Last weekend was Carnival 2018 and the country pulled all the stops to have a great party. The festivities started on Sunday with a great artistic parade at the Champ de Mars. Some 3,000 young people were recruited to participate by tracing the story of the theme for this year’s carnival Ayiti sou wout chanjman (Haiti on the path for change) through performances across the three days of debauchery. There were 21 musical groups retained but only 19 available flatbeds on which to perform; 7 evacuation points and 14 medical posts and more than 940 police officers located in 13 zones across the 1.9km parade route.
If the atmosphere was festive, the music and the merrymaking gave way to some political statements about the state of the nation. In spite of the carnival theme, some of the most popular songs address the social ills still plaguing the nation, especially corruption, made all the more poignant by the PetroCaribe report currently in the nation’s consciousness. This is expressed in the song entitled “Danse Petro” by Don Kato (aka, Senator Antonio Cherami) which is a wake-up call against corruption, especially the millions of dollars squandered by those in position of authority who should have used the funds to develop the country. Roody Roodboy, aka Roody Pétuel Dauphin, enchanted revelers with his catchy “Ou mechan” which condemns corruption, insecurity and lack of infrastructure development especially health facilities and schools throughout the country. The song also condemns wasting scarce public resources while our hospitals and schools are deplorable and the police need supervision. “Bali gaz” by Kebert Bastien also address similar concerns, the blatant corruption in public institutions, the plundering of resources while several faculties are dysfunctional.
The artist BIC aka Roosevelt Saillant denounces the degrading environmental and sanitary conditions in the country in “Ayiti sou wout li pa dwe ye” where the streets are littered with garbage and juvenile delinquency is rampant. He railed against the permissiveness within the culture today that sees children drinking alcohol and smoking, while schools are transformed into brothels. Such degrading and desperate conditions are part and parcel of what push many Haitians especially the young one to take to the waters to emigrate. For Boukman Eksperyans, the excessive flashing lights and siren blazing through traffic by government officials who appears always in a hurry to go somewhere is a serious concern in “Foli chef”. Such reckless behavior violates traffic rules and puts the public and pedestrians in constant danger. In all, these performances appear counter to the theme of the carnival which some see as a propaganda by the government. According to the spokesman for the police, Commissioner Frantz Lerebours, there were some 130 people wounded during the first night of carnival. There were over a dozen people arrested for disorderly conduct and two vehicular accidents; one on Avenue Magloire Ambroise where a driver lost control of his car and plowed into some revelers.
In other news, the international organization, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) is beginning a gradual withdrawal of their operations in the country after eight (8) years of operation, following the 2010 earthquake. The organization has already announced the withdrawal of two of its field hospitals between 2018 and 2019. The affected hospitals are the Trauma and Emergency Surgery Center (Centre de traumatologie et de chirurgie d’urgence) in Tabarre and the Obstetrics Emergency Reference Center of MSF (Centre de référence des urgences obstétricales de l’organisation Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Delmas 33, which performed at least 8,000 surgeries last year. MSF’s Holland Mission Chief, Michelle Chouinard justified the closure with the fact that the facilities with their level of capacity cannot survive long term as a humanitarian organization. Its 450 staff and 500 admissions per month are very costly for the humanitarian organization to maintain, especially given limited resources and other emergencies across the globe. Since coming to Haiti after the earthquake, MSF has created some 2,000 jobs, with almost 95% of the medical and paramedical professional staff being local hires. So far, half of the 450 staff has been let go and the already precarious health care system in the nation is faced yet with another challenge: how to deliver care to the millions in the metropolitan area. Health officials are now confronted with a new reality to address the health needs of the people who will now be left with nowhere to go.
Another nonprofit organization, Oxfam, is in the news for all the wrong reasons. According to the Times of London, the nonprofit did not disclose in an investigation, the use of prostitutes by its officials stationed in the country following the 2010 earthquake. The organization had previously conducted a confidential investigation that denounced a culture of impunity among staff in the country, who have been accused of exploiting women, including minors. The Times article, published the week of February 9, 2018, went on to say that the report of the investigation show that children could be among the women exploited by staff. The director of the nonprofit in Haiti, Mr. Roland Van Hauwermeiren, who was involved in the scandal, was forced to resign, in order not to tarnish the image of the organization. He admitted to patronizing prostitutes in the villa rented for him, with funded granted to Haiti. The paper also claims to have evidence confirming that “most of the prostitutes were underage children”. One of whom reported that the men who were in the country to help, have invited groups of young prostitutes to their homes to organize sexual orgies. One source said she saw a video of girls in Oxfarm tee shirts. The nonprofit had denied a cover up of the allegations and subsequently, 4 staff have been let go and another 2 tendered their resignation. Others have left the organization as well. The staff who cooperated with the investigators has confirmed having solicited prostitute himself. However the nonprofit is arguing that the allegations have not been proven.
Elsewhere, the Academy of Sciences in the Dominican Republic is raising alarm over the government’s decision to grant rights to the Golden Quest Company to explore gold and silver mine in the San Juan Valley. Their concern is that the water shared with part of Southern Haiti could be contaminated if Golden Quest succeeds in exploiting the mines. According to the Academy, the project will affect water production because it is located between 900 and 1,000 meters above sea level and above the confluence of the San Juan and Guana rivers. Furthermore, the President of the Academy, Luis Shecker Ortiz says that the agreement violates the Dominican Constitution which, in Article 15, states that “water constitutes a strategic national heritage for public use”, giving priority to human consumption. They argue that project will yield little benefit to the people, because the US$224million that the Dominican state will generate pales in comparison to the 840, 000 ounces of silver that Golden Quest will extract from the earth.
Finally, in a move that is administrative yet symbolic, the newly formed armed forces, FADH, have retaken the building of their old headquarters in Champs de Mars, according to President Jovenel Moïse during a press conference marking his first year in office. He announced that the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has already taken over the historic building and that in due time, he will name officers to the high military command. He again said that the army will be of service to the nation, as a service army in the task of development. Their responsibility will be to protect our borders, seas and the air. He noted how other armies came to help during hurricane Matthew and promised that this army will be of similar caliber. Lieutenant General Jodel Lesagem was present at the press conference at the premise which currently houses the Ministry of Culture, but there were signs that things are being moved into the building. For now, the Army corps of engineers is evaluating the premises to find sufficient space for the Ministry of Defense and the leadership.