After nine months in Hispagnola

Dear family and friends,

Now it’s been 284 days since I have not left this island, Hispagnola. Arguably the longest time I have spent on an island!

I have been three times on the other side, in the Dominican Republic. Twice for short R&R, and once very unexpectedly in the beginning of November, when my boss called me: “We are missing a delegate; you have to go to Santo Domingo”. One of our delegates was coming back from France and had not arrived in Haiti. According to Air France, he had boarded the flight to Santo Domingo. According to “Tortugair” (speaks for itself!), he never boarded their small aircraft onto Haiti. His phone numbers did not work. The whole thing later turned out to be a big misunderstanding combined with communication problems, but anyway, I got two days of work in the Dominican Republic…

That was just after tropical storm “Noel”, which caused big damage on both sides of the island.

As for our work in Haiti, particularly in the Haitian prisons, it continues to be as necessary as it is difficult. There are 6’500 detainees now (2’000 more than the same time last year), 3’250 in the prison of Port au Prince alone, crammed together in inadequate infrastructures.Nine detainees died during the month of November in the biggest prison alone, due to undetected and/or untreated health conditions. It’s hard to see people suffer so much, four fifth of which are awaiting trial, sometimes for years. We have been working hard to accompany the authorities in the improvement of the health service as well as other conditions of detention, and to issue them recommendations to that effect.

The discussions also reached high levels of government. For the third time, together with our Head of Delegation, I had a chance to see the Prime Minister, this time together with the Minister of Justice, as well as the Secretary of State for Public Security. One arrives at the dignified white Primature (office of the Prime Minister). After going through the metal detector, next to which a sign is posted (“We do not accept any letters requesting assistance – the management”), a well-dressed lady receives you and asks: “Is it for the ‘PM’?” – “Aaehm… yes..” – “Please follow me.”. Up the stairs we go, waiting in large leather sofas, seeing surprised that the Minister of Justice is also waiting there. I use the opportunity to speak with the Minister in the few minutes we are waiting, because the Memorandi of Understanding we normally sign with him take us too long to be approved. He is interested in the projects we do (health, water) and then says: “We will delegate the power of attorney for your projects to the lowest level possible, so you can go ahead quickly. We’ll send you a letter this afternoon.” – “Merci Monsieur le Ministre”. Having said that, the last two weeks we have not received the letter yet.

The government and the administration is suffering a lot from intermediate cadres. So even relatively small issues have to be discussed at a high, sometimes very high level, in order for decisions to be taken. The secretary waves us into the meeting room next to the Prime Minister’s office. It’s only 8 h in the morning, but the PM often starts working at 7 a.m. There he arrives, quick handshakes, then straight to the point. What are the ICRC’s concerns? What has the government already done? What are the next steps? Every now and then an interruption from a phone call on the PM’s mobile phone (Who would call the PM on his mobile? The President? Foreign Heads of Government? His family?) 50 minutes later, we walk out of the beautiful white building. As for the Prime Minister, his day will still last for 14 more hours.

The authorities are trying very hard to get their country on its feet again, after the turmoil in 2004, which led to the departure of President Aristide, at the brink of civil war. Today, 9’000 UN troops and almost the same number of Haitien policemen are keeping the calm. But the country needs investment, development. Economic growth is cancelled by population growth. Environmental devastation is very high, making already impoverished people more vulnerable…

But that’s a little bit beyond our mandate. Anyway, Friday, I will get two weeks of break.
Arrive next Saturday for a course in Geneva, then from 22 to 29 December short holidays. Feel free to call or to leave a text message on: +41 76 336 42 22.

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