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 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

 


 
 
 


 

Dennis Coday 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."

Evil Shouts, Goodness Whispers

There is an old Hindu saying, "Evil shouts, goodness whispers." During the days just before Aristide resigned, evil was present everywhere one looked. The rebels were cutting Port-au-Prince off from the rest of the country. Food, diesel, and water were in limited supply. The hospitals were unable to take admissions and bodies were lying in the streets.

The chemer were intimidating and looting. Cars were being stopped by both police and chemer who demanded money to let them pass. Members of the families of business people and the bourgeoise were being kidnapped. The family of one businessman paid $700,000 ransom.

Several days before Aristide's departure, our medical team went into the center of the chaos to work at the hospice of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Soon after starting work, we received a phone call from a Haitian member of our medical team living in Wharf Jeremy, an extremely poor area on the edge of the city slum of Cite Soley. We realized that "evil was shouting" as he told us there had been a massacre of 18 people -- men, women, and children. Apparently, they had paid some men to take them out of Haiti by boat. The thugs took their money, got them on a boat, and shot all of them. The bodies were washing up on shore. He asked us to come, but we had no idea what we would do when we arrived there.

We went immediately to comfort those in need and to confront the evil that initiated this desperate need for our presence. We went to pray and to be with the people. When we arrived, the crowd walked us silently through a huge garbage dump to the edge of the sea where two bodies were lying partially in and partially out of the water.

We found two young men, strong and muscular in life, now silent and sleep-like in death. We prayed and the people joined us in our prayer. Men, women and children silent, without outward emotion, stood with us in grief over the country, the violence, the poverty, these unnecessary and untimely deaths.

As we left the area, we came to another body -- this time an older man who had been shot in the head. I was deeply saddened by the lack of grief or even shock on the faces of the young children standing in a circle with the adults around the lifeless form. Six, seven and eight year olds staring, knowing at too early an age the hard reality that should not be part of their growing up.

Afterward, as we were walking toward our medical truck, one of the Haitian men fell into step beside us;. He thanked us for coming and said, "Evil cannot overcome when goodness is present."

But that is the message from Humility of Mary Sr. Judy Dohner, an American nurse in Port-au-Prince.

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."

Haitians do not need military assistance, they need developmental assistance. One can argue that the level of frustration and helplessness that the Haitian masses experience keep them in a permanent state of volatility. The Haitian people are not terrorists; they are fighting for survival. Therefore bouts of violence represent the symptoms and not the disease itself. What is the disease? It is the failure of government to address the developmental needs of Haiti.

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.

Other Today's Takes by Dennis Coday
Feb. 19 Haiti spiraling into chaos
Feb. 18 An old story
Feb. 16 Sudan's conundrum
What cannot be argued is what is at the heart of the plea from the Barbados coalition: The international community, once again, is responding to the symptoms of Haiti's problems and, once again, it is the most vulnerable poor who suffer the most. And once again, we have no real plan to eradicate Haiti's disease.

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 dcoday@natcath.org.

 
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