PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton launched a new business loan program in Haiti on Tuesday aimed at helping bolster an economy that was devastated by the January 2010 earthquake.
Clinton said the first loan in the $20 million program is being made to Caribbean Craft, which produces colorful goods such as carnival masks, sculptures and paintings for export and lost its workshop in the earthquake.
The company is receiving a loan of $415,000, with interest to be paid back to the program to help make additional loans in the future, Clinton told reporters as he toured Caribbean Craft’s workshop near the airport in Port-au-Prince. He said the money will help the operation hire 200 more workers. He didn’t say how many employees it has now.
Clinton, who has been active in Haiti reconstruction through his foundation and as co-chairman of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, said he had been “surprised and disturbed” to learn of the difficult loan terms available for even Haitian businesses with solid credit.
“One of the biggest problems in growing the Haitian economy is that there is really no facility that grants small business loans on reasonable terms,” he said.
By JACOB KUSHNER and JONATHAN M. KATZ, Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “BabyDoc” Duvalier ensconced himself Monday in a high-end hotel following his surprise return to a country deep in crisis, leaving many to wonder if the once-feared strongman will prompt renewed conflict in the midst of a political stalemate.
Duvalier met with allies inside the hotel in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince and spoke publicly only through emissaries, who gave vague explanations for his sudden and mysterious appearance — nearly 25 years after he was forced into exile by a popular uprising against his brutal regime.
Henry Robert Sterlin, a former ambassador who said he was speaking on behalf of Duvalier, portrayed the 59-year-old former “president for life,” as merely a concerned elder statesmen who wanted to see the effects of the devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake on his homeland.
“He was deeply hurt in his soul after the earthquake,” Sterlin said. “He wanted to come back to see how is the actual Haitian situation of the people and the country.”
Duvalier — who assumed power in 1971 at age 19 following the death of his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier — still has some support in Haiti and millions are too young to remember life under his dictatorship. But his abrupt return Sunday still sent shock waves through the country, with some fearing that his presence will bring back the extreme polarization, and political violence, of the past.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — The air was choked with memory Wednesday in this city where everyone lost a brother, a child, a cousin or a friend. One year after the earthquake, Haitians marched down empty, rubble-lined streets singing hymns and climbed broken buildings to hang wreaths of flowers.
The landscape is much as the quake left it, thanks to a reconstruction effort that has yet to begin addressing the intense need. But the voices were filled with hope for having survived a year that seemed to get worse at every turn.
“We’ve had an earthquake, hurricane, cholera, but we are still here, and we are still together,” said Charlemagne Sintia, 19, who joined other mourners at a soccer stadium that served as an open-air morgue after the quake and later housed a tent camp.
Thousands gathered around the city to be with loved ones and pray. They flocked to the ruins of the once-towering national cathedral, to the soccer stadium, to parks, hillsides and the neighborhood centers.
Businesses were closed. Instead of traffic, streets were filled with people dressed in white, the color of prayer and mourning. They waved their hands, cheered and called out to God as they wound down roads beset by ruins. Astride the unrepaired buildings are camps where an estimated 1 million people still live, unable to afford new homes.
“God blessed me by taking only one of my cousins that day. Our house collapsed but we have health and life,” said Terez Benitot, a 56-year-old woman whose husband, a mason, can not find work amid a reconstruction all are waiting to begin.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake ripped the ground open at 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, 2010. The government raised its death toll estimate Wednesday to more than 316,000, but it did not explain how it arrived at that number.
The earthquake exploded in a previously undiscovered fault, just 8.1 miles below the surface and 15 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital and home to a third of the country’s population.
Residents first heard a distant rumbling that reminded many of a passing truck. Then it blasted through everything like an atomic detonation, shattering walls, leveling hillside after hillside of fragile concrete homes and bringing many of Haiti’s largest and most important buildings to the ground.
When it was over, a cloud of dust hung over the city, making it impossible to breathe. Those inside the destroyed cities and the even harder-hit towns to the west were trapped — if not literally under the rubble then in a bleeding, screaming island region cut off from the world as the sun quickly dipped below the horizon.
The United Nations lost 102 staffers in the disaster — the largest single loss of life in its history. At U.N. headquarters in New York on Wednesday, U.N. staff observed solemn silence for 47 seconds — the duration of the quake. “Every day I see the faces of our fallen colleagues. I hear their voices,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.
At the same time, the Haitian government had scheduled a nationwide minute of silence, but with few people to organize it went ignored in many areas.
A year after the quake, workers are still finding bodies in the rubble. About a million people remain homeless. Neighborhood-sized camps look like permanent shantytowns on the fields and plazas of the capital. A cholera epidemic that erupted outside the quake zone has killed more than 3,600 people, and an electoral crisis between President Rene Preval’s ruling party and its rivals threatens to break an increasingly fragile political stability.
Less than 5 percent of the debris has been cleared. What’s left would be enough to fill dump trucks parked bumper to bumper halfway around the world.
It took until Wednesday for Haiti’s government to lay the cornerstone for a new National Tax Office. The earthquake shattered the old building, where many workers were killed in one of the blows to the public sector that helped paralyze the government following the earthquake.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony with Preval. Later Clinton joined Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive to update reporters on a reconstruction process they jointly oversee through the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission — a process many Haitians and observers think has failed.
More than $5.6 billion was pledged at a March 31 donors conference for a period of 18 months, but some $3.2 billion in public funding is still owed, according to Clinton’s U.N. Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti.
Clinton and Bellerive said progress has been made — that half a million people have moved out of the camps that remain home to about 1 million. The aid group Oxfam disputes that figure, saying it’s based on imprecise headcounts.
The former president said that the conditions for investment were improving and that the pace of reconstruction would soon accelerate.
“I don’t blame people for being mad and frustrated. If I were still living in a camp like that after a year I would go crazy, I think,” Clinton said. “We are making progress and I understand why people don’t feel it.”
Bellerive added, “We know that it is difficult for the population, but they understand that there has to be a coherent solution for their situation to improve.”
Among the key questions surrounding the commission is how long Bellerive will remain prime minister.
The constitution says Preval should leave office Feb. 7, though he will not have formally completed his full five-year term until May and he argues that he can remain in office until then.
An ongoing electoral crisis in which three candidates believe they should be in a runoff has delayed the second round. Bellerive admitted he does not know when he will leave office.
“Everything I do with my life, I do it with the respect of the law and the respect of the constitution. My plans are to give my resignation to the next elected president — if possible,” he said.
Haitian-American musician Wyclef Jean, whose presidential campaign was rejected by election officials, said many people are still hopeful but there are limits to their patience.
“You see them here, you see their energy, and they are smiling. They have hope, which is faith, but they can only have hope and faith for so long,” said Jean as he got into a car in downtown Port-au-Prince, surrounded by workers wearing the blue T-shirts of his Yele Haiti charity. “They are hoping that we at home do not forget them and that we put pressure on the powers that be to start the reconstruction because they want to work.”
There were scattered protests Wednesday, but the anniversary was not about politics to many of the marchers who crisscrossed the central Champ de Mars Plaza. Most were members of prayer groups giving thanks to God to sparing them from the earthquake.
“It is a grand day for us that we are able to give thanks to God that we are still here,” 54-year-old Acsonne Frederique said as a preacher exhorted him and others in the cheering crowd to pray.
“Others are here to repair our country. We are here to repair our souls.”
Associated Press writer Jacob Kushner in Port-au-Prince and Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)- Frustrated presidential candidates led a march through Haiti’s capital Thursday to demand officials annul an election they say was tainted by fraud.
At least four of 19 candidates on Sunday’s ballot walked with hundreds of supporters to an electoral council office. They denounced electoral officials, President Rene Preval and the ruling Unity party’s candidate, state construction company chief Jude Celestin, chanting: “Prison for Preval, liberty for Haiti!”
“These were not elections. People were not allowed to vote and there was stuffing of the election boxes … We need democratic elections,” candidate Charles Henri-Baker, a factory owner, told The Associated Press.
The presidential hopefuls were part of a group of 12 candidates who called for voting to be canceled while polls were open, alleging the election was rigged in favor of Celestin.
LEOGANE, Haiti – Hurricane Tomas flooded the earthquake-shattered remains of a Haitian town on Friday, forcing families who had already lost their homes in one disaster to flee another. In the country’s capital, quake refugees resisted calls to abandon flimsy tarp and tent camps.
Driving winds and storm surge battered Leogane, a seaside town west of Port-au-Prince that was near the epicenter of the Jan. 12 earthquake and was 90 percent destroyed. Dozens of families in one earthquake-refuge camp carried their belongings through thigh-high water to a taxi post on high ground, waiting out the rest of the storm under blankets and a sign that read “Welcome to Leogane.”
“We got flooded out and we’re just waiting for the storm to pass. There’s nothing we can do,” said Johnny Joseph, a 20-year-old resident.
The growing hurricane with 75 mph (120 kph) winds battered the western tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula and the cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes.
At least three people died trying to cross swollen rivers, Haiti civil protection officials said. The hurricane had earlier killed at least 14 people in the eastern Caribbean.
By Jacob Kushner
The Associated Press
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI—A spreading cholera outbreak in rural Haiti threatened to outpace aid groups as they stepped up efforts Saturday hoping to keep the disease from reaching the squalid camps of earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince.
Health officials said at least 208 people had died and 2,394 others were infected in an outbreak mostly centred in the Artibonite region north of the capital.
But the number of cases in towns near Port-au-Prince were rising, and officials worried the next target will be hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by January’s devastating quake and now living in camps across the capital.
By JACOB KUSHNER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. MARC, HAITI — A cholera epidemic was spreading in central Haiti on Friday as aid groups rushed doctors and supplies to fight the country’s deadliest health crisis since January’s earthquake. At least 150 people have died and more than 1,500 others are ill.
The first two cases of the disease outside the rural Artibonite region were confirmed in Arcahaie, a town that is closer to the quake-devastated capital, Port-au-Prince.
Officials are concerned the outbreak could reach the squalid tarp camps where hundreds of thousands of quake survivors live in the capital.
“It will be very, very dangerous,” said Claude Surena, president of the Haitian Medical Association. “Port-au-Prince already has more than 2.4 million people, and the way they are living is dangerous enough already.”
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – Haiti on Thursday launched two new mango processing factories that will help farmers export more of the juicy tropical fruit that is a $10 million-a-year business in the impoverished country.
Located in two rural towns in the mango-rich northwest, the plants aim to improve packaging and cleaning to decrease the number of mangoes bruised by poor handling and transport on rutted, sun-baked roads.
The two processing plants will employ 62 people to train mango farmers about cleaning and packaging and to better document the origin of their crops to meet standards in the United States, where most Haitian mangoes are sold.
Haiti grows dozens of different varieties that are indigenous to the country. The only type exported to the U.S. is the “Madame Francis,” which is juicy, sweet and a bit fibrous.
Last year, Haiti exported $10 million worth of mangoes, accounting for one-third of the country’s total agricultural export revenue, according to the U.S. Embassy.
With more processing plants, fruit industry leaders think they have the potential to blossom into a $90 million-a-year export business.
The new mango processing centers will increase profits for 9,500 farmers by as much as 20 percent, predicts CHF International, the U.S.-financed group that organized the project. -Jacob Kushner