has come to many of America's black communities. The diversity is not in skin color but in culture, language and national origin.
Nearly 25% of the growth of the black population between 1990 and 2000 was because of newcomers from Africa and the Caribbean, according to a report being published today. Their populations are growing at a faster rate than that of traditional African-Americans.
The number of African-Americans increased 10% to 31 million in the 1990s. But the number of blacks from Africa more than doubled to 537,000 in the same period. The number of blacks from the Caribbean increased 63% to more than 1.5 million.
The shift is beginning to reshape black politics in some cities and the focus of some black advocacy groups.
''In some major metropolitan regions, these new black groups amount to 20% or more of the black population,'' says sociologist John Logan, co-author of the report on black diversity. ''Local wards are very aware that this is potentially an important voting bloc.''
In Boston, one of the 10 metropolitan areas with the largest numbers of African and Caribbean populations, voters elected the first Haitian-American to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1999. In Miami, the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights group, is organizing marches in support of freedom for Haitian refugees who come ashore in South Florida. Many who seek asylum are deported.
''The first implication of this change is that the term African-American, as popular as it has become, is actually a demographic misnomer,'' says James Jennings, professor of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University in Boston, who is black and Puerto Rican. ''In the black community, you have a lot of people who describe themselves and see themselves as black but don't necessarily see themselves as African-American.''
Blacks from Africa and the Caribbean tend to be better educated, have higher income and live in more prosperous neighborhoods than African-Americans, says Logan, director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the University at Albany, part of the State University of New York. His analysis of 2000 Census data shows:
* Blacks from the Caribbean are concentrated on the East Coast. Six of 10 live in the New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale metropolitan areas. Most are from Haiti and Jamaica.
* Blacks born in sub-Saharan Africa are more dispersed. The largest numbers are in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Atlanta, Minneapolis and Los Angeles also have large numbers of Africans.
* Like African-Americans, blacks from the Caribbean and Africa are mostly segregated from whites. There is also segregation among these black ethnic groups, reflecting social differences.
In a nation where most blacks trace their origins to slavery, immigrants and refugees from the Caribbean and Africa are adding definitions to what it means to be a black American. ''They come, except for skin color, with a mentality that's very much like other immigrants, including the view that this is a place of opportunities,'' says Robert Hall, professor of African-American studies and history at Northeastern University in Boston.
The homelands of many black immigrants have a history of slavery, but the immigrants don't equate that with America's legacy of slavery, says Massachusetts state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, a Haitian-American whose district includes parts of the Dorchester neighborhood. That can disconnect them from traditional black leadership groups.
It doesn't take long for immigrants to realize that if they look black, they'll be treated as a black person, many say. ''That's not a good category to be in,'' Hall says. ''Some West Indian families tell their kids not to associate with black Americans.''
That's why black immigrants, like immigrants of any color, tend to cling to national identities at first. They gradually embrace racial identities.
For longtime black politicians such as Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, the demographic changes in the black community cannot be ignored. The black political agenda now must include a push for multilingual education in public schools and multilingual staffing in health care and law enforcement, he says.
Yancey says the recent arrivals are reinvigorating black neighborhoods. Brothers Casimiro and John Barros were born in the USA, children of immigrants from the Cape Verde islands, in the Atlantic Ocean 385 miles west of Senegal. They attended good universities -- Howard and Dartmouth, respectively. Casimiro Barros, 31, worked as an engineer before returning to the neighborhood where he grew up to open Restaurante Cesaria. ''It's always been a difficult conversation, but the black community and immigrant community are coming together,'' says John Barros, 29.
Some U.S.-born blacks don't share that feeling. ''Sometimes I feel a little left out . . . a little inferior,'' says California-born Erica Nunnally, 28, who owns the Yellow Brick Road cafe in Dorchester. ''When an immigrant comes in, they tend to know English and several other languages, and they come in and they say, 'Where are you from?' And you say 'America' and they say, 'Oh.' ''
Copyright © 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Haitians seek diversion in traditional cockfights
By Michael Deibert, Reuters Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 18 (Reuters) - It's Sunday afternoon in the hilly and crowded Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Nazon.
As people head home from church dressed in their Sunday best and others pause to sample the aromatic pork fried by market women in black pots, Emil Piton, 63, heads to the "gague" or cockfighting ring he owns.
Inside, dozens of men gather around a concrete pit littered with feathers and speckled with blood. The tin roof above them does not quite reach down to the concrete blocks supporting it, and the resulting space lets some air into the otherwise sweltering room.
"How much men? Place your bets!" Piton says as the men, beer or rum bottles and cigarettes in their hands, eagerly gesture to the two birds, one black and one greenish-brown, being led into the pit by their owners.
In a flash the hoods the birds wear to keep them calm are off, and the two birds are clucking and clawing away at one another.
Cockfighting, a tradition in many Caribbean and Latin American nations, is older than the nation of Haiti itself, imported to the region from England and France, where it was hugely popular in colonial times, historians say.
NO FIGHT TO THE DEATH
Perfectly legal in Haiti, the sport is less vicious than the version practiced in some parts of the world. The birds do not wear metal spurs and rather than fight to the death, they fight only until an owner calls time and a winner is declared.
Although it seems brutal to some, cockfighting is as much a part of Haiti's traditional life as bullfighting is to Spain, and there have rarely been any voices raised in protest.
In Haiti today, as an economic downturn sends people scrambling for survival in an atmosphere of instability and political crisis, the tradition provides a much-needed release for Haiti's beleaguered poor majority.
"When there is a gague, people are there only to attend and watch the match, our problems can't enter," Lithene Pierre, 27, says as he eats bits of spicy conch from a plastic cup.
"Cockfighting is a distraction from the losing battle that so many Haitians are fighting with poverty," said Michele Wucker, author of "Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola."
"The cockfight mirrors Haiti's political violence, but it also provides a 'safe' arena where Haitians can release frustration and aggression. Spectators may lose money betting, or an owner's pride may get bruised, but only the birds really get hurt."
Haitians have watched their country get poorer in recent years as the value of its currency, the gourde, has tumbled, and the country has been wracked by political unrest.
Since his re-election in November 2000, Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been locked in a bitter dispute with opposition politicians over May 2000 parliamentary elections that observers charge were tabulated to favor Aristide's Lavalas Family party.
In recent months pro- and anti-government protests, riots and strikes have affected all parts of the impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million.
ROAR OF THE CROWD
Inside the gague, none of that seems to matter. As the birds claw and peck at one another, a great roar goes up from the crowd whenever contact is made.
The birds stagger and rush around the concrete pit, with men standing on any available surface and leaning on their neighbors, straining to watch the action.
The crowd is overwhelmingly male, and the only women present are the vendors selling rum, moonshine and snacks.
As a reminder that cockfighting is not only a pastime, but also a significant business, a man passes out cards advertising a match to be held the following weekend.
The prize for first place will be 3,000 gourdes or roughly US$67, an astronomical sum to most Haitians and more than most families bring home in an entire month.
Outside the hall, men wait patiently, hooded birds under their arms. Others sit and play a dice game. From the seemingly never-ending expanse of hills that make up the neighborhood, more men trudge toward the gague.
Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Posted at 11:41 a.m., Sunday, February 16, 2003
|Haitian currency takes a dive|
|By Marika Lynch and Jane Regan|
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Mariange Pierre-Louis balances a basket of grapefruit, cheerfully tries to sell some, but finds few takers.
Pierre-Louis has had to double the price for a dozen -- now up to about 60 cents. She planned to walk around downtown ``until I sell them all, if I can.''
''Sometimes the day ends and I still have half a basket left,'' she said.
Fruit has become a luxury here, according to Pierre-Louis.
In Haiti, the national currency, the gourde, has taken a dive -- losing close to 100 percent of its former value in four months. As the money depreciates, prices have risen, straining the poor in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
''This is prima facie evidence that just when you think the misery level reaches its maximum in Haiti, additional developments make things even worse,'' said Jerry Haar, a senior research associate at the University of Miami's North South Center.
Once stable at around 27 gourdes to the dollar, the exchange rate hit 50-1 on Friday.
Analysts say the government is running up high deficits, making investors and consumers lose confidence in the national currency. The situation has been building since last fall -- when Haitians sent millions of dollars out of the country after a rumor spread that the government was going to convert dollars in private bank accounts into gourdes.
Haiti's economy, which has contracted for the past two years, is kept afloat by remittances sent home from family members in the United States and international aid and loans. Yet aid to the government from international banks was blocked three years ago, after flawed legislative elections, and won't flow again until Haiti pays off some arrears to the bank and cleans up accounting practices.
Haiti's political crisis also is taking its toll on confidence in the currency, as street protests and strikes flourish.
''Between the political crisis and the economic crisis, it's a very difficult mess. You're talking about the population living a very difficult crisis,'' said Kesner Pharel, a prominent Haitian economist on a fellowship at Harvard University.
Haitians have also lost confidence in the government's monetary authorities, he said.
Venel Joseph, head of Haiti's Central Bank, acknowledged the political impact Friday at a press conference.
''You know that the political situation has an overall influence on exchange rates. That is perhaps [a reason] that people panic. People don't see where things are going, economically, politically,'' Joseph said.
Joseph said the bank will ''intervene'' in the market to stabilize the gourde, but he didn't say how specifically. He did say the bank will raise the interest rates on its bonds.
Typically, a government could use its reserves to stabilize the currency, but even those have dwindled in Haiti, Kesner Pharel said.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has promised to push through a minimum wage hike -- raising it to about $2 an hour, but even the value of that increase has slipped.
This news article appeared in The Miami Herald of February 15, 2003.
Posted at 11:48 p.m., Friday, February 14, 2003
Haiti's anti-drug chief charged with trafficking
By Michael Deibert, Reuters Writers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 14 (Reuters) - The director of a Haitian police anti-drug task force was arrested after he had his men block off a stretch of highway in the capital to allow a Colombian plan carrying about a ton of cocaine to land, a police spokesman said on Friday.
Evans Brillant, director of the Anti-Drug Trafficking Brigade of the Haitian National Police, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in narco-trafficking on Thursday with five other policemen, police Inspector General Harvel told reporters.
"The men were arrested because they were involved in the landing of drugs into the country," he said.
Jean Baptiste said the six were accused of overseeing the landing last week of a Colombian airplane laden with 1,760 to 2,200 pounds of cocaine on Port-au-Prince's crime-ridden Route 9.
Police under Brillant's supervision allegedly set up roadblocks to stop cars and provided security to ensure the cocaine's delivery, Jean Baptiste said. The cocaine has since disappeared.
The arrest came on the same day two rumored drug kingpins in the affluent Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville were shot dead by masked men allegedly wearing T-shirts and jackets bearing police insignias.
The masked men dragged the two, Hector Kitan and Herman Charles, off a busy Petionville street and took them to the home of a woman they knew, where they killed them in a hail of automatic weapon fire, witnesses said.
U.S. officials said two weeks ago that Haiti -- along with Myanmar and Guatemala -- had failed to take sufficient action to fight drug trafficking in the past year.
It was the second time Haiti had been so designated in as many years. The United States described the impoverished Caribbean nation of 8 million as a "path of minimal resistance" for narco-traffickers due to weak democratic institutions, corrupt officials and a fledgling police force. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has denied the charges.
The same week, Le Nouvelliste newspaper published a list of officials whose visas were allegedly revoked by the United States for suspected involvement in drug trafficking. Many of those named were lawmakers and high-ranking officials in the Haitian National Police.
Several of the officials have since held news conferences confirming the revocation of their visas but denying involvement in the drug trade.
Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited
Posted at 8:41 p.m., Saturday, February 8, 2003
More than 2,000 march against Aristide in Haiti's second-largest city
By Jean-Numa Goudou, Associated Press Writer
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti, Feb. 8 - More than 2,000 people marched in Haiti's second largest city Saturday, calling for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign before police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.
Waving small red-and-blue Haitian flags, the demonstrators walked behind a banner that read: "March of Hope toward a New Social Contract."
After less than two hours, police fired tear gas and broke up the march, saying it had deviated from the route approved by the government. The marchers said they were on the sanctioned route.
Shots were heard from an unknown source, but no one was reported injured. A health ministry vehicle was battered by unknown attackers.
"The people are discouraged, and we want to revive their hope in democracy," said opposition activist Frandley Denis Julien, whose civic action committee Citizens' Initiative organized the march.
The march was the latest of dozens of demonstrations against Aristide's administration that, since mid-November, have left at least four dead and more than 350 injured in clashes with Aristide partisans and police.
"I can't buy coffee. I can't buy kerosene for my lamp. I'm here because I'm fed up," said Elgira Mondesir, 65.
Political and economic crisis has been escalating since Aristide's Lavalas Family Party swept 2000 legislative elections that the opposition charged were rigged. Since then, the international community has withheld hundreds of millions in aid dollars until the government and opposition agree on new elections.
In the meantime, the cost of living has increased sharply while economic growth has fallen below zero. The opposition has accused government supporters of attacking dissenters.
Another march organized by Citizens Initiative on Nov. 17 brought out tens of thousands and inspired the opposition to reject Aristide's appeals to participate in legislative elections this year.
The government said the opposition has less influence than it believes.
"The press has underestimated the popularity of President Aristide," who has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006, said presidential spokesman Haendel Carre. He cited several large pro-government demonstrations in recent months.
Aristide on Friday appointed seven members of a nine-member electoral council to organize legislative elections, but only two have said they are willing to take office immediately.
Five members, representatives of civil society, refuse to be sworn in until the government has established a secure environment for credible elections, and two opposition party blocs refused to designate their members until Aristide resigns.
Aristide has alleged his opponents are afraid to run on a level playing field.
Last year, "there were more than 150 political murders, suspicious disappearances or deaths, and quasi political gangland slayings" in Haiti, the U.S. Committee for Refugees said in a report Tuesday. (mn-kd) Politics Tools Elected Officials Issues & Action Politics Extras Enter Your ZIP Code:
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press
Posted at 5:46 p.m., Friday, February 7, 2003
Haitians losing hope and looking to dark Duvalier era for answers
By Michael Norton, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 7 - Haitians marked the anniversary of Jean-Claude Duvalier's toppled dictatorship on Friday, searching for a way out of their latest political and economic crisis (photos).
Some say the country is better-off than in the days of brutal dictatorship. Others point to Haiti's mounting problems and recall bittersweet memories.
"At least under Duvalier, we could make ends meet and send our kids to school," said Rosegard Lundi, 51, one of Duvalier's former henchmen and now a struggling electrician. "I'd campaign for him if he returns."
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere faces increasing challenges as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide struggles to win back support from the poor and lift his ailing country out of the political and economic morass that has dogged it since Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000.
International aid has come to a halt. People are poorer than ever. And a trickle of investment has brought little relief to the crumbling country once considered the "Pearl of the Antilles."
"(Today) marks the end of a long period of oppression and the beginning of a long struggle for the conquest of democracy," said Lilas Desquiron, Aristide's Minister of Culture and Communication.
Aristide promised Friday to push through parliament a bill that would raise the minimum wage from 36 gourdes a day (less than $1) to 70 gourdes (about $1.60). But that has little resonance since most people who work are paid more than that, but two-thirds of the work force in the nation of 8.2 million is unemployed or fighting to survive with just two or three days' work a week.
"Hang in there," was the weak message Aristide offered his people Friday, on a visit to a duty-free industrial zone where factory workers make garments, plastic tubs and electronic items.
Haitians have lost the hope that the one-time slum priest kindled with fiery rhetoric that fueled an uprising to topple Duvalier, who assumed power after the 1971 death of his father, Francois Duvalier. Hopeful after 14 years of terror at the hands of "Papa Doc's" paramilitary Tonton Macoutes, Haitians supported the 18-year-old at first.
But the liberalization of "Baby Doc's" regime did not survive the 1980s economic downturn. Duvalier muzzled the press, and hundreds of political prisoners were tortured and killed. The horrors lost him the support of the U.S. government.
Accused of human rights violations and stealing at least $120 million from the national treasury, Duvalier fled to France in 1986.
"Aristide's betrayal of hope cannot make us forget Duvalier's atrocities," said opposition activist Frandley Denis Julien.
Half of Haiti's people were born after 1984, but they have known little but destructive disorder.
Aristide says he wants to break with Haiti's violent past. In an interview last week, he blamed its chronic woes on an "apartheid" policy of an international community that he says has never forgiven this former French colony for rising against slavery to become the world's first black republic in 1804.
Those sentiments, he asserted, were behind the freeze on $500 million in international aid after the 2000 elections.
For two years, the Organization of American States has endeavored unsuccessfully to mend Haiti's tattered democracy and get Aristide's party and an incoherent opposition coalition to agree on new elections. "
The window for democratic elections in 2003 ... has narrowed drastically," OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria warned last month.
On Thursday, he told a conference on migration that Haiti is in crisis and its people, both middle-class as well as the "poor and dispossessed," were using migration as "an escape valve from the country's problems."
To many, today's atmosphere is reminiscent of that which preceded Duvalier's ouster. Since mid-November, dozens of anti-government demonstrations have called for Aristide's resignation. At least four have been killed and more than 350 injured in clashes.
In December, apparently unafraid he would be jailed or killed, Duvalier said he wanted to return to Haiti.
"There is chaos in Haiti. There are no available means to govern the country," he said from his Paris home.
As the situation deteriorates, his supporters dare to dream.
"I think Jean-Claude ought to be allowed to return," said street vendor Solienne Louis-Jean, 61. "We should give him a chance."
Others say the answer is elsewhere.
"I was full of hope when Jean-Claude fell and full of hope when Aristide came to power," said Ely Merisier, a 38-year-old wedding photographer. "Now neither Aristide, nor the opposition, nor the international community can save us only God." (mn-pd/maf)
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.
Posted at 11:45 p.m., Thursday, February 6, 2003
Haiti's leader says U.S. drug charges unfounded
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 6 President Jean-Bertrand Aristide denied today that his country had become a haven for drug traffickers and charged that the recent suspension of American travel visas for several Haitian officials was not based on concrete evidence.
American officials announced on Friday that Haiti along with Myanmar and Guatemala had failed to take sufficient actions to fight drug trafficking in the past year. It was the second time that Haiti had been so designated in as many years.
"Haiti is not guilty of these charges. We are a poor country and we feel victimized by these actions," Aristide told reporters after meeting David Lee, chief of the special mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) to Haiti. "We are a poor country and we feel victimized by these actions,"
"The U.S. Coast Guard patrolling our waters sees boat people, but they never see boats transporting drugs."
In its annual report on the global drug trade last year, the United States said Haiti was a major transit stop for South American drug cartels shipping illegal narcotics to lucrative North American and European markets.
It described the poor Caribbean nation as a "path of minimal resistance" for drug traffickers because of weak democratic institutions, corrupt officials and a fledgling police force.
Following the announcement on Friday, Haiti's most widely read paper, Le Nouvelliste, published a list of officials whose visas were allegedly revoked by the United States for involvement in drug trafficking. Many of those named were lawmakers and high-ranking officials in the Haitian National Police.
Some of those mentioned, including Clifford Larose, director of Haiti's prisons, have since held news conferences confirming the revocation of their visas but denying their involvement in the drug trade.
Citing privacy laws, the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince declined to comment on the specifics of the case.
Mr. Aristide was first elected to the presidency in this nation of eight million in 1990, but ousted in a coup months later. American troops helped restore him to power in 1994.
Since his re-election in November 2000, he has been locked in a dispute with opposition politicians over May 2000 elections that observers said were rigged in his favor.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Posted at 4:08 p.m., Wednesday, February 5, 2003
Authorities bury Haitian migrants who drowned in the British Virgin Island
By Susanna Henighan, Associated Press Writer
CAPOON'S BAY, British Virgin Islands, Feb. 4 - Authorities buried five Haitians without ceremony Tuesday, nearly a month after they drowned in an attempt to migrate from their impoverished Caribbean country (Tyrant Jean-Bertrand Aristide shaking democratic opposition leader Evans Paul's hands before a secret meeting between the two).
The five were interred together in two caskets at a cemetery in Capoon's Bay, Tortola. Only a few journalists attended the dawn burial, where construction equipment lifted and carried the caskets from a hearse to a single grave.
A memorial service was scheduled for later Tuesday (For AIDS, defining moment on film).
The five had been with 21 other Haitians, seven Dominicans and one St. Lucian who were on their way to the U.S. Virgin Islands when their rickety boat ran aground Jan. 10 off South Sound, Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands.
Later the same day, a second group of 38 Haitians landed 10 miles (16 kilometers) away on in Norman Island.
Authorities detained the surviving migrants and recovered the five men's bodies several days later. An autopsy determined the five had drowned, police Sgt. Valston Graham said.
Two of the drowned men carried documents identifying them as Haitians Brunell Georges and Jean Antoine, police said, but could not give their ages and hometowns. Police said they believed the other three unidentified men were also Haitian.
Of the migrants who were detained, authorities have repatriated the seven Dominicans, the St. Lucian and 28 of the 59 Haitians.
Repatriation was held up for several weeks as the British Virgin Islands government searched for an island that would allow the Haitians to pass through its airport.
Both Antigua and Puerto Rico had refused to allow the transfer for fear the migrants would ask for political asylum.
There are no direct flights from the British Virgin Islands to Haiti and the repatriated Haitians were flying through St. Maarten, a Caribbean island shared between France and the Netherlands.
Many Haitian migrants undertake the dangerous trip aboard crowded boats in an attempt to find better economic opportunities on U.S. shores.
With Haiti in political and economic turmoil, increasing numbers of migrants have been turning up on other islands as U.S. patrols increase in the Caribbean and the U.S. government promises to tighten security.
The Haitian migrants in the British Virgin Islands told immigration officials that the people who smuggled them to the territory two weeks ago told had told them they were landing in St. Thomas of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
On Sunday, another group of migrants, including nine Dominicans, eight Chinese and two Haitians, landed at Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda. Authorities detained them pending repatriation. (sh-fg/kd)
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press.
|Proposed U.S. bill may be boon to Haiti|
|By Marika Lynch, Miami Herald Writer|
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb. 5 -- Marleine Ateus couldn't afford to attend high school. Instead, she took sewing lessons and for the past year has stitched shirts bound for America's Wal-Marts and Kmarts in a factory on the edge of Haiti's capital.
Ateus, 26, makes Haiti's minimum wage of about $1 a day so little she now walks part of the way to work to save on bus fare. But with more than half the country officially unemployed, she says: ``I am thankful to God that He gives us at least this work.''
Twenty years ago, factories in Haiti provided more than 60,000 jobs, and produced blue jeans, shirts and most of the baseballs hit in U.S. parks. But business owners fled as political instability rocked the country. Today, less than half of those jobs are left.
Now, though, some U.S. lawmakers are pushing a bill which aims to revive the struggling garment assembly businesses. If it is passed, Haitian clothing factories would be exempt from paying a U.S. import tax if they bought their fabric from any of several foreign countries. Currently, factory owners only receive that exemption if they buy fabric from U.S. manufacturers. Fabric from other nations, however, is often cheaper.
African nations have a similar benefit under a 2000 law aimed to help some of the world's poorest countries. Haiti would have the same edge.
``We can become more competitive. Then buyers would look to us as an assembly point rather than going directly to the country that produces the fabric," said Jeffrey Blatt, an American businessman and 19-year veteran in Haiti's garment industry.
During that time Blatt left Haiti twice for the Dominican Republic, once after a trade embargo squeezed business in the early 1990s. He says he returned to conserve his original investment, and now his 800 employees in Port-au-Prince produce 24,000 garment pieces a day.
Though backers expect some resistance from lawmakers in garment manufacturing states like North Carolina and South Carolina, they say the measure won't displace jobs in the United States. The kind of garments that are made in Haiti aren't made in the United States anymore, said Jean Edouard Baker, past president of the Haitian Manufacturers Association.
The measure may bring work now being done in Asia back to the Western Hemisphere, and create a ripple effect in Miami.
Clothes cut and stitched in Haiti often pass through South Florida distributors before they are sent around the country, factory owners said.
Recently, a group of U.S. lawmakers who were visiting Haiti toured a factory and touted the bill, which is being pushed by leaders who criticize and also compliment embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
''There's no reason Haiti should not be able to get back to where it was'' in terms of manufacturing jobs, said Sen. Mike DeWine, an Ohio Republican who is sponsoring the bill, while standing amid fabric samples and sewing machines at one plant.
Aristide, too, praised the measure he said would ``bring new prospects for employment and jobs in Haiti.''
If the thousands of jobs -- as many as 50,000, business leaders say -- do materialize, the effect on Haiti's economy would be exponential. Here, every job supports five people, businessmen say.
In the case of factory worker Emmanuel Jean-Baptiste, a screen printer who earns $3 a day, the level is twice that. The 22 year-old is the only person in his 11-member family with a job in Haiti's formal sector.
After work, Jean-Baptiste takes his $3 a day salary, and buys socks and shoes that his family members can take downtown to sell in the market.
''They are so poor, I support them as much as I can,'' Jean-Baptiste said.
*This news article appeared in The Miami Herald of February 5, 2003.
Posted at 7:31 p.m., Monday, February 3, 2003
|U.S. says Haiti fails to fight drug|
|By Marika Lynch|
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Haiti is failing to curb the flow of drugs across its shores, in part because traffickers have found allies in the highest ranks of the Haitian National Police force, the U.S. government said (The Report).
The White House declared Friday that Haiti -- along with Guatemala and Myanmar, also known as Burma -- had ''failed demonstrably'' in the past year to combat drug trafficking.
''Haiti remains a major transshipment point for drugs, primarily cocaine moving from South America to the U.S. market,'' said Paul Simons, the acting assistant secretary of State for international narcotics matters.
U.S. officials personally have asked President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti to remove several police officers after linking them to the cocaine trade, and the government has canceled visas for nearly a dozen senior police and lawmakers. One of those is a senior member of the Presidential Guard, sources said.
So far, only one of the police officials has been removed, U.S. Ambassador Brian Dean Curran said.
''One senior official removed in a year does not constitute cooperation in the fight against drugs,'' Curran told The Herald.
Haitian government officials called the accusations ''a continuing part of the American government's political war against the Aristide government,'' said Ira Kurzban, general counsel for Haiti. Curran declined to discuss the individual cases. But he said he expects more visas to be revoked. Sources said at least one of the police officials was caught among drug dealers as they dropped a shipment in Haiti, and others were suspected of leaking information about an unsuccessful drug bust last fall.
For both Haiti and Guatemala, the decision by the Bush administration on Friday was mainly symbolic. U.S. law envisions a suspension of U.S. aid to countries deemed uncooperative on narcotics unless the White House declares it in the ''national interest'' to maintain the aid -- a determination that President Bush made for both Haiti and Guatemala.
Taking away U.S. funds, which totaled $57 million last year, for health and other projects in Haiti would only further affect Haiti's struggling economy and breed conditions for more crime, U.S. officials said.
Washington must maintain aid flows to Guatemala, officials said, to strengthen judicial and civil institutions, diversify the rural economy and address environmental concerns.
Kurzban blamed the United States for continuing problems in Haiti, saying U.S. funds intended to help root out corruption and drug-trafficking have yet to be released.
The U.S. and Haitian governments signed an aid agreement last year under $650,000 would be spent to train the ill-equipped and understaffed police force to combat drug trafficking. ''The United States has continued to have an embargo on the Haitian government,'' Kurzban said. ``How does one fight corruption in the police force and train new police officers without the resources to do it? The U.S. is, to a large extent, responsible for the current situation in Haiti.''
Hours away by speed boat from South America, the Caribbean nation of eight million has become an important transshipment point for cocaine, with at least 8 percent of the drug headed for U.S. shores stopping in Haiti first.
In Friday's report, the government said Haiti again made the list because in 2002 it failed to increase the number of arrests and seizures, didn't beef up its struggling coast guard, and kept politicizing the Haitian National Police. Meanwhile, cocaine drops by light aircraft increased.
The United States did note two positive developments: Haiti did let U.S. Coast Guard boats enter its waters to chase traffickers, and it started a financial intelligence unit to track assets of offenders.
Aristide said in December that the U.S. government should be doing more to help his country fight drugs.
But Curran said more aid won't be forthcoming unless Haiti removes those allegedly involved in trafficking.
''Until you can trust the police, there is no way we can have a large counter-narcotics operation in this country,'' Curran said.
Herald staff writers Nancy San Martin in Miami and Tim Johnson in Washington contributed to this report.
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