When I was living in Haiti many years ago, a friend's father passed away. My friend was scraping by on odd jobs and needed to take out a large loan in order to finance the burial. He felt that to do otherwise would be disrepecting his father's memory. The poor, who can least afford it, are charged exorbitant rates for burial services in Haiti. What could change this? Cultural change, such as accepting cremation or simplified burials, will take time. William Mellon (founder of Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles) had himself buried in a cardboard box. Government regulation and enforcement would help. Below is an AP article on the hardships that burial costs place upon Haitian families.
Stateless persons are not recognized as citizens of any country. They are often vulnerable to exploitation due to a lack of access to health care, education, work, and justice. It is a major problem in the Dominican Republic where the the government has long been reluctant to grant citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Last week, the Haitian Parliament voted to accede to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, making it the third member state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the 69th country in the world to do so. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued a statement praising Haiti for its committment. To become involved, consider joining UNHCR's "I Belong" Campaign to End Statelessness.
Musicians from around the world performed at the eleventh annual International Jazz Festival in Port au Prince. This is a festival that has faced a great deal of adversity but gets better every year. Art, music, and history are key to both increasing tourism and showcasing all that is good about Haitian culture. Think about participating next year. Mark Sullivan (All About Jazz) provides a read-out of the festival below.
The U.S State Department has released 2016 Human Rights Reports. As in previous years, human right challenges in Haiti included weak democratic governance, inufficient respect for the rule of law, a deficient judicial system, and persistent corruption. The good news is that it is clear where the shortcomings are and what the new government must do to improve. There a wide range of partners who want to help including Haitian activists and organizations, other governemnts, and multilateral and non-governmental partners. The 2016 Human Rights Report for Haiti follows.
Haiti can be a rewarding but challenging tourism destination. Having an organization to help with logistics and orientation during the first visit can be helpful. The Kiskeya Guest House in Leogane, in addition to offering a nice place to stay outside of Port au Prince, now offers tours that celebrate Haiti's cultural traditions with an emphasis on Port au Prince, Jacmel and Cap Haitien. Haitian anthropologist Jean-Yves Blot an Professor Erold Saint-Louis will lead the various trips and Haitian Creole immersion programs. The agenda for their "Cultural and Mystical Haiti" tour follows. Note: The Kiskeya Guest House is associated with Kiskeya Aqua Ferme, a community initiative devoted to raising tilapia and growing cassava, hot peppers, and sweet potatos.
The Haitian Government has announced a commission to examine the country's prisons, which have long known to be over-crowded and unsafe. Due to Haiti's weak justice system, most prisoners have not been convicted of crimes but are instead being held in pre-trial detention. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other organizations have for many years tried to improve conditions in the prisons but lasting change requires governmental committment, planning, and resources. For more information on Haiti, visit the World Prison Brief. The full article by AP reported David McFadden follows.
The UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been active in Haiti for more than a decade. During the early years, MINUSTAH was instrumental in countering gang activity and a kidnapping crisis. However, MINUSTAH forces have also been responsible for sexual exploiting and abusing children and the country is still dealing with a cholera epidemic resulting from irresponsible sanitation practices by Nepali peacekeepers. The logical transition would be to continue strengthening Haitian institutions responsible for human rights, justice and rule of law - so MINUSTAH will not be needed in the future. Full Reuters article below.
On February 6, the Haitian Government along with UN and other partners, launched a two year, $291 million response plan to help 2.4 million persons affected by the earthquake recover. The UN notes that the October hurricane was exasperated by pre-existing humanitarian, socio-economic and environmental vulnerabilities and disparities. In other words, these communities had many problems even before the Hurricane struck. The plan incorporates activities to promote the resilience of affected communities so they will be better prepared and better able to respond when the next hurricane comes. This being the Caribbean, there will also be another hurricane. The full response plan can be viewed here.
Anastasia Moloney (Reuters) reports that Haitian police have arrested nine people, Americans and Canadians, in connection with sex trafficking at the Kaliko Beach Club near Port au Prince. In 2016, Haiti was downgraded to the lowest grade (level three) in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report meaning that no progress had been made before and that foreign assistance from the United States could be reduced in certain areas. Haiti does have a national TIP action plan but it has yet to be resourced or implemented. The arrests may be a welcome sign that the government is beginning to take TIP more seriously.
Charcoal production is a cause of deforestation in Haiti although the true extent is debatable. Most Haitians in the countryside do not have affordable energy alternatives and many livelihoods are linked to making, transporting, and selling it. Rather than lamenting the country's dependence on charcoal, an alternative approach would be to help charcoal producers switch to fast-growing trees and harvest them in a more environmentally responsible manner. The Haitian government, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, and the World Bank are promoting efforts to do so in rural areas. More information in the AP article below.