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 News and opinions on situation in Haiti
Haiti Report for November 1, 2007

The Haiti Report is a compilation and summary of events as described in Haiti and international media prepared by Konbit Pou Ayiti/KONPAY. It does not reflect the opinions of any individual or organization. This service is intended to create a better understanding of the situation in Haiti by presenting the reader with reports that provide a variety of perspectives on the situation. 

To make a donation to support this service: Konbit Pou Ayiti, 7 Wall Street, Gloucester, MA, 01930.

- Preval’s Proposed Constitutional Changes Spark Political Debate
- UN Experts Visit Dominican Republic to Assess Racism
- Maryse Narcisse, Second Lavalas Leader Kidnapped and Released; Pierre-Antoine Still Missing
- Tropical Storm Noel Leaves Flooding, Mudslides and At Least 58 Dead
- Swiss Filmmaker Kidnapped and Freed
- Haiti Takes a Step Towards the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy
- UN Peacekeepers Give Aid to Mark United Nations Day
- OAS Calls for Improved Coordination of Aid Programs
- UN Peacekeepers Talk of Transition from Operative to Eminently Preventative Mission
- Dominican and Venezuelan Governments to work on Border Highway
- Brazilian Defense Ministry Wants to Send More Troops to Haiti
- Report on Origin of AIDS for US Creates Controversy
- Federation of the Friends of Nature Statement in Wake of Dean

Preval’s Proposed Constitutional Changes Spark Political Debate:
Elections for a third of the Haitian senate are delayed. Electoral council members are under investigation. And President René Préval has set off a firestorm by proposing a reform of the constitution. After some 18 months of relative political calm, Haiti is in the midst of a blistering and politically charged debate that’s stirring concerns of yet another plunge into political crisis. At stake is not just the fragile coalition government that Préval has built since taking office in May 2006, but his credibility as he struggles, with the international community looking over his shoulder, to address Haiti’s vexing problems. ’’This is a distraction that Haiti can ill afford at this point,’’ said one foreign diplomat who asked for anonymity because of the polarizing nature of the debate.

The turbulence, slowly building for weeks, came to a head Oct. 17, when Préval told Haiti’s 8.5 million citizens that the 20-year-old constitution is a ‘’source of instability’’ that requires “profound modifications.’’ His declaration, coupled with a lack of specifics on what parts of the constitution he wants to change, immediately sparked complaints from opponents and even many supporters that constitutional reform should not be a top priority at this time. Some critics accuse Préval of ‘’manufacturing a crisis’’ to divert attention from his government’s lack of progress in addressing Haiti’s grinding poverty, while others say he’s seeking to gain authoritarian rule.

‘’I am not interested in becoming president again after 2011,’’ Préval told The Miami Herald, addressing for the first time speculation that he wants to change the constitution to allow him to seek a third presidential term. ``When I leave office on the seventh of February 2011, I would like to leave a country [with] long-term stability for long-term development.’’ But he added that such progress would be difficult under a constitution that bans back-to-back presidential terms, allows parliament to fire the prime minister and requires national elections every two years — largely financed with foreign aid. ”Are we always going to the international community [to seek funds], or are we going to change the constitution to say we are going to have one election every five years, every six years?’’ he said. ``I’ve asked the nation to reflect on certain aspects . . . that I believe make the constitution an element of instability.’’

Many Haitians say the very mention of reforms has created instability, as evidenced by the intense political bickering and deep distrust that re-emerged in recent days. ’’This is not the climate to have this kind of debate,’’ said opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, citing the fragility of Haiti’s political and social environment. “The government lacks credibility, and they will lose even more credibility if they continue to pursue this.’’ Manigat, an expert on the constitution who even wrote a book a couple of years ago pleading for reforms, said she has not changed her position on the need for changes but that the country now faces more pressing problems. ’’What causes political stability in a country? It’s when people see a bunch of problems and they see no solution for them. Dissatisfaction, frustration. That is what exists right now,’’ Manigat said. ``I hope there will not be a social explosion in this country because of . . . the degree to which misery exists.’’

Préval argues that the constitution, adopted after the collapse of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship, focused too much on checks on power to make sure no new tyranny would arise, is too bureaucratic and expensive to maintain and has never been fully implemented. ’’In 20 years, we’ve never had political stability because we were always fighting against the dictator,’’ Préval said, sitting in the east wing of the presidential palace overlooking the Champ de Mars plaza. ”Today, we are creating a government where there is representation by everyone in the parliament, and this has provided political stability. But this political stability has to continue.’’ In recent days, Préval has been quietly meeting with political and business leaders to discuss the reform effort. But many Haitian distrust him, recalling his first presidential term, 1996-2001, when a dispute over elections led him to effectively close down parliament.

Adding to the turbulence has been Préval’s recent proposals to dissolve the current Provisional Electoral Council, known as CEP, amid allegations of corruptions and delays in two critical elections.  Préval says he wants to replace the CEP with a new nine-member board better capable of guaranteeing the neutrality of elections. Critics say Préval should simply follow the current constitution, which lays out the procedure for creating an electoral council. But that process first requires the election of a group of county government-like officials — a layer of government mandated by the constitution. Préval supporters say he opposes the new layer because it would add hundreds more to the government’s payroll and 10 new posts to his cabinet. Also fueling the political tensions is the lack of a date for elections to replace 11 senators, whose terms expire Jan. 14. The elections were due Nov. 25, and Préval has shown little interest in pushing the issue.

The president’s critics say maintaining the constitutionally required schedule for elections, as expensive and frequent as they are, is critical to the rebuilding of democracy here.  Though in public foreign diplomats are staying out of the fray, privately they are very concerned. ’’Since 1804, no government in place in 200 years of independence did amend or change the constitution to serve the community,’’ said Georges Michel, a historian and one of the 59 framers of the current Haitian Constitution, which was modeled after Belgium and intentionally written to keep dictators at bay. ’’If President Préval is not stopped in this venture, he’s going to put the whole process in jeopardy and even his own presidency in jeopardy,’’ added Michel, who has vowed to protect the constitution. ``If he makes a maneuver of force on the constitution he will have an uprising against him . . . and they will invest all energy and resources to overthrow him and expel him from power like they did [former President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide. I do not want this to happen. René Préval has been my friend for 30 years, and I want to save my friend René from himself.’’ (Miami Herald, 11/1)

UN Experts Visit Dominican Republic to Assess Racism:
Gay McDougall, who is visiting the Dominican Republic to verify the existence or non-existence of racism in the country has told the press that she was surprised at yesterday’s Senate resolution describing her visit here as part of an international conspiracy against the Dominican Republic. She and her colleague, Senegalese Doudou Diene, explained that they were not UN officials, as had been reported in the press, and said that they were independent professionals chosen by the UN Committee on Human Rights to study the racial problem in the DR. McDougall is a former executive director of the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C. She was a judge in the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award that honored Sonia Pierre for her activism in favor of improving life for Haitians in the Dominican Republic. In an online press release from the RFK at the time, she stated her position: “The level of violence against Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic is alarming’, said Gay McDougall, RFK Human Rights Award Judge and UN independent expert on minority issues. ’At a time when even second and third generation ethnic Haitians are targets of brutal human rights abuses, Sonia Pierre has risen as the most profound leader in the nation’s movement for minority rights.’” (DR Daily News, 10/26)

Two United Nations experts says racism is a “profound and entrenched” problem in the Dominican Republic, triggering denunciations by the government of a conspiracy to defame the country. The UN experts on racism and minorities said in a preliminary report after a week-long visit to the Caribbean country that they had found no official government policy of discrimination. ”There is nevertheless a profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination against such groups as Haitians, Dominicans of Haitian descent and more generally against blacks in Dominican society,” they said. Faced with grinding poverty, environmental devastation and widespread unemployment, up to a million Haitians are believed to have crossed illicitly into the neighbouring and far more prosperous Dominican Republic in search of work. The two countries share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Doudou Diene, the UN Special Rapporteur on racism and related intolerance, and Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, said the cultural depth of racism in the hemisphere, the Haitian occupation and racism under Trujillo all contributed. ”This legacy remains today and helps to perpetuate negative and racist perceptions of Haitians, those of Haitian descent, and more generally against blacks in Dominican society,” they said in their findings, which will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council. Dominican Foreign Minister Carlos Morales Troncoso called the report a set-up, saying it reflected the views of “traitors” who had a financial interest in pushing the view abroad of the Dominican Republic as racist. He also indicated the envoys had misunderstood the Dominican Republic’s relations with impoverished Haiti. ”Our border with Haiti has its own problems, is part of our reality and must be understood,” Morales Troncoso said. “It’s important not to confuse national sovereignty with indifference and not to confuse security with xenophobia.” (Reuters, 10/31)

Maryse Narcisse, Second Lavalas Leader Kidnapped and Released; Pierre-Antoine Still Missing:
An official with ousted president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas political movement was abducted at gunpoint Saturday, October 27, 2007. Dr. Maryse Narcisse acted as spokesperson for exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and belongs to the five-member Executive Committee for Fanmi Lavalas. She was taken at gunpoint in front of her home in the area of Petion-Ville in Haiti’s capital early Saturday evening. Narcisse is the second high-profile figure of the Lavalas movement abducted in the past three months. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine was last seen on the evening of Sunday, August 12, 2007 after meeting with a US human rights delegation visiting Haiti. He has not been heard from since. Mr. Pierre-Antoine had announced his intention to file as a Lavalas candidate for the next round of parliamentary elections in Haiti. Recent abductions have led to fear among Lavalas supporters that a campaign targeting their leadership has begun as they continue to organize for an upcoming convention to be held on December 16 in Port au Prince. That date commemorates the 17-year anniversary of Aristide’s first election to Haiti’s presidency in Dec.1990. (Haiti Information Project, 10/29)

The spokeswoman of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party has been kidnapped, Haitian police confirmed Tuesday. Maryse Narcisse and an unidentified man traveling with her disappeared late Saturday, national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said. No further details were available. It is the second recent kidnapping involving a Lavalas official. High-profile activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, who had received threats because of his ties to Aristide, disappeared more than two months ago. Police said they have no leads in that case. Aristide was toppled in a 2004 revolt and now lives in South Africa. (AP, 10/30)

An official with ousted president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas political movement was released this morning after being held for three days by unknown captors. Dr. M aryse Narcisse was taken at gunpoint on Saturday from in front of her home and was the second high-profile figure of the Lavalas movement abducted in the past three months. Mr. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine was last seen on the evening of August 12 after meeting with a US human rights delegation visiting Haiti. He was abducted following his announcement of his intention to file as a Lavalas candidate in the next round of parliamentary elections in Haiti. He has not been heard from since. (Haiti Information Project, 10/31)

Tropical Storm Noel Leaves Flooding, Mudslides and At Least 58 Dead:
Tropical Storm Noel lashed Haiti with heavy rains early Monday as it moved across the impoverished Caribbean nation, generating fears of flash flooding on deforested hills often blanketed by rows of flimsy shacks. Noel, the 14th named storm of the Atlantic season, was expected to drop as much as 20 inches of rain on Haiti and the Dominican Republic which share the island of Hispaniola before heading on a path east of Cuba toward the Bahamas. The storm weakened overnight as it encountered Hispaniola’s mountainous terrain but still poses a serious threat to Haiti, which is recovering from floods that killed at least 37 and sent more than 4,000 people to shelters earlier this month. Noel had sustained winds of about 45 mph and is expected to move over or near Haiti’s western coast Monday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. At 8 a.m. EDT, Noel’s poorly organized center was located near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, forecasters said.

Dominican authorities said at least 600 people had been evacuated as the storm touched off landslides, flooded rivers and pushed storm surges onto Santo Domingo’s seaside boulevard. Swollen rivers also forced evacuations in Cabaret, a town north of Port-au-Prince where floods killed at least 23 people earlier this month, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s civil protection agency. ”We are working hard to make sure everything goes well and that every citizen knows a cyclone is coming,” Jean-Baptiste said Sunday. It could take days for Haitian authorities to learn of flooding in some parts of the country, where communications are limited. (AP, 10/29)

The tail end of Tropical Storm Noel triggered mudslides and floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti as the death toll rose to 60 on Wednesday — deadlier than all but one Atlantic hurricane this season. The slow-moving storm lurched out of Cuba and stalled over the Atlantic, but was projected to skirt Florida and batter the Bahamas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. With rain still falling two days after the storm hit, rescuers were struggling to reach communities cut off by flooding on the island of Hispaniola. As they did, they found a rising toll of death and damage — at least 41 dead in the Dominican Republic, 18 in Haiti and one in Jamaica. At least 50,500 Dominicans fled their homes, 12,000 of which were damaged, said Luis Antonio Luna, head of the Emergencies Commission. Flooding also forced the evacuation of about 1,000 prisoners from a prison north of the Dominican capital. Luna said officials were trying to reach dozens of isolated communities, but bad weather, a lack of helicopters and damage to bridges and highways slowed rescue efforts.

In neighboring Haiti, floods rushed through houses in the Cite Soleil slum, carrying away a 3-year-old boy as relatives frantically shouted for help and tried unsuccessfully to reach him through the muddy, debris-filled water. Two people were killed when their house collapsed in a mudslide in the hillside suburb of Petionville, and at least three others died in Jacmel, where officials said 150 people were trapped on rooftops awaiting aid. Some Haitian shelters were overwhelmed by evacuees. One in Cite Soleil, guarded by U.N. troops, had one blanket for every two people. Noel is the deadliest Caribbean storm since Tropical Storm Jeanne hit Haiti in 2004, killing 1,500 people and triggering widespread flooding and mudslides before it became a hurricane. An additional 900 people were reported missing and presumed dead. (AP, 10/30)

The death toll from Tropical Storm Noel’s rampage through the Caribbean rose to at least 59 on Wednesday as torrents of water swept away entire families in the Dominican Republic. Floods forced people to climb onto their roofs or to perch on trees in affected areas of the Dominican Republic, where at least 41 people were killed and another 38 were reported missing. In one neighborhood of Santo Domingo, entire houses disappeared under the flood waters. Noel barreled across the Dominican Republic on Sunday, and slammed Haiti the next day. On Wednesday, Noel’s sequels continued to wreak havoc over Hispaniola, the island the two countries share, as the storm moved across Cuba, emerged in the Atlantic Ocean and targeted the Bahamas. ”The situation is still dangerous and the number of deaths could rise,” said Luis Luna Palino, who heads the Dominican Republic’s National Emergencies Center (CNE). ”Rescuing people is becoming difficult because the rains are continuing,” Palino told local radio, adding that floods had cut off 39 communities in the south of the country, where one third of the population was left without power. ”The worst of the situation is the flooding of rivers,” he said. More than 25,500 people fled their homes, over 6,000 homes were damaged, and 10 bridges collapsed, authorities said. Dominican President Leonel Fernandez announced a three million dollar relief package for storm victims.

In Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, there were at least 18 storm-related deaths, including a 14-year old girl and her mother killed when an uprooted tree crushed their house in the capital. Heavy rains swept away and destroyed homes in three departments, said Marie Alta Jean Baptiste, head of the country’s civil protection agency. Haitian Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis said 1.5 million dollars had been set aside to assist storm victims.

In Cuba, where some 9,000 people were evacuated, dozens of homes were damaged or destroyed, and floods cut off several areas. Local radio reported that numerous coffee fields were under water. The Cuban Institute of Meteorology warned that much of the soil along Noel’s path was already saturated from previous heavy rainfall, and urged residents be on the lookout for flooding. Authorities feared further floods and mudslides as the storm drenched Caribbean nations already soaked by weeks of steady rains. ”These rains … especially in Hispaniola and Cuba, are expected to cause life-threatening floods and mudslides,” said forecaster James Franklin, of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. (AFP, 10/30)

Swiss Filmmaker Kidnapped and Freed:
Swiss filmmaker Thomas Noreille was freed by his abductors in Haiti on Monday, nine days after he was kidnapped, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said. Noreille, who has made a number of documentary films about Haiti, is in good health and has been in touch with his family, officials said. It was unclear whether a ransom had been paid. Noreille was taken Oct. 20 by three gunmen while driving with a Haitian woman in Petionville, a relatively wealthy district in the hills east of Port-au-Prince that is home to many foreigners and diplomats. Relatives had received a ransom demand for an undisclosed amount, officials said in Haiti. Haitian authorities detained at least seven people for questioning in the case, including the woman who was with him at the time of his abduction, police said. Foreign Ministry officials declined to go into any details about the release on grounds that they did not want to jeopardize the investigation. Ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat said only that the release of Noreille was not as a result of a police operation. But the ministry expressed its appreciation for the work of Haitian officials. (AP, 10/29)

Haiti Takes a Step Towards the Caribbean Community Single Market and Economy:
Haiti has ratified the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, moving the former French colony one step closer to participating in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSM), CARICOM Secretary General Edwin Carrington said here on Tuesday. Carrington told reporters that the Haitian Parliament had ratified the revised treaty and it would now require a period of 90 days before it is deposited at the CARICOM Secretariat. ”We obviously have to mount not one but maybe several field missions into Haiti to discuss with them now the various aspects of the implementation process,” Carrington said. Haiti’s accession to the CSME was halted due to the political upheaval and the eventual ousting from power of then president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in late February, 2004. (Jamaica Gleaner, 10/25)

UN Peacekeepers Give Aid to Mark United Nations Day:
UN peacekeepers gave medical checkups and passed out food at schools and orphanages across this impoverished Caribbean nation to mark United Nations Day on Wednesday. About a dozen events were scheduled in poor districts of the Haitian countryside and the capital of Port-au-Prince, where soldiers and police from the 9,000-member UN peacekeeping force were scheduled to show films and distribute sports equipment. Brazilian soldiers handed out small bags of food at an orphanage in the seaside slum of Cite Soleil, while 200 people waited at a school and orphanage in the neighborhood of Tabarre to see doctors from the Nepalese Army. Bernadette Valdemont, 33, cradled her toddler, Vansen, who was crying after three days of fever. ``I hadn’t taken him to a doctor yet. Lucky for us this was happening today,’’ she said. Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, has hosted a multinational UN force since riots followed the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously this month to extend the troops mission in Haiti through at least October 2008. (AP, 10/25)

OAS Calls for Improved Coordination of Aid Programs:
The Organization of American States (OAS) and nine Latin American countries have called on the international community to improve coordination in their aid programs for Haiti and not to let down their guard, so that the progress achieved by president René Préval’s government is not lost. Representatives of the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, all of which contribute troops to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti (Minustah) met in Buenos Aires to study ways in which aid for Haiti could be made most effective. In his opening address, Argentina’s foreign Minister Jorge Taiana listed all the areas where Haiti is undergoing progress in politics, economics and security, stressing the need for the international community to contribute to this process by honoring its commitments. ”Aid for Haiti presents a dual challenge: allow for effective spending of resources committed and supporting the government with the aim of ensuring that funding support may be absorbed by its executing government agencies”, he added. (Dominican Today, 10/27)

UN Peacekeepers Talk of Transition from Operative to Eminently Preventative Mission:
NIGHT WAS closing in on the squalid streets of Cite Soleil as two white armoured tanks carrying members of the Brazilian army’s Seventh Infantry Division rolled into Port-au-Prince’s most notorious shantytown. Through the green and black haze of their night vision goggles the soldiers squinted out at their surroundings: crumbling shacks with gaping holes gouged out of them by automatic gunfire; stray dogs picking at foetid mounds of rubbish; the occasional kerosene fire flickering eerily in the darkness. A year ago this desolate setting might also have been accompanied by the crackle of gunfire. But tonight the streets were silent. ”They haven’t shot at us since March,” boasted Colonel Carlos Jorge, a hulking army veteran from the south of Brazil.

Until a year ago, UN peacekeepers such as Jorge were fighting street-to-street battles against heavily armed gangs in Haiti’s capital. Now they talk of the end of an “operative” phase and the beginning of an “eminently preventative” one, meaning that, for now at least, the storm of violence is easing. ”We can’t say that the violence problem is completely resolved,” cautioned Ricardo Pilar, the commander of the Brazilian marines in Port-au-Prince. “There are still some focuses of violence to eliminate. But Haiti is moving forward slowly.”  But now, more than three years on, the Brazilians claim to have achieved a “pacification”, however fragile.

An abandoned market at the heart of Cite Soleil that once served as a hideout for local gangsters has been transformed into a UN stronghold, circled by barbed wire and peace-keepers armed with Para-Fal assault rifles. In the nearby slum of Bois Neuf, a former kidnapping den has become a UN base. Haiti also has a new president – Rene Preval, who was elected in February 2006 pledging to rid his country of the label “failed state” and now claims to be doing exactly that. The question is how long can the “pacification” last? Robert Montenald, a 32-year-old social worker from Bel-Air, said that unless fundamental problems such as health care, unemployment and education were addressed, the peace was unlikely to last.

At Camp Charlie, the largest Brazilian military base in Haiti’s capital, the only certainty most soldiers have is the number of days until they return home. Few are optimistic about the long-term future of the country they will leave behind. ”Those people who shot at us are still out there,” said Colonel Julio Cesar de Sales, who commands the seventh contingent of Brazilian troops. “They don’t shoot because there is no need. But if the reconstruction does not come, I really don’t know what might happen.”  (Sunday Herald, 10/30)

Dominican and Venezuelan Governments to work on Border Highway:
The Dominican and Venezuelan governments agreed to seek a definitive solution to the problems of the International Highway that spans most of the border with Haiti, bolster the border crossings and expand health programs to control tropical diseases. Border council ambassador Radhames Batista said initiatives develop the Dominican-Haiti border were drafted during a meeting held today, which needs only the signature of Foreign Relations minister Carlos Morales. He said the Congress is ready to draft legislation to regulate the development the zone along the country’s border, including allocations, and the creation of a Ministry of Borders, to manage the resources and follow up the projects being carried out. Batista said the International Highway, which spans the country from north to south, sparks trade and cultural exchange between the country’s western provinces. (Dominican Today, 10/26)

Brazilian Defense Ministry Wants to Send More Troops to Haiti:
Brazil should send more troops to the U.N. peacekeeping mission that it leads in Haiti to help with the country’s reconstruction, the Brazilian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. The 9,000-strong force in the Caribbean state includes some 1,200 Brazilians. Earlier this month, the United Nations extended the mission’s mandate by a year. ”My position is that the Brazilian personnel in Haiti has to be increased to work for reconstruction,” Nelson Jobim told a Congressional commission on foreign relations and defense. Military construction and engineering experts now in Haiti were “absolutely essential” for developing Haiti’s infrastructure, he said. Jobim did not say how many additional troops the ministry proposed to send. Brazil’s ambassador to Haiti said earlier this month the force should change its priorities to focus less on security and more on helping development. Haiti has been relatively stable in recent months following more than two years of political and gang violence before and after the fall of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president ousted in a rebellion in February 2004. (Reuters, 10/31)

Report on Origin of AIDS for US Creates Controversy:
A new scientific finding that AIDS came to the United States from Africa via Haiti, probably arriving in Miami as early as 1969, stoked controversy among researchers and Haitians on Tuesday — reopening deep wounds over the medical community’s role in perpetuating a stigma against people from the island. Published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study aims to better explain the origin of AIDS, whose history involves a virus with a sketchy story line that began in Africa in the 1930s and emerged in Los Angeles in 1981. The findings were based, in part, on blood samples taken from about 20 Haitian patients at Jackson Memorial Hospital as early as 1979. The samples were frozen, stored at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and reanalyzed by the study’s authors, including a researcher at the University of Miami.

‘’We were seeing patients at Jackson Memorial with what we now call AIDS, and at the time we didn’t even know it,’’ said Dr. Arthur Pitchenik, co-author of the study and a professor of medicine at the University of Miami Medical School. ``I started seeing Haitian immigrant patients with TB. They would get better from the TB only to die three to six months later from what we now call AIDS.’’ Dr. Michael Gottlieb, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of the original discoverers of AIDS, said the analysis placed the HIV virus that causes it in the United States nearly a decade earlier than previously believed. ’’It’s pretty clear evidence for Haiti as a stepping-stone,’’ he said. ``The suggestion that the infection was further below our radar than I’d previously suspected is kind of unnerving.’’ ’’This is very credible work,’’ added Dr. Margaret Fischl, a pioneering UM AIDS researcher. ``Their approach is the way it should be done. Some of my colleagues think this is really remarkable work.’’ 

The findings drew immediate anger from Miami’s Haitian community and raised concerns among some AIDS scientists, as well. ’’People are going crazy,’’ said Dr. Laurinus Pierre, executive director of the Center for Haitian Studies in Little Haiti. Pierre said he has fought stigmas against Haitians from the first days of AIDS, in which researchers blamed the epidemic on the ‘’Four Hs’’ — homosexuals, Haitians, hemophiliacs and heroin addicts. In February 1990, the Food and Drug Administration barred Haitians from donating blood in the United States, a policy that ignited scores of protests and highly publicized boycotts of blood drives. By December 1990, the FDA had scrapped its policy and developed a more rigorous screening of all blood donors. To many, the policy pushed an already taboo subject in the Haitian community deeper in the shadows and discouraged many from seeking treatment, a phenomenon some say the latest findings could cause to happen again.

‘’This does a disservice to the Haitian community, who feel like they already went through this 20 years ago,’’ said Dr. Paul Farmer, professor of medical anthropology at Harvard University and a founder of Partners in Health, an international research and aid organization active in fighting AIDS in Haiti. ``This is very slender evidence on which to base such a grand claim.’’ ’’I don’t think this is very helpful,’’ said Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, a professor of medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York. ``People love to play history, and it would be great to figure out who Patient Zero was. But there are doubts.’’

The study’s lead author, Michael Worobey, a University of Arizona evolutionary biologist, defended his methodology Tuesday and denied any disservice to the Haitian community. Worobey and his co-authors analyzed the frozen blood samples from about 20 of Pitchenik’s Haitian patients at Jackson from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. They set up a medical timeline that they say indicates the HIV virus arrived in Haiti in 1966 and in Miami by 1969. Worobey said he estimated the timing of the virus’ arrival by taking samples of the virus from the late 1970s to 2000. By knowing the rate at which the viruses mutate, he said he was able to create a picture of what the virus looked like in 1969. And by comparing viruses from the United States and Haiti during this time, he could deduce when the virus arrived in the States. ’’It’s a common technique used in genetic analysis and human evolution,’’ Worobey said Tuesday. 

The study concludes that AIDS arrived in Haiti after Haitians went to the Democratic Republic of Congo as workers after that country won independence in 1960. It debunks the original ‘’Patient Zero’’ theory that said the HIV virus came to Los Angeles via a gay Canadian flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas. That theory was created by Dr. William Darrow and others at the CDC and turned into the 1987 book /And the Band Played On/, by journalist Randy Shilts. Darrow later repudiated his own study. Pitchenik said he realized this week’s study would be controversial in the Haitian community. ’’I want to stress that this has nothing to do with race or sex or color of skin, and we should not stigmatize any particular group,’’ he said. “It’s not whether you’re Haitian or homosexual. It’s the high-risk behavior you engage in. Whether you have unprotected sex, whether you’re a drug user sharing needles.’’ In Haiti, where 6 percent of the population was HIV-infected in 2003, the situation has improved, with HIV rates dropping to 2 percent by 2006, the CDC says. (Miami Herald, 10/31)

The Empire State Medical Association is highly concerned about the claims by Michael Worobey  that “AIDS virus invaded the United States in about 1969 from Haiti, carried most likely by a single infected immigrant who set the stage for it to sweep the world in a tragic epidemic”. We reject the comments that “researchers think an unknown single infected Haitian immigrant arrived in a large city like Miami or New York, and the virus circulated for years — first in the U.S. population and then to other nations.” Gilbert and Worobey, analyzed samples from only five of these Haitian immigrants dating from 1982 and 1983. They also looked at genetic data from 117 more early AIDS patients from around the world. This genetic analysis allowed them to calibrate the molecular clock of the strain of HIV that has spread most widely, and calculated when it arrived first in Haiti from Africa and then in the United States. The researchers virtually ruled out the possibility that HIV had come directly to the United States from Africa, setting a 99.8 percent probability that Haiti was the steppingstone.

For Haiti, the history of HIV/AIDS represents stigma, discrimination, and racism.  In 1982, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) incorrectly inferred that Haitians were at increased for acquiring HIV as a racial group (1).  HIV/AIDS therefore became known as the “4H Disease”, affecting homosexuals, heroin addicts, hemophiliacs, and Haitians.   This resulted in unprecedented national stigmatization and devastating economic, social, and psychological consequences, decimating the tourist industry in this island nation.  As reported at the time: “Haiti has been made an international pariah by AIDS.  Boycotted by tourists and investors, it has lost millions of dollars and thousands of jobs at a time when half the work force is jobless.  Even exports are being shunned by some (2).”  In 1985, when it became clear that Haitians share the same risk factors as other groups, the CDC dropped the Haitian association, but it was too late.   HIV and Haiti were inextricably linked in the minds of the general public. Haiti’s economy has never recovered.

Gilbert et al once again link HIV and Haiti, stating: “Subtype B likely moved from Africa to Haiti in or around 1966" and then on to the U.S.  Their entire hypothesis is based on virus isolated from five Haitian-Americans who were living in Miami in 1982-83.  No other information is provided except that they “entered the U.S. after 1975 and progressed to AIDS by 1981 and hence were presumably infected with HIV-1 before entering the U.S.”  A host of questions remain.  What were their risk activities? Where had they traveled?   Did they have sex with Americans in Haiti?  We do know that the average time of progression of HIV infection to AIDS and to death in the pre-ART era was 4.5 and 7.4 years, respectively  – these intervals are consistent with the five subjects acquiring the infection in the U.S, which limits the validity of their findings (3).  The authors go on to state: “The HIV-1 epidemic in Haiti exhibits a greater range of viral genetic diversity that the rest of the world’s subtype B combined”.  The authors have not studied the virus in Haiti.  Where are the data to support this claim? They also state that their aim is to combine phylogenetic, molecular evolutionary, historical, and epidemiological perspectives in an attempt to reconstruct the history of the subtype B pandemic. However, epidemiology studies conducted in Haiti do not support the author’s hypothesis.  If the virus was in circulation in Haiti since 1966, there would not have been a much higher male: female ratio in the early years of the epidemic (80% of the first Haitian patients were male in the early 1980's) which rapidly generalized as they spread the virus to their female partners (4,5).  In addition, reviews of large samples of banked blood from the 1970's failed to yield a single case of HIV and thousands of autopsies did not diagnose an AIDS defining illness until 1978 (6).  Furthermore, only one case of Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) was noted by Haitian dermatologists prior to 1979 (7). KS is easily recognizable and it would not have been missed by Haitian dermatologists for over a decade. Haiti has overcome enormous obstacles and mounted one of the world’s most successful responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Yet, the authors restate prejudices advanced two decades ago in the publication of Pitchenik et al (8): “Haitians in Haiti and elsewhere are at risk of AIDS”.  People of all ethnicities in every country are at risk.  Scientists need to be very responsible in their assertions, lest they do great harm. (Empire State Medical Association Denounces Incomplete Research Claims made
by Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Worobey on “HIV Coming from Haiti” (

Federation of the Friends of Nature Statement in Wake of Dean:
How many deaths, how many disappeared must the nation endure every rainy season, every time there is a natural calamity before it faces reality? ” Haiti was spared:” this statement, quoted in the international media in the morning of August 19, 2007, following the passage of Hurricane Dean, demonstrates the concern of “others” given Haiti’s vulnerability to bad weather resulting from the degradation of its environment. If Hurricane Dean, a strength 4 hurricane, had hit our country harder, the loss in human life and property would have reached unthinkable levels. The rains of recent days have impacted practically the whole nation. Yet, we are talking about low pressure systems that affected most of the Caribbean islands. Have our neighbors experienced as many deaths?

Our country, given its geographical position, must confront, practically during 5 months of every year, a hurricane season in addition to seasonal rains whose impact is more and more destructive and deadly. To reduce our vulnerability will require that adequate and permanent financial, material and human resources be put in place within the context of a declaration of a state of emergency on behalf of the environment. It is commendable that there be good state performance in terms of the state reacting to disasters and rehabilitating affected areas. Such interventions are, however, punctual and reactive. It is absolutely essential today that the stress be put on prevention, involving permanent activities that will guarantee a genuine and sustainable development, one of the main features of which will be precisely the reduction of risk factors associated with natural catastrophes.

The Republic of Port-au-Prince had already forgotten Hurricane Dean and within a few days we and the others perhaps will forget the floods of late September and early October 2007. Let us not wait for our capital — made up today of more than 50% slums — to be hit head on by a hurricane, a torrential rain, an earthquake, or whatever calamity with the potential to produce great material destruction and losses in human life, to implement this declaration of a state of emergency. Global warming is now complicating our local and regional challenges. After 20 years of requests it is essential to rethink this declaration of a state of emergency and to implement it while taking into account the lessons learned.

In recent years crucial issues —including territorial management, zoning, delimitation and  effective surveillance of protected areas, city planning, cadaster, land reform, energy policy, demographic growth, etc.— have for all practical purposes been ignored, neglected or poorly managed by the powers that be. We cannot continue to treat such issues of national importance in a manner that is virtual, emotional, or as taboo subjects left to the care of “others.” They must be dealt with without delay in order to take the decisions that national interest dictates. The PAE (Environmental National Action Plan) of 1998 was a good first step that incorporated sound ideas. Eleven years have  elapsed since.

Much of that thinking is still valid. The time has come to implement these ideas. The time has arrived to come up with consensual decisions and to act in order to pass on a livable patrimony to future generations. Haitians here and abroad must not repeat the same hesitations and errors of the last 20 years. If “others”  do not concern themselves with our environment, what sector among us will take the correct initiatives? The executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary or civil society?

We must all pitch in!
Federation des amis de la nature (FAN), Port-au-Prince, October 2007, E-mail:fanhaiti@yahoo com (Le Matin, 10/23, Translated by Max Blanchet)

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