Outside Haiti’s National Palace, U.N. Troops’ Clash with Frustrated Students Spills into Camps

Published today by Inter-Press Service. (A much shorter version of this story aired earlier in the day during the headlines section of today’s FSRN newscast.) See updates below.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, May 25, 2010 (IPS) – United Nations peacekeeping troops responded to a rock-throwing demonstration by university students Monday evening with a barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets in the area around Haiti’s National Palace, sending masses of displaced Haitians running out of tent camps into the streets, according to witnesses.

“That child was gravely injured in the face! It was miserable, they were throwing gas everywhere,” said Junior Joel, a young man hanging with friends at night outside the palace – still partially collapsed from the January earthquake.

Three volunteer doctors from the NGO Partners in Health who were working in the emergency room of the General Hospital said they treated at least six individuals with wounds from rubber bullets.

“They were bleeding,” Sarah McMillan, a doctor from New Hampshire, told IPS. “There was a little girl with a big laceration on her face. It needed about 10 stitches. She’ll probably have a scar.” Continue reading “Outside Haiti’s National Palace, U.N. Troops’ Clash with Frustrated Students Spills into Camps”

Displaced Fear Expulsion from Makeshift Camps in Haiti

See the latter half of the piece for an update on the situation at Villa Manrese. Published by Inter-Press Service yesterday!

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Apr 8, 2010 (IPS) – For decades, the Saint Louis de Gonzague school has groomed some of Haiti’s most elite political players. Francois Duvalier, the iron-fisted dictator who ruled Haiti for 14 years, sent his son to the school. About 1,500 children of Haiti’s wealthiest class attend each year.

Within days of the January earthquake, the sparse concrete grounds of the Gonazague secondary school became home to nearly 11,000 Haitians, driven out of destroyed neighbourhoods in central Port-Au-Prince.

Now the school’s director wants to reopen the school. The government encouraged schools to resume classes on Monday, calling it another small step towards normalcy.

The potential reopening of the school has inspired anything but calm among internally displaced people at Saint Louis de Gonzague. They have been threatened with expulsion by force.

“Everyone is nervous right now. If they force us to leave it will be second catastrophe,” said Elivre Constant, smoking a cigarette in the middle of the crowded camp. “A lot of people here don’t have anywhere to go. They have kids. They won’t be safe.” Continue reading “Displaced Fear Expulsion from Makeshift Camps in Haiti”

Women Pepper Sprayed by UN Troops as Security Concerns Shape Relief Effort + audio

Read the story, published today by Inter-Press Service, below or listen to the radio version at Free Speech Radio News.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 30, 2010 (IPS) – On an empty road in Cite Militaire, an industrial zone across from the slums of Cite Soleil, a group of women are gathered around a single white sack of U.S. rice. The rice was handed out Monday morning at a food distribution by the Christian relief group World Vision.

According to witnesses, during the distribution U.N. peacekeeping troops sprayed tear gas on the crowd. (Jan. UN photo above)

“Haitians know that’s the way they act with us. They treat us like animals,” said Lourette Elris, as she divided the rice amongst the women. “They gave us the food, we were on our way home, then the troops threw tear gas at us. We finished receiving the food, we weren’t disorderly. ”

Some 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers, known by the acronym MINUSTAH, have occupied Haiti since 2004, including 7,000 soldiers of which the majority are Brazilian. The mission has been dogged by accusations of human rights violations.

“It’s time to begin thinking about changing the nature of MINUSTAH’s mission,” Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim told the Brazilian newspaper O Estado after the January earthquake struck Haiti.

“MINUSTAH’s mandate is to maintain the peace, that is, security, but the U.N. needs to realise that its mission is no longer solely to strengthen security but also to build the infrastructure,” he said.

So far, there’s no evidence of a shift in policy. Continue reading “Women Pepper Sprayed by UN Troops as Security Concerns Shape Relief Effort + audio”

Haut-Turgeau, Haiti: The Camp That Vanished and the Priest Who Forced Them Out + audio

Published today by Inter-Press Service. Update: Radio story aired on Free Speech Radio News on Thursday. Pictures below.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 9, 2010 (IPS) – Perched near the top of a steep hill, the fractured pink walls of Villa Manrese overlook the rest of the capital city. Both ends of the three-story compound have collapsed, spilling into mounds of rubble. The first floor was pulverised into a layer of dust. There are still bodies inside.

But in the adjacent garden behind the Catholic retreat, also known as Centre Saint-Viateur, life sprang anew after the Jan. 12 earthquake struck Haiti.

Some 250 families, comprising 1,500 people from the surrounding area of Haut-Turgeau, crowded together in the small field. Father Paul André Garraud, a Haitian priest based in the villa, helped procure tents, food, and medicine from relief agencies.

“We were doing well because they organised us. We weren’t hungry,” said Lubin Pierre-Louis, 52, leaning on a cane in the middle of the empty field. Three boys play soccer with a dirty plastic bottle on the wet ground behind him.

The camp vanished overnight on Mar. 2.

“It’s wrong. They told us to leave in the middle of the night,” Pierre-Louis said. “Just staying here now is a resistance. If they ask me to leave, I’ll be forced out.”

Residents who formed the informal committee running the tent camp swept through at 11 p.m., according to witnesses, telling everyone they had to leave immediately.

Families were told that bulldozers would come onto the field early in the morning to demolish Villa Manrese. No demolition crew arrived and the villa is still standing.

“They told us the bulldozer was coming to intimidate us,” said Johnny Cherezard, a 23-year-old student. “The government said nobody has a right to push people out unless they have a place to go. We had people who were sick and injured.”

“The Father gave the signal to the committee to force people out,” he said. By 3 a.m., most people had left the camp. Continue reading “Haut-Turgeau, Haiti: The Camp That Vanished and the Priest Who Forced Them Out + audio”

Secure Shelters Scarce in Port-Au-Prince as Rainy Season Looms + audio

Published yesterday by Inter-Press Service. Update: The story also aired on today’s Free Speech Radio News broadcast.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 23, 2010 (IPS) – A cacophony of murmurs and cries echoed through the neighbourhoods of Haiti’s capital city Monday night as a violent aftershock shook people awake. Ten minutes later, another tremor rocked the ground, this time more smoothly back and forth.

The 4.7 magnitude tremors were a momentary distraction from pressing concerns over Haiti’s oncoming season of heavy rains, said to begin in March and last three months.

Shelter is now the top priority for relief groups, ahead of food and water distribution. They are rushing to supply thick plastic tarps, rather than tents, to over 500,000 internally displaced people in Port-Au-Prince – many still living under bedsheets tied over sticks in crowded settlements.

At a shelter distribution by CARE International at a camp in a Petionville public square, the tarps were received with a mixture of confusion and disappointment.

“It’s not clear for us. We can’t set them up because they don’t send anyone to give an explanation,” said Joseph Jean-Ones, whose family lives in the camp, as he tried to fit one metal pole on top of another. Continue reading “Secure Shelters Scarce in Port-Au-Prince as Rainy Season Looms + audio”

In Grand Goave, Relief Efforts Frustrate Haitian Neighborhood Leaders + audio

Published today by Inter-Press Service. Listen to the audio at Free Speech Radio News here.

GRAND GOAVE, Jan 28, 2010 (IPS) – Two gray 23-million-dollar hovercrafts sitting in the middle of a sandy tropical beach look like they are from another world. A pair of 15-foot-wide propeller fans sticks out from the back of each behemoth.

Along the narrow dirt road to this seaside town’s centre, families live under blankets stretched over sticks.

A tent city occupies the town’s main square, surrounded by crumbling buildings. Joseph Jean-Pierre Salam, the mayor of Grand Goave, about 15 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince, estimated that some 70 percent of the city’s important structures fell during the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

“They have made many promises, but we don’t see the action yet,” Salam said, referring to the international community. “We have a lot of people suffering. There is an expectation that help will come.”

Little food and water has been distributed by the dozens U.S. troops milling about the beach since the earthquake, according to local leaders. Continue reading “In Grand Goave, Relief Efforts Frustrate Haitian Neighborhood Leaders + audio”

In Haiti, Shooting Incident Sparks Anger at U.N. Troops

Published today by Inter-Press News Service. Look for radio version on Monday’s Free Speech Radio News.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 20 (IPS) – Under a beating sun in the grassy field where two U.N. helicopters landed in Grand Goave last week, 19-year-old Benson Blanc moved his hands as if rapid-firing a gun into the ground in front of him and made a “tok-tok-tok-tok” sound. This is how the soldiers opened fire, he said.

Residents of this quiet seaside town an hour west of Port-Au-Prince were awoken at about 1 a.m. on Nov. 10 by the sound of helicopters flying low overhead. A curious crowd amassed around the aircrafts.

One of the helicopters had mechanical trouble and had to make an emergency landing, said U.N. spokesperson Sophie Boutaud de la Combe. To lighten the load on the damaged helicopter, the Chilean crew moved white boxes of supplies into the other helicopter for several hours.

She also said, in a radio interview broadcast here in the capital city, that troops only fired once into the air in attempt to disperse the crowd. They had called for backup from the local platoon of Sri Lankan U.N. troops.

“When the backup came they started shooting, the population ran away and hid behind the bushes,” Blanc said. “Their chief, Mr. Rodriguez, said that he is not playing with nobody’s ass. He said if anybody wants to cross the field they need to tell him first or he’ll shoot them.” Continue reading “In Haiti, Shooting Incident Sparks Anger at U.N. Troops”