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Mission: Haiti

 

In the News, Page 2

New routes, new risks for fleeing Haitians (May 19, 2007) — A story in The New York Times today tells of human “traffickers” deceiving Haitians by telling them the United States is easily within reach.

“They describe this island chain, 150 miles off Haiti’s northern coast, as being an easy hop to Miami, the ultimate goal of most migrating Haitians,” reporter Marc Lacey writes about Turks and Caicos. “Sometimes they tell migrants from Haiti’s interior that the United States is a bus ride away as they talk of the big paychecks and full stomachs that await them.

“The reality is different, of course, as was made clear when an overloaded Haitian sloop capsized off the coast of Turks and Caicos recently. As many as 90 migrants may have died in that episode, which passengers on the vessel blamed on the aggressive tactics of the local police.

“They were part of a swelling number of Haitians abandoning their country this year, apparently disillusioned with the slow pace of change coming from Haiti’s year-old government. But with patrols along the Florida coastline making it increasingly difficult to land there, desperate Haitians are 'island hopping,' as the United States Coast Guard calls it, looking for alternative routes and badly straining relations with their neighbors.

“Turks and Caicos is hop No. 1, and it is not altogether happy about it. Local Haitians charge that authorities’ efforts to combat illegal migrants have become so aggressive that they believe accusations that a police boat may have caused the capsizing of the Haitian vessel on May 4, despite official denials.”

In all, 61 bodies were pulled from the sea, many with shark bites. Twenty or more bodies have not been found. The 78 who survived did not realize their dream of reaching the shore of the United States; they were returned to Haiti.

To read the complete story, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/19/world/americas/19haiti.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin 

Migrants claim boat was rammed (May 8, 2007) — Haitian migrants claim a Turks and Caicos naval vessel rammed their crowded sailboat twice before it capsized on May 4, killing dozens of people, the director-general of Haiti's National Migration Office said.

Jeanne Bernard Pierre, the director-general of Haiti's National Migration Office, said the migrants' account hasn't been confirmed but that the Haitian government would consider it “criminal” if found true.

The death toll rose to 61 from the pre-dawn capsizing of the migrant-laden sailboat off the British Caribbean territory of Turks and Caicos, after more bodies were found drifting in the Atlantic Ocean, the Turks and Caicos government said.

The migrants said their sailboat was rammed by a patrol boat, which then towed them into deeper water and left them overturned in shark-infested waters, according to The Associated Press. The Haitians said the boat, carrying an estimated 160 people, was minutes away from land when the incident occurred.

The Turks and Caiscos government said it will not comment until an investigation is complete. Britain's Foreign Office also declined to comment. A United Nations spokeswoman described the capsizing as “a tragedy” and said “it could have been avoided,” according to the AP.

Boat overturns in shark-infested waters (May 4, 2007) — A boat filled with Haitian migrants capsized in the moonlit, pre-dawn water a half-mile from the shore of Turks and Caicos Islands, flinging people into shark-infested ocean. Hours after the sailing vessel overturned, rescuers had recovered more than a dozen bodies — some with savage bite wounds — and were searching for about 60 missing people.

A Turks and Caicos police boat picked up 63 survivors, and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted 10 more clinging to the overturned vessel and guided in another boat to get them.

The Coast Guard said its helicopter reported spotting about 20 dead. A reporter for The Associated Press saw about a dozen bodies, some with missing feet and limbs.

It could become the worst disaster in years to hit Haitian migrants, who jam into boats to attempt the treacherous journey. Every year, Haitians by the hundreds set off in rickety boats hoping to escape poverty by sneaking into the U.S. The boat that overturned Friday was about 25 feet (7.6 meters) long and carried 150 people.

Recent deadly voyages by Haitian migrants, according to the AP:

  • March 28, 2007: More than 100 Haitian migrants reach Florida after spending at least three weeks in a dilapidated sailboat, officials said. One man dies in the crossing, and three people are hospitalized in critical condition from dehydration.
  • February 2007: An estimated 50 Haitian migrants are lost at sea after a fuel tank explodes and sets their fiberglass boat ablaze about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of the Dominican Republic. Two survivors are rescued by an American yacht.
  • July 2005: A boat carrying 36 Haitians sinks off the country's coast, killing at least 13 migrants.
  • April 2003: Its mast blown off and its captain dead, a drifting boat loaded with more than 100 Haitian migrants strikes a reef off the Dominican Republic and capsizes, killing four.
  • May 2002: Twelve Haitians drown when their rickety, overloaded sloop capsizes as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter moves toward the craft.
  • April 2000: U.S. and Bahamian forces rescue 288 Haitian migrants whose boat ran aground on Flamingo Cay in the southern Bahamas. At least two people and possibly as many as 14 die during the voyage. The U.S. Coast Guard evacuates 65 people suffering severe hypothermia, dehydration and kidney failure.
  • March 1999: Two boats overloaded with Haitian migrants capsize off Palm Beach, Florida, killing as many as 40.

There is a sizable community of illegal Haitian immigrants on Providenciales, and it was not immediately clear if those aboard the boat were headed here or to the United States. The number of Haitians intercepted by the Coast Guard has increased recently, despite the restoration of democracy to Haiti last year with the election of President Rene Preval. The numbers of Haitians trying to reach the U.S. show that many people don't wish to wait while he tries to transform the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

More Haitians being picked up at sea (April 30, 2007)Nearly as many Haitian migrants were intercepted in April on their way to U.S. shores as in all of 2006, the Coast Guard said.

A total of 704 Haitians were rescued from vessels in April. That compares with 43 in April 2006 and 769 in all of last year. The increase was not attributed to a single cause.

“We're seeing those boats come over with extremely large amounts of people,” a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

Thousands of Haitians leave their impoverished country every month, risking dangerous trips aboard rickety, crowded boats in hopes of finding better lives overseas.

The high number of migrants is still a far cry from the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of Haitians fled to the United States. About 31,430 came in 1992 alone, the Coast Guard said.

Since 2004, when 3,078 Haitians were intercepted, the number has been falling.

More than 360 of the migrants brought aboard Coast Guard cutters on April 27 and 28 were returned to Haiti on April 30. The boats they were traveling on were in bad condition.

Cuba, Venezuela talk about aiding Haiti (March 13, 2007) — Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is gradually getting back to work on matters of state and took part by telephone in a presidential meeting in Haiti this week, officials told the media.

Castro, 80, called four times to speak to Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Rene Preval of Haiti during their meeting in Port au Prince on Monday to discuss Venezuelan and Cuba aid to the hemisphere's poorest country.

“Fidel also took part in that meeting by telephone. He was very keen to make sure the trilateral cooperation succeeds,” Preval said at a news conference.

At the meeting, also attended by Cuban Vice President Esteban Lazo, Chavez announced $21 million in Venezuelan funding to extend medical programs carried out by Cuban doctors in remote rural areas in Haiti.

Haiti's slum gangs reportedly terrorizing rural areas (Feb. 28, 2007) — Heavily armed gangs, fleeing Haiti's dangerous slums in the face of U.N. peacekeeper raids, have established new bases in provincial areas, creating panic in rural populations, officials and witnesses told the media. One gang leader named Belony, who was chased from Port-au-Prince's slum of Cite Soleil, has settled near the northern town of Saint-Michel.

“They take refuge near a mountain, walking in the dozens with assault weapons in their hands, and the population of Saint-Michel is frightened to death,” a Saint-Michel lawmaker was quoted as saying.

The U.N. peacekeepers, who were sent to Haiti shortly after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in an armed rebellion three years ago, have stepped up operations against slum gangs in recent weeks. Hundreds of soldiers raided the capital's giant Cite Soleil slum in early February, spurring a gunbattle in which thousands of rounds were fired, at least one person was killed and several were wounded.

The U.N. Security Council voted two weeks ago to extend the peacekeeping mission for eight months and asked troops to step up operations against gangs. The U.N. force stands at 6,800 troops and nearly 2,000 police.

Reports from other provincial cities, including the southern city of Les Cayes, also indicate armed gangs have tried to move into rural areas where police or U.N. presence is absent or very weak. Gang members have attempted to flee across the border to the neighboring Dominican Republic as well.

The gangs, some of which remain loyal to Aristide, have been running many of Port-au-Prince's poorest neighborhoods for years.

Two U.N. peacekeepers killed (Nov. 11, 2006) — Two U.N. peacekeepers from Jordan were shot to death in Haiti's capital after coming under attack by gunmen, U.N. officials said.

The soldiers came under attack in the Sonapi section of the capital near Cite Soleil, a slum where well-armed street gangs blamed for kidnappings are based.

The U.N. peacekeeping force has been stepping up patrols to quell violence in the Caribbean nation's dense slums. But there is growing opposition among poor slum dwellers to the Brazil-led U.N. force, sent to restore order after a bloody February 2004 revolt ousted then President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They have accused U.N. troops of firing indiscriminately during gunbattles with gangsters, killing and wounding civilians.

The U.N. denies peacekeepers open fire indiscriminately and says they only shoot when attacked. No overall civilian casualty figures were available.

In recent days, students and slum dwellers have staged street protests calling for the U.N. force's withdrawal.

Jordan has about 1,500 troops in the force of some 8,800 peacekeepers. Nine peacekeepers have been killed since the force arrived in June 2004. The latest attack marked the bloodiest day for the blue-helmeted force in nearly a year. In December 2005, a Jordanian soldier was shot to death while patrolling Cite Soleil.

U.S. partially lifts arms embargo on Haiti (Oct. 11, 2006) — The United States partially lifted a 15-year-old arms embargo against Haiti, the U.S. Embassy said, allowing the troubled Caribbean nation to buy weapons for police battling violent — and often better armed — street gangs, according to The Associated Press.

The modified embargo approved by the State Department is aimed at helping Haitian and U.N. authorities “fight against rampant criminal and gang activity,” said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Shaila B. Manyam.

It allows the government to apply for licenses to buy firearms, body armor and other items for police, Manyam said. Private groups, companies and individuals are still restricted from buying arms under the embargo.

The policy change appears to underscore Washington's vote of confidence in President Rene Preval, a soft-spoken champion of the poor who took office in May and has worked to reform the corruption-riddled police force while challenging gangsters to lay down their guns.

The United States imposed the embargo in 1991 when then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown the first time, barring sales of weapons except “in a case of exceptional or undue hardship, or when it is otherwise in the interest of the United States government.”

The move barred Haiti from buying guns from U.S. suppliers, but experts say the country is awash in thousands of firearms smuggled in illegally — many from the United States.

Aristide tried to have the ban lifted after 20,000 U.S. troops returned him to power in 1994 but was rebuffed by U.S. officials, who cited police ties to cocaine trafficking and the slaying of government opponents.

Haiti's capital fell into chaos after the 2004 revolt as well-armed, pro-Aristide street gangs, former rebels and rogue police clashed almost daily, killing hundreds.

Since the revolt, U.S. and U.N. officials have been working to bolster a revamped police force. Gangs have been attacking police and U.N. peacekeepers with high-powered weapons.

An 8,800-strong U.N. peacekeeping force provides the only real security in Haiti, which has just 4,000 police for a population of 8 million. Experts say it needs at least 10 times that number.

U.N. renews troops in Haiti for six months (Aug. 15, 2006) — The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday renewed the mandate of the world body's peacekeeping mission in Haiti for an additional six months at about its current size to help keep violence in check and restore stability.

A resolution drafted by Argentina and adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council authorized the deployment of up to 7,200 troops and as many as 1,951 international police officers, roughly in line with the recommendations of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But while Annan had called for a 12-month extension of the mission's mandate, the United States insisted on just a six-month renewal, council diplomats said. Without council action, the mandate would have expired at the end of the day.

Annan, who visited Haiti this month, had argued that it would take at least a year to make progress in improving the legal system and local and national governance. As a compromise, the resolution stated the council's “intention to renew for further periods.”

The U.N. mission was sent into Haiti in June 2004 to support an interim government installed after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled into exile under international pressure. After new President Rene Preval took office in May, the level of violence declined only to spike again in July, Annan said in a report sent to the council this month.

A thriving illegal trade in drugs and arms, gang violence and kidnappings was likely to remain a problem for some time, requiring continued international aid, his report said. Annan has said that previous international aid missions in Haiti failed because they ended before reforms could take hold.

U.N. chief makes first visit to Haiti (Aug. 3, 2006) – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, making his first trip to Haiti, called Thursday for strengthening the national police force to stem an upsurge in kidnapping and lawlessness.

Annan, who was embraced by President Rene Preval at the airport, said the challenges facing the troubled Caribbean country remained vast, but “great strides” had been made in recent months.

 

Haiti experienced relative calm after Preval’s February election victory but since May, dozens of foreigners and Haitians have been kidnapped and gang fighting has forced hundreds of people to flee their homes in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “These criminals should be ashamed to call themselves Haitians when the nation is at a critical stage of rebuilding itself,” Annan said.

Kidnapped Americans released (July 20, 2006) — Two North Carolina missionaries kidnapped on their way to church in Haiti’s capital were freed Thursday after their families paid an undisclosed ransom, the FBI said. [See story below.]

Another American, a businessman from Albany, N.Y., who was in Haiti working on a water treatment project, also was released on Thursday after a day in captivity. An undisclosed ransom was paid.

Kidnappings back on the rise (July 20, 2006) —Kidnappers have demanded $100,000 for the release of two U.S. missionaries seized on their way to church in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, a U.N. official said Thursday.

Tom Barron, a minister at the Mustard Seed church, and William Eugene Seastrum, a member of the congregation, were driving to church early Sunday when assailants stopped their car and dragged them out, Dallemand said. Both missionaries are from High Point, N.C. They were reported to be “healthy.”

Once relatively rare in Haiti, kidnappings became an almost a daily occurrence after a bloody revolt toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. Abductions leveled off following the February election of President Rene Preval, but the problem has worsened again in recent weeks.

U.N. officials say the kidnappings and other violence, blamed mostly on well-armed street gangs, are aimed at destabilizing the new government that took power in May.

Edmond Mulet, the special U.N. envoy to Haiti, held emergency meetings with Preval on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the deteriorating security climate, officials said.

On Wednesday, gunmen stopped dozens of cars traveling along a main road leading to the capital's airport and tried to seize the occupants, Dallemand said. At least two Haitians were reported kidnapped.

The attacks were followed by heavy shooting that killed at least six people and injured several others in different parts of the capital, radio Kiskeya reported, suggesting a level of coordination among the gangs not seen in months.

Last month, Canadian missionary Ed Hughes was abducted from a rural town north of Port-au-Prince, where he runs an orphanage. The 72-year-old was freed a week later after an undisclosed ransom was paid.

At least 29 people have been reported kidnapped in Haiti so far in July, about a third of them U.S. citizens. Last year, 43 Americans were kidnapped in Haiti, including three who were killed in attempted abductions, according to the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Aristide supporters march in Haiti's capital (July 15, 2006) — Thousands of demonstrators demanding the return of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide marched to Haiti’s National Palace on Saturday, pushing past riot police in a dramatic show of support for the exiled former leader.

Chants of “Aristide or death!” and “Aristide’s blood is our blood!” rang out as a crush of demonstrators pressed against a line of national police, who eventually allowed some 3,000 protesters to fill the street outside the palace.

 

The march coincided with Aristide’s 53rd birthday and marked the largest display of support in months for the deposed leader, who fled Haiti in February 2004 amid a violent uprising and has been living in South Africa. One supporter claimed: “We voted for Preval on the condition that he bring back Aristide. That’s the will of the people.”

 

Preval, a champion of Haiti’s poor who took power in May, has said Haiti’s constitution allows Aristide to return but has not said whether he would welcome him home. Preval was prime minister under Aristide but the two grew apart and Preval has said little since his election about his former political mentor, frustrating Aristide supporters. The United States has warned Aristide’s return could destabilize the Caribbean country, which is hardly stable at the moment.

EU boosts aid to Haiti in support of Preval (June 27, 2006) — The European Union announced an increase in development aid for Haiti on Tuesday in Brussels, Belgium, in a show of support for visiting President Rene Preval and his newly elected government.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said EU aid to the troubled Caribbean nation would rise to $293 million (233 million euros) for the 2008 to 2013 period, from the $211 million set aside to cover 2002 to 2007.

“We think developments are in the right direction,” Barroso told a news conference after talks with Preval in Brussels.

EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel said the money would go towards education and infrastructure projects such as roads — two areas sorely in need. More aid would be made available if Haiti reached targets on good governance, Michel said.

Haiti Parliament approves new Cabinet (June 8, 2006) — Haiti's Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a new 18-member Cabinet that includes members from six political parties, a strong show of support for President Rene Preval as he steers the impoverished nation toward peace and stability. The Cabinet was unanimously endorsed by the Senate a day earlier.

The new government reflects Preval's need to unite the conflict-torn Caribbean nation after a February 2004 revolt toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and touched off a wave of violence.

The vote also formally confirms Preval's prime minister, Jacques-Edouard Alexis, who replaces U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue. Latortue left the country last month and has not spoken publicly about the new government.

Unifying the deeply divided country of 8 million won't be easy. Aristide's supporters are demanding his return from exile in South Africa and the release of scores of prisoners jailed without charge in the aftermath of the revolt. Some have accused Preval of sidelining them from the new government, a move that could stir resentment in Port-au-Prince's volatile, pro-Aristide slums.

Preval, 63, whose Cabinet includes one member of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party, has said Aristide is free to return home but hasn't said whether he'd welcome back his one-time ally and political mentor.

Preval sworn in as Haiti's president (May 14, 2006) — Rene Preval, the only elected Haitian president to finish a five-year term, was sworn in Sunday to again lead the impoverished nation in its latest attempt at democracy after decades of armed uprisings, lawlessness and foreign intervention.

Preval took the oath of office in a sweltering, packed Parliament chamber, donned Haiti's red and blue presidential sash and waved as some 300 newly installed legislators and foreign dignitaries gave him a standing ovation, according to The Associated Press. Those on hand included Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean and American actor Danny Glover.

The inauguration was the final step in Haiti's return to democratic rule two years after a bloody revolt ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and plunged the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation into chaos.

In his inaugural address later outside the national palace, Preval urged unity among Haiti's fractured society.

"We know what needs to be done. We need to make peace through dialogue and talking to each other so we can decide where we want to go together," Preval said. "If we don't talk, then we will only fight and there will be no peace.

"Please help me, help the country, help yourself," he said.

Preval, a former Aristide ally and champion of Haiti's poor, has pledged to unite the country and restore the peace that vanished in the aftermath of the February 2004 bloody revolt.

The 63-year-old agronomist, who ruled Haiti from 1996 to 2001, will have to overcome big challenges, including a corrupt state bureaucracy, a wrecked economy, roiling insecurity and the plight of prisoners.

Haiti to inaugurate new president (May 14, 2006) — U.N. peacekeepers increased patrols and workers swept trash-strewn streets as foreign dignitaries arrived for the inauguration of Haitian President-elect Rene Preval.

Delegations from some 40 countries were expected at Sunday's swearing-in ceremony, the last step in the impoverished Caribbean nation's return to democratic rule two years after a revolt toppled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Preval, a former Aristide ally and champion of Haiti's poor, has pledged to unite the country's fractured society and restore the peace that vanished after Aristide fled into exile.

But observers say the 63-year-old former president will have to overcome big challenges, including a corrupt state bureaucracy, a wrecked economy and roiling insecurity.

Haitian legislators sworn in (May 9, 2006) — Haiti’s first parliament in two years was formally installed Tuesday as President-elect Rene Preval prepared to take office and steer this impoverished nation toward stability.

 

Amid boisterous cheers from supporters, legislators in the Senate took the oath of office, following deputies in the lower house by a day. Preval, who served as Haiti’s president from 1996 to 2001, takes power Sunday in front of the parliament, which hasn’t convened since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a February 2004 uprising.

 

Most recognize that the body’s biggest challenge will be finishing its four-year term — something that’s never occurred in Haiti’s chaotic 202-year history.

 

Preval's party wins more than one-third of seats (April 24, 2006) — President-elect Rene Preval’s party won at least 11 of 30 senate seats in Haiti’s parliamentary runoff, according to partial results released late Monday, boosting his support as he seeks to unite the divided and impoverished country.

 

With 98 percent of the votes counted from Friday’s election, Preval’s Lespwa party was easily beating the second-place Organization for the People’s Struggle party, which had at least four senate seats, the Provisional Electoral Council said late Monday. The Fusion party was third with three seats, while the Fanmi Lavalas party of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had two seats. Several smaller parties won four seats, while the races for the remaining six seats were undecided.

 

The name of Preval's party, Lespwa, means “Hope” in Creole.

 

Low turnout for legislative runoff (April 21, 2006) — Low voter turnout marked Haiti's runoff vote for parliament, so President-elect Rene Preval may have to work hard in forming a new government.

 

Friday's race for 127 legislative seats, which featured hundreds of candidates from more than a dozen parties, was billed as the final step toward restoring democracy. Preval urged citizens to vote. But the low turnout was in sharp contrast to the frenzied presidential election on Feb. 7.

 

Thousands of U.N. peacekeepers guarded polling stations in a country plagued by gang violence, the closure of textile factories, and high unemployment since the February 2004 ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. No disturbances were reported at any of the polling stations.

 

Haiti's president asks United Nations for help (March 27, 2006) — Haiti’s president-elect appealed for urgent international help to spur development in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and called on all Haitians to join in a national dialogue to promote peace and democracy.

 

“Today, Haiti is a country waiting to be built,” Rene Preval said in a speech to a high-level meeting of the United Nations Security Council. “The problems are enormous and there is widespread urgency.”

 

He listed poverty, unemployment, dilapidated infrastructures and chronic insecurity as the major challenges his government would face.

 

Preval will be sworn in on May 14, almost two months later than planned because of a postponed legislative runoff now set for April 21, according to Haiti’s interim government — in power since a violent rebellion toppled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

 

The Security Council said in a statement that completing the electoral process and installing a new, elected government “will give Haiti a unique opportunity to break with the violence and political instability of the past.”

 

It will take more than the democratic process to cure what ails Haiti. The country needs to turn back to the Lord. As it says in Numbers 14:43: “Because you have turned away from following after the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.” Haiti's people need to seek the Lord's face and His forgiveness.

 

Election official returns to Haiti (March 6, 2006) — Jacques Bernard, the top election official who fled Haiti under threat, has returned to help organize a legislative runoff needed to form a new government, Haiti’s electoral council said Monday. Bernard, director-general of the embattled electoral council, arrived in the capital of Port-au-Prince on Sunday to resume his duties, two weeks after he left for the United States, the council’s secretary-general, Rosemand Pradel, told reporters.

 

Bernard fled after opponents ransacked his farm and diplomats warned that gang members planned to ambush his car as he left the vote tabulation center. The threats came amid complaints about the tabulation of results from the Feb. 7 elections won by President-elect Rene Preval.

 

Bernard will help prepare for a legislative runoff that had been scheduled for March 19 until officials said it would be delayed because of street protests that have slowed planning. Officials will announce a new election date shortly. The delay means Preval’s scheduled March 29 inauguration will also be postponed since he cannot take power without a sitting parliament.

Preval visits Dominican Republic (March 3, 2006) — Haiti’s newly elected president, Rene Preval, met Thursday with his counterpart in the Dominican Republic amid rising tensions between their countries over immigration and security.

It was Preval’s first official trip abroad since last month’s elections, a vote seen as crucial to restoring calm in Haiti. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez greeted Preval with a handshake and a hug, then the two men left for a state dinner at the National Palace. They were expected to discuss reactivating a commission on bilateral issues.

 

It was a sharp contrast from Fernandez’s last visit to Haiti, where protesters attempted to block his motorcade and at least three people were shot.

 

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a 243-mile border on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but the countries have long had an uneasy coexistence. The bloody rebellion that ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was begun by Haitians plotting across the border. As many as 1 million Haitians are living, many illegally, in the neighboring country, where the economy is four times larger.

 

Earlier Thursday, Preval met with top officials from the Dominican Republic and heard from some 250 Haitian students about the hardship of living abroad. Afterward he went into the crowd, where he was mobbed and hugged by supporters. “The only way to solve the problems of Haitians abroad would be to improve the economic situation” in Haiti, Preval told the students.

 

Many Haitian immigrants work for meager wages and complain of harassment, deportation threats and attacks by their uneasy neighbors

President's inauguration may be delayed (March 1, 2006) — Jacques Bernard, the director-general of the nine-member electoral council that organized what was only the fourth presidential election in Haiti's bloody, 200-year history, left the country on Feb. 19 in the wake of disputed elections. He told The Associated Press his life was in danger.

Bernard's departure and street violence prevented poll workers from finishing their duties: a legislative runoff scheduled for March 19. The runoff likely will be postponed. This delay could postpone the inauguration of president-elect Rene Preval, scheduled for March 29.

During his visit this week, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Thomas Shannon said: “What's important is that this electoral process keep moving forward. The Haitian people have waited too long already, and it's our hope that this process will meet its timetable and that a new government will be inaugurated soon.”

U.S. diplomat: Aristide's return not important (Feb. 28, 2006) — The assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs told reporters Monday in Port-au-Prince that Jean-Bertrand Aristide's possible return to Haiti is “one of the least important questions” facing the country.

Thomas Shannon said Haiti's people must unite behind newly elected president Rene Preval and work together for a better future. Shannon visit Preval and Haitian officials during a one-day visit. “We are focused on Haiti's future, not on its past, and we believe the Haitian people are also,” Shannon was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

Preval speaks publicly about Aristide (Feb. 22, 2006) — In his first public comments since being elected president of Haiti, Rene Preval said the exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide has the constitutional right to return to his native country. But he and others who fled Haiti in the face of a 2004 rebellion “have to ask themselves if they really want to come back.” They may be facing legal charges against them, plus leaders of that rebellion have gained financial and political clout. The rebel chief, Guy Philippe, was one of the 32 candidates who unsuccessfully challenged Preval for president.

Preval was Aristide's prime minister and served as president from 1996 to 2001, when Aristide was constitutionally ineligible to run for office. Aristide had two shortened terms as president — the first ended by a military coup and the second by a rebellion. Aristide is accused by some of having deepened racial and class divides and leaving the country in chaos.

Reportedly, Preval is said by confidantes to have little interest in welcoming Aristide back to the country, fearing his presence could set off new unrest in the slums ruled by gangs that were armed and empowered during Aristide's rule. Those gangs may have helped Preval's election. But Preval distanced himself from Aristide during the deposed president's second term.

Charges were filed by Haiti's U.S.-backed interim government last November, saying that Aristide “abused his power and deceived and betrayed the Haitian people by directing and participating in ongoing and fraudulent schemes.” He has been accused of taking government funds with him when he left the country for his exile in South Africa.

Aristide reportedly willing to return to Haiti (Feb. 22, 2006) — Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Tuesday in South Africa that he was willing to return home after two years in exile. In an interview with South African television, Aristide stopped short of setting a date. He said he would decide on his return after consulting with Haitian President-elect Rene Preval, the South African government, the United Nations and other involved countries, according to The Associated Press.

Aristide has been a “guest” of the South African government since being ousted in February 2004. Aristide and Preval hold similar views about ending the subjugation of Haiti's poor black majority by a lighter-skinned elite.

Election official flees country (Feb. 21, 2006) — Jacques Bernard, the chief of Haiti's electoral council, has fled the country after opponents threatened his life and burned down his farmhouse nearly two weeks after disputed elections. Bernard left Sunday and may have traveled to Miami, according to reports. Last Friday, Bernard claimed to have received threats and requested more security amid complaints about the tabulation of results from the Feb. 7 elections, which returned former President Rene Preval to office.

Preval, meanwhile, has yet to make an acceptance speech since being declared the winner of an election for president that had threatened to plunge this country, the most volatile in the hemisphere, back into crisis. Preval, a 63-year-old Belgian-educated agronomist who was president from 1996 to 2001, has not officially addressed the nation, and he has not yet granted interviews.

 

The media has reported on Preval working behind the scenes to repair some of the damage done in the midst of the tumultous election. When it appeared he would not have enough votes to win without a runoff, he charged authorities with fraud in elections whose credibility was considered crucial to strengthening Haiti's stumbling democracy. But now he is facing questions about the legitimacy of the back-room deal brokered by foreign diplomats that ended the possibility of a runoff and made him the victor.

He has held a battery of private meetings and conversations with the same opponents whom he called enemies on national television last week.

Questions also remain about whether Preval will be his own president or a low-key copy of old ally Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide, described recently by the The New York Times as the fiery slum priest who could command this country's poor masses as firmly as Moses did the Red Sea, was forced from power and into exile in South Africa two years ago by a violent uprising supported by the elite. But some contend that he continues, either directly or through the masses who remain loyal to him, to have influence over Preval. Pressure for Aristide's return has clearly begun building from South Africa, where President Thabo Mbeki suggested Sunday on public radio that Aristide might soon consult with Preval.

The U.S. government has stated that it is now working with Preval, and Aristide is history in Haiti.

High hopes for the new president (Feb. 17, 2006) — Rene Preval was the first Haitian president to finish his term in a nation beset by coups and chaos. On Thursday, Feb. 16, he earned a chance to repeat that feat.

 

“We have won. We thank God and the people,” the 63-year-old agronomist told the private-run Haitian Press Agency after being declared his country's first elected president since a bloody revolt toppled Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

 

Preval, a former ally of the exiled Aristide and a champion of Haiti's poor masses, inherits a nation in far worse shape than when he first assumed power in 1996 and served until 2001. Eighty percent of the country's 8 million people live in poverty (surviving on about $1 a day), the legal system is corrupt, heavily armed gangs rule the slums and wage daily gunfights with U.N. peacekeepers, and 1 in 20 people is infected with HIV. These are problems that cannot be quickly solved. And yet there are expectations that Preval will do so.

 

“I'm so happy, because we have what we were looking for,” a 36-year-old woman told The Associated Press. “With Preval, we'll have security, jobs and life will get back to normal.”

 

Others repeated the mantra of Preval's election, saying: “Now we have hope” and “Preval is hope.”

 

Preval's party is called “Lespwa,” which is Haitian Creole for “hope.”

 

Rene Preval declared president of Haiti (Feb. 16, 2006) — Rene Preval was declared the winner of the Feb. 7 presidential election at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday by the interim government and electoral council. Haitians began celebrating in the streets as word quickly spread that the former president, who is hugely popular among the poor, had won.

 

The victory was assured after marathon negotiations among leaders of Preval's Lespwa Party, the interim government, the Provisional Electoral Council, the United Nations Stabilization Mission, the O.A.S. and ambassadors from the United States, France, Canada, Brazil and Chile. Talks started on Monday, after early tallies indicated the Preval would not receive 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff election, and the Western Hemisphere's poorest country appeared on the verge of chaos. Supporters of Preval paralyzed cities across the country with protests and flaming barricades after suspicions of voter fraud arose.

 

Preval, who was president from 1996 to 2001, had received 49.76 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. The agreement allowed 85,000 ballots (the majority reportedly favoring Preval) to be deducted from the total number of votes counted, raising Preval's share to 51.15 percent.

 

Preval inherits a country of 8 million people reeling from decades of corrupt military and civilian leaders. An estimated 80 percent of Haitians are unemployed. Many survive on odd jobs while living in the deforested countryside with no electricity, clean drinking water or health care.

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