PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The attack was brazen, streamed live on the internet: Men carrying big guns walked into a Holy Thursday church service, grabbed the pastor and three parishioners and led them away in full view of cameras.
For Haitians, it was a fearsome emblem of a wave of kidnappings and deaths that has victimized even impoverished people already already stung by years of violence in the streets.
One of the church abductees, Steven Jérôme, spent the first night in the hands of his captors sitting on a chair afraid to close his eyes. Meanwhile, parishioners and and relatives of the victims like Jérôme’s sister, Suze, scrambled to gather money to free them.
“People gave 10 gourdes, 15 gourdes, whatever they had,” she told The Associated Press, referring to donations that amounted to 13 to 19 U.S. cents.
The victims of the April 1 kidnapping at the Gospel Kreyol Ministry were relatively fortunate; they were freed nearly three days later. But Jérôme and others remain traumatized and their relatives find themselves in debt, some pushed deeper into poverty, after paying a ransom.
The abductors — like most — were not caught.
Kidnapping has become so common that radio stations often broadcast pleas for help: “Please do not kill him.” “Please help me raise money for ransom.” “Please help me find the body.”
And police seem overwhelmed. At least four police officers were killed last month during a failed raid on the stronghold of a criminal gang so bold it’s still holding the bodies of the slain officers hostage, helping spawn a revolt within police ranks.
A couple of days later, then-Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe mentioned at a news conference that ransoms can range from $300,000 to $1 million. Haiti is a country of 11 million people where about 60% earn less than $2 a day.
“There is no one in the population who has that kind of money,” he said. “Even I, if I’m kidnapped, if they ask me for $300,000, I don’t know where I would get it.”
A recent report by the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti recorded 234 reported kidnappings in 2020, up from 78 a year earlier. The new cases included 59 women and 37 minors.
Reported homicides rose as well. Police statistics are unreliable, but authorities reported 1,380 killings last year, with the U.N. noting it was a 20% increase from the prior year. Victims included a judge and the president of Port-au-Prince’s Bar Association.
The escalating violence prompting businesses, banks and schools across Haiti to shut this week in a protest they dubbed “Black Thursday.” Some schools have temporarily closed because of dangerous neighborhoods.
“For some time, we have seen Haitian society descend into hell,” the office of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Port-au-Prince said in an April 12 statement. “The violence of armed gangs has taken on unprecedented proportions.”
Human rights group Fondasyon Je Klere says more than 150 gangs operate in Haiti, some dedicated to kidnapping. Recent victims have included five priests, a hospital director, elementary school children and a member of the president’s security unit.
There’s no exemption for poverty.
Magdala Louis, 33, lives in a tin shack with her young son and made a living selling hot dogs and recruiting students to a cosmetology school.
On Dec. 6, five men with automatic weapons grabbed her by the neck as she sat in a car waiting for a male friend, who had been DJing at the school’s graduation party. The two were blindfolded, taken to a house and asked who in their family had money. She responded that her mother and father were already dead.
Inside her head, she pleaded: “God, are you going to let them kill me and leave my little baby behind?”
Her sister and neighbors took to the radio stations, repeating that she was a hot dog vendor who didn’t have money for ransom.
Eventually, the family of her friend paid for both of their releases, but Louis said she’s now too afraid to leave her house to work: “I wish I had died in the (2010) earthquake so as not to have gone through this.”
Escalating violence led the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to issue a recent statement calling on Haiti’s government “to protect its citizens and intensify its efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” The Organization of American States has issued a similar plea.
The administration of President Jovenel Moïse says it has arrested gang members, increased police presence and created a task force to dismantle gangs.
Local police spokespeople did not return calls for comment, but Serge Therriault, police commissioner of the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti, acknowledged there was “a greater perception of insecurity and violence today,” even if the amount of regular street violence is comparable to previous years.
Therriault said police have been collecting intelligence to target gang leaders as well as setting up blockades in gang-ridden areas.
“This has yielded some success,” he said. “The police are still trying to develop different avenues to try to resolve the issue. We’ll just have to let them find a solution that’s best for the country in the context that they have,” which includes the growth of gangs “because of political and socioeconomic issues.”
The spike in violence also is disrupting efforts to distribute aid for a country still recovering from a devastating 2010 earthquake, a deadly cholera outbreak and now the pandemic, said Pamela White, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
“It’s very hard to do when a country is rolling in violence constantly, every day,” she said.
Prime Minister Claude Joseph told the AP that he blamed the increased violence on unpopular political factions he said were trying to undermine general elections scheduled for September.
Whatever the cause, the violence has disrupted lives across Haiti.
Roselaine Belizaire, a 25-year-old fashion design student who sells handmade face masks to help pay her tuition, said outbreaks of gunfire on her route home from school sometimes force her to turn back and stay with a friend.
“There’s so much shooting that I start running and I lose a bag of masks,” she said.
Food vendor Jean Paul, 26, said he was assaulted this month by armed men who falsely accused him of taking food to a rival gang. He recalled with tears in his eyes how one man yelled, “Shoot him! Shoot him,” though he was eventually released.
The danger of stray bullets recently led Doctors Without Borders to move 21 burn victims out of its hospital in the Cite de Soleil neighborhood, said Aline Serin, the international aid group’s head of mission.
Suze Jérôme, a kindergarten teacher, said she borrowed “a lot” of money to pay her brother’s ransom: “Money that I don’t own, money I’ll never have.”
She’s trying to figure out how to repay it now that her brother has been released.
“I’ve never seen a situation like this before,” she said. “Wherever you are, you are not safe.”
Justin Trudeau condemns ‘appalling’ assassination of Haitian president – National
Trudeau took to Twitter and called the deadly attack on the president “appalling,” adding that “Canada stands ready to support the people of Haiti and offer any assistance they need.”
During a press conference in Calgary later in the afternoon, the prime minister further described the act as “absolutely unacceptable and not something anyone wants to see anywhere in the world.”
“Canada has been and will continue to be a close friend to the Haitian people,” Trudeau told reporters in Calgary.
“They’ve had a number of difficult years, including politically. Canada has continued to be there for them and we will continue into the coming difficult months to stand with the people of Haiti and move toward greater stability and greater opportunity for everyone.”
Moise was killed in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday, according to Haiti’s interim prime minister. First lady Martine Moise was shot in the overnight attack and hospitalized. It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the assassination in a country that had grown increasingly unstable and disgruntled in recent years.
Haiti President Jovenel Moïse assassinated at home, official says
Kevin Edmonds, an assistant professor of Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto, said Canada and the United States have been involved in cultivating over the long term the current political situation in which the assassination took place.
In February 2004, a military coup overthrew a democratically elected government led by president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He accused the United States, France and Canada of orchestrating his ousting.
About 500 Canadian troops went to the Caribbean country after the coup “to restore order until a new UN stabilization mission could be well established,” according to Veterans Affairs Canada website. It says UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti reached about 7,500 military members and civilian police, from dozens of countries. It also says that at times, over 750 members of the Canadian Armed Forces and 100 civilian police officers have served there.
Since 2004, Edmonds said, a series of fraudulent elections have brought deeply unpopular presidents to power while a UN mission supported them.
Haiti is the largest recipient of development assistance from Canada in the Americas.
Since the January 2010 earthquake, Ottawa has provided $1.5 billion to Haiti, including $345 million in humanitarian assistance and $1.15 billion in development assistance.
Edmonds said Canada played a role in pushing for a national election to be held in 2010, when many Haitian parliamentarians and politicians had lost their lives in the natural disaster. The general election originally scheduled to take in February was put off until November that year and the presidential election was held the following spring.
“Canada and the United States were very insistent that elections happen right away, and a lot of voices within in Haiti, civil society, politicians, the citizens were saying ‘let’s wait a bit,’” Edmonds said, adding there were concerns about electoral fraud and parties banned from running.
In a 2019 report, Human Rights Watch said the Moise government’s elimination of subsidies led to widespread protests that had escalated since July 2018, with opposition groups demanding Moise’s resignation amid allegations that he had mismanaged government funds designated for social programs.
Edmonds said Moise was “very repressive,” but that he was also friendly to foreign investment as he was getting rid of regulations for mining, oil and gas companies and repressing labour unions.
“Having a weak but accommodating centre-right government in Haiti is good for Canadian interests U.S. interests,” Edmonds argued.
“I would have thought that Moise would have been tipped off that something’s gonna happen but this (assassination) is kind of unprecedented.”
The assassination drew shock and condemnation from leaders in Latin America, Europe and the U.S., along with calls for calm and unity in the troubled Caribbean nation.
Colombian President Ivan Duque condemned what he called a “cowardly act” and expressed solidarity with Haiti. He called for an urgent mission by the Organization of American States “to protect democratic order.”
Mercenaries responsible for assassination of Haiti’s president, country’s ambassador to the U.S. says
Other initial reactions reflected concern about Haiti’s security.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that “this crime carries a risk of instability and (a) spiral of violence.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened at the death of President Moise.”
“Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti,” he added. “This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the assassination.
“I’d like to make an appeal for political unity to get out of this terrible trauma that the country is going through,” Sanchez said during a visit to Latvia.
The White House described the attack as “horrific” and “tragic.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. stands ready to assist Haiti in its time of need.
“It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss that (the people of Haiti) are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news,” Psaki said during a previously scheduled interview with CNN. “And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”
Haiti’s first lady in stable but critical condition, country’s ambassador to the U.S. says
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen offered her condolences in a statement on Twitter.
“We wish the First Lady a prompt recovery, & stand together with our ally Haiti in this difficult time,” Tsai wrote. Haiti is one of the few countries in the world that maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which China claims as its own.
— With files from Global News and The Canadian Press
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Haiti’s murdered president laid to rest with tensions high
- President Jovenel Moise was murdered on 7 July at his home in Port-au-Prince.
- The attack was carried out by a group that included 26 Colombian former soldiers.
- Moise’s funeral was attended by foreign dignitaries including US President Joe Biden’s top advisor.
Pallbearers in military attire carried late Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s body in a closed wooden coffin as his funeral got underway on Friday, two weeks after he was shot dead at home in an assassination still shrouded in mystery.
The bearers placed the polished casket on a dais garlanded with flowers in an auditorium. Four stood guard as a Roman Catholic priest blessed the coffin and a Haitian flag was unfurled.
Foreign dignitaries including US President Joe Biden’s top advisor for the Western Hemisphere flew to Cap-Haitien to pay their respects to Moise, joining mourners who have taken part in a series of commemorations in Haiti this week.
Moise was gunned down in his home in Port-au-Prince before dawn on 7 July, setting off a new political crisis in the Caribbean country that has struggled with poverty, lawlessness and instability.
Protests by angry supporters of Moise convulsed the slain leader’s hometown, the northern city of Cap-Haitien, for a second successive day on Thursday as workers prepared for the funeral.
The protesters set tires on fire to block roads, while workers paved a brick road to Moise’s mausoleum on a dusty plot of several acres enclosed by high walls.
Set on land held by Moise’s family and where he lived as a boy, the partly built tomb stood in the shade of fruit trees, just a few steps from a mausoleum for Moise’s father, who died last year. Police controlled access to the compound through a single gate.
The assassination was a reminder of the ongoing influence foreign actors have in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere despite it becoming Latin America and the Caribbean’s first independent state at the start of the 19th century.
The attack was carried out by a group that included 26 Colombian former soldiers, at least six of whom had previously received US military training. Haitian-Americans were also among the accused.
The attack’s plotters disguised the mercenaries as US Drug Enforcement Administration agents, a ruse that helped them enter Moise’s home with no resistance from his security detail, authorities have said. At least one of the arrested men, a Haitian-American, had previously worked as an informant for the DEA.
The turmoil has pushed Haiti up Biden’s foreign policy priorities and on Thursday the State Department named a special envoy for the country. Biden has rebuffed a request by Haiti’s interim leaders to send troops to protect infrastructure.
Screens inside the auditorium broadcast images of Moise and his meetings with world leaders including Pope Francis, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Helen La Lime, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Haiti, was among the guests.
A former banana exporter, Moise failed to quell gang violence that surged under his watch and he faced waves of street protests over corruption allegations and his management of the economy.
However, the demonstrators in Cap-Haitien were venting anger over the many questions that remain unanswered about the assassination, including who planned it and why.
Banners celebrating Moise festooned buildings along the narrow streets of Cap-Haitien’s old town, with proclamations in Creole including, “They killed the body, but the dream will never die,” and “Jovenel Moise – defender of the poor.”
At least 1 U.S. citizen arrested in connection to killing of Haitian president, official says
Haitian officials say 15 people have been arrested and four were killed following the early morning assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, and at least one of those arrested — possibly two — are U.S. citizens.
Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections, told multiple news outlets on Thursday, including The New York Times and The Associated Press, that Haitian American James Solages was among six people arrested in the brazen killing of Moïse by gunmen at his home in the pre-dawn hours on Wednesday.
Pierre would not provide additional details about Solages’ background, nor provide the name of the second Haitian American. The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that Haitian Americans were in custody, but could not confirm or comment.
The FBI said Friday it would be helping Haitian authorities investigate Moïse’s murder. “The Haitian government requested assistance today from U.S. law enforcement with the investigation into President Moïse’s assassination,” said a spokesperson for the bureau. “The FBI is currently engaging with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and our law enforcement partners to determine how we can best support this effort.”
Thursday night, Haiti’s national police said authorities were looking for nine people in connection with the assassination.
Police also said that four people were killed in an exchange of gunfire with police, and that automatic weapons were seized. Police had earlier said that seven suspects had been killed.
Police late Thursday said that of the 15 arrested, 13 were Colombians.
Léon Charles, Haiti’s director of National Police, had said earlier that three police officers had been held hostage, but police freed them.
Haiti’s government has blamed mercenaries for the attack.
Moïse was killed early Wednesday in what the country’s acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, described as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.”
Joseph said a group of “highly trained and heavily armed” people attacked Moïse’s residence around 1 a.m., shooting the president and his wife.
First lady Martine Moïse was flown to Florida and receiving medical attention in Miami, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States said.
Moïse, who was 53 and took office in February 2017, was attacked in his home in a suburb of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas.
Joseph called for calm in the country. He told The Associated Press that elections scheduled for later this year should be held and pledged to work with Moïse’s allies and opponents alike.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he was shocked and saddened to hear of the assassination of Moïse and the attack on his wife and called it a heinous act.
“The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” Biden said in a statement.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the assassination in the strongest possible terms and said the U.N. will continue to stand with the government and people of Haiti.
“The Secretary-General calls on all Haitians to preserve the constitutional order, remain united in the face of this abhorrent act and reject all violence,” a spokesperson for Guterres said in a statement.
Moïse had been resisting calls to step down from opponents who accused him of corruption and who insisted his term expired in February because the country’s constitution starts the clock once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
He had been demanding to serve out the remainder of the year and threatening to amend the constitution to give himself more power.
Gabe Gutierrez, The Associated Press and Julia Ainsley contributed.
Telstra bids on Digicel amid South Pacific tech expansion
Developments in the South Pacific region include Telstra’s $2 billion bid for Digicel in an effort to block China from acquiring the mobile network assets, writes Paul Budde.
LAST WEEK, we published the first part of the overview of broadband developments in the South Pacific, where we covered the three largest countries – Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
Australia has a special relationship with our South Pacific neighbours and we have a responsibility to collaborate with them and assist them, especially also in the fields of information technology and telecommunications. Therefore, I would like to share this information with you that BuddeComm has prepared for this region.
It is also important to report on the latest development since last week. The Australian Government together with Telstra have made a $2 billion offer for the Digicel telco assets in the South Pacific. The Irish company is one of the largest mobile operators in island nations in both the Caribbean and the South Pacific. It is facing financial difficulties because of the drop in revenues from tourists that would normally visit these islands.
China has shown interest in buying the assets in the South Pacific and the Australian Government is keen to block that. For that purpose, it has offered $1.5 billion to assist Telstra in buying these assets. At this point, it is still uncertain if Digicel accepts the offer.
Now back to an overview of broadband developments in New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Samoa.
The telecom sector is dominated by OPT-NC, which holds a monopoly and provides fixed and mobile voice services, mobile internet, fixed broadband access and wholesale services for other ISPs.
The country is well serviced by extensive 3G and LTE networks and is considered to have one of the highest smartphone adoption rates in the Pacific region.
While DSL is still the dominant fixed broadband technology, OPT-NC is also deploying a nationwide FttP network. Fibre subscriber numbers had increased to over 20,000 by end 2020 with 32,800 homes passed.
With improved international connectivity, fixed broadband penetration has become among the highest in the region. A considerable number of consumers access FttP-based services. With the first data centre in French Polynesia on the cards, the quality and price of broadband services will improve as content will be able to be cached locally, reducing costs for consumers.
About 43% of the country’s mobile connections are on 3G networks, while LTE accounts for 12%. By 2025, LTE is expected to account for more than half of all connections. It is estimated that 77% of mobile subscribers will have smartphones by 2025.
Timor-Leste has been moving forward with the regeneration of its economy and rebuilding key infrastructure, including telecommunications networks, that were destroyed during the years of civil unrest.
Fixed-line and fixed broadband penetration in Timor-Leste remain extremely low, mainly due to the limited fixed-line infrastructure and the proliferation of mobile connectivity. The number of subscribers through to 2026 is expected to develop steadily, though from a low base.
The country has three telecom service providers who jointly achieved 98% network coverage nationally. All three major mobile operators – Timor Telecom, Telkomcel and Telemor – launched LTE services during 2019.
Earlier this month, the Timor-Leste Government announced it will issue a public tender for the purchase and installation of a fibre optic submarine cable connection from capital Dili to Darwin and Port Hedland. Costs are estimated between U.S.$40-$60 million (AU$54.6-$82 million). The project could be completed in September 2022. The cable is likely to be built with the money pledged by the Australian Government back in 2019.
For many years, GSM was the primary mobile technology for Vanuatu’s 300,000 people. Recent infrastructure projects have improved access technologies, with a transition to 3G and, to a limited degree, to LTE. Vanuatu has also benefitted from the ICN1 submarine cable and the launch of the Kacific1 satellite, both of which have considerably improved access to telecom services in recent years. Vanuatu’s telecom sector is liberalised, with the two prominent mobile operators Amalgamated Telecom Holdings (operating as TVL) and Digicel Vanuatu offering effective competition.
While fixed broadband penetration remains low, the incumbent operator is slowly exchanging copper fixed lines for fibre. Several ongoing submarine cable developments will also assist in increasing data rates and reduce internet pricing in the coming years.
Samoa was one of the first Pacific Island countries to establish a regulatory infrastructure and to liberalise its telecom market. In 2006, it became the first in the region to see the market entrance of Digicel, which has since launched services in other Pacific nations. The advent of competition in the mobile market saw prices fall by around 50% and network coverage increase to more than 90% of the population.
Like other countries in the Pacific Islands, Samoa’s telecoms sector has been inhibited by a lack of international connectivity. While Samoa has had access to the Samoa-American Samoa (SAS) cable laid in 2009, this cable has insufficient capacity to meet the country’s future bandwidth needs.
This issue was addressed with two new submarine cables which became available in 2018 and 2019. These, combined with the Samoa National Broadband Highway (SNBH), have improved internet data rates and reliability and have reduced the high costs which were previously associated with internet access in Samoa.
Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.
How I Travel: Questlove Is Finally Learning How to Vacation
Ahmir Thompson, best known as Questlove, has not really stopped producing content once during his fifty years. While most know him as the drummer of the Roots, which has been the house band of The Tonight Show since 2014, he’s also a radio host, composer, Broadway producer, author of four books, actor, and now, a filmmaker: he makes his directorial debut this month with Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). The documentary, in theaters and on Hulu now, shares the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a nearly forgotten concert series the same summer as Woodstock that featured performers like Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Nina Simone.
In case it wasn’t clear, Questlove isn’t really a kick-back-with-a-tiki-drink kind of guy when it comes to travel. “I’m super notorious,” he says. “My reputation is known for being anti-vacation. The pandemic slowed that down, and made me realize the importance of resting.” He shared his other inspiration for more leisure time, as well as his favorite cities and why private planes are overrated, with Condé Nast Traveler.
His catalyst for trying to become a vacation person:
In the past five years, I’ve struck up a friendship with a gentleman named Shep Gordon. He had a documentary made about his life, directed by Mike Myers, called Supermensch. And when I saw Supermensch, I went on social media and just stalked him, like, “If anyone knows who Shep Gordon is, contact me.” Weird enough, Apollonia was like, “That’s my BFF.” So Shep, he invented the rockstar manager rule book, like everyone from Alice Cooper to Anne Murray to Teddy Pendergrass, Rick James. He’s had them all. Like me, he was a workaholic, and then one day he just walked from it all. He’s just like, “I’m letting everything go. I’m going to make relaxation my priority.” He basically opened up a utopian getaway for fellow workaholics. All you have to do is call him up and say, “Shep, I need a break.” Once a year, for the last five years, I go to Maui just to do nothing. It’s his house, and it’s really simple, a beautiful, sprawling estate. But he has the world’s best grass. There’s nothing like walking on his grass with your bare feet. That’s one of my top five feelings in the world, is just to sit and let hours go by. And that’s the thing, I go there specifically to do nothing. Sleep, sit, and do nothing. Wake up and go back to sleep. Just to unwind.
His love affair with JetBlue:
People think I’m joking, but I’m dead serious—JetBlue Mint, to me, is even better than private planes. Private planes aren’t fun at all. The only good thing about private planes is the bragging that you get to do in that 20 second walk up to the plane. Once you’re in it, there’s no space. I’m in 11-man groups, so you’re crunched in there. If you’re the kind of person that gets off on that one Instagram story that makes it look like your life is that fabulous, more power to you. But for starters, [JetBlue has] the right balance of the movies I like to watch. Right now, their whole summer is dedicated to Hitchcock. I usually catch up on the black and white films or musicals or thrillers that were done between the ’50s and ’60s that I always say I’m going to watch and never do. I’ll say that yes, I often do sometimes just go to sleep, but most of the time, if I’m on a plane, chances are I’m doing a DJ gig, so I’ll practice what my plan is going to be.