Thursday, November 29, 2007

In Haiti, a Rare Leg Up

From the issue dated November 30, 2007


In Haiti, a Rare Leg Up


The Chronicle of Higher Education

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

(Read the original article here).

College students are rare here, in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where residents live without running water and electricity, and barefoot children live alongside garbage-clogged open sewers.

But on a recent afternoon in one of the most-impoverished areas in Haiti's capital, Suzie Pascal, a third-year engineering student at the State University of Haiti who is at the top of her class, returned home. As she walked down the dusty path that leads to her family's small, cinderblock home, her mother, Marie-Rose Henriette Joint, stepped out to greet her.

"I'm so proud of her," says Ms. Henriette, wiping sweat from her forehead in the searing heat. She had had a long day during which she had earned about $6 by selling an assortment of basic goods — eggs, detergent, cooking oil, and matches — from her home. She made more money when she sold used clothing at a local market. But in 2004, a fire burned down the market and Ms. Henriette's stall. Soon, however, she managed to start the home business.

The mother's spirit is reflected in her daughter. "What keeps me motivated?" says Ms. Pascal, a slim, 25-year-old with rows of tight braids. "My mother and her hard work and determination to always manage to make a living and allow me to study. I can't fail."

Today, Ms. Pascal is one of 80 students supported by the Haitian Education & Leadership Program, Haiti's largest university-scholarship program, which provides merit scholarships to students in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes in the country's poorest areas. On average, the scholarships pay $4,100, which covers tuition, textbooks, and school supplies, basic living expenses, an internship program, and academic and social counseling.

The nonprofit organization, known by its acronym, HELP, is now based in New York, where a donor offered office space and the group's head of development, Rosemarie Stupel, lives. The organization started in 1997 when Isemonde Josephe, a straight-A high-school student from Port-au-Prince's notorious Cité Soleil slum, asked her teacher, Conor Bohan, for a $30 loan to attend secretarial school. Aware of Ms. Joseph's desire to become a doctor, not a secretary, Mr. Bohan offered to pay for her first year's medical-school tuition and textbooks. In 2005, Ms. Joseph received her M.D. and now practices at Port-au-Prince's Gheskio Center, Haiti's premier organization for AIDS research and treatment.

"We might think that $4,000 to cover a student's college education is damn cheap, but that might as well be $400,000 for these students," says Mr. Bohan, who sought out other donors soon after helping Ms. Joseph. Today money for the scholarships comes from individual donors, the London-based Rausing Trust, the U.S. embassy, and Yéle Haiti, a foundation led by the hip-hop star Wyclef Jean.

HELP recruits its scholarship students nationwide, with a focus on finding top students at schools in the hilly countryside or poor urban areas. "Our goal is to get to the most overlooked areas, no matter how remote," says Garry Delice, HELP's director and a former principal at the high school where Mr. Bohan once taught. "We depend a lot on four-wheel drive to get around."

The program is run from a converted house in a well-to-do Port-au-Prince neighborhood. In the reception area, two walls are crowded with framed diplomas and documents showing students' names on deans' lists. Further inside, ceiling fans keep students cool in a study hall, which features long, wooden desks and a small library stocked with basic textbooks. A computer lab has 12 desktop machines wired with satellite Internet, rare in a country where computers are scarce and electricity is often undependable. At the center, batteries and an AC/DC inverter store electricity when it is available from the grid, and then provide power when the grid is down

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Pascal busily tapped away at one of the lab's computers. "This is where you'll find me most days," she says.

Ms. Pascal's morning starts at dawn, when she draws several buckets of water from a small well for bathing. Her commute is an hourlong ride on a sweltering, packed "tap tap," the ubiquitous, run-down pickups that wind through the capital's congested streets to provide transportation for residents. After classes, Ms. Pascal goes straight to the HELP center. "Finding light to study by is not easy in Haiti," says Ms. Pascal.

One of Ms. Pascal's ideal postgraduation jobs would be as an engineer at a local telecommunications company. Although the chances of that are not certain, Ms. Pascal's confidence is unflinching, a trait shared by many of the scholarship students. The program's graduates are all employed, according to administrators, and earn an average annual salary of $8,000 — more than 17 times Haiti's $450 per capita income.

Poverty and decades of political instability have created a severe brain drain in Haiti, with many of the country's college-educated citizens leaving for better opportunities in wealthier countries. The exodus, says Mr. Delice, has Haiti desperate for professionals, with many local companies importing qualified workers from countries such as the Philippines. With HELP now established, companies get in touch with the program when they have jobs and internships. HELP does not put any limits on where graduates can go, but does try to connect them to local companies.

But more-developed countries hold the same allure for HELP graduates that they do for all Haitians. Says Smyrne Saintil, a scholarship student in her final year of law school in Port-au-Prince: "All you hear about is what's wrong with our country." But as yet, only two HELP graduates have left Haiti.

Another of the program's students is Daphné Charles, a second-year agronomy student at the top of her class, for the second time, at the University of Notre Dame of Haiti, in Les Cayes in southern Haiti. Immaculately dressed and articulate, Ms. Charles hopes to build up enough expertise to help start a series of sustainable farms, which would create cooperatives of small farmers so they could improve harvesting techniques. More than two-thirds of the Haitian population survive on agriculture, although just barely. The HELP center tries to set an example by using sustainable practices, recycling rainwater for toilets, for example.

"Our country is poor, but there are so many ways to change that," says Ms. Charles, standing in the open-air market in a suburb of Port-au-Prince where her mother sells smoked fish. She often visits her mother there on her way home from the HELP center.

As Ms. Charles spoke, her mother, Raymonde Benôit Charles, beamed. "We all live day to day, and I'm proud that my daughter is studying to help us," the elder Ms. Charles, who earns $5 on a good day, says. These days, with Ms. Charles's 76-year-old father too elderly to work, her mother is the family's sole breadwinner. Meanwhile, vendors, many of whom trek in daily from the countryside, walked by balancing cardboard boxes full of produce on their heads.

HELP's founder, Mr. Bohan, sees the program as a grassroots charity that works best on a small scale "We stumbled upon this idea and got lucky in that people were there to encourage us and help with the funding," he says. But he is curious if the idea will work elsewhere. In December, Mr. Bohan will leave Haiti to go to other developing countries, perhaps starting in Latin America. "Haiti doesn't have a monopoly on misery or merit," he says.
Section: Notes From Academe
Volume 54, Issue 14, Page A36

Monday, November 26, 2007

Arrests made in Radio-Télé Ginen attack

An employee of Haiti's Radio-Télé Ginen, Aguillard Jean Hughens Adoplh, and two other persons were arrested for allegedly planning and perpetrating the attack with firearms against that station on November 6th.

This gives a whole new meaning to "editorial differences."

A recent account of the arrests (in French) can be read on the Radio Kiskeya website here.

Taking Rapists to Court in Haiti

Taking Rapists to Court in Haiti


(Read the original article here.)

25 November 2007

Port-au-Prince, Haiti— Two 14 year-old cousins from the simmering hot slums of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, have just been escorted by police to a health centre for HIV testing. Nathalie (names have been changed to protect the identity of the girls) was raped by two boys near the waterfront that morning.

Nathalie’s brother immediately called the police. Frightened and anxious, she explains what happened: “I went to take a bath and as I was coming out, two men raped me.”

After reporting the crime, two officers accompanied the girls to Gheskio, a privately run health centre supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The centre offers free HIV testing, counselling, legal assistance and other services for victims of violence.

The other cousin, Laure was raped the week before, following a sleepover at a friend’s house. At about 10 o’clock in the morning, two young men grabbed and raped her as she came out from the public bathroom near her friend’s house. Peacekeepers brought her to Gheskio for medical examination the same day.

“The fact that the girls went to report the rapes and the fact that they were accompanied by police officers to a health clinic for testing and counselling may not seem that important, but for us it is a huge sign of progress,” says Barbara Laurenceau, the Deputy Representative for UNFPA in Haiti.

Teaming Up to Provide Post-Rape Care

UNFPA, together with several other UN bodies are supporting organizations which provide care for female victims of violence, including Gheskio, Kay Fanm (Women’s House in creole), Sofa (solidarity among Haitian women) and URAMEL, an organization that provides legal and forensic support for rape victims.

Concretely, UNFPA support has helped organize violence prevention activities for young people in schools and during sports activities, develop training materials for police officers, establish special units for female victims of violence at police stations, and a hotline for victims of violence. Perhaps most significantly, UNFPA support has enabled the establishment of the ‘National Coalition Against Gender-Based Violence’, an umbrella organization comprising several public and private institutions, both national and international, to support the implementation of the national action plan against gender-based violence.

Danger in the ‘Red Zones’

The two girls live with Nathalie’s brother in Ti Bwa, a rundown and violent slum located on a hillside in Port-au-Prince. Residents of Ti Bwa are often caught in the middle of gang fights with the neighbouring Grand Ravine and Ti Machète gangs. Because of frequent incidents of violence, these areas are designated as ‘red zones’ by MINUSTAH , the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.

Raw sewage trickles down the steep hillsides where houses are built so close that passage by foot is the only possible means of transportation.

The slums are surrounded by heavily armed peacekeepers in armored vehicles, but neither they nor the vehicles of the National Haitian Police can enter the maze of narrow, winding trails that ties Ti Bwa together. Streets are unnamed, house numbering is erratic and the inhabitants move frequently. When seasonal rains strike, the trails are converted into streams, which leave behind a mix of dirty clothing and garbage as the hot morning sun dries the debris.

In this environment, crime can be a daily occurrence and impunity is widespread.

Half of survivors are minors

Statistics on rape and other sexual violence are often unavailable or unreliable due to spotty reporting and faulty mechanisms for registering these crimes. However, data from the National Coalition Against Gender-Based Violence provide alarming insights into this murky world: Almost half of rape survivors in Haiti are minors younger than 18, some are barely toddlers. The youngest rape case registered by Gheskio was a two-year-old. In 2005, three major organizations in Haiti offering assistance to rape victims took on a total of 951 cases. (Some double reporting is possible, since most victims are referred to Gheskio for medical examinations and may be registered as separate cases by several organizations.)

Dr. Marie Marcelle Deschamps, the Deputy Director of Gheskio, says there are two different categories of rape victims who come to her clinic for help: victims of gang rape, mostly adults; and adolescents, who are typically raped by somebody they know.

Gheskio alone cares for about 40 rape survivors per month, 70 per cent of them are adult women, while about 30 per cent are adolescents.

On average, gang rapes account for nearly half of all rape cases registered, though most people in the Haitian capital sense that there has been a relatively sharp decrease in organized violence in the past six months.

Working to End Impunity

Rape became a crime punishable by 10 years to life in prison in July 2005 through a decree pushed through by the then Minister of Women’s Affairs, Adeline Chancy. “Rape was considered a crime against custom, a moral crime, but not a crime against the individual,” says Chancy, “so our first task was to define rape as a physical and mental aggression against the integrity of a person.”

Dr. Marjorie Joseph, head of URAMEL, says that there are several reasons behind the violence against women in Haiti. The economy is one; about 47 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day. “But then there is also the cultural part of the upbringing. Women are taught to be subservient to men. We bring up roosters and hens,” said Joseph.

But even though impunity perhaps can be characterized as one of Haiti’s biggest problems in the context of violence, kidnapping and rape, some offenders do get caught.

Brutal Crimes and Punishment

‘Paul’ is one of them. He is an inmate at the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, serving a seven-year sentence. He fiddles continuously with a small hand-towel as he explains how he and two friends kidnapped, raped and killed a young girl. His eyes are fixated on the towel and then on the floor.

The air is thick with heat, humidity and a faint smell of sewage. Paul now regrets what he did: “The situation I am going through is no good for me. I am in the penitentiary. I have no job. I am not learning anything, I am not in school. I am not doing anything,” he says.

“These guys have no education, no future, no hope. If they see an opportunity, they go for it,” said Robinson Cadet, a United Nations-employed adviser working at the prison.

The prison is flanked by Peruvian peacekeepers in armored vehicles. With more than 2,700 inmates, it operates far above capacity, even though a space for an additional 200 inmates was recently added. According to Cadet, each inmate has on average 0.6 square meters—in practical terms, barely standing room. They have to sleep in shifts.

But rape doesn’t only happen in the slums. Therese, a 33 year-old office administrator was raped by a gynaecologist, and has since received death threats from him and his lawyers. She is now receiving legal assistance and protection through Kay Fanm. “Many women are afraid, but I will pursue this to the end. People in positions of power think they are above the law. It must come to an end,” she says.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Haiti Makes Real Progress

Monday, November 19, 2007

Haiti Makes Real Progress

Haiti's economy appears to be stabilizing after years of stagnation and decline.


FOCAL/Inter-American Dialogue

(Read the original article here.)

Haitian President René Préval says that his country no longer deserves its "failed state" stigma, and he is right. Haiti's recent progress is real and profound, but it is jeopardized by continued institutional dysfunction, including the government's inexperience in working with Parliament. There is an urgent need to create jobs, attract investment, overhaul and expand access to basic social services, and achieve tangible signs of economic recovery. Now that the United Nations has extended its peacekeeping mandate until October 2008, the international community must seek ways to expand the Haitian state's capacity to absorb development aid and improve the welfare of the population. The alternative could be dangerous backsliding.


Haiti is beginning to emerge from the chaos that engulfed it in recent years. This is a moment of relative stability that presents a window of opportunity for Haiti to move towards a more sustainable path of economic growth, political development, and poverty reduction. But this is also a period of fragility and continued vulnerability, and further advancement is by no means assured.

In February 2006, Haiti held its first elections in five years, which brought to power former President René Préval and restored elected rule for the first time since the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years earlier. Over the past eighteen months, the Haitian government, working with the United Nations and other international partners – including a core group of Latin American countries, the United States and Canada – has achieved modest but discernible progress in improving security and establishing, at least minimally, a democratic governing structure. But institutions, both public and private, are woefully weak, and there has not been significant economic advancement. Unemployment remains dangerously high and a majority of the population lives in extreme poverty. Still, Haiti should be viewed today with guarded optimism. There is a real possibility for the country to build towards a better future. (...)


During his first year in office, President Préval, in his quiet and self-effacing way, has proven to be an effective leader. He has appointed competent ministers to critical posts, and reached across party lines to bridge Haiti's historic political polarization. Préval has forged alliances with moderate elements within Haiti's civil society, political parties, and business sectors, while holding onto support from the Haitian poor, and maintaining the backing of the international community. To date, Préval's instincts have generally been democratic and inclusive, and he has made tough choices, including the decision to confront the criminal gangs in Port-au-Prince. The government is still weak, however, and has limited capacity to set internal priorities and implement decisions and policies. The government has little evident experience in working with Parliament, and the Parliament itself remains poorly organized and under-resourced. It has not adequately contributed to the governing process. (...)

Haiti's economy appears to be stabilizing after years of stagnation and decline. Haiti achieved a GDP growth rate of more than 2 percent last year, even though per capita growth remained negative. This year the country's growth rate will be more than 4 percent – barely above the rate of population increase but a move in the right direction. The uptick has been driven by an increase in foreign aid and remittances, and new U.S. trade preferences passed last year may help to sustain it. Haiti's manufacturing sector is showing glimmers of revival. Haitian economic officials have established a favourable macroeconomic climate, cutting the inflation from above 40 percent to below 10 percent and stabilizing Haiti's currency. Despite these gains, Haiti's economy remains virtually stagnant on most fronts and plagued by widespread joblessness. Even with sustained domestic leadership, it will take many years of foreign assistance before Haiti can make its own economic way. (...)


Haiti's substantive problems are compounded by the fact that its reputation lags behind the real progress that has been made, and discourages investment, tourism, and support for new initiatives. International rating agencies should thoroughly review and revise their data on Haiti to ensure their judgments reflect the current reality and are not grounded in information that is now outdated. (...)

Rampant unemployment is one of the 9. top challenges facing the country today. Having increased security, the government and international community must now demonstrate tangible evidence that lives are improving by focusing on jobs, investment, and infrastructure. While some job creation programs have been implemented, clearly more effort is required to generate employment that will help Haitians to take care of their basic needs and provide the basis for greater social stability. Many of Haiti's important challenges, including sanitation, waste removal, and the development of basic infrastructure, can be achieved using Haiti's vast unskilled and semi-skilled labor pool. Innovative approaches to job creation must be a top priority.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Haiti is open for business

Commentary: Haiti is open for business - Bahamas is first to knock at the door

Published on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

By Jean H Charles

Caribbean Net News

(Read the original article here.)

The Republic of Haiti has been ostracised for the past fifty years (1957- 2007). In spite of its splendour it is not listed in the traditional brochures depicting the magic of the Caribbean. This ostracism is to the point of coming to an end. Haiti is now open for business and the Bahamas has been the first to knock at its door to transact business.

Indeed, under the peaceful governance provided by the team Preval-Alexis, Haiti has been recognised as a legitimate trading partner. The Minister of Commerce and Industry Magui Durcé, who shines with a brilliant mind and an attractive look, has chosen Mr Guy Lamothe, an energetic young expert, to lead the office of the Centre for the Facilitations of Investments. (CFI) He has put together a team of young lions with the credential style of Silicon Valley professionals to guide the potential investors.

I paid a surprise visit to the CFI office to test the welcome mat. I found a hospitable environment decorated with the touch of the Haitian artistry, inviting and attractive. I was surprised, though, to see the big sticker (gift of the USAID) on the computer of the receptionist. A nice honour roll on a golden plaque on the wall, mentioning that the funding of the office was facilitated by the USAID would have been a more elegant vista and more in tune with the décor.

Indeed, the United States under the leadership of Paul Tuebner, the USAID Haiti Director, has been a moving force towards the creation of the office. It takes three days to register a corporation in the United States. It used to take 263 days in Haiti, with the guidance of the CFI; it takes now 30 days to register a new business in Haiti.

The CFI is a public private entity funded to the scale of $250,000 per year. To reach its full zenith operation it needs a budget of US$2 million. There is still more room on the honour rolls for the other friends of Haiti to help this most important agency, the incubator of job creation for the million unemployed Haitians.

Last October, a group of businessman from the Bahamas, led by the Chamber of Commerce and the former Bahamas Ambassador Dr Eugene Newry, were hosted by the CFI office and the Haitian Government. They came to Haiti to explore the business potential of the country. Using the terms of one of the members of the delegation: “one needs to go to Haiti and see for themselves…. they would get the rude awakening of the boundless of opportunities in Haiti.”

Dr Newry commented further that Haiti is “a sleeping giant”. Like China some twenty years ago, Haiti represents for the Caribbean and for the rest of the world this huge manpower close to the largest market of the universe: the United States. A businessman with a good acumen should seek no further location to open his business: the Haitian worker is industrious, creative and not expensive. The President of the delegation, Dionisio D’Aguilar on his last day in Haiti said:

“I can say without fear of exaggeration that the opportunities are boundless with the means and the imagination to make them happen…. The private sector in Haiti is ready to do business and the government has put its full weight and influence behind, the incentives are in place and its officials motivated to expedite business proposals.”

There are certainly some drawbacks; the sound of alarm has been raised by the Deputy Prime Minister of Bahamas, Brent Symonette. He warned that Haiti has some structural deficits in infrastructure such as good roads, electricity, and telecommunication. But here again, these deficits constitute opportunities for the savvy businessman. Digicel has demonstrated that Haiti is a hot market for services. In less than two years, it has reached a market of 2 million customers. Haiti is one of the best examples that the country with its 8.5 million people at home and 1.5 million in the Diaspora, is hungry for the services that the people of the other Caribbean countries take for granted.

Haiti's main export commodity has been its agricultural products. Its mangoes, the Francis brand, are the best that this world has to offer. According to a big produce wholesaler in the United States, there are two types of mangoes in the world, there are mangoes from Haiti and there are mangoes from the rest of the world. (India, eat your heart out!). The Haitian coffee, the St Marc brand has an historical reputation; it used to be mixed with coffee from other parts of the world to give them the exotic Haitian taste. The Haitian cotton is the second best after the Egyptian brand. The Haitian orange from Grand River (Bonamy) might be the most succulent in this world. In a universe, where organic is king, the Haitian soil is fertilizer free.

The visit of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce has resulted in a signed cooperation agreement with the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, extending commercial links to tourism, fisheries, construction, financial services, agriculture, technology, souvenir manufacturing, textiles and clothing.

Bahamas is calling on the sister states of the Caribbean to follow its lead, as stated by Mr Lamothe, CFI Executive Director, “It is time to reinvent the traditional road of commerce that use to go directly from the Metropolis to the Colony, the islands of the Tropics must start to use the leverage of each other for the benefit of their people.”

My first wish for CFI is to see the Institution upgraded to the level where it becomes the Haitian Business Development Corporation. Imagine that Digicel in knocking at the door in Haiti was received with the proposal that the Haitian Government through TELECO would become a partner of the company. The people of Haiti and the Haitian government would benefit part of the immense return enjoyed by Digicel in Haiti. It is a win-win proposal, used by Jamaica, China, Malaysia and several emerging countries.

My second wish is to see that CFI becomes a broker, incubator and facilitator for the export of Haitian products (fruit and produce) towards Europe and the United States.

It is a mighty feat for a young institution. Mr Guy Lamothe has already proven that he is up to the task. Indeed Haiti is open for business. The first investors will get the best deal.

Peacekeepers must remain in Haiti

Peacekeepers must remain in Haiti

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board

(Read the original article here.)

November 15, 2007

ISSUE: U.N. peacekeepers to stay in Haiti.

United Nations peacekeepers will stay in Haiti for several more years, according to the man overseeing that mission. Hedi Annabi, the U.N. envoy recently assigned to Haiti, offered that blunt assessment less than a week into the job.

The comment reflects no disrespect to the island nation, or to Haitians here in South Florida. The country's security situation is fragile at best, and the last thing Haiti or its Caribbean neighbors need is for Haiti to fall into more social and political turmoil.

Unfortunately, turmoil has been a part of life in Haiti's capital ever since a revolt in 2004 prompted the departure of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The uprising prompted the U.N. to send in a peacekeeping force, which today numbers over 7,800 currently stationed on the island.

The force has stemmed some of the violence in Port-Au-Prince's slums. More recently, the peacekeepers helped set up and man shelters for displaced Haitians after Tropical Storm Noel ravaged the island.

The troops are needed if Haiti ever hopes to provide the one thing businesses, foreign governments and international aid agencies want most — stability. For example, Congress passed and President Bush signed legislation designed to increase Haiti's textile trade with the U.S. In exchange, the Haitian government will take steps to develop policies to reduce poverty and hunger, establish a strong rule of law and develop a market-based economy.

The measure is a badly needed shot in the arm for Haiti's textile industry. Congress is considering further legislation that will increase the impact of the original HOPE act. Still, the bill, along with other initiatives that would help boost economic development in Haiti, will need time, and that's where the peacekeepers come in.

Annabi has a tough task. Haiti's long-standing poverty and other challenges to the government of René Préval remain major impediments to the island nation's hope of a rebirth. Fortunately, the U.N. envoy is making some progress, and his honest assessment of Haiti's challenges can only be described as a plus.

BOTTOM LINE: U.N. peacekeepers must remain to allow other efforts to help Haiti take hold.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Democracy returns, but media continues to be under threat in Haiti

I have a fairly extensive response to some of the tumult in Haiti surrounding Radio-Tele Ginen and Reuters correspondent Joseph Guyler “Guy” Delva on my regular blog, which can be read here.