Thursday, May 24, 2012

Get the Counter!

Scroll down and look at the sidebar of the blog, you'll notice something new: a "cholera counter."

Friends at Just Foreign Policy have created the counter to raise awareness about the cholera epidemic, and to apply pressure on the United Nations to do the right thing - accept responsibility for introducing cholera to Haiti and step up efforts to address it.

You can get the counter for your own blog or website here.

Ben learned this week from someone at Doctors Without Borders (who are currently managing the bulk of the country's cholera treatment centers) that all but one of their centers is maxed out. Today's update from the Center for Economic and Policy Research rounds up the very sobering statistics. 

Just Foreign Policy says:

"We created this counter in order to educate the public about the ongoing cholera crisis in Haiti.

Prior to October 2010, there had not been a reported incident of cholera in Haiti in over a century. Since then, over 500,000 cases have been reported, including 7,000 deaths. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that UN troops from Nepal, which was suffering from an outbreak of the disease at the time, carried cholera with them to their assignment in Haiti. Then the UN's faulty sanitation system contaminated a tributary of the Artibonite River, the longest and most important river in Haiti. Even a UN panel has conceded this point. Bill Clinton, who serves as UN Special Envoy to Haiti, has admitted that UN troops were the "proximate cause" of the epidemic, and US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has acknowledged that the UN played a role. Yet, the UN refuses to accept formal responsibility and it has done little to help treat, prevent, and control the disease.

A number of initiatives are underway to pressure the UN to do more in addressing Haiti's cholera crisis. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims. A Congressional letter to Ambassador Rice urges UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the epidemic. Recently, a New York Times editorial made a strong statement in support of this goal. And we have set up a petition that presses the UN to take formal responsibility.

But in order to make the pressure effective, we need to raise awareness. That's where this counter—and you—come in."

Get the counter here. And while you're at it, sign the petition.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another Flag Day, Come and Gone

[9:30 Friday night: I was just getting ready to publish the post below when Ben rolled in from a long, nerve-wracking day covering the paramilitary march

Little did I know, an hour later we would both be stuck in a Haitian police station for trying to deliver insulin to an arrested American. I was allowed to go home around 1 AM, but Ben (along with two others that brought medication to the station) was detained for another 24 hours while authorities investigated suspected conspiracy with the paramilitaries. He was finally released late last night.

It was all over the news yesterday and high-level calls were placed on Ben's behalf, for which we have many journalist, activist and human rights friends to thank.  

This article provides a good general summary of what happened. 

It's been a harrowing weekend. We're exhausted and I'll be honest, a little traumatized.]

A girl watches as the displacement camp where she lives is torn down in an eviction.

Today was Fèt Drapo, Flag Day. 209 years ago today Catherine Flon stitched together the first Haitian flag in Archaie. (Hop on over to Kreyolicious for some interesting Haitian flag trivia). 

There are a lot of proud Haitians and proud-to-be-Haiti-lovers out there: "Happy Haitian Flag Day" was actually trending today on Twitter (along with #SignsUrAHoodratMother and We Will Never Let Justin [Bieber] Go).

Today was also the day that the would-be army planned to storm the city with guns a-blazing. Instead, there was a slightly more sedate parade of uniformed and lightly armed paramilitaries, a number of whom were arrested. The UN and police currently have the paramilitary base in Carrefour surrounded and we're waiting to see what happens.

(An aside: my best Flag Day ever was spent boating across Lac de Péligre in search of flamingos in 2010.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grace Village (Post removed temporarily)


Yesterday I shared information about rights abuses in Grace Village camp in Carrefour, along with an action alert from Amnesty International

I stand by everything that I wrote, knowing that my information comes from credible first-hand sources (the camp residents themselves, along with the community activists and human rights lawyers - who are also trusted friends - that are working on their behalf).

However, the post has already generated vehement responses from individuals and organizations that are supporting Grace International, which I feel a responsibility to address thoughtfully. In the meantime, I will temporarily take down this post. To those of you that did send comments in defense of Grace International and the situation at Grace Village: I would love to have a conversation about this with you. Please email me directly through the profile on this blog.

Meanwhile, to contact Haitian authorities and demand an end to the human rights abuses that are most certainly occurring in Grace Village, you can download Amnesty's Action Alert here in English, French and Spanish.

With love,

Monday, May 14, 2012

What's Going on with the Haitian Army?

First of all, there is no army. There are several thousand guys that want for there to be an army. Of these, a small percentage are former members of the former FAd'H (Haitian Armed Forces). The rest are new, young and largely unemployed recruits.

This unofficial paramilitary force has taken over a dozen or so former army bases around the country. They have a couple of new vehicles, they have guns, they have uniforms (traditional camouflage fare and, for the higher-ups, nylon Get Money jackets featuring Benjamin Franklin), and they are in "training."

While Martelly was campaigning for president, he talked about (and later came up with a $95 million plan for) restoring the army. Originally part of Duvalier's brutal security apparatus, FAd'H has a less-than stellar human rights record and when disbanded by President Aristide in 1995, was replaced by the Haitian National Police (PNH). International donors haven't been thrilled about the idea of funding the reinstatement of the Haitian army (given its history and the resources being pumped into beefing up the police force) and Martelly has had to retreat from this idea, at least publicly, while a government commission debates its feasibility.

Here's where it gets murky: No one knows exactly who is providing the would-be troops with those new vehicles, guns and Get Money jackets. Some think Martelly is doing some behind-the-scenes maneuvering, others believe that anti-Martelly factions within the government are, at worst, looking to instigate a coup d'etat, or, at best, make Martelly look bad. I've heard that they're being funded by Duvalier, who is raising the money from among Haiti's largest and wealthiest families, and also by a well-known drug runner who wants to see UN troops outed in favor of more corruptible local troops. Another theory is that the US government is behind it all. According to a friend, "On the one hand, the ambassador says Haiti doesn't need an army that the US is providing support to the police. Secretly, military and political high-ups are creating plans at the embassy to strengthen the army. They've already given Martelly guns for the army."

The Haitian government has demanded that the paramilitary forces disband, and voluntarily turn over their weapons. Instead, one of the paramilitary groups stormed the national palace while Martelly was in the US for surgery. Though the government has offered back pay and pensions to the former FAd'H members, most have refused, saying instead that they're willing to fight to get their jobs back.

Meanwhile, they have given the government Friday, May 18 - Haitian Flag Day - as an ultimatum: Reinstate the army... or else. Speculation as to what, if anything, will occur that day is as varied as the theories behind who may be backing them. Certainly, though, these guys talk big. They've repeatedly told journalists that that they are willing to fight to the death over this issue. 

Link Round-up:

CBC Dispatches: Haiti's Rogue Paramilitaries (Start listening around minute 18:00 for Susana Ferreira's great radio piece)

Haiti's Former Soldiers Demand Reinstatement of the Army

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Prestige! Award(s)!

It's no secret -- we love to tilt back a cold one. In Haiti, we have our choice of one domestically produced beer: Prestige. It's a light lager, cold & delicious on a hot day (which is every day) and costs 85 cents at the cybercafe/ barbershop across the street. And for twelve years, Prestige has made the very most of having won the 2000 World Beer Cup. See the picture above of the bottle's label (taken by Ben).

Ladies and gentlemen, this tired label is about to change. Yesterday, Prestige took home another gold at the 2012 World Beer Cup, in which 3,921 beers competed in 95 categories. To quote the Miami Herald, who quotes the president of the US Brewers Association, "It's called 'The Olympics of Beer Competition' for good reason."

Read more here:

Given our obligatory allegiance to Prestige, it feels a little blasphemous to post the following youtube review, but it had us howling with laughter. Choice excerpts include:

"It's from Haiti, and they've had a lot of problems over there in Haiti, so definitely probably a good thing to support them right about now."

"It says it's a World Beer Cup Winner, but probably not many beer companies competing in that one, just to be diplomatic about it." ... Yeah? Well, look who's laughing now, dude.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sick Days

We've spent the past days nursing the vile colds bequeathed upon us by last week's inclement weather. Over the weekend, we went through more than 2 lbs of sitwon, Creole key limes, Ben let me cheat at Scrabble, and even Luna was well cared-for.


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