Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission

14 April 2018

Haiti's new president embarks on cross-country mission 

FDI Magazine

(Read the original article here)

Jovenel Moïse, the president of Haiti, tells Michael Deibert how he is looking to effectively govern the whole country, through policies such as improving healthcare in all regions and building roads to prevent the more rural areas becoming isolated.  

Jovenel Moïse became president of Haiti in February 2017, just after Hurricane Matthew hit the country’s southern peninsula. An agribusinessman from the north who is often referred to as 'Nèg Bannan' (the Banana Man) because of his previous life as a banana entrepreneur, Mr Moïse won more than half of the vote in a crowded field. Since entering office, he has repeatedly criss-crossed the country, initiating road-building programmes in the provinces and measures such as remobilising Haiti’s army (demobilised in 1995 but never officially disbanded). 

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background before you became president.  

A: The fact that I have lived both in a rural zone in the north – I was born in a small town, Trou-du-Nord – and in [the capital] Port-au-Prince helped me better understand the socioeconomic dimensions of the country. Haiti, like many countries in the world, has a kind of cleavage. You have urban zones, rural zones, people in the town and people in the country. As an agricultural entrepreneur, I was able to see the entire country and it helped me understand the challenges of governing here. My experience in the private sector – I was the president of the chamber of commerce in the north-west and the secretary general for the national chamber of commerce – helped me understand the economic problems of Haiti. 

Q: You’ve been president for more than a year. How do you gauge your performance thus far?   

A: I would say that during this first year I’ve developed a better understanding of the challenges of governing. We have taken a lot of decisions and done a lot of work all over the country. We’ve addressed healthcare, for example – now you have a dialysis centre in the north and one in the south, we’re putting another one here in the west where we only have one. And with infrastructure, we have teams working in every department [and region building roads].  We call our strategy 'the caravan of change'. I said that we were going to have a new army, a professional army, an army in service of development, with engineers and technicians to work on natural disasters, and now we’re building one. With this new approach, we want to move Haiti beyond being the republic of non-governmental organisations [NGOs]. We welcome NGOs but they cannot replace the state, which is what has been happening in Haiti. We are working to resolve that problem 

Q: Can you speak a little about the opportunities for foreign investment in Haiti.  

A: In energy, Haiti consumes [more energy than it produces], so people produce their own with generators, batteries in their houses and other means. So this is a great opportunity, with [energy sector regulator] Anarse, to democratise the energy sector. We are also prioritising renewable energy – wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism we have opportunities for construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is enormous potential in tourism. And there is an opportunity in the assembly sector too, with the Hope and Help acts, which allow us to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US. 

Q: What was the motivation behind declaring the gourde the only legal currency for business in Haiti?  

A: The same motivation that every country has. Our constitution, our law, is very clear on this – there is one legal currency: the gourde. [To have two currencies] provokes inflation for those, especially the poor, who have to continue paying in gourdes. We haven’t stopped people from having bank accounts in dollars, or transferring money in dollars. But transactions within the country will be in gourdes. 

Q: Historically, there has been a big difference between the people in the cities, especially Port-au-Prince, and the people in the countryside. What steps has your government taken to end this?  

A: I am against all forms of division, which is a big problem in this country. We want to make all the departments interconnected. We want the deconcentration of public services and the decentralisation of the structure of the state to the provinces.

Haiti: time to take a second look?

13 April 2018

Haiti: time to take a second look? 

FDI Magazine

(Read original article here)

Haiti's name has been synonymous with natural disaster and political turmoil in recent decades. However, as Michael Deibert discovers, foreign investors both large and small are impressed with what they have found in the country, and many sectors are ripe with potential.

In his offices just off Champs de Mars square, set beneath brooding mountains and just beyond a glittering Caribbean Sea in bustling, colourful Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, speaks of his vision for a national revival

“There are enormous opportunities here,” says Mr Moïse, a former agribusinessman who assumed the presidency in February 2017. “In energy, to construct a high-tension interconnected national network; in renewable energy, such as wind, water, sun and biomass. In tourism, we have opportunities for the construction of hotels and cruise ports. There is opportunity in the assembly sector, where we are allowed to export [textiles and apparel] duty-free to the US.”

Hidden stability

Despite the president’s enthusiasm, at first glance Haiti, a country of just under 11 million with a history of poverty and political instability, may seem a counterintuitive place for foreign investors to consider. However, the country actually boasts one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the Caribbean, two international airports (in the capital and in Cap-Haïtien on the northern coast) and, apart from a brief interim government, has been governed by elected presidents since 2006. The second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere after the US (having defeated the French in 1804), Haiti is making a renewed push for foreign investment.

In February, the IMF signed an agreement with Haiti’s government, with the latter agreeing to “carry out economic and structural reforms to promote economic growth and stability, and alleviate poverty…[ and a] fiscal policy will focus on mobilising revenues and rationalising current expenditure, to make room for critical public investment in infrastructure, health, education and social services”.

Earlier in 2018, the government set up the Autorité Nationale de Régulation du Secteur Énergétique to oversee the opening of the country’s system of production, distribution and sale of electrical energy previously overseen by the state-run Electricité d’Haiti. After years of maintaining an unspoken dual status with the US dollar, in March, Mr Moïse declared Haiti’s national currency, the gourde, as the sole legal currency for business in an effort to stem inflation.

Opportunity and poverty

State investment agency the Centre de Facilitation des Investissements (CFI) is located in the capital’s Turgeau neighbourhood. The building is an atmospheric house in the gingerbread style of architecture, whose inside walls are covered with Haitian art and posters posing the question ‘Haiti: why not?’.

CFI general director Tessa Jacques says: “We are looking at tourism, infrastructure, renewable energy, apparel manufacturing and agribusiness. With the rise of private sector entities being able to sell electricity directly to the consumer, we’re talking about micro-grids, with solar, wind and other types of renewable power. It’s certainly a business opportunity.”

But the country’s statistics are stark. According to the World Bank, Haiti’s GDP per capita hovers around the $846 mark, with more than 6 million people existing beneath the national poverty line of $2.41 per day. Earlier this year, the Banque de la République d’Haïti, the central bank, expressed concern about the country’s deficit, which is somewhere north of 3bn gourdes (more than $200m). Questions remain over how $2bn of money linked to the Venezuelan Petrocaribe fuel programme – overseen by Mr Moïse’s predecessors, Michel Martelly and the late René Préval – was spent.

Downward spiral

Some of the factors that have most adversely impacted Haiti’s economy have been external. In the early 1980s, a US-Canadian programme to stem the spread of African swine fever exterminated 1.2 million Creole pigs – a major contributor to Haiti’s peasant economy – and only haphazardly compensated owners.

In the early 1990s, a US-led economic embargo imposed on the country to force a military junta from power devastated the country's middle class, dealing such a blow that the country’s GDP only regained pre-1991 levels in 2008. The decision by Haiti to reduce its tariff on imported rice from 50% to 3% in the mid-1990s then destroyed the ability of Haiti’s farmers to compete with cheap imported rice flowing into the country.

“The decisions we made in the late 1980s in terms of commercial openness and liberalisation were not smart, not gradual and not selective,” says Etzer Emile, a Haitian economist and professor at the capital’s Université Quisqueya. “When I compare that with other countries in the region, they did it step by step and product by product. We didn’t, and that transformed Haiti from a productive economy to an import-dependent economy.”

Satisfied customers

However, these problems did not deter mobile phone giant Digicel, which launched a $130m investment in Haiti in 2006, the largest corporate investment ever made in the country by an international company.

“This is a land of opportunity with more than 10 million consumers that is still very largely untapped,” says Maarten Boute, chairman of Digicel Haïti. “The lack of large-scale reliable employment means that there is access to a massive talent pool; almost every Haitian is looking for a job. With the right training and management, it is a very dedicated and committed workforce.”

Nor did Haiti’s ills deter Dutch brewing giant Heineken, which purchased a 95% stake in the Brasserie Nationale d'Haïti (Brana) in 2011, and invested another $100m in 2014. Founded in 1975, in addition to Haiti’s signature beer, Prestige (often served so cold that ice coats the glass bottle), Brana also produces Guinness and various brands of bottled water and soft drinks.

“Haiti is one of the most populated countries in the Caribbean and as a market is expected to grow,” says Brana managing director Wietse Mutters. “We are looking for organic growth and long-term investment.”

In addition to its 1400 employees, Brana now boasts a training centre and it partners local schools to train students finishing their studies to bring them into the company upon graduation. It is also updating and modernising its facilities, located in a sprawling industrial park just across the street from country’s main airport.

“If you’re here for the long term, I would say it’s a good investment,” says Mr Mutters. “I would look at facts, not reputation and rumour. Talk to investors like us. I think there are huge opportunities here, not only for multinationals but also for start-ups. I think the government is very supportive of foreign investment and it sees the need for it.”

Haiti can be a place of jarring contrasts. A fractious, sometimes explosive political culture co-exists with warm, gentle people. Desperately poor slums are found sometimes only a stone’s throw from elegant restaurants and shiny new hotels. Off the radar for years to many but the most adventurous, Haiti is now vying to come back in from the cold.

Deux Mains: from small beginnings

Not all foreign investment in Haiti exists on a massive scale. Near the capital’s airport, the 25 full-time employees of the Deux Mains (“two hands” in French and a homophone of “tomorrow”) apparel company work in a series of containers situated around a bucolic courtyard.

Founded by Julie Colombino, a relief worker who first came to Haiti after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, the company initially registered as a non-profit before registering as a for-profits enterprise in 2014 (the non-profit arm continues as Rebuild Globally). The company uses repurposed car tyres and inner tubes in nearly all its products, sourcing those and almost all its other raw materials in Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

Describing itself as an “ethical fashion company”, Deux Mains has attracted the attention of the likes of designer Kenneth Cole, who partnered with it to launch a limited edition sandal line, and the model Heide Lindgren, who began as a brand ambassador and now serves as an official adviser.

Partnering with USAID’s local enterprise and value chain enhancement programme, the company – which sees 40% of its sales in the US and 60% in Haiti – is expanding into a 440-square-metre factory and adding 15 employees in order to produce its signature sandals, handbags and other goods through a combination of artisanal and industrial techniques.

“There are several benefits that are available for a business in Haiti,” says Deux Mains vice-president Sarah Sandsted. “We have a hard-working, talented workforce here really eager for opportunity. Haiti is such a creatively inspiring place, and our products are more beautiful because we are in Haiti."

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Notes on the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala

The Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) was formed as an outgrowth of the peace accords that ended Guatemala's 36 year civil war. It was tasked with supporting the country's Ministerio Público & Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) in their investigations of illegal security groups and clandestine security structures with direct or indirect links to the state or ability to block judicial actions related to their illegal activities.

Since its inception, CICIG has had some stunning successes, incl arrests of a sitting president (Otto Pérez Molina), a former president (Álvaro Colom) a fmr VP (Roxana Baldetti) and targeting a former president (Álvaro Arzú) and a sitting president (Jimmy Morales) for their alleged roles in corruption.

I have been reporting on Guatemala for 15 years and I have been scathingly critical in my writing of parties of both the right (Partido Patriota, Frente Republicano Guatemalteco, Frente de Convergencia Nacional) and the left (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza) and their roles in maintaining this system that is strangling the country. To anyone who has spent any time in Guatemala, it is clear that the cancer of corruption and impunity in not an ideological struggle but a phenomenon from which all political currents benefit and seek to maintain.

As the net closes in on Guatemala's political elite - especially sitting president Jimmy Morales, his family and his supporters - troll armies, many with links to online marketing businesses based in Guatemala City, have emerged.

The politicos and their troll farms are feverishly working around the clock to muddy the waters and drum up support for the expulsion of CICIG before their backers have to face justice for their crimes. The troll army follows a particular pattern including variations of the following:

1) Claim that they are "true" or "pure" Guatemalans (the language of the genocide that marked Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war)

2) Claim that CICIG chief Iván Velásquez is linked to Colombia's FARC or the government of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro, even though no evidence exists for this and CICIG arrested the country's first leftist president (Álvaro Colom) since Jacobo Árbenz was in office from 1951 to 1954, only to be overthrown by CIA-engineered coup.

3) The troll armies then seek to defame and slander members of Guatemala's civil society who have long battled against impunity & corruption, people like human rights activist Helen Mack Chang and  El Periódico publisher José Rubén Zamora

4)  The troll army then, usually fairly quickly, curdles into anti-semitic dog-whistles by blaming George Soros etc for the temerity of CICIG & the Ministerio Público to prosecute corrupt Guatemalan officials for their crimes.

Unfortunately, they have been so effective that some people I respect and other people of influence - Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Bill Browder, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jesery Representative, Chris Smith & others - have (with the best intentions, I think) been swept up in the desperate fight for survival of Guatemala's corrupt political actors.

A closer look at recent events in Guatemala - such as the revelation of illicit campaign financing by the FCN of president Jimmy Morales - reveals a truer picture, that those who have feasted on the prostrate body of the Guatemalan nation and state for decades feel they are fighting for their very lives.

My advice to those seeking to weigh in on role of CICIG in Guatelama would be to look at the totality of CICIG's work there over the last decade and weigh it against the forces arrayed against it & what their motivations may be. The lives of 17 million Guatemalans, and their struggle to build a decent country depend on it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert

Critique du livre Haiti will not perish: a recent history

Haïti ne périra pas : une histoire récente de Michael Deibert 

Publié le 2018-01-26 | Le Nouvelliste

(Read the original article here)

Culture -

Dans son dernier livre, Haïti will not perish: a recent history, Michael Deibert affiche une fois de plus sa grande connaissance et son profond attachement à Haïti, avec laquelle il entretient une histoire longue de vingt ans.

Son livre retrace l’histoire d’Haïti et les événements qui s’y sont déroulés depuis la guerre d’indépendance de Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman et autres jusqu’au décès de René Préval en mars 2017. Son tableau est grand et utilise une palette de couleurs très variées : la santé (y compris l’arrivée du choléra par le biais de troupes des Nations unies) ; les relations avec la République dominicaine; la communauté internationale, en particulier les Nations unies par le truchement de la MINUSTAH ; la CARICOM ; l’influence des États-Unis au fil des décennies ; les élections (toujours entachées d’irrégularités) ; la corruption (toujours présente) ; les portraits d’individus tels que Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier et René Préval ; les préjugés en matière de couleur de peau, etc. Son récit des suites du terrible tremblement de terre de janvier 2010 est le meilleur que j’ai lu jusqu’à présent, et son tout premier chapitre, « Istwa » (Histoire), qui couvre la période des années 1840 jusqu’au départ forcé de Jean-Bertrand Aristide en février 2004, est en lui-même un petit chef-d’œuvre.

La qualité de la recherche de Michael Deibert est extraordinaire. Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de me demander comment lui, un auteur blanc, avait pu se faire autant de contacts parmi les Haïtiens noirs. Homme noir moi-même, je me rappelle avec stupeur le moment où, tandis que je visitais une école à Port-au-Prince, un petit écolier m’a appelé « blan » avant même que j’ouvre la bouche. Bien entendu, il ne réagissait pas par rapport à la couleur de ma peau – puisque de manière tout à fait ironique, j’étais plus foncé que lui – mais par rapport à ce qu’il jugeait comme étant mon apparence générale « d’étranger ». Donc de blanc.

Il y a trois questions que j’aimerais soulever suite à la lecture de ce livre.

Tout d’abord, l’attitude des Nations unies par rapport à Haïti (et, j’imagine, par rapport à d’autres situations similaires). À l’époque où j’étais le conseiller spécial de Kofi Annan sur Haïti en 2004, j’avais, à de nombreuses reprises et sans grand succès, cherché à faire accepter la différence entre peacekeeping et peacebuilding, c’est-à –dire entre le maintien de la paix et la construction de la paix. Dans mon rapport final, j’ai dit à Kofi Annan que « j’étais fermement d’avis que le concept de la MINUSTAH tel qu’il existait n’était pas sain, et était en grande mesure non pertinent pour le peuple haïtien, dont le bien-être était d’une importance capitale. Les éléments civils de la MINUSTAH devaient… en grande majorité inclure des aspects de développement choisis après une consultation approfondie avec le gouvernement haïtien et d’autres parties prenantes en Haïti… » Le livre de
Michael Deibert semble indiquer que presque rien n’a changé depuis lors.

Étroitement lié dans l’esprit des bureaucrates de l’ONU, avec leur insistance sur le maintien de la paix, est ce qu’ils appellent – Michael Deibert en parle – la « stratégie de sortie » (exit strategy) de l’organisation. J’ai trouvé particulièrement alarmant, pour ne pas dire contre-productif, qu’une telle stratégie ait pu être formulée avant même que l’ONU – dans le cas d’Haïti, la MINUSTAH – ait mis les pieds dans le pays concerné. On peut apprécier le désir (mis à part les coûts impliqués) de ne pas s’attarder et ainsi de ne pas donner l’impression d’être une force d’occupation. Mais comment traiter sérieusement les problèmes de fonds du pays si on prépare déjà son départ avant même d’être arrivé ?

 Ensuite, Gérard Latortue, Premier ministre par intérim suite au départ de Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a été, comme je l’ai écrit un jour, attaqué pendant son mandat comme étant « la marionnette illégitime de l’administration de George Bush ». Ce qui était une accusation parfaitement injuste à l’encontre de cet homme et le Livre blanc publié par son gouvernement de transition, couvrant la période allant de mars 2004 à juin 2006, fait état des avancées non négligeables réalisées par lui et son équipe.

Enfin, les Haïtiens en général. Michael Deibert fait souvent référence et exprime son grand étonnement à ce sujet, à la volonté des Haïtiens non pas vraiment de travailler les uns avec les autres, mais plutôt d’être en situation de conflit permanent au détriment du pays. Il cite Louis-Henri Mars : « La vraie question en Haïti est une question de relations, comme celle-ci : « Sommes-nous unis ou représentons-nous des tribus disparates ? » Pourquoi la réforme institutionnelle est-elle ce feu follet insaisissable ? Pourquoi la corruption au quotidien est-elle si difficile à éliminer ? Pourquoi, malgré toutes les attaques dont elle fait l’objet, l’impunité est-elle si répandue, si naturelle ?

 Pourquoi Michèle Pierre-Louis demande-t-elle tristement : « Est-ce que cela signifie que tout ce qui fonctionne doit être annihilé ? » Et Michael Deibert se rappelle qu’en janvier 2012, Michel Martelly avait dit devant le Parlement qu’Haïti était à l’époque « la somme des luttes intestines, des assassinats, des enlèvements, de l’embargo, de l’anarchie, du chaos, de la dégradation environnementale, de l’égoïsme et de la cupidité. Ceci doit changer ». Les choses ont-elles changé ? Si non, pour quelle raison ? A quoi cela sert-il de toujours faire référence à ce passé remarquable si le présent, comme le centre du poème de W.B. Yeats, ne tient pas ?

Michael Deibert a écrit un livre remarquable. Il est détaillé, incisif, sensible, et écrit dans un style assuré qui ne s’arrête jamais pour s’interroger sur quelle direction il va aller. C’est à mon avis une lecture indispensable pour toute personne, originaire d’Haïti ou pas, qui veut comprendre ou bien compléter ses connaissances au sujet des courants de la politique et de l’histoire d’Haïti en général et en particulier des quinze dernières années.

Ce livre tire son titre d’une promesse faite par René Préval en février 2010 à l’Université Notre-Dame à Port-au-Prince. « Haïti ne périra pas », avait-il dit ce jour-là, un mois exactement après le tremblement de terre.

Haïti ne périra pas. Mais quand donc sa population tirera-t-elle profit de manière productive de ses compétences et de son intelligence considérables dans l’intérêt national ? Quand donc Haïti s’épanouira-t-elle ?

Reginald Dumas

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History

A Review of Michael Deibert’s Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History  

Posted on Wednesday 3 January 2018

By Reginald Dumas

Submitted to AlterPresse

(Read the original article here)

In his latest book, Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History, Michael Deibert once again demonstrates his vast knowledge of, and deep affection for, Haiti, with which he has had a twenty-year connection.

His absorbing, often mesmerizing, story traces the history of, and events in, Haiti from the independence war of Toussaint, Dessalines, Christophe, Boukman and others to the death in March 2017 of René Préval. His canvas is vast and multi-colored: health (including the cholera introduced by UN troops); relations with the Dominican Republic; the international community, especially the UN through MINUSTAH; CARICOM; US influence over the decades; elections (always flawed); corruption (always present); portraits of individuals such as Aristide, Jean-Claude Duvalier and Préval; the skin color divide; and so on. His account of the aftermath of the massive January 2010 earthquake is the best I have ever read, and his very first chapter, Istwa (History), covering the period from the 1840s to the forced departure of Aristide in February 2004, is itself a little masterpiece.
The quality of Deibert’s research is extraordinary. I could not help wondering how, as a white man, he was able to acquire such a range of black Haitian contacts. A black man myself, I remember my astonishment, while visiting a school in Port-au-Prince, at being called blan (white) by a small pupil even before I had opened my mouth. He was of course reacting not to the color of my skin – ironically, I was blacker than he – but to what he perceived as my overall “foreign” appearance, which meant white.

There are three issues arising from the book on which I should like to comment.

First, the approach of the UN to Haiti (and, I suspect, to other similar situations). While I was Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti in 2004, I repeatedly, and without notable success, sought to have a clear distinction drawn between peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In my final report, I told Annan that I was “firmly of the view that the concept of MINUSTAH as it now exists is unsound, and largely irrelevant to the people of Haiti, whose welfare has to be of paramount importance. The civilian side of MINUSTAH must…overwhelmingly comprise developmental aspects chosen after close consultation with the Haitian government and others in Haiti…” Deibert’s book suggests that nothing much has changed in the years since.

Closely allied in the minds of UN bureaucrats with their emphasis on peacekeeping is what they refer to – Deibert mentions it – as the organization’s “exit strategy”. I found it alarming, not to say counter-productive, that such a strategy would be formulated even before the UN – in Haiti’s case, MINUSTAH – actually entered the country concerned. One can appreciate the desire (quite apart from the costs involved) not to overstay one’s welcome and thus project the impression of an occupying force. But how would the country’s fundamental problems be seriously addressed if one
were already planning how to leave before one had even arrived?

Second, Gérard Latortue, the Interim Prime Minister after Aristide left, was, as I once wrote, mauled during his tenure “as the illegitimate rag doll of the Bush administration”. It was an unfair assessment of the man, and the Livre Blanc (White Paper) published by his transition government, covering the period March 2004 to June 2006, records the not inconsiderable advances made by him and his team.

Third, Haitians as a whole. Deibert frequently refers to, and expresses his bemusement at, the willingness of Haitians not so much to work with one another as to enter into constant confrontation, to the detriment of the country. “The real question in Haiti,” he quotes Louis-Henri Mars as saying, “is an issue of relationships, of ‘are we in this together or are we separate tribes?’”

Why is institutional reform such a will-o’-the-wisp? Why is the everyday corruption so difficult to tackle? Why, despite all that is preached against it, is impunity so pervasive, so natural?

Why would Michèle Pierre-Louis sadly ask, “Is it that everything that works has to be killed?” And Deibert recalls that in January 2012 Michel Martelly told Parliament that Haiti then was “the sum of internal strife, assassinations, kidnappings, embargo, anarchy, chaos, environmental destruction, selfishness and greed. This must change.” Has it changed? If not, why? What is the point of always referring to a magnificent past if the present, like Yeats’ center, is not holding?

Michael Deibert has written a remarkable book. It is detailed, thoughtful, sensitive, and in language that never stops to wonder where it might be heading. It is to my mind indispensable reading for anyone, Haitian and non-Haitian alike, wanting to understand, or supplement his or her knowledge of, the currents of Haitian politics and history in general, and of the last fifteen years in particular.

The book takes its title from a promise by Préval in February 2010 at the Université Notre-Dame in Port-au-Prince. “Haïti ne périra pas,” he said that day, one month exactly after the earthquake. “Haiti will not perish.”

It will not perish. But when will its people harness productively their considerable intelligence and abilities in the national interest? When will Haiti flourish?

Reginald Dumas served as Trinidad and Tobago’s Ambassador to Washington and Permanent Representative to the Organisation of American States and as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Special Adviser on Haiti.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

If You Visit Haiti

If You Visit Haiti

By Michael Deibert

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must ride up to the majestic Citadelle Laferrière, completed on the orders of Henri Christophe outside of Cap-Haïtien in 1820, to see a place, as much as any other, where slavery was defeated in the Western Hemisphere.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must wander through the streets of Cap-Haïtien itself, gaze upon the beautiful colonial architecture, sample the rhum at one of its fine hotels and enjoy a meal along the Boulevard du Carenage.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must travel over the rough roads to Môle-Saint-Nicolas to see the ruined forts of the French, Spanish and British, all defeated by Haiti's liberators, there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must take a boat across the churning channel that separates Port-de-Paix from Île de la Tortue to experience the wonder that is Point Ouest, one of the most idyllic beaches in the Caribbean.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must go to la ville de l'indépendance, Gonaïves, to visit its great vodou lakous: Souvenance, Badjo and Soukri.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must turn off Route Nationale 1 just beyond Saint-Marc to drive deep into the Artibonite Valley and witness the skill and endurance of the peasants who coax bounty from the unforgiving earth.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must spend a night at one of the glittering resorts along the Côte des Arcadins, sipping rhum and watching the sun set carnally into the Caribbean there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must drive into the Plateau Central, to hear about the long history of peasant organizing there and to visit the gorgeous Bassin Zim waterfall.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the beautiful waterfall at Saut-d'Eau, an important place of pilgrimage and restoration for vodou adherents.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must go to Port-au-Prince to see the exuberant, difficult life of the people there, listen to the the konpa pumping out of ebulliently-coloured tap-taps, and sample the delicious Creole food and rollicking nightlife of Pétionville.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the green and restful world of the Parc de Martissant, in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of the same name.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must meet with groups like the Konbit Soley Leve and Lakou Lapè to see how Haitians are working hard to bridge the issues that have historically divided them and create a brighter future for themselves.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must see first-hand the great work that groups like the Centre de Œcuménique des Droits Humains (CEDH), La Fondation Heritage pour Haiti (LFHH), Réseau National des Droits Humains (RNDDH), Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète (FOKAL) and the Fondasyon Kole Zepòl (FONZOKE) are doing to help uplift the country.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must ascend to the heights of Kenscoff and Furcy above the capital, to enjoy a strong cup of superior Haitian coffee in the bracing cool of the mountain air.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit Croix-des-Bouquets to see the extraordinary iron work and vodou flags created by the artisans there.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must sample the douce marcosse in Petit-Goâve and go to visit the stone sculptors in Léogâne.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must wind your way across the mountains down to Jacmel, to see one of the Caribbean's most radiant colonial towns, which sheltered Simón Bolívar during a key time in his struggle.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must visit the Grand'Anse to walk in the footsteps of great Haitians such as John James Audubon and Thomas-Alexandre Dumas.

If you visit Haiti, and you should, you must come up with your own list of wonders to let me know what I have missed.

Haiti will not perish.

Kenbe fem.


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

New Year's Day

Traditional Pennsylvania Deutsch New Year's Day meal of pork, bratwurst, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes (the wine is a nod to Argentina).

Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017: A Reporter's Notebook of the Year Gone By

 To have been loved once by someone--surely 
There is a permanent good in that 
- John Ashbery

She saw among the stones lining the gutter the wisps of grass green as the most tender human hope.
 - Clarice Lispector, A hora da Estrela

 There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.
- Carlos Fuentes

Late one evening after a recent snow, I was walking my dog through the streets of my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I unexpectedly found myself back again this past June after 25 years away, much of it abroad.

As we arrived in the center of the town, at a place called Penn Square (so-named for William Penn, the British-born founder of the state of Pennsylvania), a memorial dedicated to U.S. soldiers who had died fighting the forces of racism, fascism and totalitarianism greeted us, its taciturn combatants cast in stone and garlanded in white by the new snow.

Into the stone are etched words like Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Antietam, names of the  locations of some of the tremendous battles fought during the U.S. Civil War (the first of which still stands as the largest battle ever fought in North America). It was a war that saw Americans slaughtering one another on American soil, the assassination of a president and, at its end, the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished the infernal institution of slavery.   

It is a historic place, Lancaster. A few blocks away from the square, a plaque marks the spot where, on 27 December 1763, a group of Scotch-Irish frontiersmen known as the Paxton Boys broke into the old city jail and killed, scalped and dismembered the 16 remaining members of the Susquehannock tribe (known as Conestoga among English-speakers) who sheltered there, one of countless examples of the inhumanity of the nascent and extant nation to the land's original inhabitants. A few blocks beyond that, the grave of the great abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, who represented the region in the U.S. Congress from 1849 to 1868, lies under the snow in a quiet corner of the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery.

More than 150 years on from the Civil War's end, elements of the United States stand with swords drawn within its borders yet again, usually metaphorically but sometimes - as we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia and Portland, Oregon - literally.

In many ways, 2017 was a year of loss. In my own country, Americans watched as their nation's standing in the world eroded, and its institutions came under unprecedented threat from within. In Haiti, there was the sudden death of former president René Préval and, for many, a final loss of faith in the political process and a realization that corruption and impunity have possessed the body politic so totally and across such a wide swathe of political actors that divisions between parties and stated ideologies have been rendered nearly irrelevant. In Puerto Rico, residents there lost their homes, their access to electricity and potable water and - in the hundreds - their lives as Hurricane Maria roared ashore. In the process, they also lost any illusions about how they were viewed by many in the larger United States. In Spain, lost was any delusion that the nation’s Francoist past was totally removed from its present day.  In Syria and Yemen, there was a loss of belief that anyone, anywhere cared about what was happening to the defenseless inhabitants of those places.

And for me, personally, there was some loss, too. My grandfather, James Breon, an admirable man in so many ways and the last surviving grandparent, finally succumbed to old age at 92. My beloved cat, Winston, the gentlest creature I've known, passed away at 20. A couple of close friendships frayed in ways that I don't think will ever be repaired. But I was able to see places that mean a lot to me again - Haiti, Paris, Puerto Rico, Havana, Barcelona, - and was even able to make some new friends along the way. 1 was able to publish one book and began work on another.

If 2017 represented the efforts of certain elements of modern-day America to get an illiberal and totalitarian project up and running, 2018 will almost certainly mark an escalation in the assault on the separation of powers, the rule of law and the integrity of our electoral process, all hallmarks of our democracy we must stand ready to defend. But there also seems to have, amid all the loss, been something of an awakening, a realization that, in the purest sense, democracy is not a spectator sport and those who want a voice in it must start that process by showing up in the voting booth, on the ballot and in the streets.

But amid all these struggles - some of which are chronicled in the articles below - I have been reminded that we must make time for - and room for - beauty, tenderness and love. I hope, as this difficult year draws to a close, that all of you find some of all three to greet you in 2018, and that, no matter how bleak things may look, you never give up or give into despair or apathy. 

And I wish you days, as  J.P. Donleavy wrote in The Ginger Man, "on which all things are born, like uncovered stars."

Puerto Rico tries to beat storms natural and man-made for fDi Magazine (19 December 2017)


Michael Deibert interviewed about Haiti by M24, the radio station of Monocle magazine (18 September 2017)
On the Ground: Michael Deibert interview with Sam Schindler for What We Will Abide (26 August 2017)

A Venezuelan retreat for fDi Magazine (17 August 2017)

Was the ‘Guatemalan Spring’ an illusion? for fDi Magazine (11 July 2017)

Before night falls: An American’s letter to France for Michael Deibert's Blog (3 May 2017)

Cuba looks towards renewables for fDi Magazine (7 March 2017)

After momentous year, Cuba faces uncertain 2017 for fDi Magazine (10 January 2017)

'Everything kind of fell apart': Demographics surrounding poverty in Lancaster County shatter myths

26 December 2017

'Everything kind of fell apart': Demographics surrounding poverty in Lancaster County shatter myths

By Michael Deibert


(Read the original article here)

The modest home that John Torbett used to share with his mother in Ronks in East Lampeter Township overlooks rolling hills and sloping fields, undulating bleached brown in the wan autumnal light.

“Things were running pretty much smooth until my mom died last year," says Torbett, a 54-year-old computer repairmen and desktop support specialist who became disabled in 2010 due to a combination irritable bowel syndrome and vision problems.

“We were alternating the expenses month by month," Torbett says. “But when she died last year, I inherited all the taxes, the oil bill, the electric bill, and I was already in debt."

Soon Torbett, a Delaware County native who had moved to Lancaster to take advantage of the lower cost of living, found himself tripping over the narrow precipice that separates the lower-middle class from the truly needy.

His is a story that has played out time and again throughout the region.

Nearly 60,000 of the county's 536,624 people are living below the poverty line. Their average age is 30.

Outside of Lancaster city, where the rate is 29.2 percent, the highest rates of poverty are in the boroughs of Mountville (21.4 percent), Millersville (21.2 percent) and Columbia (20.4 percent), and the townships of Upper Leacock (15.6 percent), Lancaster (14.4 percent), Conoy (13.8 percent) and Fulton (13.0 percent).

“The truth is, 66 percent of the poverty (in Lancaster County) is outside the city," says Sue Suter, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Lancaster County. “And the face of poverty here is really a single white woman with children." 

Complex situation

Poverty in Lancaster County is a complex condition that does not lend itself to easy caricatures, its endurance prolonged by a variety of ancillary factors.

Though many seem to continue to visualize poverty as an urban — and, to be stark, non-white — problem in the region, the potential for rural residents to slide from paycheck to paycheck into desperation is one that knows no ethnic or geographic boundaries.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the poverty rate in Pennsylvania was 13.3 percent in 2016, down slightly from 13.5 percent in 2015. It was 10.8 percent in Lancaster County in 2016, up slightly from 10.7 percent in 2015.

About 27 percent of the state's population — or roughly 3.4 million people — live in its 48 rural counties.

The federal government defines poverty as income below $12,060 for a single person, $16,240 for a family of two, $20,420 for a family of three, and $24,600 for a family of four.

When things fall apart
One of the women the United Way's Suter referred to is Brenda Gabriel. When she greeted a journalist recently, Gabriel was residing in a transitional living facility — a wooden cabin whose location, off a main road and nestled among trees overlooking a hollow where deer often bed down for the night, could fairly be described as bucolic.

Gabriel is, like John Torbett, an example of how easily one can slide into poverty from a middle-class life.

“Everything kind of fell apart," Gabriel says of her eviction from her home in September, at the end of a marriage in which she became the sole breadwinner after her husband, a salesman at an industrial cleaning products company, become disabled and attempted to collect disability.

A 50-year-old-bus driver with an 11-year-old daughter, Gabriel initially stayed in a motel for two weeks before moving in briefly with her sister and then finding her temporary housing.

At the transitional living site, residents pay electric, but not rent, through the Factory Ministries and Timberline Church. Factory Ministries is a Paradise-based program that acts as a hub for connecting people in need to various resources and services that also assisted John Torbett . 

Seeking support

“This is not something I ever wanted to have to deal with, but I have to take care of my daughter," Gabriel says of the lugubrious process of forms and meetings that getting into the system of government financial aid entails.

The Pennsylvania State Department of Public Welfare has thus far granted her help for child care and medical coverage (through Medicaid), but no cash assistance. She is waiting for a decision on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, also commonly referred to as food stamps.

Finding regular accommodation has also not been easy in a county where landlords often requires that tenants earn three times the monthly rent.

“It's been a very difficult time because my daughter is embarrassed," Gabriel says, wiping a tear away as she sits at the kitchen table of her small cabin, a cup of coffee evaporating its warmth in curls of steam in front of her.

“To see her go through this is hard, but it's going to get better and I'm out of the situation I was in,” she adds. “Getting out of that was the best thing I ever did. The Lord has been good to me through all of this." 

Profile of poverty

The demographic outline of poverty in Lancaster County shatters many myths. According to numbers provided by the the Center for Rural Pennsylvania — a bipartisan legislative agency that serves as a resource for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly — 74 percent of those living in poverty in Lancaster County are white, while 58 percent are female.

Some 35 percent have at least a high school diploma and 17 percent have an associate’s degree or higher.

Far from being shirkers, 30 percent of those in poverty have full-time employment, while 23 percent work part time. The makeup of poor housheolds is also an amalgam, with 42 percent in single-person households and 38 percent in households with children.

According to the Census Bureau, 37 percent of rural households had incomes below $35,000. Among Pennsylvania counties, Lancaster hovers in the middle in its portion of residents eligible for medical assistance through Medicaid. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, 17.3 percent of the local population qualifies for Medicaid. And that number has been rising steadily over the last decade.

Many of those on Medicaid also participate in the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly referred to as food stamps. 

Lack of resources

“Poverty is about more than not having money, it's about lack of resources," says Chuck Holt, the president and CEO of The Factory Ministries. The organization is one of several here that attempt to centralize access to various services that the poor may need. Other entities include Pathways out of Poverty and the Elizabethtown Area Hub.

“In rural poverty, homelessness looks different than in the city," says Holt. “We don't have people sleeping in the street, or shelters, we have doubling, tripling up, three families living in one place. Many are single moms with multiple kids. There's a growing Hispanic population. Some single dads, too."

One of those single dads, Josh Roten, a 35-year-old groundskeeper who lives in Peach Bottom and struggles to support himself and his 9-year-old son, points to another factor present in this strata: A strong sense of alienation from politicians and the political process itself.
“Have you ever tried to call a politician?" asks Roten, who voted for both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, as he smokes a cigarette outside on his porch while his son arrives home from school in the gathering dusk. “They don't return calls, their voicemails are full … . They ignore us. Politicians never listen to us, they don't care what we think until their position depends on us." 

Battling isolation

One chronic and continuing issue of rural poverty, both in Lancaster County and elsewhere, is the lack of connectedness with the larger world.

“If you look at Elizabethtown, eastern Lancaster County and the Quarryville area, those are three areas where you have a concentration of rural poverty, and one of the dynamics shared was transportation is a huge barrier," says Andrea L. Heberlein, the lead director of Collective Impact for the United Way of Lancaster Country.

“Residents had a hard time accessing services because they are located in (Lancaster) city," she says.

Holt echoes Heberlein’s comments.

“If you're down here, there's no public transportation. The bus runs routes 30 and 340, and not all day long," Holt says. “In Pequea Valley, there was only one laundromat, and that burned down three months ago."

In addition, the Factory Ministries in Paradise runs the only food pantry for 80 square miles. 

Impact of opioids

As with so many others facets of Pennsylvania life, the opioid epidemic has also hit the most vulnerable like a freight train. At least 155 people died of drug overdoses here in 2017, up from 117 the year before.
“Our cases continue to increase in their complications," says Jessica L. Laspino, executive director of CASA of Lancaster County. The seven-year-old organization trains and supervises court-appointed volunteer advocates who work with children in the foster care system, of which there are around 500 on any given day.

“In a lot of the (families) we've been working with, the layers seem to have increased,” Laspino says. “It's not just one or two factors working against the family, it's multiple factors.

“The opioid epidemic has a great impact on the youth we work with," Laspino continues. “You have more young people who are drug addicted and more coming into care because addiction has ravaged the family. So has the lack of adorable housing.

“Parents that did the work and addressed issues still cannot provide safe and stable housing for their kids to return home to, so you have parents who have done the work but kids still languishing in foster care," Laspino says. 

Low-paying jobs

Though jobs are being created in the state's rural pockets, their pay remains punishingly low. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, per capita personal income in rural Pennsylvania counties was $40,938 in 2015, or $12,030 less than in urban counties.

During the same year, more than 1,000 more people fell into poverty in Lancaster County than during the year before, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.

“Regardless of what the subject is, when you're talking about rural PA you always have to address the issues of lack of population density and geographic isolation," says Barry L. Denk, the director of the Center for Rural Pennsylvania.

“If you don't have the numbers to aggregate, the return on investment, both from public and private, becomes questionable."


And yet, through a patchwork of public and private services and their own pluck, those on the downside of economic advantage in Lancaster County continue to persevere.

John Torbett is looking for part-time work in his field of computer repair and recently adopted a small cat, Paulette, who prowls around his house and keeps watch.

Brenda Gabriel, after months of searching, recently found an apartment she could afford and moved into it with her daughter to great the new year.

Despite her struggles, Gabriel, who now has a financial coach and regularly attends counseling and church at The Factory, is envisioning a happier future story.

“I would like to have a little house for my daughter and I, to have my job — I love my job — and to support her in the things she wants to do."