Protests gain momentum..








A nationwide uprising against the regime of business partners President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe continued to gain steam this week with massive demonstrations in several major cities, including Port-au-Prince, Léogane, Petit Goâve, Cap-Haïtien, Fort-Liberté, Ouanaminthe, and Aux Cayes.

Feeling the protests’ heat, Martelly made a short televised national address on Nov. 28 to announce his formation of an “advisory commission” made up of 11 people whom he called “credible, honest, and trusted by society” to provide him “in eight days” with “a recommendation” on what path to take out of Haiti’s political imbroglio, saying that “the nation is divided, the problems are many, the problems are complicated.”

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Children of Haitian descent in Dominican Republic being barred from school, forced into labor

Children of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic are increasingly being barred from attending school following a court ruling that could lead to tens of thousands of people being stripped of their citizenship, according to a report released Friday.

Dozens of families with school-age children say they are being turned away or harassed due to arbitrary interpretations of the court ruling and Dominican laws, according to researchers at the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown University Law Center who compiled the report.

As a result, some children drop out of school or lose scholarships while others are forced into underage labor, said Kimberly Fetsick, one of the report’s authors.

“Children are being harmed, and their human rights are being violated,” she said. “Action must be taken to protect these children.”


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Stronger Haiti National Police has U.N. considering its future presence in the country











UNITED NATIONS — As an increasingly confident and stronger Haitian police force take control of Haiti’s security, major crimes are seeing a double-digit drop and the United Nations is intensifying discussions about its future in the country.


The talks of a reconfigured U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, comes as peacekeepers prepare to mark 10 years in June, and as Haiti’s clashing politicians shows signs of compromise. Earlier this month, President Michel Martelly, lawmakers and political opponents signed an agreement creating a road map for long overdue local and legislative elections later this year.


“We are encouraged by recent announcements that these elections will take place this fall, but these words must now be turned into action and must translate into voters casting their ballots at the polling stations,” Canada’s U.N. Permanent Representative Guillermo Rishchynski said Monday.


Rishchynski, and other U.N. Secretary Council members were asked Monday to consider five broad options for a reconfigured U.N. presence in Haiti post 2016. The options range from a special envoy, special political mission to a new mission — all with no military component. The other two options are a new mission with a small military quick reaction force or a renewal MINUSTAH’s mandate with a continued downsizing of its 5,702 troops.


The options are outlined in a report by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It notes that between 2012 and 2013, Haiti saw a 21 percent drop in homicides, reversing a five year trend, and kidnappings dropped by 53 percent.

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Haiti loses former ambassador, expert on Dominican relations









Guy Alexandre, a former Haiti ambassador to the Dominican Republic who recently published a book on how to improve the relationship, died Friday of a heart attack. He was 68.


“He was an honest, uncompromising intellectual,” Evelyn Margron Alexandre said about her husband who died in Port-au-Prince en route to the hospital. “He believed in people, he believed in knowledge.”


Born in St. Marc, Alexandre was first assigned to the Dominican Republic in 1991. His diplomatic career ended in 2003 during the uprising against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Alexandre would later serve as an adviser on international relations under Haiti’s 2004-2006 interim government. He then joined the International Organization for Migration in Haiti, serving as a senior adviser and program manager where he, among other things, oversaw a program for returning deportees.


“In a way, he was the institutional memory of Haiti on migration and as such was a valued expert on the subject for IOM,” said IOM spokeswoman Ilaria LANZONI.


But it was Alexandre’s expertise on Haiti-Dominican relations that made him the go-to person for journalists, activists and governments seeking a better understanding of the tense diplomatic relations.


In recent months, he had become invaluable as both nations met to address a number of issues, including last year’s Dominican court ruling stripping citizenship from persons born to undocumented foreigners. The issue deeply worried him, his wife said.


“He could have been the person to bring the voice of reason on how we can approach that problem,” said former Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

“Haiti is losing at this time one of our great intellectuals and one of the most efficient diplomats we ever had.”


Former Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said Alexandre was not only a big brother to him, but “a true democrat always looking for a pragmatic way to use his empirical studies or his authority to improve the daily reality of Haitians.”


Victims applaud Haitian court decision on Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier






For two months last year, retired gynecologist Nicole Magloire arrived at the packed Port-au-Prince courtroom weekly and took her usual seat — front row, just to the right. Magloire, 75, did so again Thursday as a three-judge panel reconvened after a nine-month hiatus to decide on the fate of former President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. She didn’t expect much. Then the judges dropped a bombshell: allegations that Duvalier tortured, killed and imprisoned opponents should go forward.

“We didn’t give up,” said Magloire, one of the 30 people who have filed human rights complaints against Duvalier. “This has given us a huge boost to continue the resistance we started, and to not betray the people who died.”


The judges’ decision to reinstate crimes against humanity was a huge blow to the frail former dictator, who has been battling to stay out of prison since returning in January 2011 from France after 25 years in exile.


Reynold Georges, Duvalier’s lead attorney, said shortly after the ruling that he wanted to reserve comment until he reads the decision.


But Georges did say that he takes issue with the ruling. The panel needed to wait for a decision on his filing, charging that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case because “there is a statute of limitations, and second, they have already judged Duvalier before on economic crimes. They cannot come back with that again.”


Georges also argues that in Haiti the statute of limitations on human rights crime is 10 years and international law doesn’t apply because Haiti never ratified it.


“You cannot condemn someone using a law that doesn’t exist,” he said.


Nicole Phillips, a human rights lawyer with Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy, praised the ruling, as did others, including the Canadian government.


“This ruling today is a total victory not only for the victims of Jean-Claude Duvalier but also the Haitian legal system,” said Phillips, who was in the courtroom as the decision was read. “This is showing that a court is willing to address the issue of impunity as Duvalier is floating around as a senior statesman. Now, you have a court that has ordered a very thorough investigation into the facts, crimes committed by him as well as people close to him. This is a very, very important ruling.”


Duvalier has long maintained his innocence. In a 2011 interview with the Miami Herald, he and his lawyers punched holes in the 25-year-old legal case. They challenged it on procedural grounds and argued that the statute of limitations had expired.


Duvalier himself shrugged off claims that he and his supporters pillaged the national treasury and that he spirited away $120 million in public money when he fled on Feb. 7, 1986. He also denied charges that he had ordered the deaths and imprisonment of opponents, including Magloire. A one-time anti-Duvalier student activist under Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Magloire was jailed on Nov. 28, 1980, under the “Baby Doc” regime, along with scores of other Haitian intellectuals and journalists. Some were severely beaten and exiled by the regime’s secret police, the TonTon Macoutes, after they were arrested under a 1969 anti-communist law that considered government criticism “crimes against the state.”

But even as Magloire and human rights observers applaud the appeals court’s decision, they were not always so confident after launching their fight to overturn an investigative judge’s 2012 decision that Duvalier should only face the lesser corruption charges.

They questioned whether the case would move forward.

President Michel Martelly had suggested during the campaign that amnesty be granted to Duvalier and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who also had returned from exile. Martelly later backed off the statement, saying he would let the judiciary do its work.

Last month in an unrelated case, an investigative judge stopped short of accusing Aristide in the unsolved high-profile political assassination of Haiti’s most well-known journalist, Jean Léopold Dominque. Instead, the judge recommended that nine individuals be charged in his 2000 murder, including an ex-senator from Aristide’s political party. The recommendation is now in the hands of another three-judge Appeals Court panel.

In a move his supporters call efforts to reconcile Haiti’s past and present, Martelly has invited Duvalier, Aristide and other former presidents to official events, including the Jan. 1 independence celebrations in Gonaïves. Aristide declined but Duvalier was photographed standing next to Martelly.





Ice cream adds sweet taste for farmers in Haiti









Entrepreneurs from one of the grittiest cities in the United States have joined forces with peasant farmers in Haiti to help transform the country’s bitter poverty into delicious and life-sustaining ice cream.

A white former human sexuality professor from Alabama and a black Baltimore gourmet ice cream maker are being recognized for their efforts to help Haitian farmers find a market for their high-value vanilla beans and cacao in a product they like to call “ice cream with a purpose.”

The unusual pair teamed up two years ago to market Haitian vanilla-flavored ice cream to upscale Baltimore area restaurants.

The Vanilla Project, which provides income for some 650 farmers in rural Haiti, on February 1 earned its creators the Citizen Diplomat Award from Global Ties U.S., a non-profit partner of the U.S. State Department.

The vanilla venture owes its origins to a chance encounter 14 years ago when Alabama mother and daughter Anne and Stephanie Reynolds befriended a Haitian street artist.

They decided on a lark to join the artist, Gracia Thelisma, on a bus trip to the north of Haiti to visit the mother he had not seen in years.

The mother-daughter duo was struck by Haiti’s beauty and its people – as well as its poverty.

After they returned to Alabama they collected clothes to send to Haiti and raised money to start a school in Thelisma’s home town of Plaisance.

That soon evolved into seeking a long-term solution to employ the children who graduated from the school.

“Haiti once exported some of the finest vanilla products to Paris. They can do it again,” said Anne Reynolds, 57, a former professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a poverty rate of 77 percent and an average per capita income of $760, according to the World Bank.

After testing the plants in Haiti, and planting 70,000 vanilla vines, the project went into full businessmode last year with the creation of the De La Sol Haiti company in Plaisance, a rural farmingcommunity of 65,000.

Stephanie Reynolds, 27, with a graduate degree in Latin American studies, runs the company, which has 8 employees, 5 women and 3 men from Plaisance.

While waiting for the vines to mature, De la Sol Haiti is turning cocoa bought from local producers into chocolate.

The company is training farmers in new techniques to grow the vanilla vines on cacao trees and Thelisma hopes vanilla exports could start next year. It takes up to five years for the vanilla plants, which are related to the orchid family, to reach maturity.

“My dream is for De la Sol to become a leading force for Plaisance development,” said Thelisma. “In the region, people do not have jobs. With the vanilla businessDe la Sol could be able to expand and benefit a larger part of the population,” he added.

Reynolds was looking for culinary partners when she got a call out of the blue from Baltimore ice cream maker Taharka Brothers.

Owned and operated by young, college-aged African-Americans from tough neighborhoods, Taharka, founded in 2010, was introduced to Haiti in 2012 through Global Ties U.S., which hosts international visitors sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Taharka’s marketingmanager, Darius Wilmore, a former graphic artist with Def Jam Recordings, the hip hop label, was immediately struck with the idea of helping Haitian producers.

Wilmore Googled “vanilla in Haiti,” and found Reynolds.

She told him her vanilla beans were still two years away from maturity. In passing, Reynolds mentioned growing vanilla bean vines on cacao (chocolate) trees.

“What are you doing with the chocolate?” asked Wilmore.

While vanilla is the No. 1 flavor in the world, chocolate comes in a solid second.

Today, Taharka orders between 20 to 50 pounds of chocolate bi-monthly from De La Sol Haiti for its ice cream, which it delivers to 50 of Baltimore’s fanciest restaurants  grocery stores and ice cream shops. Wilmore hopes to see a profit next year, and start taking delivery of some Haitian vanilla beans.

Taharka Brothers joined Del La Sol Haiti in Washington, DC, this month to receive the Citizen Diplomat Award, adding their names to a list of luminaries such as U.S. Senator William Fulbright and celebrated poet-activist Maya Angelou.

Both Reynolds and Wilmore share a belief that the best way to help those less fortunate is through collaboration, and that giving creates dependency.

While Wilmore disapproves of handouts, he believes he owes the people of Haiti a debt of gratitude, because their bloody, decade-long revolution in the late 18th century began the end of slavery in the western world.

“It is race, class and history wrapped into this. Here we are, young black men, working with white women from Alabama, buying chocolate from poor Haitians. We are shining the light on social injustice through ice cream,” Wilmore said in his award acceptance speech.

He added: “Ice cream tastes better than poverty.”