CSMS Magazine correspondent
PORT-AU-PRINCE—Three weeks after the devastated earthquake in the Haitian capital, the suffering has yet to ease, if anything it has exacerbated. Many of Port-au-Prince neighborhoods have yet to receive any visitors, neither from the Haitian government nor from the international relief agencies. People are simply doing whatever they could to stay alive, including sharing their meager resources. But this also could be an interesting model for the rebuilding process and for the future of the country as a whole. The feeling of brotherhood, the understanding of the “united we’re strong” credo and the will to move forward cannot be left to dissipate once some senses of normality reemerge. Haitians are now realizing how much they can do on their own.
Chaotic scenes are everywhere, and the news of children being abducted by American missionaries dominates the airwaves. The biggest news of course is the news of a group of children found in the border with the Dominican Republic along with 10 American missionaries, who claimed that the children were orphans, and that they were going to the DR to take them to an orphanage they have there.
Haiti’s Prime Minister Jean Max Bellerive has seized on the story. “What they were doing was wrong,” and could be prosecuted in the United States. Although denouncing and arresting those who try to take advantage of Haiti’s dire situation by stealing its children is a good thing, but many question the Prime Minister’s true patriotism when he continues to look the other way as thousands of dead victims are being dumped and left to go in putrefaction under the tropical sun in the notorious site of Titanyen, a huge land field just outside Port-au-Prince.
Titanyen is the infamous place, where most of the Papa Doc victims were dumped. It is inconceivable to many people. They simply cannot comprehend why the Haitian government has chosen this site to drop the bodies. Showing respect to the dead and burying them in humane conditions is the least the crippled government could do, as the whole world is watching. The shocking news to the people of Haiti was the declaration made by Haiti’s Minister of Culture Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. A woman who roams the streets of Port-au-Prince coiffed under long breaded hair wearing a red turban, Lassegue shocked the world last week when she declared on the microphone of CNN’s Anderson Cooper that she did not know about the bodies being dumped in Titanyen and “I just learned this from you [Anderson Cooper]…..As far as I’m concerned the company contracted to collect the bodies is doing a good job.”
Lassegue displayed no hesitancy and embarrassment while she was answering Anderson’s questions. Instead, what one could see from the opportunist woman was an utterance of disrespect for the dead, a raw display of incompetence and a blatant show of vulgar politic.
Yesterday, near Titanyen, thousands gathered for a mass funeral to pay respect for the dead. They chanted their disillusion, their grief and their infinite sorrow. Government officials were nowhere in sight.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Max Bellerive also told The Associated Press that his country is open to having the Americans face U.S. justice, since most government buildings — including Haiti’s courts — were crippled by the monster earthquake. “It is clear now that they were trying to cross the border without papers. It is clear now that some of the children have live parents,” Bellerive said. “And it is clear now that they knew what they were doing was wrong.” If they were acting in good faith — as the Americans claim — “perhaps the courts will try to be more lenient with them,” he said.
The arrested Americans’ churches are part of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, which has extensive humanitarian programs worldwide, but they decided to mount their own “rescue mission” following the earthquake.
U.S. Embassy officials would not say whether Washington would accept hosting judicial proceedings for the Americans, who are mostly from Idaho. For now, the case remains firmly in Haitian hands, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington. Marie-Christine D’ Adesky, a Pulitzer prize winner who wrote extensively on Haiti, claimed to have warned the group about the consequences of the action they were about to undertake. The group seemed to have motivated by the lawlessness in the country.
U.S. diplomats have had “unlimited” access to the 10 detainees, and will monitor any court proceedings, said Crowley. They have not yet been charged. The missionaries from Idaho, according to Associated Press, were heading to the Dominican Republic, where they were hoping to shelter the children in a rented beach hotel. One of the Americans, Charisa Coulter of Boise, Idaho, was treated Monday at a field hospital for either dehydration or the flu. Looking pale as she lay on a green Army cot, the 24-year-old Coulter, was being guarded by two Haitian police officers. “They’re treating me pretty good,” she said. “I’m not concerned. I’m pretty confident that it will all work out.”
The children were 33 in total, ranging in age from 2 months to 12 years. They had their names written in tape on their shirts at a children’s home where some told aid workers they have surviving parents. Haitian officials said they were trying to reunite them. “One (9-year-old) girl was crying, and saying, ‘I am not an orphan. I still have my parents.’ And she thought she was going on a summer camp or a boarding school or something like that,” said George Willeit, a spokesman for SOS Children’s Village, which runs the orphanage where they were taken.
It was estimated more than 380,000 orphans lived in Haiti before the quake. Now, this number is likely to double even triple, experts say. The crippled government of Haiti has put a stop on all adoptions unless they were in motion before the earthquake. There are great concerns that children that went astray or lost in the aftermath of the earthquake are more vulnerable than ever to being seized and sold. Sex trafficking has been rampant in Haiti.
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