Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
March 2, 2004
With the departure from Haiti of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday, February 29, the chaos of the past few weeks has resulted in a still worsening humanitarian crisis. Just a decade after U.S. troops helped restore Mr. Aristide to office, his departure now requires a major intervention of the international community to prevent the country from continuing to descend into deeper chaos.
Until now, roadblocks had prevented transport of food and other needed goods, raising the specter of growing hunger in this poorest country in the hemisphere. Even now, the looting of food warehouses, as well as of stores, banks and other institutions, has intensified the already grave humanitarian crisis. Catholic Relief Services and other humanitarian relief agencies in the country have suffered considerable losses of food stocks and vehicles. The lack of an adequate, trained civilian police force requires the immediate presence of an international peace-keeping force to provide security for the populace in general and specifically for the delivery of essential foods.
The country's Catholic bishops have repeatedly called on all the relevant actors "to take a personal, courageous and patriotic decision to avoid an irreparable catastrophe." The retired archbishop of Cap-Haitien and president of the newly formed Bishops' Commission for Peace and Reconciliation, Archbishop Francois Gayot, sees in the creation of that commission a "sign of hope," whereby the bishops seek to "remind all Haitians of certain fundamental values and to point out, at the same time, the ways for achieving peace and reconciliation."
We call on our government and the international community urgently to increase the provision and deployment of armed peace-keeping forces throughout the country. We also urge that the safety and well-being of all refugees intercepted by U.S. authorities be assured, that appropriate processing of their claims for asylum be provided, and that Haitians who are living in the United States be afforded Temporary Protected Status rather than deported into the chaos, uncertainty and peril that awaits them in Haiti.
In this Lenten season of prayer and penance, we ask the faithful to join in prayer for peace and reconciliation for the long-suffering people of Haiti.