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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Haiti must learn to live with earthquakes, experts say

By Jordi Zamora:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) -- It will be difficult to convince Haitians to spend extra money and rebuild their quake-ravaged country with structures able to withstand another powerful earthquake, experts said Friday.

Some 170,000 people were killed in the devastating January 12 quake that toppled weak buildings across the Haitian capital.

Two fault lines run under the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, but Haitians have long forgotten about the danger of earthquakes.

"Between six and eight generations of people have gone by who lived with no awareness of earthquakes," Haitian engineer Hans Zennid told AFP.

The previous earthquakes known to have struck the island nation took place in 1742, 1772 and 1842, said Zennid. The 1842 quake was so devastating it forced the government to move the capital from Cap Haitien to its current location.

Despite the devastation, President Rene Preval has said that Port-au-Prince will continue being Haiti's capital.

The presidential palace, built in the 1920s, the Congress building, and virtually every ministry building collapsed when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck.

However an 11-floor building belonging to the telephone company towers over the rubble, largely intact.

Zennid was the engineer responsible for making sure that building was earthquake-ready.

"From the start I planned to make the building strong enough to resist a magnitude 6.0 earthquake, because the possibilities of a 7 (magnitude) like the one that just happened is something that happens every 150 years," said Zennid, as he surveyed the building.

A report by US structural engineers giving people the green light to use the building is posted at the entrance, perhaps to ease the fears of workers desperately seeking a semblance of normality. The report said that only one of the pillars suffered minimum damage.

Zennid said he increased the building's strength after a soil analysis.

"When we began to lay the building foundation and I analyzed the soil quality, I added 20 percent to the security level, which allowed it to resist a 7.3," he said.

That meant adding 15 percent more reinforced concrete and steel to the foundation, which meant increasing the cost by some 150,000 dollars.

At first his employers "were upset, but in the end they accepted the price increase," he said.

Haiti's elegant presidential palace can be rebuilt on the same site, even keeping the same style, Zennid said, but engineers will have to completely re-work the building's foundation.

That also applies to the vast majority of homes in Port-au-Prince, including the most luxurious mansions and hotels, many of which collapsed when the quake struck, he said.

As in most underdeveloped countries, even rich Haitians tend to expand their homes in stages instead of building them according to a single, structurally sound blueprint.

In order to do that builders need a large pot of money, and "there is no tradition of home loans here," said French architect Christian Dutour, who has carried out several projects in Haiti.

It will be difficult to explain the importance of proper building codes to a population that overwhelmingly lives below the poverty line.

In the noisy, chaotic streets of Port-au-Prince, street vendors are already selling metal rods salvaged from the earthquake rubble.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), which tracks earthquakes around the world, Haiti's quake could represent the beginning of a new cycle of earthquakes after nearly 170 years of geological peace.

The quake's epicenter was just 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Haiti and struck at a very shallow depth of 13 kilometers (eight miles).

The USGS estimated recently that there was a 25 percent probability that one or several magnitude 6 aftershocks could strike in the coming weeks, although they will space out more and more over time.

The January 12 quake freed much of the tension accumulated on one portion of the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, which runs along the southern portion of Hispaniola -- but another segment east of the epicenter and adjacent to Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince has barely moved, according to the USGS.

"We are sitting on a powder keg," geologist Claude Prepetit, an engineer from the Haitian Mines and Energy bureau, told AFP.

"We are faced with the threat of future earthquakes and have to decentralize, and depopulate Port-au-Prince," he said.

January 30, 2010


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lessons from Port au Prince, Haiti

By Jean H Charles:

Driving from Port au Prince into the hill of Bourdon, towards the bucolic and attractive suburb of Petionville, one is captivated by the sheer beauty of the setting: a gentle mountain with a deep ravine on the right side, beautiful mansions on the left, with wild ginger plants with their giant red and pink flowers serving as a fence. The guardrail on the side of the road is muted into a moving museum or an art gallery filled with object d’arts of all genres, pots with hand designed motifs, painting and iron works well suited for outdoor gardens. The Haitian artists are turning what they do best, one piece of art after another better and prettier than the previous one; all these creative endeavors at dirt cheap price.

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.comBut amongst that splendor, perched on the hill is the vignette of one of the slums that surround the city of Port au Prince. I have often asked how come this disturbing view does not lead to affirmative action to bring about effective use of zoning laws to protect the mountain against possible avalanche. Haitian officials as well as expatriates from the international organizations take that road daily towards their villas into the nooks and the hooks of the many mountains that bring you from the tropical temperature of the littoral sea to the temperate cool weather of the elevated altitude in less than half an hour’s time. There are certainly some lessons that can be taken from the Port au Prince earthquake.

Lesson one: be aware of the ostrich game, it will come back to haunt you!

The growing expansion of the slum named Jalousie, Tokyo, Brooklyn, and Cite Soleil, by the whimsical Haitian people is such a visible abscess that one could not miss them. Action should have been taken to relocate the thousands of Haitian people migrating from the neglected countryside into the city to taste a piece of the illusory pie made of neon light, fast moving cars and a possible job as a gardener or hustler and bustler to get the daily bread. They are also the lumping rod used by the politicians or the government to whip those with opposing views. The extreme misery of the majority of Haitian people before 1/12/10 requested urgent action and responsible measures to alleviate the condition of life of millions. The measures suggested by the international organizations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.) and adopted by the Haitian government have produced dismal results, which strangely resembles the outpouring of resources and the lack of elementary tools at the makeshift hospitals to save patients that need not die after the earthquake.

Lesson two: the Joseph and the Pharaoh story are still alive today.

The bible in its old testament gave us the story of Joseph being advised by God in a dream to notify the Pharaoh of Egypt that the country and the surrounding areas will endure seven years of drought. The Pharaoh was wise enough to appoint Joseph as his prime minister who engineered a policy of saving enough grain to last the hard times and even sell the surplus to the neighboring nations.

The Haitian government was advised two years ago by three foreign and two native scientists that a possible seismic event could strike the city of Port au Prince in the near future; due diligence should have been taken for protective measures that could save lives and limb. A similar disaster in Cuba or in the United States would not result in such a big loss of human lives: two hundred thousand and counting.

The Caribbean plate that strikes Port-au- Prince extends all the way through Kingston Jamaica; a similar plate in the North, the Atlantic plate, goes into the city of Santiago, Dominican Republic. Those two governments must not follow the Haitian pattern of faking due diligence. Preventive measures in health, environmental and food security should be taken as soon as possible and as a way of life.

Lesson three, the politics of make believe can only strike back on your own face.

The United States, because of its proximity to and the strength of its commerce with Haiti, is in the best position to take the lead in the recovery effort. Having decided to do so, it has the moral obligation to exercise due diligence in demonstrating its leadership. It cannot hide behind the incompetence of the Haitian government or the ineptness of the United Nations to justify, the errors, the excuses and the mishaps in the ill-advised logistics of the burial of the dead and the delivery of food, water and medicine.

The poor handling of the bodies as ordinary garbage, the fight in getting food and water, the allocation of priorities of who should land first in the congested Port au Prince airport, the decision to organize tent cities instead of starting the rebuilding of Haiti through the relocation to and the renaissance of the 140 small towns are all decisions that will produce donor fatigue and in the long run postpone or forestall the Haitian recovery.

Lesson four: count your friends at the funeral parlor.

In bad times you know who your real friends are! The Haitian community has, akin to the rest of the Caribbean, a sizable Arab community made up of Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians and Palestinians. They provide a useful outlet for commerce and business. In Haiti they own and run the supermarkets and the wholesale delivery of canned and foreign food. Some of them have also lost their lives and their enterprise.

I have not seen the rush of the Arab governments in lending a hand to Haiti and to their expatriate citizens. Without going into an Arab-Israeli conflict, the disproportionate call to help by Israel is noticeable in light of the very few Israeli citizens residing in Haiti. The mobile hospital sent by the government of Israel was the first one to be deployed and taking care of the sick and the injured in the disaster.

Lesson five: when the disease is in a terminal phase one needs the intervention of a specialist to bring about incremental progress.

The case of Haiti is apropos. The ailments in environmental degradation, food insecurity, and dismal health practice and poor infrastructure is so systemic that it needs a minimum of good governance that goes beyond simple electioneering. Haiti has developed through the years the practice of choosing the worst leaders to lead its destiny; under the pretext of nationalism some of its presidents have sold the country’s sovereignty to remain in power. It is now time for Haiti to choose a leader that will bring about true hospitality to the majority of its citizens.

The Port au Prince earthquake is now labeled as of one of the major disasters of recent history. So many lives need not be lost, if there was a minimum of good governance in the country. The recovery will be hard and painful and the Haitian people are thorough and resilient. It will not happen, though, if lessons are not taken, caring on the ground not demonstrated, and purposeful leadership not exhibited.

January 30, 2010


Friday, January 29, 2010

Caribbean diplomacy: An endangered species

By Sir Ronald Sanders:

Caribbean governments are in danger of weakening still further their diplomatic capacity endangering its effectiveness, and imperiling their countries’ maneuverability in a harsh world.

Industrialized nations have several instruments on which to draw in their relations with other countries. Among these are military might, economic clout and diplomatic capacity.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on small states in the global community. Reponses to: www.sirronaldsanders.comIf their security is threatened by other states or non-state actors, such as drug traffickers and terrorists, they are able to deploy their military; on the economic front, they can apply trade sanctions withdraw financial assistance or institute measures to halt cross-border transactions; in diplomacy, they have well-staffed, well trained and well informed foreign ministries and missions abroad who bargain for their interests. When diplomacy fails, big countries have economic clout and military might on which to fall back.

For small states, such as those in the Caribbean, diplomacy is the only instrument they have to advance their cause and defend their interests in the international community.

In this connection, Caribbean governments should place enormous emphasis on making their diplomatic capacity as strong as possible.

But, there is a growing tendency in many countries of the region to focus diplomacy in the Head of Government. Many Heads of government, already bogged down with urgent and pressing domestic problems have assigned the foreign affairs portfolio to themselves. In doing so, they either do not attend crucial meetings that impact their countries, or they attend without the full understanding of complex issues that only exclusive ministerial responsibility backed by expert analysis allows. In each case, their country’s interest is not well served.

Beyond this, even where governments have appointed foreign ministers, foreign ministries are not seen as vital - or even on par - with ministries concerned with domestic issues. Therefore, the financial and other resources that they get in annual budgets are inadequate to the extremely important job they have to do on behalf of their nations.

Worse yet, little attention appears to be paid to where and why overseas missions should be located, and who would be best to man them. In many cases, governments have followed the traditional road establishing missions where they are now least needed and neglecting capitals and international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), where they are most required.

It cannot be in the best interest of any country for its diplomatic missions to be regarded as a pasture to send unwanted nuisances or reward political friends. Diplomacy, as has been pointed out, is a vital tool for small countries and its best brains should be appointed to its service.

There is a most important role for Heads of Government in a nation’s diplomacy. But, it is a role best played after the most careful diplomatic preparation that lays the groundwork for success. Otherwise, what should be the tool that clinches a deal in a blaze of glory will fail like a damp squib. Occasional successful forays by Heads of Government in international and bilateral negotiations should not be mistaken as a prescription for how accomplishment is to be achieved. Often, in these circumstances, the apparent success simply happens to serve the interests of the other government or institution involved.

When the European Union (EU), a grouping of 27 large nations, recently brought their new Constitution into effect, they appointed a Foreign Minister in addition to a President. In effect, what the EU nations did was to strengthen their global diplomatic outreach in trade, economic cooperation and investment. In addition to their own national foreign ministries, they now have the additional services of EU missions around the world, most of which have been beefed-up with additional expert staff.

In this connection, while the recently initialed Economic Union Treaty of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is to be welcomed as the right step forward, it is disappointing that it failed to advance the diplomatic capacity of six small independent states who would most benefit from strengthened and unified diplomacy.

The draft Treaty, which is to be ratified by the parliaments of each country before formal signature and implementation, reads as follows in relation to foreign policy:

“The organisation shall seek to achieve the fullest possible harmonisation of foreign policy among the Member States, to seek to adopt, as far as possible, common positions on international issues, and to establish and maintain, wherever possible, arrangements for joint overseas representation and/or common services”.

Words such as “fullest possible”, “as far as possible” and “wherever possible” are usually inserted in Treaties of this kind where the governments intend to make the least change to the existing situation and where the real intention is to carry on business as usual. The signal that this sends is unfortunate, for the six independent members of the OECS would benefit enormously from a fully joined-up diplomatic service particularly in the present precarious conditions that confront their economies.

They least, of all, can afford layer upon layer of government. Already their tax payers are paying contributions to upkeep both the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) Secretariat and the OECS Secretariat. Arguably, they maintain the OECS Secretariat because they believe that participation in it brings them greater strength than they have individually. If that is the case, then surely establishing and strengthening joint diplomatic capacity is not only in their bargaining interest, it would also reduce their individual expenditure on foreign affairs or more effectively focus their spending.

Of course, a major difficulty the OECS faces is their neglect of the requirement of the existing Treaty to harmonize their foreign policies “as far as possible”. Thus, three of the six independent states are members of the Venezuelan-initiated organization, ALBA, and three are not, and three of them have diplomatic relations with China while three maintain formal relations with Taiwan. Only a serious and visionary dialogue, supported by rigorous analysis of their long-term interests, will create a rational policy.

The global political economy is not friendly to small states of even tolerant of them. In a world being remorselessly driven by the interests of the larger and more economically powerful states – in which China and Brazil must now be included with the US, the EU and Japan - Caribbean countries need better and stronger diplomatic capacity to advance their causes and protect their interests.

January 29, 2010


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti, without a palace too

Leticia Martínez Hernández

/PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti. — They say that only majestic place in the Haitian capital was its National Palace. The building, enormous and blindingly white, was yet another paradox in this country, immersed in abject poverty, but able to show off a palace in the style of the grand Petit Palais in Versailles.

History recounts that the National Palace took five years to be built, but it took barely one minute for it to be almost completely destroyed. The January 12 earthquake shook this Haitian national symbol mercilessly. This reporter went to the site and spoke with Fritz Longchamp, minister of the presidency, who was working together with his team in an improvised office in the shade of a tree.

Just a few hours after the tragedy struck, when the extent of the damage was not yet clear, everyone thought that, given the quake had affected the Palace so extensively, weaker buildings must have fared far worse. When our reporting team was visiting, even the helicopters flying overhead made the devastated walls shake.

Longchamp explained that the building’s three cupolas were destroyed; the left and center ones collapsed inward and the one on the right fell forward.

President René Préval’s office, the Council of Ministers room, the First Lady’s office and the meeting room were all buried when the roof collapsed. The central pavilion of columns was likewise demolished. During that collapse, at least four people were killed in the Palace’s central building, and another nine in the Presidential Guard headquarters, now virtually in ruins.

Thirty percent of the palace was destroyed, according to preliminary estimates. Longchamp said the proposal is to repair instead of demolish, because there are no structural problems.

“We would like to rebuild the cupolas, but this time, make them more earthquake-resistant.”

For that purpose, Haitian experts from the National Heritage Institute have been called upon to rebuild the Palace, together with Japanese and U.S. engineers and architects. They are currently assessing its structures and the patrimonial values that still remain among the debris.

The minister of the presidency, still sorrowful over the tragedy, emphasized that the Palace is very much a part of Haiti’s national identity, like its flag and shield.

Translated by Granma International

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Careful planning is needed for Haiti's re-development

By Youri Kemp:

The earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year was a dreadful catastrophe that shook the conscience of every human being with a heart that beats in their body.

Educated at the Bahamas Baptist Community College; St Thomas University and The London School of Economics and Political Science, Youri Kemp is a Management and Development ConsultantThe comments made by certain quarters of the American political community and the religious community at large, are unwarranted. They are unwarranted because the facts, as seen in the eyes of the persons who made them, are largely irrelevant to the issues at hand. Gratuitously cruel to some extent.

The major, current issues are in finding ways for aid to reach Haitians in Haiti on the ground as well as what Haiti needs, in the form of development, to ensure that a catastrophe like this is not repeated.

We can surmise that no one can predict an earthquake with any certainty, even though scientists are becoming more accurate with their information. However, Haiti won't miraculously move off of the plateau of the tectonic plates that caused the earthquake. Also, Haiti would still need strong infrastructure and strong human services, to be able to better handle a catastrophe, like an earthquake, if a natural disaster happens again.

In a nutshell, considering the earthquake as well as the fact that Haiti is prone to hurricanes, Haiti needs to not only rebuild, but rebuild stronger, given the unnecessary loss of life that occurred.

Stronger building codes and a disaster management plan, is an obvious must.

Resetting the government agenda is also vitally important, but also an obvious must.

In addition, another issue that has arisen, more strongly post quake, is debt relief for Haiti. This, in conjunction with the almost bound to happen cry for reparations from France, are issues that have their merit grounded in historical and redistributive fact and need.

However, the question one must ask is: would spending money, via debt relief and reparations to and through the government of Haiti be worth its effort? A government, which had its parliament collapse along with other government agencies, on top of the other issues as they relate to its fragile state before the quake (2008 mini-coup/riot that was quashed)? Would this really work towards a better long term solution to the social, economic and political situation in Haiti?

I have my doubts on the viability of those options at this time. Perhaps it may be something to consider in the future of Haiti.

However, what about the underlying issues that has prevented Haiti moving, in the past, towards building a stronger, more progressive society? A stronger, more progressive society, which would help to strengthen the people and the institutions of Haiti, in order for Haiti to sustain such a disaster -- God forbid, but more than likely, would happen again in light of the obvious realities.

Without going into a historical diatribe about the merits of any particular organisation, whether it was political or religious, the fact of the matter is that the distraction as it relates to the disruptions that were caused by political instability -- even if we speak to the heart and the socio-economic fibre of Haiti when we mention the name Duvalier, and the Voodoo belief system, which was seen to have propped up the dictator, is something that needs to sorted out, if Haiti is to become progressive.

Conventional wisdom, which in this case I will indulge because many indicators have shown that belief in this particular, even if one considers it axiomatic, position, is relevant; is the issue of the Haitian civil society and their private sector and the fact that they have been virtually non-existent in the past, if not, moribund, to say the most about it.

Civil society organisations have been proven to anchor communities and, by effect, stabilise communities through their organised nature and their ability to negotiate with business and political directorates and lobby for sensitive, effective and meaningful socio-economic solutions to critical issues.

Fostering a sense of common values, commitment and investment interests in the Haitian society, must never be repressed, ignored or uncultivated in the new Haitian society.

Where people have interests and investments’, coalescing around shared values on where the country is headed and what is needed to maintain sustained, positive development- issues as they relate to human and structural development, will be a synergistic, progressive positive.

The private sector must be engaged most vigorously. For the fact that the minimum wage in Haiti is, roughly, US$5 -- and we can imagine that most employers don't adhere to it -- is one that cannot be ignored and issues as they relate to (1) Curbing oligopolistic and monopolistic activity; (2) Providing for sustainable local markets; (3) Ensuring fair value in and access to external markets; and (4) Trade and development assistance from all the relevant partners and stakeholders in the global community, is a large task but must be essential for a new Haitian, country-wide progressive model.

Creating wealth in Haiti is an obvious task that must be addressed and attacked with full commitment from the Haitian government and their international partners.

The concerns as they relate to officials taking a mechanistic approach to the matter, is something that the Haitian government, non-governmental organisations and technical expertise from the development community -- bearing in mind the daunting task of country-wide buy in and creating economic synergies that are self sustaining -- must take in hand from a prejudiced standpoint of the status quo and assist their weaker partners, in that the civil society organisations.

Certainly, there are enough 'what to do's' to go about. This author is not void of any. However, what Haiti and its partners in assistance needs now is to identify which 'what to do' to target and work at it. The second hardest part is 'how to do' as well as measuring the success of the 'what to do' as it would be and is impacted by the 'how did'? This is obviously after immediate reconstruction and investment for that reconstruction.

Partners from around the globe must converge on Haiti and assist the society at large with whatever decisions are made. This includes not just assistance with debt relief -- if that be the case -- or development through trade or just supporting NGOs stationed in Haiti.

But, assist Haiti with the technical expertise to build a better nation, from the inside out.

January 26, 2010


Monday, January 25, 2010

Traumatised Haitians struggle to comprehend grim fate

By Dave Clark:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AFP) -- It's not immediately clear where the crowd gathered in prayer ends and where the refugee encampment begins, as one group of listless, traumatised people bleeds into another.

With a symbol of state strength, Haiti's once magnificent National Palace, lying in ruins behind them, thousands left homeless by the devastating quake pin their hopes of salvation on God rather than on the works of man.

A woman prays during the funeral service for Haitian Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot who was killed in last week's devastating earthquake outside Notre Dame d'Assumption Cathedral in Port-au-Prince. AFP PHOTOThe reading is Psalm 102, and the reader has a high, clear voice, sometimes distorted by feedback through the massive rock concert-size speakers.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee," she declares. "Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily."

Worshippers in the crowd follow the text with their fingers in battered copies of the Bible salvaged from their demolished homes. In a break in the text their wavering voices sing along with a Misericordia prayer.

"For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth," the Psalm continues. "My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread."

"For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping," runs the reading. "Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down."

Many Haitians were cast down on January 12, when a 7.0-magnitude quake tore into the capital and surrounding region, burying at least 112,000 people in the ruins of their shops and homes and leaving a million homeless.

Now the survivors are looking for sense among the senseless waste. A queue of them waits by the side of the stage as the reading continues.

One by one they take the microphone and loudly confess their sins and those of their people, begging the forgiveness of a God they can only suppose to have been so angered by Haitians that his wrath felled them in their thousands.

"My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass," the reader continues, her voice tireless. "But thou, O Lord, shall endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations."

"He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord."

Not everyone in the crowd has come to pray, some are just bored by life in the tents and makeshift bivouacs carpeting the surrounding ceremonial square. others are here to do what business they can to survive.

A haggard-looking woman hawks a neat pile of freshly cleaned and pressed face towels. One optimist has erected a stall selling souvenir key rings with the Haitian flags and arm bands celebrating US President Barack Obama.

Elsewhere, family life continues. One woman huddles in a tiny patch of shade, breast-feeding an infant. Small boys wash in a bucket of soapy water while nearby their playmates fly kites made of wire and plastic waste.

Stands sell short sticks of sugar cane and small oily pastries.

Two young men unload French-language textbooks from a sack to sell on the kerbside. The cover boasts that readers will become fluent after a few easy lessons, but the salesmen themselves struggle to express themselves.

"What do I think of what happened? I don't think anything about it."

Across the road, marshalled by police with pump-action shotguns, a large but orderly and calm crowd presses around the door of a newly reopened bank, hoping to access cash, hoping that relatives abroad have sent donations.

"The cause of the quake was natural, but in what other country would it have had such an effect?" asks 33-year-old security guard Mercelus Luckner, fearful that he is unemployed after finding his firm's offices in ruins.

"Haitians have made many mistakes. They offended God. God is punishing us," he reasons, holding on to a vague hope that one of the foreign aid workers arriving in the city will pluck him from the crowd and offer him a job.

The Psalm ends: "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure:"

January 25, 2010


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Help Haiti out of Haiti

Jamaicaobserver Editorial:

Centuries ago, the colonial powers of the western world executed a monstrous plan to transport millions of Africans across the Atlantic in the name of slavery. It was, in every sense of the word, a raw ride -- the Africans were shackled and crammed like sardines below the decks of the cargo ships -- which still makes for horrific reading.

Countless Africans succumbed to the disease and depression that accessorised the trip, jumping overboard to escape the unrelenting wretchedness which was every bit as heart-rending as what is going on in earthquake-devastated Haiti today.

But as long as the slave trade was profitable, no amount of suffering could undermine the objectives of its organisers. They needed free labour and they weren't about to let logistics, regard for human rights, or anything else get in the way of the transatlantic slave trade. On and on it went, for over 300 years, defying rebellion after rebellion, until the economics of it no longer made sense.

Even when slavery was completely abolished in 1838, the hard-fought-for freedom proved elusive for most, as the process of transitioning from a slave society to an emancipated one was far easier said than done.

The devil was in the detail.

Much as it is in Haiti where, according to several reports coming out of that country, people are dying of thirst and hunger within shouting distance of life-saving supplies.

According to one Associated Press (AP) report published in our Friday edition, General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern command that is running Haiti's airports, said 1,400 flights are on a waiting list for slots at the Port-au-Prince airport that can handle 120-140 flights per day. Further afield, artistes of international acclaim are releasing songs, more money is being collected and benefits are being staged... all in the name of helping Haiti.

We hate to appear cynical, or worse, ungrateful.

However, the fact is that even as the world comes up with scheme after scheme to help Haiti, the desperate earthquake survivors are running amok among the rubble, literally maddened by the stench of death and devastation.

According to one report, a 15-year-old girl was shot in the head while allegedly making off with two stolen pictures. What was going through her adolescent mind at the time is anyone's guess now.

Was she thinking of selling them for money to buy food?

If so, to whom?

Was she even aware of what she was doing?

Either way, it just doesn't make sense.

What people like this late young girl need more than all the entertainment, all the millions, in the world right now, is to be removed from the trauma that is Haiti. That's why those who can, have flocked to the shores, desperate to get out on the first thing smoking.

The survivors need a clean environment, compassion, food, a warm bed, medical aid and maybe a picture or two to give them a mental break, however brief, from the horrors of the past two weeks.

That just isn't available in Haiti at the moment, but it is in the countries that are tripping over themselves to help.

History tells us that with the will, evacuation would be a cinch.

Reality says otherwise.

January 24, 2010


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Haiti debacle

By Lloyd B Smith:

WONDER what is going through the minds of Jean-Claude Duvalier and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the two exiled top honchos of Haiti? No doubt, both men would love to return at this time to their country which has been devastated by what has been described as that poverty-stricken country's worst earthquake in 200 years.

In the case of Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc), will his conscience sufficiently prick him to the extent where he will repatriate some of the many millions that he plundered from the public purse? Surely, he cannot return in the flesh lest he be numbered among the thousands of corpses in short order. Aristide, on the other hand, has a tremendous following but his return may well present a serious political dilemma for an already very confused state.

I don't know about my readers, but when I ponder the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere that has now been hit by perhaps the worst natural disaster in living memory in the same region, one has to wonder if bad luck is worse than obeah (or is it voodoo?) Incidentally, it has been rumoured in Haiti that a high-ranking voodoo priest is responsible for this latest debacle because of an ungrateful people who made Aristide go. And here in Jamaica, there are the many cynics who maintain that the Haitians "wuk too much obeah (voodoo)", so that's why they received such a catastrophic visitation.

Be that as it may, the Haiti quake may well turn out in the long run to be a blessing in disguise for that most unfortunate country. Indeed, one cannot help but ask why, after all these decades during which Haiti has been ignored and despised, it is now being showered with so much aid, money and debt forgiveness? Isn't there some amount of hypocrisy involved here?

I must confess that I have become a bit sceptical about this massive outpouring of generosity and can only hope that most if not all that is being donated will in fact reach those thousands of suffering victims now bereft of just about everything except their miserable lives. In this vein, I must warn would-be donors to be wary of scammers and shysters who will use even this most tragic spectacle for self-aggrandisement. And please, don't just send "ole clothes" or personal effects that you have got tired of and were waiting to throw out, not to mention those expired foodstuff, including canned goods. The Haitians are poor and beleaguered, but they still have their dignity and self-respect.

In the meantime, what I find most interesting, if not intriguing, is the juxtaposition of the Jamaican "tax quake" which jolted us recently thanks to "Papa Bruce" and his team and that seismic wonder not too far from our shores. God-fearing Jamaicans are praising the Almighty for having spared us, because if it was us and not Haiti which had been so affected by that quake, then not even dog would want to eat our supper!

Despite the fact that Jamaica and Haiti are in the same fault line, we experienced only some minor shocks. But you know, I have to wonder if God is partial? After all, why should he bypass us and take on Haiti? Are we the preferred "children of Israel"? Whichever way one looks at this scenario, it is obvious that we are a very lucky country and Haiti, on the other hand, is a very unlucky place to live. Four hurricanes in one year battered that country, then this quake.

But while Jamaica has been spared the debilitating effects of natural disasters (acts of God), we have been subject to many acts of man such as our record number of murders. So let us not become too smug as if to say everything is coming up roses. Indeed, if all the promises and plans now being offered by the international community to Haiti should materialise, then Jamaica may well begin to compete for its current position - that of being the poorest country in the West!

It is good to see Jamaicans rising to the occasion in a bid to help our Haitian brothers and sisters in their distress. Our Prime Minister Bruce Golding has taken on the task of leading the charge on behalf of Caricom and this is most commendable, although he must be reminded that he still has his "quake back a yard" to deal with. In this context, we can only hope that Mr Golding does not become too comfy and distracted from his major task at hand - that of salvaging the Jamaican economy.

I am a bit worried about what I am hearing on the streets being spouted by gleeful Jamaica Labour Party supporters who feel that the Golding Cabinet pulled a fast one on the Jamaican public with respect to the tax package and the debt-management initiative. Against this background, Mr Golding needs to clarify whether the first tax package announced at the end of 2009 was a deliberate ploy to prepare the country for the debt-management initiative. There is talk that this was the only way to get the International Monetary Fund to soften its position while at the same time bullying the well-off who were benefiting so profusely from government paper to decide to share some of the burden. Is this a classic case of the politics of deception or expediency?

Meanwhile, there are many lessons to be learnt from the Haitian debacle, chief of which is what corruption can do to a country, including the needless loss of many human lives. More anon.

January 19, 2010


Disaster has a silver lining - an Obama Plan

By Franklin Johnston:

If you are poor you get sympathy; if you are "piss poor" you get help. Give thanks for Haiti! Jamaica's economic future is in the Greater Antilles, a market of 36m people (Haiti, Cuba, DR and us) and 5m in its diaspora - Air Jamaica can be viable with a 4m market. We live in 35 minutes of this large market yet are blind to our manifest destiny. Heaven is our backyard and we must build solid economic relations with our neighbours. Haiti's tragedy can be the spark to ignite our development and theirs.

We are powerless when faced with forces of nature. Despite the conspiracy theorists, Haitians are as good as people at the Vesuvius, Krakatoa or San Francisco disasters, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Haiti is more sinned against than sinning, CNN cites the close bond with the US, but "the full has not been told". Still, 30-odd coups since independence killed more Haitians, only quietly. Their own leaders have bloody hands. Disasters have killed more in China than any nation, yet they flourish. Nature isn't angry, it's not God's retribution. The earth does what the earth does. If you live on an earth fault, expect a holocaust any time. You must move! Many died in the San Francisco quake and recent tsunami, did they move? No! We are flooded out, but rebuild on the same gully banks and bawl, pray, cuss the state and thank God for the cash after every flood. I am empty, but if you have tears, shed them! Soon, media fatigue will set in, the waters will close and Haiti will be as it was, but we can change tragedy to triumph. Think with me now:

*Dry your eyes and let's find the silver lining in this disaster. Can we mould a global flow of random donations into a structured plan for Haiti and the Caribbean? We won't spoil the spirit by reminding the US and France they owe Haiti. We can leverage this to get Haiti an economic makeover - an Obama Plan - as the US gave to Europe in the post-war Marshall Plan. To quote Shakespeare's As You Like It:

"Sweet are the uses of adversity

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous

Wears yet a precious jewel in its head."

Europe got long-term US help and their economies soared. Bruce should lobby for an "Obama Plan" for Haiti.

*Would the UK, Italy, France, Germany do for Haiti and the Caribbean what the US did for them 65 years ago? Haiti is the poorest Western nation and the US president's troika and the West will deliver "big time"! But, what of the new money - Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Dubai, Abu Dhabi - known for glitzy projects and obscene consumption? Let's see the generosity of Islamic states, Africa and Asia.

If Bruce and Portia get their minds around it, Haiti can be the sheet anchor of a Caribbean renaissance. Transport economics make the Greater Antilles our market. In our "salad days" we went to Miami for lunch on Fridays and got home for the nightly news. Cuba with 12m people, D R 11m, Haiti 10m, are our backyard! The geography imperative is incontrovertible and we ignore it to our peril. T&T draws close to its OECS neighbours as should we to ours. Fishermen trade with Haiti, as did the Tainos, and if they can cope in French and Spanish, so can we. Caricom neocons elevate English law and language and scorn economic reality. Thank God their tour to Haiti's ground zero, to clog the airspace, was thwarted. Caricom's bruised ego is not a topic Bruce should raise with Mrs Clinton. There are 92-plus agencies in Haiti on Phase 1 - first response aid and none toured before giving. Spoilt brats! Bruce and Portia should proffer a vision for Phase 5 - sustainable projects, to Hillary Clinton (the Marshall Plan was named after a secretary of state) and René Préval to be based on Caribbean enterprise and skills. Here is my list for our PM:

*An "Obama Plan" for Haiti and the Caribbean, funded by the Middle East, US, Europe, Asia, Africa to modernise transport, farming, manufacture, inter-island trade, exports and human capital; to use Caribbean skills and embed the know-how in the islands.

For Jamaica proper, Bruce and Portia must negotiate deals and facilities in Haiti for our Phase 4 "smart start" projects to benefit Haiti's market and ours. These include:

*Land for a Jamaica logistics park and entrepot for trade, manufacture and large-scale farming. A "recce" team to include Tony Hylton (ports, logistics); Peter McConnell, Jamaica Broilers (food farms); Grace (processing, distribution); Gassan Azan (trade goods); SRC and UWI/CARDI (yam, cassava, potato, tissue culture). The initial 13m-market enables high volume, low-cost production and import - big volume, small margins. Inter-island shuttle shipping will thrive and maritime and other jobs will open up on both shores.

*English has made us lazy. Let's learn French, Spanish, tackle the big markets in our backyard, build cross-border industry and let Caricom deliver what it can.

*Regional airlines and shipping in a market of 36m is feasible. Our commuter and private aircraft fleets will grow as some staff travel to work in Haiti, DR, etc.

*The UWI, UTech, NCU should give academic credits for field work and place 300

second-year students in a Caribbean Service Corps on a work-study track in social work, nursing, farming, construction, food tech, conservation, etc, projects as building and operating community bakeries. They should partner with Haiti's institutions.

* Our banks, money transfer, professional services firms, HEART/NTA must seek joint ventures. Haiti is close and can be treated as part of our internal market. Let's reach beyond our comfort levels and be brave for Haiti and for our own good.

*Our universities should team up with local consultants to bid on foreign-funded projects in Haiti and develop a portfolio of social and economic work.

We are rich compared to Haiti, so 5000 families should adopt a Haitian child for one year until they sort themselves out. One more mouth to feed is doable! We gain friends, have fun, free French lessons for the family and blessings galore! Stay conscious!

Dr Franklin Johnston is an international project manager with Teape-Johnston Consultants, currently on assignment in the UK.

January 22, 2010


Turning Guantanamo Bay into a point of light

By Jean H Charles:

The American base at Guantanamo in Cuba, refitted to receive the enemy combatant prisoners and the terrorists of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, is on the verge of being closed again due to negative publicity surrounding the alleged mistreatment of those prisoners. Guantanamo Bay, with proper leadership and foresight, can reborn brightly as the most suitable place from critical care to recovery and rehabilitation for the Haitians victims of the devastating earthquake in a longer term. It is at only half an hour from the town of Mole St Nicholas, Haiti where Christopher Columbus landed in the country five hundred years ago.

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.Those Haitians will return home later to a Haiti rebuilt and ready to receive them. Guantanamo, with the leadership of the United States and financial support from the rest of the world, is a potential first response disaster relief and management center for the Western Hemisphere. Fidel and Raul Castro, I am certain, would applaud such a move, causing a melting of the ice between the two governments, Cuba and the United States. Such synergy is already in place in Leogane, Haiti, where Cuban and American doctors are working hand in hand in perfect harmony.

The vista of a young man with broken feet being discharged from the hospital with no one to receive him and no home to go to is disheartening at best. Haiti after 1/12/10 needs a rehabilitation center for the thousand of discharged patients and halfway home for the thousand of orphaned children before adoption. The situation in Haiti is similar to the fate of Europe after the defeat of the Nazis. It took the leadership of a General John Marshall to transform the towns and the cities of France, Germany and England into vibrant entities. It took also the leadership of General MacArthur in Asia to transform Japan into the power house of today.

Haiti, a pearl of the islands before its independence, was destined to become a ever-shining pearl after its gallant victory over slavery. It has not been such. This massive destruction will set Haiti years behind if no proper leadership is exhibited. I share the concern of millions in the world, who wish Haiti well and would like to see its people enter into the kingdom of peace, harmony and welfare.

The state of the state of Haiti today is now one of confusion. The United States has asked Canada and Brazil to join its administration in taking the lead for the reconstruction of Haiti, yet France and the European Community want to be major players in a country where French language and French mores are still queen. Israel, Cuba, Venezuela and Turkey have been so far the most ready helpers. The Dominican Republic is now setting itself to become the trustee of Haiti.

The Haitian government is nowhere to be found. There was no better governance in the best of times. President Barack Obama has promised not to let the Haitians suffer alone in this difficult situation. He will have to appoint a strong leader to lead the recovery, bring the sick, and the ones with broken limbs to Guantanamo, work with Europe and the other countries that want to devise a Marshall plan for Haiti and help instill in the country a sense of urgency, safety and solidarity of one towards the other.

One week after the earthquake, the excuses in the delay in breaking the bottleneck for essential delivery of health care to the people affected by the disaster are not reasonable. The Haitian people once more have demonstrated their resilience, they know not to expect solace from their own government, they expect, though, a better coordination of leadership and logistics from the international community.

The Haitian government has paid the transportation for the refugees to return home to their ancestral towns. It is planning tent cities on the outskirt of Port au Prince, against the grain of Haitian ethos that refuse to be refugees in their own country. They need a hospitality center in each one of the small towns of Haiti to alleviate and organize the arrivals of the new residents. A purse of a minimum of one million dollars in each one of the 150 towns of Haiti will go a long way in setting the stage for the reconstruction of Haiti and easing the pressure on the capital.

The power vacuum in Haiti on the national and international level is potentially as explosive as the recent earthquake:

– the political ballet dance of the United States not wanting to offend the Haitian government in taking charge of essential services,
– the United Nations wounded by the loss of its people and discredited for dismal performance for the last five years in Haiti,
– the rest of the international community already into a mode of a charity fatigue due to unnecessary bottleneck by those three players,
– the posturing of the major nonprofit organizations more interested in putting the spotlight on themselves instead of working together to bring essential services to the ordinary earthquake afflicted person.
– the Haitian government culture of treating its own citizens as pariah entities.

These are all the ingredients that will impede the speedy recovery of Haiti. As the doctors and the nurses in the field who need essential tools and medication to save the sick and the wounded, as the community leaders in the slum documented by BBC, who provide better services for burying the dead, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry than the slow pace of the world armada camped at the airport still discussing logistics and protocol while Haitians are dying from post and non treatment.

I am crying for help, please! The ghost of Katrina is still haunting Haiti.

January 23, 2010


Friday, January 22, 2010

Jamaica shares same earthquake faultline as Haiti

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Jamaica shares the same faultline (a crack or break in the earth's surface) with Haiti, which suffered a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 11.

Dr Lyndon Brown JIS photoThis was disclosed by the Head of the Earthquake Unit of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Lyndon Brown, at a JIS Think Tank in Kingston on Wednesday.

"The fault that created the quake in Haiti runs right across the western end of the Dominican Republic, through Haiti, cuts across the Caribbean Sea into Jamaica and continues more or less into different fault lines across Jamaica: one continuous fault line runs across from Haiti to Jamaica," Dr Brown stated.

He added that the activities in the region, following the Haiti earthquake, are not unusual, at this time.

"A number of aftershocks have taken place, and this is quite natural. The aftershocks will be more continuous after the large earthquake, but then this will die down and become less frequent," he said.

Aftershocks, such as the magnitude 6.1 tremor that occurred in Haiti again on the Wednesday morning (January 20), can be large but will become less frequent over time.

He said, however, that the other earthquakes that have taken place in Guatemala, Venezuela, and El Salvador are happening on the Pacific Plate fault line, which is not the same one on which Haiti and Jamaica is located.

"Right now we do not see the association between the events," he added.

He said that while studies are being done by an American researcher, to see the relationships between the fault lines, none has so far been established, and what is happening is that stresses are being naturally released along respective fault lines.

"Earthquakes are very, very, common. If you look at a map of Jamaica you will see that last year we had about eight felt events (earthquakes) and about 200 that were weak but could just be picked up as earthquakes," he said.

He stated that, on average, there have been about16 earthquakes on an annual basis that are greater that magnitude 7.0 , about 120 around magnitude 6.0 and an innumerable amount at magnitude 5.0 and below.

"What is happening in the region is very interesting. Earthquakes are natural events that happen when stresses that have built up along fault lines are released, creating elastic waves that generate convolutions on the face of the earth," Dr Brown said.

He added that the destruction wrought by an earthquake is dependent on the location and strength of a building, as well as the strength of the earthquake.

January 22, 2010


CARICOM strengthens response to Haiti

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CDEMA) -- CARICOM efforts to provide relief to Haiti after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 are being strengthened following an assessment of the situation on the ground. Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) Jeremy Collymore updated on the CARICOM response to Haiti at a press conference Thursday at the CDEMA Coordinating Unit in Barbados.

The Executive Director stressed the role that the region has played to date singling out the role of Jamaica, the CDEMA Sub Regional Focal Point (SRFP) with responsibility for Haiti.

Immediately on receiving notification of the earthquake, the Director of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) communicated with the Executive Director of CDEMA and confirmed that Jamaica as the SRFP with responsibility for Haiti, would take the lead on immediate actions in response to the event.

Collymore said, “It is important to recognize the efforts of Jamaica within the larger context of the Regional Response Mechanism (RRM). The mission by the Jamaican Prime Minister was the genesis for informing the community’s prioritizing focus of its efforts in Haiti.”

“Jamaica (the SRFP) responded to the catastrophe within the first 24 hours deploying a Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) vessel with military personnel and emergency supplies and is now the staging point for CARICOM relief activities to Haiti.”

CDEMA’s SRFP has provided search and rescue support, rescuing three persons and recovering two bodies in collaboration with international agencies. Additionally, the team has provided health support services, treating approximately 400 persons and performing minor surgeries. The team is also conducting ongoing public health awareness activities.

The SRFP is also providing security assistance to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) efforts and the more than 350 personnel from eleven CARICOM countries currently involved in the operations area.

The CDEMA head declared that responding to the Haiti earthquake has been “the major challenge to the humanitarian response practice globally in recent times.”

He noted that a major challenge to the response effort is “congestion on the ground of ‘unprioritised’ response driven more by emotional considerations rather than a structured mechanism have contributed to delays in the delivery of aid.” He said the delivery of emergency aid is further compromised by the damage to the sea ports.

As CARICOM intensifies its response, efforts will be centered on both short and long term initiatives in the targeted community.

He noted that the Community’s intervention going forward will be based on three principles. It is holistic, targeted and developmental.

The primary focus will be on the health sector. This will encompass assessment of facilities, emergency repair, provision of medical and support personnel, critical medical supplies, emergency supplies and security.

Regional governments have already pledged four million US dollars along with a cadre of emergency support, supplies and materials to the Haiti relief effort. This does not include the substantial fund raising activities by civil society.

CARICOM has also enhanced its presence in Haiti with a Special Coordinator appointed by CDEMA who is working with Haiti Civil Defence Protection, and the CARICOM security forces, international donors and humanitarian community on the ground to ensure a sustained and effective coordination of the CARICOM relief efforts.

In addition, the CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit (CDRU) will continue to deploy regional emergency and medical personnel to strengthen and support the work of 350 CARICOM personnel already on the ground.

CARICOM recognizes the need for the continued support of Haiti beyond the response period and will continue to work towards meeting those needs beyond this initial response phase.

January 22, 2010


Thursday, January 21, 2010

CARICOM heightens its response to Haitian crisis

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) moved its assistance to its earthquake devastated Member State, Haiti to another level with the deployment of a Tactical Mission to that country on Sunday.

On Wednesday, 13 January, less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck on 12 January, Jamaica had deployed medical personnel and security forces to Haiti as a first response. Jamaica is the sub-regional focal point in the area that includes Haiti, The Bahamas and the nearby Associate Members under the system established by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) the regional response mechanism to natural disasters.

A medical facility was quickly established by the Jamaican team, while arrangements have also been made to transport some of the injured to Jamaica for hospitalisation.

The Tactical Mission is seeking to determine the way forward in the provision of more health related services to Haiti and will provide up to date information as to the situation on the ground in Haiti and identify logistical arrangements which would facilitate the entry and accommodation of more personnel and supplies.

This crucial area of health was identified as the sector that would receive a targeted response by the Community following a meeting on Thursday evening involving CARICOM Chairman, Roosevelt Skerritt, Prime Minister of Dominica, David Thompson, the Prime Minister of Barbados, Bruce Golding, the Prime Minister of Jamaica and Edwin Carrington, Secretary-General of CARICOM. Prime Minister Golding had reported to his colleagues on meetings he had held in Haiti earlier that day with Haitian President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

CARICOM assistance in the area of health includes the provision of additional medical and support personnel as well as medical and emergency supplies and security for those engaged in the provision of the services. CDEMA, in this effort, continues to work closely with the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), the Regional Security System (RSS) and the CARICOM Secretariat.

On Monday President Preval and members of his cabinet, together with Prime Ministers, Skerritt, Thompson and Golding, Hubert Ingraham, Prime Minister of The Bahamas and Patrick Manning Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and the CARICOM Secretary-General, participated in a meeting in the Dominican Republic on the crisis arising out of the earthquake. The meeting, convened by Spain in its capacity as current President of the European Union and attended by other countries and international agencies, sought to identify and resolve problems of co-ordination of the aid and relief effort in Haiti.

CARICOM leaders expressed concern over the future of tens of thousands of children who had been made orphans by the tragedy and agreed that this problem needed to be addressed urgently.

All participants acknowledged the major logistical difficulties in the situation including the almost insurmountable challenge of reaching communities outside Port-au-Prince which had also been devastated by the earthquake, and recommended ways to tackle this issue. CARICOM’s role and rapid response to the crisis came in for praise at the meeting.

January 21, 2010


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haiti rejects Dominican Republic troops

By Louis Charbonneau:

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Earthquake-ravaged Haiti turned down an offer of troops from the neighbouring Dominican Republic, forcing the United Nations to look elsewhere for additional peacekeepers, UN diplomats said on Wednesday.

The Dominican Republic had offered an 800-strong battalion to form part of the reinforcement of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

"We understand the Haitian government has said no to them," one Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity. He said he assumed the decision came from Haitian President Rene Preval.

The two states share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola but have a history of tense relations.

A UN official confirmed that Haiti turned down the offer but said the decision might not be definitive and talks were under way to see if Haiti would allow a rescue team or police from the Dominican Republic to help with the relief efforts.

"We're hoping other countries can provide troops," the official said.

The full potential strength of the UN peacekeeping force is now 12,651, up from the current level of around 9,000, after a UN Security Council resolution adopted on Tuesday.

The United Nations is now rushing to find the extra 3,651 troops and police to help maintain security and deliver aid.

Edmond Mulet, sent to Haiti to take over the UN force after its chief, Hedi Annabi, and dozens of other UN staff died in the earthquake, has said that Brazil was offering more troops and France and Chile were offering police.

UN officials have said the Philippines might also top up its existing contingent.

Haitian officials say the death toll from the Jan. 12 quake was likely to be between 100,000 and 200,000, and that 75,000 bodies had already been buried in mass graves.

The United States has around 12,000 military personnel in Haiti, on ships offshore or en route. They are not under UN command, though they are cooperating with the United Nations, which is overseeing the relief effort.

January 21, 2010


Castro daughter says Cuba communists exclude gays

HAVANA, Cuba (Reuters) -- Cuban President Raul Castro's daughter accused the ruling Communist Party on Tuesday of discrimination against gays and said she will write a letter to its "top leadership" demanding that it end.

Her uncle, Fidel Castro, heads the party, while her father is No. 2.

The daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, Mariela Castro Espin (L), participates in a workshop about transsexualism during the 5th Cuban Congress of Sexology in Havana. AFP PHOTOMariela Castro, a sexologist who advocates for gay rights, said the party excludes gays who want to become members.

"It is not spelled out in any statute, but implicitly they are rejected," she told reporters at the opening of a conference on sex education and therapy.

"Your ideological and party definition have nothing to do with your sexual orientation," said Castro, who is head of Cuba's National Center of Sex Education. "It's absurd, it's laughable."

She said her letter -- to be sent "as soon as possible" -- would demand that a no-discrimination policy be clearly spelled out in party bylaws.

Fidel Castro, 83, ceded the presidency to his brother Raul, 78, two years ago, but still officially heads the Communist Party.

The Cuban government, which Fidel Castro led for 49 years after taking power in a 1959 revolution, once sent gays to labor camps but ended the policy in the 1970s.

Castro, 47 and married, has led gay rights parades in Havana, and urged the government to approve gay marriage, which has not yet happened.

"We continue to confront strong prejudices," she said.


Haiti's Preval, a survivor in a turbulent land

By Joseph Guyler Delva:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- When a team of Reuters reporters landed in Haiti the morning after its catastrophic earthquake, President Rene Preval was there on the airport tarmac, greeting some of those arriving on one of the first charter jets coming in from Florida with a handshake and a wry smile.

Impeccably turned out in a starched white shirt and dark tropical wool dress pants, you would never have guessed that he had spent hours the night before getting a first-hand look at the death and destruction wreaked on the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince from the back of a motorbike.

Haitian President Rene Preval speaks on the phone in Port-au-Prince after the capital was rocked by a massive earthquake.  AFP PHOTOAn enigma to many, and often criticized for his seemingly minimalist approach to governance in the poorest nation in the Americas, Prevail has few concrete achievements to highlight since he took office in May 2006.

Far from a hands-on, hard-charging management style, he has even failed to give a national address in the week since Haiti was hit by the 7.0 magnitude quake, which authorities estimate may have taken 200,000 lives in one of the world's worst natural disasters.

Preval has, however, given numerous media interviews and traveled to the neighboring Dominican Republic to meet with aid donors.

The soft-spoken agronomist, 67, took charge of a treasury that was empty and a parliament that was in tatters when Haiti's overwhelming majority of poor swept him to office four years ago.

And international observers say he has held steadfastly to efforts to establish a stable democracy in a country that has suffered upheaval and dictatorship since it threw off French rule more than 200 years ago.

"He's in shock right now, the whole country is in a state of shock, but Preval is not a bad man and I'm sure he'll do the best he can when things settle down a bit and he can focus his efforts on rebuilding Haiti," said Jean Baptiste, a student of international relations whose father is a doctor in downtown Port-au-Prince.

"The question is where does he begin," he added, saying the enormity of the challenges lying ahead after the earthquake were enough to overwhelm anyone.

Violent unrest and rioting could still shake Haiti in the days and months to come, if distribution problems, bottlenecks or corruption prevent international aid from reaching people made homeless and poorer than ever by the Jan. 12 temblor.

But a massive influx of aid, and support from around the globe, could buoy Preval's fragile government before his term ends in 2011 and few here seem to think the balding and graying Haitian leader will be ousted, like so many other elected Haitian leaders have been before.

He became the only Haitian leader to win a democratic election, serve a full term and peacefully hand over power when he first served as president from 1996 through 2001.

Haiti's ornate presidential palace, a relic of better times in the late 1800s when its sugar plantations and other resources prompted the country to be known as a "Pearl of the Antilles," was caved in by the quake.

Preval was not in the building when the disaster struck. But speaking later, in various meetings with reporters and local government officials at the police station that has become his home and office in the wrecked capital, he spoke of the haunting images he saw from one of Port-au-Prince's ubiquitous "motor taxis" on his nighttime ride through the capital a short while after the quake.

"The damage I have seen here can be compared to the damage you would see if the country was bombed for 15 days. It is like in a war," Preval told Reuters.

January 20, 2010


Haiti, past and present, exposes the ugliness of humanity

By Ben Roberts:

We see the devastation in Haiti. We see the broken and lifeless bodies removed from the rubble. We see the walking dead with their bloody wounds, skin whitened by plaster and falling dust, and their hands caked with blood and abrasions from pulling each other from the crushing skin of the earth. We see the hand-wringing of anxious relatives wanting to know about the fate of their loved ones.

We see and hear Pat Robertson expound on his ‘pact with the Devil’ attempt at logical reasoning. We hear of Rush Limbaugh, in all his omniscience, claiming ‘Don’t bother trying to donate to relief efforts. We’ve already donated to Haiti. It’s called the US income tax.’

We see the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, President Barack Obama, in no uncertain terms, directing America’s military, medical, recovery, and whatever else resources, post-haste to assist this stricken country. We see regular genuine human beings from all creeds, colors, and walks of life of trying to be of help in this disaster.

We see all this and cannot help but wonder about our own humanity, about what we are doing in this world, and what we have done in this world. This calamity in Haiti wakes us up to what we are and need to be doing. But Haiti has been a never-ending calamity because of what we have done in this world. Haiti needs us to keep its anemic body and soul together, but we need Haiti just as much to maintain our humanity by reminding us of how ugly the human spirit can be, and how low it can falter at times.

Pat Robertson claims that Haiti made a ‘pact with the Devil,’ and has suffered ever since. For those not well-informed on the history of Haiti, it must be explained that, after Haiti defeated France and got its Independence from the yoke of slavery in 1804, the French demanded one hundred and fifty million francs as compensation for its loss of the wealth it would have realized had slavery remained intact in that former colony. How diabolical! But that is not all.

Think of the world in 1804. In 1804 a hundred and fifty million francs would have amounted to a king’s ransom. Where would a shattered Haiti have gotten this money? A loan from Britain? From America? From Spain? From private entrepreneurs? Not a chance. And who, on moral grounds, would stop France from making this demand? No one, since all these nations were profiting beyond their wildest dreams from slavery.

So this new nation of Haiti, if it wanted to join the club of nations, thought its best bet was to comply with this diabolical demand. Believe it or not Haiti’s way out was to borrow the hundred and fifty million francs from France at extortionist rates. Now that is a pact with the Devil if there ever was one.

In most wars in history the victor demands reparations of the vanquished. In this instance the victor has to compensate the vanquished and has no choice but to get the loan from the vanquished to do so. How low can humanity sink? What a stain on us all who claim to represent a civilized world. No, Haiti did not make a ‘pact with the Devil.’ It made the mistake of not abiding by this long-held saying: ‘When you sup with the Devil be sure to use a long spoon.’ The Devil being all those who had designs on that bountiful nation.

Rush Limbaugh, as stated above, exhorts that we should pass on donating to Haiti since we already do in the income tax we pay. I sometimes wonder who actually listens to this man who pretends to be so informed and all-knowing. Does he even know that his own President James Madison initiated contact with Toussaint L’Overture, imploring him not to send his Haitian agents provocateurs into the US to disseminate word to American slaves that Haiti had defeated their French masters and attained their freedom?

This would have been a disaster to American wealth and profits if American slaves got wind of this and challenged the institution of slavery. Because Haiti wanted to maintain good relations with the United States, Toussaint apparently complied with this request. Now that is a pact.

Honoring such a request from the leader of a country which, a scant twenty nine years earlier, had fought its own war of Independence guaranteeing the rights of man. A war of independence where a number of the prominent Haitians in that nation’s War of Independence had fought valiantly with American soldiers in its War of Independence from the British.

So you see why Rush Limbaugh needs to be informed or read some more before coming out and pretending to be some repository of knowledge about what America has donated to others. If Pat Robertson wants to know about the human capacity for diabolical violence then he should read about the top French military man in Haiti, General Rochambeau, and his mass drowning of Haitians in the harbor of Cap Haitien.

He should read about British military overlord for the region, General Maitland, and his unrivaled wolfish propensity for deception. (Yes. The British were also present in Haiti at this same time, complete with a fort, with designs on Haiti, the bountiful prize sought over by all the major world powers of that time).

If Rush Limbaugh wants to know about outlays to other countries he should read about the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution where his country insisted that the Haitian government change its Constitution to allow outsiders to own property. A decision that affects Haiti to this day. In order to learn about all this these men should find and read: The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James. In fact anyone who takes the time to read this text will have no choice but to rethink what they thought they knew about Haiti.

Definitely a country with a dual personality. On the one hand it represents the hopes, dreams, indomitable spirit, and ability of a people and segment of humanity to fight and succeed against unimaginable odds to establish their unquestioned legitimacy as members of the human race. On the other hand it represents the fears of another segment of humanity at the prospect of losing their privileges and presumed superiority in the human race.

Simply put, Haiti represents the unlimited potential for the human race to overcome and move into the light. Alternately, it represents the ugliness and darkness of the human race.

But enough of gloom and these bombastic individuals claiming to be authorities on something of which they seem to know very little. They remind one of a quote by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in his book The Tao Te Ching: ‘Those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.’

It is heart-warming to see President Obama taking charge and, in no uncertain terms, making it a priority to put resources into Haiti. What a sight to see the potent military assets of America, such as the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and a Predator drone, being put to use in this calamity. Weapons of war highly capable of raining down death and destruction being utilized to extend hope and life. America never looked so good or so strong. It gives hope for a better world. Too bad it takes a calamity of such earth-shattering proportions for us to get to that point.

Ben Roberts is a Turks & Caicos Islander. He is a newsletter editor, freelance writer, and published author. He is the author of numerous articles that have been carried by a variety of Internet websites and read worldwide. He is often published in Turks & Caicos news media, and in the local newspapers where he resides. His action adventure novel, Jackals of Samarra, can be found at, and most of the major Internet book outlet sites.

January 20, 2010


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bahamas: The Official Opposition Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) blasts The Bahamas Government's decision to release Haitian detainees

By STAFF REPORTER ~ Guardian News Desk:

The Progressive Liberal Party yesterday hit out at Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham over comments he made on Sunday regarding the government's new policy position on Haitian detainees at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre in the wake of an earthquake that killed thousands and caused widespread devastation in Port-au-Prince a week ago.

Asked on Sunday to respond to the PLP's criticism that it was not consulted prior to the change in policy on detainees, Ingraham said he took what the Opposition says "like water off a duck's back". The PLP said yesterday the prime minister has no regard for the Opposition party and has no regard for his own Cabinet ministers. Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney told The Nassau Guardian Friday that the decision regarding the detainees had been made at a higher level.

"Most importantly, Mr. Ingraham does not have any regard for the Bahamian people," the PLP added.

"In fact, he said that he is deeply disappointed in the Bahamian people because they are expressing their democratic right to disagree with his policies."

Speaking on Sunday, the prime minister said, "I accept that any decision by my government would be subject to criticism from certain quarters. That is democracy. But my colleagues and I — as well as the majority of right-thinking Bahamians — are deeply disappointed at the torrent of misinformation, prejudice and hard-heartedness that has spewed especially from the airwaves."

Additionally, the PLP called on Elizabeth constituents to reject the prime minister and the Free National Movement in the upcoming by-election.

"The people of Elizabeth are not playing games. Elizabeth is not for sale," said the PLP.

The PLP's call came days after Ingraham accused the Opposition party of cashing in on the constituency. He was launching his party's campaign at the time.

"Interestingly, Mr. Ingraham is saying that Mr. Malcolm Adderley 'cashed in' on the Elizabeth seat. Mr. Ingraham is admitting to the charges made against the FNM by our leader and our chairman that the FNM engaged in back room deals and played games with our judicial system. He is admitting that the FNM engineered a by-election. This is a game that his party alone hatched, plotted and executed. It is the FNM who cashed in on the people of Elizabeth and are now plotting to buy them back lock, stock and barrel," the PLP statement said.

The PLP claimed the prime minister is attempting to distract the voters of Elizabeth from the real issues like unemployment, home foreclosures, the non-payment of electricity and phone bills, the lack of health care, and children having to leave private school institutions.

January 19, 2010


Monday, January 18, 2010

The earthquake in Haiti requires the world's human response

By Wellington C Ramos:

Ever since the black people of this Caribbean country fought and defeated the French to gain their independence in 1804, this nation has been left by most European countries to just go downhill. For the people who have no knowledge of the Haitian Revolution, they should take some time to study it. During the era of colonialism, England, France, Holland, Portugal, Spain and other European countries roamed the planet earth, landed on different continents, slaughtered the indigenous people of most lands, made them slaves and took out all of their wealth and natural resources back to their respective homelands.

The landing of Christopher Columbus in this part of the world in 1492 set the pace for this exploitation to begin, with the approval of the Catholic Spanish Pope Alexander the V1 in the Treaty of Tordesillas signed by Spain and Portugal in 1494. With the exception of Brazil, Spain was given all the land and people in the Americas and the Caribbean while Portugal had the continent of Africa for themselves.

England, France and Holland protested this bold move by the Catholic Pope and pledged to fight against this unlawful treaty. The British formed a group called privateers, who were highly trained to navigate the high seas and look for non-British vessels, capture them, take their cargoes and kill all the sailors on board. In addition, they signed agreements with Spain to temporarily occupy some of their illegal territories with the intention to stay on them permanently. The French did this on the Spanish island of Hispaniola in the early 1600s which eventually developed into two countries, one by the name of Haiti and the other the Dominican Republic. Today, these two countries are divided and their relationship remains strained up to this day because of their cultural and historical differences.

The British did the same thing in 1638 by getting permission to cut logwood and mahogany from the Spanish crown in one of their occupied territories in Central America that was under the Captaincy General of Granados, which capital was in Guatemala City and New Spain that had its capital in Mexico City. The Mexican government, in a treaty with England, later renounced their claim to Belize. While the Guatemalan government kept hanging on to their unlawful claim.

Like the French, the British had no intention of leaving because they said from the beginning that they will never honor the treaty that was signed between Spain and Portugal giving them both titles to the entire Americas, Caribbean and Africa. Today, that settlement has led to the emergence of a nation called Belize that is struggling to maintain its independence but still haunted by a Guatemalan claim because of Europeans’ unlawful actions.

The Haitians were able to defeat France with the help of their ancestors and their powerful war god “Ogun”, one of the most powerful gods in the religion of the Yoruba people, who mostly live in the country of Nigeria on the African continent. Most Haitians are descendants of various African cultures that were brought from the continent of Africa during slavery.

Many Europeans look down on African people with disdain as if they are uncivilized, backward and stupid even up to this day. Yet they know that the first people on this planet earth were black people and great civilizations existed on the continent of Africa long before the Europeans set foot on the African continent. In fact many African kings and queens sponsored expeditions and invasions of several territories in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. The Empires of Mali like; King Askia Mohammad, Songhay and Ghana are typical examples.

The Haitians are still looked upon by many Europeans and some Caribbean people as evil people but this assertion is far from the truth. They are entitled to practice whatever religion they chose to practice like everybody else to save their own souls. For me it is laughable for anyone to believe that the Europeans are interested in saving the souls of other people after all the atrocities they have committed upon the people of this planet.

Europeans must accept the fact that Christianity is not the only religion on earth. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and several other religions are common on this planet earth. As a Garifuna person, it took me some time to accept and understand my own culture’s religion, which is also based on African ancestral rites called “Dugu”. I have accepted it and will not depart from my religion just to remain a Christian. This religion has provided me with solace and healing over the years.

The country of Haiti needs the entire world to be on its side at this current moment because a natural disaster can occur anywhere at any time. If there are any people in this world who have suffered and been punished, enough they are the Haitian people and enough is enough. Several people have died in this country and the structural damages and human suffering done nationwide is severe. Looking at the news has brought tears to my eyes because as a human being, I have feelings and these people are all God’s children like me.

There is enough in this world to give every human being in this world who is in need of something but we have got to rid ourselves from this culture of greed and selfishness and just give. We all shall die one day and everything we possess will remain here after we have departed this planet earth.

January 18, 2010


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chavez says US 'occupying Haiti' in name of aid

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) -- Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez on Sunday accused the United States of using the earthquake in Haiti as a pretext to occupy the devastated Caribbean country and offered to send fuel from his OPEC nation.

"I read that 3,000 soldiers are arriving, Marines armed as if they were going to war. There is not a shortage of guns there, my God. Doctors, medicine, fuel, field hospitals, that's what the United States should send," Chavez said on his weekly television show. "They are occupying Haiti undercover."

"On top of that, you don't see them in the streets. Are they picking up bodies? ... Are they looking for the injured? You don't see them. I haven't seen them. Where are they?"

Chavez promised to send as much gasoline as Haiti needs for electricity generation and transport.

A perennial foe of US "imperialism," Chavez said he did not wish to diminish the humanitarian effort made by the United States and was only questioning the need for so many troops.

The United States is sending more than 5,000 Marines and soldiers to Haiti, and a hospital ship is due to arrive later this week.

The country's president said US troops would help keep order on Haiti's increasingly lawless streets.

Venezuela has sent several planes to Haiti with doctors, aid and some soldiers. A Russia-Venezuela mission was set to leave Venezuela on Monday carrying aid on Russian planes.

Chavez said Venezuela's planes were the first to land in Haiti after Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which wrecked the capital Port-Au-Prince and killed as many as 200,000 people.

January 18, 2010


Caricom blocked from landing in Haiti

BY RICKEY SINGH Observer Caribbean correspondent:

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- The Caribbean Community's emergency aid mission to Haiti, comprising heads of government and leading technical officials, failed to secure permission Friday to land at that devastated country's airport, now under the control of the USA.

Consequently, the Caricom "assessment mission" that was to determine priority humanitarian needs resulting from the mind-boggling earthquake disaster last Tuesday had to travel back from Jamaica to their respective home destinations.

On Friday afternoon, the US State Department confirmed signing two Memoranda of Understanding with the Government of Haiti that made "official that the United States is in charge of all inbound and outbound flights and aid offloading".

Further, according to the agreements signed, US medical personnel "now have the authority to operate on Haitian citizens and otherwise render medical assistance without having to wait for licences from Haiti's Government".

Prior to the US taking control of Haiti's airport, a batch of some 30 Cuban doctors had left Havana, following the earthquake, to join more than 300 of their colleagues who have been working there for more than a year.

Last evening, the frustration suffered by the Caricom mission to get landing permission was expected to be raised in a scheduled meeting at Jamaica's Norman Manley International Airport between Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Golding, who was making arrangements for the meeting with Clinton, following her visit earlier in the day to witness the devastation of the capital Port-au-Prince, said he could not comment on details to be discussed.

He, however, told this correspondent: "I appreciate the chaos and confusion at Haiti's airport, where there is just one operational runway. But Haiti is a member of Caricom and we simply have to be facilitated and the truth is there is hardly a functioning government in Haiti."

Asked whether the difficulties encountered by the Caricom mission may be related to reports that US authorities were not anxious to facilitate landing of aircraft from Cuba and Venezuela, Prime Minister Golding said he could "only hope that there is no truth to such immature thinking in the face of the horrific scale of Haiti's tragedy".

Golding, who has lead portfolio responsibility among Caricom leaders for external economic relations, got a first-hand assessment of the damage when he flew to Haiti on Thursday.

A contingent of some 150 members of the Jamaica Defence Force has since established a camp with medical facilities in the vicinity of Haiti's airport.

Ahead of last evening's scheduled meeting with Clinton, Prime Minister Golding had discussed on Friday in Kingston some of the problems to be overcome at a meeting with the prime ministers of Barbados and Dominica and the Community's secretary general Edwin Carrington.

Carrington explained that proper use of the Norman Manley Airport would be consistent with a decision last week for Jamaica to serve as the Sub-regional Operational Focal Point for responses to the Haitian humanitarian crisis.

January 17, 2010