Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clearing up Disinformation


My name is Michael Deibert, a journalist, author, and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. Having covered Haiti for many years for a variety of publications (including a 2001-2003 tenure as the Reuters correspondent in the country), I authored a book about the 1994-2004 era there, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005). As Haiti receives so little press attention, I was pleased to see the Sunday Times devote so much space to the historian Alex von Tunzelmann's account of her recent visit to Haiti (Haiti: the land where children eat mud).

There is, however, a significant factual error in Ms. Von Tunzelmann's story, as well as a conclusion that I believe has not been born out by recent history.In the article, Ms. Von Tunzelmann writes that Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was "ousted in a highly controversial UN intervention in 2004."When Mr. Aristide flew into exile on the morning of February 29, 2004 (I was in Haiti at the time), there was no multinational force of any kind deployed anywhere in the country.

Following Mr. Aristide's departure, a Multinational Interim Force (MIF), authorized by Security Council resolution 1529, entered the country, under the command of Brigadier General Ronald Coleman. The MIF was responsible for peacekeeping duties in Haiti until transferring authority to the Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH) on June 1, 2004, a ceremony at which I was present, three months after Mr. Aristide's depature. It is fairly simple for even those new to Haiti, such as Ms. Von Tunzelmann, to find such information, here for example.

It is factually inaccurate for Ms. Von Tunzelmann to say that the United Nations was in any way responsible for Mr. Aristide's departure.A second point: Ms. Von Tunzelmann writes that Mr. Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, which is currently a shadow of its former strength and riddled by internal divisions, is "the most popular party among the impoverished majority."In Haiti’s 2006 parliamentary elections (the country's last nationwide ballot in which Fanmi Lavalas participated), Fanmi Lavalas gained only 4 seats in the country's senate, the same amount as political parties such as the Fusion des Sociaux-Démocrates Haïtienne (FUSION) and the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL).

By comparison, the Lespwa party of Haitian President René Préval won 11 seats. In Haiti's lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, Fanmi Lavalas failed to win a single seat in 6 of the country's 9 departments, while Lespwa won seats in all but two. and Fusion won seats in six departments. In the Chamber, Lespwa garnered a total of of 19 seats, the Alliance Démocratique (Alyans) took 13 seats and the OPL 10 seats. Fanmi Lavalas won only 6 seats.

As Haiti is unarguably a poor-majority country, how could one thus argue that Fanmi Lavalas is "the most popular party among the impoverished majority?" On what factual basis does Ms. Von Tunzelmann make her claim?

Many thanks for your time in reading this email, and I hope that the Times will consider issuing a clarification, certainly on the first point and perhaps on the second, as well. Though a small, impoverished country, I believe that Haiti is no less deserving of rigorous scholarship than any other nation.

Very best regards,
Michael Deibert

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hope on the Horizon

Haiti Starts Over Again


Close your eyes and imagine you are the new prime minister of a poor Caribbean country. Yours is not a run-of-the-mill, low-income nation but one so destitute that last year the Associated Press reported that children were being fed cookies made of "dried yellow dirt" to relieve their hunger.

There are few roads connecting markets; electricity and potable water are luxuries; gang violence, corruption and drug trafficking have overwhelmed the justice system and crimes go unpunished. To make matters worse, remittances from the U.S. have been hard hit by recession.

For decades tyrants have ruled your country, first from the right and then the left. Now a young democracy is budding and the desperate masses are depending on your government to bring about order and the conditions for economic opportunity. Where do you start

Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis

For Haitian Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis, this is not a parlor game but the real-time question she has had to think about every day since taking office in September. Last month, Ms. Pierre-Louis joined Journal editors for lunch in New York to explain her government's priorities. I expected to hear a plea for foreign aid. But the PM surprised me by talking about the sanctity of contracts, the importance of attracting investment, and the woes caused by a broken judiciary.

Talk up hope for Haiti and most people think you are naïve. The country has none of the cultural norms that conventional wisdom says are required to construct democratic institutions. Plus, it's flat broke.

All true. Yet things didn't have to get this bad. They did because when Haitians had a shot at democracy in 1990, they instead got a despot named Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the time he ran the country as a strongman, Haiti had a contract with a U.S. telecom company called Fusion. Its board included Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was a friend of Aristide and invited the Haitian to his second wedding. The board also included a number of Democratic Party honchos. Fusion's contract allowed it to carry long-distance calls to Haiti Teleco, the state-owned monopoly, at less than 25% of the Federal Communications Commission settlement rate at the time.

All we know is that while Fusion was racking up the discount minutes on one of the region's busiest telecom routes, Aristide terrorized his nation, both as president and as the power behind President René Preval. President Bill Clinton, who had restored the Aristide presidency after a coup d'etat, tolerated the abuses.

Telephone revenues were one of Haiti's few sources of hard currency. But when Aristide was driven from the country in 2004, the interim government opened Teleco's books and allegedly found that the company had been rifled, according to a lawsuit filed in South Florida. Haiti had to start over from scratch. Mr. Kennedy has since moved on to working with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez in the oil business.

Haitian tradition holds that the country needs foreign aid to get back on its feet. Ms. Pierre-Louis does not disagree. The main reason for her trip to the U.S. was a "donors' conference" where Haiti racked up $324 million in new pledges of assistance.

But the PM seems to also understand that the aid bucket is leaky at best. At the Journal she talked up private investment as the key to a meaningful reduction in misery. "We need investors," she said, "because we need to create jobs. And to get investors, whether they are from the private sector in Haiti or international, they have to have confidence." She insisted that any change in fixed-line telephony laws would stress competition.

Like Mr. Preval, who is president again, the PM hails from Haiti's left. George Soros was a big giver to the grass-roots organization she ran previously, and she was once an Aristide ally. But she broke with him over his use of destitute youths to carry out his political violence.

Now as PM she emphasizes public security, which has improved since Aristide left; kidnappings dropped sharply last December. She proudly recounted to me her decision to remove a wealthy developer from the prime government land he had invaded to build slums. This makes her different. Enforcing the rule of law is not the usual practice of anyone in Haiti who wants to have a political career.

Another unpopular goal on the PM's agenda is confronting drug-trade corruption in the judiciary and politics. Citing Haiti's recent seizure of $1 million in cash, she says, "Imagine what you can do with that much money in Haiti." The drug problem, she notes, undermines equality before the law, and Haiti needs U.S. help in fighting back.

Ms. Pierre-Louis may need help too. She doesn't have a political base, Bill Clinton is showing renewed interest in Haiti (not good), and powerful local interests want her out. She might survive if those who truly care about Haiti realize that her defeat would be a grave loss for her country. Hopefully this includes the U.S., which has enormous influence in Haiti and also should want to see the Western Hemisphere's poorest country get off its knees.

Write to O'

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Missa Luba


Three of the large lakes on the island of Hispaniola/Quiskeya are growing. Two of them are in Haiti, one in the DR. The lake on the Dominican Side of the border, Lago Enriquillo, is heavily salted and supports mostly crocodiles.

However on the Haitian side of the border Lac Azuei supports tilapia. When I last saw the lake, a few weeks ago, there was only one boat on it. It was perhaps 20 feet and piled high with bags of charcoal that the residents of the other side of the lake had prepared by cutting down green wood and baking it.

Should there be interest in aiding Haiti, it would be very useful for some of the fine polyester boats that are made in the Dominican Republic be given to Haiti.

Then they could indeed fish.

I cannot help but chuckle a bit at the irony of the motto of all the big NGOs "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day but teach him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime." Of course, few of the development workers know how to fish. They know how to administer grant money, do studies, and write reports.

That the model that "we" are using for "development" is not a success is most clearly seen by the fact that

No one is fishing in Lac Azuei.......

Friday, May 1, 2009


The Dominican Republic passed a Constitutional Amendment yesterday that all chidren, regardless of their nationality, have a right to public education in the Dominican Republic.

I bow to all the legislators for their humanity.

May they be Blessed.


New Medical Help for the Border

The Batay Relief Alliance has announced a new medical initiave for the Border region here.

This project is run by one of the many talented Haitians in the Haitian Diaspora. Ullrich Gaillard is an attorney, a cellest, and the force behind this organization which has delivered millions of dollars of medical aid and hosted countless medical missions to the Haitian population inside the Dominican Republic.

Last year, his organization received permission from the Haitian government to take over the clinic in Anse A Pitres, on the tip of the Southern border. Now, it appears, he will be able to cover the entire border.

One of the most pressing issues on the border has been the estimated 10,000 Haitian women who cross over the border into the Dominican Republic to give birth. The basic reason for this is that there are only medical facilities on the border in the central region, in Belledare. There is only a small, empty red cross station in Ounaminthe, and the heretofore empty clinic in Anse A Pitres. The southern region is particularly stripped of any medical services or personnel with perhaps two doctors covering the entire region between Jacmel and Anse A Pitres.

Many Dominicans rightly resent this use of their public medical facilities. Many believe that these women cross over so that their children will have Dominican citizenship. This has been a hotly contested international issue. The Dominican government has been exceedingly generous with the use of its public facilities, transporting Haitians from the border even to the Capital for treatment, which is a seven hour trip.

With the opening of more clinics on the border, the pressure on the Dominican State will be much relieved.

It will be wonderdul to have more help from the Batay Relief Alliance on the border. They have built a state of the art clinic in Monte Plata, serving a large Haitian and Doinican community there who live in areas where the sugar companies have closed but the population remains.

What would be wonderful would be a plant to produce the vitamin enriched peanut butter for use in malnourished children. This has been a major life saving product in Africa In Haiti, one small NGO, is producing it under the name of Medika Mamba. It has been used in Africa with great results, under the name of plumpy nut

Since the Famine Alert Network reports that there are areas even on the border which are facing food insecurity, and snce malnutrition in the first two years can produce permanent brain damage, enriched peanut butter would be a perfect business for the Border.

Peanut butter is one of Haiti's traditional breakfast foods along with eggs. However, because of a boycott of Dominican egg imports due to an H5N2 outbreak two years ago, Haitians have been deprived of a primary source of protein.