Governmental corruption allows for foreign influence

In an opinion piece for The Haitian Times, Max A. Joseph Jr. writes that corruption within the Haitian government coupled with foreign intervention has made Haiti “politically and economically subservient” to the Dominican Republic.

“Where is the outrage?” he asks.

The piece is a complex eye-opening look into the beliefs of someone intimate with Haiti’s history. I highly recommend reading the piece in its entirety.

A scandal involving President Michel Martelly that was uncovered by a Dominican investigative journalist is the impetus for the article. Martelly allegedly received more than 2.5 million US dollars from a Dominican senator in return for his commercial real estate business receiving profitable non-bidding contracts with the Haitian government, Joseph writes.

Joseph sees this as yet another example of “disreputable characters” coming out of Haiti’s “substandard political class.” He makes the connection that this corruption leads to foreign intervention in Haiti.

He goes on to list examples of the DR’s “arrogance” throughout times of foreign intervention in Haiti. According to Joseph, the DR is allowed to undermine the Haitian government and people while Haiti is occupied. He seems to insinuate that these foreign entities are allowing this to happen.

Joseph worries that the situation will allow for anti-Haitian groups in the DR to “implement their reprehensible manifesto,” which he compares to the Holocaust.

“Therefore, one must not dismiss the possibility of a more sinister approach to deal with ‘the Haitian problem’, given that Haiti was recently dubbed ‘a threat to international peace and security’ (which was the reason French and US forces began occupying Haiti in 2004) for reasons that defy logic in every angle,” Joseph writes.

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Cholera vaccination distribution begins in Haiti

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of Haitians will receive an oral vaccine for cholera following months of delay.

Partners in Health and Gheskio, American and Haitian non-governmental organizations, respectively, who specialize in health issues, respectively, are the organizers of the endeavor.  They had been pushing to administer vaccines since the first epidemic in 2010 but ran into several roadblocks, according to a New York Times article.

One of the largest roadblocks occurred last March when a Haitian radio station questioned the campaign, wondering if poor Haitians were being used as guinea pigs, the Times reports. Since radio is the most dominant media form in Haiti, these ideas quickly spread.

It then became necessary for a Health Ministry ethics committee to look into the vaccination campaign.

The program was originally blocked by the committee because it mistook the ‘”pilot program” that could be expanded throughout the country as a research project, the Miami Herald reports.

The vaccination program has been controversial ever since it was proposed in 2010. For a history of the process to get the program implemented, read these New York Times and Miami Herald articles.

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United Nations refuses to accept responsibility for cholera in Haiti

The New York Times released a 9-page article examining the roots of the cholera epidemic in Haiti and how the effort of the numerous NGOs in the country proved inadequate.

It’s the most in-depth article I’ve seen on the epidemic.

What struck me the most is how the United Nations still refuses to accept responsibility for creating this second epidemic. Cholera had never appeared in Haiti before 2010 which leads many to believe that someone brought the disease here accidentally.

“The world rallied to confront cholera, too, but the mission was muddled by the United Nations’ apparent role in igniting the epidemic and its unwillingness to acknowledge it,” the Times writes. “Epidemiologic and microbiologic evidence strongly suggests that United Nations peacekeeping troops from Nepal imported cholera to Haiti, contaminated the river tributary next to their base through a faulty sanitation system and caused a second disaster.”

By looking at the Times’ topographic map, it’s easy to see how the UN camp could have possibly tainted it’s local tributary. The infected tributary flows into a large river and past villages that rely on the river as their only source of water.

Even though it’s widely believed in the scientific community that the Nepalese UN troops brought the disease to Haiti, the UN denies the assertion. The UN instead claims that Haiti’s environment and climate made it an ideal breeding ground for cholera, according to the article.

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Haitian cuisine

One of the most asked questions about my trip to Haiti is “What was the food like?” In order to satisfy all my curious friends and family members, I’ll make this a foodie blog for the day.

While in Haiti, the diet of myself and my fellow travelers mostly consisted of vegetables, chicken, beans, rice, plantains and sandwiches. We’re pretty sure we were fed sandwiches because we brought lots of bread for our hosts to use, though.

All of these photos come from Rachel Ploetz, our trip leader and student coordinator at Luther Memorial Chapel.

We're still not really sure what these vegetables are. We ate a lot of them, though. Photo courtesy: Rachel Ploetz

The above vegetables appeared at almost every meal. We think at least one of them is related to a potato.

This was by far one of the best meals of the week. Photo courtesy: Rachel Ploetz

Chicken was absolutely delicious there. Probably because it was so fresh. Watching chicken walk down the street and then eating one for dinner was a little strange but worth it. The yellowish food in the middle are plantains. Beans were often mixed in with our rice. They also fed us a lot of tomatoes.

Prestige, a Haitian beer, and the Caribbean version of Guinness were popular drinks down there. Photo courtesy: Rachel Ploetz

Prestige was quite popular with our group. We also had the opportunity to try Haitian rum. We weren’t disappointed.

This is what sugar looks like before it's processed. Who knew? Photo courtesy: Rachel Ploetz

This was by far one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to try. It’s pure, raw sugar cane. We saw vendors selling it on the street all over Jacmel and asked our hosts if we could try it. Sugar cane is very chewy, thick, sweet and full of fibers. Our hosts told us that it’s traditionally been popular because it takes away hunger and costs very little due to its abundance in the area. Unfortunately, this has also given many Haitians terrible dental problems.

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Government orders veterans to leave military bases

Last week the Haitian government ordered ex-soldiers, who had occupied former military barracks in Port-au-Prince and other cities for months with the hopes of bringing back the disbanded army, to leave the military bases they were inhabiting.

The Interior Ministry said it wouldn’t tolerate gunmen disturbing the peace, according to an Associated Press article in The Miami Herald.

“It was the strongest statement yet by the Haitian government about the former soldiers who are pressuring Haiti’s President Michel Martelly to honor his campaign pledge to restore the army that was disbanded in 1995 because of its abusive past,” according to the Herald.

Yet, on the same day former soldiers took over an office of the Department of Agriculture in northern city Cap-Haitien, according to Defend Haiti, an online organization that documents Haitian culture for a worldwide alternative audience.

It appears they didn’t quite get the Martelly administration’s memo.

An article published by Haiti Libre, which means “Free Haiti,” focuses on the response of the Interior Ministry. Haiti Libre considers itself to be “a new generation of media” that aims for “apolitical participative decoding.”

The Ministry encourages the youth who are joining these veterans to “stand out from them and apply preferably for the services for maintaining order and security of the Republic such as the Haiti National Police (PNH), Immigration and Emigration (DIE) and the Directorate of Civil Protection (DPC),” Haiti Libre reports.

Both the Herald and Haiti Libre report that the veterans will not receive the compensation they are demanding until the bases have been abandoned. The Herald reports the men are looking to regain $15 million in lost pensions and wages since the military disbanded.

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Haitian watchdog group sheds light on reconstruction problems

This morning I ran across an investigative journalism partnership between Haitian organizations and publications that focuses on aid and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. They’ve been doing some fascinating and thought-provoking work.

I ran across Haiti Grassroots Watch’s most recent article, called “Shelters That Don’t Shelter the Needy,” in The Haitian Times, a New York newspaper published for the Haitian-American community. The article claims that almost half of the emergency shelters a British organization built are uninhabited six months after they were built. Numerous families have received two houses from multiple NGOs and some are renting out their second home, the investigation found.

Possible root causes of the article’s shocking revelations are explored in depth by the watchdog group. I highly recommend reading this article in full and looking at their photos. Keep in mind that this reporting comes from Haitians, the people who understand their country best, who know the area and who have spent enough time there to be able to really dig deep with their reporting.

Haiti Grassroots Watch’s alternates which news organizations it uses to publish its investigations. It also funds work done by some newspapers. Looking back over their website, I’ve run into a couple of their stories before on the websites of The Haitian Times and Le Nouvelliste. Whenever I’ve seen their work, I’ve never seen a different news organization cover the same topic, meaning they’re looking at topics that aren’t prevalently covered.

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Martelly shows passports to dispel dual citizenship rumors

President Michel Martelly held a press conference last week specifically to show his Haitian passports to reporters in an attempt to dispel the opposition’s accusations that he gave up his Haitian citizenship and is therefore ineligible to hold office.

In order to hold a senior government position, candidates must be Haitian. The 1987 constitution does not allow officials to be dual citizens of another country, according to an Associate Press article in The Miami Herald.

Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, told the Associated Press that Martelly formerly held a green card and currently has a visa, but was never an American citizen.

In an opinion piece for the Haitian Times, Max A. Joseph, Jr. describes Martelly’s handling of the affair “self-serving and a brilliant political maneuver.” By refusing to provide his passports for inspection earlier, the opposition focused on this issue while the president instead focused on reconstructing the country, Joseph writes. Martelly will want the public to understand the opposition was impeding progress while he was working toward it.

For Americans the rumors of Martelly not holding Haitian citizenship is reminiscent of critics of President Barack Obama who believe his American birth certificate was forged. However, the Associated Press points out politicians have been disqualified from office for holding dual citizenship, which makes this a justifiable concern.

“The issue of nationality is relevant seeing that there was a precedent in which a natural-born US citizen, Reginald Boulos, got elected to the Haitian Senate despite the Constitution specifically banning foreigners from holding office in Haiti,” Joseph writes. “To make matters worse, the offender in question, a member of the cosmopolitan Haitian elite, was never charged of any crime.”

Joseph goes on to say that the rumors and investigations surrounding this issue were anything but a wild goose chase. Three government officials, that were likely handpicked by Martelly, were found to be citizens of other countries, he writes.

These officials should be criminally prosecuted for knowingly disobeying the highest law in the land, Joseph says, but admits it’s unlikely to happen.

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Bassin-Bleu, a hidden natural gem

Yesterday The Miami Herald published an article about Haiti’s efforts to become a major tourist destination. Trying to get in on Caribbean tourism is nothing new. Bill Clinton, the UN special envoy to Haiti, has been trying to draw tourists to the country for years. Here’s a 2009 article in The Seattle Times that follows Clinton while on a tour of a Haitian citadel and talks about his efforts.

In honor of the new image the government and Clinton are trying to create, now seemed like a good time to talk about the one tourist think I did while visiting Haiti.

Bassin-Bleu (which means blue bassin) is a hidden oasis consisting of a waterfall cascading into several deep, blue pools. The national park is located just outside of Jacmel, in the southeast of Haiti.

The park’s official site encourages visitors to “jump from the waterfalls, swim in the cool basins, enjoy the cool cover of the lush vegetation in your own private grotto. Bassin-Bleu is truly a national treasure of Haiti – in fact, a reason to make the journey to the island of Hispaniola.”

They’re not exaggerating.

One of the many pools at Bassin Bleu.

Bassin-Bleu ranks fourth in things to do in Haiti for both Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, two travel websites with guides and tips from other tourists.

The park is much more remote and untouched than many American national parks. When our mission trip group visited, we were the only tourists there. The pools were isolated, shaded and wonderfully cool in the Haitian heat.

At the main bassin, you have the opportunity to jump off of a cliff near the waterfall. Many of my fellow travelers made the plunge. We estimated the fall was about 40 feet high.

Getting to the bassins is quite the adventure. Before you can relax in the water, you have to hike through the hills, climb down a rope and try to walk on slippery stepping stones without falling into the water. In order to even get to the park, you have to travel on uneven mountain roads and ford a river like you’re on the Oregon Trail.

We really forded a river. It was awesome.

Haiti probably won’t be the ideal Caribbean vacation for most tourists anytime soon. But it is great for those with a sense of adventure, the kind of people willing to travel to little visited spots for an unforgettable day.

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Martelly nominates prime minister

President Michel Martelly has officially nominated his longtime friend Laurent Lamothe to be Haiti’s new prime minister, replacing Garry Conille after just four months in office.

According to the Miami Herald, the U.S.-educated Lamothe is one of Martelly’s closest advisors. Lamothe, a former tennis star, and Martelly were partners in a South African-based telecommunications company before Martelly’s election. Lamothe is currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship. He’s held this position since October 2011, according to the Herald article.

An editorial in Le Nouvelliste identifies Lamothe as the sponsor of Martelly the musician and says that Lamothe is presented as the financier of Martelly’s presidential campaign. Le Nouvelliste points out that if Lamothe is approved, it will be the first time Martelly will have an ally as a prime minister.

Both the Miami Herald and Le Nouvelliste say it will be a difficult path for Lamothe to become prime minister. The Herald says it will take considerable deal-making and cooperation with the opposition-controlled parliament, something Martelly has been unwilling to do up to this point.

Haitian senators have already begun discussing whether Lamothe meets the Constitutional requirements to be the prime minister, the Herald reports. There are concerns over whether Lamothe holds a foreign passport and has lived in Haiti for the past five years, according to the Herald.

Le Nouvelliste says Martelly has put both his fate and that of Lamothe in jeopardy. Frantz Duval, the editorial’s writer, uses the phrase “double or nothing” to explain how this situation will either go very well or very poorly for both men, but especially Martelly.

As Jocelyn McCalla, a Haiti expert, told the Herald, Martelly “has provoked enough frustrations and anxieties throughout Haitian society to trigger an ever-growing opposition.”

This gamble could be detrimental to Martelly’s credibility if he fails to get his nomination in office, Duval writes for Le Nouvelliste.

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Des problèmes avec l’aide internationale — Some problems with international aid

As I mentioned in an earlier post, good intentions don’t always lead to good results. Sadly this is all too true with international aid. Some of the most well-known aid campaigns don’t have the kind of positive impact we imagine they do.

Although not specifically about Haiti, check out this story from the Matador Network, an independent media company focusing on travel and culture, which discusses some of the worst international aid ideas. Although parts of it seem a little harsh, the article makes a good point. I especially agree with numbers six and seven. You should never, ever let gifts resemble bombs and always remember that a gift is not a bargaining chip.

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