Monday, May 26, 2008

Saludos Brooklyn- Gracias Emily

We had a rare elegant evening out, two of my friends of mine and me. Yesterday was the 125th birthday of the Brooklyn Bridge. A local pape even down here in Santo Domingo ran an article on it. Someone called to tell me about it, it being one of my ancestral contributions to the world and she mentioned that she was going to the Georgian State Ballet (former Soviet Union) performing at the National Theater here in Santo Domingo. By chance a friend was en route to town and we managed to meet.

It was a stunning, acrobatic, and dramatic performance in an elegant setting, worthy of New York. We drank a toast to the Bridge.

My thoughts are with the Bridge today and the great procession of ancestors who live on in my heart. I am humbled and weeping a bit in their memory, as they have left great and heavy imprints on the earth and blessed me with a life of privilege and extraordinary opportunity and great depth.

I was married from the house of my great uncle, John Augustus Roebling II, grandson of the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. The mantilla which I wore had belonged to his mother, the great Emily Warren Roebling, without whom the Great Bridge would never have been built. The lace around my sleeves and hem was the lace she wore at her presentation at Queen Victoria's Court. Since Emily had neither daughter nor granddaughter, I was the only other woman to ever wear her lace.

Her husband Washington had been crippled by the bends, nitrogen narcosis, from being one atmosphere below sea level in the Brooklyn caisson fighting a fire that had been raging in for weeks. The work of digging out the river bottom, sending the sand and rocks up by buckets, while sinking the structure lower and lower as the construction of the great stone Brooklyn tower was built on top of it, was done by torch light which started the fire in the wooden structure.

It was the first time in history that such work at such depths had been undertaken and no one knew of the illness that was to attack.

It was Emily, who already had a law degree and then completed a degree in engineering, who carried her husband’s directives down to the engineers on the Bridge and back up to him. For fourteen years, Washington did not leave his brownstone. In the end, he recovered from the bends and outlived his wife, remarried and retired in Trenton.

It was Emily who who was the first person to cross the bridge, riding across it in a carriage, holding a rooster.

On the 75th anniversary of the Bridge, I was there with my family as they unveiled a plaque dedicating the bridge to Emily. I remember it mostly from the black and white photo of it, but remember my delight in the large straw hat with the ribbon down the back which had been brought to me from a family friend all the way from Italy for the occasion. I would have been ten years old.

Washington Roebling had taken over the engineering of the bridge when he 30 when his father died suddenly from tetnus.- like his father- held to the adage that he would not ask his men to do something that he was unwilling to do himself.

His father, John Augustus, had immigrated to America at an early age, bringing with him an entire village to settle in Pennsylvania. A graduate of engineering college, he was convinced that suspension bridges were the soundest form of construction but knew that the engineering establishment in Germany would not allow him to fulfill his dreams.

Once in America, he set about to fulfill them, having always in his mind the vision of a great bridge across the East River, to unite the then separate cities of New York and Brooklyn. In order to do that, he had to first design and build the steel cable which would be needed for the bridges. He set up his factory in Trenton, New Jersey, avoiding the South because of what he called "the anathema of slavery" and set about building suspension bridges of increasing length to demonstrate their strength.

No Roebling bridge has ever collapsed.

John Roebling was a believer in natural medicine and the force of human will. From his diaries, I read of his actions in Trenton when a cholera epidemic overtook Trenton. One of the doctors had already died and Roebling made the rounds with the remaining doctor. He wrote of the night when he first felt the symptoms of cholera coming on him. He would not allow himself to sleep, knowing that if he did so, the disease would take hold. Instead, he remained awake, drinking pure water all night, pacing back and forth in his room until the sun rose and felt himself free of the clutches of the illness.

I was not born to the Roeblings, being a mere niece of his second wife, my grandmother's sister, Helen Price Roebling. We were the family of his old age as they married when he was 60 and she was 40, when he had already lost two of his three sons. Uncle John had, at the time, only one grandson. My grandmother's family had ten sisters and one brother, and five were unmarried. By marrying one, Roebling got a large and adoring family who came to live in various cottages around his estate in New Jersey - complete with four more grandchildren, my two brothers, my cousin and myself.

He died when I still very young. I have only vague memories of the kind man who wore starched collars and sneakers who sent for me every afternoon to muss with my hair and give me a chocolate. My brother said that he could recite Humpty Dumpty in Chinese. He was also an engineer, designing his own homes, and, along with his son Donald, the amphibious landing craft which made the Normandy invasion possible.

He had a tradition that we would always follow, of having to recite a poem at the table between courses. I spent my summers playing in his home, under the watchful eyes which followed me from full length oil portraits of his parents - Emily in her presentation gown and Washington working at his desk, overlooking the Bridge.

I was left with their legacy as follows: 1. To carry on the Roebling name. 2. To have a dream and hold fast to it. 3. To be a greatful and faithful attender at Church and a contributing member of the community.

When I was fifty, having decided that they would be reasonably pleased with the path that I had walked, I legally added the Roebling name.

I am, on this day, most gratefully, their great-great-great niece



Monday, May 19, 2008

Declaration of Pierre Pierre, Ex Prime Minister Desingate


1. I would like to thank president René Préval who, in two occasions, has proposed me to occupy the post of Prime Minister of my country. I also thank the Senators, Deputies, the political parties and organizations of the civil society who have publicly honored me of their confidence.

I extend these thanks to journalists of the spoken, written and the televised press that have accompanied me during the whole process and who have proven me of an objectivity that honors them. I thank a special way my colleagues who have, voluntarily, accepted to accompany me and to follow to the letter my instructions. I congratulate members of the “Concertation des Parlementaires Progressistes (CPP)” (Progressive Members’ Meetings of the Parliament) for their victory. I also wish them good luck.

2. My complete name is Pierre Ericq Pierre. This is the name appeared on my birth certificate, on my passports and on my official documents. I am Haitian, and I have never renounced my nationality; also, I have never obtained nor solicited the residence in any foreign country. If some parliament members consider that I am not Haitian of origin, they refer, without doubt, to some criteria that they themselves are able to define.

3. I have accepted to be designated for the post of Prime Minister, and to put my more than 40 years of integrity at the service of my country, because I was persuaded that, in addition to the experience and competence, our country has an urgent need to place, at the shaft of matters, honest men and women, foreigners at the scheming and capable of gaining height to work with success toward improving the existing conditions of the Haitian people. I have said that, to affront multiple challenges called out to us, one should have abandoned the politicians’ politics, have faith in the capacity of our compatriots - those in the country as well as those in Diaspora. From a general governing point of view, I have said that the absolute priority of my government would be to restore confidence, to help my compatriots regain confidence in themselves and in the common homeland.

4. But, since the beginning of the process, I have hurt myself at the forces of corruption. My refusal to conclude a pact with them costs me today to be kept at a distance by the Lower House. The words “home land” or “the country’s interest” have never been present in the messages of emissaries who were pressuring me to negotiate in favor of their protégés some ministerial posts, some envelops with money or projects that can facilitate their re-election. I have always professed that I would not accept to be Prime Minister at any type of price. And I could not either become involved in things that would mortgage the Public Treasury’s resources even before even entering the primacy. I also wanted to play cards on the table by refusing to enter the game of those who think they could hide behind an anti-neoliberal mask.

5. I don’t live the decision of the Lower House as a personal drama. After my meeting with members of “Concertation des Parlementaires Progressistes” (CPP) who have accepted to meet with me, upon the request of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis who himself has agreed to a request by the president of the Republic; I was convinced that the CPP was not going to support me - unless the President of the Republic or the Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis succeed in persuading the members of the political platform LESPWA who have joined the CPP to vote in my favor. This did not happen, and I don’t want to speculate on what took place.

6. One of the reasons that has also led me to accept the designation is because I’ve witnessed very painfully the events at the beginning of April : the demonstrations against the high cost of living, the violence, the pillage and the absence of public powers. I had the impression of attending a rehearsal for a tragic play. Politics don’t need to be a game of massacre. I’ve said that it should have, at all price, avoided this type of situation and lies to those - Haitians and foreigners who profess of nothing good, nothing great and nothing nice can come out of Haiti. Me, on the contrary, I persist to say to anyone who wants to listen to me in the international community that the problems of my country are certainly great, but the Haitian people are greater than these problems.

7. As head of the government, I was going to impose myself on clear requirements, of simplicity as well as those of strictness. I was getting ready to do fast and well concrete things. Of my point of view, the politics of all government should be easy to understand : by parliament members who should approve it and to appropriate it, by ministers who should apply it, by the private sector that should be a privileged partner, by association of socioprefessionals, popular organizations, the unions, workers, students, peasants and by the great public that should benefit from their consequences.

8. I was ready to explain, explain again, explain always. A requirement of truth was going to preside over the politics of communication of my government. This requirement would be translated by the transparency of its agenda. The programs of actions would be known by everyone. And the calendars of implementation would have been published also, as well as detailed reports of the Republic’s budget. In case of unexpected changes in the calendar, public opinion would have been informed of the causes of these changes. In addition to the traditional media, the new technologies of information and of communication would be available to make these information available quickly. The government would, in this way, make regular assessment of its action and would, openly, publish this assessment, taking into account the slow progresses and the possible errors.

9. The moralization of public life would have been reinforced. The Law on patrimony allowing the verification of the transparency of patrimony of elected officials, high government employees, members of the government, of their immediate entourage and members of the Parliament who would have been involved in it fully. Also, the abuses linked to political blackmailing, the use of bribes, under deserved privileges, traffics of influence and sexual harassment would have been suppressed.

10. Despite of the limitations of the Document of the National Strategy of Growth and Reduction of Poverty (“Document de Stratégie Nationale de Croissance et de Réduction de la Pauvreté (DSNCRP”) because a consensus seems to have founded to make it the document of reference of the government, we estimate that travel warrant of the governmental team was simple enough. Here is why, after the analysis of these three pillars having priority and of multiples domains included in this document, we have obtained six axs from it outlined as follow:
(i). - Fighting the high cost of living (This ax is not really included in the DSNCRP, but we estimate that it was decisive for the government’s credibility.)
(ii). - Assuring the stimulation of employment and of the national production of goods and services.
(iii).- Relaunching the agricultural production and the protection of the environment. (iv).- Modernizing the Government.
(v).- Pursuing and increasing the effort for education and health.
(vi). -Assuring the good functioning of justice and fight insecurity.

11. We were proposing to implement everything to accelerate the execution of projects and establish to that end some criteria of performance for the evaluation of the ministries’ activities and organisms that are involved in fulfilling these works. I, in fact, consider that it’s not normal while we are soliciting daily some new resources of our international partners, we’d not succeed in using, in reasonable deadlines, resources that are already available to us then our communities cry famine and that unemployment has a great influence.

12. We were thinking of taking some measures to coordinate effectively the international cooperation, to go deeper and institutionalize the relationships with the Dominican Republic, and define a travel warrant in sight of a better cooperation with MINUSTAH.

13. I was then prepared to make a difference, and I was going to ask my colleagues of the government to avoid that their compassion for the poor people does not transform neither in indifference for those who are less poor nor in hatred for those who are rich. But, I admit that I have underestimated the weight of the forces of corruption. However, I remain confident that my compatriots, women and men, young and younger, of the interior and of the Diaspora, will not get intimidated forever by the said forces.

14. We must maintain political stability and reinforce the social cohesion. This implies a real engagement from all actors of the national life.

P.S M. Pierre has read this preliminary declaration during a press conference at Montana Hotel in Pétion-Ville.[Translated from French to English by Emmanuel W. Védrine


News posted on the French Yahoo list serve follows. Preval is on the verge of resigning due to international pressure to resubmit the name of Pierre for Prime Minister, constant strong disagreements within his political party, Lespwa, and the urging of his family who want him to retire to Marmelade, far away from the political life, doubting that he will be able to manage the country during increasing violent demonstrations against hunger.


De sources très sérieuses (Intelligence Agencies) , Le Président René Préval serait prêt à remettre sa démission comme Président de la République pour les raisons suivantes :

1) pressions incessantes de la communauté internationale pour la redésignation de M. Ericq Pierre comme Premier Ministre

2) contradictions trop fortes au sein de la nébuleuse politique L’Espwa

3) Pressions familiales croissantes pour un retrait de la vie politique compte tenu de la perspective de plus en plus probable de nouvelles émeutes de la faim encore plus violentes, d’une convocation subséquente au Parlement pour crime de haute trahison, et de son incapacité patente de gestion des structures politiques et économiques du pays. Sa mère et son père ont toujours honnêtement douté de sa capacité de gérer le pays : deux personnages des plus respectables.

4) nostalgie profonde de la ville de Marmelade, une ville sans pressions politiques.

Préval déjà envisagé ce scénation pendant les émetues de la faim de début avril 2008.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Haiti Exasperata

While there are ample cries of "unfair trade, foreign imperialism" to account for the current state of Haiti, the DR, which - like Haiti- was both colonized, invaded and occupied (twice by the US, once by Haiti) and subject to the same unfair globalization and dumping - has posted the highest economic growth in the Caribbean for the third year in a row. The last president actually had rice fields here burned since he had an "in" with the imported cheap rice coming in from Haiti.

Bare with me now as I make some politically incorrect remarks destined to push the buttons and raise the ire of both friends and foes.

Some say that Haiti stopped producing rice (concrete, steel, cement, sugar, flour, shoes, pots and pans and eggs) because of "neoliberal globalization and economic dumping" , also known as "capitalism", a system in which businesses must remain adaptable and competitive.

We will pause for a moment to weep for the poor buggy whip manufacturers.

Haitians, having somehow gathered enough money from "other sources" such as remittances, selling their “cause” in the States and Canada, drug dealing, stealing from the public coffers, begging and scamming through various international NGOs and missionaries, have somehow been able to find enough money to buy their goods cheaper from the international market and abandoned their internal production. (EXCEPTIONS- Barbencourt Rum- the ORGANIC MANGOS -- Some of the ART... WHAT ELSE?)They have become dependent on foreign rice and frozen imported chicken. The people are now at the complete mercy of the international global food market dependent on the rise of petroleum prices.

There is also a valid argument to be made that Haiti stopped producing things like....etc/ etc... not only because of "neoliberal globalization and economic dumping" but because the merchant and political and clerical ( uppper and middle) classes just took and took and did not reinvest in their own country.

They did nothing to reforest even after they had ample knowledge of the devestation that it was causing. They did nothing to even educate the peasants to soak the beans overnight to reduce the cooking time to conserve charcoal. They thought only of their own comforts.

With the aid of the Church, (both Catholic and Episcopal at the least), they perpetuated a structured class system, divided by language, enforced by education. Only the elites spoke French. Only the elites could read and write. Only the elites would find employment, run the nation.

They did not support public education, just educated their own children, sent those who could make it safely abroad. They did not industrialize their agriculture but held to a sharecropping system. When the opportunity presented itself, they abandoned their land, abandoned their peasant workers, who have now flooded into Port au Prince looking for non- existant work.

Throughout the history of Haiti, they have enslaved their own people,giving over and taking in , children into restavec slavery who now number at 300,,000 and whose ranks are daily growing.

Rather than having created the “second oldest independent nation in the Western Hemisphere” Haitians have created a nation which has never been freed from slavery, one born in blood and violence. It is now and always has been a predatory state whose officials have consistently abused the citizens.

The diaspora sends home guilt money in the form of remittances which allowed their relatives to survive without working. In the final act of turning their backs on their own nation, they allowed their country to write a constitution which disenfranchised themselves and their children. While continuing to send home money to support their own families, they have allowed the rest of the nation to become a ward of the international community.

Those Haitian public officials who have raped the public treasuries are exempted from prosecution, time and again - paving the way, perhaps, for the next gang of thieves. Duvalier is still entertained in France, Aristide is still interviewed in South Africa and revered by the American Left, and those who left the Embassies coffers empty in various posts are never prosecuted.

In the end, this ongoing victim mentality only serves to manifest more poverty. I winced when I heard my Haitian friend - college educated, speaking four languages- saying in a matter of fact tone - "Haiti will not succeed because the United States does not want it to" OH, I said-- perhaps that was true 100 years ago - perhaps even 50 years ago -

But now--- Well -- GO OBAMA!!

Tears rolled down my cheeks when I heard the young Haitians on the border sing the lullaby "The rich get richer and there is nothing for the poor." For certainly, surely, your dreams will absolutely come true.

I try to keep an eye on both these countries with a NY point of view. How are they recovering from the brutal dictatorships that we helped subjected them to? (Shame on us, but it was war and we were frightened). Haiti is twenty years behind the DR- coming out of the Duvalier's in 1986 while Trujuillo fell in 1965. There were similar armed interventions by the US in both countries - to a better result here in the DR perhaps in which the forces of the merchant "right" rather than the populist “left” took over the running of business and stability and development.

It was sad to read how Preval, in his first term, in 1996, redistributed farm land from private landlords to the peasants but did not give them tools or fertilizer or seed or transport, thus creating a net loss in food production. This seems odd since he himself has a successful bamboo farm and certainly knew what was needed! Although perhaps not since evidently the Taiwanese have some agreement with the government over the bamboo production in Haiti in return for the continuing vote to support Taiwan in the United Nations. So it may in fact be Taiwanese who are doing the farming for Preval.

Now Haiti, evidently having signed a contract with Venezuela which precludes purchasing oil from other sources, is short on diesel oil.

Contrary to the United States, which could perhaps feed the entire world, Cuba does not produce enough to feed its population. Why is that, in a climate in which everything grows? Puerto Rico is even worse - with iceberg lettuce coming in from California. The DR is a net food exporter - perhaps soon Puerto Rico will have some of the lovely curly lettuce from here.

The current Haitian government is in crisis over an argument about economic development and the minimum wage. A very odd argument to be having, it seems to me, in a nation with over 70% unemployment. Particularly in a nation which is listed as third most corrupt in the world. (PROGRESS -up from the MOST Corrupt Country in the WORLD -- Get the T Shirt MADE) In which it takes 192 days to start a business due to government regulations.(I risk crossing into satire here......)

To help with the perspective on the wages for Haiti - whether it is reasonable for the Ministry of Social Affairs to propose 150 gourdes a day as a new minimum wage while the minimum that the business community finds acceptable is 78, - I share the following.

The DR has no minimum hourly wage. Hourly work and day wages are paid as the worker is willing to accept.The minimum wage here in the DR, for monthly salaried workers jobs, is 4400 pesos (US$130) a month for a 40 hour week. In relation to the dollar -The peso is now at 34.xx to the dollar. Assuming 4.25 weeks a month, we arrive at the number of 170 hours a month. And then 25.88 pesos or 78 cents an hour or (207.04 pesos) $6.28 a day. Note that five years ago, the peso was at 50 to a dollar and the wages were lower so the daily wage was closer to $4 a day. The peso trades a little higher than the gourde against the dollar now.

These workers also have other legal benefits such as a month's extra pay for Christmas, paid holidays, some government health services - doctors but no pharmaceuticals-, protection against unreasonable termination, mandated severance pay, workers rights and other protections. By law, a business must employ at least 70% Dominicans in the labor force.

It is difficult to make more than $1000 a month as a salaried worker here - that is a good teacher's wage - in an English school in the Capital. Doctors in the State system went on strike to demand more than the 58.000 pesos which they are now paid. Maids work for 3 to 4,000 pesos. These days there are Haitians-particularly on the border- who are taken in by Domincan families as restavecs.... working for food.

The presence of the more that 600,000 Haitian immigrants, with an ongoing inflow, makes it difficult for the workers on the bottom of the ladder to organize and demand any sort of wage increases. However there is a strong transport workers union and an active social forum and in the past three years, I have witnessed two general strikes protesting the high cost of living, one of which shut down the entire nation into silence. Gandhi would have been proud.

Anyone who really makes any money here does so with owning a business or working in a family business. Lots of the population makes do with day labor, selling fruit or cell phone cards or their bodies or the growing business of crack and cocaine transport and human trafficking.

Or --- for the really BIG money- they go into politics. Since there is no independent civil service, all the government jobs go to political appointees, although there does seem to be some level of competence involved.

Haitians here are primarily employed at construction and agriculture. Some of the big hotels have full gangs of hundreds of Haitian workers who go from one construction site to another. They are usually paid about 300 pesos (less than $10) a day. They are often worked for 24 days straight and then paid. They are not fed. In at least one place the local Dominican picketed, saying that they wanted the jobs but at 600 pesos.

Conan Bohan of the HELP project says that the best jobs for COLLEGE grads in Haiti are with NGOs and pay $600 a month. But few NGOs really work to get the poor out of poverty. On the contrary, they make their living off the poor. (Of course- foreign NGO workers, like US Embassy workers recieve BONUS pay for working there - sort of like Iraq ) They themselves live on charity so how could they teach people to get on their feet? Fonkoze and ORE and Lait Agro go being the notable exceptions that I know of. Do the donors of rice know how to help the food producers? Are they interested in doing so?

So - Once again, I call on the Haitian Diaspora to rise up and deliver a plan for the restoration of the nation of Haiti. Since, clearly, the people whom you have left behind have proved themselves unable to manage your nation.

I ask that you demonstrate your concern for your once reknowned and respected and feared republic by calling for a constitutional reform allowing dual citizenship.

I ask that you not let your nation remain a ward of the international community.

A plan, if you please. Some internet petitions. Some leadership. Some bright minds moving forward.

Enough already with the conferences at the Montana and Kaliko Beach and the courses in Kreyole in Kansas and the newspapers in Massachusetts and the chic cocktail gatherings of “Haitian Professionals” in my nation’s capital.

Why not have some gatherings of Haitian Professionals in your own nation’s capital?

Surely you must be ASHAMED and ENRAGED right now.

I know that I am and I am only Haitian by affinity.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Preval asks for protected status for Haitians in US

Here is a letter that you can write to President Bush that would be a postive help to Haiti. It would not cost the US anything. It would be a tremendous help to Haiti. Please consider doing so. I ask this particularly of my Quaker friends who have Peace and Social Concern Committees who undertake regular letter writing campaigns.

Help for a neighbor
May 10, 2008

President Bush has received an urgent plea from this hemisphere's poorest country. Haitian President Rene Preval wants the U.S. to put a temporary stop to the deportation of Haitian immigrants. Preval's case for help is exceptionally strong.He seeks something called "temporary protected status."

It is a designation that the U.S. grants from time to time to immigrants who cannot be sent home safely because of political upheaval, widespread violence or natural disasters. Haiti's great tragedy is that it qualifies on all three counts.United Nations peacekeepers have been assisting Haiti's government since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was displaced by a coup in early 2004. That same year, Hurricane Jeanne, an earthquake and rain-driven floods killed more than 5,000 people and left thousands homeless. Hundreds of people died in Hurricane Dean and Hurricane Noel in 2007. Haiti's cities are plagued by so much kidnapping, drug trafficking and violent crime that the State Department warns Americans to stay away.Hence, Preval's request.

In essence, he's saying, allow Haitians in the U.S. to stay while we grapple with these disasters.Temporary protected status is provided only for up to 18 months, unless U.S. officials decide it should be renewed. The designation would affect an estimated 20,000 Haitians who are here illegally or whose legal residency is about to expire. The protection would apply only to those who are here now, so it would not create an incentive for more illegal immigrants to come here. Immigrants from Somalia, Burundi, Honduras and Sudan have temporary protection. Nicaraguans have had it since 1998 because of Hurricane Mitch. El Salvadorans have had it since earthquakes hit in 2001. There has been no flood of new immigrants from those countries because of this humanitarian gesture.That's what this would be for Haiti: a humanitarian gesture. It would also extend an economic benefit for the bereft nation.

Haitians in the United States sent an estimated $1.2 billion in remittances to their home island in 2007, according to the World Bank. That was almost a fourth of Haiti's gross domestic product and almost 10 times the assistance that the nation received from the U. S. Agency for International Development.

President Bush should grant President Preval's request. He can do so through executive action. No congressional approval is necessary. It would be a modest gesture for the U.S., but a great help to Haiti.

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A day at the beach

Dear Jimmy-

We always said that if we knew that we only had a short time to live, we would go to the beach more often. So I took you with me in spirit yesterday when I went to beach – now that we have received news that your remaining time with us may be even less than a year ( news which seems to be upsetting me more than you, bless your loving heart!).

Although Santo Domingo is right on the Caribbean, it is a city of three million. It is also built on the mouth of a river. From the roof of my apartment building, I can see the line of brown that goes out for miles from the shore line so I am never tempted to take off my shoes and even walk onto one of the little sandy patches that dot the shoreline by the sea walk. Besides that, the waves come in here with a mighty force here, sending plumes of spray high into the sky and creating a great hiss and roar when the water sucks back. The force of it all scares me and I admire the young local boys who often strip down and just go out in it in the heat of these hot days.

The first real beach is about thirty minutes east of the City. I went with a new Dominican friend, a DomYorker, who has adopted me into her extended family. It took us, as it takes any family anywhere going to the beach, an extra hour or so to reach our destination since we had to make all the required stops for gas and ice and cold soda.

Gas is $6 a gallon here so our friend, who is driving some sort of early 90’s vintage, has converted her engine to propane, which is subsidized here. The propane is only $2 a gallon. There is a big propane tank in the trunk. It seems really dangerous to me, especially given the way Dominicans drive, which is as if they took lessons only at those arcade games which have deer and Mac trucks coming out of every intersection to hit you. Yet I have not heard of any major accidents with the tanks exploding.

This propane subsidy has saved the forests of the DR since it was first introduced forty years ago to get people to give up charcoal food cooking but now it causing pollution as there are more and more cars on the road lots of them the big gas guzzling SUVs, called jeepetas. Of course, it is a great mystery where all the money is coming from since this is supposed to be a really poor country- certainly they keep saying that when they ask for help from the UN or the international NGOs-- but there are lots of people with lots of money here -- they just don't want to share it. Like most of the rich throughout the world, alas.

For the first time in my adult life, I do not own a car.

Cars cost twice what they cost in the US and exceed the price of a small house which would certainly be a better investment. So for me, even taking a ride in a private car is a great treat.

I appreciate the tour through the back streets of the middle class neighborhoods on the East side of the river. There is a construction boom here with more and more high rise tower condos being built, featuring a particular US feature, written in English – called “walking closets”.

We went to the little town of Andreas, tucked in behind a breakwater on a little shallow cove, where my friend has cousins. (Dominicans have cousins everywhere: it is an island, there are only 8 million people, family ties are very important). Andreas is strictly a Dominican town, with no tourist development, no hotels, perhaps because the wealthy of Santo Domingo have dredged a channel for their small yacht club and keep a small portion for themselves – and some of their more wealthy friends from the Bahamas.

The little beach is filled with tables and chairs, all built in the same style: the tables surrounding the upright pole for the palm covered cone-shaped roof, the chairs a rough copy of the Adironack chairs. The tables costs $6 for the day to rent, but includes the use of bathroom and shower across the street at the little bar and is the main source of outside income for the town so we do not object

As we are 500 miles south of Florida here and the tropical sun is hot
and brutal, the shade is welcome.We were early and it was Friday so we were able to get the first table by the water, giving us an unobstructed view of the water.

So sit back now, nestled into the shade and look right out onto that color—that pure Caribbean blue, that tropical blue, that peculiar refraction that the sea gets here around its waist band. Maybe it is the temperature? I don’t know but it is a miracle that I have only seen here. There is something magical about the color. It feels like you can just dive right into the sky.

The water is warm now, since it is May, probably close to 83 degrees or so, but here in San Andreas, there are a series of underground streams which come out from under a length of rock ledge on the shore and you can feel the currents of cold water as you go through the water.

The beach is a horseshoe and there are two small islands in front,connected by a rock breakwater, the one on the left is a complete mangrove, with its illusion of land. The other is the results of the dredging for the channel and has a full range of local trees. Beyond the breakwater the waves are crashing but here inside it is like a bathtub. There is comfort in knowing that there are along with waves, the breakwater keeps out any sharks, and probably even jelly fish.

It is low tide, although the tides are small here in the south, but it does take a bit of a walk to get out to water that is shoulder deep. The visibility is so clear that it is easy to see your feet and the bottom of the sea, which is completely clear except of patches of sea grass. The water is highly salty so it is easy to just keep floating. There is a constant off shore breeze so the entire experience is close to perfect.

The only reason to leave the water is cut the fear that the sun block is giving out and that the wrinkled skin on the fingers will become permanent.

There is a small launch with a canopy which is patrolling the water. My friends’ cousins have joined us so I treat the family to a short ride around the bay. It is well into the afternoon now and as we go about the bay we can see that the water is clear throughout. As we approach the mangrove island, I can see that the white spots on the tops of the trees are egrets, or perhaps herons, I am not sure, but they are large and beautiful.

The sun is sinking and the town is coming out to the beach as we get packed up to leave. At the table next to us, an extended family has brought ballons and beer and driven up their truck for the music and started to dance to the merengue and bachata that all the people of all ages here listen and dance to.

The vendors have come out, selling the ever present fried pork called :chicarones, and the fried bread, called “johnie cake” which is cooked in the same oil as the pork and fish and so tastes almost like food rather than the grease sandwich that it is!

So we indulged! And then finally, tired, sandy,filled up with the beauty of the sea, we pack up back into the car and head home, the sand sticking between our toes.

I loved having you with me.

Hugs and love, as always,

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Continuing Fragile State

Both the right and the left in Haiti have accused the other side of manipulating the recent food riots, of infiltrating, of provoking violence.

From the Right:
Note: The Haiti Democracy Project is a Washington DC based NGO whose board members include former US Ambassadors and the said Senator Boulus who is mentioned in the article. In the interests of full disclosure, the following report should have disclosed two things 1. that Senator Bolus was indeed a director of the project and 2) that the cause of Senator Boulus´s actual removal from the Senate was because he was born in the USA and has not renounced his US passport.

Take this then as a source from the¨"establishment" perhaps--- the ¨anti-Aristide¨camp, the¨"imperialist dogs" --whatever...

Broken Democracy
by James Morrell, director of project, 2008-05-02Paper presented at opening of
Haiti Study Group, April 29, 2008, held at Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

During the past year, President Preval has embarked on a path of impeding elections, undermining parliament, and challenging the constitution. These acts have constituted a major distraction from far more urgent priorities posed by the economic emergency.

Below we outline five areas of concern.

1. Presidential challenge to the constitution
On October 17, 2007 President Preval gave a speech calling the Haitian constitution the most destabilizing political element in Haiti, singling out its ban on consecutive presidential terms. Under the present constitution, Preval's term ends in 2011. Because he was previously president, he would be ineligible to run again. In calling for changes to the constitution, President Preval left open the possibility of avoiding the lengthy amendment process prescribed by the constitution in favor of some quicker method.

2. Failure to form the Permanent Electoral Commission
On December 3, 2006, local elections were successfully held and local government officials were elected. This for the first time in many years made it possible to choose local councils which could nominate a Permanent Electoral Commission. Elections for these councils are the government's responsibility. Haitian political commentators expected that the electoral commission emerging from the councils would be pluralistic, reflecting the variety of parties at the local level. The elections have never been held, however, and instead President Preval assembled a new temporary electoral commission whose members are assumed to be beholden to him.

3. Loss of integrity of electoral mechanism
In December 2007, a well-regarded manager, Jacques Bernard, who successfully administered Haiti's elections in 2006, was reappointed administrator of the electoral commission. In January 2008 he resigned when President Preval put in new bylaws eliminating his authority. The loss of Bernard was a major blow to the prospects for free and open elections.

4. Failure to hold senatorial elections
On January 11, 2008, the terms of a third of the senate technically expired. The elections had not been held because of the disarray noted in numbers 2 and 3 above. With the loss of a third of its membership, the senate's quorum would be threatened; however, in this bicameral legislature the House of Deputies cannot function alone, so the threat to the senate was a threat to the entire legislature. A compromise was reached to leave the last third of the senators in office until May 9, 2008.

5. Expulsion of senate vice-president
On March 18, 2008, a propaganda and pressure campaign personally orchestrated by President Preval culminated in a senate vote to expel the vice-president of the senate.This was Sen. Rudolph H. Boulos, elected overwhelmingly from the Nord-Est Department in 2006. (He is also a founding member of the Haiti Democracy Project.) The vote was illegal because the constitution forbids the senate from expelling members. Nevertheless, such a lynch atmosphere developed that Senator Boulos had to immediately flee Haiti to avoid arrest and likely mistreatment in jail. President Preval considered him a rival.

The Haiti Democracy Project is deeply concerned that Haiti maintain a free parliament, repeat its accomplishment of free and fair elections, and uphold the constitution. Together these institutions embody a certain consensus of the society even when opinion turns against the president, as it has today. With the legitimacy of the government rapidly declining, Haiti finds itself unable to cope with the humanitarian emergency of high food prices. Our goal is a government capable of channelizing the deep and justified grievances of the people into the arenas of resolution provided by the constitution. Again and again we have seen in Haiti that elections denied or distorted have triggered deeper upheavals of the people so disenfranchised. This political destabilization will add fuel to the fire of popular protest over economic issues that has spread so alarmingly in Haiti's major cities.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Haiti needs Food donations

April 30, 2008
World Food Program Sees "Major Crisis" In Haiti
Filed at 8:26 p.m. ET
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti faces a "major crisis" if international donors fail to provide urgent aid to help feed its poor, a top official with the World Food Program said on Wednesday.

"It is not so important how much money we are able to raise for our cause," Pedro Medrano, the WFP director for Latin America and the Caribbean, told a news conference. "The question is how much the international community and all of us are prepared to pay for not doing what needs to be done."

The WFP appealed for $54 million in fresh funding to offset soaring food prices in Haiti and provide the country with about 50,000 metric tons of food between now and December.
"This is a major crisis. Are we going to intervene when it's too late?" asked Medrano, who spoke as he wrapped up a brief visit to the impoverished Caribbean nation, the poorest country in the Americas.

According to WFP figures, 66 percent of Haitians live on less than $1 dollar a day and 47 percent are undernourished.

At least six people were killed during riots in Haiti this month as protests against rising food prices and the high cost of living turned violent.

Lawmakers sought to quell the anger by dismissing Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis, who was fired on April 12. But there are fears public unrest could erupt again and that the food crisis could spark an increase in the number of Haitians who attempt the dangerous 600-mile (966-km) sea journey to illegally enter the United States.

Angry protests over high food costs have rattled several countries in recent weeks as bad weather, competition with biofuels, market speculation and rising demand in Asia send the price of many staples skyrocketing.