The Rights Stuff

Haiti's Rape Crisis: An Update

| Fri Jan. 21, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Editor's note: Mac and MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann have been in Haiti for the past two weeks. Read her previous posts here, and read her features on AWOL aid and the rapists terrorizing the tent camps. And check out more of Mark's photos here.

The tent cities that hold some million people left homeless by Haiti's earthquake last year have a serious rape problem. With no security, no lights, and a dense, often desperate population, the camps are hotbeds of sexual violence. When I met with FAVILEK president Yolande Bazelais. Photo by Mark MurrmannFAVILEK president Yolande Bazelais. Photo by Mark Murrmann FAVILEK (a Creole acronym for Women Victims Get Up Stand Up), a local group that advocates for women's rights, in September, it was hearing from several new rape survivors every week. And the organization's services cover only a dozen camps. Out of more than a thousand.

I caught up with Bazelais the other day in Port-au-Prince. For lack of funding, FAVILEK still didn't have an office; we met in a driveway of another NGO's office, while dozens of FAVILEK members packed into an unlit concrete shed in the back for a meeting. Bazelais explained that her group is still getting several calls a week from women who have been raped. It is currently trying to care for four women pregnant with the offspring of their rapists.

Bazeliais wants her group to be able to help victims by getting them out of the camps and away from the violence. Long-term, she said, "we want to give them education and possibilities and jobs," but "we can't even give them food." She said that camp dwellers have been so hungry for so long that she's now seeing the spread of child prostitution.

So, I asked, had FAVILEK seen any improvements in the rape crisis since we'd met four months ago?

Bazelais didn't hesitate for one second. "No."

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Why Did Baby Doc Come Back?

| Wed Jan. 19, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Editor's note: Mac and MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann are in Haiti all week. Read her previous posts here, and read her features on AWOL aid and the rapists terrorizing the tent camps. And check out more of Mark's photos here.

On Sunday night, former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier arrived in Port-au-Prince on an Air France flight after 25 years of exile. Today the surprises continued when police and SWAT swarmed Duvalier's hotel and, after hours of comings and goings of lawyers, prosecutors, and ambassadors, escorted him to the city courthouse, where he was charged with embezzlement, corruption, and assassination.

What's he doing here? Nobody knows. Rumors are flying on the street and in newscasts that the Americans and/or the French orchestrated his return to mess with President René Preval, who's been accused of corrupting the recent, still-contested elections. (Both governments have denied knowing about the trip or its purpose). Another theory is that Preval invited Duvalier here just to arrest him, as a means of taking attention off the elections and the abysmal post-earthquake conditions. Another's that the 59-year-old Duvalier's unhealthy appearance is proof that he's terminally ill and just wanted to come back to Haiti to die. Or perhaps he came to get back into politics.

Both Preval's and Duvalier's camps have yet to address the question. For the duration of his short stay, Duvalier has remained mostly silent, only saying at one point that he came back to help his country. Regardless of the impetus for the trip, many have criticized its timing, saying that Baby Doc's appearance could further destabilize a political system that's already in crisis. 

 

Baby Doc supporters outside the Port-au-Prince courthouse. Photo by Mark MurrmannBaby Doc supporters outside the Port-au-Prince courthouse. Photo by Mark MurrmannWhat's his reception been like? Duvalier does still enjoy his share of support among the populace. A few hundred supporters met him at the airport, and today hundreds more stood outside the courthouse chanting pro-Duvalier slogans, even trying to storm the gates after yelling, "Time is up!" Many of the supporters were too young to have been alive during his reign, which was characterized by the violent persecution of political opponents and rampant corruption. But some older Haitians, Duvalierists or no, remember the Baby Doc years as an improvement over the current status quo.

"What have [his] supporters been telling you?" a hotel proprietor in his mid-50s asked me. "That they weren't hungry?" Yes. They also told me there were no heaping piles of burning trash in the streets, that people had jobs, that the roads were paved, that there was less violence—non-government violence, anyway. You could park your car in the street without worrying it would be stolen, and you were less likely to feel like you needed to carry a gun.

"That's true," the hotelier said. "At the time, I thought it was bad, real bad, because you couldn't talk about politics without getting killed. But when I look at what's going on around here now? This is way worse."

 

So what now? The Haitian government says it's reopening a 2008 criminal case against Duvalier for charges of corruption, embezzlement, and assassination. It's not clear if he thought he could dodge these charges. As the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti explains, Baby Doc is still liable for what took place during his 15 years in power:

Mr. Duvalier is not protected against prosecution by any statues of limitations. According to Article 466 of the Haitian Code of Criminal Procedure, the proceedings for misappropriation of funds are not proscribed because of the continuing prosecution of the case from 1986 to 2008. The political killings and torture are not proscribed because they are crimes against humanity, which are imprescriptible under international law.

Human rights advocates are calling for even more crimes to be added to the list of allegations. There's plenty to chose from: Human Rights Watch estimates that Baby Doc and his father François "Papa Doc" were behind the deaths of 20,000 to 30,000 Haitians.

Meanwhile, Duvalier has been released back to his hotel and ordered not to leave Haiti.

Haiti's Orphans, Still Waiting for Homes

| Tue Jan. 18, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Editor's note: Mac and MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann are in Haiti all week. Read her previous posts here, and read her features on AWOL aid and the rapists terrorizing the tent camps. And check out more of Mark's photos here.

This time last year, it was hard to escape headlines about Haitian orphans. In the post-earthquake chaos, some American Baptists got arrested for trying to move 33 kids out of the country without proper paperwork—White People Stealing Haitian Babies! Now there's a lot less news about the orphanages. But there's still a lot more to be done for the kids who lost their families—not to mention the 380,000 or so who were orphaned even before the quake struck.

Children at the Foyer de la Patience des Enfants de Favorises orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Photos by Mark MurrmannChildren at the Foyer de la Patience des Enfants de Favorises orphanage in Port-au-Prince. Photos by Mark Murrmann

At the Foyer de la Patience des Enfants de Favorises orphanage in Port-au-Prince, the biggest problem caretaker Frantz Joseph has with foreigners coming in to take kids is that not enough of them are doing it. The two-room cement block building houses 50 kids, many of them the children of earthquake victims, ranging in age from infants to grade-schoolers. One of them, a boy named Walkeson, wearing a dirty jersey, shuffles over to us.

"He has cholera," Joseph says.

"Right now?" I ask.

"He's getting better." They took him to the hospital for treatment—but not before he infected six other kids. The others are still in the hospital.

"You cannot get food or donations without connections," Joseph says. He has just a few revolving staff members, who always leave because he can't pay them. The orphanage has been scraping by for four years. "I don't have money to buy shoes, to buy shirts for the kids," Joseph says. An NGO gives them food. At night, the staff drags mattresses out of a storage room onto the floor so the kids can sleep.

"Do any of the kids who come here end up living here a long time?"

He nods without hesitation. "Yes. We would like for Americans and foreigners to come adopt them, but you need connections..."

Literally across the street, at Foyer de Sion orphanage director Guesno Mardy, the benefits of connections are on full display. We drop by unannounced and without an appointment, and in here it's like a party, all Transformers curtains and stuffed animals and shiny tile floors. The two-story house holds 45 kids attended to by 20 staff members. Downstairs, a bunch of cribs and smiling babies. Upstairs, older kids sit around a table in front of a tutor, who erupt into song when they see Mark and me. Bonjour, salut, something about friendship. They're all wearing matching bright-green T-shirts with corporate logos on them, like a cycling team.

Toddlers sit for a class portrait at the Foyer de Sion orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

Foyer de Sion Orphanage director Guesno Mardy

"We get funding from Voila," a cell phone company, explains director Guesno Mardy. The orphanage is also funded by a board of directors founded by an American woman. The Americans solicit donations from their friends, and send checks and food of their own. Soon, the orphanage will move to a bigger house.

"We've had 600 kids adopted in 11 years," Mardy says. But now, it's slowing down. It's not from a lack of interest; the problem is logistics. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the French and US governments fast-tracked some adoptions they'd already had in progress, he says. But they're not doing that anymore, and now it's incredibly difficult to get the hefty paperwork processed on the Haitian end. "You can't even find the officials you need to talk to because the government buildings are destroyed."

So what are the country's orphanages going to do about finding new families for their wards?

"I'm hoping for some political stability so we will be able to provide services," says Mardy. "It is my prayer. But it's a long way to come."

Baby Doc Is Back

| Sun Jan. 16, 2011 7:31 PM PST

Editor's note: Mac and MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann are in Haiti all week. Read her previous posts here, and read her features on AWOL aid and the rapists terrorizing the tent camps. And check out more of Mark's photos here.

It sounded like a wild rumor when it circulated earlier today, but tonight, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier landed in Haiti after a quarter-century of exile. The word from Duvalier is that he's come to help his country. According to everyone on the street and on the radio, the Americans and the French conspired to bring him here to upset current president René Preval, who's been accused of fixing his country's recent elections.

The former dictator was greeted at the Port-au-Prince airport with cheering and celebratory chanting. Why were such huge crowds so happy to see the raping, murdering, plundering leader who was ousted in 1986 after a popular revolt? "He is our greatest president!" men around me yelled.

My 53-year-old translator, Sam, concurred. "Things have never been as good as when he was here," he said. "The only thing that was worse was we couldn't talk about politics because he was a dictator, but everything else is much worse now."

UN and local police guard the the Port Au Prince airport upon Baby Doc's return to Haiti.UN soldiers and local police guard the the Port-au-Prince airport upon Baby Doc's return to Haiti.

No one knows what Duvalier will say at his press conference scheduled for tomorrow, nor what effect his return will have on the impending run-off elections. But the news has inspired happy revelers in the streets who seem to think something exciting is about to happen. As Sam put it, "I don't know what's going to happen. But this will definitely reshuffle the deck."

Baby Doc waves to supporters upon his arrival in Port Au PrinceUPDATE: Monday morning, journalists waited outside Baby Doc's Port-au-Prince hotel for a rumored press conference, only to be told several hours later by the former Haitian ambassador to France that "the president has no time to talk to the press today." Despite reports that the exiled leader would be in town for only three days, the ambassador said there is no estimate for the length of his stay. The date and time of a press conference will be announced tomorrow.

Former Haitian ambassador to France, Henry Robert Sterling, talks to the media outside the hotel Jean-Claude Duvalier is staying in Port-Au-Prince. Duvalier's expected press conference has been post-poned.Former Haitian ambassador to France, Henry Robert Sterlin, talks to the media outside the hotel Jean-Claude Duvalier is staying in Port-Au-Prince. Duvalier's expected press conference has been post-poned.

"When White People Are Here, We Can Get Milk"

| Fri Jan. 14, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Editor's note: Mac and MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann are in Haiti all week. Read her previous posts here, and read her features on AWOL aid and the rapists terrorizing the tent camps. And check out more of Mark's photos here.

Laporte Peterson would love some aid. He's hungry and homeless, living in the Place de la Paix displacement camp in Port-au-Prince. But since he doesn't have any aid, for now he has porn.

Inside Peterson's tent, the 20-year-old shows me a narrow room with a few propped-up wood planks for benches, all oriented toward the platform at the front that holds the TV. Patrons pay 10 gourdes, or about 25 cents, to watch sex flicks under the USAID tarp on weekend nights. During the week and on days when school's out, they pay half as much for Haitian movies, or non-Haitian movies, like Schwarzenegger vehicles, or films about ninjas. Peterson's been in the theater business for eight months. His establishment gets pretty full, but it's small, and it's cheap, so he only makes about $2 a day.

Peterson's is one of three theaters in the camp. "It's nice that the cinemas create a distraction," says camp vice president Exalus Fritznel. "People have nothing to do. There's no jobs." Many of the 22,000 residents of this lawless and squalid soccer field borrow money to buy water or food or shampoo and try to resell it at a profit. "If residents don't make some [job] to do, their kids will be hungry, or die," Fritznel explains. Sometimes NGOs provide "cash-for-work" jobs, "but it only employs a few people, and for a few days."

There are currently 10,000 aid organizations in Haiti. Yet there is little coordination between them, they are not present in all the camps, and they do not deliver anything close to comprehensive food aid. In general, their goal is to only fill the displaced's most basic needs, like temporary housing, hygiene, and toilets. "We want to provide minimum services in camps," explains an International Organization for Migration spokesman, "and at the same time make sure services are provided in communities." The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund raised $53 million in the aftermath of last year's earthquake and has already committed $20 million. But all of its recent grant recipients work outside the camps.

While waiting for former president Bill Clinton to arrive and dedicate Port-au-Prince's reconstructed Iron Market, I spoke with Mark Summer, the cofounder of the San Francisco-based non-profit Inveneo, which has gotten Clinton-Bush money to help bring Internet to rural areas. Summer told me how thrilled the Haitians he helps are for the opportunity to communicate better or start online businesses. Though Inveneo usually works on a three-year timeline, it's fast-tracking its Haiti project, trying to get in and out in one year. Part of the reason is that Summer is aware of complaints about aid to Haiti.

And there are plenty of complaints. Critics posit that development aid creates crippling emotional and financial dependency among recipients; Slate ran a four-article series on this idea last week. Some of the complaints come from Haitians. Two days ago, while earthquake-anniversary commemorations were taking place all over the country, some groups protested against aid groups' "occupation" of the country. Entire grassroots organizations are dedicated to opposing the United Nations, which presides over the massive NGO force as well as an army of 10,000 soldiers stationed for "stabilization." In his official statement on the anniversary, President Obama said that Haiti "can and must lead the way, with a strong vision for its future. The international community must now fulfill the pledges it has made to ensure a strong and sustained long-term effort." But the international community isn't dropping off billions of dollars of aid and abdicating any say in how it's spent. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission is led by Clinton, whom Haitians widely and sometimes bitterly refer to as the president of the country. (When I asked someone outside the still-ruined National Palace when it was supposed to be rebuilt, he snapped, "Why don't you ask Bill Clinton?")

It's certainly true that Haiti's long history of foreign aid has not dragged it out of extreme poverty. But it's also true that many Haitians feel that their lives are improved by what help they get. And for now, the NGOs are the only game in town. Regularly mistaken for aid workers, both Mother Jones photo editor Mark Murrmann and I have been approached and asked if we can give people jobs. A displaced man hanging around the demolished National Cathedral approached me and said, "I'm happy you're here. When white people are here, we can get milk," and he pointed at the starvation-swelled naked toddler holding his hand.

"We have no government!" one of my Haitian friends often exclaims. He works for aid workers, but hopes that someday he will work for a functioning Haitian government. He hopes that maybe after the elections in February, the country will move closer to having one. Maybe, as the aid critics suggest, the government would just pull itself together if the international community pulled out. If it weren't so dependent on Western NGOs, perhaps it would have, say, quickly mobilized to figure out how to deal effectively with the cholera epidemic. "Or," my friend says, "you know. Maybe it wouldn't have."

"Today Is a Day To Remember"

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 2:20 PM PST

"Today is a day to remember," said a mid-fifties man outside the Ministry of Health in Port-au-Prince this morning. "Not a day for protest."

But not everyone agreed with him on how to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians. A group whose name roughly translates to Interceptive Resistance Against Forces That Expel gathered outside the government building to protest displaced people being thrown forcibly, and sometimes violently, out of their tent camps by police or landowners.

Photos by Mark Murrmann

After a prayer ceremony in the middle of the street, they took to marching and chanting slogans against MINUSTAH, the unpopular United Nations force supposed to keep the peace. They yelled that all they'd gotten from foreigners is cholera (repeating a common conspiracy theory) when what they really need is houses, that Haitians need to take their own country back. They spray painted the sidewalks and a Red Cross car with "Down With NGOs," covered a UN ambulance with graffiti, and threw rocks at a passing truck full of heavily armed MINUSTAH soldiers.

Though they were intense, these protesters numbered less than a hundred. As the man outside the ministry pointed out, most people spent the day remembering. Throughout town, groups, many religious, organized walks and tributes. Thousands packed a "celebration of life" of songs and prayers near the national palace. The marches and impromptu dance parties were upbeat, with a lot of singing and shouting and, in some cases, moonshine.

Even yesterday, at the ceremony held at the mass graves on the edge of the city, only one woman was prominently crying. (So many photographers crowded to take pictures of her that her friends eventually covered her face.) And today's protest at the ministry started off on a weirdly celebratory note. As the demonstrators amassed and prepared to start hollering for reform, a police brass marching band struck up a happy tune.

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Clinton, Ninjas, and Protests: Snapshots Of Haiti

| Wed Jan. 12, 2011 1:21 PM PST

Today's the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. Here are some scenes from my first few days back in the country reporting on its post-quake progress—and lack of it. (For more pix as they happen, follow me on Twitter.)

Photos by Mac McClelland

Big Bill Clinton fans at a Port-au-Prince demonstration today.

 

Protesters just spray painted the shit out of this Red Cross car.

 

Nobody knows how many thousands of bodies were dumped in these mass graves, but these dusty gravel lots are massive. They've set up crosses here so officials can hang wreaths on them.

 

And hello, former president Clinton!

 

There's a lot of people remembering the dead outside the busted cathedral. They're praying. The chant is, "I have no job. I can't pay the rent. I need some money."

 

There's a porn theater in this Port-au-Prince tent city. The 20-year old who runs it charges 25 cents per person to watch movies on a wooden bench in the tent.

 

Actually, they also sometimes show movies about ninjas.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding Haiti for the Rich

| Tue Jan. 11, 2011 4:00 AM PST

"My buddy who's in town with Fox wants to know why Haiti looks exactly the same as after the quake," my Haitian friend texted me the other day. My driver, Sam, has expressed a similar assessment about the lack of progress. But driving around Port-au-Prince today, there was all sorts of rebuilding under way.

Take, for example, Fort National, an area that's a little ways up a hill and is covered with destroyed structures: crumbling cement-block frames, exposed rebar. The government announced on TV the other day that they're launching a giant rebuilding project, lots of apartments you can move into and rent to own. The pictures of what it will all look like when it's done are very impressive. But they haven't started yet.

Okay. A better example is the First National City Bank, a giant ruined structure that used to take up a corner of a busy intersection but is now an almost entirely cleared lot. A Caterpillar bulldozer breaks up the remaining large pieces, with about half a dozen construction workers and 10 scrappers to every one of them. The workers destroy another chunk; the scrappers swarm quickly with saws and little sledgehammers to pull out sellable bits in a chaos of dust and sharp edges. Makelo, a 29-year-old with an armful of rebar, says he makes way more money—several hundred dollars a week—than he did before the quake, when he sold charcoal.

Our conversation halts when a fight breaks out among some scrappers, who are pushing and shoving over a newly smashed, potentially lucrative block of building, and the workers start pushing and shoving them away from the lot. "We shoo them away because this equipment is dangerous and sometimes people get hurt or killed," says Etienne, the 28-year-old site manager. "They shoo them away because they want to keep the good scraps to themselves," Sam says. There is fresh blood on the ground near my left foot.

Nearby, workers are filling in the concrete frame of a big building their boss says will be done later this month. Three apartments on top, several storefronts on the bottom. What stood here before has been completely demolished, and they've been working on this for a couple of months. It's supposed to be done at the end of the month, at a total cost of about $70,000. A little further up some winding roads beyond the heaviest bustle of the city, in Vivy Mitchell, there are crews everywhere, too. Fixing stone walls around recently fixed houses, building a house where a broken house was just torn down.

"People have started reconstructing themselves lately," Sam allows once when I keep commenting that many are definitely hard at work on rebuilding, though usually he responds, "There are many more to be rebuilt," or "This is only a few." "Everyone was waiting for the government to do something, and now it's been so long they know the government isn't going to help them, so they are doing it themselves," he says, although he adds, "Only people who have the money."

The prevalence of rich people's development versus the total lack of it for the poor is pointed out to me again later. In response to my description of what I saw, even a wealthy person at my hotel gives me the kind of look that one might level at a particularly disappointing child. "That's all private-sector rebuilding," he says. "That's to be expected." And you cannot, and would not ever, deny that the work needs to be bigger and harder and faster. There are still a million people in tent camps.

"Still, it looks better than it did in September," I say.

"Of course it's better!" Sam says. "There's hope. Every day, the more time that passes after the earthquake, the people have a little bit more hope."

In Search of Progress in Haiti

| Mon Jan. 10, 2011 4:00 AM PST

This week (or Wednesday, to be specific) is the one-year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake. As it turns out, there's less media in Port-au-Prince than everyone had been expecting. There were indeed CNN cameramen on our flight, and there's more press than on maybe any given Sunday, but it's not exactly a circus. Our popular hotel seems half-deserted. As in, my photographer (MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann) and I met with our new driver today, and he said many of the fixers are looking for work, calling each other, saying, Where are the reporters? Where's the work at? Does anyone know any reporters who need drivers?

And there's all sorts of events for us, like a soccer match played between two teams of amputees tomorrow, and the launching, finally, of some government housing projects, and junkets coordinated by what the long-embedded press agrees is a veritable army of PR consultants hired for the anniversary. 

So what am I doing in Haiti? We'll see, but possibly some follow-up on whatever happened to the aid dollars Americans pledged last year. (A lot of those dollars went to organizations spearheaded by Bill Clinton, who is also the cochair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. But he was appointed under outgoing President René Preval, and there's a new election soon, and Clinton isn't a Haitian, so Haitians could see to his forced uninvolvement if they see fit. "We could fuck him so good..." says a wealthy Haitian drinking at the hotel bar.) Possibly some check-in with the underresourced rape survivors mightily battling the stupendous prevalence of sexual violence, which has actually gotten worse since the quake, but has long been a staple of Haitian society. (We had not even left the airport when I ran into a shady guy who threatened me last time I was here. And had only just been delivered our dinner at the hotel restaurant when a patron sat down with us to explain to my photographer that if you lost your erection while trying to rape a woman, you'd have to resort to violating her with a bottle, or a piece of wood, or maybe even a penwhich he helpfully pulled out of his pocket for demonstrative purposesat which point Mark promptly slid his tumbler full of white rum under my face, which had surely gone tight with horror.) Probably we'll spend a little time with some construction crews picking up the pieces of the destruction that are still everywhere. And definitely we'll be on top of the results of the election commission, which is supposed to announce its investigation into fraud during November's race, which may result in widespread riots

Bottom line is, we'll be looking into some of the aspects of progress over the last year. Though as we found out today, the usage of that noun is, incidentally, completely hilarious in post-quake Haiti. As in:

Photographer [to Haitian-born driver who wants to know why we're here]: You know, we're looking at various kinds of progress since the earthquake

Driver: Progress! Ha ha ha ha ha ha...

Photographer and I: Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Sorry. Well, you know...

Yeah. 

A (Too) Small Victory for Gay Ugandans

| Fri Jan. 7, 2011 9:10 AM PST

Oh, man, I am so glad I didn't wake up this morning to find my face on the cover of a newspaper under a headline that I should be lynched.

Hopefully gay Ugandans will soon enjoy that same relief. Earlier this week, a court in Kampala ruled that the Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone (no relation to, you know, Rolling Stone) can no longer publish the photos, names, and addresses of "Top Homos" under the banner "HANG THEM" after three such alleged homos filed suit for pain and mental anguish. (The identity "leaks" also caused several physical attacks last year.) Rolling Stone's editor has promised to appeal the ruling. And regardless of whether it stands, gay Ugandans are still subject to serving up to 14 years in prison for trying to steal innocent straight children from schools, or whatever it is gay people do. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill that caused such a stir last year for proposing that homosexuality be punishable by death has been watered down (to life imprisonment) and tabled for the moment. But rumor has it that it'll be back on the parliament's agenda after elections in February.

So, one victory but still "a long way to go," as one Ugandan activist points out: "It is still impossible for LGBT people in Uganda to freely be who they are and develop meaningful lives. The fear for life continues."