Mysery in Haiti

Dear friends and family,

It has been a bit more than three months since I have set my foot on this Caribbean island in order to spend 15 more months here. People say that if “time flies”, it is a good sign. Time has not flown for me, but in this case, it is not necessarily a bad sign. It is simply that events have been so dense in time, that I feel it must have been six months, when I finished my Creole language course and kindly asked Administration to find the keys for the office my predecessor left two months before I arrived.

My boss has handed over most of the operational files to me. So it’s easily taking 60 hours per week in normal times. But times are not normal. One doesn’t hear a lot of bad news about Haiti these days. Security is improving, major gang leaders have been arrested, kidnappings are on the decline. But the fact that the police starts to deploy and arrest, while the judicial system can not follow, means that at the end of the judicial chain, in the prisons, people live in utter mysery. I don’t tell any secrets here, as recently an ICG report has described the conditions in the Haitian prisons.
The most desperate have only about 0.25 square metres of space. They have to sleep “in turns”, to save space they have to use hammocks. Most do not see the day for more than 30 minutes per day. When I entered a cell in the biggest prison of the country, one detainee of the 2’800 detainees told me: “Oh, you are a new one. You also came to enrich yourself through our mysery.” Its his perspective.

So our protection team is visiting prisons throughout the country, and we are discussing with the authorities of any ways to improve the system. Our medical team is currently treating no less than 2’700 prisoners against scabies and other skin diseases, which are prevalent under these conditions. Detainees and authorities greatly appreciate this campaign. At the same time, lobbying is going on to build more prisons, and recently, there is quite a momentum on the issue. Recently, we had a number of meetings with the several Ministers and the Prime Minister. The latter is working very hard: His first meeting with us was at 7.30 h, and it was not the first one, and people say he’s carrying work home late in the evening. A lot of time is spent in meetings. Mostly internal meetings with departments or with guests on mission from Geneva (our HQ), but then also a lot of external meetings with UN, NGOs, the Prison Administration, Ministers and Secretaries of State. It continuous to be an interesting experience to have access to high level in government in order to discuss humanitarian issues. However, we try not to forget that meetings are only important in as far as they have an effect on the beneficiaries.

What suffered so far was private life, including the beach. The only beach I have seen so far was in the ugly poor slum of Cité Soleil (where I saw for the first time in my life a pig taking a bath in a dirty beach). Until recently, Cité Soleil was under the control of gangs, who had a monopoly of organized violence not too different from rebel groups we know in other contexts. Along with the Haitian Red Cross, we maintain contacts with the armed groups as well as with the UN force, the MINUSTAH, in order for the Haitian Red Cross to evacuate wounded people, or pregnant women. Fortunately, things have calmed down a bit in Cité Soleil. Now, I am writing from the peaceful Northern town of Cap Haïtien, so I better finish this mail to go to the beach.

Well, I wanted to write something funny about living high up or low down in this country, but I have probably lost the last reader some time ago. Regarding time, which passes quickly or less quickly, I recently read some old diaries from the eighties and the nineties. On the 1 January 1993, I wrote: “It still sounds strange the word “Nineteen ninety three”. I can’t believe we are already there.”….

Cheers from Haiti

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