Also see: Caribbean Anti Violence Project
4 Trees in Haiti Fall Victim to Poverty of the People 3/03 (none gay story)
6 200 Years After Napoleon, Haiti Finds Little to Celebrate 1/04 (background Story)
7 Aristide Flees After a Shove From the U.S. 3/04 (background story)
11 Children in Servitude, the Poorest of Haiti’s Poor 9/08 (non-gay background story)
Haitian Coalition Expresses Grave Concern over Violence and Growing Chaos in Haiti
New York – The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (http://www.nchr.org/) is deeply distressed by the events of the last two weeks in Haiti which have left dozens of people, including high school and university students, critically injured or dead, several radio stations burned and a trail of destruction in cities and provinces from the north of the country through Port-au-Prince, its capital. Beginning with a massive anti-government protest in Cap Haïtien on Sunday, November 17, a series of demonstrations, rallies and counter-rallies have pushed the country further down the path of lawlessness toward the brink of disaster. The potential for chaos has been evident for months now, highlighted by the events surrounding the August 2nd Gonaïves jailbreak of the Cannibal Army leader, Amiot “Cubain” Métayer (who, despite calls from human rights organizations and international observers, has yet to be re-arrested) and the lack of will or ability of the police and government to respond and restore order.
Particularly since the beginning of the demonstrations, a great deal of information has been flowing both within and out of Haiti, although very little of it is free of political bias added by those who would further one or another political agenda. The system of teledjol (the gossip mill) has flourished with countless rumors swirling over a range of issues from the imminent departure of international agencies and government officials, including President Aristide himself, to the nature and extent of damages on both sides as a result of the demonstrations. Not surprisingly, much of this information has been difficult to verify, but it continues nonetheless to fuel emotions already running high and to maintain conditions at a fever pitch on both sides of the political spectrum.
“NCHR is unequivocal in its support of the Haitian people to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate peacefully and voice political dissent with the current government without fear of reprisal,” said Dina Paul Parks, Executive Director. “We condemn the actions of mobs, primarily pro-government, who have attacked demonstrators and the police who have refused to provide protection and, on certain occasions, have themselves perpetrated violence toward those protesting against the current administration. However, it is important to understand that the right to dissent does not exist in a vacuum but rather is integral to democracy. Although extremely fragile in Haiti, a democratic process based in human rights and the rule of law must be respected and aggressively pursued.”
The failures of President Aristide’s administration to advance democracy or bring about any amount of stability to the country are unmistakable. Among them are-:
– Zero Tolerance – the policy which has resulted in countless acts of violence and aggression against anyone perceived to threaten the status quo of the Lavalas regime
-Impunity – the continued lack of progress on key investigations such as the lynching of journalist and political commentator Brignol Lindor one year ago today
– Insecurity – the attacks led by so-called popular organizations on political party leaders, journalists and other opposition supporters in retribution for the December 17th attack on the National Palace, which have opened the door to the sacrifice of the liberties of association and expression in Haiti.
As the increased tension and violence of the past few weeks painfully demonstrates, Haiti is in desperate need of a viable mechanism to restore a climate in which the rule of law and human rights can begin to take root. While not in itself a solution to the current crisis, Resolution 822, adopted by the OAS in September in an attempt to break the political impasse of the past two and a half years, is one such tool that can assist Haiti in moving in this direction. If obliges the government to fulfill the basic requirements for stabilizing the situation such as making reparations for the December 17th attacks and implementing a disarmament plan. It also recognizes the important role and responsibility that all sectors have.
This framework offers Haiti a path that will propel it beyond its tradition of personalizing problems by unceremoniously – sometimes violently – removing and replacing an failing leader and toward a democratic practice of reforming the system and holding its leaders accountable through lawful means. Resolution 822 is not a zero-sum, winner-take-all solution that provides a quick-fix, short-term remedy for some, but rather one that will require painful concessions for all before the more lasting results can be felt.
Immediately, the Aristide administration needs to take the first step by ensuring that the police take any and all necessary and lawful action to restore and maintain order and security while allowing the Haitian people to fully voice their will and desire. NCHR is also calling on leaders of all sectors to allow calm and reason to guide their actions. “What is needed now is a careful and objective analysis of the facts so that cooler heads may prevail,” said Merrie Archer, NCHR’s Senior Policy Associate. “Haiti’s leaders and people must begin to target the flaws in the system rather than individuals if a durable solution is to be found. It is the system, then, in which individuals must measure up and be accountable. One lesson that hopefully all of us have learned in the 15 months since September 11 is that however understandably tempting they may be, shortcuts to democracy, including the limiting of civil liberties and due process, take us down a dangerous path and do not, in fact, provide long-term solutions.”
Similarly, given the seemingly unending deterioration of the situation, the international community must acknowledge that it can no longer afford to pursue an isolationist, wait-and-see policy. While we are hopeful that the international community is beginning to realize Haiti’s precarious perch, it is not clear that the US has yet determined to reverse its policy of inhumane containment. Indeed, it is unconscionable that the US is providing M-16s to the Dominican Army to militarize its border with Haiti on the one hand while stepping up patrols on the high seas to interdict refugees fleeing the crisis on the other. Now it is the time for the US and others to put their full force and support, as well as significant resources, behind international organizations such as the OAS while stepping up bilateral engagement in urgently needed sectors such as governance, judicial reform and migration. Haiti – and inevitably its neighbors – can ill afford for the international community to continue dragging its feet.
Haitian Pragmatics: Social Customs
Haiti has an oral culture with a long tradition of proverbs, jokes, and stories reflecting philosophical systems.These are used to pass on knowledge, convey messages, and communicate emotions.Haitian people are very expressive with their emotions.By observing them, one can tell whether they are happy, sad, or angry.Pain and sorrow are very obvious in their facial expressions.Most Haitians are very affectionate, polite, and shy. Uneducated Haitians generally hide their lack of knowledge to non-Haitians by keeping to themselves, avoiding conflict, and sometimes projecting a timid air or attitude.They smile frequently and often respond in this manner when interacting with a North American or when they do not understand what is being said.Many may pretend to understand by nodding; this sign of approval is given to hide their limitations.
Voice intonation conveys emotions.Haitians speak loud even in casual conversation among friends and family.The pitch is moderated in formal encounters.When the conversation is really animated, conversants speak at close proximity and ignore territorial space, especially when they are emphasizing a point or an issue.Sometimes the conversation is at such a high pitch and speed that to an outsider the conversation may appear disorganized or be mistaken for anger.Haitians love political discussions.In these instances, the conversation may appear stressful and hostile; however, to the participants, the conversation is enjoyable and meaningful.
Traditional Haitians generally do not maintain eye contact when speaking with those in a position of authority.In the past, maintaining direct eye contact was considered rude and insolent, especially when speaking with superiors (e.g., children speaking with parents, students with teachers, or employees with their supervisors).However, the influence of North American education seems to be changing this trend.Most adults maintain eye contact, meaning: we are on equal terms no matter who you are; I respect you; and you respect me as an equal human being.For children, however, the custom of not maintaining eye contact with superiors remains the same.
Haitians touch frequently when speaking with friends.They may touch you to make you aware that they are speaking to you.Haitian women walk hand in hand as an expression of friendship.This trend is disappearing both in Haiti and in Haitian communities in North America.This behavior may be changing because of the concept of homosexuality. Homosexuality is taboo within the Haitian culture.
Haitians greet each other by kissing and embracing in informal situations.In formal encounters, they shake hands and appear composed and stern.Men usually do not kiss women unless they are old friends or relatives.Children greet everyone by kissing them on the cheek. They refer to adult friends as uncle or auntie out of respect, not necessarily because they are blood related.
Interpreters outside the family may be mistrusted, but use of children to interpret (the most likely English speakers) carries the potential of creating conflict within the family or within the interpreter who may be called on to deal with difficult matters. An interpreter unknown to the patient may be better than a friend.
December 2002 – Miami Herald
Ban on Demonstration Defied in Cap Hatien
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Hundreds marched in Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap Hatien, Sunday to protest against the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, defying a temporary ban on public demonstrations during the holiday season.
A dozen Aristide partisans in Cap-Haitien opened fire on the opposition supporters, community leader Frandley Denis Julien said by telephone. No injuries or arrests were reported. Police had previously given the group five minutes to disperse, and firefighters threatened to douse the marchers with high-pressure hoses, Julien said. The march, which lasted nearly four hours, continued but was later broken up by police who fired tear gas into the crowd, witnesses said.
March 23, 2003 – Associated Press
Trees in Haiti Fall Victim to Poverty of the People (Not a gay story but poignant nevertheless.)
FORÊT DES PINS, Haiti – In a musty shop near the capital’s dilapidated cemetery, Josue Termidor takes a rasp, gently sanding a coffin made of avocado tree planks. A decade ago, the coffin would have been carved from heavy mahogany. "All the good wood is gone," says Mr. Termidor, 32, his fingernails caked with putty used to seal the brittle wood. "It’s got harder to make a living, and the lack of wood makes families disappointed and the dead angry." Once blanketed by lush forests, Haiti is now nearly 90 percent deforested.
Competing against a demand that has far exceeded supply, the Caribbean nation loses more than 30 million trees a year to provide wood, fuel and work to a desperate population. "The peasants cutting down the trees make even less," added Mr. Termidor, flanked by a metallic mauve "tête-boeuf" or first-class coffin.
Haiti’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, leader of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been unable to tackle poverty, unemployment and political instability, let alone the environmental tragedy. Efforts have been stymied by rivalries between the government and opposition, with millions of dollars in international aid suspended since flawed 2000 legislative elections. Some was earmarked for environmental projects. "We face a total ecological disaster," Mr. Aristide said last month. "Misery and the lack of education are making people cut more trees."
Money would allow the government to prosecute illegal loggers and pursue and an aggressive literacy plan to teach people the value of trees, he said. But trees are vulnerable even at Forêt des Pins, the Pine Forest National Park that is one of Haiti’s few protected areas. A "No Tree Cutting" sign hangs above the entrance to the forest, on the border with the Dominican Republic. Trash is scattered about the giant pine trees, which have deep hack marks in their thin trunks.
Loggers make nightly journeys here, slowly hacking away at trees until they fall. The next day, they are on a truck to the capital, Port-au-Prince. "The problem is simple, just stop cutting down the trees," said Joel Joseph, a forest ranger with the Ministry of Agriculture. "But you have to have the resources to educate people and to enforce the law. I say the problem is simple, but deep down I know we’re headed for disaster."
In 12 years Mr. Joseph has watched his forest disappear, to 34,580 acres from 93,860. Roadblocks are set up to stop illegal loggers, and their logs are confiscated. But even if they are caught, the rangers lack the power to arrest them. Political instability has also accentuated the despair, pushing hundreds to the forests for a source of income. "When there are political problems in Port-au-Prince, more people come up here with chain saws," Mr. Joseph said. The scarcity also affects farmers.
With no tree roots to hold the soil, topsoil has disappeared and fewer vegetables can grow. Some farmers also report a change in weather. "Because there are fewer trees, there’s also less rain," said a 40-year-old farmer, Cedner Jean. "Dew allows us to grow cabbage, potatoes and beans but we can’t grow anything else anymore." It takes a dozen planks, which cost $60, to make Mr. Termidor’s shoddy casket. Each sells for an average of $200, and with the profit he pays seven employees, the rent and transport for the planks. Coffins are potent symbols in Haiti, where properly burying the dead is tantamount to ensuring protection for the living.
But without wood, Mr. Termidor risks angering grieving families and his employees. For Mr. Termidor, "It’s a good business because more people are dying." When he began 15 years ago he made nine coffins a month. Now he makes 15. "But without trees," he said, "we’re all going to end up dead."
November 29, 2003 – New York Times
In the Vanguard Fighting AIDS, an Army of Haitian Villagers
by Celia W. Dugger Cange, Haiti
In the cool mist of daybreak, hundreds of villagers fanned out across the forsaken reaches of this nation’s remote interior, fording rivers swollen by torrential rains, slogging through muddy cornfields and clambering up slippery mountainsides to reach people sickened by AIDS. At each home, they handed out the little white pills that have brought their neighbors, wasted by the disease, back to robust life. "If the medicines weren’t here, I’d be dead," said Manesse Gracia, 39, a mother of six who was plump in a workday dress the color of orange sherbet. "My children would live in destitution. My husband is a farmer, but the earth gives back nothing."
Mrs. Gracia is part of a pioneering program run here by a Boston-based nonprofit group, Partners in Health, that has become an influential model in the frenetic race to expand drug treatment in dozens of poor countries across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. More than two decades into the pandemic, 22 million people have died of AIDS, and 40 million people are infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Millions will perish next year unless they get the medicines. "Bringing antiretroviral therapy to all who need it is the most medically challenging task that the world has ever taken on," said Dr. Richard Feachem, executive director of the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The fund has approved $800 million for AIDS treatment, but that is only enough to supply antiretroviral drugs to just 700,000 people in five years.
The World Bank is increasing support, and the United States Congress is close to appropriating about $2 billion, more than half for treatment. No program to treat people in the poorest countries has more intrigued experts than the one started in Haiti by Partners in Health – which has succeeded by enlisting help from hundreds among Haiti’s vast pool of unemployed and underemployed workers. It is the rainy season now. So each morning and evening, 700 villagers strike out across dirt roads turned into a morass of mud and dung to deliver medicines to people with AIDS and tuberculosis. They tramp through muck and wade through streams on foot; a lucky few sit atop mules or donkeys. Margareth Guerrier, wearing a jaunty, broad-brimmed hat, set out on a recent morning from her small concrete house, threading her way past squatters’ shacks up a steep, treacherously slick mountain.
At the top, she stopped at a small house and took the AIDS medicines from a black case slung over her shoulder. A 9-year-old girl named Fanise, ready for school in a navy dress, swallowed her pills dutifully as her grandmother looked on. Then Mrs. Guerrier walked on to deliver pills to another grandmother, two mothers and a father. "There were some among them who seemed more dead than alive," she said. "When they start taking their medicines, they get better." The AIDS treatment program here, one of the first of its kind in the world, was started by Dr. Paul Farmer, an American, and the group he founded, Partners in Health. It began giving antiretroviral drugs to patients here in 1999, when such efforts were virtually unknown. "We didn’t do it to be a model program," said Dr. Farmer, 44, a Harvard medical professor and anthropologist, who is also the subject of a recent book, "Mountains Beyond Mountains," by Tracy Kidder. "We did it because people were croaking." Adeline Merçon, who tested positive for H.I.V. in 1991, took a terrible turn for the worse in 1999. When Dr. Farmer hiked through jagged hills to her home, he found her bedridden and withered to about half her usual weight. Her father drew him outside to the rickety stoop and showed him the planks he had gathered to build her coffin. Dr. Farmer promised to return with medicines to save her.
Back in Boston, he scavenged drugs from AIDS patients, doctors and clinics. Partners in Health bought more with money donated by Thomas J. White, a retired Boston businessman, and raised yet more cash by selling its headquarters in Cambridge. "We couldn’t get anyone to support us," Dr. Farmer said. "In 1998, 1999 and 2000, we went to Unaids, the World Health Organization and the World Bank and they said treatment is not cost effective or sustainable. We went to some of the drug companies and asked, `Can we have medicines?’ Every single one turned us down." In the early days, Dr. Farmer carried the pills back to Haiti in suitcases. On Oct. 28, 1999, a shrunken Mrs. Merçon, weighing only 69 pounds, was brought to the hospital here on a stretcher. She was put on the drugs. "I haven’t been sick since," said Mrs. Merçon, 37, who now weighs 120 pounds. The Spartan model of care used by Partners in Health was born of necessity, but its very spareness is now seen as a virtue by many experts who want the scarce dollars for treatment to stretch as far as possible. Doctors here grafted AIDS treatment efforts onto the existing program for tuberculosis control. AIDS patients, who will have to take the drugs daily for the rest of their lives, are visited in their homes every morning and evening by a health worker who hands out pills and watches as they are gulped down. Ensuring the medicines are taken properly reduces the risk that drug resistant strains of H.I.V. will emerge.
One of the biggest obstacles to rapid expansion of treatment in poor countries is the extreme scarcity of doctors, nurses and high-tech equipment. And the program here has minimized reliance on them. Generally, there are no lab tests done once treatment begins. The only monitor is a scale to weigh patients monthly. Peasants have been trained to dispense the medicines, draw blood, take X-rays, clean bedpans, measure vital signs and spread the word about condoms preventing H.I.V. infection. Most of the workers who visit patients’ homes are paid a small stipend of $38 a month. Last year, Partners in Health won a $13 million grant from the Global Fund – money now being used to build clinics, laboratories and drug warehouses, and to install generators and satellite dishes in a region largely bereft of electricity and phones. While other countries can copy the Partners in Health model, they cannot clone Dr. Farmer, a charismatic and chatty healer, and the small, idealistic band of American doctors he has brought to Haiti.
As Dr. Farmer, tall and whippet thin, drove through a village one recent day, jouncing over boulders and crevasses, a low murmur wafted in the window along with the dust. "Paul, Paul, Paul," chanted the women peddling wares at the roadside. Dr. Farmer has been here since he was in his 20’s. He lives most of the year in Cange, a squatter settlement, and regularly commutes about 35 miles – three hours over some of the worst roads in the world – to reach the airport in Port au Prince before flying on to Boston and his teaching job at Harvard.
The example set by Dr. Farmer has helped inspire a similar dedication in Haitian colleagues. "When I was in my family planning residency, I heard about this white doctor who visits sick people in their homes," said Dr. Roland Desiré. "I’m from a peasant family myself. I came to see what he was doing." Dr. Farmer listened to the young doctor, choking back tears. He had made this recent visit to the group’s clinic in Lascahobas, where Dr. Desiré was at work, hobbling on crutches. In August, Dr. Farmer broke his leg in a bad fall while hiking uphill in a drenching rain to reach a patient. Surgeons sawed his thigh bone in half and put in a titanium plate to repair it. With his slight build and boyish face, Dr. Desiré, 31, looks more like a laid back high school student in his jeans and T-shirt than a briskly efficient doctor.
Among those who had come from great distances to see him in Lascahobas were two women – symbols of how far Haiti still has to go and of how far it has come. Imitane Pierre had brought her baby daughter Francesca from Port au Prince. Both are H.I.V.-positive, and Francesca had developed painful lesions on her face. Hospitals in the capital had turned them away because the mother was too poor to pay. After two weeks in the clinic in Lascahobas, the bright-eyed girl had gotten better. But now she and her mother had to return to Ms. Pierre’s other children in Port au Prince, where treatment programs are not yet established. "We send them home, but who will take care of them?" Dr. Desiré asked. "There’s no one." Later that day, the doctor turned to Ipoline Occeus, 26. He had to break the news that she was H.I.V.-positive but he coupled it with hope, because she lives in the area served by the clinic. "You can die from it," she whispered. In most developing countries, Dr. Desiré’s diagnosis would indeed have been a death sentence. But he replied with the words that promised her life: We have the medicines. We can treat you.
January 2, 2004 – NewYork Times
200 Years After Napoleon, Haiti Finds Little to Celebrate
by Lydia Polgreen
Port-au-Prince – Two hundred years ago, an army of African slaves defeated French forces on this tropical island, ending Napoleon’s ambition to dominate the Americas and paving the way for the first black republic.
On Thursday, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide led a tense and chaotic observance of that bicentennial, though many found little to celebrate in Mr. Aristide’s governance over what, after 200 years of independence, remains an impoverished and troubled nation. Speaking to a small but enthusiastic crowd, Mr. Aristide called Haiti "the mother of liberty," and appealed to opposition groups, which have mounted ever larger demonstrations against his government, to agree to new elections this year. "Civil society, the poor, the rich, the opposition, everybody, must come together to heal Haiti," Mr. Aristide said to the cheering crowd, which filled a city block and rows of bleachers set up in front of the white presidential palace in the center of the city.
The crowd, many of them poor and unemployed Haitians who spent New Year’s Eve on the street waiting for the celebration, climbed atop a spiked green metal fence meant to keep them out of the palace, toppling it and injuring several people. The throng rushed onto temporary risers set up for spectators on the palace lawn, but the risers, so new they still smelled of freshly sawed pine, also collapsed, sending the crowd rushing further still toward the dignitaries on the dais in front of the palace.
Policemen with submachine guns strained to hold back the crowd, which surged forward and chanted "Aristide or death!" The president then delivered his speech, outlining a 21-point program that he said would lift Haiti from poverty and political discord by 2015. That plan remains contingent on a $21 billion payment he is seeking from France as reparation for the payment Haiti was forced to make to France when it won its independence.
But across the capital, many Haitians were in no mood to celebrate or listen to plans for the future. Two-thirds of the country’s workers are unemployed, and most Haitians live on about $1 a day. Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere and leads the region in the number of AIDS cases. Life expectancy is little more than 50 years. Since 2000, when Mr. Aristide was re-elected to the presidency in voting that many observers said was flawed, the country has been locked in political crisis.
The dispute led international donors to suspend $500 million in aid, adding to the country’s economic woes. The political battle intensified when opposition groups boycotted parliamentary elections, leading to a sweep by pro-Aristide politicians. The current Parliament’s term ends this month, and if a new one is not elected, the country will be plunged into still deeper disarray. "Today we were supposed to celebrate, but instead it is a day of mourning," said Bernadel Romel, who stood among thousands of demonstrators who had planned to march to the statue of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the former slave who led the country immediately after its independence, across the street from the palace. Their path was blocked miles from the palace by policemen in riot gear and gas masks, who fired tear gas at the demonstrators. "We thought Aristide would bring freedom," Mr. Romel said. "Instead he brought only death and tyranny." Mr. Aristede had invited heads of state from around the globe for what was planned as a lavish celebration. But it was a measure of Mr. Aristide’s political isolation and Haiti’s persistent troubles that only one showed up. The head of state who did attend, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, brought a security guard of more than 50 people, along with ambulances, an armored car and two helicopters. The only other government leader present was the prime minister of the Bahamas.
The turnout hardly provided the opportunity to rally support among an increasingly agitated public that Mr. Aristide had hoped for in commemorating the stunning defeat that a rebel army of former slaves dealt to Napoleon’s forces, led by the emperor’s brother-in-law, Gen. Charles Leclerc. That defeat so rattled Napoleon that he promptly gave up his American colonial ambitions, selling the Louisiana Territory to the United States.
But their victory over the French failed to bring immediate or lasting freedom to Haiti’s people. For a century they struggled under a series of tyrannical and ineffective leaders. Revolutions came and went with dizzying speed. Between 1843 and 1889, 14 leaders were assassinated or overthrown. This tumultuous history led President Rosalvo Bobo to remark on Haiti’s centennial that he hoped the next 100 years would bring better days.
But much of the 20th century matched the previous one. Chaos and tyranny reigned, culminating in the brutal dictatorships of François Duvalier, and his son, Jean-Claude, who fled the country in 1986. When Mr. Aristide, a former priest who pledged his allegiance to Haiti’s poor, was elected president in 1990, his ascendancy seemed a sign that Haiti’s history of rapacious dictators had come to an end. But he was quickly ousted in a coup, then reinstated in 1994 by American troops.
A decade later, there are a few signs that life has improved for the vast majority of Haitians. "Aristide has been in power since 1994, and nothing has changed," said a leading businessman who is active in the movement to remove the president, but who asked that his name not be used because he feared reprisals. "The people are still poor and oppressed. We are told to celebrate our liberty but we don’t feel free." At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Aristide disputed such criticism, saying he welcomed the opposition groups as an essential part of the country’s future. He said he hoped to hold parliamentary elections this year and urged the opposition parties to support his plan.
"The opposition are not enemies," Mr. Aristide said. "They are playing a role in democratic society." But protests in the streets of Port-au-Prince and other cities have grown in recent months, and become increasingly tense and sometimes violent. On Dec. 5, Aristide supporters stormed the national university, a hotbed of anti-Aristide activism, beating about 20 people who opposed the Aristide government.
Outraged by the violence, civic groups, trade unions and professional associations rallied to the opposition movement, swelling the ranks of demonstrators. Opposition groups said dozens of people have been killed and scores have been wounded in clashes with armed groups of Aristide supporters while the police either stand by or participate. In Gonaïves, the coastal city where Haiti’s independence was proclaimed and a flashpoint of the current political struggle, militants once loyal to Mr. Aristide have since turned against him, engaging in gun battles in the streets.
On Wednesday, as crews worked to complete the stage upon which Mr. Aristide was to speak in Gonaïves on Thursday, people in Raboteau, one of the city’s slums, warned the president to stay away. "If Aristide comes here I am going to handcuff him and I am going to kill him," said a 19-year-old member of a militia once loyal to Mr. Aristide known as the Cannibal Army. The young man, Bristey Metayer, waved a pair of handcuffs and warned a visitor: "Don’t come to the celebration tomorrow. There will be blood."
March 1, 2004 – New York Times
Aristide Flees After a Shove From the U.S.
by Christopher Marquis
Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s hold on the presidency of Haiti shattered Saturday night when he made a last-minute plea to the American ambassador that set off late-night phone calls to Washington, officials said on Sunday. By dawn, he was on a plane departing for his second exile, with no final destination in mind, they said. Shortly after dawn, an American 757 dispatched by the Pentagon carried Mr. Aristide, his wife and a small security detail on their way to the Central African Republic. [He arrived there early Monday morning, Agence France-Presse reported.]
In a sign of his rapidly sliding fortunes, Mr. Aristide was denied exile in South Africa, his preference, because that country’s president, Thabo Mbeki, did not want to provoke a political controversy at home, said a senior State Department official. Mr. Aristide is eventually expected to move to another country. He made the decision to give up power on Saturday evening, hours after the White House in a statement questioned his fitness to rule. Mr. Aristide, signaling a disconnection from the violence engulfing his country and the appeals from world leaders to step aside, meekly asked the American ambassador in Haiti through an aide whether his resignation would help the country.
"It was as if he was the last guy in the world to figure out that the country would be better off were he to relinquish power," the official said. The final stage of Mr. Aristide’s rule opened when the White House reacted strongly to the report of an attack on Friday on a Haitian Coast Guard installation by a pro-Aristide mob. After a firefight at the Killick base, five miles from the main port, the Haitian Coast Guard workers were forced to take to boats and flee the site, the official said. That incident persuaded White House officials that Mr. Aristide and his armed loyalists sought to shut down the process by which refugees were being intercepted by the United States Coast Guard and returned home. In the past, Mr. Aristide used the threat of a refugee exodus to keep his American critics in check. "These guys had to fight for their lives," the official said of the Coast Guard employees, whom he praised as heroes. "They had to get out to sea. It was a clear effort to shut down the repatriation. Aristide wanted to hold the immigration card in his hand."
By Saturday evening, the White House hardened its position, insisting in its statement that Haiti’s crisis "is largely of Mr. Aristide’s making." That same evening, between 8 and 9, Mr. Aristide contacted the American ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley, through an intermediary, the official said. The ambassador, who had been working the phones throughout the three-week crisis, heard something new, by this account.
Mr. Aristide wanted to know three things from Mr. Foley: what did he think was the best way to avoid bloodshed, what new security arrangements could be put in place for Haiti, and what were the choices of places that Mr. Aristide could go to in exile, the official said. Mr. Foley was taken aback by the questions, which the official, who has no affection for Mr. Aristide, nevertheless found "poignant." Mr. Foley said he would call back with an answer, and he notified Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other superiors of the progress. The ambassador later called back and spoke to President Aristide, who was soft-spoken and polite as usual. The American reply was: "Pick your destination; it’s up to you." Mr. Aristide asked for time to confer with his wife, Mildred Trouillot, a Haitian American. After an hour, he called Mr. Foley back. Shortly after midnight, Secretary Powell got the call, "He’s ready to move tonight." The news made its way to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, who woke President Bush sometime after 1:30 a.m. Sunday, and told him that Mr. Aristide would resign, according to a senior administration official. Mr. Bush then called Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, and gave him authorization to send in the Marines.
The Pentagon dispatched the 757 to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and Mr. Aristide and his small circle found their own way to the airport in the darkened streets. He left behind a letter of resignation and boarded the plane. Throughout the night, Secretary Powell and his aides worked the phones trying to obtain Mr. Aristide a refuge. When his plane took off, at about 6:45 a.m., officials had yet to receive the approval that was expected from Mr. Mbeki. When a refusal came instead, administration officials pursued options in Central America, Europe and Africa before settling on the Central African Republic. By the time Mr. Aristide’s plane had refueled in Antigua, his destination was set, the official said. As the dust settles, the administration is calculating that a modest show of force by the Marines will prompt the armed insurgents to lay down their weapons and disappear into the civilian population. "There’s a sense that the political fighting will stop," said one State Department official. American officials said they planned to work with the United Nations and the Caribbean Community to restore the civil life of Haiti.
17 May 2007 – From: Johanne Laborde
Subject: The Haitian LGBT Community needs your help
Reaching out to our LGBT and LGBT-friendly community
Haitian gays and lesbians. We are servicing a population that suffers many ongoing hardships due to its alien status in our community. We seek to continue our effort to provide ongoing services and support. We also seek to become a multi-service agency. As such, we are reaching out to all the vital members of our community. Your support will not mean an endorsement of our lifestyle. However, your generous support would assist us tremendously in servicing the needs of a severely isolated and underserved population.
The Haitian Gays and Lesbians Alliance (HGLA) is a community base organization that provides counseling and other support to the Haitian LGBTQ community (Lesbians’ Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and those Questionings). We are an integral part of the community supporting Haitian music, dance, art, businesses, and professional services. We support the Haitian economy here and abroad. Although we are a vibrant part of the Haitian community, we live with only two choices: to hide and deny our lifestyle or to leave our beloved community and seek acceptance elsewhere.
In the late1700’s, we fought against slavery in a world where the notion of a free black country in the western hemisphere could not be imagined. We fought and won because a few good men and women lived in the world of possibilities rather than the world of doubts. We need the help of a few good citizens to fight a powerful enemy that lives in the mind—homophobia. We are seeking to feel whole. We are seeking to be understood and not ridiculed. In 2007, with the help of our partners and friends, we will overcome another “impossible dream–” to gain greater acceptance,understanding, and equality in the Haitian community.
Please join us in this effort with your generous contribution. We are also seeking partners and friends who are willing to donate their time and services. Please support us in this worthwhile effort through your generous contribution.
Please forward this info to your friends
Haitian Gays and Lesbians Alliance (HGLA), is a leading community based organization that empowers Haitian LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Questioning) by providing educational, social/cultural, and supportive services and resources. HGLA supports Haitian LGBT in promotion of civil rights and in the creation and affirmation of positive self-identities. We are dedicated to the eradication of heterosexism and homophobia. We provide an inclusive environment where all are safe; all are thriving and benefiting from our advocacy, services and resources. As part of our ongoing efforts, our group meets and works with a counselor facilitator in a relaxed and confidential setting to help those in attendance deal with their feelings and ideas about being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning their sexuality.
October 31, 2007 – Miami Herald
AIDS study spurs Haitian outrage: A new study asserts HIV/AIDS migrated to the United States from Haiti in 1969; but Haitians claim a long-standing prejudice
by Fred Tasker and Jacqueline Charles (ftasker@MiamiHerald.com)
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.
This report was supplemented with material from Miami Herald wire services.
May 01, 2008 – Gay City News
A Voice Badly Needed
by Paul Schindler
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and also has the highest rate of HIV infection. With massive political upheaval compounding its economic woes, at times in recent years as many as 80 percent of the population has been unemployed. In a population of roughly eight million, there are an estimated 150,000 AIDS orphans and though women make up roughly half the estimated HIV cases, only one in five of those who are pregnant receive treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to their newborns, according to a 2006 report issued by UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/ AIDS.
That same report estimated that only 40,000 of 271,000 infected nationwide, or 15 percent, receive antiretroviral therapy, the standard for care in the US. UNAIDS’ estimates of the nation’s adult infection rate have varied widely in the past four years, from as low as 2.2 percent to as high as 11.9 percent – the rate in the US is 0.4 percent – and while there are signs that infection rates are declining, it is generally agreed that between 190,000 and 275,000 Haitians, at minimum, are living with the virus. Yet despite these harsh economic and epidemiological statistics, in spelling out "the main barriers to an effective response" to the epidemic, the most recent report by UNAIDS on Haiti, published in May 2007, cited first the "stigmatization of those living with HIV."
That makes all the more remarkable the story of Esther Boucicault, a 51-year-old resident of Port St. Marc, Haiti’s leading shipping entry point roughly 50 miles northwest of Port-Au-Prince. In a series of television and radio interviews in late 1998 and throughout 1999, Boucicault became the first person in that nation to speak publicly about being HIV-positive. Many Haitians who become ill with AIDS or otherwise reveal their status to their families are cast out of their homes and forced to live on the streets in a society with virtually no capacity to provide housing for those without. Boucicault put herself at great risk of being ostracized within her community, but she took the step as part of a mission she had shouldered two years before.
In 1995, while pregnant with her daughter Stephanie, Boucicault’s nine-month-old son died under circumstances she suspected meant he had AIDS. She and the boy’s father were tested, but only she came up positive. Three years earlier, when her husband Bob Stanislas died after bouts of pneumonia and tuberculosis, she had also been tested, but was told she did not have the virus. The death of a husband followed three years later by the loss of an infant son, coupled with an HIV diagnosis for herself, would be devastating for many, especially in a country with such rudimentary health care. But when Stephanie was born, she did not have HIV and today Boucicault looks back on that birth as the "miracle" that changed her life.
In New York in April to accept the Keith D. Cylar International AIDS Activist Award from Housing Works, an AIDS services organization here, Boucicault, with the assistance of a French-English translator, talked to Gay City News about the work she began shortly after Stephanie’s birth to help bring some measure of stability to the lives of other Haitians facing HIV.
In 1996, she established Fondation Esther Boucicault Stanislas (FEBS), a group that provides a wide range of psychosocial services aimed at linking HIV-positive folks to treatment, helping them with therapy adherence, assisting them with housing – often by working with families whose initial reaction toward a positive member is rejection – providing job skills training, protecting them from violence, and offering them peer support and professional counseling.
Today, the organization Boucicault founded serves more than 400 families in a client community that includes about 250 children orphaned by AIDS. Partners in Health, a Boston-based organization that works for community health empowerment and social justice worldwide and was first established more than 20 years ago, in Haiti, by Paul Farmer, a physician and medical anthropologist, has tapped FEBS as one of the local groups it relies on to get antiretroviral medications into the hands of those who need them.
In comments to POZ magazine in 2005, Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Partners in Health’s medical director, compared FEBS to South Africa’s Treatment Action Coalition, as one of the few strong organizations representing people living with AIDS in the developing world. Farmer called Boucicault "a beacon of hope and dignity." Boucicault, in turn, has strong praise for Partners in Health, but is considerably less heartened by the impact that the world’s two major AIDS treatment funders -the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR- are having in Haiti.
Asked about those two initiatives, she said, "We don’t feel like the money is really for us. They don’t involve us in where it goes. That’s why we need to organize." In addition to the treatment work its relationship with Partners in Health enables it to do, FEBS also has psychologists on site to spearhead the mental health support it offers clients, their families, and their caregivers.
Early in her efforts Boucicault recognized the role stigma, shame, and silence played in aggravating the AIDS crisis in Haiti, and within a couple of years she was prepared to challenge that status quo. "I had a vision to get everybody talking about AIDS," she explained. "I said, ‘Here it is. This is AIDS.’" Pressed on how that vision alone was enough to give her the courage to speak out publicly, Boucicault shook her head no several times quickly. "I was not scared," she insisted, and talked once more of the "miracle" of Stephanie’s healthy birth.
She is proud that FEBS was the first facility in Haiti to offer more than simply basic medical treatment, emphasizing as well psychosocial wellness. She repeated the concept of social "reintegration" several times, and it is a theme emphasized in the UNAIDS assessment of Haiti’s critical needs. The availability of the resources that FEBS provides is "meager" nationwide, according to its 2006 report.
Boucicault confirmed that people routinely travel three or four hours to access the services FEBS provides. But as important as the tangibles her foundation offers is the personal model she holds out to Haitian society. When she first went public with her HIV status, she said, she spoke to gatherings of young people, who often laughed and sneered at her at the outset, only to be pulled in by her message. At the initial march she led to raise AIDS awareness, she was joined by only 20 others.
Three years later, the crowd had grown to more than 500. But stigma remains an enormous stumbling block, one made more poignant by the ironic contradictions of modern Haitian culture. Faced with crushing poverty, families are increasingly willing to have their daughters, as young as 12, work the streets selling sex to bring in money. Yet, UNAIDS reports that 50 percent of mothers are unwilling to have an HIV-positive person live in their home and two-thirds of Haitians believe they should not have to work alongside someone with the virus. There are no legal protections barring an employer from forcing their workers to be tested.
Boucicault said that IV drug use is not a significant contributor to the epidemic in Haiti, but asked about the role of sex between men, she responded that the taboos regarding homosexuality keep most gay men closeted, with no access to specialized health information and no group focused solely on advocating for their interests. In fact UNAIDS statistics provide absolutely no insight into the relative weight of sex between men as a risk factor. Its 2006 report identified heterosexual sex as the main vector for transmission, followed by mother-to-infant infection.
The same report, however, noted that the ratio of men to women with the virus has declined from 6/1 to 1/1 since 1988. If Boucicault’s assessment that intravenous drug transmissions are not common is on target, the preponderance of prevalence among men in the early years of the epidemic in Haiti is difficult to explain without assuming a significant level of male-male infections.
Significantly, amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, in the past several years has focused considerable attention on what it terms the hidden homosexual AIDS epidemic in the developing world. In many places in Africa, for example, homosexuality remains so transgressive culturally that men who contract the virus through sexual contact with another man are loath to come forward for testing or treatment. And this same population is almost impossible to target for the same reason.
As a result, an epidemic generally characterized as a heterosexual phenomenon – and it is indisputable that in much of the world politically disempowered women are confronted by AIDS literally against their wills – there are significant sub-epidemics of homosexual transmission growing unchecked and invisible. The question the FEBS story raises is whether any time soon Haitian society will be willing to accept a gay Esther Boucicault in its midst.
September 14, 2008 – The New York Times
Children in Servitude, the Poorest of Haiti’s Poor
by Marc Lacey
Gonaives, Haiti — Thousands of desperate women pushed and shoved to get at the relief food being handed out on the outskirts of this flooded city last week. Off to the side were the restaveks, the really desperate ones. As woman after woman hauled off a sack of rice, a bag of beans and a can of cooking oil, the restaveks, a Creole term used to describe Haiti’s child laborers, dropped to their knees to pick up the bits that were inadvertently dropped in the dirt. The hurricanes and tropical storms that have whipped across the western half of Hispaniola, the island divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in the past month have laid bare the poverty and the deep divisions in Haitian society, where there are rich, poor and downright destitute.
Nobody illustrates that last group better than the restaveks, the thousands of young Haitian children handed over by their poor parents to better-off families, most of whom are struggling themselves. The term restaveks literally means “stay with,” and that is what the children do with their hosts, working as domestic servants in exchange for a roof over their head, some leftover food and, supposedly, the ability to go to school. In practice, though, the restaveks are easy prey for exploitation. Human rights advocates say they are beaten, sexually abused and frequently denied access to education, since many host families believe that schooling will only make them less obedient. Unicef estimates that 300,000 Haitian children were affected by the recent storms, many of them forced to relocate to shelters or rooftops.
But young Haitians suffered significantly even before the skies darkened during Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, and more than 300 lives were lost. The country has the highest mortality rate for children younger than 5 in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a high death rate among infants and women giving birth. Just slightly over half of school-age children are actually enrolled in school. Attendance among restaveks, of course, is much less than that. “Many of them are treated like animals,” said a United Nations official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she did not have authority to speak on the delicate issue. “They are second-class citizens, little slaves. You feed them a little and they clean your house for nothing.”
Gonaïves, a city in Haiti’s northwest, was no boomtown when the storms hit, having been devastated by a hurricane in 2004, from which it was still recovering. But that did not stop many poor families from taking in restaveks, the offspring of the poorest of the poor. “Almost everybody has one,” said one of the women jockeying in the relief food line. They are children like Widna and Widnise, twin 12-year-old girls who have been in the same Gonaïves home for the past two years.
They get up at dawn to fetch water, collect wood, cook, mop and clean. They watch as their host family’s two children, who are about the same age, eat breakfast and then go off to school. The twins eat nothing in the morning and stay home working. The twins have it better than most, they say. They are hit on their palms if they are disobedient but do not receive lashings on their head, as they say many of the restaveks in nearby homes receive. In the evening, they eat with the two other children and sleep on mats on the floor, just as those children do. They had shoes, unlike many of their contemporaries, although they lost those in the flooding.
But the girls said they did not like their situation. There is the teasing they get from other children, who tell them over and over that they will never grow up, that they will always be servant girls. And they miss their mother, who works in the countryside as a domestic servant and visits the girls when she can. She tells them that she will bring them home as soon as she can afford to feed them. “Our mother is too poor to take care of us,” said Widna, the more talkative of the pair, adding emphatically, “We don’t want to be restaveks.”
What they wanted most immediately on Thursday afternoon was food. Their host family had fled its flood-damaged home, leaving the girls alone. They arrived at a school in the Praville neighborhood where United Nations relief food was being handed out but were told that only women were allowed in line. The pint-size girls sat off to the side until they noticed that some rice and beans were being dropped amid all the confusion. The girls looked at each other and then sprang into action with some of the other restaveks, scooping up the specks of food from the ground one by one.
December 1, 2008 – PinkNews
Gays in Haiti show their Pride during AIDS march
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A small group of men openly declared their homosexuality during a protest in Haiti at the weekend. The event, which was held to mark World AIDS Day, has been described as the first gay Pride march in the Caribbean. The island nation of nine million people is deeply conservative, but about a dozen men wore T-shirts declaring they are masisi, a local slang word for homosexual. UN and government officials took part in the march in the city of St Marc calling for better treatments and prevention campaigns.
The number of people with HIV has risen in every region of the world in the past two years, with the fastest increases being seen in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation said that in 2007 more than 33 million people live with HIV and AIDS worldwide and every day more than 6,800 people become infected with HIV, and 5,700 people die from AIDS. Haiti has one of the highest infection rates in the world and gay men and lesbians face stigma and homophobic attitudes, though the voodoo community is accepting of homosexuality.
Michèle Pierre-Louis was able to take office in September as Prime Minister only after she had gone on the radio to deny rumours she is a lesbian.
July 5, 2009 – CBS News
From Haiti, A Surprise: Good News About AIDS: Though Struggles And Stigma Continue, Haiti Has Found Success In Its Fight Against AIDS
(AP) – When Micheline Leon was diagnosed with HIV, her parents told her they would fit her for a coffin. Fifteen years later, she walks around her two-room concrete house on Haiti’s central plateau, watching her four children play under the plantain trees. She looks healthy, her belly amply filling a gray, secondhand T-shirt. Her three sons and one daughter were born after she was diagnosed. None has the virus. "I’m not sick," she explained patiently on a recent afternoon. "People call me sick but I’m not. I’m infected."
In many ways the 35-year-old mother’s story is Haiti’s too. In the early 1980s, when the strange and terrifying disease showed up in the U.S. among migrants who had escaped Haiti’s dictatorship, experts thought it could wipe out a third of the country’s population. Instead, Haiti’s HIV infection rate stayed in the single digits, then plummeted. In a wide range of interviews with doctors, patients, public health experts and others, The Associated Press found that Haiti’s success in the face of chronic political and social turmoil came because organizations cooperated and tailored programs to the country’s specific challenges.
Much of the credit went to two pioneering nonprofit groups, Boston-based Partners in Health and Port-au-Prince’s GHESKIO, widely considered to be the world’s oldest AIDS clinic. "The Haitian AIDS community feels like they’re out in front of everyone else on this, and pretty much they are," said Judith Timyan, senior HIV/AIDS adviser for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Haiti. "They really do some of the best work in the world."
Researchers say the number of suffers was initially lessened by closing private blood banks, and statistically by high mortality rates _ an untreated AIDS sufferer in Haiti lives eight fewer years than an untreated American. Well-coordinated use of AIDS drugs, education and behavioral changes such as increased condom use have kept the disease from surging back, at least for now.
Statistics are notoriously unreliable in this country of poverty and lack of infrastructure. The most telling data would be the number of new infections in a given year, but researchers say such a precise count is impossible. Next best is to estimate the infected as a percentage of the population. From 1993 to 2003, only pregnant women were tested, and their rate of infection dropped from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent, according to GHESKIO and national health surveys. Researchers now test men and women aged 15 to 49, and the official rate is 2.2 percent, according to UNAIDS.
That’s still far higher than in the developed world, but it’s lower than the Bahamas, Guyana and Suriname, and much lower than sub-Saharan Africa, where the rate averages about 5 percent but spikes to 24 percent in Botswana and 33 percent in Swaziland. But the crisis is far from over. In the Artibonite Valley, where Boston-based Partners in Health is just now setting up two clinics, the estimated infection rate is 4.5 percent. Some in these remote regions still look for care from Voodoo priests, who ask for large sums of money or goods and use treatments doctors say can be poisonous.
Thanks in large part to UNAIDS, which awarded Haiti its first grant in 2002, and $420 million from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, an estimated 18,000 people are on AIDS drugs, most of them administered free through GHESKIO and PIH. That population represents 40 percent of those whose white blood cell count is low enough for them to need the drugs. It is a high percentage for the developing world, but still fails to help many too remote to reach medical care or those at for-pay public clinics. Still, Haiti has been sufficiently ahead in prevention, diagnosis and treatment for some of its programs to serve as models for PEPFAR, the program launched by President George W. Bush in 203 and praised for its work in Africa.
GHESKIO co-founder Dr. Jean W. Pape was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his work, and PIH’s Paul Farmer was recently named chairman of Harvard Medical School’s global health department. In May, Haiti was honored as the host of the opening ceremony of the 2009 International AIDS Candlelight Memorial. In a country suffering from political upheaval and natural disasters, where three-quarters of the people can neither afford nor access private clinics or fee-based public hospitals, few could have imagined at the dawn of the AIDS crisis how far Haiti would come.
When some of the first confirmed cases of the strange new immune deficiency disease were found in Haitian migrants, the country was hastily and unscientifically pegged as the main breeding ground, or maybe even cause, of AIDS. Experts predicted a third or more of its population would be wiped out. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control deeply offended the country by listing Haitian nationality alongside hemophilia, homosexuality and heroin use as primary risk factors _ nicknamed "the four H’s." There was speculation that slum squalor or Voodoo ceremonies were responsible for the scourge.
By the mid-1980s the CDC’s risk-factor list was amended, but the damage was done to Haiti’s dignity and to tourism, then its second-largest industry, which collapsed and never recovered. Yet the stigma may be what motivated Haiti to fight the disease harder, uniting squabbling officials and divided donors in a common cause, said Pape, the Haitian-born, Cornell-educated physician who helped found GHESKIO in May 1982.
GHESKIO was founded two months before the disease even had a name, hence its unwieldy French acronym for "Haitian Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections." Speaking in an office filled with health studies and signed photos from U.S. presidents, Pape said efforts to close unregulated blood banks, treat the sick and reducing mother-to-child transmissions helped curb the epidemic.
Partners in Health was founded in 1983, by two Haitians and two Americans including Farmer, as a small clinic treating infected people in the desperately poor hillside community of Cange. Its "accompagnateur" program, in which local workers including HIV patients are paid to help the newly diagnosed adhere to physically taxing medication regimens and prevention measures, has been duplicated in Africa. So has GHESKIO’s work, such as distributing phone cards to patients to keep in closer touch with their doctors.
Obner Saint-Valain is an accompagnateur who looks over seven patients including Marie-Lourdes Pierre, a blind 55-year-old Blanchard woman who has lived with the virus since 1999. For that work he is paid $54 a month. "If you’re giving medication to a patient, you can’t be scared of them. If the patient becomes worse, it’s me that picks them up and puts them in a car to the hospital," he said.
While many of Haiti’s more than 9 million people cannot afford care in hospitals that require them to provide everything from medicine to latex gloves for their doctors, HIV patients get cutting-edge treatments for free. Meanwhile, education campaigns spread the word on prevention measures. More than 51 million free condoms have been shipped to the country of since 2004 and are advertised everywhere on street murals and corner store signs.
"More Haitians know about modes of transmission than high school students in the U.S.," Pape said. It was in 1994 that Micheline Leon made the 30-kilometer (20-mile) trek from her home in Blanchard over crumbling roads to the stone-walled campus of Zanmi Lasante, the Creole name and flagship operation of Partners in Health. Something felt wrong with her pregnancy _ the baby was too low in her belly, she said. The baby was fine, but Leon tested positive in the HIV test given to all expetant mothers.
"My family lost hope. They thought I was already gone," she said. Through care, counseling and a lot of social assistance _ Partners in Health also helped build her tin-roofed, concrete house _ Leon survived. She is also a paid PIH accompagnateur, working mostly with tuberculosis patients. Treatments, which in her later pregnancies included AIDS drugs, prevented the virus from passing to her children, and she was discouraged from breast-feeding. PIH stands by the practice though some AIDS doctors say that’s unwise in countries like Haiti where food is scarce.
Pape envisions a Haiti where the prevalence rate will dip below 1 percent. Timyan of USAID believes the rate has essentially stabilized but will not rise again. Leon’s parents never did buy that coffin. For her, fear and shame have been replaced with pride and confidence. "I’m not scared anymore," she said.
18 January 2010 – Fridae
14 members of Haitian gay support group die in earthquake
by News Editor
AmfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, an international nonprofit organisation reports that 14 members attending a support group meeting at a community organisation in Port-au-Prince were killed when the earthquake that registered 7.1 on the Richter scale hit Haiti last Tuesday. Amfar said in a statement: “Among the thousands who lost their lives in last Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti were 14 members attending a support group meeting at the offices of SEROvie, an amfAR-supported community organisation that provides outreach and HIV/AIDS-related services to men who have sex with men (MSM). One staff member also remains missing.
“SEROvie, which received community awards from amfAR’s MSM Initiative in 2008 and 2009, has been working with MSM-a group that is particularly vulnerable to HIV in Haiti due to stigma and discrimination-to provide medical and psychosocial support, and has been building a network of providers who offer HIV services targeted at MSM. Tuesday’s devastation compounds the difficulties of working within what was already a fragile infrastructure, and represents an enormous loss to the HIV/AIDS community in Haiti.”
According to SEROvie’s executive director Steve La Guerre: “We were having our usual support group meeting on a quiet Tuesday afternoon when the worst happened. The sound is unforgettable. I can’t even describe the horror as the ceiling and the wall of the conference room started to fall and the chaos started. Fourteen young men were lost forever in the earthquake. Paul Emile, the leader of the group, and Stacy were the only survivors.”
Cary Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), said in a statement the group has sent funds directly to SEROvie to allow their services and supplies to continue to reach their LGBT and HIV-affected clients in Haiti. The group is also providing funds to groups such as Colectiva Mujer y Salud, a feminist Dominican organisation that has crossed the border into Haiti in order to assist with direct relief to LGBT communities and to the many other victims.
How you can help
IGLHRC has set up a specific fund for SEROvie. To support them directly, visit IGLHRC. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation recommends the Rainbow World Fund which touts itself as the world’s only lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender based international humanitarian aid charity. The San Francisco-based charity which has partnered CARE, a global humanitarian organisation, for on-the-ground relief work in Haiti has supported ongoing projects in the Caribbean nation focusing on improving nutrition and developing access to safe drinking water since 2004.
Give money, not “stuff”; and avoid scams
– Aid organisations say anyone interested to help should donate money; sending clothes, food, or other items is, at best, misguided.
– Unfortunately scammers are looking to profit from the tragedy, so do your homework and only make a donation to reputable and established aid groups such as American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and UNICEF.
– For tips on giving intelligently and avoiding scams, visit Charity Navigator, independent, non-profit organisation that evaluates American charities.
January 15, 2010 – IGLHRC
Donate Directly to Relief and Support Efforts for the LGBT Community in Haiti
Letter from the Executive Director
Dear IGLHRC Supporter:
By now, I’m sure you are aware of the heartbreaking aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday. The disaster has devastated the capital of Port-au-Prince and Haiti’s fragile infrastructure, with tens of thousands of people killed and countless others now lacking the most basic access to services, food and shelter. The earthquake has been catastrophic for every sector of society, including Haiti’s LGBT community.
Last year I was privileged to visit Haiti and to spend time with SEROvie, the main organization providing HIV-related services for men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people and other members of our community. This morning, I received a message from Steve La Guerre, the dynamic leader of SEROvie, and he asked that I pass along a message about the tragedy’s impact on the group and its work:
We were having our usual support group meeting on a quiet Tuesday afternoon when the worst happened. The sound is unforgettable. I can’t even describe the horror as the ceiling and the wall of the conference room started to fall and the chaos started. Fourteen young men were lost forever in the earthquake. Paul Emile, the leader of the group, and Stacy were the only survivors.
It is now more than ever that SEROvie and ACCV (Civic Action Against HIV) are needed to provide the quality services we have been providing to our beneficiaries: food, clothes, and any type of help is needed for our members. Any help will do.
Light a candle for these souls and for Haiti. Lord help us.
IGLHRC has sent funds directly to SEROvie to allow their services and supplies to continue to reach their LGBT and HIV-affected clients in Haiti. We are also providing funds to groups such as Colectiva Mujer y Salud, a feminist Dominican organization that has crossed the border into Haiti in order to assist with direct relief to our communities and to the many other victims.
If you are able to contribute directly to these relief efforts, please donate here
One hundred percent of contributions made through this page will go directly to our friends and colleagues in Haiti.
In this time of crisis and need, please support the courageous and necessary relief work being done to help the people of Haiti, regardless of where you donate your money, supplies, or time.
Cary Alan Johnson
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
2010 January 28 – BizJournals
Lesbian and Gay Haiti Fund Tops the List of Donors to American Red Cross
by PR Newswire
San Francisco – PRNewswire – Within days of the creation of the American Red Cross LGBT Haiti Relief Fund, a Red Cross representative stated the fund has already raised more money than many of the huge corporate donors. This was accomplished by significant outreach efforts to the LGBT community via donors and activists along with a massive email campaign to the members of three LGBT cruise companies, Olivia, Atlantis and RSVP. Within a week, the community has raised over $150,000 for the fund.
Donations of cruises, an upgrade auction and matching funds all were contributed by the cruise companies as pledges came pouring in with record dollars in a matter of a few hours. "We are reaching out to all LGBT organizations and individuals to become part of this relief fund effort and get the word out everywhere," said Judy Dlugacz, President and founder of Olivia Companies, a lesbian-oriented vacation company. "If we all work together we can provide enormous support to the Haiti relief efforts."
"Over the last week we have seen a wonderful broadening of this initiative within our community," stated Claire Lucas, an international development expert and a well known community activist and political fundraiser who worked with the American Red Cross to set up the fund. This effort began with the LGBT cruise companies and has quickly expanded to include other organizations and individuals. "Just this morning, three very diverse LGBT groups approached us to join the initiative; The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission based in New York, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center/Pride Center representing Southern Florida and a donor-directed community fund at the Alaska Community Foundation."
"We are inspired to see so many groups coming together to help earthquake survivors in Haiti," says Nan Buzard, Sr. Director of International Response and Programs for the American Red Cross. "The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community has done an outstanding job of raising funds to support the American Red Cross’s relief work in Haiti."
Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, stated, "The LGBT community has a long tradition of mobilizing quickly to respond to crisis. We are proud that so many business leaders in our community have come forward to assist the people of Haiti in this time of great need."
Lucas added, "While we have received over 1,300 donations totaling over $150,000 as of today, the actual donations have only just begun and we predict there will be a colossal response to this historic endeavor."
Mark Bromley, of The Council for Global Equality, a non-profit organization that encourages a stronger voice on LGBT human rights concerns said, "We are urging all members of the LGBT community and their friends to donate to the American Red Cross LGBT Haiti Relief Fund to help the people of Haiti. Our community sends its deepest compassion and support to the people of Haiti and we will speak as one voice to show that support."
To contribute to the fund, visit
April 13, 2010 – IGLHRC
LGBT in Haiti, Three Months After the Quake – IGLHRC and partners meet to assess community needs in Haiti
by Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Executive Director
In the fall of 2009, I traveled to Haiti to get a better understanding of emerging LGBT communities, the impact of HIV on men who have sex with men (MSM), and how LGBT were responding to the HIV crisis. At the time, I met some talented, committed individuals, who were mainly working in the context of the HIV prevention, treatment and care sector, but were also steadily carving out a space for the promotion and protection of a broad set of human rights for LGBT people.
It has only been three months since the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake of January 12, 2009, and I have returned to Haiti, along with Marcelo Ferreyra, IGLHRC’s Latin America and Caribbean coordinator, and researcher Samara Fox. This week we will be interviewing LGBT Haitians, relief workers, and human rights activists to learn more about how the earthquake and the recovery efforts are impacting LGBT lives. Our findings will help us understand the specific difficulties that LGBT people face in the wake of massive disasters and upheaval so we can make our partnerships as useful as possible when working with organizations such as SEROvie and its members in Haiti, and LGBT communities elsewhere in the wake of catastrophes.
Stepping into the courtyard of the offices of SEROvie, the only organization in Haiti working exclusively with gay and bisexual men and transgender women, is a shocking experience. The bright, spacious office that I had visited only 7 months ago has been reduced to its foundations. The one room left standing is the office of Program Director Reginald DuPont, a composed young man with a reassuring voice, who oversees SEROvie’s counseling and outreach programs. Fourteen SEROvie members were killed on the day of the earthquake; seven in the collapse of the office. Reginald pulled many of the dead and dying from the rubble himself.
For those who were already living on the margins before the quake, the situation has only worsened. In makeshift tents raised around the compound, some provided through donations by generous IGLHRC supporters during our emergency appeal, SEROvie’s staff continues its efforts to provide services to the community. Many in this community have been left without food, shelter or identification—and more still have lost close family members and friends. SEROvie has distributed food and medication to LGBT people in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s devastated capital, and have begun to re-launch their important work in 5 regions (Le Nord, L’Ouest, Le Sud-Est, Artibonite, le Sud) around the country. They are also trying to help LGBT people in the makeshift camps for the displaced in Port-au-Prince, distributing condoms and lubricant (some of which was provided by Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) ) and by offering encouragement and understanding to a marginalized group of people that, in the span of 37 seconds, was rendered substantially more vulnerable.
That disasters exacerbate and bring into stark relief already existing inequalities is being made increasingly clear on this trip. A number of organizations that, prior to the quake, addressed women’s specific interests and concerns were destroyed or crippled, leaving women without access to reproductive and sexual health services. The Haitian government has identified the need to address the special health requirements of women and girls following the earthquake, particularly as sexual violence against women and girls – already at extremely high levels prior to the quake – increases in the overcrowded and insecure environment of camps for displaced persons. The World Health Organization is working to draft a strategy for long-term services for those with disabilities as international organizations such as Handicap International work to scale-up their services. Still, most non-governmental organizations and relief services providing emergency responses to such disasters seem to operate on the belief that LGBT people living in a post-disaster context are no more vulnerable than the rest of the population and that specific and targeted interventions are unnecessary. From what I’ve seen during this trip, this is not the case.
Like the earthquake in Haiti, recent disasters in Concepcion, Chile, in Sri Lanka, Northern Honduras, and New Orleans, U.S.A. challenge the international LGBT movement to stand in solidarity with LGBT people and communities affected by crisis and develop an evidence-based understanding of the impact of disasters on LGBT vulnerability and movement building. It is a “tyranny of the urgent” that allows government officials and relief organizations to overlook the unique and acute needs of LGBT people. By assuming that LGBT communities face the same “urgencies” as other populations, governments fail to address the violence and discrimination that is exacerbated by post-crisis tensions. This approach also ignores the vulnerabilities created by intersections of marginalization based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity and vulnerability based on socio-economic status or HIV and AIDS. The impetus is on all of us to pay attention and to demand accountability and mechanisms to ensure that responses to disasters in the future take our communites’ realities into consideration.
Our hope is that this visit with our partners in Haiti will begin to highlight some of the specific risks LGBT communities face – and spark a broader conversation about what we all can do to make sure those risks are addressed.
June 9, 2010 – IGLHRC
Haiti: Mobilizing Support
The January 2010 earthquake forced IGLHRC to move outside our normal areas of work and respond to the urgent needs of the Haitian LGBT community. Overwhelming generosity from IGLHRC supporters allowed us to support our Haitian partner organizations—including SEROvie, a group which provides HIV services to men who have sex with men and transgender women.
During a week-long mission to Haiti in April, IGLHRC staff had the opportunity to observe how donated tents, medical supplies, clothing and office equipment were put to use. While there, we conducted focus groups and interviews with more than 60 people to learn more about the ways in which the earthquake has affected LGBT lives.