World SPECIAL REPORT

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT IN HAITI

N.M. April 1 1996
World SPECIAL REPORT

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT IN HAITI

N.M. April 1 1996

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT IN HAITI

It is their heavy gold jewelry that catches the eye as wealthy Haitians board the plane in Miami for Port-au-Prince. In cool linen and light silk, they are on the way home from visits to family or business associates—one in five Haitians lives abroad, primarily in Miami, New York and Montreal. Back in the Haitian capital they stay, literally, above the fray, in fancy neighborhoods up in the hills. No garbage festers in the streets of Pétionville, for instance, because the residents pay to have it privately collected. The daily power outages are a nuisance but not crippling, since most in the area have private generators in their homes or businesses.

There will always be rich and poor, especially in the developing world. Yet there is something shocking about a Rolls-Royce crawling up a gutted dirt road in a place where almost two-thirds of the population subsists on less than $140 a year.

Far below Pétionville, in the Cité Soleil slum, there is a stench so pervasive that local residents no longer smell it. Barefoot children negotiate laneways clogged with decomposing garbage that flows down from the wealthier hills every time it rains: the muck stops here. Home to more than The Cité Soleil 250,000 of the Port-auslum: a walled Prince poor, this wastewasteland of land among the world's 250,000poor slums is walled off near the capital’s port, an angry jungle where few outsiders dare venture. Even the police fear the areas known as Cité Soleil 17 and Boston. There, criminal gangs such as the so-called Red Army control the turf.

In a squalid section known as ’Ti Haiti (Little Haiti), 80 children fill a classroom run by Catholic missionaries. Often, 162 crowd inside. Seven-year-old Güito Lafaille wants to become a mechanic. His sister Clecia, 18, wants to be a doctor, a heart-

breakingly ambitious dream. The sole hospital in the slum has just closed. On an average day, the police find five bodies in Cité Soleil, most of them victims of natural causes. “It’s frustrating. I don’t see anything changing for them,” says RCMP Const. Nathalie Heppell, one of the UN police that helps patrol the area. Not far away, locals dip buckets into the salty harbor. Their hopes are on a concrete cistern towering at the edge of the slum, intended to provide drinking water to the community. When the politicians will fill it, nobody can say.

During Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s 16 months in power, there was little evidence of a redistribution of wealth. Aristide, who had claimed to be an advocate of the poor, himself lives in a gated and guarded mansion

more opulent than 24 Sussex Drive. Acres of new villas with a view are under construction nearby. “I can count 65 families that have become millionaires in the last year,” says Senator Julio Larosiiière. Larosilière, who ran unsuccessfully for president, says it is up to Aristide’s successor, René Préval, to change Haiti’s traditional brand of politics, where power and money rule and leaders are out of touch with the mass of desperate Haitians. “Most people in today’s government don’t even have kids in Haiti,” he says. “They have no house in Haiti. They don’t have one chicken in Haiti.”

N.M.