Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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Haïti Liberté and The Aristide Files

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Haïti Liberté editor Kim Ives was interviewed on Democracy Now! today regarding the 2,000 U.S. diplomatic cables on Haiti.

For those who have researched Haiti’s political history and are aware of the unrest surrounding decades and centuries of political instability, this is an interesting report that touches on the meddling of foreign governments in regards to Haiti’s government over the past decade and offers just a glimpse into findings that are unfortunately far from surprising – an important part of the  historical record.

Ives research found that high-level U.S. and U.N. officials coordinated a politically motivated prosecution of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to prevent him from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.

Kim Ives full report for The Nations can also be found at the following link:

http://www.thenation.com/article/162598/wikileaks-haiti-aristide-files

India-EU Free Trade Agreement and the HIV+

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We reported on a proposed India-EU Free Trade Agreement back in November that has medical professionals, activists, and patients concerned that millions of HIV sufferers in the developing world will be without the drugs they need to survive.

Today, people in India have taken to the streets to demand that pharmaceutical companies, which stand to gain enormous profits from obtaining rights to create and distribute drugs at a price they see fit, do not block access to those that need the medication to survive.

Although the European Union denies that the agreement will negatively impact India’s generic medicine industry or patients access to these medications, there is little transparency, and until a draft of the agreement is made available criticism and concern over its contents will continue from medical professionals, HIV/AIDS activists and patients.

Here is the link to our posting in November.

https://conversationswiththeliving.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/constant-state-of-emergency/

Stay tuned for production updates…

Production Diary Day: 67 + 2 Years

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10:00 PST: It has been a while since I’ve posted. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a blur. I have been so engaged in the day to day and I’m just now finding my bearings, taking note of all that has happened and wrapping my mind around what it all means.  I have even managed to go a few days without speaking to ML, which rarely happens. We will be catching up Sunday via phone.

So, we are overdue for a Conversations Production update.

Now that ML has nailed down the narrative, the few gaps that still need patching up are awaiting the expertise of a few of our contacts in Haiti. I have reached out to Dr. Marie Deschamps at GHESKIO, who has received international recognition for her contributions to HIV/AIDS care and is an incredible advocate for the women and children of Haiti.

I’ve also reached out a few times to John Dieubon, co-founder of Planting Peace, who runs the daily operations of their orphanages in Haiti. John is also the founder of Project Papillon, which manages 4 orphanages, and a neighborhood school (Ayiti Papillon Academy).

We have received word from the Rainbow House (Maison l’Arc-en-Ciel), which was founded in 1996 and is a 24-hour medical care for children receiving antiviral medication for HIV. They also serve as a residence for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and function as an outreach center for approximately 100 families affected by HIV/AIDS.  Perhaps, most importantly they provide education and training to community-based organizations, enabling them to address medical and social issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in their communities.

This message of acceptance and engagement of young individuals affected by HIV in their communities is part of what our film explores and what these organizations advocate in the communities in which they work.

So while awaiting response in order to set-up phone calls or additional correspondence, I am writing grants and making use of every millisecond available.

I’ll leave you with a thought (which is another posting altogether). With the explosion of revolutionary movements sweeping the Middle East and Africa (although with little media attention on Africa) people are making their voices heard and are demanding democracy. Rulers across the region and the world are scared that decades of control will vanish when the powerful force of the people takes hold – people willing to die for freedom from misery and the possibility of democracy. Even here in the US the assault on democracy is and has been under severe attack, and the working people and the poor have had enough.

I am left thinking about a supposed Haitian “democracy” that has proven to leave its citizens with no homes, no work, no health care, and no real government support for decades.  As the Haitian runoff elections approach, the choices Haitians are left will quite possibly lead to more of the same.  As always, our hope remains that Haiti’s next leader will oversee its government and people with an agenda for real change, but if it is more of the same, what will the Haitian people do?

Thank you for reading our production blog – please also check out and subscribe to our official site on word press for daily news updates on Haiti brought to you by GC.

http://conversationswiththelivingofficial.wordpress.com/

– LC

A New Leader Ready to Serve the People of Haiti?

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I recently had a phone call with Johnson, one of our scouts on the ground in Haiti. He blared the music of Michel ”Sweet Micky” Martelly over the phone and sang along proclaiming, “I love this music, and everyone is loving this music”. It seems many people in his Carrefour neighborhood are playing the music of “Sweet Micky” these days – but what of Martelly’s inclusion in the upcoming runoff election?

The decision to reverse the results of the candidates included in the upcoming runoff election was announced a few weeks ago after the Organisation of American States (OAS) found the original election results to be fraudulent, favoring Jude Celestin of the INITE (Unity) Party, who was supported in his campaign by current President Rene Preval.

The runoff will now include Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) Party, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. The runoff has been rescheduled for March 20 and people are asking the same question that was posed months ago – should there be new elections altogether?

The decision to reverse the results of the first round polls was met with relative calm on the streets, but the question of legitimacy regarding the initial elections and the upcoming runoff elections is a major topic of conversation among human rights advocates, political analysts and Haitian citizens alike. Many displaced Haitians and registered voters were unable to cast their ballots, and several candidates, even entire parties, were excluded from running in the race, including the Fanmi Lavalas party, a political party with major popular support in Haiti.  Even though the argument against the exclusionary elections was made prior to the initial elections, US and foreign governments supported the Haitian Electoral Council’s flawed process.

Now with the OAS results, although not accepted by the Haiti’s Provi­sional Electoral Council (CEP), the US and the United Nations (UN) welcome the decision and hope that Celestin’s exclusion will “clear the way for a more stable political climate and allow international aid efforts to be stepped up”, however many question the intentions of the US and foreign governments and criticize their interference both before and after the elections. Human rights groups believe that the US government used its tremendous power and influence to determine the outcome of the first round of elections and “denied Haitians the opportunity to express their will.” One can’t help but ask how western economic interests played into the support of the initial elections, how they are currently manipulating Haitian politics, and why the typical pattern of exploitation has in no way ceased since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

The US has always used its influence as a powerful nation to get what it wants from the poorest countries in the world. Although the election results were in question, the final decision to exclude Celestin was forced upon Haiti, “literally under the threat of starvation.” The US has yet to manage distribution of promised aid to the country since the devastating earthquake and is using delivery of this aid and continued support to even further impose their will over the people in their struggle for democracy.

Even with Celestin excluded, most people are still missing the point – the elections were a fraud from the beginning. Many argue that the two candidates now participating in the runoff do not represent the people, and most would argue that neither does Celestin.

Haiti is entangled in an intense political crisis and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research believes, “This attempt to impose an illegitimate government on Haiti will backfire.” Haitian civil society groups, political parties, the Congressional Black Caucus and several U.S. human rights groups are calling for new, inclusive elections as the only practical solution to Haiti’s election crisis.

To make matters more complicated, the runoff elections are following the controversial return of previous president and dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on January 16th, who has run into corruption and human rights charges. And more recently news that the Council of Ministers has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa for almost seven years, following a 2004 US backed coup d’état has stirred up further controversy. Both men bring with them a history tainted with decades of political instability, civil unrest and corruption.

Aristide still has a lot of popular support, as he was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, and said recently that he is ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time”, but has yet to return.  Some fear his return could upset an already confused presidential and legislative elections process.

Preval’s mandate has formally ended, but parliament has approved his stay until May 14th so he can hand over to an elected successor.

The innumerable issues present both before and after the January earthquake only fuel the tensions surrounding Haiti’s upcoming runoff elections. Democracy in Haiti has a long way to go, and her most vulnerable and under-represented citizens continue to hope that what will come of this lengthily and flawed “democratic” process is a new leader ready to serve the people of Haiti, but most, quite justifiably, have their doubts.

– LC

“Baby Doc” Duvalier Returns to Haiti

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News hit yesterday that Former Haitian president, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, 59, has unexpectedly returned to Haiti after 25 years in exile, primarily in France.

A Brief history – “Baby Doc” was the ruler of Haiti from 1971-1986. He succeeded his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier as “President for Life” upon his father’s death in 1971, becoming the world’s youngest president at the age of nineteen. He remained so until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986, when he was ousted by a revolt after his family and supporters were accused of stealing millions of dollars in government funds.

“Baby Doc” was incapable of properly running the country, resulting in no substantial or essential changes to his father’s regime, which was a dictatorship, based on corruption, repression, and human rights violations. Like his father, “ Baby Doc” relied on the Tontons Macoutes, a brutal militia that controlled Haiti through violence and intimidation.

Many of the youth in Haiti were not alive when “Baby Doc” he was forced into exile, but they have inherited the country that was left behind, and are aware of his legacy, that with the support of the United States government and France crippled the Haitian economy and its people in nearly every way. Although he has a small base of support, how the majority of Haitians respond to his return, both young and old will solidify if he is welcome in Haiti or not. The Haitian people have struggled to have their voices heard and were possibly never more silenced than during the reign of the Duvaliers.

When asked why he chose to return now after nearly three decades, he simply stated that he has “come to help”. His current wife, Veronique Roy, has been doing most of the talking, and has expressed that “Baby Doc” was supposedly moved by the images of the year anniversary of the January earthquake and the recent portrayal of Haiti in the media – begging the question – when in the past 25 years hasn’t Haiti been portrayed poorly by the mainstream media? When haven’t the images accessible on major TV news and Internet been appalling and ripe for concern? Why has he really decided to return now?

Some claim he is broke after years in exile and from his divorce; others think it is a tactic to intensifying the confusion in the post-election political crisis and was planned by current President Rene Preval. Human rights groups are pushing for his immediate arrest and detainment for theft and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency, while they acknowledge his right to return to his home country, they are demanding justice for the Haitian people.

It has been said that the majority of Haitian leaders have been thieves and liars, it just depends on who you talk to in Haiti – so what of the return of Aristide? This too is said to be on the horizon.

Neither is said to be returning as a presidential candidate, yet as a civilian to “help” the people of Haiti.

Aristide’s Return?

Demonstrators are demanding the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Many Haitians feel he is the only one who cares about Haiti’s situation and ever really had the interests of the Haitian people in mind.

Once again it depends on who you ask, but he was the only democratically elected president is Haiti’s history. He received 67% of the popular vote, landing him the presidency from 1994 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2004 before he was ousted in February 2004 by a US orchestrated coup d’état against him, when he was forced into exile in South Africa.

The people of Haiti are calling upon President Rene Preval to keep his promise that he made over four years ago during his election to allow Aristide to return to Haiti. This has yet to happen although Aristide has expressed his desire and intentions to return.

During his exile Aristide has maintained a large support base, especially with the poor in Haiti, which is the majority. The exclusion of his party Fanmi Lavalas, a populist leftist party in Haiti, in the recent November Presidential elections was a subject of great debate.

Amidst the results of a November 28 election and allegations of vote rigging by the current party in power, the return of “Baby Doc” and possible return of Aristide is a cause of great concern, especially now as Haitians exist in a constant state of crisis and political and civil unrest. The people are already, and for good reason, up in arms. There is a lot of history, inexplicably brutal and painful history with these two men that one must understand in order to understand the current state of Haiti.

Haiti’s people (Her greatest asset) are ready for change – to move forward, but must be given a chance with leadership that is willing to take responsibility for Haiti and her people, and many fear that the return of these former leaders, even as civilians, will not only complicate the political environment, but create even greater chaos in a nation plagued by one disaster after another.

We will be following the news regarding Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s return and the possible return of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Please also follow us on Twitter for updates.

-LC

January 12th – 1 Year Later

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So, it’s been almost one full year since the cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Port Au Prince and it’s outlying areas. Haiti’s already unstable infrastructure and volatile political structure took a violent  hit; one that may potentially take another century to fully recover from.

In the quake’s aftermath we saw the international community stand up in a show of solidarity; vowing to help this unfortunate island state to rebuild. Countries all over the world pledged billions of dollars and endless amounts of manpower to assist in recovery.

Out of the spotlight celebrities and politicos worldwide dusted off their camouflage and khakis, without a doubt tweaking their press conference speeches on chartered Gulf stream jet rides to the Dominican Republic, as they prepped for the cameras documenting their forays across the St. Domingue/Ayiti border.

Hell, we even had Haitian politicians finally fessing up and promising to put aside their petty banana republic ideological differences and do what’s best for the country.

In the US, Haitian Americans and ex-pats united in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the 4 H’s in the 1980’s. Haitian groups were organizing, planning, plotting, and pontificating at an insane rate; guided by the simple premise of rebuilding this once proud nation into the land that L’Ouverture and Dessalines would have envisioned. There were fund raisers, records, and conversations with the UN. We even united Bubba and Dubya!

Haiti was finally on the map, and for those of us that lost family and possessions on January 12, 2011, there was hope. Then a funny thing happened over the next year.

Absolutely nothing.

Gede Greg Cee

Constant State of Emergency

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Photo Courtesy of Bryan Fletchall

The people of Haiti are fighters. A glimpse into the history of this proud and spirited nation will reveal that even amongst the most intense suffering; Haitian people are proud of and embrace their heritage, their culture, and their country.

There are so many incredibly beautiful things about Haiti; there is so much good lost and forgotten amidst the tragedy. As so rightly stated by Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat, “I think Haiti is a place that suffers so much from neglect that people only want to hear about it when it’s at its extreme. And that’s what they end up knowing about it. “

The people of Haiti are beautiful, their roots run deep, and their telling story of strength and resilience is one that has been written out of the history books. Even as they exist is a constant state of emergency, historically underserved and under acknowledged, they continue to fight and hope for a better future for Haiti and her people. Haiti’s historical suffering bleeds into the present, an ever-gaping wound of injustice, making the inaction of both Haitian and foreign governments to the continued crisis unsurprising, as it is nothing short of dismal, if not criminal.

Amongst the flooded tent cities surrounded by rubble, the cholera crisis deepens, killing hundreds and infecting thousands. Haiti has long struggled with poverty and disease, both directly linked to the nation’s history of exploitation by foreign powers with sinister agendas; agendas that have claimed millions of lives for the sake of international interests.

Curable and Manageable Disease

Curable and manageable disease has killed millions of people in Haiti and other developing countries for decades, even while the medicines to treat the affected population are available. The affected populations’ inability to access these medications is a human rights violation of the most basic and harmful kind. International government policy has long dictated access to these medications and a major component in facilitating their effective use – proper nourishment, i.e. food and water.

Impoverished governments unable to afford medications and trade agreements that have controlled the production, distribution and affordability of food and medicine have put Haiti and other developing countries in a constant state of emergency, because they have not had the opportunity to even build, let alone maintain a proper health care, industrial or agricultural infrastructure.

The current cholera epidemic in Haiti is another hurdle amongst a series of obstacles in a nation of fighters. The struggle to combat cholera is all too familiar, as Haiti has battled high infection rates of malaria, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS in the past and continues to in the present. Money and bureaucracy have always managed to hinder access to life-saving medicine, and as a result lives continue to be lost.

With limited access the major factor in determining the welfare of millions in mind, the following section discusses a pending trade agreement between the European Union and India that threatens to even further decrease access to medications in developing countries.

Pending Trade Agreement Possible Threat to HIV Sufferers

Patent laws have created a system where pharmaceutical companies stand to gain enormous profits from obtaining rights to create and distribute drugs at a price they see fit to gain profit with little regard for those who need access them. High demand equals expensive medicine and healthy profits for developers, while those who need the medications the most can’t acquire them. Simply, the pharmaceutical industry, without argument, control’s the fate of the world’s sick.

A possible international trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and India has medical professionals, activists, and patients concerned that millions of HIV sufferers in the developing world will be without the drugs they need to survive.

India’s generic pharmaceutical industry competes with these profit driven drug producers. Having been coined the “developing world’s pharmacy”, India, under its patent laws produces generic drugs that are distributed around the world, “bypassing a system designed to ensure drug developers are rewarded with a period of exclusive sales rights for new medicines.” As a result India has become the source of medicine for many of the world’s developing countries in order to treat the critically ill.

With access to generic drugs, the cost of treating patients with HIV has fallen from around $10,000 dollars a year in 2000 to just $70 a year today.

Not only has India’s generic production of medicines meant that its own population has benefitted from access to life-saving drugs, but as stated by Hans V. Hogerzeil, Director of Medicines Policy and Standards at the World Health Organization, “at least half of the five million Aids patients in Africa already on treatment rely on Indian generic medicines for their treatment.”

Although the European Union denies that the agreement will negatively impact India’s generic medicine industry, until a draft of the agreement is made available criticism and concern over its contents will continue from medical professionals, HIV/AIDS activists and patients.

Individuals infected with HIV/AIDS and other diseases can live long and productive lives if provided adequate nutrition and medicine. If treatment for the critically ill is made available and lives can been saved in developing countries where food, clean water and medical supplies are difficult to come by, a diagnosis once tantamount to a death sentence can be regarded as a manageable disease.

A link to the full article regarding the pending trade agreement is below.

Link: http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/2010/10/2010102920031160477.html

– LC