Monday, October 13, 2008

Protected Status for Haitians

October 13, 2008
NY Times Editorial
Help for Haiti

This year has been especially cruel to Haiti, with four back-to-back storms that killed hundreds of people, uprooted tens of thousands more and obliterated houses, roads and crops. A far richer country would have been left reeling; Haiti is as poor as poor gets in this half of the globe. Those who have seen the damage say it is hard to convey the new depths of misery there.

The Bush administration promised Haiti $10 million in emergency aid and Congress has since authorized $100 million for relief and reconstruction. The United Nations has issued a global appeal for another $100 million. We have no doubt that Haiti will need much more.

There is something the United States can do immediately to help Haitians help themselves. It is to grant “temporary protected status” to undocumented Haitians in the United States, so they can live and work legally as their country struggles back from its latest catastrophe.This is the same protection that has been given for years, in 18-month increments, to tens of thousands of Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Salvadorans and others whose countries have been afflicted by war, earthquakes and hurricanes.While the Bush administration has temporarily stopped deporting Haitians since Hurricane Ike last month, it has not been willing to go the next step of officially granting temporary protected status to the undocumented Haitians living here.

Haiti’s president, René Préval, and members of Congress have urged the administration to change its mind. We urge the same.

There is very little that is consistent in the United States’ immigration policies toward its nearest neighbors, except that the rawest deal usually goes to the Haitians. Cubans who make it to dry land here are allowed to stay; those intercepted at sea are not. Hondurans and Nicaraguans who fled Hurricane Mitch 10 years ago have seen their temporary protected status renewed, as have Salvadorans uprooted by earthquakes in 2001.

Haiti, meanwhile, more than meets the conditions that immigration law requires for its citizens here to receive temporary protected status, including ongoing armed conflict and a dire natural or environmental disaster that leaves a country unable to handle the safe return of its migrants.If Haiti is ever going to find the road to recovery after decades of dictatorship, upheaval and decay, it will take more than post-hurricane shipments of food and water. Haiti desperately needs money, trade, investment and infrastructure repairs.It also needs the support of Haitians in the United States, who send home more than $1 billion a year. What it does not need, especially right now, is a forced influx of homeless, jobless deportees.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dreams of Food, glorious food

Two stories on the Dominican Republic which I wrote: Here and here

Helping Haiti

Posted on Tue, Oct. 07, 2008Haiti could get gift of portable classrooms from Broward
From television interviews in Miami-Dade to a school visit in Broward, Haitian President René Préval raced through South Florida over the weekend seeking additional relief for his storm-ravaged nation.
Préval held private talks in Key Biscayne with Dominican President Leonel Fernández to discuss participation of that neighboring country's private sector in reconstruction projects. And he met Monday with the director of the Port of Miami to discuss how to transport several hundred unusually large items to Gonaives, the city hardest hit by four back-to-back storms last month.

The most promising gift so far from South Florida for Haiti: 600 portable classrooms from Broward to help alleviate a crunch created by damaged schools still serving as shelters for more than 165,000 homeless storm victims.Storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike are blamed for more than 700 deaths. They destroyed tens of thousands of homes, wiped out more than 50,000 acres of agricultural fields and delayed the opening of schools by a month.''This is a project that would have long-term impact in Haiti, especially for our youth and education sector,'' Préval said Monday in between a press conference at the Consulate General of Haiti in downtown Miami and a visit with a group of Broward County Haitian community leaders who have been working with the school district on the portable classrooms donation.School officials said the portables would likely be dismantled and destroyed if they don't go to Haiti even though the temporary buildings are good for another 20 years.

''There is no need for us to utilize these portables,'' said Benjamin Williams, a member of the Broward School Board. ``It's going to take money to dismantle these portables.''Préval is scheduled to return to Haiti on Tuesday. He was originally scheduled to go home on Sunday, but he canceled the flight and headed north to Everglades High in Miramar. Arriving at the campus, he sat inside a portable classroom and was immediately impressed.Williams then explained plans to ask his fellow board members to donate the mobile classrooms.On the drive back to Miami, Préval said he realized the structures could also help transform education in a country where many students learn in rundown, deteriorating classrooms.

''He's truly energized by this,'' said David Lawrence Jr., a child advocate and former publisher of The Miami Herald to whom Préval has reached out for assistance. ``He's deeply interested in seeing if there are other portables in the other school districts and asked me to see if I can make something larger come to pass.''Lawrence said the portables are a great idea.''I am delighted to help,'' he said. ``Haiti needs every bit of help it can get, and it should be the obligation of every fortunate person in Miami to help.''Préval also met with former Gov. Jeb Bush, various community leaders and officials and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who organized a meeting at Miami International Airport where Préval, the Port of Miami director and the owner of a private shipping company discussed transportation.''I believe there is no greater humanitarian effort that South Florida can engage itself in,'' Meek said. ``In many of the hardest-hit areas, children are sleeping under the stars because their homes have been destroyed. These portables would allow the government to start putting the education system back in place so the children can learn in decent conditions.''Williams first mentioned the portable idea to board members three weeks ago. He also has been in contact with Walmart, he said.''They want to give school supplies for this project,'' he said. ``They say they are ready to do this if the Broward school system is going to give them the portables.''

Along with discussing the possibility of acquiring additional portables from the state of Florida, Préval has been trying to create partnerships to raise the funds to transport and assemble the 20-foot by 30-foot structures.The objective of the project, he said, is to use the portables as the cornerstone of a community center in each of Haiti's 142 counties, which would include classrooms, health clinics and sports facilities for youths.Préval said that even as Haiti faces many rebuilding needs, his goal is to ``little by little return a sense of normalcy to people's everyday lives.'

'© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Threats to Journalist

Media Targeted for Threats, Lawsuits

Elizabeth Eames Roebling

SANTO DOMINGO, Sep 29 (IPS) - Media rights groups in the Dominican Republic are protesting what they say is a climate of legal and physical intimidation of journalists throughout the country.

"In the last two months, there have been more than 20 cases of journalists being subpoenaed," said Mercedes Castillo, president of the Colegio Dominicano de Periodistas (CDP), which was founded in 1991. "Each case is different, but they merge together to create an atmosphere which limits our ability to pursue our work."

Castillo said that it was not the government itself that was behind the threats but individual judges, private companies, private security firms and drug dealers.

"Reporters and media producers are not only being sued, they are being verbally threatened, both in person and by telephone," she told IPS. "We feel that we are being plunged into a massive wave of intimidation."

She cited the case of one journalist who approached the district attorney in Bani, asking for information on the whereabouts of packets of cocaine and dollars and Euros seized in a recent drug raid. The district attorney allegedly told the reporter to "Go home and look in your own house to find them."

And in early August, a cameraman for the daily news programme "Detrás de las Noticias" (Behind the News), Normando García, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in the city of Santiago, 163 kilometres north of Santo Domingo. García covered drug trafficking and crime, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating whether his death was in retaliation for his work.

On Sep. 23, more than 300 people assembled in the capital for what the CDP called a "March of Mourning" against assaults on the press. Participants, wearing black, also wore black ribbons around their heads, arms, or, more dramatically, their mouths.

A light rain started as the crowd proceeded along the brick pedestrian walk, El Conde, from the statue of Christopher Columbus to the gilded gates of the Parque Independencia, holding umbrellas and predominantly handmade signs. The Communist Party carried a large printed banner memorialising a few of the many journalists who lost their lives under both long-time dictator Rafael Trujillo and his protégé, Joaquín Balaguer.

The right of free speech and the liberty of the press are guaranteed under the country's constitution of 1973. However, reminders of the era of severe repression were seen in several printed support statements passed around the crowd which contained neither the names nor numbers of contact people.

One sign, asking for a minimum wage of 15,000 pesos per month for journalists (the equivalent of about 428 U.S. dollars) indicated the low salaries for the majority of the profession. Even the threat of the cost of having to defend a court case could be seen as a tool to silence the press.

Huchi Lora, a prominent investigative journalist, took the bullhorn to protest a recent court decision which allowed a private company to enter a journalist's office and take unedited tapes, calling this decision a threat to freedom of the press.

Lora, along with a colleague, Nuna Piera, had been raising questions for months over the quality of the milk supplied by the government to more than 1.5 million children in the public schools, saying that it contained deproteinised whey mixed with salt, a waste product which is fed to pigs.

The journalists based their original claims on a 2007 study done at the University of Santo Domingo which involved samples taken over several months during the 2004-2005 school year. The study found that the milk, which is a mixture of powdered and locally produced whole milk, varied in its protein and fat content over the sample months and fell below the legal guidelines posted by Department of Education.

Both journalists were sued by the milk supplier, Lacteas Dominicana (LADOM), which denied the claims. Lora said that the court's ruling set a dangerous precedent.

The office of the president, in response to the journalists' reports, and subsequent calls from the National Association of Pediatricians along with other civic groups, sent recent samples of milk taken from schools to two laboratories in the country and one in the U.S. state of Florida. They then called a press conference to release the results that all samples conformed to the standards required by law.

The new minister of education, Melanio Paredes, who took office this year, has said that the current contract for the school milk expires in December and all contracts will be under strict review. In addition, the amount of whole milk from local sources required in school milk programme will be raised from 33 percent to 50 percent. A rigid series of inspections of samples will take place over the next quarter.

Manual Frijas, a singer and spokesperson for the Association of Cultural Workers, comprised of singers, composers, musicians, and writers, marched along with six members of his union. He expressed his solidarity with the journalists, saying: "Without the press, there is no truth."

One of the signs held the words from a song written by Frijas: "And what would life be if the singer did not lift his voice in the courts."

Castillo said: "It is a constant fight. We have one battle here, another one there, across the entire country. Now reporters are being harassed in the courts and on the streets. We are here to ask the public to respect the freedom of the press, to let us investigate, to respect our profession, to allow us to do our jobs."