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Haitian dictator money remains a tough nut to crack

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Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, “Baby Doc”, (end of the desk at centre) attends a court hearing on whether he should be charged with human rights abuses during his brutal 1971-1986 regime, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on February 28, 2013. Keystone / Dieu Nalio Chery

More than 30 years after the overthrow of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti is still waiting to get back the fortune that the dictator and his family deposited in Switzerland. The delay is down to legal intrigues being played out in the Swiss courts.

This content was published on November 10, 2020 – 15:00

Marie Maurisse, Gotham City*

For 15 years, Jean-Claude Duvalier terrorised Haiti, skimming millions of dollars to finance his extravagant lifestyle. The crimes committed by “Baby Doc” between 1971 and 1986 have made it into the history books. But the story is far from over: the Haitian population is still waiting for the millions of dollars that the Duvalier clan hid in Swiss banks.

Government officials and the courts have been dealing with this issue for more than 30 years. The Federal Administrative Court recently rejected a complaint from the heirs of a former Haitian minister, who wanted millions to be unfrozen. The verdict marks the latest chapter in the never-ending story of the Duvalier regime’s fortunes.

As early as 1986, Port-au-Prince sent a request for legal assistance to Switzerland. It was not until 2002 that the Federal Council (Swiss government) decided to freeze Duvalier funds in banks in Geneva, Vaud and Zurich – a total of CHF7.6 million ($8.3 million). In 2009 the Federal Office of Justice announced that the money would be returned to Haiti. A year later, however, the Federal Supreme Court overturned the decision following a complaint from the Duvaliers. In 2011 the Federal Department of Finance applied for the assets to be confiscated.

“Barons of the dictatorship”

In addition to the Duvaliers, people connected to the clan also deposited millions in Swiss banks – the so-called “barons of the dictatorship”. For example, Frantz Merceron, Minister for Economy, Finance and Industry of the Republic of Haiti from 1982 to 1985. In the St Fleur Report, published in 1987 by the Haitian Minister of Justice, he was described as a banker for the Duvaliers who helped misappropriate public funds and accompanied them on their overseas shopping trips .

In 2015, the whistleblowing platform SwissLeaks revealed for the first time that Merceron had an account with HSBC bank. Five years later, the Federal Administrative Court ruled that the former minister was also a customer of Credit Suisse in Geneva

The account was controlled by Opaline Group Services SA, a Panamanian company founded in November 2000, four months before opening a business relationship with Credit Suisse. In October 2001, more than CHF6 million had been transferred to the bank from another account operated by the Opaline Foundation based in Liechtenstein.

In response to a 1986 article in Le Monde diplomatique, detailing the “privatization of the Haitian state” and the systematic misappropriation of funds by the Duvalier dynasty, Merceron wrote that the assets were of “a purely private nature, they are funds that have been saved up over a long period of time and are documented.” 

In 2005, Frantz Merceron died suddenly. His widow Muriel became the beneficiary of the Credit Suisse account, which in 2011 still held more than €4 million. The Federal Council decided to block this account in 2012, which the Federal Supreme Court confirmed despite a complaint from Muriel Merceron and Opaline Group Services AG.

In early 2020, the Department of Finance finally took the first step towards restoring Merceron’s assets to Haiti by ordering the millions to be confiscated. Muriel Merceron died the day after that decision.

The Merceron descendants, together with Panamanian Opaline Group Services, contested this decision. But the Federal Administrative Court has recently dismissed the complaint, ruling that the assets are in the name of Opaline, and struck the Merceron descendants from the proceedings.

According to the Panamanian Commercial Register, the asset manager Arturo Fasana and the Geneva lawyer Dante Canonica are the directors of Opaline Group Services SA. Like the descendants of Muriel Merceron, the company is represented by Laurent Moreillon.

Gotham City

*Founded by investigative journalists Marie Maurisse and François Pilet, Gotham City is a newsletter focussing on legal oversight and economic crime.

Each week Gotham offers subscribers reports about fraud, corruption and laundering cases linked to the Swiss financial sector, based on publicly accessible legal documents.

Each month, it selects one of its articles, which it then expands and offers free of charge to SWI swissinfo.ch readers.

End of insertion

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DHS reviewing humanitarian protections for Haitians and others in the US

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The acknowledgment comes amid growing pressure from lawmakers and advocates to redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, a form of humanitarian relief, which can be granted when it is deemed unsafe to return to one’s home country.

Mayorkas said country conditions are “very much under review,” with respect to Haiti and other countries with a lower profile, indicating that the US is also looking at Cameroon and Mauritania for possible protection.

“We’re very mindful of the fact that the conditions in those countries deserve our close review. And that review is well underway,” he said at the UCLA Center for Immigration Law Policy conference Friday.

The Biden administration has already granted protections for Venezuela and Myanmar, marking a shift from the Trump administration, which had sharply criticized TPS and moved to terminate protections the program had provided for immigrants from other countries, arguing that years of extensions were prolonging immigrants’ stays in the United States long after crises abroad had abated.

Nearly 500 advocates, human rights activists, and nonprofit organizations sent a letter this week to the White House calling for the Biden administration to re-designate TPS for Haitians living in the US.

“The Trump Administration tried to end TPS for Haitians, many of whom have been on the frontlines during the coronavirus pandemic and keeping the United States moving forward as our healthcare workers and caregivers, transportation workers and farm workers,” the letter said. “It is imperative that the Biden Administration make things right and redesignate TPS for Haiti immediately.”

Earlier this month, Democratic Rep. Albio Sires of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida sent a letter to Mayorkas detailing the unsafe issues in Haiti, like food insecurity, gender-based violence and political instability.

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Charly Pierre opens Fritai, Haitian restaurant, in Treme | Food and drink | Gambit Weekly

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In 1809, more than 10,000 Haitians fleeing the revolution taking place in their country came to New Orleans, doubling the city’s population. The similarity between the two cultures is profoundly robust, overlapping in areas from music to history and architecture. But nowhere is the sisterhood more apparent than on the plate.

Thanks to a shared cultural root system drawn from French, Spanish and African cultures, many Haitian dishes track with iconic New Orleans specialties.

“We have gumbo, red beans and rice, Creole sauces,” says chef Charly Pierre, who is Haitian American. Pierre was born in the Boston area, but is anchored to Haiti on both parents’ sides and grew up visiting the island every year, he says.

Pierre is opening Fritai, his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, at 1535 Basin Street, close to N. Claiborne Avenue on the edge of Treme. It’s an expansion of what started as a pop-up and soon became a food stall in St. Roch Market. A mix of modern and traditional Haitian cuisine, Fritai showcases Pierre’s fine dining chops while staying resolutely simple and true to the island’s heart and soul.

Once it opens in the next few weeks — he’s still waiting on some permitting and inspections — Fritai will offer many of the same dishes Pierre featured at the market, spotlighting common ingredients like watercress and oxtail and making frequent use of epis, the Haitian version of the Louisiana holy trinity or Hispanic sofrito. Beyond bell pepper, onion and celery, epis is rich with green onion and herbs like cilantro and parsley and spiked with garlic and Scotch bonnet peppers.

“We use it on everything, including roasted fish and beans,” Pierre says.

The 32-year-old chef came to New Orleans six years ago after going to culinary school and cooking in and around Boston. He made a splash early in his career as a winner on Food Network’s “Chopped.”

One of Pierre’s favorite homey menu dishes is smoked fish pasta, just called spaghetti by Haitians. “We even eat it for breakfast,” he says. The popular street food is a sauté of smoked herring with epis and tomato paste, tossed with homemade pasta instead of typical dried spaghetti.

Epis is the base of a vinaigrette for a watercress and shaved mirliton salad, studded with candied plantains and shaved red onion. The menu features plenty of vegetarian and vegan options, like the root veggie fritter made with malanga, spices and herbs and served with a side of pikliz, a spicy relish mixture of cabbage, carrot and pickle.

The menu will offer a pan-roasted fish, usually red snapper, or whatever’s freshest, rubbed with epis and roasted until crispy, with red beans, plantain and Creole sauce on the side. A simple stewed Creole chicken is kissing cousins to the smothered chicken served by home cooks here in New Orleans. A griot po-boy is like a crispy cochon de lait, topped with pikliz and served with plantain chips.

Fritai, in the space where Kermit Ruffins operated his Speakeasy for a minute, has a lounge vibe, with dim lighting, banquettes, a corner bar and side lounge area outfitted with a Haitian symbol that you won’t find in too many pubs. “I got this in Mississippi,” says Pierre, gesturing with pride to an old school console cabinet television. “We had one, my aunts had one – when it stops working you put lace on it and it becomes a table. So Haitian.”

The rum-forward bar program is led by beverage manager Ian Julian, who has worked around town from Dominique’s on Magazine to Hilton Riverside. Besides classic cocktails like French 75s and Sazeracs, he’s mixing up tropical sips, such as the Fritai house Pimm’s fruit cup, spiked with booze-marinated melon, mango and papaya. A weekly happy hour between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. is in the works.

Pierre lived in the Treme for a few years before moving to the Bayou St. John area. “I saw investment money going Uptown, but around here, not so much,” he says. “This is an old-school Black neighborhood and my neighbors are great. When I first visited New Orleans in 2009, I knew this was my city. I feel at home here.”


Fritai

1535 Basin St.; Instagram, @fritainola

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Small-scale farmers in remote areas of Haiti receive help for food production and COVID-19 – Haiti

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Rome, 4 May 2021 – The Government of Haiti and the International Fund for Agricultural Development of the United Nations (IFAD) today signed a financing agreement for a project that will help Haitian farmers recover from the impact of Covid-19 and increase staple food production. The project will kickstart rapid recovery of agricultural production and incomes by rehabilitating small-scale irrigation systems —a basic necessity in a country badly hit by climate change—provide essential agricultural inputs, and help increase farmers’ resilience.

The Emergency Project for Strengthening the Resilience of Small Farmers to the Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic (PURRACO, by its French acronym) is a US$ 5.8 million project ($ 5million from IFAD; $ 0.5 million from the Haitian Government and a beneficiaries’ in kind contribution of $ 0.3 million). It will benefit 3,250 poor rural households (around 13,000 people, half of whom will be women and 30 per cent youth).

“IFAD has been committed for many years to improving Haitian family farmers’ lives. In this difficult time the Fund is stepping up to help them recover from the impact of the pandemic, restart their communities’ economies and build the resilience to face future health and other emergencies”, said Rossana Polastri, IFAD’s Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

PURRACO will target the four Haitian departments most affected by food insecurity due to structural fragilities, recently aggravated by COVID-19 impacts: the Northwest, the Northeast, the Central and the South Departments. It will be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development (MARNDR).

PURRACO’s will help households recover, increase their production to pre-Covid-19 levels, and access markets, building food security with enhanced efficiency in agricultural production. At the same time, short-cycle animal husbandry (hens, pigs and goats) will increase the availability of animal protein in these remote rural areas, compensating for historic nutritional deficiencies.

Other IFAD operations are also providing support to rural Haitians. Earlier this year, IFAD announced the start of AGRI-digitalization, a project that will enable 132 rural savings cooperatives and 86 producers’ organizations across Latin America and the Caribbean (22 of them Haitian) to enhance their financial services and to market their products online.

The ongoing Agricultural and Agroforestry Technological Innovation Programme (PITAG, in French acronym) is a US$ 90 million joint investment involving funds from IFAD, the Government of Haiti, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). It aims to spread the adoption of sustainable agricultural technologies; the project is achieving significant progress in the South Department, where IFAD financing is concentrated.

PURRACO is part of a broader response orchestrated by the Ministry of Agriculture to address the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a coordinated multi-donor effort, several other UN agencies and international financial institutions (IFIs) are contributing to this plan, whose main objectives are to relaunch agricultural production, fishing and aquaculture and to secure physical, economic and social access to food.

Since IFAD started its engagement with Haiti in the 1980s, the Fund has invested in 10 projects in the country with a total value of $ 276.51 million ($ 125.21 million from IFAD funds), benefitting 103,315 families.

Press release No.: IFAD/18/2021

*IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have **provided US$23.2 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached an estimated 518 million people. **IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub.*

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Meet Newly Matched Jean-Luc Rolland: The Journey from Haiti… : Neurology Today

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By Jamie Talan

April 15, 2021


Article In Brief

Jean-Luc Rolland came to live in the US after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He worked as a phlebotomist, medical assistant, and chemist while he waited to become a permanent US citizen and qualify for student loans. He discusses his journey from Haiti to the US to his match in neurology at Johns Hopkins.

Jean-Luc Rolland’s interest in medicine began when he was around 6 years old, when his father, a physician, would bring him to the hospital where he tended the sick. He recalled the many times throughout his childhood when people would come up to his dad and thank him for saving their lives. He would come to understand his father’s critical thinking skills and his high dose of compassion—and that was inspiration enough to follow him into medicine.

Then in 2010, an earthquake in Haiti, where he was born and raised, altered his and his family’s life immeasurably. The disaster killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, including Jean-Luc’s 21-year-old brother. The family didn’t know how the country would move forward. His parents sent Jean-Luc and his two younger sisters to live with an uncle in the United States. Jean-Luc was in his senior year of high school when they moved to Fort Lauderdale. He finished his senior year at a private school there.

He took his father’s lessons with him. It was easy. He gravitated to science. He went to college in North Carolina and after graduation worked as a phlebotomist, medical assistant, and chemist while he waited to become a permanent US citizen and qualify for student loans. He applied and was accepted into the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. His experience in a hospital laboratory left him thinking about a career in pathology. But then his third year began and his work with patients shifted his thinking.

“I wanted a human connection,” he said. That came very quickly. His first clinical experience was a man who had arrived to the emergency department at night following a minor traffic accident He complained of trouble seeing, and a neurology consult was ordered. The neurologist found a complete right-sided visual field deficit. The next morning, Jean-Luc arrived and listened to the sign-out and looked at the brain scan and pinpointed a lesion in the occipital lobe. That led them to discover metastatic lung cancer that had spread to his brain. Intravenous steroids improved his vision and cognitive state.

“It was at that moment that I understood the connection between his presentation and the brain lesion,” said Jean-Luc. “I felt I could literally see inside his brain, even though we can’t.”

He had always thought that neurologists could diagnose but that the treatments were limited. “That is just not true,” he said.

During medical school, he and his colleagues started an organization called Haiti Konbat Maladi dedicated to helping communities in Haiti improve health outcomes and get the services they need. They have been providing medical supplies to local hospitals in Haiti, and partnering with local hospitals, schools, and community centers to develop educational resources and health care for the locals with hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Figure

“Being able to say that I am a neurology resident is so meaningful to me and to my family. We arrived to the US in such a brutal way and my parents have always pushed us to do whatever we wanted to do—but to make a difference in the world.”—JEAN-LUC ROLLAND

He matched into a neurology residency at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Jean-Luc’s wife, Dominique Guillaume-Rolland, is working on her PhD at Hopkins, where she is a Global Women’s Health Fellow. Dominique, who is also Haitian, grew up in the U.S. They met through a friend and they quickly realized how many connections they had. Her grandfather was his dad’s attending in Haiti. Their mothers worked at the same bank.

“Being able to say that I am a neurology resident is so meaningful to me and to my family. We arrived to the US in such a brutal way and my parents have always pushed us to do whatever we wanted to do—but to make a difference in the world.”

Jean-Luc connected with his parents by Facetime on Match Day and they read the letter together. “My mom cried for a good ten minutes, and then cried some more.”

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The lords of Port-au-Prince and their DOA referendum

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By Garry Pierre-Pierre | The Conversation

When Haiti’s constitution was ratified in 1987, the country was emerging from a decades long dictatorship. The writers vowed then to make sure there would be no opportunity for the country to slide back into another authoritarian regime. 

One of the first clauses written was term limits. A president cannot serve two consecutive terms and can only hold office twice. The Constitution was so laden with clauses aimed at the Duvalier regime that some critics felt it was too emotional and lacked legal vision to guide the country as it transitioned to a democratic system.

The slogan of the day was “Makout pa la dann” or “No Makout in it.” I was amused because at that point, Makoutism was so systemic and ingrained in the fabric of Haitian society that to expel Makouts would have been to cast aside more than 75% of the population. We had become zombified under the Makout system. 

Now, here we are taking another revision of the Constitution, and this time it is even messier than the last rodeo. President Jovenel Moïse decided a couple of years ago that it was time to revisit the clauses in the Constitution and make it a fairer and better legal roadmap for the country and its citizens everywhere.

The government has been emphasizing that under its proposed revision, the Diaspora would finally get its rights restored by lifting legal restrictions that forbade them from being able to vote, running for office themselves and owning property. 

You’d think there wouldn’t be much of a pushback from something like this. This sounds terrific, I would argue. Well not quite. 

A DOA referendum

This referendum is dead on arrival. Even within PHTK, as the ruling party is known, there is no unanimity. The U.S. State Department doesn’t support it. The opposition doesn’t think much of it. The population loathes it. The Diaspora doesn’t know much about it. 

According to former Chamber of Deputies member Jerry Tardieu, what Moise is proposing will appear in electoral laws and not be codified in the constitution, which renders them meaningless. 

“In both form and substance, the process that led to the drafting of this new constitution is causing problems,” Tardieu wrote in an opinion column. “It leads us towards chaos and instability especially as it aims to put all the powers in the hands of a president-king to the detriment of the legislative and judicial powers.”

If the former representative of Petion-ville is right,  this referendum is as stiff as a used rubber band. Furthermore, the most profound changes revolve around the presidency and its power. There are clauses about impeachment. You can’t impeach the president if he violates the law. He can only be reprimanded. You can’t hold him or her accountable on so many fronts. 

And to think, back in 1987, Haitian constitutionalists went through pains to ensure that dictatorships would ever be repeated in our history. 

While those accusations have been bandied about loudly on the streets of Haiti’s cities, I believe that this referendum is a ruse for the current regime. It is a blatant effort to buy themselves a get-out-of-jail-free card meant to inoculate them from any past or current grift committed. Donald Trump would be proud and envious of them. But more on that in another conversation. 

A losing battle

The reality is that few people would dispute that the constitution needs an upgrade and adapt to fit the 21st-century realities and beyond. At the time of the 1987 writing, the emotions were raw.

Now, the central question remains why this constitutional review is so controversial. To begin with, there is a lack of transparency. The government is playing defense and as the saying goes, “If you’re playing defense, you’re losing.” They are losing.

It begs another question: Are Haiti’s current political woes the result of a weak constitution or due to weak governance. You can draft the perfect constitution, but without good governance, it will go to waste. If you’re dishonest or devious, you can game the best system. 

In November 2019, I was in Haiti reporting on the then-upcoming 10-year anniversary of the earthquake, which has now come to define Haiti in the eyes of the international community. I interviewed a young activist who was instrumental in organizing some of the protests that locked down the country. 

I asked him what’s the end game for his movement and his thoughts about this country’s future. He told me that the country lacked good governance and that Haiti’s centralized form of government is unsustainable. There are no governors, the country is broken into 10 departments (which are like states in the U.S.), so there is no one controlling local budgets. Decisions are handed down from the capital. 

He said a system under which a governor can make decisions for his or her department would be more manageable because accountability would rest on local officials who would  manage their own budget. Under this system, he told me, departments would compete, and the competition in turn, would lead to a better country where decisions are not dictated from the lords of Port-au-Prince. 

He does make a cogent argument. 

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