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#1598: Haiti's renewal slow, and painful ... (fwd)


Haiti's renewal slow, and painful 
Profound misery abounds as foreign powers curtail aid tory
By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 12/27/1999 

This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 12/27/1999. 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Somehow he slept. He slept despite a 
stomach-turning stench. He slept through the roar of televisions,  
radios, and other prisoners yelling across the room. He slept on a
threadbare cot.It was a passing moment in a prison regarded as Haiti's
finest, inside a 1,200-square-foot cell where 154 prisoners are locked
up 23 hours a day.They steal sleep when they can, and if they are
fortunate, like the man with  his right arm over his ear and eyes, they
get to use one of the 11 beds.It sounds miserable, and it is, yet this
is better than it was a few years ago. Before, the prison held 400 men
in a single room, none of whom had hope  of freedom without a
revolution.Therein lies a hidden truth about Haiti today: The misery is
so profound that it often masks the signs of incremental progress as the
country tries to build a democratic and civil society from scratch.     
Five years after 20,000 US troops invaded the nation in order to restore
a  democratically elected government ousted in a military coup, the task
is increasingly being left to the Haitians themselves. International
donors are pulling back because the crisis has passed and the results of
their giving, as  measured by yardsticks used in the developed world,
have been so meager. The United States, the largest single donor,
infused more than $2 billion in assistance to Haiti in the last four
years, and it will put up another $100 million next year. But keeping
the funding at that level in the future could prove difficult, as
Republicans in Congress have increasingly questioned  whether US funds
are netting positive change. Haiti's prisons, long regarded as the worst
in the hemisphere, stand as a telling example of the steps already
taken, and the leaps still needed. The  room stuffed with 154 prisoners,
for instance, is one of the few areas in the National Penitentiary that
has not been rebuilt. The rest were constructed  with $2.4 million in
foreign funds.''The prisons used to be a place where human beings were
put and kept like  animals,'' said Jean-Paul Lupien, a Canadian prison
reform specialist who has led efforts here for the past four years.
''People would die, and no one  would know. It's much better now. It's
day and night.''In late 1994, when the US troops landed, no one even
knew how many  prisons there were under Haiti's brutal military regime.
No one had a count of the prisoners themselves. 

Since then, authorities have completed the arduous tasks of exploring
the prisons, investigating the prisoners' cases, putting together a
bureaucratic structure, rebuilding cellblocks, constructing infirmaries,
installing pipes for water and plumbing and wires for electricity, and
then training guards. But  huge problems remain.''Going into jails here
is still like going back to a few centuries ago,'' said Lupien, 56, a
former warden at a medium-security prison in Cowansville, Quebec, 15
miles north of the Vermont border.  Dozens of needed projects have not
been touched. Six jails do not have a  single vehicle, so guards
transport prisoners to court on foot. One jail has no  roof because the
walls can not support one. Another lockup has no walls:freedom is a step
away outside the cellblocks.
  At the National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince, which holds
2,040 prisoners, nearly half the population of Haiti's 19 jails, the
drop in international funds is already apparent. For a year, there has
been no money to train guards, and the number of foreign advisers
working on improving the prisons has slipped from nine to one: Lupien.

 For the next three years, he has commitments of just $422,000 toward a
  proposed $6 million foreign assistance package for prisons. He fears
that  they will lose much of what they had gained.  ''We are already
starting to considerably slide backward now,'' he said as he  walked
along the national jail's two-story high walls. ''It's particularly    
apparent here.'' With agitation, he pointed out several places where
things have gotten   worse, not better. Inmates lounged inside
guardhouses. Prisoners wandered  into areas once off-limits. And when
Lupien entered a brand-new, three-story jailhouse that inmates have
called the Titanic, he pointed out that  some cellblocks had plenty of
beds, but others did not. Rich prisoners buy    mattresses from poor
inmates. The prison system does not have enough money for beds.

 But the biggest problem for the prisons is outside the walls in the
form of the rest of Haiti's dysfunctional system of justice. Some 80
percent of all  prisoners have yet to be sentenced. Some are awaiting
trials four years after  arrest. Last month, Justice Minister Camille
Leblanc asked 15 civil court judges and  prosecutors to resolve all
pending cases before the end of the year. No one   believed that would
happen.   Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in a rare interview,
said he  believes it should not happen. The reason, he said, was that
the system was  already riddled with corruption, and speeding up the
process risked complete collapse. One of the most pervasive indicators
of corruption has   been the widespread and suspiciously quick releases
of people arrested on drug trafficking charges, he said. ''The kind of
corruption we have in the system is so ugly, so rooted in the      
years of dictatorship,'' Aristide said in his home office. ''It took
years for the  Jewish to see the light of justice'' after the Holocaust,
'' and it may take some  time for Haitians to see justice coming from
the judicial system. I prefer to go  slower rather than going too fast
using illegal means.'' In 1995, Aristide experienced bitter results when
he tried to circumvent the  Haitian constitution, which was written in
1986 at the end of the Duvalier  family dictatorship. He attempted to
shift the prisons from police to civilian  control, but parliament
overruled Aristide on constitutional grounds.Democracies around the
world are careful not to have police control prisons  because of the
obvious conflicts. For prisoners, the issue of police or civilian
control matters little now. What  matters is getting a court date.

 In the National Penitentiary's courtyard, one old prisoner sat by
himself.  Under prison regulations, Lupien said, he shouldn't have been
there. He was  Ernst Bennett, 74, the wealthy one-time father-in-law to
Jean-Claude ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier. Bennett, attired in pressed slacks
and a shirt, said he was  arrested for not paying taxes on buildings
seized long ago by the  government. He laughed quietly.''I've waited 16
months for trial,'' he said. Asked whether if he was a political
prisoner, Bennett said, ''No comment.''He looked away and changed the
''I am going to Miami when I am released. I will spend one month in
Miami  and then go to France. I don't have any visitors here. I don't
want any. I  send somebody out to get my food. That's how I live.''
 He lives on the top floor of the Titanic, a floor reserved for the
prison's  wealthiest and most notorious inmates. Three police officers
charged with killing 11 people in May are there. A former French soldier
was in another, sharing it with five other inmates, including
Henri-Robert Laforest, who operated a security company. He was charged
with attempted murder, he said.''I am for justice for everybody,'' he
said through the bars. ''I am a democrat.  The system is not working.
They should give grace to 99 percent of us.  Because people are here for
nothing. There's a guy who stole a bike and  he's been here for three
years.'' Lupien said the prisons will probably see a new flood of
inmates in coming  years because of increases in economic crimes and
drug-related crimes.  Haiti is a major transshipment point for drugs
from Colombia on their way to the United States. He stepped into the
cell with 154 prisoners and spoke easily in French to a   few of the
inmates. Chenetmu Metellus, 32, stepped forward and welcomed  the
visitors. ''There are one or two too many of us here,'' Metellus said, a
smile  spreading across his face. He stood above the man who slept on
the prized  cot. He stood above another man who slept on a sheet on the
concrete floor. The sleepers didn't stir. ''I sleep good, too,''
Metellus said. ''I have one of the beds. We get into   quite a few
fights, though, because, you know, there are a few of us here.''

                  This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on