Police visit Duvalier + take him for questioning

Probably CNN had it first: “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s surprise arrival in Haiti on Sunday “brought calls for arrest from [Michele] Montas and members of human rights groups”.

Michele Montas — radio journalist, ex-UN spokesperson, and sorely-aggrieved widow of assassinated journalist and agronomist Jean Dominique (shot and murdered in 2000 outside the studios of Radio Haïti Inter, which he directed and ran, one of many still-unsolved crimes in Haiti) — says she was going to file a criminal complaint against Duvalier. She told CNN: “We have enough proof. There are enough people who can testify. And what I will do is go to a public prosecutor and there is a public prosecutor that could actually accommodate our complaints”… This CNN story can be read in full here.

Javier Zuniga, special adviser at Amnesty International, told CNN that “The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity … Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes”.

And Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, told CNN that “Duvalier’s return to Haiti should be for one purpose only: to face justice”.

But Alertnet [Reuters] said Duvalier was being taken for questioning on suspicion of “stealing from the treasury”.

CNN added that “Duvalier was supposed to have held a news conference Monday but it was canceled and so far, the former dictator has remained huddled inside the Karibe”.

The Los Angeles Times later reported that “Police led the 59-year-old Duvalier from the luxury hotel room where he had stayed since his surprise return Sunday after 25 years of exile, past the pool, through the kitchen and out the back to a waiting dark-blue Nissan patrol sport-utility vehicle. He waved to waiters, hotel staff and hordes of reporters. He moved unsteadily and received help … A police convoy escorted Duvalier and his entourage to a courthouse … Haitian authorities said he would be questioned and could be released before the end of the day. It was not clear what, if any, charges the Haitian judiciary would be contemplating”. This is published here.

Two additional details: An AP story reports here that Duvalier’s defense attorney says Duvalier does not even have a passport, though the attorney asserts Duvalier can leave the country anytime he wants. [The story also notes that Duvalier separated from his “free-spending wife” in 1993…]

A documentary film, The Agronomist, was made by Jonathan Demme [Silence of the Lambs], who met Jean Dominique and Michele Montas during their years in exile. Information about the film is posted here.

Here are some excerpts from that site:
“For millions of Haitians, the voice of Jean Dominique continues to shout in the microphone ‘Yo arete Konpè Philo! Yo arete Konpè Philo’! (They arrested Konpe Philo!). The year was 1980, and the Duvalier regime had decided to put a halt to the growing media contestation that had heightened the conscience of the all social classes to unprecedented levels in Haiti. Intellectuals, artists, street vendors found their voices in the team assembled by Jeando and his wife Michele Montas. [One of the radio personalities was Konpè Filo, who characteristically spoke in a mocking tone] … the regime had reasons to worry about their pervasive impact on the status quo. Predictably, Jean, Michele, their team and dozens of other Haitian media personalities were rounded up and sent in exile during the infamous Decembre noir of 1980. But the damage had already been done. Six years later, in 1986, after continuous protests, the 29 year-old regime fell. Jean returned to Haiti the same year where he literally landed on the shoulders of the thousands of fans who had ran to the airport to welcome their hero. The optimistic vast smile, the pipe, the commanding voice, the V sign… the charm played again: in a matters of weeks, thousands of poor folks, wealthy businessmen, starving artists, obscure and reknowned intellectuals, street vendors… had poured money in a never seen collection drive to raise the funds necessary to rebuilt Radio Haiti Inter. In one of those tragedies of epic magnitude, Jean’s blood was spilled in 2000 [during the presidency of Jean Claude Aristide], when he thought that he had come back to see democracy flourish in his country, leaving his spouse of 28 years at the helm of a radio targeted for 30 years for its commitment to the empowerment of the Haitian masses. Since then, Michelle Montas, while assuring the management of the radio, and seeking justice for the murder of her husband, has been the target of threats and one assassination attempt that left a body guard dead. The story of Jean Dominique and Michel Montas goes beyond just the story of a Haitian radio station in Haiti and one man’s dedication. This is a human journey that exemplifies the struggle of Haitians for justice, the pursuit of the truth even at the ultimate cost, the quest for a dream and the resilience of an idea and an ideal through a couple, then a woman”.

Q: Tell us something about the private Jean that people wouldn’t know? Dealing with you, dealing with people in his private life…

Michele Montas: Only his close friends knew about his unique sense of humor, a self-deprecating sense of humor that allowed him to laugh in the face of tragedy and to always put things into proper perspective. The general public saw the fiery militant, the biting journalist, the cultured intellectual. But beyond that Jean was a great storyteller, a fascinating and funny companion.

Q: Did you at all time, share the views and approaches of your husband?

Michele Montas: Jean and I certainly shared the same views. We discussed national and international politics, our work, the newsroom, and his editorials on a daily basis and we deeply respected and trusted each other. I cannot remember a major disagreement in the 28 years we lived and worked together. We also had a common approach to our profession as journalists. Our strategies might have been different at times, as we do have very different personalities. Sometimes Jean would react more aggressively than I would. Sometimes those close to him would not immediately understand his moments of “sacred anger” as we called them, but Jean was a man of extraordinary vision and with a unique sense of perspectives. The principles that guided his life were of steel. Very often I realized in hindsight that his gut feelings on a number of issues were the right ones.

Q: Is Jean’s assassination an indication that the system won’t tolerate dissent in Haiti?

Michele Montas: It is obvious that true independence of thoughts and spirit is rarely tolerated in Haiti. In Jean’s case it was not only his critical attitude towards the different governments and politicians of Haiti but also his independence towards the traditional business elite. It is important to note also the increasing climate of intolerance and impunity that, in the last few years, has created in Haiti the conditions for Jean’s assassination” …

Will that end now?

Ben Ali out of Tunisia, Baby Doc Duvalier back in Haiti?

Are we supposed to believe that “Baby Doc” Duvalier decided, all by himself, to return to Haiti on Sunday after 25 years in exile?

Duvalier’s return to Haiti took place just two days after Tunisia’s President Ben Ali left his country, a day after vowing to remain in office until the end of his term in 2014, following several weeks of popular protests. Ben Ali, who may have originally intended to stay in France, was instead re-directed to Saudi Arabia.

Here is video of Duvalier at the Hotel Karibe in Port Au Prince last night, shot by journalist Emily Troutman:

Troutman reported that Duvalier made no public statements on Sunday, but a press conference is expected later on Monday. Troutman has Tweeted that she doesn’t know why Duvalier has returned to Haiti just now. The New York Times reported that “Haiti’s political crisis took a stunning turn on Sunday when Jean-Claude Duvalier, the dictator known as Baby Doc who was overthrown in 1986, arrived unexpectedly in the capital from exile in France … The sudden appearance of Mr. Duvalier, 59, who ruled Haiti with brutality and corruption for nearly 15 years, threatened to further convulse a country struggling to recover from the earthquake and a lingering cholera epidemic … Jean-Claude Duvalier’s departure from Haiti 25 years ago, which was arranged with the assistance of the United States, ushered in a period of halting democracy that has continued with tumultuous elections”. This report can be read in full here.

Just for nostalgia’s sake — and for purposes of comparison — here is reportage about the wedding of “Baby Doc” [Jean Claude] Duvalier on 25 May 1980:

Haiti, as all editors include somewhere in their copy, is “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere”.

It was hit one year ago by a devastating earthquake. Many areas have still not recovered, many people are still homeless, and there were recent outbreaks of cholera in rural areas due to continuing poor sanitary situation. The UN has a massive “peacekeeping” operation there, and the U.S. has played a major role, particularly in the aftermath of the earthquake.

AP has just reported from Haiti that “Veronique Roy, his [Duvalier’s] longtime companion, spoke briefly to reporters at the hotel and said he will stay in the country for three days. Asked why now, she said ‘Why not?’ In the fall of 2007, President Rene Preval told reporters that Duvalier could return to Haiti but would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars. It was not immediately clear why the 59-year-old former dictator — who took power in 1971 at the age of 19 — chose this tumultuous moment to return to Haiti. There were no immediate protests in reaction to his return and very few people were even aware that the former dictator had come back to Haiti, where more than 1 million people are living in crowded, squalid tent encampments after their homes were destroyed from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. Half the people in the country are younger than 21, and weren’t alive during Duvalier’s rule”. This report is published here.

The AP report added that “Haitians danced in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of [Baby Doc] Duvalier back in 1986, heckling the tubby, boyish tyrant as he drove to the airport and was flown into exile in France. Most Haitians hoped the rapacious strongman had left for good, closing a dark chapter of terror and repression that began under his late father, Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier in 1957. But a handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship’s image and reviving Baby Doc’s political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically. ‘We want him to be president because we don’t trust anyone in this election. He did bad things but since he left we have not had stability. We have more people without jobs, without homes’, said Haiti Belizaire, a 47-year-old Duvalier supporter in the crowd outside the airport ‘… The Duvaliers tortured and killed their political opponents, ruling in an atmosphere of fear and repression ensured by the bloody Tonton Macoute, their feared secret police force. The end of his reign was followed by a period known as deshoukaj or ‘uprooting’ in which Haitians carried out reprisals against Macoutes and regime loyalists, tearing their houses to the ground. Duvalier has been accused of pilfering millions of dollars from public funds and spiriting them out of the country to Swiss banks, though he denies stealing from Haiti.”..

The timing may well be linked to Haiti’s national election crisis following an inconclusive first round of balloting on 28 November — in which, international observers believe, the current President’s chosen successor did not fare well, contrary to an official announcement — but it is absolutely extraordinary from a global view.

Army Doctor who headed Israeli Field Hospital (in Haiti) also took part in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza

On Sunday (January 31) at the high-powered 10th annual Herzliya Conference in Israel, the IDF Deputy Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz recently denounced the Goldstone report on last winter’s war in Gaza by saying that “The Goldstone report is a Trojan horse; it gives terrorist organizations legitimacy to fight us from urban populations … [By contrast] Our moral soundness is clear after dozens of investigations and interrogations. The famous army doctor who was head of the Israeli field hospital [in Haiti, presumably] also took part in Operation Cast Lead.”

The Israeli IDF delegation sent to help in Haiti’s post-earthquake emergency was headed by OC Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan.  Surgeon General, Brig. Gen. Dr. Nachman Ash was a member of the delegation, as was Lt. Col. Dr. Benjamin Sender,  Chief Medical Officer for the Israeli Military, and Col. Dr. Yitzhak Kreiss (Itzik Kryce), who served as the administrator of the Israeli field hospital in Haiti.

Gantz also said in his address to the Herzliya Conference that “Israel must make it clear that while we share a number of values with the West, there is a basic difference. We live with our values in a war zone. This fusillade does not allow us to respond any other way. We must remove this threat. We cannot remain victims”. Maj. Gen. Gantz also said that during Operation Cast Lead, his mother, who passed way five months ago, told him: “Don’t stop sending food to Gaza, but don’t stop fighting either.”

This was reported by the IDF press unit here.

Many, many thousands of children still alone after Haiti earthquake

In the wrap-up stories, two weeks after the enormous destruction caused by a devastating earthquake in Haiti, the AP is reporting that “UN experts estimate there may be 1 million unaccompanied or orphaned children or youngsters who lost at least one parent in the Jan. 12 quake. Some young Haitians are even being released from hospitals with no one to care for them — there just aren’t enough beds for them. ‘Health workers are being advised to monitor and send separated/unaccompanied children to child-friendly spaces’, the U.N. humanitarian office said in its latest situation report”.

Continue reading Many, many thousands of children still alone after Haiti earthquake

Israeli expert says Haiti earthquake catastrophe could happen here, too – and that also means Palestinian areas!

Haaretz newspaper is reporting today that the earthquake disaster which recently hit Haiti can — indeed, will — also inevitably happen in Israel.

Avi Shapira, chairman of the National Earthquake Preparedness Committee, who just returned from Haiti and addressed a special Knesset (Parliament) committee on Tuesday, said that “An earthquake of the same magnitude as the one two weeks ago in Haiti or stronger is certain to strike Israel … [and] ‘What happened there will also happen here’.”

According to the Haaretz report, Shapira “warned that hospitals are not prepared for such a disaster and that, according to his estimates, most buildings constructed before 1980 would not withstand a quake … ‘The situation is not optimal’, Shapira told the committee comprising members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense and Interior and Environment committees”.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Dr. Avi Shapira, who was representing the Infrastructure Ministry, also said that “what is killing these people are the buildings. I have serious reservations about the term ‘natural disaster.’ It is the buildings that turned into death traps.” The JPost report on the Knesset meeting, which was called to discuss how to strengthen Israel’s infrastructure to withstand such a catastrophe, is posted here.

Shapira’s estimates, however, are less alarmist than those of other Israeli experts, according to the Haaretz report: “Previous estimates held that 40 to 50 percent of residential buildings in Israel were not constructed in accordance with guidelines meant to prevent damage in case of an earthquake. However, Shapira said the actual number is closer to 20 percent.  Israel has been struck by minor quakes and tremors in recent years that have caused no casualties. The last major earthquake to strike the area was in 1927. It had a magnitude of more than 6 and killed 500 people.  Israeli experts have said that because of population growth and high-rise construction, an earthquake of the same magnitude today would kill more than 18,000 people”.   This Haaretz report is published here.

UPDATE: In a new and fuller report on the Knesset committee meeting published on Wednesday 27 January, the Jerusalem Post added that in “the most likely large quake scenario, the committee predicted 16,000 dead, 6,000 severely injured, 377,000 displaced, 10,000 buildings destroyed and 20,000 buildings heavily damaged. Although the steering committee began examining readiness for such a scenario in December 1999, participants in Tuesday’s meeting highlighted the fields in which the country was still completely unprepared”…

Yesterday, on our previous post here, we commented on the disaster-in-the-making in the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and nearby Ramallah, where helter-skelter construction in the past couple of years have converted a small provincial summer vacation town into the near-metropolis that is serving — at least for the moment — as the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority.

If — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say when — an earthquake disaster hits, the shifting political borders will not make any distinction…

UPDATE: And, we should add, there are NO LOCAL AUTHORITIES in any of the Palestinian areas that are capable or that can deal with any such emergency. And, there is apparently no coordination with Israeli authorities. No Palestinian representatives were invited to this Knesset committee meeting (though, it is true, some may have hesitated to attend…) Now, Israeli ambulances only enter Palestinian areas of Jerusalem with a police escort — and that will surely be impossible in the event of such a catastrophe…

The JPost article of 27 January reported that Shapiro said in the meeting: ” ‘We must internalize the lesson that what will kill people is not the earthquake itself … What kills people are the buildings. Death will occur as a result of building collapse, meaning that it is a man-made tragedy. There is a continued failure to build stable buildings, turning buildings into death traps’ … According to Ya’acov Bar-Lavi of the Mapping Center of Israel, 96,000 residential buildings are at risk of collapsing during a strong earthquake. The Building Contractors Association presented a position paper to the MKs, in which it warned that 1 million apartments and thousands of public buildings are likely to collapse. Its representative argued that the current government program, known as Plan 38, will not drastically improve Israel’s earthquake readiness, as only a few dozen buildings nationwide have been reinforced since it went into effect. Israel’s response to such a disaster is set to be coordinated by the National Emergency Authority, a body that received its mandate in April 2007. The NEA’s representatives at Tuesday’s meeting gave an overview of the response that will be offered by the military, and went on to describe local government as the ‘cornerstone’ of the plan, with mayors coordinating immediate aid. But Sharon Azriel, deputy to the chairman of the Union of Local Authorities, complained that the plans had not been backed up with the budgetary allocations necessary for them to serve as the ‘cornerstone’.” This new JPost report is published here.

If Haiti's capital was condemned by loose building codes, what about Ramallah + E. Jlem?

The McClatchy newspaper group published an article yesterday from Port au-Prince, the earthquake-devastated capital of the Carribean nation of Haiti (one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere) reporting that a “Lack of construction codes sealed Haitian capital’s fate”.

Actually, this story is repeated nearly every time there has been a major, catastrophic urban earthquake.

Living here, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, watching frenetic Palestinian construction activities with little or no supervision or overall planning, the issue of what will happen in the event of a catastrophe often comes to mind.

Continue reading If Haiti's capital was condemned by loose building codes, what about Ramallah + E. Jlem?

UN confirms death of Hedi Annabi, head of mission, in Haiti

UN SG BAN Ki-Moon has confirmed — days after the event — the death of the head of the UN misson in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, following a devastating earthquake.

Photo from Matthew Lee’s Inner City Press here showing the collapsed hotel that the UN rented as its HQ in Haiti

Inner City Press photo of Hotel Christopher - rented as UN mission HQ in Haiti - where Hedi Annabi died in earthquake

Continue reading UN confirms death of Hedi Annabi, head of mission, in Haiti

UN headquarters in Haiti demolished – mission head Hedi Annabi feared dead

According to a statement made by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the French Ambassador to Haiti has visited the “devastated UN headquarters building in Port-au-Prince and said ‘everyone who was in the building is apparently dead’.” The Associated Press (AP) picked up reported Kouchner’s remarks to RFI (or perhaps to RTL, or both) in its latest story on yesterday’s earthquake in Haiti, which is being called a catastrophe of major proportions.

AP added that the head of the UN peacekeeping department, Alain Le Roy, “confirmed that Annabi was in the building at the time of the 7.0-magnitude quake”. Other UN buildings in Haiti were also damaged, he said. The earthquake hit Haiti at around 5 in the evening local time on Tuesday.

Hedi Annabi was a quiet, intense, Tunisian official who worked for several decades at UNHQ in New York. He used to live quietly with his European wife on Roosevelt Island, and commuted to work by cable car over NYC’s East River every day.
Continue reading UN headquarters in Haiti demolished – mission head Hedi Annabi feared dead

Conversations at a checkpoint

It really gets on your nerves, sometimes.

At a checkpoint this morning, the soldier took my passport, then barked: “Where are you from?” he asked.

“You mean where was I born? That’s different than where I am from. It’s written on my passport — New York”, I said.

[Huda reported that she was stopped at the Hizma checkpoint this morning and pulled over for questioning. It was her first day back from two weeks in Paris visiting her parents, and she said she was still feeling good when this happened. She, too, has an American passport. When asked “Where are you from?”, she replied that she was born in Sudan. “Oh, is that why your skin is so dark?”, she said the Israeli soldier — apparently a Druse Arab — asked her…]

The soldier at my checkpoing then barked at me: “Baggaaaaage”.

Ah, I said, “Baggaaaaage”.

Sometimes they also hit the car when they shout the order: “Baggaaaaage”.

The Wall at Qalandia Checkpoint - Ctrl + Alt + Del

Photo taken today from a car of graffiti [Ctrl + Alt + Del] on The Wall at Qalandia checkpoint

I got out to open the trunk. It was empty, like it always is. They can see this through the window of the hatchback. I go through this several times a day, sometimes. This is just down the hill from my house.

Yesterday, a woman soldier barked: “Baggaaaaage”.

She also said she had to see the spare [tire]. This is the rule, she said.

This morning, another woman soldier/border policewoman stepped forward. “We have problems with English at this checkpoint”, she said. “He meant to say the trunk”.

“It would be even better to say, Please open the trunk”, I said. “It’s empty, as it always is”…

There were four armed persons standing beside my car.

“You shouldn’t get angry”, said a third soldier, who I see regularly, and who usually lets me go through without having to get out of the car to open the trunk. “Or else we’ll make you open it every time”.

“So, why are you making me open it, then — for security reasons, even though there really isn’t any reason to suspect me of anything? Or are you doing it just to punish?”

“It was just a joke”, the woman soldier said.

But there is no joke possible when you are holding guns on people — then it becomes laughing at someone. It is deliberate humiliation.

“Oh, stop this bullshit”, the woman soldier said, in her good English …

Sometimes they also shout, in a derogatory tone, “Yella!” [“Beat it! Go on, get outta here!], and sometimes they just jerk their head to order me to go.

Hungry (and poor) Haitians eat dirt cookies

This is front-line journalism: “A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered”.

The Associated Press article reports that these dirt cookies are “a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country’s central plateau. The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal”.

This AP report is posted here.