Director and long-time Haiti enthusiast Jonathan Demme died on April 26th. He lived a long life and, through his films, made people aware of Haiti - and more than that, its heroes. Demme was reponsible for "The Agronomist", easily my favorite film about Haiti, concerning the life of Jean Dominique - a journalist and human rights activist who gave his life for what believed in. Author and fellow Haiti enthusiast Amy Willentz writes below that best way to honor his memory is to learn about Haiti, engage, and to continue the struggle for human rights and democracy. Organize, resist, and win - it's what Demme and Dominique would have wanted.
Below is an article by Orlando Sentinel journalist Sandra Pedicini about the hundreds of Haitian Disney employees who will be forced to leave the United States should the government end their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS was given to undocumented Haitians in the United States after the 2010 earthquake to protect them from deportation. Advocates, as well as Senate Democrats, argue that the ongoing cholera epidemic and aftermath of Hurricane Matthew justify TPS. Further, companies such as Disney are speaking out against the possibility of losing hard-working and dependable employees. More information about TPS available at the USCIS website.
Jacqueline Charles (Miami Herald) reminds us in her article below that life in communities struck by Hurricane Matthew six months ago remains difficult. Food insecurity, which depends in large part on agriculture, is tenuous and replacement shelters have yet to be constructed. The Haitian Government has been clear that it leads the recovery efforts although it is clear much remains to be done. Beyond meeting food and shelter needs remains the challenging task of preparing for furture hurricanes to mitigate the damage they will cause.
On Thursday, April 13 the United Nations Security Council is expected to pass a resolution extending the mandate of MINUSTAH for a final six months, during which its 2,370 military personnel will phase. After, a smaller mission of 1,275 police officers will focus on training the Haitian National Police. The full article by Edith Lederer (AP) follows and more information is available on the MINUSTAH website.
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.