Category Archives: Haiti

The First American Invasion of Haiti 1915-1934

One of the Historical Footnotes, I was reminded of by my Haitian co-workers and friends while working in Haiti after the earthquake -was that America had invaded Haiti, and occupied the country for nearly 20 years. Fortunately for me, I had, upon increasingly becoming involved in the work in Haiti, had read as much Haitian History as I could. Off course, not being to read Creole, I had little understanding of the Haitian side of things – although I would learn form personal experience the “caicos” (from Creole meaning “Birds of Prey”…or  “bad niggers” as the Americans would call them) still existed, in the modern form of the “Machete Gang” employed by former President Preval (as well as Aristide), and the regional role of politics in the country- North versus South, and the implications of what it really meant when a HAitian described a politicians base as “coming from the North”.

A part of the Haitian cultural psyche is to be extraordinarily defensive at anything which might even tangentially be construed as a slight. Without a cultural and historical context, such paranoia  seems to the unknowledged  a bit overboard. In the case of Haiti, the sense the world is out to get them, is not entirely counterfactual.
The US invaded Haiti in 1915, set up a puppet dictator, and murdered over 3,000 Haitians, often slaughtering prisoners and lynching suspects believed to be supporting Haitian resistance before departing in 1934. In 1920, the NAACP issued this report. The US would, in line with the deeply racist beliefs held by Americans at that time, create a “paper bag test” elite, favoring the mixed race, lighter skinned Haitians with product distribution an import agreements, as well a using the puppet government to favor them with business contracts, jobs, and licenses. While Haiti has thrown that pig off the bus, the impact of that can be seen today when you meet a group of the major business leaders, and middle/upper class of the country. Met Miss Haiti 2010 while they were doing a photo shoot of her at the Hotel I was staying at. Got a bit of a kickback that evening from a lady friend , when I joined she and her friends at her restaurant for dinner and drinks. Fact is, Haitians come in all shades, just like African-Americans. There is no color barrier anymore – but the social dynamic of folks from a particular social class living in the same neighborhood, and intermarrying – receiving the generational benefits of middle-class, means that most of the folks who are of the middle or upper class are still of mixed blood. Those whose skills, education, and pluck which have moved them into the upper classes in the last 20 years or so, tend to be representative of the population in general. I didn’t particularly care, face it – Miss Bertin is gorgeous, as were the next several women who won the title (You Dawgs among my readership can just look it up). The scars of American racism are still there.

This is an excellent discussion of that, in an interview of Haitian descended Dr Patrick Bellegarde-Smith.


The capture of Ft Revere – The first American invasion and occupation of Haiti.


A century ago we invaded and occupied a nation

“Bandit” is a very interesting term. It implies that we aren’t actually fighting a war against a legitimate military foe, but are instead just hunting a group of outlaws. Thus the rules of war don’t apply.
Bandit was the term used by America when it occupied Nicaragua from 1925 to 1933 and failed to quash the Sandino Revolt. But where did the American propaganda machine create that term from?

Short lived brutal Haitian Dictator Vilbrun Guillaume Sam m whose reign of terror lasted only 6 months in 1915

It turns out that we learned it from Haiti several years before.
I want to introduce you to yet another American military occupation that some would prefer you forgot.

On February 25, 1915, Vilbrun Guillaume Sam seized power in Haiti in a military coup. This ruthless thug had no power base. Thus, when he began getting too friendly with American commercial and military interests a revolt broke out. Afraid that he would end up like his predecessors, dictator Sam had all 167 political prisoners being held in a Port-au-Prince jail executed on July 27, 1915. The people of Haiti rose in revolt and  forced Sam to flee to the French embassy. The mob stormed the embassy and found him hiding in a toilet. They literally tore his body to pieces. Thus dictator Sam’s rule ended after just five months.

The chaos that followed threatened the interests of the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO), which got President Wilson’s attention. Also, the Haitian government was deeply behind on its debts to American banks.
Officially the reasons why America got involved was because a) we were afraid that Germany might use the chaos as an excuse to invade Haiti, and b) the American government was horrified at the violence committed against the Haitian dictator. Both reasons don’t pass the smell test. As for Germany, invading Haiti while engaged in a two-front war in Europe was far-fetched by any measure. And as for the violence against the dictator, remember that this was 1915 and most Americans at the time had very little problem with a black man being lynched.

The very next day a marine detachment of 2,000 was ordered to Haiti. One of these marines had already created a name for himself, Smedley Darlington Butler. It was in Haiti that he truly distinguished himself as a leader of men.

Port-au-Prince and most of southern Haiti allowed the huge neighbor to the north to occupy the country. But northern Haiti was home of the “cacos” (“or bad niggers as we would call them at home.” – Smedley Butler). In the local dialect cacos means “bird of prey”. They feared no army, despite being armed with just machetes, pikes, and 19th Century firearms. The didn’t grasp guerrilla warfare, despite that being their only viable option, and decided to attack the marines head-on. In other words, they were hopelessly out gunned and out trained.

It didn’t take long before the cacos had retreated to Fort Rivière, an old French fortress that was perfectly situated for  18th Century warfare.

Fort Rivière, renamed Fort Liberte is one of several major architectural ruins from the colonial period in Haiti


Butler, one private, and a sergeant named Ross L. lams together scrambled up the slope, bullets pecking into the ground around them, and reached the foot of the wall, to find that the only way in was a storm drain, through which the defenders kept up a steady fire. “I had never experienced a keener desire to be some place else,” Butler remembered. “My misery and an unconscious, helpless, pleading must have been written all over my face. lams took one look at me and then said, ‘Oh, hell, I’m going through.’ ”

Sergeant lams shouldered his way into the drain with Butler and the private right behind him. The startled defenders somehow missed all three, and before they could reload, the Marines were among them. Fifty-one were shot dead: twenty-nine inside the fortress, the rest as they jumped from the parapet and tried to flee into the jungle. Total Marine injuries: two teeth knocked out by a hurled rock. No prisoners were taken; no Haitian survived.

Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave

The first Cacos War was over and Smedley Butler received his 2nd Medal of Honor as well as being appointed commanding officer of the Haitian Gendarmerie.

Now that the first Cacos War was mercifully over, America decided to set up a representative government.

A few weeks later, the US State Department installs Senator Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave as the head of state. “When the National Assembly met, the Marines stood in the aisles with their bayonets until the man selected by the American Minister was made President,” Smedley Butler, a Marine who will administer Haiti’s local police force, later writes.The man selected was Philippe Sudre Dartiguenave and he would be president of Haiti for the next seven years. Soon after assuming office he was presented with a treaty written by the American government and told to sign it. The treaty legitimized the American occupation, as well as gave U.S. control of Customs (something that America had requested just a year earlier) and appointed an American financial adviser (who at one point withheld the pay of the Haitian legislators).

Jim Crow and Dollar Imperialism

For some silly reason the Haitian legislature held onto the quaint notion that they should work for the interests of the people of Haiti. So when America drafted a new constitution for Haiti in 1917 which excluded a “provision from the country’s previous constitution which had prohibited foreign ownership of land” the Haitian legislature rejected it and began crafting their own constitution which would reverse the terms of the 1915 treaty. They even began moving to impeach Haitian President Dartiguenave because he failed to oppose the U.S.-drafted constitution.

Dartiguenave asked Smedley Butler to use the marines to dissolve the Haitian legislature just before they prepared to vote on the new constitution.

Smedley claims that the measure is necessary in order “to end the spirit of anarchy which animates it [the Hatian legislature].” The U.S.-written constitution is submitted to a popular vote in June 1917 and it passes overwhelmingly. Of course only 5% of the population was eligible to vote.

“The Americans taught us how to build prisons. By the end of the 1915 occupation, the police in the city really knew how to hold human beings trapped in cages.”
– Edwidge Danticat

One consistent theme of the Haitian Occupation was the blatant racism of it all.

Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan infamously said of the Haitian elite “Dear me, think of it! Niggers speaking French.” State Department Counselor Robert Lansing believed that “[t]he experience of Liberia and Haiti show that the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization and lack genius for government. Unquestionably there is in them an inherent tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature.”‘ And Assistant Secretary of State William Philipps bemoaned “‘the failure of an inferior people to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French.”Of course the racism went beyond simply words. Jim Crow laws were imported from the American South to Haiti. Newly arrived U.S. personnel insisted on segregated hotels, restaurants and clubs. Curfews and press censorships followed.

The worst example of this was the re-institution of the corvee system.

Haiti in 1917 had only 3 miles of paved roads outside of main cities. In order to more effectively control the country, the American military needed roads. To build the roads they needed labor. Thus they went back to the days of French colonialism to force Haitians to perform unpaid labor building roads three days a month.

Anyone who knows anything about Haitian history knows the brutality involved in theHaitian Revolutions. One third of the population of Haiti died fighting both British and French troops in the longest, bloodiest slave revolt in history. In order to win their freedom from slavery, Haitians endured hardships and atrocities that Americans could not even imagine (the French “civilization” that William Philipps spoke of involved burying people alive as well as boiling them alive in pots of molasses). To reimpose the corvee system in Haiti shows an incredible insensitivity that could only exist in a racist mind… The reaction was predictable and inevitable.

The Second Cacos War

Charlemagne Masséna Péralte was born October 10, 1885, in Haiti. He was a military officer when the Americans invaded in 1915.
He was fiercely nationalistic, so instead of surrendering to the Americans he simply resigned his position and went home to care for his family. In October 1917, Charlemagne led 60 others in an failed attack on the house of the U.S. commander in Hinche, his hometown. He was captured and sentenced to five years of hard labor. After a couple months he escaped into the mountains with the help of his guard and started a revolt that surprised almost everyone.

During Charlemagne’s time in prison, the corvee system was so unpopular that even the American administration noticed and began to phase it out. Too late.

Initial fighting occurred in June 1918 when a gendarme force, sent out to enforce the edict, was severely beaten by a group of cacos. During the summer and fall of 1918, the cacos developed a military force of 3,000 men, with the active assistance of about one-fifth of the entire Haitian people. Led by the charismatic personality of Charlemagne Peralte, they organized a fairly sophisticated system of intelligence and security, forcing peasants to join up whether they wanted to or not.The cacos took the offensive to the gendarmerie, burning their barracks and, on occasion, administering severe defeats on the newly-formed outfit. The movement began to assume the proportions of a full-scale revolution, led by Charlemagne’s cry to “drive the invaders into the sea and free Haiti.” With the gendarmerie clearly on the defensive, the country tottered on the brink of disaster. In March, 1919, a belated call for another marine intervention was made by the government of Haiti.

Charlemagne’s cacos revolt was so successful against the native gendarmerie police forces that by spring 1919 Charlemagne and his “Chief Minister of Revolution”, Benoit Batraville, was in the process of setting up a new rebel government in northern Haiti where he had taken almost complete control. The new marines commander in Haiti, Col. John Russell, was given the task of defeating this new threat to American control. But they soon learned that this wasn’t the same cacos they had fought in 1915. This time the enemy had at least some grasp of the concept of guerrilla warfare even though they were using the same ancient weapons.

Using hit and run tactics, the Cacos managed to inflict at least minor damage and casualties on the marines while avoiding any major defeats. As the months drug on without a solution, Charlemagne grew more bold while the marines grew more frustrated.

 Almost everyone stationed in Haiti during the early part of the year seemed to have some knowledge of the fact that both marines and gendarmeries were killing prisoners. It is very difficult to get any witnesses to testify directly, as in the opinion of the undersigned, they were all equally culpable.
– Major T. C. Turner. 1919 investigation report

“There was unquestionably some things done by the gendarmeries and some of the marines which deserved punishment.”
– Secretary Daniels

There were at least 400 illegal execution of prisoners, but probably many more. Certain records related to the atrocities mysteriously vanished. An investigation by Secretary Daniels was actively undermined by the adjutant general of the Marine Corps with the approval of Major General George Barnett.
General Barnett had gone to the trouble of ordering the marine commander in Haiti to stop the “indiscriminate killing of natives.”

“If one chances to ‘pop off’ a caco, there is not even the trouble of explaining, for one’s companions will do that in their laconic report to headquarters.”
– journalist Harry Franck

Despite this wholesale killing of anyone suspected of being a caco sympathizer, the revolt failed to diminish. In fact, it flourished, as guerrilla campaigns are liable to do in the face of widespread atrocities. Peralte proclaimed a holy war against the “white infidels”. From April to October there was 131 separate attacks on the marines by the rebels.

On October 7, 1919, Charlemagne and Benoit launched their boldest attack of all – an assault with 300 men on Port-au-Prince itself. While the coordination with insurgents within the city was impressive, it failed on all accounts and the attack turned into a rout with at least 40 dead.
Nevertheless, the close-call forced the marines to face the idea that they were facing a full-scale revolution. Until this point information was covered up in the hopes of playing down the trouble. No longer. The order was put out to kill Peralte one way or another.

 “It was a pretty big order. It meant running down one Haitian out of several millions of Haitians in a country as big as the state of New York. And that one Haitian was surrounded by his friends, operating in a country which was almost entirely sympathedc to him, was protected by a fanatical body guard, never slept two nights in the same place, and must be run down in a tangled maze of mountains and valleys and jungles, of which there were no accurate maps.”
– Colonel F. M. Wise

The job of killing Charlemagne eventually fell on Sergeant H. H. Hanneken. Like Smedley Butler’s victory in the first Cacos War, this plan was bold to the point of reckless. Hanneken needed help, and so he turned to Jean-Baptiste Conze. Conze was a wealthy Haitian that hated Peralte even more than Americans. He was also promised $9,600 for his help.

Conze publicly denounced the Americans, and even led a fake attack on an American base with men in his employ. On October 30, Conze, having now infiltrated into the ranks of the rebels, gave the location of Peralte to Hanneken.

 With sixteen hand picked gendarmes, Hanneken and his second in command, Corporal William R. Button (USMC) , went through six caco outposts undetected. They were inspected by flashlight at each point, but incredibly enough, they were able to disguise their skin by the use of black cork coloring. They made it through each outpost undetected, white men “dressed” in caco skin.
When they arrived at the main rebel base, Conze silently pointed out Charlemagne hovering near the light of a small campfire. The American pumped two .45 caliber slugs into the betrayed leader, killing him instantly. The bodyguard was instantly felled by automatic rifle fire.

The following day Charlemagne’s body was photographed and copies were placed all over Haiti in order to convince the rebels of his death. But the Americans had made a mistake.

Perhaps the marines didn’t realize that photographing the body of their dead leader in a Christ-like crucification pose in a catholic country might have unintended consequences.


After a short period of time, the rebellion sprung to life anew. This time led by Benoit Batraville, a former police chief of Mirebalais. With the opening of 1920 the marines in Haiti took the counter-insurgency to the next level. For the first time since WWI ground forces worked in concert with seven seaplanes and six biplanes, all of whom were converted into bombers. The entire ground strategy was reconfigured into districts. Both methods were effective. The cacos were driven back time and time again. In nearly 200 engagements most of the cacos were either killed or captured. In early June Benoit was killed when his camp was overrun, thus effectively ending the war.

The official number of casualties from the second Cacos War was 13 marines and 27 gendarmeries killed in action, as well as over 3,000 rebels and suspected sympathizers.

The American Occupation of Haiti continued until 1934. It probably would have continued longer if not for a general strike in Novemeber 1929 that ended with the infamous Cayes Massacre of December 6.

An American Soldier stands amidst the bodies of Haitian “Rebels”.

The Cayes Massacre

Fifteen hundred angry peasants, armed with stones, machetes, and clubs, surrounded a detachment of twenty Marines armed with rifles and automatic weapons. The Marines had gone out to meet the peasants, who were advancing on the town intent on securing the release of prisoners arrested the day before and on airing various grievances against the Occupation, including complaints about alcohol, tobacco, and other taxes. Marine airplanes had dropped bombs in the Cayes harbor in an attempt to awe the local population into submissiveness, but this demonstration apparently had the undesired effect of creating terror and frenetic excitement. A district Marine officer unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the mob to retire, but then, according to an account given by two Marine participants, a Haitian leader instigated a scuffle:

The leader made a suspicious move and Gillaspey countered with a blow with the stock of his Browning gun, breaking the stock. The belligerent fell, tackling Gillaspey around the right leg and biting him. William T. Meyers, private, first class, bayoneted the man without seriously hurting him, but forcing him to release Gillaspey. The clash with the natives followed.

The State Department announced that the Haitians first threw stones and then rushed the Marines. In any case, the Marines opened fire at point-blank range and dispersed the mob.

Initial Marine reports and State Department press releases indicated that 5 Haitians were killed and 20 wounded, but Russell later informed the department that the final hospital list totaled 12 dead and 23 wounded, and that It is possible that other wounded were not brought in and other deaths occurred in the hills from contaminated wounds. Reports are current that this is the case, but verification cannot be secured. Casualty lists published in the Haitian press in Jan. 1930 totaled 24 dead and 51 wounded. In response to pointed questions from Under Secretary of State Joseph P. Cotton, who referred to the Marine detachment as a firing squad, Russell explained the curious fact that both the officer in charge of the detachment and his second-in-command had arrived in Haiti only two days before the massacre by saying that they were selected for this duty as they would operate on a military basis, having no bias or preconceived ideas of the Haitian situation. Russell reported that 600 rounds had been fired by rifles, automatic rifles, and one machine gun, but that most of the firing had been deliberately over the natives’ heads and that Had punitive effect been desired, it is reported that from 300 to 400, perhaps more, could easily have been killed. A State Department press release indicated that one Marine was hurt in hand-to-hand encounter with a mob leader. The Marines were later officially vindicated of any taint of brutality or indiscretion when the Navy Department awarded the Navy Cross to the Cayes detachment commander for commendable courage and forbearance. (…)


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Posted by on August 2, 2015 in Haiti


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Cholera still Claiming Lives in Haiti

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while know that I worked in Haiti for almost two years after the earthquake in 2010. The first morning of the Cholera outbreak in the country I was on my way with a small group of experts to Arbonite to meet with some NGO officials relative to raising funds to build a trauma care Hospital in Port au Prince to replace the dilapidated hospital which had been destroyed in the earthquake. We were also working on the development of a waste processing facility for Port au Prince – as the city of over 3 million has no sewer plant or processing facility, and the open canals which carried sewage to the ocean seemed prime conspirators in the possible eventual emergence of Typhoid and Cholera.

When our little caravan got to the camp we were met by the National Chief of Police, who ordered us to turn back, explaining there had been a Cholera outbreak. This was shocking because the reason François Duvalier, the former Dictator of Haiti was loved by some of the populace and called ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, was his work leading to the elimination of 6 diseases from the country, including Cholera. There hadn’t been a case of Cholera in the country to this point in over 50 years, and the government and population believed it eradicated. He walked two of us around to the side of the camp, where we could see the makeshift hospital set up by DWB. They were carrying bodies out the back in a steady stream. He claimed that nearly 2,000 people had died the previous night. Cholera can kill a healthy person in under 12 hours from being infected if untreated.

Cholera is fairly simple to treat, if you have the right materials. Within 24 hours, the NGOs were attempting to fly in “Cholera Kits” – which consist of bags of saline solution to keep the patient hydrated, and an intravenous antibiotic to kill the disease. The disease kills by dehydration. The procedure has about an 85-90% cure rate – if the patient reaches care in time. It was obvious the folks we were supposed to meet were too busy treating the sick for us to meet, so we took the long drive back to the city, to try and help facilitate the logistics of getting the kits into Haiti.

The locals immediately claimed that the source of the disease as a United Nations Military camp upstream from the refugee camp, followed by a series of denials by the UN. It indeed turned out that the source of the disease was the UN Camp, and latrines dug at the shore of the river which leaked into the river. Further, contrary to UN Policy, the soldiers from Nepal had not undergone medical testing for the possibility of carrying the disease.

Once the disease got a start, it fairly rapidly spread, By the end of 2011, when I left the country the medical people were still trying to figure out how it was spreading to seemingly distant and disconnected communities. The lack of sanitation, and pure water certainly has operated to spread the disease, as it can infect thousands when even a single person with the disease comes into a city.

Fresh water is a major problem. In many of the villages they drink from local streams, already polluted by people upstream

After the earthquake billions of dollars in aid were promised to Haiti. Most of that never materialized. The fault of that lies both in the Donor Organizations and Governments, as well as Haiti’s own politicians and Government.

Haiti’s Unstoppable Outbreak

The nation has been battling a cholera epidemic since 2010—and it’s still killing people. Why has no one been able to stop the spread of the disease?

In early February, when Jenniflore Abelard arrived at her parents’ house high in the hills of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, her father Johnson was home. (Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of patients and family members.) He was lying in the yard, under a tree, vomiting. When Jenniflore spoke to him, his responses, between retches, sounded strange: “nasal, like his voice was coming out of his nose.” He talked “like a zombie.” This is a powerful image to use in Haiti, where voodoo is practiced and where the supernatural doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it might elsewhere. Her father’s eyes were sunk back into his head. She was shocked, but she knew what this was, because she has lived through the past five years in Haiti. She has lived through the time of kolera.On October 18, 2010, Cuban medical brigades working in the areas around the town of Mirebalais (note: Mirebalais is located about 30 miles inland from PaP) in Haiti reported a worrying increase in patients with acute, watery diarrhea and vomiting. There had been 61 cases the previous week, and on October 18 alone there were 28 new admissions and two deaths.

 That was the beginning. Five years on, cholera has killed nearly 9,000 Haitians. More than 730,000 people have been infected. It is the worst outbreak of the disease, globally, in modern history. Hundreds of emergency and development workers have been working alongside the Haitian government for five years, trying to rid the country of cholera, and millions of dollars have been dispensed in the fight to eradicate it. But it’s still here. Why?

In 1884, the scientist Robert Koch sent a dispatch from Calcutta to the German Interior Ministry about the bacterium that he had been studying. It was “a little bent, like a comma,” he wrote. He was sure that this organism was causing the cholera that had been ravaging the world since 1817, when it laid waste to Bengal. Its onslaught there was shocking, even for a region that had had cholera—or something similar—for so long that there was a specific cholera goddess, Ola Beebee (translated as “our Lady of the Flux.”)

Ola Beebee was meant to protect against this mysterious affliction, which terrified people. Who would not be scared by seeing “the lips blue, the face haggard, the eyes hollow, the stomach sunk in, the limbs contracted and crumpled as if by fire?” Although 1817 is the official starting date of the first cholera pandemic, humans and cholera have almost certainly coexisted for far longer: That description of cholera’s distinct symptoms was inscribed on a temple in Gujarat, India, over 2,000 years ago.

The world is currently living through the seventh and longest cholera pandemic, which began in Indonesia in 1961 and, before Haiti, was most famous for an outbreak that devastated South America in 1991, killing 12,000 people in 21 countries.People with access to clean water and sanitation probably think of cholera as being as old-fashioned as smallpox, and long gone. Surely the problem now is Ebola? Away from headlines, though, the gram-negative, rod-shaped bacillusVibrio cholerae has been consistently murderous. It is currently present in 58 countries, infecting 3 to 5 million people a year and killing 100,000 to 120,000. This latest pandemic, wrote Edward T. Ryan of Harvard University, “as opposed to burning out after 5 to 20 years as all previous pandemics have done… seems to be picking up speed.”

 On February 11 this year, Johnson ate soup made from yams and bananas bought at the local market. By late afternoon, he was vomiting. With his soup he had swallowed Vibrio cholerae, which usually reach humans through contaminated food or water. Inside his body, the toxin secreted by the cholera bacteria bound to the cells in the wall of his small intestine, causing channels in the cells to stay open. Johnson’s disrupted cells flooded his gut with chloride ions. Sodium ions and water followed, causing his body to expel fluid and electrolytes and passing on more Vibrio bacteria to infect new hosts. A cholera victim can lose several liters of fluid within hours. Cholera can invade the body of a healthy person at daybreak and kill them by sundown.

Johnson is now safe and healthy in Jenniflore’s house, an hour away from his. He survived because he was taken to a nearby cholera-treatment center (CTC) run by Doctors Without Borders (DBW) and because cholera, despite its power, is easy to treat. Eighty percent of cholera cases are cured by the administration of a simple oral rehydration solution…(…more…)

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Posted by on July 12, 2015 in Haiti


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Another Slow Motion Disaster for Haiti?

This one is scientifically weird. Unlike most of the Islands in the Caribbean, the Island of Hispaniola was formed by the Tectonic Plats pushing it up from the bottom of the ocean. As such, the Island is principally made up of Basalt and Granite. That is very very good from an agricultural standpoint, as the soil is very rich. As the collapse of thousands of buildings in Haiti during the earthquake demonstrates – that is not so good in terms of making concrete as it winds up weak and falls apart easily. The Northern and Southern “arms” of Haiti are mountain ridges. The center of their part of the Island is a valley, not much above sea level. The city of Port au Prince sits in this valley where it meets the sea and forms a deep water port. At one time this valley was some of the richest agricultural land in the world, and it still produces an excess of fruits and vegetables for the country’s people. At the western edge of this valley, on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, are two conjoined lakes, with, in days past – good fisheries. The lakes are filled with brackish water, and were formed by being cut off from the ocean millions of years ago when the Island rose from the bottom of the sea. To my knowledge, these lakes are no longer connected to the sea, and historically have been maintained by the plentiful tropical rains.

If these lakes are indeed rising, or the Island is sinking – then the City of Port au Prince could conceivably wind up underwater.


Fishermen in Lake Enriquillo among a sea of dead trees where farmers formerly reaped bountiful harvests.


Rising Tide Is a Mystery That Sinks Island Hopes

LAGO ENRIQUILLO, Dominican Republic — Steadily, mysteriously, like in an especially slow science fiction movie, the largest lake in the Caribbean has been rising and rising, devouring tens of thousands of acres of farmland, ranches and whatever else stands in its way.

Lago Enriquillo swallowed Juan Malmolejos’s banana grove. It swamped Teodoro Peña’s yucas and mango trees. In the low-lying city of Boca de Cachon, the lake so threatens to subsume the entire town that the government has sent the army to rebuild it from scratch on a dusty plain several miles away.

Harvesting the Banana crop, a common site in Haiti and the DR

Jose Joaquin Diaz believes that the lake took the life of his brother, Victor. Victor committed suicide, he said, shortly after returning from a life abroad to see the family cattle farm, the one begun by his grandfather, underwater.

“He could not believe it was all gone, and the sadness was too much,” Mr. Diaz said, as a couple of men rowed a fishing boat over what had been a pasture.

Theories abound, but a conclusive answer remains elusive as to why the lake — as well as its nearby sibling in Haiti, Lac Azuei, which now spills over the border between the two on the island of Hispaniola — has risen so much. Researchers say the surge may have few if any precedents worldwide.

“There are no records, to the best of our knowledge, of such sudden growth of lakes of similar size,” said Jorge E. Gonzalez, a City College of New York engineering professor who is helping to lead a consortium of scientists from the United States and the Dominican Republic studying the phenomenon.

Other lakes have grown, from melting glaciers and other factors, Mr. Gonzalez said, but “the growth rates of these two lakes in Hispaniola has no precedent.”

The lakes, salty vestiges of an ancient oceanic channel known for their crocodiles and iguanas, have always had high and low periods, but researchers believe they have never before gotten this large. The waters began rising a decade ago, and now Enriquillo has nearly doubled in size to about 135 square miles, Mr. Gonzalez said, roughly the size of Atlanta, though relatively light rains in the past year have slowed its expansion. Azuei has grown nearly 40 percent in that time, to about 52 square miles, according to the consortium.

The scientists, partly financed by the National Science Foundation, are focusing on changing climate patterns as the main culprit, with a noted rise in rainfall in the area attributed to warming in the Caribbean Sea.

In reports, they have noted a series of particularly heavy storms in 2007 and 2008 that swamped the lakes and the watersheds that feed them, though other possible contributing factors are also being studied, including whether new underground springs have emerged.

“People talk about climate change adaptation, well, this is what’s coming, if it’s coming,” said Yolanda Leon, a Dominican scientist working on the lake research.

A Satellite Topographic view of  Lake Azuei (bottommost), Largo Enriquillo, and the location of Port au Prince. The arrow points to the major fault line which caused the recent earthquake.

The rise has taken a toll, particularly around Enriquillo, an area more populated than that around Azuei.

The government estimates that 40,000 acres of agricultural land have been lost, affecting several thousand families who have lost all or part of their only livelihood of yuca, banana and cattle farming. The town of Boca de Cachon at the lake’s edge is in particular peril, with some houses already lost, and the government is bulldozing acres of land for new farms.

A main highway to the Haitian border was flooded and had to be diverted, while another road around the perimeter of the lake now ends abruptly in the water.

Local residents are skeptical that the government will follow through, and they question whether the soil will be as good as the parcels near the lake that drew generations of farmers in the first place.

Some of the Island’s rich produce at a Veggie stand in Haiti

Olgo Fernandez, the director of the country’s hydraulic resources institute, waved off the criticism and said the government had carefully planned the new community and plots to ensure the area remains an agriculture hotbed. It will be completed this year, officials said, though on a recent afternoon there was much work left to be done.

“These will be lands that will produce as well as, if not better than, the lands they previously had,” Mr. Fernandez said.

Row upon row of cookie-cutter, three-bedroom, cinder-block houses — 537 in all — are being built in the new town, which will include a baseball field, church, schools, community center, parks, even a helicopter landing pad (“for visiting dignitaries,” an official explained). Environmental controls will make it “the greenest town in the Dominican Republic,” said Maj. Gen. Rafael Emilio de Luna, who is overseeing the work.

For now, though, at the ever-creeping edge of the lake, the ghostly trunks of dead palm trees mark submerged farms.

Junior Moral Medina, 27, who lives in Boca, plans to move to the new community. He looked out on a recent day on an area where his 10-acre farm had been, now a pool of lake water studded with dead palms.

“We have been worried the whole town would disappear,” said Mr. Medina, who now works on the construction site for the new town. “Some people at first did not want to leave this area, but the water kept rising and made everybody scared.”

Residents in other communities are growing impatient and worry they will not be compensated for their losses.

Enrique Diaz Mendez has run a small grocery stand in Jaragua since losing half of his six acres of yuca and plantain crops to Enriquillo. “We are down to almost nothing,” he said.

Jose Joaquin Diaz and his brother, Victor, grew up tending to the sheep, goats and cows of the family farm, but both left the Dominican Republic for the United States for better opportunity. Jose returned first, and three years ago Victor arrived, looking forward to the slower pace of life after working an array of jobs over 18 years in Brooklyn.

“We told him about the lake, but he was shocked when he saw it,” Jose recalled, tears welling with the memory.

Later that night, Victor called his mother to express his dismay. The next morning he was found hanging in a relative’s apartment in Santo Domingo where he was staying. “It is strange to see people fishing where we had the cows,” Mr. Diaz said. “Victor could not bear it.”


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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in Haiti


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Modern Slavery – Haiti

Slavery exists in Haiti. Worse – not infrequently the children enslaved under restavèk are sold into the child sex trade in the Dominican Republic on the other side of the island.

The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Reports indicate that large numbers of Dominican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States. A recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund revealed that tens of thousands of Dominican women are presently victims of trafficking worldwide. Additionally, the commercial sexual exploitation of local children by foreign tourists is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas of the Dominican Republic, with these child sex tourists arriving year-round from the United States, Canada, and European countries.

Haiti’s child slaves land country high on new global slavery index

But many of the 29 million modern day slaves might challenge your concept of who is a slave. It might be an indebted laborer, a victim of human trafficking, or, in the case of Haiti, the child working in the kitchen.

Walk Free Foundation used an expanded definition of slavery to produce what it says is a first-of-its-kind look at the practice in the modern world.

“It would be comforting to think that slavery is a relic of history, but it remains a scar on humanity on every continent,” says Nick Grono, CEO the Australia-based foundation that produced the Global Slavery Index 2013, the first of a planned annual publication.

Nearly half of the world’s slaves lives in India. But the index ranked 162 countries according to the percentage of enslaved people in the general population. Western Africa’s Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the three highest rates of slavery, respectively, according to the index.

While Mauritania’s 140,000 to 160,000 enslaved people fit more closely with the historical perception of who is a slave, Haiti provides a different face to the practice.

Haiti’s 200,000 to 220,000 enslaved people are mostly children who live with families not their own, working as household servants in the Caribbean country’s complex and long-standing restavèk system.

Under restavèk (a Haitian creole word derived from French meaning “one who stays with”), poor, often

rural, families send their children to live with a family of better means, usually in urban areas. The children are sent with the understanding that the family will clothe, feed, quarter and educate them in exchange for their work.

But inside the homes, “many of these children suffer the cruelest form of neglect – denied food, water, a bed to sleep in, and constant physical and emotional abuse,” the report says.

The group estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 children are in a similar circumstance, according to information it gathered on the ground. It is unclear why they counted some, but not all, restavèk children as slaves.

In compiling the index, researchers defined slavery as “the possession and control of a person … with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer, or disposal.”

Some have argued against defining slavery so broadly, based in part on its historic significance.

In The Haitian Times last year, columnist Max Joseph wrote, “For Haitians, or any member of the African Diaspora for that matter, the word ‘slavery’ is distinctively associated with the transatlantic slave trade in which millions of Africans were forcibly uprooted from their villages and sold like domesticated animals in faraway lands.

“The notion of associating the restavèk phenomenon with slavery is a naked attempt at trivializing one of the most grotesque episodes in human history,” Joseph wrote.

In its report, the foundation says it’s important to focus on “hidden” enslaved people, such asrestavèk children.

“Since hidden slaves can’t be counted it is easy to pretend they don’t exist. The Index aims to change that,” Kevin Bales, the lead researcher on the index, said in a statement.

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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Haiti


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More Questions About Wyclef’s Yele Haiti Charity

Met Wyclef a few months ago, and was quite impressed with his planning knowledge around his charity. This was a stand around over some coffee informal chat – so to be honest it certainly wasn’t some sort of in-depth talk like an investigative reporter might do. He’s a bit on the shy side, and I was rather shocked when he walked up to me and introduced himself. I had seen him in the airport lounge a half dozen times, but he was always surrounded by security. I don’t approach celebrities when I see them, because I feel that is a violation of their privacy.

I see all the stuff Yele is doing in Haiti with local people while travelling from place to place. One of their ongoing campaigns is to keep the drains along the streets clear so that runoff doesn’t pool and form potential locations for cholera to fester. They also hire crews of locals to sweep the streets, collecting some of the millions of bottles and water containers which seem to cover Port au Prince. Their bright yellow shirts are likely to appear anywhere, but I don’t know enough about all they are working on to say whether there is any overall strategy to it – or what other things they may be working on.

I suspect that when they are down to picking on Wyclef’s charity, there is a bit of cover up on how badly some of the International and US Governmental AID organizations have effed up. Almost everywhere you turn, little of the money promised has come through. Even money supposedly committed winds up being diverted, sometimes for nefarious reasons. Worse, there continues to be a massive level of confusion as to how to prioritize projects – despite the needs being pretty straightforward. Lastly, there is apparent collusion between some of those very same “Aid” and “US Governmental” organizations and the criminal drug cartels. If the Cartels are big enough to buy whole governments – they certainly can buy their own AID agency to promote and assist with moving their merchandise.

There was supposed to be $12 billion in International and US AID money… How that never got spent could well make the boys at Enron blush with envy. They are picking on Wyclef’s $16 million… But what about the $3.2 billion donated to the Clinton/Bush fund? As far as I know, none of the Clinton/Bush money has been “disappeared”, but there certainly are other fruitful areas to audit.

Wyclef Jean Defends Yele Charity, Again

The Washington Post is reporting that musician and activist Wyclef Jean is responding to a recent report by the New York Post questioning the spending of Jean’s charitable organization, the Yele Haiti Foundation, again. The New York Post reported that the foundation collected $16 million in 2010, but less than a third of that went to emergency efforts. The Post also says that $1 million was paid to a Florida firm that doesn’t appear to exist.

Jean says that he is proud of what the foundation has accomplished after the earthquake almost two years ago. He says his Yele Haiti Foundation rebuilt an orphanage and set up a system of outdoor toilet and shower facilities in one of the largest shanties in the Haitian capital.

The star told the Miami Herald:

“The Post [New York Post] conveniently fails to acknowledge that the decisions that Yele made were a response to one of the world’s most catastrophic natural disasters in modern history and required an immediate humanitarian response,” Jean said in a written statement. “We made decisions that enabled us to provide emergency assistance in the midst of chaos and we stand by those decisions.”

We find it interesting that media outlets are so focused on following Jean’s paper trail while ignoring others. What about countries that pledged to send aid to Haiti and still have yet to do so — including the United States, because of congressional shenanigans? The lesson here should be that people should actually donate money to organizations that are in the business of rebuilding after disaster relief, not just famous faces that are known for being musical geniuses. The two don’t translate, much like the numbers.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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Posted by on November 29, 2011 in Haiti


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Medika Mamba – Saving Haiti’s Children From Starvation and Malnourishment

A Haitian child is given Nutributter, a supplementary food rich in nutrients.Working in Haiti is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever done… And rewarding. 19 Months and 19 trips to the country after the earthquake which devastated the country, a hell of a lot hasn’t changed – or is worse. A hell of a lot has changed for the better as well  – much due to the perspicacity of the Haitian people, the hard work of independent charities and churches from other countries, the blood sweat and tears of the relief agencies…

Which I guess defines the “bipolar frustration” felt by many Haitians and AID workers.

The failures in the country include 19 months later, little to no progress has been made in fixing any of the very basic infrastructure systems in the country.  It hits you in the face as soon as you land in the country – the airport is in shambles. The main terminal which suffered severe damage during the earthquake is exactly in the same condition as it was 15 months ago, the Air Traffic Control Tower which collapsed during the earthquake has been replaced by a “temporary tower” – a Winnebago parked in the middle of the airfield…

That is the only way in and out of the country for emergency relief supplies such as medicines and food.

There was supposed to be a major project to correct the basic problems with the airport – it hasn’t happened.

Cholera made it’s reappearance last year killing over 6,500 people. It’s back again this year, spreading into Port au Prince. The country does not have a sewer treatment system, so raw sewage is pumped into the ocean, or in some recently documented cases just dumped right on the ground. Don’t even think about the sanitary conditions in the tent cities where roughly 600,000 Haitians still live, or the rivers where raw sewage is dumped to flow out to the ocean, but which get clogged with millions of plastic bottles causing overflow into entire neighborhoods, despite the frantic efforts of local authorities to clear the debris.

There was supposed to be a new sewer treatment plant – it hasn’t happened.

And that is just the “short list”.

One of the victims of the situation appears to be trash collection. Someone donated dumpsters to collect local trash – but the company which emptied them stopped emptying them (I assume because they ran out of money). So residents now burn the trash in the dumpsters sitting along the streets adding to the already serious air pollution issues (One of the principal killers in Haiti is Tuberculosis, and the average lifespan is only 59).

These issues have to do with the billions of dollars in aid promised by various governmental and international financial agencies – which never got spent to fix the very basic problems in the country. Now – if anyone ever got around to writing a book about why that happened, and continues to happen, parts of it would come out like those international thrillers by a Coyle or Ludnum. The rest like a slow motion disaster movie. The fact of the matter is, both the domestic government under Preval, and the international agencies share the blame. Most people believe corruption is only on the part of the historically corrupt Haitian Government. That’s not entirely true – although the Preval administration was undeniably corrupt to the core – there has been plenty of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and foot dragging at the international agencies, including by our own US governmental agencies as well. The result has been little progress.

If our conservative friends really gave a damn about government incompetence, malfeasance, corruption, waste, and inability to work together toward a common goal… This would be Herman Cain’s new “bookend” speech. But they don’t – so I expect little to change for the better, regardless of who takes office in 2013. Besides – it’s a black country, and we know damn well where those rank on the hierarchy of conservative concerns.

So I guess, it is uplifting when you hear about something that is working. Here is one, very important case of a treatment that I believe, was initially developed in Africa (Although George Washington Carver could have told them about this 100 years ago), having success in Haiti, and creating an industry.

Thanks for making my day, Meds and Food for Kids!

‘Peanut butter medicine’ giving hope to Haiti’s hungry

 With his ribs showing and his skin practically hanging off him, Pierre Wisny is painfully thin.

The 11-month-old Haitian weighs just 11 pounds, and it’s no surprise that he is severely malnourished.

The same applies for 3-year-old Alcincord Guerviscon, although it’s clear — even without measurements — to see that his growth has been stunted by the same condition. He weighs only 15 pounds.

In most of these cases, the children got this way because of poverty and a lack of access to good food. If they’re not given emergency treatment, they could die or suffer more effects of malnutrition, including reduced brain development.

For staff members at one clinic in northern Haiti, intervention comes in bright green packets: Medika Mamba, which means “peanut butter medicine” in Creole. It’s a ready-to-eat paste packed with nutritious ingredients that — over a period of weeks — gives a jolt to the system and puts children back on track. Made by a U.S.-based nonprofit called Meds and Food for Kids, it’s one of several brands of ready-to-use therapeutic foods.

“You can’t rehabilitate a child who has severe malnutrition with a plate of beans and rice. There’s just no way,” said Thomas Stehl, the nonprofit’s director of operations. “Their stomachs are too small and their nutritional requirements are too great to ever be satisfied in that way. So the quality and the density of food is really important. And that is why ready-to-use therapeutic food and Medika Mamba is such a great answer.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Haiti


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Haiti (Finally) Gets a New Prime Minister

The most powerful man in Haiti is not the President – it is the Prime Minister. Under the Haitian Constitution, the Prime Minister holds absolute control of the purse strings, appointment of members of the Cabinet, and control over lower level Government appointments.

In a battle reminiscent of Republicans holding up Democrat appointments in the US – the Haiti Senate has roadblocked President Martelly’s appointments to the Prime Minister position since President Martlelly took office in May. Two candidates have been outright rejected.

What this has meant for the country is that reconstruction of the major infrastructure has been at a complete standstill. There has been virtually no work done on any of the critical systems in the country, other than that done by the sheer guts and perspicacity of the local citizenry. Announcements of various projects, or international investments and aid have been largely symbolic, as since the resignation of the previous Prime Minister there has be no one in the Haitian Government with the authority to sign a contract on behalf of the Government of Haiti.

So the appointment and ratification by the Haitian Congress of Dr. Cornille is being greeted warmly by the international and local Haitian communities. Hopefully – nearly 2 years after the devastating earthquake.

Bill Clinton aide confirmed as Haitian prime minister

Haiti’s Senate confirmed the nomination of Garry Conille, an advisor to former US president Bill Clinton, to be the country’s prime minister.

Conille, a 45-year-old physician by training, was the third candidate put forward by President Michel Martelly for the post in a bid to end a three-month long impasse over the makeup of his fledgling government.

Seventeen senators voted in favor of Conille’s candidacy, three voted against it and nine abstained during the hours-long session.

Conille’s selection was approved by the lower house of parliament last month.

Senate president Rodolphe Joazile announced that the candidacy had been ratified, but Senator Joseph Lambert of the opposition UNITE party said the body had not given Conille a “blank check” and that he should also seek a vote of confidence from the two chambers of parliament.

The prime minister in Haiti is appointed by the president and mainly serves as cabinet chief.

Conille has been serving as chief of staff to Clinton who, as the UN special envoy for Haiti, is a key player in deciding how the impoverished country will spend millions of dollars in international reconstruction aid.

Conille was educated in Haiti and received graduate training in health administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Fulbright scholar.

He has also worked as the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) resident representative for Niger.

Martelly, a popular former singer elected by a wide margin, was sworn in as president of Haiti on May 14 but has not yet put his government in place amid resistance from the opposition-dominated parliament.

Martelly vowed to “change Haiti” upon taking office, promising to restore order and confidence in a country struggling to emerge from one of the most destructive earthquakes of modern times.

Much of the capital was leveled in a 7.0-magnitude quake in January 2010 that killed more than 225,000 people and left one in seven homeless in a nation that was already the poorest in the Americas.

The pace of reconstruction has been painfully slow for hundreds of thousands of traumatized survivors who lost everything and are forced to live in squalid tent cities around the still-ruined capital.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos called for continued humanitarian assistance to Haiti on Thursday, stressing that it was still a country in crisis.

Visiting the country during a two-day evaluation mission, Amos said the 600,000 people still living in camps have urgent needs for basic food, water, sanitation and housing services.

The humanitarian situation has been further aggravated by a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 5,000 people, food insecurity for 4.5 million and an active hurricane season that has already destroyed homes and crops.

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Haiti


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