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Haiti health workers say 13 children died in orphanage fire

February 14, 2020

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A fire swept through an orphanage run by a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit group in Haiti, killing 13 children, including infants, health care workers said Friday. Rose-Marie Louis, a child-care worker, told The Associated Press that she saw 13 children’s bodies being carried out of the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding in the Kenscoff area outside Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.

Marie-Sonia Chery, a nurse at the nearby Baptist Mission Hospital, confirmed that 13 boys and girls had died. Louis, who worked at the orphanage, said the fire began around 9 p.m. Thursday and firefighters took about 1.5 hours to arrive. About seven were babies or toddlers and about six were roughly 10 or 11 years old, she said.

She said the orphanage had been using candles for light due to problems with its generator and inverter. Rescue workers arrived at the scene on motorcycles and didn’t have bottled oxygen or the ambulances needed to transport the children to the hospital, said Jean-Francois Robenty, a civil protection official.

“They could have been saved,”‘ he said. ”We didn’t have the equipment to save their lives.” Robenty said officials believed other children’s bodies remained inside and emergency workers were trying to pull them out Friday morning.

Orphanage workers on the scene said they believed two bodies were still inside. The Associated Press has reported on a long-standing series of problems at two orphanages run by the Church of Bible Understanding.

The Church of Bible Understanding lost accreditation for its orphanage after a series of inspections beginning in November 2012. Haitian inspectors faulted the group for overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and not having enough adequately trained staff.

Members of the religious group were selling expensive antiques at high-end stores in New York and Los Angeles and using a portion of the profits to fund the orphanage. The Associated Press made an unannounced visit to the orphanage’s two homes, holding a total of 120 kids, in 2013 and found bunk beds with faded and worn mattresses crowded into dirty rooms. Sour air wafted through the bathrooms and stairwells. Rooms were dark and spartan, lacking comforts or decoration.

The Church of Bible Understanding, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, operates two homes for nearly 200 children in Haiti as part of a “Christian training program,” according to its most recent nonprofit organization filing. It has operated in the country since 1977. It identifies the homes as orphanages but it is common in Haiti for impoverished parents to place children in residential care centers, where they receive lodging and widely varying education for several years but are not technically orphans.

“We take in children who are in desperate situations,” the organization says in its tax filing for 2017, the most recent year available. “Many of them were very close to death when we took them in.” The nonprofit reported revenue of $6.6 million and expenses of $2.2 million for the year.

A member of the organization who identified himself only as “Jim” on a phone call referred questions on the fire to their lawyer in Haiti, whom he would not identify.

Weissenstein reported from Havana. Fox reported from Washington.

Protests choke communities in Haiti as aid, supplies dwindle

October 06, 2019

LEOGANE, Haiti (AP) — Gabriel Duvalesse squatted slightly as he prepared to push 50 gallons (190 liters) of cooking oil in an old wheelbarrow to an outdoors market an hour away so he could earn $1. It was his first job in seven days as deadly protests paralyze Haiti’s economy and shutter businesses and schools. Opposition leaders and thousands of supporters are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse amid anger over government corruption, ballooning inflation and scarcity of fuel and other basic goods.

Seventeen people have been reported killed and nearly 200 injured in the protests. The political turmoil is hitting cities and towns outside the capital of Port-au-Prince especially hard, forcing non-government organizations to suspend aid as barricades of large rocks and burning tires cut off the flow of goods between the city and the countryside. The crisis is deepening poverty in places such as Leogane, the epicenter of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

“We are starving,” said 28-year-old Duvalesse, who has been unable to work. “I had to make $2 last one week.” The United Nations said that before the protests even began, some 2.6 million people across Haiti were vulnerable to food shortages, adding that roadblocks have severely impacted some humanitarian programs. On Sept. 16, the World Food Program was forced to suspend all food deliveries to schools as demonstrations started.

Meanwhile, cash transfers to some 37,000 people in need were postponed. U.N. officials also said that private transporters are reluctant to deliver goods given the security situation, a problem that Leogane business owner Vangly Germeille knows well.

He owns a wholesale company that sells items including rice, soap, cooking oil and cereal to small markets. But his warehouse is nearly empty and he struggles to find truck drivers willing to go to markets to deliver the goods because of thieves and barricades.

“It’s an enormous economic loss,” said Germeille, a father of two who is thinking of moving to the Dominican Republic if things don’t improve soon. “If there’s no way to make a living here, I can’t stay.”

Rice, coconuts, milk and diapers are among the dozens of goods that people in this coastal community of more than 200,000 inhabitants say are hard to find since the protests began in mid-September. On Saturday, a grocery store near the town’s center opened briefly to sell rice, said 40-year-old IT engineer Sony Raymond.

“In less than three hours it was gone,” he said. “Leogane is basically paralyzed.” The protests and barricades are increasingly isolating already struggling communities across Haiti, including those like Barriere Jeudi, where amateur bull fights on weekends provide some distraction from people’s financial problems.

Bruinel Jean-Louis, who repairs refrigerators and stoves, said he hasn’t been able to find much work because he can’t travel to find the parts he needs. “It takes a very long time, and that also makes me suffer,” he said as several bulls brayed behind him.

To make up for the financial shortfall, he sells halters for horses. Haitian economist Kesner Pherel noted that Haiti is a country of nearly 11 million people where 60% make less than $2 a day and 25% make less than $1 a day. He said the problem is worsening now that food is not going to Haiti’s capital nor manufactured goods to rural areas, causing a stoppage to the economy.

The situation angers 62-year-old Carolle Bercy, who moved back to Haiti last year after working in financial services for 30 years in Connecticut, both in Stanford and Bridgeport. She said she has seen people fighting over fuel on the rare instances that a gas station opens, and she worries about the future of Haitians.

“It’s unbelievable,” she said. “No country on earth should go what Haitian people are going through.”

Thousands rally against Haitian president, clash with police

October 05, 2019

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Thousands of protesters marched through the Haitian capital to the U.N. headquarters Friday in one of the largest demonstrations in a weekslong push to oust embattled President Jovenel Moïse.

At least two people were shot as police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the airport and fired tear gas at the crowd, which threw rocks and bottles. Carlos Dorestant, a 22-year-old motorcycle driver, said he saw the man next to him shot, apparently by police, as protesters dismantled a barrier near the U.N. office.

“We are asking everyone in charge to tell Jovenel to resign,” he said, his shirt stained with blood. “The people are suffering.” Several protesters held up signs asking the U.S. for help. “Trump give Haiti one chance” read one, while another quoted a tweet by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A third referred to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who discussed the crisis with Haitians in Miami on Thursday.

The unrest on Friday came after almost four weeks of protests in which 17 people have been reported killed, the economy has been largely paralyzed, 2 million children have been kept from going to school and badly needed aid has been suspended, especially to rural areas. The U.S., United Nations and other important international players have yet to drop their support for Moïse, making it appear unlikely that he will step down, despite protests that have made gasoline, food and water scarce in some areas.

“We will continue until Jovenel leaves office,” said Sen. Sorel Jacinthe, who was once the president’s ally but joined the opposition earlier this year. The opposition has rejected Moïse’s call for dialogue and created a nine-person commission it says would oversee an orderly transition of power, with many demanding a more in-depth investigation into corruption allegations which involve the use of funds from a Venezuela-subsidized oil program. Critics say Moïse has not looked into the former top government officials accused, including ally and former President Michel Martelly.

To protest against the alleged corruption and a shortage of basic goods, Haitians have taken to the streets in force. Opposition leader and attorney André Michel said the international community should recognize the protesters’ demands and blamed Moïse for the country’s economic and social problems.

“He has plunged the country into chaos,” he said. Moïse’s ally, former Prime Minister Evans Paul, also met earlier this week with the Core Group, which includes officials from the United Nations, U.S., Canada and France to talk about the political situation. He has said that he believes Moïse has two options: nominate an opposition-backed prime minister or shorten the length of his mandate.

Moïse, who owned a company named in the investigation, has denied all corruption allegations. He urges dialogue and says he will not resign. Laurent Dubois, a Haiti expert and Duke University professor, said there is no clear answer on what might happen next as the turmoil continues.

“The thing that haunts all of this is … is this going to lead to the emergence of more authoritarian rule?” he said. Earlier Friday, police fired tear gas at thousands gathered under a bridge to urge the international community to withdraw support for the president. Some demonstrators were carrying guns, machetes or knives.

A police commander could be heard ordering officers to take up their positions. “It’s become more than a protest!” he yelled. At various locations, water cannon trucks were on hand. Getta Julien, 47, said she had enough of the protests and the president as she stabilized portions of rice, beans and vegetables she had packed into foam containers.

“He has to go,” she said. “He’s doing nothing for the country. Nothing at all.” Nearby, others cheered as Jacinthe arrived and greeted supporters, including an artist riding a white horse amid burning tires as he carried a large red and black flag that read, “Long live the economic revolution.”

One protester, 38-year-old electrician Delva Sonel, said he did not want the international community to interfere. “We’re trying to send a signal to the world that we’re not a little country,” he said. “We want to tell them to stay out of our business.”

Some questioned why international leaders had not spoken publicly against Moïse even as he and his administration face corruption allegations. “How can they support this government if it represents everything that is wrong?” said Israel Voltaire, a 35-year-old attorney. “With us being a democratic country, it’s like we’re losing the war.”

Haiti braces for new protest, demands that leader resign

September 30, 2019

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Opposition leaders are calling for a nationwide push Monday to block streets and paralyze Haiti’s economy as they press for President Jovenel Moïse to give up power, and tens of thousands of their dedicated young supporters are expected to heed the call.

People stood in lines all day Sunday under a brutal sun to get water, gasoline and other basic supplies before the next round of protests that many worried would turn more violent than a demonstration Friday during which several homes and businesses were burned as police fired tear gas at protesters.

Several people have died in the past three weeks amid the political clashes. “I have a feeling that the country is going to change,” said Yves Bon Anée, a mason standing next to eight empty plastic gallons that he would fill with gasoline at $2 a gallon for friends, family and himself. He planned to resell his portion to make some money because he hasn’t been able to find work in weeks amid Haiti’s crisis.

“My kids are suffering,” he said of his three young boys. Opposition leaders and supporters say they are angry about public corruption, spiraling inflation and a dwindling supply of gasoline that has forced many gas stations in the capital to close as suppliers demand the cash-strapped government pay them more than $100 million owed.

Protesters also are demanding a more in-depth investigation into allegations that top officials in the previous government misused billions of dollars in public funds that were proceeds from a Venezuela subsidized oil plan meant for urgent social programs.

Moïse, who took office in 2017 following an election redo, has said he will not step down despite the unrest and instead called for calm, unity and dialogue during an address televised at 2 a.m. Wednesday. It was a rare appearance for the president since the new wave of protests began about three weeks ago.

Laurent Dubois, a Haiti expert and professor at Duke University, said he believes the country will face an increasing impasse unless the parties find a way to reach some kind of resolution. “There’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety … that things are going in a direction in Haiti that we haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “It seems like we’re going into some kind of new phase in Haitian history, but what it holds will be difficult to predict.”

Opposition leaders demanding Moïse’s resignation say they envision a transitional government after the chief justice of Haiti’s Supreme Court takes over as dictated by law if a president resigns. André Michel, an attorney and professor of human rights, said Haiti’s current political system has generated misery, underdevelopment and corruption that have led to poverty, noting that the country’s middle class has shrunk.

Michel said Haiti needs to rebuild a new society and state as he called on the international community to back the goal of opposition leaders to oust Moïse. “The will of the people is clear,” Michel said. “If he insists on remaining as president, he will lead the country into chaos.”

At a news conference Sunday, opposition leaders urged the dozens of supporters gathered around them to start blocking streets and to help them look for Moïse, whom they contend has gone into hiding. Among those leading the call to find Moïse was opposition Sen. Youri Latortue, who has denied corruption allegations that U.S. officials made against him more than a decade ago and once led a party allied with Moïse’s Tet Kale faction.

“We’re going to search for him everywhere,” Latortue said.

On earthquake anniversary, Haitians trying to rebuild

January 13, 2018

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Eight years ago, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake upended life in Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people by some estimates and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes. For many of those left homeless, life hasn’t yet returned to normal.

In the Delmas district in the north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, Camp Caradeux sprang up as a temporary home for 20,000 displaced people. Promises of new permanent homes have failed to materialize and Haiti’s economy remains weak, leaving camp residents with nowhere to go. As a result, the camp is transforming into a village as people build cinderblock homes and try to create more normal lives.

Associated Press photographer Chery Dieu-Nalio visited Caradeux on the approach of the quake anniversary to document the life of its residents.

UN ending 13-year military peacekeeping mission in Haiti

October 06, 2017

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti that has helped maintain order through 13 years of political turmoil and catastrophe is coming to an end as the last of the blue-helmeted soldiers from around the world leave despite concerns that the police and justice system are still not adequate to ensure security in the country.

The U.N. lowered its flag at its headquarters in Port-au-Prince during a ceremony Thursday that was attended by President Jovenel Moise, who thanked the organization for helping to provide stability. After a gradual winding down, there are now about 100 international soldiers in the country and they will leave within days. The mission will officially end on Oct. 15.

Immediately afterward, the U.N. will start a new mission made up of about 1,300 international civilian police officers, along with 350 civilians who will help the country reform a deeply troubled justice system. Various agencies and programs of the international body, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, will also still be working in the country.

“It will be a much smaller peacekeeping mission,” said Sandra Honore, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who has served since July 2013 as the head of the U.N. mission in Haiti known as MINUSTAH, its French acronym. “The United Nations is not leaving.”

MINUSTAH began operations in Haiti in 2004, when a violent rebellion swept the country and forced then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power and into exile. Its goals included restoring security and rebuilding the shattered political institutions. In April, the Security Council deemed the country sufficiently stable and voted to wind down the international military presence, which then consisted of about 4,700 troops.

Many Haitians have viewed the multinational peacekeepers as an affront to national sovereignty. U.N. troops are believed to have inadvertently introduced the deadly cholera bacteria to the country and have also been accused of causing civilian casualties in fierce battles with gangs in Port-au-Prince and of sexually abusing minors.

But the mission, with additional help from the U.S. and other nations, is also credited with stabilizing the country, particularly after the January 2010 earthquake, and building up the national police force.

“The job may not be complete but they have essentially done much of what they were originally designed to do in terms of preventing any kind of armed takeover of the state, in terms of increasing the safety of civilians,” said Mark Schneider, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It takes work to maintain that and Haiti needs to maintain that.”

MINUSTAH, Schneider said, has been key in helping Haiti develop a credible civilian national police from “almost zero” to its current level of about 15,000 officers, which most experts believe is still too small for a country of nearly 11 million. The police force was intended to replace the army, which was disbanded by Aristide in 1995 because of its repeated role in a series of coups and that the Haitian government is now seeking to reconstitute over international objections.

“Haiti needs an atmosphere of peace so we can take responsibility for ourselves,” said Haitian Sen. Jacques Suaveur Jean. “We don’t need foreign soldiers.” The new U.N. mission will consist of seven police units that can respond to major incidents, in addition to officers deployed throughout the country to advise and assist their Haitian counterparts. Civilians will also be working with the government to improve the country’s justice system, which the State Department said in this year’s annual human rights report has serious flaws, including severe prison overcrowding, prolonged pretrial detention and an inefficient judiciary.

Honore, in an interview ahead of Thursday’s ceremony, cited the training and hiring of police officers as one of the U.N. successes. MINUSTAH had already been scaling back before the Security Council voted to end the mission. In the aftermath of the earthquake, which killed 96 U.N. personnel, including former head of mission Hedi Annabi, the number of troops reached more than 10,000. But when Honore arrived there were about 6,200 soldiers from around 20 countries, a figure that dropped again by nearly a third within two years.

The cholera outbreak, which started in October 2010 after peacekeepers from Nepal contaminated the country’s largest river with waste from their base, killed an estimated 9,500 people and irrevocably damaged the reputation of the organization in Haiti. Many critics felt the U.N. did not adequately respond to the outbreak, something the organization sought to later remedy.

“It was a fundamental error because it undermined the image not just of MINUSTAH, but of the international community,” Schneider said.

Associated Press writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

UN set to wrap up Haiti peacekeeping mission in mid-October

April 13, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council is set to wrap up the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti by mid-October after more than 20 years, in recognition of “the major milestone” the country has achieved toward stabilization following recent elections.

The council is scheduled to vote Thursday on a draft resolution that extends the mandate of the mission, known as MINUSTAH, for a final six months during which the 2,370 military personnel will gradually leave.

The resolution will create a follow-on peacekeeping mission for six months to be known as MINUJUSTH comprising 1,275 police who will continue training the national police force. It says the new mission should be operational when the old mission’s mandate ends on Oct. 15.

The United States is currently reviewing the U.N.’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations to assess costs and effectiveness. U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council on Tuesday that thanks to recent elections in Haiti “the political context is right” for a new and smaller mission.

The draft resolution recognizes the country’s return to “constitutional order” and major steps toward stabilization following presidential and legislative elections. But it also recognizes the need for international support to strengthen, professionalize and reform the police — and to help the country promote economic development and face the “significant humanitarian challenges” following Hurricane Matthew which struck last October.

The draft reiterates the need for security in the country to be accompanied by efforts to address “the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters.” Sandra Honore, the U.N. envoy for Haiti, told the council on Tuesday that “Haiti’s political outlook for 2017 and beyond has significantly improved” following elections. This has opened “a crucial window of opportunity to address the root causes of the political crisis” that preceded the elections and address “the many pressing challenges facing the country,” she said.

The draft resolution says that MINUJUSTH, in addition to helping train the police, should assist the government in strengthening judicial and legal institutions “and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis.”

It would also authorize the new mission “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” in areas where it’s deployed and “to use all necessary means” to carry out its mandate in supporting and training Haiti’s police.

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