Meager Living of Haitians Is Wiped Out by Storms

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2008 by haitiinthenews


Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

Many Haitians, used to poverty and suffering, have lost everything to four recent storms. The city of Gonaïves remained flooded. More Photos >

Published: September 10, 2008

GONAÏVES, Haiti — Their cupboards were virtually bare before the winds started whipping, the skies opened up and this seaside city filled like a caldron with thick, brown, smelly muck.


The New York Times

The city of Gonaïves, in a flood plain, is especially vulnerable. More Photos »

Suffering long ago became normal here, passed down through generations of children who learn that crying does no good.

But the enduring spirit of the people of Gonaïves is being tested by a string of recent tropical storms and hurricaneswhose names Haitians spit out like curses: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

After four fierce storms in less than a month, the little that many people had has turned to nothing at all. Their humble homes are under water, forcing them onto the roofs. Schools are canceled. Hunger is now intense. Difficult lives have become untenable ones and, if that was not enough, hurricane season has only just reached the traditional halfway mark.

One can see the misery in the eyes of Edith Pierre, who takes care of six children on her roof in the center of Gonaïves, a city of about 300,000 in Haiti’s north. She has strung a sheet up to shield them, somewhat, from the piercing sun. The few scraps of clothing she could salvage sit in heaps off to a side. “Now I have nothing,” she said before pausing a minute, staring down from the roof at the river of floodwater and then saying again in an even more forlorn way: “Nothing.”

At the home of Daniel Dupiton, who leads the local Red Cross, displaced relatives, friends and complete strangers have moved in, more than 100 in all, taking up every inch of floor space as well as the surrounding yard. “There are official shelters, and then there are unofficial ones, like my house,” he said.

More misery in Haiti is an almost unfathomable thing. Already the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere, it has become even more destitute. Haitians were struggling to feed themselves before the hurricanes battered their agricultural lands, killed their livestock and washed away their tiny stores of rice. Now, the country will be even more dependent on imports, and the high food prices across the globe will only increase the sting.

“Life was very, very difficult even before this,” said Raphael Chuinard, who is organizing the distribution of emergency aid in Gonaïves for the United Nations World Food Program. “The malnutrition rate was too high. People were resigned to suffer.”

And now that suffering has been turned up a notch. The hurricanes have struck all 10 of Haiti’s regions, and by knocking out bridges and washing away roads they have created isolated pockets of misery across the countryside. Relief workers and Haitian authorities have reported more than 300 deaths, most from Hanna, and they are just beginning to reach all the trouble spots.

In Gonaïves, still largely cut off from the rest of Haiti, sunny skies have helped bring the water levels down in recent days, but still residents move through the streets with their ankles, their knees and sometimes even their hips submerged in effluent. The hospital is covered with floodwater. So are thousands of homes.

At the main cathedral, the water rushed in the front door, toppling pews and leaving the place stained with mud and smelling of sewage. Upstairs, dozens of people have taken refuge, huddled together on the concrete floor. When a visitor arrived, they rubbed their bellies and pleaded for nourishment.

Getting food to the hungry is no easy task, dependent on planes, ships and helicopters — including a nearby United States Navy vessel — since trucks are getting stuck in the mud. Once food reaches a place like Gonaïves, the crush of desperate people turns handouts into melees. As a solution, food trucks, protected by heavily armed Argentine soldiers serving with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, have begun setting out before dawn to distribute high-energy biscuits while most of the city still sleeps.

Haitian politicians, known more for their infighting than for comforting the country’s poor, were busy squabbling when the storms were striking. The legislature voted out President René Préval’s last prime minister in April, after food riots broke out, and then rejected two subsequent nominees. That left the government, ineffectual at the best of times, adrift.

Taking over as prime minister in the midst of the recovery effort is Michèle Pierre-Louis, who tried to reach Gonaïves by motorcade in recent days but could not get through. She flew over the disaster zone on Tuesday, prompting grumbling on the ground in Gonaïves that she did not land.

The Navy vessel is now shuttling food and United Nations personnel between Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves. As for the extent of the damage, Mr. Préval told The Miami Herald, “This is Katrina in the entire country, but without the means that Louisiana had.”

Gonaïves, the worst of the worst on the scale of the death and destruction, has always been especially vulnerable when hurricanes strike. A northern port city, it is located in a flood plain and fills up fast when rivers break their banks and rain rushes down mountains long ago stripped of trees. But that same geography gives the place agricultural potential, and much of the rice grown in the country is from the area around here.

It was just four years ago that Hurricane Jeanne hit Gonaïves, killing about 3,000 people and leveling much of the city. The ensuing years have been spent rebuilding.

This time, though, there is talk about whether it makes sense to try to recreate the same old place again. Authorities are talking about shifting some of the population away from the lowest-lying areas.

There is discussion of strengthening building codes so that structures are not so easily leveled in the next storm — and everyone knows there will be one. The local emergency operations center was flooded, and Yolène Surena, its coordinator, vowed that the new one would move to higher ground. “We should have done it before,” she acknowledged with a shake of her head.

In Port-au-Prince, Patrick Élie, a presidential adviser who is preparing a report on whether Haiti ought to reform its army, said the string of storms made it clearer than ever to him that the country’s biggest enemies were not other armies.

“We need a civil defense system,” he said. “These storms have pointed out the weakness of the Haitian state. Why are we surprised every time a storm hits when we know another one will come?”


Children in Servitude, the Poorest of Haiti’s Poor

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2008 by haitiinthenews
Published: September 13, 2008

GONAÏVES, Haiti — Thousands of desperate women pushed and shoved to get at the relief food being handed out on the outskirts of this flooded city last week. Off to the side were the restaveks, the really desperate ones.

Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press

Women fought for rice on Thursday at a distribution center in Gonaïves, Haiti. Even more desperate are some child laborers who grab the meager grains that the women accidentally drop.



As woman after woman hauled off a sack of rice, a bag of beans and a can of cooking oil, the restaveks, a Creole term used to describe Haiti’s child laborers, dropped to their knees to pick up the bits that were inadvertently dropped in the dirt.

The hurricanes and tropical storms that have whipped across the western half of Hispaniola, the island divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the past month have laid bare the poverty and the deep divisions in Haitian society, where there are rich, poor and downright destitute.

Nobody illustrates that last group better than the restaveks, the thousands of young Haitian children handed over by their poor parents to better-off families, most of whom are struggling themselves.

The term restaveks literally means “stay with,” and that is what the children do with their hosts, working as domestic servants in exchange for a roof over their head, some leftover food and, supposedly, the ability to go to school.

In practice, though, the restaveks are easy prey for exploitation. Human rights advocates say they are beaten, sexually abused and frequently denied access to education, since many host families believe that schooling will only make them less obedient.

Unicef estimates that 300,000 Haitian children were affected by the recent storms, many of them forced to relocate to shelters or rooftops.

But young Haitians suffered significantly even before the skies darkened during Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, and more than 300 lives were lost. The country has the highest mortality rate for children younger than 5 in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a high death rate among infants and women giving birth. Just slightly over half of school-age children are actually enrolled in school. Attendance among restaveks, of course, is much less than that.

“Many of them are treated like animals,” said a United Nations official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she did not have authority to speak on the delicate issue. “They are second-class citizens, little slaves. You feed them a little and they clean your house for nothing.”

Gonaïves, a city in Haiti’s northwest, was no boomtown when the storms hit, having been devastated by a hurricane in 2004, from which it was still recovering. But that did not stop many poor families from taking in restaveks, the offspring of the poorest of the poor.

“Almost everybody has one,” said one of the women jockeying in the relief food line.

They are children like Widna and Widnise, twin 12-year-old girls who have been in the same Gonaïves home for the past two years.

They get up at dawn to fetch water, collect wood, cook, mop and clean. They watch as their host family’s two children, who are about the same age, eat breakfast and then go off to school. The twins eat nothing in the morning and stay home working.

The twins have it better than most, they say. They are hit on their palms if they are disobedient but do not receive lashings on their head, as they say many of the restaveks in nearby homes receive.

In the evening, they eat with the two other children and sleep on mats on the floor, just as those children do. They had shoes, unlike many of their contemporaries, although they lost those in the flooding.

But the girls said they did not like their situation. There is the teasing they get from other children, who tell them over and over that they will never grow up, that they will always be servant girls.

And they miss their mother, who works in the countryside as a domestic servant and visits the girls when she can. She tells them that she will bring them home as soon as she can afford to feed them.

“Our mother is too poor to take care of us,” said Widna, the more talkative of the pair, adding emphatically, “We don’t want to be restaveks.”

What they wanted most immediately on Thursday afternoon was food. Their host family had fled its flood-damaged home, leaving the girls alone. They arrived at a school in the Praville neighborhood where United Nations relief food was being handed out but were told that only women were allowed in line.

The pint-size girls sat off to the side until they noticed that some rice and beans were being dropped amid all the confusion. The girls looked at each other and then sprang into action with some of the other restaveks, scooping up the specks of food from the ground one by one.

Woman gets 7 years in Haitian slave case

Posted in English, Miami Herald, Slavery on May 28, 2008 by haitiinthenews

A former schoolteacher and her husband were sentenced Tuesday for forcing a Haitian teenage girl to work as a slave in their home.

For six long years, Simone Celestin spent her weekdays — up to 15 hours — cleaning, cooking and washing clothes for a Cutler Bay family. On weekends, she did the same at the family’s Miramar home. At night, the young Haitian girl bathed with a bucket, ate leftovers and slept on the floor.

On Tuesday, Celestin, now 25, sat in silence in the back of a federal courtroom in Fort Lauderdale listening to a judge punish the people who kept her as a modern-day slave.

U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. sentenced Maude Paulin, a former middle-school teacher, to seven years and three months in prison and ordered her to pay $162,765 in restitution to Celestin.

Her ex-husband, Saintfort Paulin, was sentenced to 18 months of probation, which includes six months of house arrest in his New Jersey home.

In March, Maude Paulin, 52, who taught at a Miami-Dade school, was convicted of human trafficking and conspiring to deprive Celestin of her civil rights by holding her against her will.

Paulin’s mother, Evelyn Theodore, and Saintfort Paulin, were found guilty of a lesser charge — harboring Celestin for purposes other than profit. Theodore, who recently suffered a stroke, will be sentenced at a later date.


Maude Paulin apologized in the courtroom as her family members sobbed and buried their heads in their hands. She dried her tears and looked away during much of the three-hour sentencing hearing, begging the judge for a second chance.

”I love Simone with all my heart,” Paulin said. “I regret it and blame myself.”

”I did this with my heart and didn’t think with my head,” she said repeatedly.

The story of how Celestin got justice for the savage treatment she suffered at the hands of these two families began in the young woman’s homeland of Haiti, according to prosecutors.

Celestin was taken from her mother at age 5 and sent to a Haitian orphanage before being smuggled to South Florida in 1999. That year, Theodore arranged to bring the girl, then 14, to Miami under the pretext that she was a “niece.”

Saintfort Paulin told authorities he was under the impression Celestin was going to be treated like a foster child, but instead his relatives forced her to work in slave-like conditions.

Maude Paulin’s attorney Richard Dansoh said his client’s “intention in this case was good, but the execution was disastrous.”

At trial, Celestin took the stand and told the jury she spent weekdays at Maude Paulin’s Cutler Bay home and weekends at the Miramar home of Claire Telasco, 43, Maude Paulin’s sister.

Celestin said she was repeatedly hit by Theodore and Paulin — they used shoes, brooms, even a mortar, which is used for grinding food. But she said Paulin’s husband intervened several times to stop the beatings. He also tried to enroll her in school but was unable to because of her language barrier.

It wasn’t until June 2005 when Celestin was freed from the family. A friend of Celestin’s mother, who still lived in Haiti, arranged her escape with help from a Little Haiti social service agency and a South Florida immigration advocacy group.


At the sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Maude Paulin’s friends and family painted a sympathetic portrait of her in hopes the judge would be lenient. They talked about the time and money she has donated to Haitians living in Haiti and the United States.

”Two months ago in this courtroom there was a woman described as a monster, someone unloveable, but that’s not my mother,” Maude Paulin’s daughter, Erika, told the judge. “She is my inspiration.”

Saintfort Paulin tried to hold back his tears as he stood before the judge.

”I thought Simone was coming for completely good intentions,” he said. “I was not around as much as I should have been. I’m sorry to Simone.”

Although the judge sentenced Maude Paulin to the low end of federal guidelines, the seven-year sentence represented a victory for prosecutors who sought seven to nine years. ”This is an extremely serious crime,” said prosecutor Edward Chung. “This was a public school teacher who should have known better, yet she did nothing to help this girl.”

Maude Paulin must surrender to the court before 12 p.m. on July 30 and will be taken to a South Florida prison. When she is discharged, she must serve three years of supervised release. The Florida Department of Education has also revoked her teaching license.

Saintfort Paulin must begin serving house arrest on July 2 and pay the court $500.

Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti are the most violent

Posted in El Universal, English, Written Press/Presse écrite/Prensa escrita on May 28, 2008 by haitiinthenews

The most violent countries in the hemisphere are Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti, and they are also among the most violent in the world, according to the 2008 Global Peace Index, a ranking that compares the nations in terms of peace that was released on Tuesday in London.

Iraq occupies the last position in the ranking of 140 nations prepared by the analysis division of British economic magazine The Economist, in close cooperation with an international expert team. More than 20 variables are considered in the probe, AFP reported.

In Latin America, Chile is the most peaceful country -19 in the list, and Colombia ranks 130 out of 140, with the highest levels of internal violence.

Venezuela ranks 123, Haiti 109, Honduras 104, Guatemala 103 and Ecuador 100. Variables in the ranking include violent crime, political unrest, number of police officers, number of murders, number of imprisoned people and access to weapons.,-venezuela_20A1592199.shtml


Canadian medical aid worker kidnapped in Haiti

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2008 by haitiinthenews

Associated Press


Haitian and U.N. police were searching Thursday for a Canadian medical aid worker who was kidnapped in the hills above the Caribbean nation’s capital. 

Nadia Lefebvre was seized early Wednesday, said U.N. police spokesman Fred Blaise. The 32-year-old is on a short-term assignment in Haiti for the Paris-based medical organization Medecins du Monde, also known as Doctors of the World.

A spokeswoman for the group declined to comment.

The upscale Tomasin neighborhood where Lefebvre was captured is home to many foreigners and upper-class Haitians, and officials say they are monitoring a kidnapping network that has been working in the area for months.

Lefebvre’s is the 20th confirmed kidnapping in Haiti this month. At least 139 people have been kidnapped nationwide in 2008 — 10 percent more than during the first five months of last year, Blaise said. Most kidnappings occurred in the capital.

The increase in kidnappings-for-ransom is likely linked to strengthening gang activity, Blaise said, and not desperation over the rising cost of living, which sparked deadly riots that toppled the prime minister in April.

Reports that a ransom has been demanded for Lefebvre could not be confirmed independently.

USAID to send $25 million more

Posted in Aid, English, Miami Herald, Written Press/Presse écrite/Prensa escrita on May 28, 2008 by haitiinthenews

The U.S. Agency for International Development gave $25 million more in food aid for Haiti, bringing its total to $45 million.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, which last week announced that it was sending $20 million in emergency food aid to Haiti, will be sending $25 million more, the agency’s top administrator said Friday.

”We know that we are not the full solution, we are a part. We are trying to be supportive and we are trying to help,” USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore said.

Fore flew from Washington to Miami to personally deliver the news, inviting Haitian-American leaders to the USAID warehouse in West Miami-Dade County. The funds, she said, will help provide 36,000 tons of food staples to 2.5 million Haitians through three types of programs targeting the disabled, orphans, mothers, children and the elderly.

The programs will be administered by the World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, and will pay Haitians with food in exchange for helping to rebuild irrigation systems and roads to boost domestic production efforts.

”As close neighbors, the United States has a vital stake in providing both emergency assistance as well as long-term support for Haiti’s economic, social and economic development,” she said.

Friday’s announcement was welcomed by South Florida’s congressional delegation including U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who introduced Fore at the event. Diaz-Balart noted that the U.S. Congress in a ”bipartisan basis” had approved $250 million.

”Today the United States takes another step characteristic of its generosity of [helping] Haiti,” he said.

The announcement comes six weeks after deadly riots over rising food prices rocked Haiti, leaving several people dead and the country without a working government. Haitian senators fired the prime minister on April 12, blaming him for the crisis, and he has yet to be replaced.

While Haitian community leaders from Miami-Dade and Broward counties also welcomed the news, they were not without their criticism of USAID, saying despite millions of dollars spent and years of U.S. involvement in Haiti, abysmal poverty persists in the Caribbean nation.

”What we are doing here today . . . it’s only for short-term relief,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, who recently visited the country as part of a delegation led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“The U.S. has been engaged in Haiti for almost 200 years now. I think it’s time for us to reasses our intervention and understand it is better for us to invest in bringing Haitian agriculture to its past grandeur.”

Fore said the agency was re-evaluating its work in Haiti and had recently formed an executive task force to review programs and redirect efforts to help Haitians produce domestic crops.

”Come to visit our website, see the programs that we have. Give us your voices, your thoughts back. Make sure that we are focusing our existing programs in the right way,” she told the audience.

Leonie Hermantin, deputy director of Lambi Fund of Haiti, which works with peasants, urged Fore to include peasants and other beneficiaries of aid on the task force.

Later in an interview with The Miami Herald, Fore said that while the tons of food will address the immediate need, USAID was helping Haiti’s long-term needs, including providing loan assistance through two Haitian banks to assist farmers.

Haiti’s president names new prime minister choice

Posted in English, Miami Herald, Politics, Written Press/Presse écrite/Prensa escrita on May 28, 2008 by haitiinthenews

Haitian President Rene Preval has named a new choice to be his prime minister: adviser and confidante, Robert “Bob” Manuel.

Manuel previously served as state secretary for public security in 1996 during Preval’s first presidential term, before resigning from the post.

According to sources close to the president, Preval informed the presidents of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate late Sunday night of his nomination. The decision came after a week tensed with speculation and consultations with lawmakers and political party leaders over who the next nominee would be.

Haiti has been without a working government or prime minister ever since the Haitian senate fired Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis following a week of deadly food riots in the Caribbean nation.

Two weeks ago, members of the lower chamber rejected Preval’s first choice, international banker Ericq Pierre.

It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will approve Manuel, who is scheduled to present his official documents on Monday in order to get the process started. Lawmakers must first decide if he’s qualified to hold the post before he can move to the second and final step: ratification.