Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Haiti, one month after the event

By Jean H Charles:

The Haitian people that are usually so creative and so witty in their imagination, one month after the event have not found a name to designate the earthquake that occurred on 1/12/10. It is still l’evenement: the event. This lack of leadership in naming such a major occurence represents the state of the state of Haiti four weeks after the devastating earthquake that wrought the country with a force it has not seen in the last 250 years.

Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol.comI was in New York when the earthquake struck Port au Prince and its environs of Leogane, Jacmel, Petit-Goave, Grand-Goave, Petionville, Kenscoff, Croix Des Bouquets, Miragoane Ganthier and Gressier. With the rest of the world, I was glued to CNN to watch with horror the extent of destruction and of deaths that 37 seconds of seism could produce in a country where a building code was not in force. I flew to Port au Prince two weeks later through Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Most of the major hotels in the Dominican Republic, filled with journalists, rescuers and officials of international organizations, served as a staging point for the trip towards Port au Prince, Haiti.

Early on the next day, my three American companions and I rented a car and drove to Haiti. The long ride to the border was uneventful. I enjoyed watching the young Dominican kids with the same uniform, kaki pants and blue shirt, all over the country, coming or going out to school. The activity started building up at the Haitian-Dominican border of Jimani. Long convoys of trucks with food, medicine and other building materials from all over the world were in line to enter into Haiti to help in the recovery.

I told my companions, be ready to watch how beautiful is the Haitian side with a major lake stretching for miles, the lake Azui, unspoiled, unused, ready to become a major tourist recreational center once the country has a government up to the task. The first two cities on the way to Port au Prince, Malpasse and Fond Parisien have very little destruction. Life seems follow at a normal pace.

The next two cities, Ganthier and Croix des Bouquets gave the indication of what to come when we arrived in Port au Prince, houses after houses were resting on each other as if they were little toys. Some were flattened with two or three stories one upon the other. I was told they still have people in decomposition underneath. The majestic and brand new American embassy was erected firm and untouched by the elements.

Late in the evening, we made a tour of the suburb of Petionville. The destruction was all around us, shacks and villas were flattened without discrimination of rank or status. Yet there was a feeling of normalcy. The restaurants spared by the earthquake were opened; the streets were filled with vendors as the parks were occupied by makeshift tent cities with orderly people trying to survive the unimaginable.

The next day, I saw the destruction in all its magnitude, the proud National Palace, gone; the Palace of Justice completely flattened, the offices of the ministries destroyed, the tall office of taxation completely eliminated. The entire commercial district is gone; the state university; school of medicine, school of law, school of nursing are destroyed. The same thing for most if not all the churches, the national cathedral flattened, with its Archbishop underneath. The famed Episcopal cathedral with its fresco of beautiful Haitian art was completely in ruins.

My home on the same River Street where some one thousand college students perished underneath their school, remained without damage. My father of 97 years old standing tall as a bamboo stick was presiding at the reconstruction of the fence wall, sleeping in his room, while a camp of refugees took shelter underneath the canopy in the yard.

The weekend of Valentine’s Day that corresponds this year with the usual Carnival time was dedicated to the commemoration of the event one month after. The vast Champ de Mars that corresponds to Savannah in Port of Spain or Time Square in New York was filled with people praying to God for saving their lives, singing to the Maker from the baton of an ecumenical group made of Protestants, Episcopalians, Catholics and even voodoo practitioners. Even the falling sun was in the party, several people saw a miracle in a brighter and shinier sundown.

At St Louis, King of France, my own parish church, the Sunday service took place in the yard. The beautiful and historic church was destroyed by the earthquake. An official of the government, Mr Daniel Henrys, in charge of the National Patrimony Institute, has chastised in a letter, on the net, the vicar for completing the destruction without his authorization.

The priest told me to let him know that he has visited his office several times in the past requesting help to maintain the church edifice. He has failed to come forward. His crocodile tears are now as hollow as the fall that causes the seism. The vicar with a leadership that is lacking in the Haitian government is ready to rebuild bigger and better. The congregation has never been so large and so ready to give and share.

I have visited the country from the northern border of Ouanaminthe to far away in the south from the epicenter of the earthquake in the city of Anse-a veau, I have seen the Haitian people ready to rebuild, the international community on site and ready to help but the Haitian government is not up to the task. An influential member of the government has told me he is trying, albeit without success, to move the executive into decentralization or funding the small cities to receive the refugees from Port au Prince, Preval is sticking to the tent cities as the policy of the government.

One month after the event, the fault on land has all the ingredients of a lack of vision and leadership, lack of compassion and lack of coordination. It is as wide as the fault underneath the capital that caused the seism. I have seen the lack of coordination in the devastated city of Leogane, where Canada and Venezuela have set up tents for the refugees. The Bolivarian tent city, well organized, is a transitional model that should be replicated; the Venezuelan soldiers living with the refugees are social workers, teachers, cooks and community organizers. The Canadians on the other side, too happy to enjoy the sun of Haiti away from the rigor and the thaw of winter of the Great North, did not display such discipline or coordination with the Venezuelan contingent.

There is a culture of lack of compassion for the refugees in the tent city. Food, water and public hygiene should be brought to the people. They need not go to a far away place for half a bag of rice distributed (orderly by the Americans, and disorderly by the United Nations).

There is also a lack of vision and leadership in the governance of the Republic. The American government has directed its two last presidents Clinton and Bush to coordinate the help for and towards Haiti. The Preval government does not exhibit the same high level crisis mode to bring the country to some normalcy. Its culture of each one for himself does not suit this emergency situation.

The Haitian constitution prescribes that the presidential election takes place on November 28, 2010, and a new president starts office on February 7, 2011. Can Haiti afford one more year of poor governance in this time of crisis? Will the Constitution be violated by not holding a timely election? If Haiti will have a provisional government on February 7, 2011, should not this provisional government takes place now, not only to manage effectively this tragic crisis, but also to conduct free and fair election?

Haiti is at a juncture where most nations are jockeying to take the lead in influence and in importance in the country. Nicholas Sarkozy will be visiting Haiti on February 17, the first ever by a French president to set foot on Haitian soil after 500 years, during or after colonial time. China promised to bring about the same change into Haiti that it has been able to realize for 800 million peasants, raising their level of life from squalor to middle class status in less than a generation. Italy has dispatched a full battalion to Haiti after the controversial declaration of its best expert in disaster management. The United States, still haunted by the Wilson doctrine of Americas to the American, sees Haiti under its sphere of influence. Latin America energized by ALBA wants to play a role in Haiti to repay a debt owed since Simon Bolivar.

Will the Haitian people profit from this disaster to enjoy at least and last the bliss of welfare and happiness? The stars are lining up for such an event. They need though a leader that provides vision, direction, leadership, compassion and coordination of international aid.

February 16, 2010