The Independent Newsweekly
|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|March 22, 2004||
Vol. 1, No. 220
Haiti returning to 'normal'
Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer
It shocks one to receive correspondence from a person who says life is returning to normal and then says normal means, "We have not seen dead bodies on the streets since Monday."
E-mail from Dohner on Sunday night begins, "Well, it has been three weeks on Sunday since [former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide left the country and about two weeks since violence stopped being a 'normal' part of our everyday existence here."
Dohner works with a medical project of Little Brothers and Sisters of the Incarnation. As part of mobile medical clinic, she visits Port-au-Prince slums daily.
Dohner writes that the presence of 2,700 international troops have calmed Port-au-Prince. "We have not seen dead bodies on the streets since Monday," she says. "However, there was a shooting a few blocks from us yesterday and a young man was killed. We are not seeing as many victims of violence in our clinics."
Estimates vary, but it seems that between more than 100 and more than 200 people have died in the violence leading up to and following Aristide's departure. Still, Dohner reports that tensions have lessened considerably. In the presence of international troops, she said, the police and "zimo" (police SWAT team members) are more willing to cooperate and maintain peace. Aristide supporters are less prominent and the chemer (street thugs hired by the government to support Aristide) have all but disappeared. Road blocks - used to extort money from drivers - have gone and the number of kidnappings are down, Dohner writes.
But violence remains a part of Haitian life. This weekend, five men between the ages of 17 and 23 were found shot to death in the LaSaline slum Sunday morning. The bodies, their hands bound with wire and black garbage bags over their blood soaked heads, were taken by residents to a local morgue. Local community leaders say the men were executed by Haitian police. The police deny the accusation.
U.S. Marines have killed six Haitian civilians and one Marine has been injured in the past 10 days. Meanwhile, a French soldier was killed Saturday, a victim of an accidental shooting.
Now is an "in-between time," Dohner writes. Political structures are being reanimated (new president, new prime minister, new parliament), but the future is indeterminate.
"For me, a most interesting aspect of this 'in-between time' is the international help that is slowly coming into the country," Dohner says. "Within a few days of Aristide's departure, we received a call from the World Health Organization through UNICEF that drugs and supplies for disasters were available and we received two shipments." The projects Dohner works for have received medical and food aid from other international sources as well.
"It is only with such international help and support of the Haitian people's developing plans for safe and free elections that Haiti may begin to turn itself around," Dohner concludes.
Some in Carribean region want Haiti to receive more than military and material aid. A group of nongovernmental organizations are hoping to supply Haiti with intellectual aid.
In The Barbados Advocate today, the Barbados Association of Non-Governmental Organizations writes:
We have been led to believe that we should fight unrest with military or police force. … However, the kind of force that Haiti needs is not even a peacekeeping force, but a team of resource persons made up of senior administrators and experienced civil society leaders who should be put at the disposal of the Haitian government for about 10 years."
Competing camps can argue whether Aristide fled Haiti or was ousted. They can argue that Aristide could have lived up to expectations if he had received crucial international support or that he succumbed to the temptations of power.
So as military muscle enforces a calm in Haiti's streets, we say the country is returning to normal. But the questions that begs for an answer is: What is normal?
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates the NCR Web site. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
© 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: 1-816-968-2280