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Postponed Haiti Runoff Endangers Presidential Handover

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, (TNS)

The head of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council says it’s impossible to organize a presidential runoff in time for the country to meet a Feb. 7 constitutionally-imposed deadline for the handover of power from one elected president to another.

Pierre-Louis Opont made the revelation Monday in a letter to President Michel Martelly, who had been told that Jan. 17 is the latest date a second round could be held in time to meet the constitutional deadline. The letter was issued hours after a five-member elections evaluation commission issued a damning report discrediting the council and raising questions about the integrity of the much criticized Oct. 25 presidential and legislative vote.

“Twelve days of preparation will not be sufficient to complete the process prior to the elections,” Opont wrote while noting that the council, known as the CEP, had yet to receive the report of the “Independent Electoral Evaluation Commission formed by the executive.”

Opont’s change of heart on the elections came four days after he informed Martelly that the CEP was ready to hold the presidential runoff on Jan. 17. The news prompted Martelly to announce during a Jan. 1 Haiti independence day commemoration in the city of Gonaives that in the coming days, he would publish “a decree inviting the people to vote Sunday, January 17, 2016.”

On Monday, his hand-picked successor Jovenel Moise continued to outline his areas of priority for the country should he be elected, while noting that “we are ready to sit down and talk” with opposition candidate Jude Celestin whom he is supposed to meet in the presidential runoff.

But instead of preparing its 5.8 million voters to head to a second round, Haiti on Monday appeared to be moving closer to a transitional government as the political crisis continued to unravel. That reality, say sources, has prompted a visit by U.S. Ambassador Thomas Shannon, counselor to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry. Shannon will be tasked with not just trying to salvage an electoral process that is being clouded by doubt and ongoing protests, but also the installation of the 50th Legislature.

Weeks after final legislative results were announced by the CEP, Martelly has yet to publish them in the official gazette. Meanwhile, the president of the Senate has warned that the law prohibits the sitting of the newly elected lawmakers until the entire electoral process is completed. Haiti’s parliament dissolved in January 2015 amid a political crisis and overdue parliamentary elections, forcing Martelly to rule by decree.

With no newly-elected president on the horizon and 35 days left before the end of Martelly’s five-year presidential term, there’s building speculation in Haiti about the fate of the presidency. The question is whether Prime Minister Evans Paul will be allowed to stay after Martelly’s departure to organize elections within three months, or would Martelly remain until May 14 — the actual date he took office — even though the amended constitution doesn’t authorize an extension of his mandate?

Scheduled for Dec. 27, the presidential and legislative runoffs as well as local elections were postponed by the CEP until further notice. The decision was announced just days before the balloting amid the ongoing electoral crisis triggered by the lack of confidence in the elections and the CEP. The postponement of the runoff prompted both the U.S. and United Nations to urge Haitians to work out their differences in order to inaugurate a new president by Feb. 7.

Official results give government-backed candidate Moise 32.8 percent of the votes compared to Celestin, the former head of the state construction agency, with 25 percent. Celestin and the opposition have refused to recognize the results, alleging massive fraud in favor of Moise. Moise has refuted the allegations, saying that he knows “500,000 people voted” him.

He also dismissed Opont’s position over the fate of the runoffs, saying he prefers to wait on the executive’s response given that there are two other Sundays in January before Martelly leaves office.

Adding to the country’s woes, an alliance of eight opposition presidential candidates, responding to the commission’s elections report, on Monday reiterated its call for the creation of a provisional government to complete the election process and the resignation of the CEP.

Though the alliance, dubbed the G-8, had refused to meet with the commission and continued to bash its composition, it noted that the report’s findings bolstered opposition claims that the vote was tinted by vote-rigging and ballot stuffing.

The report, among other things, has called for a deeper verification of the vote to establish if there was “massive fraud,” and recommends sweeping changes in the electoral machine including in the membership of the CEP before a second round. Members found that the vote was marred by egregious irregularities and a high presumption of fraud. For example, 57 percent of the audited documented lacked the signature or fingerprint of voters, while only 8 percent had no irregularities.

The report, however, failed to say who benefited from the irregularities and fraud, prompting the opposition alliance to accuse the commission of being afraid of its own inquiry.

“The commission is unable to identify who are the candidates who have qualified for the second round and to indicate that the results obtained by each candidate involved in the race,” Samuel Madistin, an attorney and former presidential candidate, wrote on behalf of the G-8. “The cowardice of the members of the commission makes it impossible in such conditions to continue with the electoral process.”

©2016 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Michel Martelly, President of Haiti. OAE-OAS, via Flickr

Catholic Nuns Target Of Violence In Haiti

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald (TNS)

Even before one of them put a shotgun to her throat screaming “Money, money!” Sister Marie de la Croix knew what the intruders wanted after being awakened by rocks raining down on the house next door.

The noise was soon followed by gunshots, and then the cries for help of Father Louis Marie.

The home invasion robbery last month in the isolated hillside community of Aux Cadets in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was the latest incident in a puzzling crime spree.

Since November, at least 27 religious communities, mostly nuns, have been the target of 39 attacks in six regional departments, Roman Catholic Church officials say. Convents have been ransacked, nuns beaten, and in the case of Father Marie, shot four times and left for dead.

So far, no one has been killed, although a traumatized nun died in surgery and another slipped into a coma after attacks. Officials declined to confirm reports that several have been raped.

“Some communities have been hit three, four times,” said Brother Herve Zamor, head of the Conference Haitienne des Religieuses (CHR), which oversees Catholic groups operating in Haiti. “These are communities that don’t have money. There has to be another reason. We believe there is a hidden motivation behind it. What? I don’t know.”

The brazen criminal acts come as Haiti sees a huge drop in kidnappings but a disturbing spike in gun- and gang-related violence. Statistics from the Haiti National Police, the United Nations, and the National Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission show that since the summer, the security climate has been worsening, with police struggling to control violence.

The crime is mostly concentrated in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of Haiti’s homicides. And while Haiti still boasts one of the lowest homicide rates in the region, with 10.5 people killed per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the U.N., there is deep fear of it all unraveling as the country prepares to shoulder most of the responsibility in organizing three elections in the coming months.

The political uncertainty, coupled with the drawdown of half of the country’s U.N. peacekeeping force and the continued challenges by police in deterring crime, make the religious attacks even more troubling.

“Every time we have elections in Haiti, there is always a wave of insecurity,” Zamor said. “There are always people looking to destabilize the situation.”

Politically motivated violence against the Catholic Church isn’t unheard of in Haiti, where the church has long played a leadership role in mediating the political crisis. But never before have nuns been “systematically attacked,” observers note.

“It’s really hard to believe and I can’t figure out what’s really going on,” said William O’Neil, a longtime human rights lawyer who has been involved with Haiti. “It seems like it’s something more than pure robbery. But what and who is behind it, who knows?”

Last week, police announced they had dismantled the gang responsible, arrested five suspects and had a manhunt for ten others.

Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers said the gang targeted the nuns because “for them, they only deal with their Bibles, their rosaries,” and won’t fight back.

“All sectors [of society] have condemned this,” Desrosiers said, “and we the police, didn’t remain passive.”

Desrosiers’ words should have brought a sense of comfort. But doubts and concerns linger, underscoring even the clergy’s lack of faith in Haiti’s police and justice systems.

“We are not satisfied. We expect more than one hundred people to be arrested,” said Monsignor Patrick Aris, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince. “We are very far from dismantling these gangs. The police, the government have to do more.”

Aris said the attacks started in November but it wasn’t until January that they began noticing a pattern.

“Every time they attacked us, we called the police. They never came on time,” Aris said. “They always had a reason — sometimes they didn’t have equipment, they don’t have a car.”
De la Croix and Sister Marie de l’Evangile were sleeping when the bandits arrived on foot at 12:30 a.m. on March ten. Hearing the noise, de la Croix called police. The inspector said he would send someone right away.

Moments later, the bandits were staring into de la Croix’s living room. After shooting Father Marie in his shoulders and hands and smashing him in the head with a rock, they broke through her front door.

“Give me money, money,” de la Croix said one of the men screamed. She handed him $100, but he wasn’t satisfied.

“Are you crazy? We want $15,000,” he screamed.

“I have nothing else,” de la Croix responded.

L’Evangile, who tried to help Marie, was also hit in the head with a rock. Soon, people from the community came, scaring the bandits away, said de la Croix, who is with the Fraternite Notre Dame order.

Afraid to drive down the mountain after the robbers fled with a cellphone, camera, laptop, $310, and their religious rings, de la Croix waited for police. They arrived three hours after her call.

“They said they got lost,” she said.

Marie was initially treated at a U.N. hospital and transported to the United States. Since the attack, neither woman has slept in the community where they provide health services for 2,000 families.

“We don’t know what we are going to do,” de la Croix said. “It’s really painful. So many people rely on us, especially at night when the women are giving birth and we are not there to help.”

Jocelyne Colas, the executive director for the National Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission, said the weakness of Haiti’s police force makes it difficult to have confidence that they have caught the culprits.

Colas’ criticism about the police aren’t new. In a 2014 report, Human Rights Watch said despite the priority given to police reform, “the weak capacity of the Haitian National Police (HNP) contributes to overall insecurity in the country.”

“There is negligence by the authorities and a lack of political will to take responsibility to apply the law and prevent violence,” said Colas, who called for a disarmament campaign after the group’s latest crime report showed increasing violence.

“The attacks against the religious communities, for us, simply shows the lack of capacity of the authorities, the lack of investigation and prevention. Even when they succeed in arresting someone, there are no guarantees they will be judged,” Colas said.

Zamor echoes her sentiment.

“The justice system in Haiti is weak,” he said. “What is to say they won’t release [those arrested] and then they return to persecute the religious groups? They only got five of them; ten are still at large. The danger is still there and at any moment they could return.”

Zamor said church officials asked police to increase patrols in areas where communities are most vulnerable. Police instead proposed that they hire private security, a proposition that neither the Church nor the poor communities they serve can afford.

“We want the police to assume its responsibilities,” he said. “It is frustrating when the person who is supposed to give you security isn’t there and then when he arrives, he never does so on time.”

Zamor said the Catholic church has no intention of pulling out missions, which are working in some of the remote reaches of the country operating schools, orphanages, and health clinics. There is, however, serious consideration about cutting back those services to help protect the nuns.

Photo: Vision Vocation Guide via Flickr

Obama Administration To Allow Thousands Of Haitians To Legally Enter U.S.

By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald (MCT)

MIAMI — Thousands of Haitians who have been waiting to reunite with U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident family members in the United States will now have a chance to do so — up to two years before their immigrant visa for a green card may be issued.

Beginning next year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will implement a Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) Program to expedite family reunification for eligible Haitian family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are living in Haiti and have already been approved for a family-based immigrant visa.

The major policy shift announced Friday comes nearly three months before the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, which launched a campaign by immigration and Haitian advocates to speed up family reunification for Haitians, some of whom have been waiting as long as 12 years in the immigration pipeline.

But after 80 pieces of support, including letters signed by the entire South Florida congressional delegation and 17 editorials in nearly a dozen major U.S. newspapers, some had given up hope that such a program would happen.

“There have been more political letters than I can count,” said Steve Forrester, who has led the effort as immigration policy coordinator for the nonprofit Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

Forrester hailed the announcement, although it doesn’t cover immediately the approximately 100,000 Haitians whose I-130 visas have already been approved for a potential green card.

Under the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program, Haitians authorized parole will be allowed to enter the United States and apply for work permits but will not receive permanent resident status any earlier than when their priority date is due.

“It’s a good first step in the right direction and we’re pleased and gratified that they have finally done something helpful,” Forrester said. “This isn’t a gift. They did this because of how Haiti is. This will save lives and reunite families; and hopefully generate some remittances for Haitians in need.”

But Forrester and others say that all will depend on how quickly the program is implemented. The implementation date has not been decided yet, and DHS on Friday could not say how many people would be eligible to come to the United States in the first year.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami/Haitian Women of Miami, said while the program is limited in scope, activists remain grateful to the Obama administration for hearing their collective voices.

“After five long years of organizing locally and nationally, we are elated by the Obama administration’s decision to create the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. But we understand that the plan will only cover those who are only two years away form their priority date,” she said. “It is our estimation that we are talking about a little over 5,000 people.”

“At least we have our foot in the door. But we will continue to work for the rest of the group who are qualified, to get them the opportunity to be reunited with their family members because they have been waited for so long,” she added.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the deputy secretary of Homeland Security who had met with Haitian community activists over the years about the issue, said the parole program promotes a fundamental underlying goal of the U.S. immigration system, family reunification.

It also addresses another concern of the United States, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Haiti since the earthquake.

“The rebuilding and development of a safe and economically strong Haiti is a priority for the United States,” Mayorkas said, adding that the parole program “also supports broader U.S. goals for Haiti’s reconstruction and development by providing the opportunity for certain eligible Haitians to safely and legally immigrate sooner to the United States.”

With the announcement, immigration officials are also strongly discouraging Haitians from taking to the high seas in dangerous voyages to reach the United States.

“Such individuals will not qualify for the HFRP program and if located at sea may be returned to Haiti,” Mayorkas said.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

Secretary-General Says U.N. Has ‘Moral Responsibility’ To Help End Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald

UNITED NATIONS — In his strongest statement since a deadly cholera epidemic arrived in Haiti nearly four years ago, the head of the United Nations said the global body bears “a moral responsibility” in helping the Caribbean nation end the outbreak.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made the declaration in an interview as he prepared to visit Haiti, where he will travel to the region where the contamination happened and meet with families hard hit by cholera. Detected 10 months after Haiti’s Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, the waterborne disease has killed more than 8,500 people and infected 704,000.

Since then, the United Nations has refused to admit responsibility for cholera, which scientific evidence and its own independent panel of experts suggest was brought to Haiti by Nepalese troops stationed at a military base in the Central Plateau region.

Nor has the U.N. offered an apology, which victims and their families are seeking, along with compensation, in three different lawsuits filed in U.S. courts.

“Regardless of what the legal implication may be, as the secretary-general of the United Nations and as a person, I feel very sad,” Ban said. “I believe that the international community, including the United Nations, has a moral responsibility to help the Haitian people stem the further spread of this cholera epidemic.”

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe called on the U.N. last fall to take “moral responsibility” for cholera, and after the U.N.’s independent human rights expert on Haiti earlier this year demanded “full compensation” for cholera victims. In the Feb. 7 report, Gustavo Gallon criticized the silence while publicly disagreeing with the U.N., which has rejected compensation and invoked immunity in the legal cases.

“The diplomatic difficulties surrounding this issue must be overcome to ensure the Haitian people that the epidemic can be stopped in the shortest possible time frame and pay full compensation for the damages suffered,” Gallon said.

By the U.N.’s admission, foreign donors have been slow to contribute to a $2.2 billion, ten-year cholera elimination campaign that Ban began in December 2012 with the presidents of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. The organization has struggled to even raise an initial $400 million it says is needed in the first two years to contain the epidemic and build clean water and sanitation infrastructure.

Getting donors will be a key focus during his visit, Ban said, noting that Haitians “have suffered a lot” under the world’s worst cholera epidemic. The way to prevent a repeat of cholera, he said, is to help Haiti address the root causes, poor sanitation.

“The international community has been struggling to overcome this global financial difficulty, and we have so many crises happening at the same time around the world,” said Ban. “That is one reason why we have not been able to effectively mobilize.”

And while the humanitarian crises have also put pressure on Ban to reduce the size of the military mission in Haiti, observers say they believe donors are holding back for other reasons.

Some blame Haiti fatigue, which has some donors reassessing and reducing financial aid to the country. Others say the U.N.’s refusal to accept that leaking sewage pipes at its base were to blame for cholera spreading, is also a factor.

There is also Haiti’s ongoing political gridlock, which continues to threaten the staging of long-overdue local and legislative elections in October.

With every disagreement, observers say, Haiti’s politicians get further from reaching a compromise for the elections.

“My political message to Haitian leaders, government and parliamentary leaders, will be that it’s crucially important that this election be held as agreed and scheduled in October,” Ban said.

Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Shipwreck Off Haiti Could Be Columbus’ Santa Maria

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — A top underwater explorer says he is certain that he has found the Holy Grail of shipwrecks — Christopher Columbus’ long-lost Santa Maria flagship used in his initial voyage to the New World.

Barry Clifford said he discovered the ship’s remains near the coast of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti, where the Spanish explorer reported in his journal that it had run aground on Christmas morning in 1492. Years earlier, Clifford photographed what he now believes to have been a 15th century wrought-iron lombard or cannon that has since disappeared.

“There are only seven lombards that have been found in the Western world,” Clifford told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “We found the eighth, exactly the distance where Columbus said he lost the Santa Maria.”

The Santa Maria ship drifted into a reef and had to be abandoned. Columbus ordered sailors to build a fort nearby in Haiti before sailing the remaining two ships — La Nina and La Pinta — back to Spain to report his findings.

The claim, which still needs to be verified, has its share of skeptics, including another underwater explorer who also believed he had discovered the remains of the Santa Maria while snorkeling in 1987 off Haiti’s northern coast.

“There is a lot of water, a lot of history around Haiti, and there have been many, many shipwrecks along the coast of Haiti,” said Daniel Koski-Karell, whose 1991 mission to confirm his hunch was thwarted by political turmoil.

But should the scientific evidence of the wreckage pan out this time, the discovery would solve a more than 500-year-old riddle that has plagued historians and marine archaeologists, and been the subject of many failed explorations. It would also help in the rebranding of a country struggling to rebuild four years after a devastating earthquake, and desperately trying to reshape its image in the world.

“It would be a tremendous discovery for Haiti,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the Herald.

Lamothe, like others in the government, aren’t breaking out the champagne just yet.

But a confident Clifford, who says he’s been in touch with Haitian President Michel Martelly, is already envisioning a traveling exhibit of the wreckage that would be “a positive statement from Haiti around the world.”

“This ship that changed the course of human history needs to be protected and preserved for the Haitian people; that is much more valuable than gold,” he said. “This is an irreplaceable resource for the Haitian people.”

Clifford won’t provide the precise coordinates of the wreckage, only that it’s on a reef in less than 20 feet of water in an area not larger than two football fields.

He is concerned, he said, that what’s left will be looted and said he has asked Martelly to help preserve the site until a scientific diving expedition and underwater archaeological excavation can be conducted to determine whether the materials are consistent with the late 15th century ship.

If research findings indicate that the shipwreck is likely the Santa Maria, a full excavation will be undertaken, under the auspices and full ownership of the Haitian government, Indiana University’s Office of Underwater Science said Tuesday. The university plans to conduct a full investigation, possibly as early as this summer, to determine whether the finding is the Santa Maria.

“The evidence looks very compelling,” said Charles Beeker, a leading maritime archaeologist and director of the university’s underwater science program, who recently joined Clifford on a reconnaissance expedition to the site.

Clifford said he has since discovered that the cannons had been looted, presumably “taken to the Dominican Republic and sold to treasure hunters.”

The cannons were first photographed in 2003 during an expedition of the site, but were misdiagnosed by the team, Clifford said. It was only on further investigation of the photographs, he said, that he realized the shape was consistent with the Columbus-era vessel.

Furthering his belief, he said, was the discovery of Columbus’ La Navidad fort in 2003, two miles from where previous archaeologists had looked. The wreckage is 4.7 miles from the fort.

“It was precisely where Christopher Columbus said it would be,” he said of the Santa Maria. “It isn’t nuclear science.”

Columbus had written about the ship’s misfortune in his journal, which has become a treasure map for many a explorer. In it, Columbus told how his crew, with help from the native Indian population, had salvaged much of the ship and used the material to build a fort, La Navidad.

It is precisely these details that Koski-Karell, the archaeologist and underwater explorer, said make him skeptical of Clifford’s claim.

“Why would he leave cannons on the Santa Maria if he salvaged so extensively? There is a saying, in general, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Koski-Karell said.

Koski-Karrel also questions how Clifford, whom he considers to be “a competent individual,” could misidentify a cannon of that period given its uniqueness. He said since his first visit to Haiti in 1977, he has returned many times.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any conclusive proof fort Navidad has been found,” said Koski-Karell, who wrote his dissertation on the archeology of northern Haiti and conducted excavations with teams from the University of Florida. “To me, it’s a skeptical claim. I could possibly change my mind if I were allowed to review the evidence of it.”

Clifford said more could be revealed after he revisits the site in June.

Photo: jacquemart via Flickr

Shipwreck Off Haiti Could Be Columbus’ Santa Maria

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — A top underwater explorer says he is certain that he has found the Holy Grail of shipwrecks — Christopher Columbus’ long-lost Santa Maria flagship used in his initial voyage to the New World.

Barry Clifford said he discovered the ship’s remains near the coast of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti, where the Spanish explorer reported in his journal that it had run aground on Christmas morning in 1492. Years earlier, Clifford photographed what he now believes to have been a 15th century wrought-iron lombard or cannon that has since disappeared.

“There are only seven lombards that have been found in the Western world,” Clifford told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “We found the eighth, exactly the distance where Columbus said he lost the Santa Maria.”

The Santa Maria ship drifted into a reef and had to be abandoned. Columbus ordered sailors to build a fort nearby in Haiti before sailing the remaining two ships — La Nina and La Pinta — back to Spain to report his findings.

The claim, which still needs to be verified, has its share of skeptics, including another underwater explorer who also believed he had discovered the remains of the Santa Maria while snorkeling in 1987 off Haiti’s northern coast.

“There is a lot of water, a lot of history around Haiti, and there have been many, many shipwrecks along the coast of Haiti,” said Daniel Koski-Karell, whose 1991 mission to confirm his hunch was thwarted by political turmoil.

But should the scientific evidence of the wreckage pan out this time, the discovery would solve a more than 500-year-old riddle that has plagued historians and marine archaeologists, and been the subject of many failed explorations. It would also help in the rebranding of a country struggling to rebuild four years after a devastating earthquake, and desperately trying to reshape its image in the world.

“It would be a tremendous discovery for Haiti,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the Herald.

Lamothe, like others in the government, aren’t breaking out the champagne just yet.

But a confident Clifford, who says he’s been in touch with Haitian President Michel Martelly, is already envisioning a traveling exhibit of the wreckage that would be “a positive statement from Haiti around the world.”

“This ship that changed the course of human history needs to be protected and preserved for the Haitian people; that is much more valuable than gold,” he said. “This is an irreplaceable resource for the Haitian people.”

Clifford won’t provide the precise coordinates of the wreckage, only that it’s on a reef in less than 20 feet of water in an area not larger than two football fields.

He is concerned, he said, that what’s left will be looted and said he has asked Martelly to help preserve the site until a scientific diving expedition and underwater archaeological excavation can be conducted to determine whether the materials are consistent with the late 15th century ship.

If research findings indicate that the shipwreck is likely the Santa Maria, a full excavation will be undertaken, under the auspices and full ownership of the Haitian government, Indiana University’s Office of Underwater Science said Tuesday. The university plans to conduct a full investigation, possibly as early as this summer, to determine whether the finding is the Santa Maria.

“The evidence looks very compelling,” said Charles Beeker, a leading maritime archaeologist and director of the university’s underwater science program, who recently joined Clifford on a reconnaissance expedition to the site.

Clifford said he has since discovered that the cannons had been looted, presumably “taken to the Dominican Republic and sold to treasure hunters.”

The cannons were first photographed in 2003 during an expedition of the site, but were misdiagnosed by the team, Clifford said. It was only on further investigation of the photographs, he said, that he realized the shape was consistent with the Columbus-era vessel.

Furthering his belief, he said, was the discovery of Columbus’ La Navidad fort in 2003, two miles from where previous archaeologists had looked. The wreckage is 4.7 miles from the fort.

“It was precisely where Christopher Columbus said it would be,” he said of the Santa Maria. “It isn’t nuclear science.”

Columbus had written about the ship’s misfortune in his journal, which has become a treasure map for many a explorer. In it, Columbus told how his crew, with help from the native Indian population, had salvaged much of the ship and used the material to build a fort, La Navidad.

It is precisely these details that Koski-Karell, the archaeologist and underwater explorer, said make him skeptical of Clifford’s claim.

“Why would he leave cannons on the Santa Maria if he salvaged so extensively? There is a saying, in general, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Koski-Karell said.

Koski-Karrel also questions how Clifford, whom he considers to be “a competent individual,” could misidentify a cannon of that period given its uniqueness. He said since his first visit to Haiti in 1977, he has returned many times.

“To my knowledge, there has never been any conclusive proof fort Navidad has been found,” said Koski-Karell, who wrote his dissertation on the archeology of northern Haiti and conducted excavations with teams from the University of Florida. “To me, it’s a skeptical claim. I could possibly change my mind if I were allowed to review the evidence of it.”

Clifford said more could be revealed after he revisits the site in June.

Photo: saranhiox via Flickr

Northern Haiti Port To Be Expanded After U.S. Fails To Get Investors For New Facility

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — After months of unsuccessfully trying to get private investors to cough up millions of dollars for the construction of a new, multimillion-dollar port in northeastern Haiti, the U.S. government is scratching its plans and will instead revamp the existing port in the city of Cap-Haitien.

“The private sector was markedly unenthusiastic about investing in a new port,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the decision, but not authorized to speak publicly.

The new Fort Liberte port would have cost between $185 million and $257 million, and the U.S. government had committed to investing $70 million. A new port was viewed as being critical to the success of the nearby $300 million Caracol Industrial Park because the park’s five companies mostly ship out of ports in the neighboring Dominican Republic, a loss of valuable dollars to the Haitian treasury.

“This is a huge loss for Fort Liberte,” said Sen. Jean-Baptiste Bien-Aime, who represents the area and had long accused the Haitian government and U.S. officials of dragging their feet on the new port’s construction. The delay, he said, benefited Dominicans, while the latest decision hurts the people in his community who were looking forward to the port for job creation.

“The park will keep shipping out of the Dominican ports and the people of Fort Liberte will get nothing,” he said.

A South Florida bipartisan congressional delegation that recently visited Haiti said they “commend the new change of strategy, but unfortunately, we lost many years in the process.”

The private sector’s lack of enthusiasm was first made public last summer when the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a critical report on how U.S. taxpayers money was being spent in Haiti by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“USAID officials recognize that there is a risk that no private company interested in operating the port would be willing to cover the entire remaining costs of construction, particularly given the political risks of operating in Haiti,” the GAO report said.

Sources say port operators who were approached raised several concerns about making such a huge investment in Haiti. Some raised concerns about the viability of a second port in a region where the current port can handle up to 3,000 containers a month, but averages about 380. Others cited Haiti’s dysfunctional regulatory environment and port operations.

The Bay of Fort Liberte was first chosen as the potential site for a new port in 2011. And while Haitian officials said its construction was critical to revitalizing the north’s economy, the port was controversial. In 2012, U.S.-government hired marine biologists exploring the bay’s waters found a rich biodiversity of turtle grass, corals, mangroves and marine species.

Soon after, President Michel Martelly, who had promised the people of Fort Liberte he would build them a port, signed a presidential decree declaring the area protected. The decree practically killed construction plans.

So far, there is no cost estimate on how much it would cost to revamp Cap-Haitien’s port, though sources say it will be far less than a new port. Still, the notion of rehabilitating the port was initially discarded because of concerns over the cost of dredging; building a bridge to help containers bypass the congested traffic; the need to build a break-wall in the ocean to del with currents, and the difficulties of expansion because it is located in a congested, developed neighborhood.

Photo: saranhiox via Flickr

Haiti Government Reshuffles

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald

Haiti’s government is undergoing yet another makeover.

As part of a political deal to help build confidence in upcoming elections, Haiti announced a Cabinet reshuffle Wednesday — at least the fifth since President Michel Martelly’s May 2011 inauguration.

The changes include several new faces in the government, and the return of a familiar one: Former Minister of Economy and Finance Marie-Carmelle Jean-Marie will return to the job a year after she abruptly resigned amid frustrations over how the country’s shoestring finances were being handled.

Also joining the government in Port-au-Prince will be Haiti’s longtime ambassador to the Organization of American States, Duly Brutus, and Miami Consul General Francois Guillaume.

Brutus, who celebrates 10 years at the OAS this month, will serve as foreign minister, replacing Pierre-Richard Casimir. Guillaume has been appointed minister in charge of Haitians Living Abroad. His appointment comes 10 months after fellow South Florida resident Bernice Fidelia resigned after a Senate investigation into her nationality.

The Cabinet was officially announced late Wednesday evening — via Twitter by Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe — after a day of speculation, horse trading and changing names. It is part of a package of agreements the executive, parliament and some opposition parties signed off on after two months in negotiations mediated by the Roman Catholic Church.

The negotiations were aimed at breaking a crippling political impasse in hopes of staging long-overdue legislative and local elections. The ongoing crisis has triggered anti-government protests and discontent in Haiti, which is still struggling to recover from its devastating January 2010 earthquake.

Late Tuesday, the chamber of deputies took a pivotal step toward elections by unanimously passing a draft electoral law setting the ground rules for the fall balloting.

It is now up to Haiti’s Senate, where six of the 20 members said in a letter to the Senate president that they object to the political deal clearing the way for the electoral law to be voted upon. But a lot is at stake, including international donor support.

“Haiti continues to show great promise and we want to continue to support them,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), said after returning from an overnight visit Saturday. “One characteristic of a democracy is you have to have elections and govern democratically.”

Deputy Levaillant Louis-Jeune, a former president of the chamber, said the electoral law was approved with some caveats.

They include: interim mayors wishing to run for local office must resign 15 days after the electoral law is published; if the first round of balloting doesn’t take place by Oct. 26, then at midnight that day the term of the electoral commission will end.

Deputies also agreed to remove a requirement that 30 percent of the slate be female, and instead agreed that the government should provide financial incentives to political parties to encourage female participation.

UN Photo/Marco Dormino. www.un.org/av/photo/