Report on Trip to Haiti by USCCB Delegation, July 29, 2005

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

July 25-28, 2005

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
Bishop Thomas G. Wenski

I. History of USCCB-CEH meetings. In late 1985, the Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Paolo Romeo, and Bishop Francois Gayot, President of the Haitian Episcopal Conference (CEH), came to the USCC to ask the Church in the U.S. to give increased attention to the plight of the Church in Haiti, then under the rule of President-for-Life Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. A first-ever Conference delegation to Haiti was planned for the first week of February 1986, then hastily re-scheduled for the following month as the long-simmering rebellion against the Duvalier regime came to a head in the February 6th dechoucaj or "up-rooting" of Baby Doc and the regime. 

Following that first meeting in 1986, the Haitian Bishops proposed that a more-or-less annual set of meetings continue, some in Haiti, some in the U.S. There have since been ten such meetings, the last formal delegation visit taking place in 2000.

II. Background of this visit. On February 29, 2005, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled Haiti, assisted by the U.S. to find refuge first in the Central African Republic and later in South Africa. Aristide's departure was viewed by his partisans, including some members of the U.S. Congress and parts of movements such as Pax Christi-USA as a U.S.-arranged coup d'etat and a "kidnapping." During the time leading up to his departure and continuing since then, parts of the country have been wracked by tensions of many kinds, including murderous gang-related crimes. 

Given the difficulties facing the Church, it seemed appropriate that a USCCB delegation visit the country to determine what, if anything, we might do to be helpful. CEH President Archbishop Hubert Constant indicated to CRS/Haiti his strong encouragement of such a visit. However, just as it was being finalized for Easter Week, April 12-16, the archbishop indicated that the delegation would have to be postponed, due to the expected visit of a cardinal coming at the request of the Vatican. 

The visit was re-scheduled for September 28-October 2, coinciding with the CEH meeting in Les Cayes. More importantly, the dates coincided with Hurricane Jeanne which devastated several parts of Haiti, virtually wiping out the city of Gonaives and causing major damage in Florida as well, making travel for Bishop Ricard and others extremely difficult. 

Finally, as the dates of the all-important October and November elections neared, marking also the end of the UN mandate on the island, and as reports of continued violence and especially of the controversial role played by a priest associated with the Aristide Lavalas Party were increasingly covered by our media, new dates for a visit were sought. The dates most feasible for the U.S. bishop members were July 25-28.

III. Purpose of the Visit. The intended goals of this visit were (1) to express the solidarity and concern of the Church in the U.S. with the Church and people of Haiti; (2) to come to a deeper understanding of the present crisis facing the country; and (3) specifically to explore reports circulating in the U.S. regarding the security situation in the country, the charges against UN (MINUSTAH) and Haitian National Police (HNP) forces, and the current role of the Church and that of certain high-profile clerics such as Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste. 

IV. The Delegation. Bishop John Ricard, Committee on International Policy Chairman, was to have led the delegation but was compelled at the last minute to remain in his diocese because of the damage sustained there by Hurricane Dennis. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio (CRS) and Bishop Thomas Wenski (CCLA) comprised the delegation, staffed by Tom Quigley (OIJP), Kevin Appleby (MRS) and Paul Townsend (CRS). Catholic Relief Services/Haiti led by Country Representative Dula James and her able staff provided logistical support, arranged requested meetings and appointments, and handled transportation. As is so often the case, not only in Haiti but elsewhere, USCCB delegations could not be as successful without the indispensable and professional assistance of the local CRS team. 

V. Meetings and Visits. Despite the unexpected travel by some of the Haitian bishops, we were able to meet with two of the auxiliary bishops of Port-au-Prince, Bishop Joseph Lafontant and Bishop André Dumas. Fr. André Pierre, Secretary General of the CEH, was host to the delegation and arranged a celebratory Mass at his parish, Sacred Heart, followed by a breakfast with many of the CRS/Haiti staff and the visiting delegation of Pax Christi International. 

In a short period of time, the delegation was able to hold in-depth meetings with several major actors, notably Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, U.S. Ambassador James Foley, some seven leaders of the principal political parties, an equal number of leaders of private sector organizations, all members of the Group 184, two of the seven "wise persons" who make up the Conseil des Sages, and representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). 

The delegation also visited several CRS-supported programs in Port-au-Prince: the HIV/AIDS Community Outreach Center "POZ" (Promoteurs Objectifs Zero Sida); the HIV/AIDS Children's Center "L'Arc en Ciel"; and the Disabled Children's Center "Wings of Hope/Luckner Fondrose." 

VI. Principal Issues. Much of the discussion in almost all of the meetings centered around the issues of security, the up-coming elections, economic development and private investment, systemic corruption, particularly under the previous regime, and the role of the Church. 

Security. Although Haiti is, in the main, a peaceful and self-policing country, significant pockets of unchecked criminal activity exist, especially in the urban slums of Port-au-Prince. As in parts of Central America, violent gangs have become a major challenge to security and are responsible for kidnappings, murders, drugs and arms trafficking. Some are from the pro-Aristide chimeres, others from the former army disbanded by Aristide, others just criminal gangs often consisting of young Haitians deported from the U.S. The idea of a temporary moratorium on deportations, at least until after the elections, was strongly urged by several people. 

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), some 7,000 troops led by Brazilian forces, has until recently been seen as totally ineffective in securing the peace. The stated goals of DDR, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the former Haitian army, are still unmet. The Haitian National Police are seen as inadequate in numbers and training, lacking professionalism and often corrupt. The Civilian Police (CIVPOL) program in which the U.S., Canada and France participate is slowly building a serious police force; even so, pay is very low (private guards are paid better) and so continued corruption is always a threat. 

One proposal that came up in almost all meetings was a strong plea for a relatively small number of U.S. Marines to come for a few months prior to and during the election period. 

Elections. If the local elections scheduled for October and the national elections in November are to be credible, an end to rampant insecurity is essential. Just as crucial is the popular perception that real security has been achieved; thus the call for the Marines. Voter registration has been slow up until the last couple of weeks, seen as moving on schedule now, and so assertions that the elections have to be postponed are heard less. The interim Prime Minister has gotten authority to extend the registration period a week at a time if deemed necessary. 

Differences exist among political actors as to whether Aristide's Lavalas party should be allowed to participate. Some oppose since Aristide is President for Life of his party and has as yet given no indication of stepping aside or anointing a candidate. Others favor no restrictions on which parties can participate. 

Migration. Both out-migration and forced return have political impact on the country. Of principal concern is the return of "deportees" from the U.S., Haitian nationals who have run afoul of the law and sent back from the U.S., and "returnees," Haitians who have escaped Haiti to seek refuge in the U.S. but have been interdicted at sea or elsewhere and returned. The former are often ripe for recruitment by the Lavalas or other armed gangs due to a lack of jobs or of integration services upon return. We were told of the prevalence of English-speaking deportees among the kidnappers. The latter, the "returnees" who have sought asylum, face possible persecution by gangs on return and are the product of a lack of appropriate asylum screening by the U.S. government. 

The forced deportation of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, reportedly without warning or screening, is also of concern. Pressure from our government on the Dominican authorities to end mass deportation is called for. Efforts should also be made to end the systemic mistreatment of Haitians recruited for cane cutting in the D.R. and returned without pay. 

Economic Development. Although a number of new jobs have been created in recent months and financial remittances from Haitians abroad continue to provide a lifeline for some, Haiti's economy is flat. There is virtually no growth or foreign investment. The former engines of growth, the assembly sectors and tourism, will not prosper while security remains uncertain. Even the most optimistic among the private sector believe that foreign investment will not come until the new government has proved itself and that investors perceive that corruption and a non-functioning judicial system have largely ended. 

Major focus at this time is on the revised Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act, a preferential trade bill intended to create 100,000 jobs in the textile industry. 

Corruption. The "breaking news" aspect of this issue has been the gradual release by the interim government of their investigation of instances of graft and corruption by the Aristide government. Finally issued in July by the Commission of Administrative Inquiry (CEA), the Interim Report is a 325-page set of documents, transcripts of interviews and list of payments made to various persons by the national telephone company (TELECO) and other entities. For us, a particularly disturbing revelation was that the names of a few priests and at least one bishop are listed as recipients of monthly allocations of funds. 

The Interim Prime Minister indicated that his goal is to leave a legacy of honest government, not using government service as a means of personal enrichment. He declared all personal assets when he took office, requested all members of his government to do the same, and will make a similar declaration of assets on leaving office. 

The Church. A frequent refrain heard from several groups was the desire to see the Catholic Church "take a strong moral stand," "put morality into the political process," "be a moral reference once again" as it had been before the overthrow of Duvalier in 1986. There was criticism that parts of the Church had identified too closely with the Aristide regime and thus lost some of its moral standing. There was praise for the Church's work in education, running both the best private schools and the far more numerous presbyteral schools for the very poor, and praise for the role of the Church in the U.S. at the end of the Duvalier regime.

However, the scandal involving a very few "Lavalas priests" and especially the conflicted role of Fr. Gérard Jean-Juste tended to overshadow the more positive developments. A well-known and respected political figure urged the delegation to help the Haitian Episcopal Conference discipline these priests and help inform the American public about the reality of Haiti today. Many in this country, including sectors of the Catholic community, have apparently accepted a romanticized view of Mr. Aristide's regime and his forced departure, and currently of Fr. Jean-Juste's highly controversial actions. It may take decided action on the part of church authorities and further public revelations of the priest's misconduct for this problem to be resolved. 

VI. Recommendations. Three public policy issues came up repeatedly in different visits and meetings and we wish to recommend them for adoption and action by the USCCB: 

  1. Deportation moratorium. The urban security problem is apparently exacerbated by the forced deportation from the U.S. of young Haitians who readily integrate into violent gangs. A moratorium of at least three months could have a positive effect on the climate of security leading up to the October elections. In addition, a reintegration program for Haitian deportees from the U.S., similar to a program CRS is operating in El Salvador, should be considered and, if feasible, implemented.

  2. Marine detachment. The Administration has indicated its opposition to sending even a small number of U.S. Marines to Haiti. But Haiti is not Iraq, it is one of our nearest neighbors, and its security situation could, by all estimates we heard, be greatly enhanced by the deployment of no more than a couple hundred troops. We would urge the Administration to reconsider.

  3. HOPE Act. A bill similar to this, the Haiti Economic Recovery Opportunity (HERO) Act, passed without opposition in the Senate, but the House offered a revised version, the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement (HOPE) Act. Both represent trade preferences intended to create some 100,000 jobs in the textile industry.