Monday, March 29, 2010

How the US can Help Haiti

Photo by John Carroll

How the US can help Haiti

Thousands of Haitians lost everything in the earthquake. The US should open its borders and start granting humanitarian parole.

Holly Cooper, Sunday 28 March 2010

Arriving back home in the US after spending a week in Haiti, my five-year-old son came up to me and squealed, "Mommy is back from Hades!"

"Haiti, not Hades," I corrected him. The last thing I wanted was for Haiti to be equated with the underworld in my child's mind, even though it was an innocent phonetic error. For to me Haiti was Persephone, an irrepressible spirit, abducted by unexplained forces into a dark world.

On 11 March 2010, I arrived in Port Au Prince, Haiti with a human rights delegation intent on finding individuals for whom we could request humanitarian parole into the US. Under immigration laws, the secretary of homeland security can exercise her discretion to parole individuals into the US for urgent humanitarian reasons. This can include cases where the individual has a serious medical condition; is pregnant; is a juvenile; or parole is in the public interest. The executives have invoked humanitarian parole throughout US history to persons fleeing persecution and tragedy. In 1956, Eisenhower paroled in thousands of Hungarians fleeing communism; the US employed it again in the 1960s and 1970s for Cuban, Vietnamese and Haitian refugees. A policy for Haitian orphans was announced after the earthquake, but it is very limited in scope. Immigration lawyers and advocates in the US are campaigning for a more expansive use of humanitarian parole.

Our delegation comprised four doctors from Stanford University, myself from UC Davis, a lawyer from Reed Smith, a Haitian medical student from UCSF, and a photographer, operating with support from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. We set out, naively perhaps, to find the most egregious cases, those which could compel our government to magnanimously open its borders, to offer sanctuary, medical care, food, and perhaps dignity to the Haitian people. We then met with more than 100 individuals, listening to each person's personal tragedy.

One that haunts me was that of Mr P, a carpenter, who was dug out of his home and remained unconscious for three days. He awoke to learn his leg had to be amputated, that he would have to use a catheter for the rest of his life and could never know intimacy with his wife again. He also learned his home was completely destroyed. The earthquake took all this from him in a single moment. He, his wife and children, like hundreds of thousands of Haitians, were homeless, living without a tent in the streets of Port Au Prince. He had no hope of finding a prosthetic leg to salvage his career or his mobility. He had to teach himself how to get around on crutches, and how to recover from the tragedy, all while hungry, thirsty, and homeless.

I told him about our mission and about the possibility of coming to the US. Would parole into the United States be something that would interest him?

He smiled radiantly at the thought of it. His wife laughed and clapped her hands together. This was the first time they had smiled since the earthquake. The opium of hope had momentarily taken him and his wife out of Haiti and into an imaginary world in the United States. Out of the sweltering heat, the stifling sauna-like humidity, out of the tent camp, the mosquitoes, away from the long lines for food and water, away from his amputated leg and into a world of hope. He laughed: "Schools again for our children! Food in abundance, a home, maybe a new leg – I hear in the USA they have plastic legs, I could work again." His wife joined in: "And I could have a kitchen. I would cook you a big Creole meal, Ms Holly." We all laughed and smiled at each other.

Then the fantasy stopped as Mr P began to cry. Then the Creole interpreter, who had until then tried to remain invisible, began to cry. We were all quiet for several minutes – respectfully waiting for Mr P to look up from his hands again. The quiet tears were undefined, unexplained. Perhaps Mr P and the interpreter knew this was all a fairytale – the prosthetic leg, the kitchen, being lifted out of this misery.

We then took Mr P's photograph for his parole application. Being photographed in misery is humiliating. He stood there proud as the photographer took the shot; I looked away so as not to aggravate the knock to his pride. He then turned on his crutches to walk away. He turned and said: "Thank you. For the first time since 12 January, I feel alive. This hope you give me of coming to the USA is the only thing giving me the will to live. Thank you for giving hope."

I walked off, not able to look him in the face. I wept. I wept because I had no guarantees. Just the guarantee that I would try to make our government show compassion, that I would carry his story to you.

Like Persephone, the people of Haiti simply request an exit from their land, to have a spring again, to pick flowers again in Nysa, for a reprieve from their eternal winter.

We as a nation should be humbled that the Haitian people, a people who rose above slavery, a people of great resilience and survival, wish to become part of our community. They want only the basics: education, food and shelter. In return they offer their cultural riches – their resilience, their art, their music, their beloved food and their beautiful laughter. The United States government should grant humanitarian parole to the Haitians in need and we should not forsake Mr P nor his people whose lives are irreversibly impacted by the earthquake of 12 January 2010.

Crisis in Haiti Worsens

Crisis worsens in Haiti

The Monterey County Herald
Posted: 03/29/2010 01:32:43 AM PDT
Updated: 03/29/2010 08:28:13 AM PDT

The emergency in Haiti isn't over. It's getting worse, as the outside world's attention fades away.

Misery rages like a fever in the hundreds of camps sheltering hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million people left homeless by the Jan. 12 earthquake. The dreaded rains have already swamped tents and ragged stick-and-tarp huts. They have turned walkways into mud lakes and made difficult or impossible the simple acts of collecting and cooking food, washing clothes, staying clean and avoiding disease. The rainy season peaks in May.

Worsening the weather crisis are the unchecked sexual assaults and rapes in the camps, where families are squeezed side by side in flimsy quarters and women and girls are left unprotected after dark.

A new report from Amnesty International affirms that security is inadequate, that police and soldiers are often missing, that every nightfall brings terror. Victims stay silent because rapists go uncaught and unpunished; what little policing exists is focused on other priorities.

Both the shelter and safety crises demand an urgent response, and while feelings of urgency abound in Haiti, their impact is only sporadically felt. The little country is swarming with well-intentioned organizations, each trying to do their little bit of help. One group is trying to distribute thousands of flashlights to women and girls. It's a kind and practical gesture, but what they really need are shelters from sexual violence, and adequate policing. Haiti has neither, Amnesty International reports.

Any effective solution would need to be coordinated with the government of Haiti, whose leaders have been absent from the lives of Haitian citizens since the disaster. When former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited the capital of Port-au-Prince this week, they joined President Rene Preval in touring the camp in Champ de Mars, across the street from the slumped-over presidential palace. Screams of frustration greeted them. Where have you been? Why have you not helped us?

From the first days of this disaster, someone should have been racing to find places to build sturdy housing away from the densely crowded, quake-shattered capital. But the Haitian government only this week took the necessary step of invoking eminent domain to seize land. Sites have been identified, but the number of places available for new housing is still zero. Only a few hundred people have been moved from the camps.

We understand the government has been working hard to prepare for a donor conference next week, where big ideas for the future will be discussed. But back in old Haiti, land of tents and tarps, workers have been putting fresh coats of plaster and blue paint on buildings on the U.N. compound in Port-au-Prince, and the rest of the world is moving on.

Some U.S. troops have started going home. Overmatched workers for U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations are toiling away, many of them heroically. But ultimately progress must be judged by results. New ways must be found to solve problems, and urgency sustained. Haiti is in danger of becoming what it always was, a nagging blot on the conscience, a neglected project that never gets done.

— New York Times editorial

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Haiti's Rich and Poor

Photo by John Carroll

March 27, 2010

Quake Accentuated Chasm That Has Defined Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The lights of the casino above this wrecked city beckoned as gamblers in freshly pressed clothes streamed to the roulette table and slot machines. In a restaurant nearby, diners quaffed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne and ate New Zealand lamb chops at prices rivaling those in Manhattan.

A few yards away, hundreds of families displaced by the earthquake languished under tents and tarps, bathing themselves from buckets and relieving themselves in the street as barefoot children frolicked on pavement strewn with garbage.

This is the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, a hillside bastion of Haiti’s well-heeled where a mangled sense of normalcy has taken hold after the earthquake in January. Business is bustling at the lavish boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that have reopened in the breezy hills above the capital, while thousands of homeless and hungry people camp in the streets around them, sometimes literally on their doorstep.

“The rich people sometimes need to step over us to get inside,” said Judith Pierre, 28, a maid who has lived for weeks in a tent with her two daughters in front of Magdoos, a chic Lebanese restaurant where diners relax in a garden and smoke flavored tobacco from hookahs. Chauffeurs for some of the customers inside lined up sport utility vehicles next to Ms. Pierre’s tent on the sidewalk near the entrance.

Haiti has long had glaring inequality, with tiny pockets of wealth persisting amid extreme poverty, and Pétionville itself was economically mixed before the earthquake, with poor families living near the gated mansions and villas of the rich.

But the disaster has focused new attention on this gap, making for surreal contrasts along the streets above Port-au-Prince’s central districts. People in tent camps reeking of sewage are living in areas where prosperous Haitians, foreign aid workers and diplomats come to spend their money and unwind. Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.

“There’s nothing logical about what’s going on right now,” said Tatiana Wah, a Haitian planning expert at Columbia University who is living in Pétionville and working as an adviser to Haiti’s government. Ms. Wah said the revelry at some nightclubs near her home, which are frequented by rich Haitians and foreigners, was now as loud — or louder — than before the earthquake.

The nongovernmental organizations “are flooding the local economy with their spending,” she said, “but it’s not clear if much of it is trickling down.”

Aleksandr Dobrianskiy, the Ukrainian owner of the Bagheera casino here in the hills, smiled as customers flowed in one recent Saturday evening, drinking Cuba Libres and plunking tokens into slot machines.

He said business had never been better, attributing the uptick at his casino to the money coming into Haiti for relief projects. That spending is percolating through select areas of the economy, as some educated Haitians get jobs working with relief agencies and foreigners bring in cash from abroad, using it on housing, security, transportation and entertainment.

“Haiti’s like a submarine that just hit the bottom of the sea,” said Mr. Dobrianskiy, 39, who moved here a year ago and carries a semiautomatic Glock handgun for protection. “It’s got nowhere to go but up.”

Sometimes the worlds of haves and have-nots collide. Violent crime and kidnappings have been relatively low since the earthquake. But when two European relief workers from Doctors Without Borders were abducted outside the exclusive Plantation restaurant this month and held for five days, the episode served as a reminder of how Haiti’s poverty could give rise to resentment and crime.

The breadth of Haiti’s economic misery seemed incomprehensible to many before the quake, with almost 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. A small elite in gated mansions here in Pétionville and other hillside districts wields vast economic power.

But with parts of Port-au-Prince now in ruins, tens of thousands of people displaced by the quake are camping directly in the bulwarks once associated with power and wealth, like Place St.-Pierre (across from the elegant Kinam Hotel) and the grounds of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s office.

The city’s biggest tent camp, with more than 40,000 displaced people, sprawls over the hills of the Pétionville Club, a country club with a golf course that before the quake had its own Facebook page for former members. (“Had the best Citronade; I bet I drank thousands of them, no exaggeration,” one reminiscence said.)

Pétionville’s boutiques and restaurants stand in stark contrast to the parallel economic reality in the camp now at the Pétionville Club. Throughout its maze of tents, merchants sell dried fish and yams for a fraction of what the French cuisine costs in exclusive restaurants nearby like Quartier Latin or La Souvenance.

Manicurists in the camp do nails. A stylist in a hovel applies hair extensions. The camp even has its own Paradis Ciné, set up in a tent with space for as many as 30 people. It charges admission of about $1.50 for screenings of “2012,” the end-of-times disaster movie known here as “Apocalypse.”

“The people in the camp need their diversion, too,” said Cined Milien, 22, the operator of Paradis Ciné.

Still, a ticket to see “Apocalypse” is a luxury out of the grasp of most people who lost their homes in the earthquake. Some of the well-off in Pétionville who have reopened their businesses have done so cautiously, aware of the misfortune that persists on their doorstep.

“It’s kind of hard for people to dance and have fun,” said Anastasia Chassagne, 27, the Florida-educated owner of a trendy bar in Pétionville. “I put music, but really low, so like the people walking outside the street don’t hear, like, ‘Hey, these people are having fun.’ ”

Not everyone in Pétionville has such qualms. Mr. Dobrianskiy, the casino entrepreneur, said he was pleased that Haiti’s currency, the gourde, had recently strengthened against the dollar to a value higher than before the quake, in part because of the influx of money from abroad.

And on the floor above Mr. Dobrianskiy’s casino, a nightclub called Barak, with blaring music and Miami-priced cocktails, caters to a different elite here: United Nations employees and foreigners working for aid groups. They mingle with dozens of suggestively clad Haitian women and a few moneyed Haitian men taking in the scene.

As hundreds of displaced families gathered under tents a few yards away, the music of Barak continued into the night. A bartender could not keep up with orders for Presidente beers.

“Those who are gone are gone and buried, and we can’t do anything about that,” said Michel Sejoure, 21, a Haitian enjoying a drink at Barak. Asked about the displaced-persons camp down the street, he said, “I would want to help but I don’t have enough, and the government should be the ones that are actually helping these people out.”

“But,” he said over the booming music, “they’re not.”

Grant Fuller contributed reporting.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Haiti Saved America

How Haiti Saved America

Two centuries ago, a glittering Caribbean Island helped finance the Revolution
By Ted Widmer | March 21, 2010

The United States has been leading the response to the Haitian earthquake for all of the reasons that we would expect: our geographical proximity, our competence at emergency response, and our innate generosity. That fits the narrative most of us hold in our heads, for we typically think of Haiti and America as a basket case and a basket, joined only by their contradictions, and the beneficence of one to the other.

On the surface, that is true enough. Haiti was desperately poor well before this latest catastrophe and routinely faces problems that border on the biblical — floods, epidemics, and a deforested landscape that suggests a plague of locusts (sadly, it was just human beings). The United States is the world’s all-time winner, whether defined by Olympic medal count or GDP or any other national sweepstakes.

Yet a closer look at the early history of the United States and Haiti — proudly, the two oldest countries in this hemisphere — suggests that the relationship was once very different. In fact, it was the island’s wealth that turned heads in those days. And the United States was hardly a foregone conclusion. In the darkest days of the American Revolution, when it seemed preposterous to believe that the mighty British empire might allow 13 rogue colonies to come into existence as a new nation, the support that came from a 14th colony — French Saint Domingue, Haiti’s predecessor — made an important difference.

In recent years, the bestseller lists have been dominated by history books arguing that our founding moment is the key to understanding everything that has happened since. That is all well and good — in fact, it’s great news that so many Americans are willing and even eager to read about the 18th century. But to tell the story right, we need to think about all of the people who worked for our independence. In the appeals for aid that have gone out over the last few months, there is one powerful reason for aiding Haiti that has never been articulated. Simply put — the United States might never have come into existence without the help of our island neighbor.

That is a counterintuitive thought, to put it mildly. But to avoid defeat, Americans needed guns and powder and bullets and warm clothing. To buy those necessities, they needed money. And money in those days came from France, eager to twist the tail of the British Lion. France supported America for many reasons, including the ones we learn in school — Benjamin Franklin’s

roguish charm and the appeal of the underdog and England’s comeuppance. But a reason we hear less often is that France had a vested interest in protecting a lucrative overseas possession with a strong connection to the United States, and to New England in particular.

Here in Boston, where the American Revolution is an everyday fact, it helps to pull the camera back, away from this tiny peninsula, and consider the broader hemisphere. In the late 18th century, the situation was very nearly reversed — Haiti’s predecessor, Saint Domingue, was the richest colony in the world. Its capital city, Cap Français (today’s Cap Haïtien) was larger than Boston, and among the most cosmopolitan places in the Americas. Its culture matched anything in New York, Havana, Philadelphia, or the dour Puritan city jutting into Massachusetts Bay.

Early in the century, Benjamin Franklin had learned that modest displays of wit were punishable by jail in Boston — why he soon found it convenient to flee to Philadelphia. In Saint Domingue, by contrast, wit was everything. Comedies were performed at playhouses around the country (the largest theater in Cap Français seated 1,500). Le Cap’s first theater preceded Boston’s by more than 50 years. The historian James E. McClellan III said that Haiti’s scientific clubs “certainly rivaled, if they did not eclipse” those of Philadelphia and Boston. A highly sophisticated urban life sprang into existence — more than 11 towns had more than 1,000 people, and in the capital, all of Cap Français danced to orchestras, laughed at cabarets, played at cards and billiards, and visited wax museums. (In 1789, a waxen George Washington was put on display, in what might have passed for the first state visit by a US president.)

As these accounts would suggest, a great deal of money was made in Saint Domingue. To be “as rich as a Creole” was a familiar boast in Paris, and a substantial portion of the French economy depended on this one distant settlement. This was the jewel of the French empire, furnishing the coffee drunk in Paris, the sugar needed to sweeten it, and the cotton and indigo worn by men and women of fashion. Saint Domingue’s commerce added up to more than a third of France’s foreign trade. One person in eight in France earned a living that stemmed from it. By 1776, this tiny colony produced more income than the entire Spanish empire in the Americas.

But Haiti’s superheated economy required constant, grinding labor in the plantations — and that meant massive importation of human beings from Africa. To a greater degree than in South Carolina or Virginia, the planters of Saint Domingue worked their slaves to death. This was a slave society on a scale beyond anything seen in North America. The profits were bigger, and so were the cruelties, distributed as generously. A small colony of 10,000 square miles — roughly the size of Massachusetts — held a teeming population of Africans, half a million strong, ruled over by a mixture of French families, light-skinned mulattoes, and the profiteering adventurers who always congregate in lively Caribbean cities.

To a surprising degree, Boston was economically linked with a city that was in many ways its polar opposite. New England merchants had been getting rich in Hispaniola since at least 1684, when a young adventurer, William Phips, found a Spanish treasure that made his fortune there. Foodstuffs like dried fish were sold by enterprising Yankees to the rich French island, and the trade in molasses (a run-off of the sugar refining process) became a New England specialty, part of the so-called Triangle Trade. The difficulty of regulating this trade led to the strictures by which England tried and generally failed to bring New England to heel, enraging Americans in the process.

So, well before the first shots were fired at Lexington Green, New Englanders had a mutually beneficial relationship with Saint Domingue that was irritating to England. And France was highly protective of Saint Domingue, which the English had tried on several occasions to seize. All of this provided essential background to the key fact — the French alliance — that allowed the United States to lurch into existence.

Why did the French pour money into our cause? A large portion of the answer lies in Haiti, unremembered by Americans. France did not want to lose its jewel, and so it sprang into action when the American colonists began to agitate for their freedom. The king’s advisers worried that the British would use the conflict to shore up their Caribbean possessions, and seize Saint Domingue once and for all. To support the Americans would not only weaken the British and help avert that disaster, it would support a people with a known interest in trading with the French colonists. The loans were small and secretive at first, often funneled through clandestine agents. But eventually, French support grew open and robust. As recounted by Stacy Schiff in “A Great Improvisation,” France ultimately provided 1.3 billion livres, or the equivalent of $9 billion today.

Without this help, the Revolution probably would have fizzled. Certainly it would not have lasted as long. When the Declaration of Independence announced the United States, the Americans had only about 30,000 fighting men and very little money. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “the world wondered that we so seldom fired a cannon. We could not afford it.” France’s aid made all the difference. The battle that ended the war — Yorktown — was essentially a French production.

But not entirely French. To do their part, the people of Saint Domingue responded enthusiastically to the call to defend the infant United States. Haitians of all complexions fought alongside the continentals at the Battle of Savannah in 1779 (one of them was a 12-year-old drummer named Henri Christophe, who went on to pronounce himself king of Haiti in the 19th century, after getting a taste of independence in America).

Just as importantly, Saint Domingue served as a vital point of transfer for the men, arms, and gunpowder flowing from France to the patriot cause. As those essential donations poured in to the United States, they came through what is now Haiti. Americans were buying powder there as early as 1775. The powder that won the battle of Saratoga came from there. The military engineers who designed the plans for victory at Yorktown and the cannons needed to win it and the French fleet who made sure it happened all came to us via our island neighbor. Yorktown essentially won it all for us.

Perhaps the most important gift of all from Haiti to the United States came in a form that remains difficult to quantify, but was essential all the same. The money that kept the United States afloat during the long war for independence came from those enormous loans, negotiated by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams during their long stay in Paris. Does it not seem plausible that France had money to lend to one part of America because of the huge profits that another part of America — Saint Domingue — made possible? It is hard enough today to know how money goes from one pot into a government expenditure; the difficulty increases exponentially when looking at the distant finances of a country that no longer exists. But the vast sums pouring into France from Saint Domingue at exactly the same time made foreign aid to the New World a distinctly more attractive option than it would have been otherwise. The 1770s and 1780s were the richest decades Saint Domingue had ever seen. It goes without saying that the entire enterprise rested on the backs of the men and women whose labor powered it.

We are naturally drawn to the most elevated part of the story of our national birth, and there is plenty of inspiration in the orations of Sam Adams, the immortal words of the Declaration, and the valor of American soldiers at Lexington and Bunker Hill and Valley Forge. But we do a disservice to the people of Haiti, and ultimately to ourselves, if we do not remember that a large contribution toward American freedom was made by the hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans who, in their way, toiled and died for the cause.

Ultimately, America’s cause merged into Haiti’s own, for the huge loans given to America weakened the French economy sufficiently that another revolution broke out in Paris and the world turned upside down all over again. Out of that chaos emerged a third revolution, and a new Haitian nation, which declared independence in 1804, the second American country to do so. Its path since then has been rockier than our own, to put it mildly, but it overcame more difficult challenges than we did, including the opposition of nearly every nation on earth, the United States among them.

There were voices, then as now, that saw some justice in bringing the two independent nations into closer orbit. Timothy Pickering of Salem, secretary of state from 1795 to 1800, considered the revolution’s leader, Toussaint Louverture, “a prudent and judicious man possessing the general confidence of the people of all colors.” Under John Adams, there was a flourishing trade, and even some US naval support for Toussaint’s maneuvers. In return, Toussaint’s supporters began to call Americans “the good whites.”

On rare occasions, Americans even saw some similarity between the revolutions that each country experienced. In 1791, as the Haitian Revolution was just getting underway, a young Pennsylvania politician rose to defend the slaves fighting for their freedom, arguing, “if the insurrection of the Negroes were treated as a rebellion what name could be given to that of the Americans which won their independence?” In 1804, a Boston newspaper, the Columbian Centinel, wrote, “their case is not dissimilar to that of the people of the United States in 1778-1800.” But in 1806, the Jefferson administration succeeded in a ban on all trade with the newly independent nation of Haiti, extinguishing its hopes for prosperity, at the beginning of its new history.

It is easy to see why we have generally passed over this history. It is obscure, buried in old newspapers and articles, many written in French. It describes a lost colony that seems to have slid off the face of the earth. But Haiti survived Saint Domingue, and now it has survived what may be the greatest crisis in its history.

But the story does not end there. In fact, it doesn’t end anywhere, because Haitians and Americans will always bump into each other in the small hemispheric space that we occupy together. Many more arguments could be cited to convey how entangled are the roots of our liberty trees. How many Americans live in the great heartland that stretches from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains? They owe a debt not only to Thomas Jefferson, Louisiana’s purchaser, but to Toussaint Louverture and the Haitians who fought so tenaciously for their freedom that Napoleon was forced to cash out of America. (He exclaimed, on hearing of the death of his best general, “damn sugar, damn coffee, damn colonies!”) How many Americans have been moved by the prints of John James Audubon, or the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, or the many other descendants of Haitian families, white and black, who came here in the aftermath of the Haitian Revolution? How many of us have admired the iron balustrades of New Orleans and Charleston, wondering where the artisans came from who designed them?

Thousands of Americans have rushed to Haiti’s hospitals and shelters and with their expertise and aid. We have given deeply — $700 million and counting. But as the spring rains come, perhaps we can pause to consider this shared history, and do more by a sister republic that has dogged our steps and weighed on our consciences since the dawn of the American experiment. It has often been said that freedom is not free. Should we not show how highly we value it, by repaying a small fragment of the debt we owe to the descendants of a people whose blood, sweat, and tears helped us to become the United States of America?

Ted Widmer directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He is a senior research fellow with the New America Foundation. The library has formed a fund, ”Saving Haiti’s Libraries,” to protect the endangered cultural treasures of Haiti. See for details.

© Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tents and Tarps in Haiti

Photo by John Carroll

Heurese called yesterday. She said that she was well but would be staying under a tarp in Port-au-Prince last night. She said it had been raining all day yesterday.

Below is an article from the USA Today describing the very bad situation in Port-au-Prince.

Haiti's homeless get tarps, want tents

Posted 2/13/2010 10:30 PM ET

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Ask any of the hundreds of thousands of earthquake victims living outdoors in Haiti's shattered capital and you're apt to get the same plea: "Give us a tent."

Few will get one. Aid agencies and Haitian officials have given up plans to shelter the homeless in tents, even if that means many will likely face hurricane season camped out under flapping sheets of plastic.

Tents are too big, too costly and too inefficient, aid groups say. So Haitians must swelter under flimsy tarps until fixed shelters can be built — though no one believes nearly enough can be will be up in time for spring storms.

"A tent would give us more space. There are too many people in here," said Marie-Mona Destiron, sweating under the hot blue light of her family's donated plastic tarp. When it rains, she said, water slides through the gaps and turns the dirt floor to mud.

Destiron, 45, got her tarp from U.S. soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division. Her husband, Joselin Edouard, tied it to a thin mahogany tree on a dusty slope below the country club that the soldiers use as a forward-operating base. It is home to them and their six children.

The Destiron family tarp site sits atop what passes for pretty good real estate in post-quake Port-au-Prince. The family is near where soldiers distribute food, though when helicopters land, it's blasted by dirt and leaves. They moved in the day after the Jan. 12 catastrophe shattered their concrete home.

But theirs is a space prone to floods and mudslides. And come the spring rains — not to mention the hurricanes of summer and fall — they and many other Haitians are vulnerable.

International aid officials at first announced a campaign to put the homeless in tents and appealed for donations from around the world. Some 49,000 tents had reached Haiti when the government announced Wednesday it was opting for plastic sheets.

With an estimated 1.2 million people displaced by the earthquake — some 770,000 of them still in the capital — officials say there is no room for family-sized tents with their wide bases.

Besides, they are bulky and don't last long enough to justify their cost, the aid community has decided.

Further, the cluster of foreign and Haitian officials in charge of shelter decisions does not trust the mishmash of aid organizations involved to buy the right ones.

It has issued a warning that only that those with "existing expertise in the procurement of humanitarian tents" should buy them, saying that after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 80% of tents distributed were not waterproof.

Instead the officials are mobilizing a plan they call the "shelter surge:"

By May 1, one plastic tarp will be given to each of about 250,000 displaced families.

Transitional shelters of 18 square meters (194 square feet), with corrugated iron roofs, will then be built. They will have earthquake- and storm-resistant frames of timber or steel and are supposed to last for three years.

But putting up such shelters will take serious time and effort. Land must be procured. Money — at least $1,000 per transitional home — must be found. And desperate people who just weeks ago lost their homes must be persuaded to relocate yet again, and getting them to abandon neighborhoods and friends won't be simple.

"This is a big problem. We need to move people and they need to agree to move," U.N. Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said after visiting tarp cities in the quake-decimated city of Leogane.

Getting even the bulk of that done before the June 1 start of hurricane season seems unlikely. And plenty of people — including politicians from donor nations as well as today's tarp-dwellers — are concerned.

The European Union said Thursday that it would mount a military operation — including heavy equipment and engineers — to level the ground for the shelters and put them up. It did not say how many troops would be sent, by which nations or when.

"I hope it happens soon. Let's see how effective the European military are," said Edmond Mulet, the acting U.N. envoy to Haiti,

A delegation of visiting U.S. lawmakers led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised concerns over tarps in a Friday meeting with President Rene Preval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive.

"We can't just put tarps up in those low-lying areas and hope for the best," said Senator George LeMieux, a Florida Republican.

Preval declined to answer questions about the problem after the meeting. But in a hushed voice, he expressed concern in side conversations with aides.

Asked about tents vs. tarps, Pelosi simply replied: "That's a decision that has to be made here."

Ironically, many of those charged with deciding are themselves sleeping in tents.

U.N. civilian staff, who lost their peacekeeping headquarters and other buildings in the quake, have turned their airport logistics base into a tent-and-trailer city. Foreign soldiers sleep in camouflage tents all over town. U.S. diplomats are bivouacked on the 18-month-old $75 million 10-acre embassy compound. Journalists and aid workers have their own, pitched behind walls and beside hotel pools.

The sealed edges, covered floors and ability to close a door affords comfort. And those who have received them are appreciative.

Micheline Antoine, 25, had been living under a cloth bedsheet with her daughter and a friend near the collapsed high school of St. Louis de Gonzague until Doctors Without Borders gave the residents broad white domes last week.

They crowd each other, leaving little room to walk, but give more space inside.

"When I'm in the tent I'm not going to get wet ... and I can close the door, so my things won't be stolen," Antoine said.

Space is tight in the tarp-dominated camps as well. In Leogane, Holmes viewed camps whose populations are exploding as people cluster in areas where aid is being distributed. Aides said one camp grew from 30 to 3,000 people in the last week.

On the Port-au-Prince golf course, Destiron's family does not have much space either.

One of Destiron's walls consists mostly of the neighbor's lean-to.

Scrap wood for poles is getting hard to find, and newcomers arrive every day. One newcomer could no longer afford the rent for her home because nobody was buying clothes she sold in the street.

Destiron's 22-year-old son, Daniel Maxi, lay on a scavenged piece of dirty orange carpet atop flattened cardboard boxes wincing with fever and stomach pains.

Competing hymns from two weekend memorial services for the 200,000 earthquake dead mixed in the air as helicopters roared low overhead.

What would make this tarp more of a home? More material, perhaps. Beds for the kids. But what about something more permanent?

Destiron thinks for a moment, sweat streaming down her face.

"I would like to live in my house," she says. "That would be best."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Haitian Jail Outbreak

Haiti jail reveals chaos behind quake breakout

By Mark Doyle
BBC News, Haiti

When I first entered the chapel of worship inside Haiti's main national penitentiary - or central jail - I found it difficult to make sense of the sight before me.

The ceiling was inexplicably festooned with plastic bags and scraps of cloth.

I had obtained access to the prison to investigate the aftermath of the mass jailbreak that occurred during the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January.

More than 4,000 prisoners broke out of the central prison when the walls cracked and the prison guards fled to their homes to see if their families were alive.

About 1,000 more fled from regional jails which suffered a similar fate.

"It's certainly one of the largest prison escapes of recent history," said Paul Biddle, a former UK prison officer now advising the British government's Department for International Development on how to help rebuild Haiti's jails.

"In my experience of over 30 years there has never been an escape of this magnitude."

Mr Biddle has also worked in jails in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

In the chapel, my eyes were slowly getting used to the gloom and it dawned on me that this former place of worship had in fact been a grossly overcrowded communal cell.

Hanging from the ceiling on lengths of string were hundreds of grubby plastic bags and water containers.

The floor was knee deep in filthy mattresses and rags.

But as I looked up to the ceiling again I saw that, competing for space with the plastic bags, were foul-smelling hammocks.

Then a prison officer told me how many men had been held in this chapel-turned-cell roughly the size of a tennis court - and it all began to make sense to me.

"Three hundred and eighty-six in the chapel," the prison officer said.

The overcrowding was clearly so inhuman that the prisoners did not have enough room to exist on the floor.

So some had slept in hammocks suspended from the ceiling.

Deadly scramble

There were no toilets that I could see there.

So I can only assume that the plastic containers hanging on string were to keep the dank drinking water they contained from the sewage at ground level.

No wonder that when the earthquake hit, the men smashed and scrambled their way out.

Even a broken city in mass trauma was better than incarceration here.

In the corner of a nearby courtyard some of the escapees had strung together the classic comic-book-style rope made of bed sheets to make their way to a parapet wall.

But there was nothing comical about the scene.

On the concrete floor - among the rags, the abandoned Bibles and the strewn playing cards - were the stains left by the bodily fluids of four men who died in the chaos.

Their bodies had putrefied and burst in the heat before the Red Cross came to take them away.

They may have been killed by masonry falling from the crumbling walls or they may have had a fight. We will probably never know.

Several pairs of plastic slippers lay abandoned on the stained concrete floor.

The Haitian authorities have recaptured only 200 of the 5,000 prisoners who escaped. But they are pleased that they have at least made a start.

They are holding the 200 in a corner of the central prison relatively undamaged by the earthquake.

I toured the jail with Frantz Charles Dehonnet, deputy director of Haiti's penitentiary services.

"We had to re-establish part of the prison to give the police confidence that they have somewhere to put people they have arrested," he said.

"We also want to give the people the reassurance that the system of justice is being re-built, because as soon as the jailbreak occurred there was an upsurge in criminality and fear. We want to tell the people we are rebuilding justice."

Unfortunately, Mr Dehonnet - who appeared to be a frank and intelligent man - left the prison for another meeting before I had understood the conditions of incarceration in the chapel.

Questions to the Haitian authorities about this outrage will have to wait for another day.

But I left the national penitentiary with two impressions.

The first was the nightmarish chaos and violence that must have ensued when a massive earthquake hits a large jail.

The second impression was of the dreadful conditions that the inmates - many of whom were on remand, not having been properly convicted of any crime - endured before the quake.

Haiti's prison service has been offered help to rebuild and manage its jails from experts at the International Committee of the Red Cross, and from Canada and Britain.

The earthquake has left a legacy of fear and thousands of alleged criminals on the loose.

But what I saw in the central prison of conditions before the quake hit showed that the entire system of justice and the entire philosophy of rehabilitation of offenders needs rebuilding.

Justice needs strong walls that can withstand an earthquake. But Haiti has a lot more to fix than that.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/03/17 13:38:40 GMT


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Richard Morse on Haiti

I don't know who was responsible for EarthQuake relief in Haiti but I do know where the relief came from: USA.

I like to complain about US foreign policy just as much as the next guy, but, here's one case where the Red, White and Blue were right on time. I don't know who made the call. I don't know if it was Obama, Sec of State Clinton, or whoever, but it was the right call. Thank you. This isn't to say that other nations didn't pitch in immediately. Brazil was here, Mexico was here, Italy was here, France was here, the Dominican Republic was here, I think even China was here; but some one had to take a leadership position and it was the US.

I'm not trying to say everything has been perfect in terms of food distribution or shelter distribution but I am saying that a major social catastrophe was avoided.

Who was most noticeably absent? You guessed it!!: The Government of Haiti. Zero. Nothing. Zilch. Absent. Invisible. That’s what the Haitian people are saying TO THIS DAY. Who else was noticeably absent? The United Nations. The United Nations was in a difficult position because the local UN leadership died in the Quake. Still... where are they now, two months later? Patrolling Delmas? Everyone complains about the UN including members of the US Military AND the Haitian people.

I'm a jerk; I know it. I say things publicly that most people save for intimate cocktail parties or gatherings with friends. I say things out loud that most people aren’t allowed to say: Here's an example. The Haitian Government is corrupt. They had two corrupt elections last year. 1) No one voted, 2) the Haitian Gov’t financed preferential candidates and 3) the Haitian Gov’t made up voting tallies. That's right, the Haitian Government is corrupt. No one wants to say it. I say it. MAY THE TRUTH SET US FREE. Haitian President Rene Preval is corrupt. That's easy. Here's the sticky part. The United Nations was complicit in the corruption. That too is correct. The men and women in Baby Blue knew about the corruption and said nothing. That's my problem with this whole situation. Haitian history did not begin on January 12, 2010. Life in Haiti did not begin on January 12, 2010. Things were murky before the 12th. Things were wrong before the EarthQuake. No one cared. The press wasn’t here. The international community was going along for the ride. Is the general public aware of this?

A) Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas wants a United Nations mandate to reconstruct Haiti.
My question is, if the United Nations is/was corrupt, then why would some one want to offer them the RECONSTRUCTION PIE?

B) President Obama is doing photo Ops with Haiti's President Preval.
The words of the article were very subtle:
"Obama: "The situation on the ground remains dire". "Washington will remain partners with Haiti on the long road to recovery and reconstruction."

Nothing specific. That’s good diplomacy; points for Obama. Nothing should be specific right now. Watch out for this Haitian government. Their term is over. They're just looking for retirement money. They talk about decentralization in the last couple months of their ten year term. They talk about education in the provinces in the last couple months of their ten year term. When the international community is handing out rice to a displaced population, the Haitian Government starts talking about local production but in reality they're really defending the rice importers.

B) The story on mercenaries by investigative journalist Nienaber
had the Haiti EarthQuake Death toll at 300,000, whereas the piece with Obama and Preval shaking hands had the total at or above 230,000. Last month Dutch radio said not more than 100,000. That’s a discrepancy of 200,000 dead. Preval has said 300,000 in the past. Interesting how the mercenaries and Preval both go with the 300,000 figure. I think in the end people will settle on or around 230,000 just because that will be the compromise figure.

Where do I get all this stuff?.. I live here.

Richard Morse
Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Friday, March 12, 2010

Haiti, Two Months Later

(Photo by John Carroll)

This article sent to me by David Volk.

March 12, 2010

Editorial (New York Times)

Haiti, Two Months Later

With every day that passes in the mud and rubble of Haiti, the failures of the relief effort are heartbreaking. There are four main strands to the campaign to make sure 1.2 million homeless people are sheltered and safe as the weather turns fierce. All are inadequate.

The United Nations and foreign countries and aid organizations have dispatched tents, tarps, food, water, medicine and doctors, as they should. They have done a lot of good, particularly the United States, which rushed supplies, a troop force that peaked at about 20,000 and a hospital ship. Many lives were saved. After meeting with Haiti’s president, René Préval, this week, President Obama pledged continued aid.

But after nearly two months, it’s not enough. Only half of those displaced have received even the crudest means of emergency shelter: plastic tarps and tents that will hardly protect them when floods start in earnest next month, and the hurricanes come in June. In hundreds of crowded settlements around the country, like the ones sheltering more than 600,000 in Port-au-Prince, food, water, medical care and security remain spotty.

Large swaths of the earthquake zone remain untouched by aid. They are choking in rubble, and trucks and volunteers have barely begun to scratch out safe places in the wreckage for people to live.

Relief agencies have overcome staggering obstacles, starting with the fact that the quake demolished the United Nations mission, killing much of its leadership and employees. The United Nations is in high gear now, but it has been rightly criticized for disorganization. Last month, in a scathing e-mail message, the emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations, John Holmes, blasted his colleagues for having been too slow to step up to the challenge. Weeks after the disaster, he said, several of the agency “clusters” in charge of handling needs like food and shelter had not even developed a basic overview of what they had to do, much less a plan.

The quake ruined the presidential palace and the best managers and workers were still on the job when the tremors hit. President Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive have not been able to resume strong or even visible leadership.

The government has not made decisions or has made confusing ones. It has, for instance, refused to allow undamaged or lightly damaged schools to reopen with a full curriculum until all schools can reopen — letting children languish. Mr. Préval was visible at the White House on Wednesday, but in Haiti the question “Where is Préval?” draws a shake of the head.

THE N.G.O.’S Existing charity mechanisms have been revved up to try to match the staggering scale of the earthquake, and new ones are being invented. The big multinational nongovernmental organizations are providing vital support to the United Nations.

But there are thousands of others, like the small rural mission churches and other groups that right now are offering just pinpricks of relief.

THE PEOPLE Haitians are eager to help themselves. Refugees are forming settlement councils and electing representatives to collaborate with the nongovernmental organizations. They are building homes themselves, clearing rubble themselves, burying the dead themselves, organizing security brigades themselves. But they are as overmatched as everyone else by the scale of the disaster.

There is a burning need to tap the energies of Haitians — not just the devastated national government. That means at the grass-roots, church, business and neighborhood groups that know the country, speak its languages, and are deeply committed to its rebirth.

Efforts to do so have been negligible so far. A report by Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington, says that Haitians have been excluded from major planning at the United Nations compound because they don’t know about meetings, aren’t allowed in or don’t have the staff to send. The United Nations Development Program has hired more than 70,000 Haitians to clean debris. Much more is needed.

Haiti should be able to count on American technical expertise, security and money, especially as energy shifts to rebuilding. Everyone should keep improving basic efforts to keep refugees safe and in good health. But, ultimately, it is the United Nations that must take responsibility to lead and coordinate the relief efforts.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Noam Chomsky---Haiti

(Photo by John Carroll)

Haiti Earthquake aid should go to Haiti's popular organizations, not to contractors or NGOs


Noam Chomsky Post-Earthquake interview

by Keane Bhatt

For decades, Noam Chomsky has been an analyst and activist working in support of the Haitian people. In addition to his revolutionary linguistics career at MIT, he has written, lectured and protested against injustice for 40 years. He is co-author, along with Paul Farmer and Amy Goodman of "Getting Haiti Right This Time: The U.S. and the Coup." His analysis “The Tragedy of Haiti” from his 1993 book Year 501: The Conquest Continues is available for free online. This interview was conducted in late February 2010 by phone and email. It was first published in ¡Reclama! magazine. The interviewer thanks Peter Hallward for his kind assistance.

Keane Bhatt: Recently you signed a letter to the Guardian protesting the militarization of emergency relief. It criticized a prioritization of security and military control to the detriment of rescue and relief.

Noam Chomsky: I think there was an overemphasis in the early stage on militarization rather than directly providing relief. I don’t think it has any long-term significance...the United States has comparative advantage in military force. It tends to react to anything at first with military force, that’s what it’s good at. And I think they overdid it. There was more military force than was necessary; some of the doctors that were in Haiti, including those from Partners in Health who have been there for a long time, felt that there was an element of racism in believing that Haitians were going to riot and they had to be controlled and so on, but there was very little indication of that; it was very calm and quiet. The emphasis on militarization did probably delay somewhat the provision of relief. I went along with the general thrust of the petition that there was too much militarization.

Keane Bhatt: IF this militarization of relief was not intentionally extreme but rather just a default response of the US, is it just serendipity that there is a massive troop presence available to manage the rapidly mounting popular protests post-earthquake? Surprisingly large, politicized group comprised of survivors has already mobilized around demanding Aristide’s return, French reparations instead of charity, and so on.

Noam Chomsky: So far, at least, I don’t know of any employment of the troops to subdue protests. It might come, but I suspect a more urgent concern is the impending disaster of the rainy season, terrible to contemplate.

Keane Bhatt: Regarding relief work, aside from Partners in Health, Al Jazeera noted that the Cuban medical team was the first to set up medical facilities among the debris and constitutes the largest contingent of medical workers in Haiti, something that preceded the earthquake. If their performance in Pakistan [earthquake of 2005] is any indicator, they will probably be the last to leave. Cuba seems to have an exemplary, decades-long conduct in foreign assistance.

Noam Chomsky: Well, the Cubans were already there before the earthquake. They had a couple hundred doctors there. And yes, they sent doctors very quickly; they had medical facilities there very quickly. Venezuela also sent aid quite quickly; Venezuela was also the first country and the only country at any scale to cancel totally the debt. There was considerable debt to Venezuela because of PetroCaribe, and it’s rather striking that Venezuela and Cuba were not invited to the donors’ meeting in Montreal.

Actually the prime minister of Haiti, Bellerive, went out of his way to thank three countries: the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Venezuela for their rapid provision of aid. What Al Jazeera said about Pakistan is quite correct. In that terrible earthquake a couple of years ago, the Cubans were really the only ones who went into the very difficult areas high up in the mountains where it’s very hard to live. They’re the ones who stayed after everyone else left. And none of that gets reported in the United States. But the fact of the matter is, whatever you think about Cuba, its internationalism is pretty dramatic. And the people who’ve been working in Haiti for years have been awestruck by Cuban medical aid as they were in Pakistan, in fact. That’s an old story. I mean, the Cuban contribution to the liberation of Africa is just overwhelming. And you can find that in scholarship, but the public doesn’t know anything about it.

Keane Bhatt: On that point, you’ve talked about how “states are not moral agents. They act in their own interests. And that means the interests of powerful forces within them.” How does the history of exemplary humanitarian work as Cuban state policy relate to that thought?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I think it’s just been a core part of the Cuban revolution to have a very high level of internationalism. I mean, these cases you’ve mentioned are cases in point, but the most extreme case was the liberation of Africa. Take the case of Angola for example, and there are real connections between Cuba and Angola—much of the Cuban population comes from Angola. But South Africa, with US support, after the fall of the Portuguese empire, invaded Angola and Mozambique to establish their own puppet regime there. They were trying to protect Namibia, to protect apartheid, and nobody did much about it; but the Cubans sent forces, and furthermore they sent black soldiers and they defeated a white mercenary army, which not only rescued Angola but it sent a shock throughout the continent—it was a psychic shock—white mercenaries were purported to be invincible, and a black army defeated them and sent them back fleeing into South Africa. Well that gave a real shot in the arm to the liberation movements, and it also was a lesson to the white South Africans that the end is coming. They can’t just hope to subdue the continent on racist grounds. Now, it didn’t end the wars. The South African attacks in Angola and Mozambique continued until the late 1980s, with strong US support. And it was no joke. According to the UN estimates they killed a million and a half people in Angola and Mozambique, nothing slight. Nevertheless, the Cuban intervention had a huge effect, also on other countries of Africa. And one the most striking aspects of it is that they took no credit for it. They wanted credit to be taken by the nationalist movements in Africa. So in fact none of this was even known until an American researcher, Piero Gleijeses unearthed the evidence from the Cuban archives and African sources and published it in scholarly journals and a scholarly book, and it’s just an astonishing story but barely known—one out of a million people has ever heard of it.

Keane Bhatt: You mentioned the Venezuelan debt cancellation. At the same time, the G7 is in the process of eliminating bilateral debt. Why is that?

Noam Chomsky: Well they’re talking about it, yeah. The Venezuelans were first. And they just completely canceled the debt. G7 refused. In the Montreal meeting, they refused to even discuss it. Later, they indicated that they might do something. Maybe they’re embarrassed by the Venezuelan action. But I’m not sure how it’s playing out. As far as the IMF is concerned—the IMF is basically an offshoot of the US Treasury Department—they’ve talked about it but so far they have not agreed, as far as I can discover, to cancel the debt.

Keane Bhatt: Bellerive, Prime Minister of Haiti, thanked the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Venezuela. The DR has been lauded for its relief efforts: providing food, materials and medical care, for example. But at the same time there are reports from the border of Dominican troops forcibly deporting family members of Haitian patients and sometimes even the patients themselves, in Jimaní, for example. What is your take on these contrary developments taking place and is there any historical context that you would like to add?

Noam Chomsky: Well, what the Dominican Republic does is up to Dominicans to decide, but the much more striking thing from my perspective, is that the United States has not brought in any—barely any refugees—even for medical treatment. And that was harshly condemned by the dean of the University of Miami Medical School who thought it was just criminal not to bring Haitians to Miami where there’s marvelous medical facilities while they have to do surgery with, you know, hacksaws in Haiti. And in fact one of the first US reactions to the earthquake was to send in the Coast Guard to ensure that there wouldn’t be any attempt to flee from Haiti. I mean, that’s atrocious. The United States is the richest country in the world, it’s right next door to Haiti. It should be offering every possible means of assistance to Haitians.

Furthermore there’s a little bit of background here. I mean, the earthquake in Haiti was a class-based catastrophe. It didn’t much harm the wealthy elite up in the hills, they were shaken but not destroyed. On the other hand the people who were living in the miserable urban slums, huge numbers of them, they were devastated. Maybe a couple hundred thousand were killed. How come they were living there? They were living there because of—it goes back to the French colonial system—but in the past century, they were living there because of US policies, consistent policies.

Keane Bhatt: You’re talking about the forcible decimation of peasant agriculture in the 1990s?

Noam Chomsky: It started with Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson invaded all of Hispaniola, Haiti and the DR, the Wilson invasion was pretty brutal in both parts of Hispaniola. But it was much worse in Haiti. And the reasons were very clearly stated.

Keane Bhatt: Racism.

Noam Chomsky: Yeah. The State Department said, well, the Dominicans have some European blood so they’re not quite so bad. But the Haitians are pure nigger. So Wilson sent the marines to disband the Haitian parliament because they wouldn’t permit US corporations to buy up Haitian lands. And he forced them to do it. Well, that’s one of the many atrocities and crimes. Just keeping to this, that accelerated the destruction of Haitian agriculture and the flight of people from the countryside to the cities. Now that continued under Reagan. Under Reagan, USAID and the World Bank set up very explicit programs, explicitly designed to destroy Haitian agriculture. They didn’t cover it up. They gave an argument that Haiti shouldn’t have an agricultural system, it should have assembly plants; women working to stitch baseballs in miserable conditions. Well that was another blow to Haitian agriculture, but nevertheless even under Reagan, Haiti was producing most of its own rice when Clinton came along.

When Clinton restored Aristide—Clinton of course supported the military junta, another little hidden story...he strongly supported it in fact. He even allowed the Texaco Oil Company to send oil to the junta in violation of presidential directives; Bush Sr. did so as well—well, he finally allowed the president to return, but on condition that he accept the programs of Marc Bazin, the US candidate that he had defeated in the 1990 election. And that meant a harsh neoliberal program, no import barriers. That means that Haiti has to import rice and other agricultural commodities from the US from US agribusiness, which is getting a huge part of its profits from state subsidies. So you get highly subsidized US agribusiness pouring commodities into Haiti; I mean, Haitian rice farmers are efficient but nobody can compete with that, so that accelerated the flight into the cities. And it wasn’t that they didn’t know it was going to happen. USAID was publishing reports in 1995 saying, yes this is going to destroy Haitian agriculture and that’s a good thing. And you get the flight into the cities and you get food riots in 2008, because they can’t produce their own food. And now you get this class-based catastrophe. After this history—it’s only a tiny piece of it—the United States should be paying massive reparations, not just aid. And France as well. The French role is grotesque.

Keane Bhatt: May I ask, regarding Aristide’s languishing in exile, was he right to go back to Haiti in 1994 in the way that he did, with US troops? Also, was he right to agree, under enormous pressure of course, to the neoliberal reforms laid out in the Paris Accords?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I happened to be in Haiti almost at that time—1993. I was there for a while; this was the peak of the terror. And I’ve been in a lot of awful places in the world. Some of the worst, in fact. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like the misery and the terror that was going on in Haiti under the junta, with Clinton’s backing at that time. And there was a lot of discussion, I talked for example to the late Father Gerard Jean-Juste, one of the most popular figures in Haiti, who the government recently forced out, he was then underground in a church but Haitian friends took me to him. He was very close to large parts of the population. I talked to labor leaders who’d been beaten and tortured but were willing to talk, and to activists and others. And what most of them said is, Father Jean-Juste for example, what he said is, “Look, I don’t want a marine invasion, I think it’s a bad idea. But on the other hand,” he said, “my people, the people in the slums—La Saline, Cite Soleil and so on, they just can’t take it anymore.” He said, “the torture is too awful, the terror is too awful. They’ll accept anything that’ll put an end to it.” And that was the dilemma. I don’t have an answer to that.

Keane Bhatt: Was Aristide wrong to argue against calls (made by some of his more militant supporters) for armed struggle inside Haiti to restore democracy after the 1991 coup?

Noam Chomsky: Not in my opinion. Armed struggle would have led to a horrendous slaughter.

Keane Bhatt: On February 17th, Sarkozy was greeted to street protests by thousands of Haitians holding up images of Aristide, demanding his return, and demanding reparations for what the French extorted in exchange for recognizing Haiti’s independence. At that same address, Preval was shouted down and he withdrew into his jeep. With this kind of sentiment brewing in Haiti right now, do you see Aristide’s return as an important priority, or is it something that might be desirable but not that pressing?

Noam Chomsky: Well, the answer to that question is going to be given in Washington. The United States and France, the two traditional torturers of Haiti, essentially kidnapped Aristide in 2004 after having blocked any international aid to the country under very dubious pretexts, not credible grounds, which of course extremely harmed this fragile economy. There was chaos and the US and France and Canada flew in, kidnapped Aristide—they said they rescued him, they actually kidnapped him—they flew him off to Central Africa, his party Fanmi Lavalas is banned, which probably accounts for the very low turnout in the recent elections, and the United States has been trying to keep Aristide not only from Haiti, but from the entire hemisphere.

Keane Bhatt: By which way is Aristide compelled to remain exiled? How exactly is his persona non grata status in the hemisphere maintained and by whom? What is preventing him from flying into a sympathetic country near Haiti, like Venezuela, for example?

Noam Chomsky: He might be able to go to Venezuela, but if he tried to go to the Dominican Republic, for example, they wouldn’t let him in. And there’s good reason for that. International affairs is very much like the mafia, and the small storekeeper doesn’t offend the Godfather. It’s too dangerous. We can pretend it’s otherwise, but that’s the way it is. There was one country, I think it was Jamaica if I remember correctly, that did allow Aristide in, over serious US pressure and protest. And not a lot of countries are willing to take the risk of offending the United States. It’s a dangerous, violent superpower. I don’t have to tell you, you know the history of the Dominican Republic. I don’t have to tell you about it—that’s the way it works.

Keane Bhatt: Using, as you’ve said, the historical US legacy in the DR, can we turn to recent Dominican history? As this humanitarian aid is provided on behalf of the DR, and it fills in the vacuum left by a weak Haitian state, if we go back to the events leading up to the coup of 2004, it worked under US aegis to actively destabilize Haiti by training the paramilitary rebels, Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain…

Noam Chomsky: I know. And providing a base for them.

Keane Bhatt: Is there some kind of a contradiction to provide charity for people who you’ve actually worked to dismantle and destabilize?

Noam Chomsky: Well, you can call it a contradiction if you like, but it’s also a contradiction for Sarkozy and Clinton to appear in Haiti without abject apologies for the terrible crimes that France and the U.S. under Clinton, particularly, have carried out against Haiti. But they don’t do it. The head of Toyota has to go to Congress and apologize for hours because some people were killed by Toyota cars, but does Clinton have to go and apologize for what he did to Haiti? He dealt a death blow. Does Sarkozy have to apologize for the fact that Haiti was France’s richest colony and a source of a lot of France’s wealth and they destroyed the country and then posed an indemnity as a price for liberating themselves, which the country was never able to get out of?

A couple of years ago, in 2002 I think, Aristide appealed to France, to Chirac, to pay some remuneration for the huge debt that Haiti had to pay them…

Keane Bhatt: Twenty-one billion dollars…

Noam Chomsky: Yeah, for this huge debt that Haiti had to pay them. And they did set up a commission led by Regis Debray, a former radical. And the commission said that France has no need to give any compensation at all. In other words, first we rob and then destroy them, and then when they ask for a little bit of help, we kick them in the face. It’s not surprising.

Keane Bhatt: Although at the same time there are sources that say that while France put up an indifferent front, it was actually worried about a head of state bringing a legal case with overwhelming documentary evidence for international arbitration.

Noam Chomsky: Well, they really didn’t have to worry, because the way power politics works, the World Court can’t do anything. Look, there’s one country in the world at the moment which has refused to accept World Court decision—that’s the United States. Is anybody going to do anything about it?

Keane Bhatt: You mentioned Clinton, now UN special envoy to Haiti, who intends to woo foreign investors and continue on a low-wage textile focus for Haitian economic development. The lens of neoliberal economist Paul Collier, special adviser to the UN in 2009, dominates the UN perspective of Haiti. An advocate of sweatshop-led growth himself, he’s lavished praise on the much-resented MINUSTAH occupation force there, and has even said that the Dominican Republic "is not engaged in the sort of activities, such as clandestine support for guerrilla groups, that beset many other fragile states.” Can a true humanitarian like Paul Farmer—representing a different development model based on fair wages, public health, strengthening the Haitian state—influence the UN as deputy special envoy?

Noam Chomsky: It's a hard choice. I don't blame him for trying. We live in this world, not another one that we'd prefer, and sometimes it's necessary to follow painful paths if we hope to provide at least a little help for suffering people. Like Father Jean-Juste and the marines.

Keane Bhatt: You’ve talked about how the media created an artificial distinction between the South American ‘Bad Left’ and ‘Good Left,’ omitting Brazil's important collaboration with Venezuela in the interest of maintaining this view. However, with respect to Haiti, hasn’t Brazil legitimately earned a secure place within the ‘Good Left’? A center-left government of the South has spearheaded the MINUSTAH occupation and has pledged to increase its presence, after taking it over from the imperial architects of the coup (US, France, Canada). What factors made it so vigorous in supporting another deposed president of an equally geopolitically-unimportant country in recent times (Zelaya of Honduras)?

Noam Chomsky: Good questions. I haven't seen anything useful on Brazil's decisions on these matters.

Keane Bhatt: Any comments on the US media regarding Haiti following the earthquake? For example, Pat Robertson’s ‘pact with the devil,’ David Brooks’ ‘progress-resistant culture,’ pleas with transnational capital to create more sweatshops (Kirstof), Aristide being a despot and a cheat (Jon Lee Anderson). Even Amy Wilentz has compared Aristide to Duvalier in the New York Times.

Noam Chomsky: It's been mainly awful, but I haven't kept a record. The worst part is ignoring our own disgraceful role in helping to create the catastrophe, and consequent refusal to react as any decent person should—with massive reparations, directed to popular organizations. Same with France.

Keane Bhatt: I guess my final question is for the future: there have been a discouraging two decades, from 1990-2010, about the popular mobilization for political change in Haiti, and how to proceed, and I guess now that the Haitian people have struggled so hard through parliamentary democracy for 25 years and have so little to show for it, what are the lessons learned and possible strategies now that they’ve exhausted this parliamentary, democratic approach? Two coups d’etat and thousands tortured and murdered in this process.

Noam Chomsky: The lessons are, unfortunately, that a small weak country that is facing an extremely hostile and very violent superpower will not make much progress unless there’s a strong solidarity movement within the superpower that will restrain its actions. With more support within the United States, I think the Haitian efforts could have succeeded.

And that applies right now. Take the aid that’s coming in. There is aid coming in—we have to show we’re nice people and so on. But the aid ought to be going to Haitian popular organizations. Not to contractors, not to NGOs—to Haitian popular organizations, and they’re the ones that should be deciding what to do with it. Well you know, that’s not the agenda of G7. They don’t want popular organizations; they don’t like popular movements; they don’t like democracy for that matter. What they want is for the rich and powerful to run things. Well, if there was a strong solidarity movement in the United States and the world, it could change that.

Brief Chronology of Events in Haiti

courtesy Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood

August 14, 1791 A slave uprising begins in northern Saint-Domingue

Februrary 4, 1794 Abolition of French colonial slavery

January 1, 1804 Saint-Domingue is renamed Haiti, and declares itself independent of France

1825 France recognizes Haitian independence for the payment of 150 million francs (later reduced to 90 million as compensation for lost property)

1915-34 The United States (under Woodrow Wilson) invades and occupies Haiti

September 22, 1957 Francois Duvalier (‘Papa Doc’) becomes president

April 21, 1971 Francois Duvalier dies and is succeeded by his son Jean-Claude (‘Baby Doc’)

February 7, 1986 ‘Baby Doc’ is pushed out of Haiti by a popular uprising; General Henry Namphy takes power

December 16, 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected with 67% of the vote; his prime minister is Rene Preval

September 30, 1991 General Raoul Cedras overthrows Aristide, who goes into exile; over the next few years several thousands of Aristide’s supporters are killed

Summer 1993 The paramilitary death squad FRAPH is formed, led by Toto Constant and Jodel Chamblain

September 19, 1994 US soldiers occupy Haiti for the second time; Aristide returns from exile

Early 1995 Aristide disbands Haiti’s armed forces

Mid-1995 Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas wins legislative elections

December 17, 1995 Rene Preval is elected with 88% of the vote

Late 1996 Formation of Fanmi Lavalas in opposition to ex-Lavalas faction

May 21, 2000 Fanmi Lavalas wins landlide victories at all levels of government; opponents form a US-backed coalition called the Convergence Democratique

November 26, 2000 Aristide is re-elected with 92% of the vote

July 28, 2001 First of many commando raids on police stations and other government facilities by ex-soliers based in the Dominican Republic, led by Guy Philippe

December 17, 2001 Ex-soldiers attack the presidential palace, provoking popular reprisals against the offices of parties belonging to Convergence Democratique

April 2003 Aristide asks France to repay the money it extorted from Haiti

January 1, 2004 Haiti celebrates bicentenary of independence from France

February 5, 2004 Full-scale insurgency begins, Chamblain overruns Cap Haitien

February 29, 2004 Aristide is forced onto a US jet and flown to the Central African Republic

March 2004 US troops occupy Haiti for a third time, interim government is formed with Gerard Latortue as P.M., the Lancet estimates thousands killed by police and anti-Lavalas paramilitaries

June 2004 US-led force is replaced by a UN stabilization mission (MINUSTAH)

February 7, 2006 Preval wins presidential elections with 51% of the vote

January 12, 2010 Catastrophic earthquake rocks Port-au-Prince

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Haitian Schools After the Earthquake

(Photo by John Carroll)

March 6, 2010

With Haitian Schools in Ruins, Children in Limbo

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Thousands of schools in and around this devastated capital could remain closed for months or never reopen, according to Haitian and United Nations education officials. That leaves vast numbers of children languishing in camps or working in menial jobs as they struggle to survive.

Even before the Jan. 12 earthquake, only about half of Haiti’s school-age children were enrolled in classes, a glaring symbol of the nation’s poverty.

Unicef, basing its estimates on talks with government officials, said that more than 3,000 school buildings in the earthquake zone had been destroyed or damaged. Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students were killed, and officials are questioning the safety of the remaining buildings after violent aftershocks in recent weeks, making the goal of Haitian education officials to reopen many schools by April 1 seem increasingly remote.

“We have six engineers in the Education Ministry to survey more than 10,000 schools to see if they’re safe,” said Charles Tardieu, a former education minister who is pushing for schools to reopen in tent camps. “Let’s face the reality that many schools are never going to be used again, and that we urgently need other ways to revive the system,” he said.

With their options limited, thousands of children are toiling on this city’s streets instead of going to school. Marckin Sainvalier, 10, helped his grandmother wash clothes one recent morning alongside the rubble of Rue Bonne-Foi in the central commercial district. As for school, “that was before the earthquake,” he said, explaining that his mother left him in his grandmother’s care in the chaotic days after the quake struck. “A lot has happened since then.”

On another street in the commercial district, Dieuvenson Semervil, 12, scavenged for padlocks in a collapsed hardware store. Before the quake, Dieuvenson said, he dreamed of becoming a mechanic. A body decomposed next to him to as he picked through the rubble. Near the ruins of the partly destroyed Lycée Alexandre Pétion, one of the city’s public schools, Samanta Louis, 11, swept the sidewalk, work she said helped support her nine siblings and parents who lived in the tent camp of Champs de Mars. A former student at the Lycée, Jean Pierre Lestin, 15, scavenged brick from a collapsed wall to sell. “I would like to be an engineer someday,” he said.

Children staying in the camps face trials beyond laboring in the streets. Health workers in the camps are reporting a rising number of young rape victims, including girls as young as 12. Alison Thompson, an Australian nurse and documentary director who volunteers at a tent clinic on the grounds of the Pétionville Club, said she had cared for a 14-year-old girl who was raped recently in the camp.

“The entire structure of the lives of these children has been upended, and now they’re dealing with the predators living next to them,” Ms. Thompson said.

The government here has recognized the urgency of reopening schools to provide some structure to those picking up the pieces of their lives. But its efforts to do so have faltered. Officials declared schools open in unaffected areas as of Feb. 1; some students have trickled into those schools, but many have not, say education specialists.

Here in the capital, symbols of the devastated education system lie scattered throughout the city. Metal scavengers are still picking through the wrecked Collège du Canapé-Vert, where as many as 300 students studying to become teachers died in the earthquake.

Foreign aid groups here say that Haiti differs from other poor nations recently struck by natural disasters, like Pakistan and Bangladesh, in that the quake gutted the education system of the capital in a highly centralized country. In New Orleans, more than half of the public schools remained shut a year after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, said Marcelo Cabral, an education specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank.

Haiti’s education system was already dysfunctional before the earthquake. Only about 20 percent of schools were public, with the rest highly expensive for the poor. Even in public schools, poor families struggled to pay for uniforms, textbooks and supplies. While other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean spend about 5 percent of their gross domestic product on education, Haiti was spending just 2 percent, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.

“The quality of education was very low, with about a third of teachers having nine years of education at best,” Mr. Cabral said in an interview here, after a recent meeting with Haitian officials in an attempt to come up with a plan to reopen schools. Mr. Cabral said the Inter-American Development Bank estimated that Haiti needed $2 billion over the next five years to rebuild its education system.

Children make up about 45 percent of Haiti’s population, and they are flooding the camps. Hundreds of children milled about the latrines of a camp at the prime minister’s office complex one day at the end of last month. “I have nothing to do,” said Belle-Fleur Merline, 11, who lives at the camp with her father and two siblings.

Placid Francoise, 17, said she had hoped to become a nurse before the earthquake destroyed her family’s home and forced them into a camp in front of the ruins of the presidential palace. Her mother, a street vendor, had used her meager savings to pay Ms. Francoise’s tuition at the Frères Monfort school.

Now Ms. Francoise lives in a one-room shack with more than a dozen relatives. She said she had no idea when she would return to school. “I work for my mother each day now, so that we may eat,” she said, pointing to the bags of charcoal they sell in front of their hovel.

Some educators and relief officials are not waiting for the government to act, deciding to open their own schools on a piecemeal basis in some camps.

Alzire Rocourt, a headmaster at a private school here before the earthquake, opened a school last month under tents donated by the Israeli Army in the sprawling Pétionville Club camp. She teaches reading, math and geography. The students play volleyball on the dirt outside during recess. And they sing, with vigor, Creole folk songs.

“Apran yonak lot,” the children sang, beaming. “Learning together.”

“Rinmen yonak lot,” they ended. “It means, ‘Loving each other,’ ” Ms. Rocourt said.

She smiled, too, until she recalled how much more needed to be done. Of the more than 25,000 children living in the Pétionville camp, just 260 are in her school.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Health Positions Available in Haiti

E-mail to contact regarding these positions:

In response to the major humanitarian crisis caused by an earthquake in Haiti, IOM is mobilizing staff, including health professionals, to assist the people and authorities of affected areas for the Health Referral, Transport and Assisted Discharge of Earthquake Affected Patients Project.

Position/Title: Nurses (4 positions)
Duty Station: PAP, Haiti

Position: Consultancy

Duration: 4 Months, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension


Haitian national
University degree in Nursing. Valid license to practice is a MUST.
Experience of treating patients, at least one year in Haiti
Experience in health related projects for international organizations or government and institutions focusing on community health is favourable
Capacity to work independently, efficiently with flexibility
Excellent interpersonal, communication and presentation skills, including ability to speak in public, good writing, communication and negotiation skills
Working knowledge of English; Fluent in Creole/French.

Position Title: Community Health Worker (12 Positions)
Location: PAP, Haiti
Position Consultancy
Duration: 4 Months, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension


College graduate; Flexibility, ability to work in difficult situations and in national/international settings as part of a team. Good communications skills are a must/asset. Computer literacy, report writing ability and good administrative skills. Experience working with NGOs an advantage.
Working knowledge of English; Fluent in Creole/French;
Position Title: Hotline Operator (4 Positions)
Location: Port au Prince - Haïti
Position: Consultancy
Duration: 4 Months, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension


Secondary school education or equivalent commercial school.
Previous experience in hotline, client service or public relations is an advantage. Knowledge and understanding of computerized information systems, in particular Microsoft Word and Excel.
Excellent oral and written communication skills. Demonstrated ability in dealing with people of various backgrounds, ages, etc; respect for diversity.
Capacity to work independently and under time constraints. Ability to work effectively and harmoniously within a team of colleagues from varied cultures and professional backgrounds.
Excellent knowledge of English French and Creole is required. Advanced knowledge of Spanish is an added value.

Position Title: Logistics / Operators Coordinator (2 Positions)
Location: Port au Prince - Haiti
Position: Consultancy
Duration: 1 month, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension


University degree or a combination of equivalent training and practical experience in Business Administration.
Previous experience in hotline, client service or public relations is an advantage. Knowledge and understanding of computerized information systems, in particular Microsoft Word and Excel.
Excellent oral and written communication skills. Demonstrated ability in dealing with people of various backgrounds, ages, etc; respect for diversity.
Capacity to work independently and under time constraints. Ability to work effectively and harmoniously within a team of colleagues from varied cultures and professional backgrounds.
Excellent analytical skills and problem solving skills
Excellent communication skills (working knowledge of English, and French; Fluency in Creole an advantage)

Position Title: Physician
Location: Port au Prince - Haiti
Position: Consultancy
Duration: 4 months, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension
University degree in Medicine, preferably with advanced studies in public and/or community health; at least three years of experience in general practice and/or family medicine.
Independent program management skills, such as supervision capacity, report writing;
Excellent communication and negotiation skills, personal commitment, efficiency and flexibility.
Computer literate
Ability to work effectively and harmoniously in a team with colleagues from various cultures and professional backgrounds.
Language: working knowledge of English, Fluent in Creole, French;
Position Title: Senior Project Assistant
Location: Port au Prince - Haïti

Position: Consultancy
Duration: 4 months, 2 weeks probation, possibility of extension


University degree or a combination of equivalent training and practical experience in public health, health promotion, and/or related social sciences
Experience in curriculum development, behaviour change communication interventions, health-related program management, operational and field experience an advantage, including ability to develop and manage budgets for small field activities
Excellent analytical skills and problem solving skills
Excellent communication skills: fluency in written and spoken English, French and Creole
Ability to use a computer (MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Ability to work constructively in a team, and independently when required; Commitment, efficiency, flexibility
Ability to work effectively and harmoniously with colleagues from varied cultures and professional backgrounds at all levels

Doctors Want Comfort to Stay in Haiti

(Baltimore Sun Photo)

Doctors want Comfort to stay in Haiti; U.S. considers ending mission
By Robert Little

Baltimore Sun reporter

March 3, 2010

The Navy hospital ship Comfort discharged its last remaining patient last weekend and is anchored in Port-au-Prince harbor, empty but for its 993- member crew, waiting for military leaders to decide whether it still has a role in the U.S. response to January's deadly earthquake in Haiti.

Pentagon officials won't say what the ship's next step is. But as signs mount that the floating medical center is preparing to leave Haiti six weeks after it arrived, so is the clamor rising from doctors on the ground in the battered country who say earthquake victims still need the Comfort's equipment and skills.

"We haven't figured out what the end of this looks like yet," said Dr. Andrew N. Pollak, an orthopedic surgeon at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore who is returning to Haiti on Friday to work at the crumbled St. Francois de Sales Hospital in the capital. "Until we do, until the capabilities improve on the ground, the Comfort is the only solution for some people."

Dr. Randy Sherman, a University of Southern California plastic surgeon who has worked with the Navy, is pleading with officials to keep the Comfort in Haiti. "The ship provides such a special capability, fills such a big hole, that to lose it is catastrophic," he said.

He called the 1,000-bed ship "the medical equivalent to 85 fighter pilots on an aircraft carrier," adding: "If you take away the aircraft carrier, what are they going to do?"

Designed as a floating emergency room for treating combat injuries, the Baltimore-based Comfort arrived Jan. 19 and quickly was overwhelmed with patients who had suffered fractures, crush injuries, infections and other consequences of the earthquake a week earlier. In a city whose medical infrastructure was slight before the disaster, it arrived as the best-equipped, most capable medical treatment facility in the country and was quickly flooded with complicated cases. Its medical staff has treated more than 1,000 Haitian patients and performed nearly 850 surgeries.

New admissions declined weeks ago as patients with untreated injuries became increasingly scarce and have nearly come to a halt in recent days as the ship continued to discharge patients to clinics and medical facilities on land. According to a Navy officer on the Comfort, the only Haitian treated on board Tuesday was a young boy who received a CT scan, then was taken ashore. During peak operations, the ship had a crew of 1,288; nearly 300 have left.

Navy officials acknowledge the diminished workload but won't say much about the Comfort's future.

"The ship is still there," said Jose Ruiz, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Southern Command, which is overseeing the military's relief efforts in Haiti. "And it will remain there until Southcom determines that her capabilities are no longer required to support the mission."

Privately, Navy officials say the Comfort's workload tailed off as fewer patients with earthquake-related injuries appeared at Haiti's ground-based clinics and triage centers seeking care. And while the ship initially accepted some patients with diseases, complicated pregnancies or other conditions unrelated to the earthquake, the Navy chose to focus on disaster relief and avoid the intractable public health issues and primary care shortcomings that troubled Haiti long before the quake.

Doctors who left the ship recently said the need for a full-service surgical center in Port-au-Prince was not always apparent from on board.

"We weren't getting a lot of calls," said Dr. Andrew R. Burgess, an orthopedic surgeon who returned to Florida last weekend from a volunteer tour on the Comfort. "I know people say there are a lot of patients out there that could use its services, but someone needs to do a survey and determine just who they are and where."

Sherman, medical director for the aid organization Operation Smile, has worked at two ground clinics in Haiti since the earthquake and said any perceived shortage of patients comes from poor communications rather than the resolution of the country's medical needs.

"There is no doubt" there are enough earthquake victims to keep the Comfort busy, he said. He has asked top Navy officials to keep the Comfort in Haiti and proposed staffing it primarily with civilian medical workers. He thinks it could operate at high volume for at least three more months.

Sherman, Pollak and others tell the same story: They say the country is replete with patients whose orthopedic injuries have healed improperly and require complex surgeries that only the Comfort can provide.

Many patients treated in the days after the earthquake had bones set with external pins in tent hospitals without X-rays, they say, and those injuries need to be reset to give the patients functional limbs.

"The problem is the second wave of these," Sherman said. "There is this large, large subset of patients who require additional treatment, and the nature of that treatment is more complicated and highly instrumental."

The civilian doctors say they appreciate that their viewpoint is solely a medical one, while the Navy's decision to deploy a ship like the Comfort must consider financial, political and diplomatic issues.

"The question the government needs to answer, as unemotionally as it can, is whether it's justified spending the millions of dollars that the ship costs to care for the number of patients who need it," Burgess said.

The Navy did not immediately respond to a request to detail the cost of the Comfort's mission to Haiti.

Copyright © 2010, The Baltimore Sun