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Defamation suit against Freeport man over Haiti sex abuse claim settled

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Michael Geilenfeld, right, arrives at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in 2015 in Portland. An attorney says a defamation lawsuit against a Maine activist who accused an orphanage founder in Haiti of being a serial pedophile has been settled. Paul Kendrick’s attorney told The Associated Press that the defendant’s insurance companies agreed to pay $3 million to Hearts With Haiti but nothing to orphanage founder Michael Geilenfeld. The attorney says Hearts With Haiti and Geilenfeld dropped their defamation claims. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

PORTLAND — A defamation lawsuit against an activist who accused an orphanage founder in Haiti of being a serial pedophile has been settled, ending a lawsuit that has dragged on for six years, an attorney said. 

Paul Kendrick’s insurance companies agreed to pay $3 million to Hearts With Haiti, but nothing to orphanage founder Michael Geilenfeld, attorney Mark Randall, who represents Kendrick, told The Associated Press. Hearts With Haiti and Geilenfeld dropped their defamation claims, he said. 

Activist Paul Kendrick of Freeport poses outside U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The settlement ends a case that has dragged on since 2013. Kendrick said the effort was worth it because he believes children are now safer. 

Kendrick, who stands by his claims against Geilenfeld, said he’s satisfied because the lawsuit aired the accusations and because Geilenfeld gets nothing from the settlement. The money will be used by the charity to help disabled children in Haiti, he said. 

“It does not mean the brave victims coming forward have done so in vain,” Kendrick said. “The testimonies in evidence against Geilenfeld belong in a criminal investigation.” 

Attorneys who represented Hearts With Haiti and Geilenfeld didn’t immediately return calls and emails seeking comment. The whereabouts of Geilenfeld, a U.S. citizen, are unknown. The former Catholic brother previously testified that the abuse allegations were “vicious, vile lies.” 

Kendrick said he’s spoken to 16 young men who have said Geilenfeld abused them in Port-au-Prince years ago, when they were boys. Geilenfeld founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port-Au-Prince in 1985. 

North Carolina-based Hearts with Haiti and Geilenfeld contended Kendrick ruined Geilenfeld’s reputation and cost the charity millions with an email campaign that raised unsubstantiated claims. Geilenfeld also blamed Kendrick’s campaign for his 237-day imprisonment in Haiti. 

In 2015, a federal jury awarded $14.5 million to Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, despite testimony from seven men who said they were sexually abused as boys. The case was refiled in state court after a U.S. appeals court ruled that a federal courtroom in Maine was the wrong jurisdiction. 

Kendrick, of Freeport, Maine, became an outspoken voice during the New England church abuse scandal and co-founded the Maine chapter of the Voice of the Faithful. He said he began targeting Geilenfeld after hearing from men who said they’d been victimized by him in Haiti. 

If the lawsuit had gone before another jury, Kendrick said there would have been more victims willing to testify. 

Randall said Geilenfeld’s willingness to drop the defamation claim paved the way to the settlement and the lawsuit being withdrawn. He said it’s a victory for the children who benefit from the settlement — and for Kendrick because claims of wrongdoing have been dropped. 

“The end result is that children are safer,” he said. The victim’s allegations are now in the hands of law enforcement officials, he said. 

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10 Years Ago, We Pledged To Help Haiti Rebuild. Then What Happened?

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The land farmed by Ilna Saint Jean, 60, in Caracol, Haiti, which supported her nine children, was spared by the 2010 earthquake but seized for an industrial park during the “recovery.”

Ilna Saint Jean remembers all the crops her family used to grow where the Caracol Industrial Park now sits. On her half-hectare plot, the 60-year-old peasant farmer recalls, “We had yucca, corn, black beans, pigeon peas, okra, peanuts, all kinds of stuff.” This plot, in the farmland area referred to by locals as Tè Chabè, allowed Saint Jean to support her nine children. The community was untouched by the 2010 earthquake.

One year later, however, in January 2011, “everything was lost,” Saint Jean says. A Haitian government agent arrived without warning and removed her fence. The yucca, beans and other plants were soon entirely destroyed by roaming animals.

“They told us the land doesn’t belong to us, it’s the state’s land, it’s the foreigners’ land,” Saint Jean says. “They came and took the land, they cemented it, and they made that industrial park on it.”

Saint Jean is one of 442 peasant farmers who lost their crops and their farmland in the evictions for the industrial park

While supporters describe the industrial park as a flagship project of post-earthquake recovery, the plans for it had actually been discussed months before the disaster, at a trade conference convened by the IDB and the William J. Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit founded and directed by former President Bill Clinton. Such industrial parks are central to the neoliberal economic model the U.S. government has pushed for decades. This model has long held that low-wage sectors like garment manufacturing are a necessary stepping stone to prosperity for countries like Haiti, and that governments should offer tax breaks and incentives for private corporations to set up shop. Unfortunately, because these factories pay workers so little, they can also exacerbate pre-existing economic and social inequalities. Moreover, garment manufacturing is often detrimental to local communities and environments, given its high water requirements and polluting waste.

The U.S. government has championed garment manufacturing as a viable economic development strategy for Haiti since the 1970s, proclaiming Haiti could become “the Taiwan of the Caribbean.” With U.S. support, employment in the garment industry—which, at the time, had largely been concentrated in Port-au-Prince—peaked in the 1980s. Partly because of the extremely low wages, however, these factories never kickstarted the promised economic boom. They also spurred the rise of slums, attracting tens of thousands of job-seekers to Port-au-Prince who could not afford standard housing.

Despite these problems, the U.S. continued to create incentives for the Haitian garment industry. HOPE II, a 2008 trade deal between the United States and Haiti, allows Haitian-made textiles to enter the U.S. without tariffs, an attractive lure for companies from around the world. 

The Haitian government’s Action Plan for National Recovery and Development, unveiled at the March 2010 UN donors’ conference, articulated a vision of reconstruction based on a more just society, capable of meeting Haitians’ basic needs, with an emphasis on housing and environmentally sustainable projects. But it also included more industrial parks for such sectors as textile production. 

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, an international body mandated to ensure accountability in the post-earthquake rebuilding and co-chaired by Bill Clinton, approved the construction of the Caracol park. Hillary Clinton’s State Department recruited Sae-A, a major Korean garment manufacturer, as its anchor tenant.

The Haitian government agreed to provide the land, the IDB offered $100 million for construction, and the United States pledged $124 million for a power plant, a new port (later cancelled), and a housing project. Sae-A committed $78 million to the project and predicted 20,000 new jobs, scoring free facilities and tax breaks in exchange. 

Before the deal was signed, the AFL-CIO warned the U.S. government about Sae-A’s record of “acts of violence and intimidation” in Guatemala, where it closed its flagship factory in 2011, after threatening to leave the country following a dispute with a local union.

Environmentalists also raised concerns about water and waste, given the site was on some of Haiti’s most fertile farmland and close to Caracol Bay, a fragile marine ecosystem home to critically endangered species and an important source of food and income for many in Caracol. The mayor of Caracol was not informed of the project until after the site had been decided. The U.S. consulting firm that proposed the site, Koios Associates, later admitted it had not carried out an environmental assessment; upon review, the consultants rated the project “high risk” and recommended either a change of location or to just end the project altogether. 

The project’s backers charged forward.

The industrial park opened its doors in 2012. Seven years later, In These Times visited Caracol to find the labor and environmental concerns were well founded. Through interviews with factory workers and evicted peasant farmers, union reps and a local environmental group, it emerged that this U.S.-backed project created a host of new problems for thousands of Haitians.

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Haiti Cancels Mardi Gras Festivities in Port-au-Prince

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WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE – Haiti’s government canceled Mardi Gras celebrations Sunday in the capital, Port-au-Prince, in the aftermath of a gunfight between protesting off-duty national police officers and members of the army that left two dead. At least two others were wounded.

“In order to avoid a bloodbath, the government would like to inform the Haitian people and Carnival revelers that we have decided to cancel Carnival festivities in Port-au-Prince,” said a statement sent to local journalists by presidential press secretary Eddy Jackson Alexis.

The unsigned statement, stamped with a government seal and sent through WhatsApp, also included an appeal for calm.

Sunday’s protest turned violent when off-duty police officers, allegedly angry over the firings last week of their colleagues and the coordinator of the union effort, faced off with members of the armed forces near the National Palace.

The Haitian Armed Forces condemned the gunfight Monday.

“We bitterly deplore these acts,” a statement sent to reporters said, “which can only be the work of individuals who want to destroy their own country.”

The protesting officers issued their own press statement condemning the violence, which they blamed on “bad actors.”

“The National Police Union (SPNH) condemns not only the violence, but also the fact that these actions were conducted by people of ill will, pretending to be police officers and aiming to discredit the legitimate effort to unionize the force,” the statement said.

Members of the National Police Force, PNH, have been protesting in Port-au-Prince and other major cities on a weekly basis since last year, demanding that they be allowed to form a union.

They say they cannot afford to live on $19,000 Haitian gourdes (about $200) a year, and decry that they have no health or life insurance.

Last week, angry protesters burned down some of the wooden stands on the Carnival route after officials fired five of their colleagues involved in the unionizing effort. The officers told VOA Creole they should not be counted on to provide security during Carnival if their commanding officers don’t care enough about them to allow them to form a union.

In the lead-up to Carnival, many residents expressed concern about whether there were adequate security measures in place to protect those participating in the popular annual event.

“It’s important that when there is a problem, officials address it and try to understand what’s behind it and take measures to resolve it,” government lawyer Camille Leblanc told VOA Creole. He said although the police have the right to ask for a union, they should not use violence to do so.

“We cannot accept a society where people with weapons try to impose their point of view on the nation,” Leblanc said.

Police response

Abelson Gros Negre, spokesperson for the police union movement, rejected the accusation that police were responsible for the violence.

“We distance ourselves from all violence and malfeasance being done. We are not behind it. Our focus is forming a union to protect the rights of our police officers, which is our constitutional guarantee,” Negre said.

The police are asking officials to rescind their decision to fire five officers last week – among them Yannick Joseph, coordinator of the union movement.

In Port-au-Prince on Monday was a familiar, unwelcome sight – makeshift roadblocks and burning tires.

“We support the police officers, and we stand by them,” a resident told VOA Creole. “We’re waiting for (President) Jovenel Moise to leave, and we also don’t support the army. We don’t recognize its existence,”

But other residents said they were tired of the protests.

“Over the past three months, look at how many people have lost their jobs. They (protesters) couldn’t even wait another two months! They’re back at it in the streets. It’s demoralizing,” a visibly frustrated man told VOA Creole. “Haitian people open your eyes. This isn’t being done for the good of the country. I don’t even believe there’s a police problem.”

During a midday press conference Monday, Normil Rameau, director-general of the national police force, called the protest “illegitimate.”

“I came from the heart of the police force, just like every other police officer. Therefore, every officer’s problem is the problem of the director-general,” Rameau said. “By the same token, the commanding officers of the force also share this burden. I want the men and women of the police force to know their demands are simply illegitimate. That is why, since I was charged with leading the police force, I have addressed their demands with central command officials who have started working on improving their living and working conditions.”

Rameau called on protesters to avoid “infiltrators,” and reminded them that the force is mandated to remain nonpartisan.

“Our preference and allegiance is to protect the Haitian people, to (adhere to) the laws of the republic and (respect) the regulations of the national police force,” Rameau said.

He vowed to restore law and order across the nation as soon as possible, and offered condolences to the fallen officers’ families.

Support from Moise

Moise tweeted Sunday that he is committed to continuing to support the PNH.

“Every day that passes, the police should become stronger, more professional. When the police force is more professional, the people reap the benefits. That is why I’m gifting the institution several new armored vehicles to use during their operations.”

Moise also tweeted that he had given orders to increase the line of credit available for police officers, as well as the limit on their debit cards.

It is unclear whether Carnival festivities will go on as planned in the northern cities of Cape Haitian and Gonaives.

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St. Joseph volunteers pack 50,000 nutritious meals for Haiti

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(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) With hairnets on and music blasting, the St. Joseph Christian School students and staff partied their way through boxes and boxes full of nutritious meals for Haiti. 

Together, the volunteers assembled 50,000 meal packets to feed hungry people in Haiti. 

Every food packet contains rice, beans, essential vitamin powder and dehydrated vegetables. Once water is added, each packet produces six meals. 

400 volunteers showed up to the event; scooping, sealing and boxing meals. Staff say they showed up to help a worthy cause, turning a negative situation into a postive. 

“It all started this summer. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and so my children found out about an organization called Wishing for Mommy where you can write in and win a grant for $500 to bless your mom who is going through treatment somehow. So, they wrote in and won. So, we had they had the $500 and we knew we wanted to do something special with it, something big, something to glorify god,”said Jeanna Walker, the event’s organizer. 

Once the word was out and Walker’s story spread, donations came in swiftly. 

Walker’s $500 grant quickly turned into $15,000. 

Rather than keeping the $500 for herself, she wanted to use it to help others. 

“I’ve always thought the best way to get through something tough is to put Jesus first and to think of others and then your problems don’t seem as bad,”said Walker. 

On Friday afternoon, sixth grader Jeremiah Voga helped scoop rice at an assembly station.

“It makes you have a warm feeling in your heart that you just know that you’re making some kid happy in Haiti,”said the student.

Younger volunteers grabbed their crayons and markers to decorate the cardboard boxes. 

The school’s staff doesn’t know quite yet when the packages will arrive in Haiti, but they plan on filming those recieiving the food packets to show the students how their good deed effected the world. 

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Haiti says soldier died of wounds after shootout with police

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – The Haitian Ministry of Defence said Monday that a soldier has died from wounds suffered during an exchange of gunfire with police officers protesting outside army headquarters.

The ministry said another soldier is in stable condition with a bullet wound.

Haitian police officers exchanged gunfire for hours Sunday with soldiers of the newly reconstituted army outside the national palace, in an escalation of protests over police pay and working conditions.

At least three men were taken to a hospital near the shooting with wounds to the legs and feet that did not appear to be life-threatening. Uniformed police officers told an AP journalist that the wounded men were fellow officers. The uniformed officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Police protests began this month after a half-dozen officers were fired over their attempt to unionize. The demonstrations are not directly linked to anti-corruption protests that roiled Haiti for most of last year, but they draw on the same widespread dissatisfaction with Haiti’s shrinking economy and President Jovenel Moise’s inability to improve the quality of life.

The Haitian army had been disbanded in 1995 after the fall of a dictatorship that used soldiers to repress domestic opponents. Moise reformed the army in 2017, promising that the military would patrol Haiti’s borders, assist in natural disasters and avoid domestic affairs.

“The Army High Command calls once more for the Haitian National Police to restore calm,“ the Defence Ministry statement said.

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Haitian Painter Richard Barbot Paints Like a Jazz Musician – The Haitian Times

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Richard Barbot was born in Haiti and has lived in Montreal since his childhood. He has displayed his work since 1984, including his first solo exhibit a year later. Recently, Barbot held an exhibit at the Manhattan headquarters of SEIU 1199 union. Barbot says that the human figure often represents the central element of his paining. “As I paint various characters, I try to create a visual atmosphere through which I can express my thoughts, my emotions or my social commitment. Barbot sat down with the Haitian Times for an interview. 

 

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The Haitian Times was founded in 1999 as a weekly English language newspaper based in Brooklyn, NY.The newspaper is widely regarded as the most authoritative voice for Haitian Diaspora.

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