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#3878: Witness to Desperation (fwd)

From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

Witness to Desperation
Americans Learn Firsthand Dilemma Facing Haitians

By Kathryn Kross

"Some of the women and children were dressed up in Easter Sunday-looking
outfits, and some of the women even had high heels....They thought they
were going to somewhere where they needed to look prosperous, so they
could fit in."

 This is how Louise Berry described what she and three other Americans
saw when they happened upon a group of Haitian boat people on a deserted
island in the Bahamas. Berry, her husband, Peter, and another couple,
Jack and Carol Ogden, had seen video of Haitian boat people in the past,
but never understood the depth of their desperation - how willingly
Haitians risk their lives to flee their country.

It was dusk, late April. Jack and Carol, who spend their days sailing
the Caribbean, were lounging on their boat anchored off a deserted
Bahamian Island. They were sipping drinks with their friends Peter and
Louise. The couples had planned this rendezvous for months.

 As the placid afternoon wound down, they saw the tip of a mast on the
other side of the narrow island, then a ragged sail. Then people, a
dozen stumbling to shore.

 A dozen people turned into two dozen, turned into a hundred, turned
into more than two hundred. Many were convulsing, vomiting,
hallucinating, clearly suffering from dehydration.

The Ogdens and the Berrys began ferrying fresh water from their boats to
the shore. One person was dead at the water's edge. Eight, they learned,
died during the trip, their bodies cast overboard.

 The Americans tried to establish order on the crowded beach and to
minister to those most critically ill. By nightfall, most of the
Haitians were given a few cups of water. Carol Ogden worked in the bow
of her sailboat, frantically trying to contact the U.S. Coast Guard,
passing sailboats or Bahamian authorities.

During the night, a 17-year-old boy swam out to sea and drowned himself.
He knew he hadn't reached Miami; he knew he would eventually be returned
to Haiti. He preferred to die. His mother cried on the shore.

The Haitians had traveled for six days on the open sea, in an
overcrowded boat with no navigational equipment. They spent two days
without food and water under the tropical sun. Eight died along the way.
Three were found dead on the island. Many spent their life savings to
pay for passage to Florida. More than a few told the Americans they
would make the trip again.

By morning, the U.S. Coast Guard airlifted the most critically ill to
Nassau. Those remaining were returned to Haiti by Bahamian authorities.
It remains uncertain what has happened to these individuals.

 Said Jack Ogden to ABCNEWS' Nightline: "When I see these people on
television now, I won't just see them with my eyes and my head. I'll
feel it in my stomach."

"Some of the people showed us what appeared to be evidence of bullet
wounds, of burns...They talked about their arms being cut off with
machetes if they came back [to Haiti]."
- Dr. Peter Berry

"To hear the sound of the chanting and the wailing coming from the beach
through the night...I knew that something dreadful had happened. And I
remember just crying...I wish people could feel the pain that we saw on
that beach."
- Carole Ogden

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