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Visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Viewed from a distance, Port-au-Prince seems a pleasant and mellow Caribbean port city:

port-au-prince

Once one is out on the streets though, the fact that all is not well in Port-au-Prince soon becomes apparent. And the January 12, 2010 earthquake only served to push Haiti closer to the top of the Failed States Index… Destruction, dysfunction and desperation abound:

port-au-prince earthquake damage

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port-au-prince

port-au-prince

port-au-prince wreckage

port-au-prince

The desperation of this scene left an impact on me… The man in this picture is eating a dead rat he found amidst the sea of burning trash around him:

port-au-prince

This used to be an elite bank. Now it is a breeding ground for cholera and a rubble-strewn lot being taken over by those who lost everything in the earthquake:

haiti refugee camp

As one makes their way toward the center of Port-au-Prince and the Champs de Mars, the streets become more crowded:

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

The Champs de Mars is where the National Palace is was and where the Bicentennial Monument celebrating independence from France in 1804 can be found… The Bicentennial Monument survived the earthquake:

port-au-prince bicentennial monument

The National Palace – the official residence of the Haitian president – was not so fortunate:

port-au-prince national palace

port-au-prince presidential palace

Nor were the surrounding government ministries:

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

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All of the open spaces in the Champs de Mars area have been completely taken over by massive refugee encampments.

Nearby are the remains of the Port-au-Prince Cathedral, also known as the Notre Dame Cathedral:

port-au-prince notre dame church

The roof and the towers flanking the main entrance collapsed in the earthquake, although the lower parts of the walls remain standing. The Archbishop and the Vicar General both lost their lives in the earthquake and they have not been replaced.

Past the Champs de Mars and the Cathedral, one will find the chaotic street markets:

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

In the middle of the market area is the site pictured below… This used to be a school. When the earthquake started, the children inside rushed outside only to be buried under the collapsing buildings around the school. Dozens were killed and a number of their bodies are still beneath the rubble. There are sites like this all across Haiti and the only reason this one stood out on this day was because the fixer we hired had known some of the children:

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

The below is an example of the many fertile breeding grounds across Haiti for all manner of diseases… Very often we observed Haitians lowering buckets into the fetid sewers running beneath Haiti’s streets and drawing up the milky green waters for bathing or drinking. Sometimes they would just scoop the water up out of the gutters. And all too often such moves would be preceded by us having just seen someone purge themselves into the gutter or kick some vile item into the mix:

port-au-prince

These women in the iron market did not really care for having their picture taken. In fact, Haitians in general do not like having their picture taken:

port-au-prince

Despite the impression of crowding and chaos likely created by the above pictures, one can find instances of solitude in Port-au-Prince:

port-au-prince

Along the waterfront… Just a few blocks away is the anarchy of the city center:

port-au-prince

Even the ubiquitous taptaps, the preferred method of transportation in Haiti, seem to vanish along the waterfront:

port-au-prince taptap

The streets are so deserted in this area that it is almost eerie:

port-au-prince

port-au-prince

Haiti’s decline is remarkable. It was once the wealthiest colony in the world and is now one of the poorest countries in the world.

***

This is Milfort Bruno, the fixer we hired to show us around the Port-au-Prince area. His prices are very reasonable ($40 a day), he’ll get you into some great places and he saved our lives which is more than enough for someone to earn a thumbs up in my book. You can contact him via the phone number in the background of this picture or if you stay at the Hotel Oloffson, you can ask anyone there for Milfort Bruno and they will direct you to him (his shop is just across the street):

port-au-prince milfort bruno

8 thoughts on “Visiting Port-au-Prince, Haiti

  1. THIS has the potential to make things interesting…

    From the Guardian:

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide defies US by heading back to Haiti

    Exiled former president on flight to Port-au-Prince accompanied by Hollywood actor and campaigner Danny Glover

    * Isabeau Doucet in Port-au-Prince and David Smith
    * guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 March 2011 19.27 GMT

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former president of Haiti, is expected to end seven years of exile by touching down in Port-au-Prince on Friday, defying Barack Obama’s concerns that his return could jeopardise the country’s election.

    Aristide left his base in South Africa, accompanied by the Hollywood actor and campaigner Danny Glover, who is chairman of the TransAfrica social justice forum.

    Such are Obama’s misgivings that he called Jacob Zuma, the South African president, to discuss the matter, according to US National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor.

    “The United States, along with others in the international community, has deep concerns that President Aristide’s return to Haiti in the closing days of the election could be destabilising,” he said.

    “President Obama reiterated that view in a call with President Zuma the other day … along with his belief that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government through peaceful, free and fair elections [on 20 March].”

    US state department spokesman Mark Toner has acknowledged Aristide’s right to go back to Haiti, but said returning this week “can only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections”.

    Aides say Aristide fears the election winner may reverse the long-awaited decision to allow his return – both candidates are rightwingers long opposed to him. Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban, said: “He is genuinely concerned that a change in the Haitian government may result in his remaining in South Africa.”

    Kurzban claimed that even at the 11th hour the US was exerting pressure on South Africa to delay Aristide’s flight, which took off on Thursday night from Johannesburg’s Lanseria airport.

    The former priest and liberation theologist’s diplomatic passport was delivered last month, and the South African cabinet minister Collins Chabane said the government could not be held responsible for whether he stays or goes.

    “What I should stress is that we are not sending former president Aristide to Haiti,” Chabane said.

    “He was given the passport by the government of Haiti and we can’t hold him hostage if he wants to go.”

    Glover arrived in South Africa on Thursday to escort the ousted leader home. He asked why the former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier could return to Haiti unhindered – as he did in January following 25 years in exile – and yet not the twice democratically elected Aristide.

    “People of good conscience cannot be idle while a former dictator is able to return unhindered [and] a democratic leader who peacefully handed over power to another elected president is restricted from returning to his country by external forces,” Glover wrote on the TransAfrica Forum website.

    Glover and nine others recently wrote to Zuma urging him to “assist the Aristides in making their transition as soon as possible” as “all the last remaining obstacles to the Aristides’ return have been removed”.

    Aristide, who emerged as a leading voice for Haiti’s poor in a popular revolt that forced an end to the Duvalier family’s 29-year dictatorship, remains hugely popular in the country. Some predict his return will brings tens of thousands of supporters to the airport.

    He has said he will not be involved in politics in Haiti and wants to lead his foundation’s efforts to improve education in the impoverished Caribbean nation devastated by an earthquake last year.

    His political party has been excluded from running in the election, which many Haitians consider illegitimate. The two remaining candidates received just 10% of the first-round votes between them.

    This would be Aristide’s second return from exile. He was ousted by a military coup in 1991 but Bill Clinton, when he was president, returned him to power in 1994 following a US intervention that forced out the military regime.

    Aristide fled Haiti again in February 2004, leaving before dawn on a US plane as rebels approached the capital. He accused American diplomats of having kidnapped him, charges that Washington denied.

    He continues to have powerful enemies in Haiti. The same forces that made him leave in 2004 will consider his return to be a threat, and foreign powers that bankrolled the elections will also see him as a destabilising influence.

    The first round was marred by massive fraud, with voters unable to find their names on electoral rolls and polling stations closing early – or not opening at all. Voter turnout was at a 60-year low – only 22.9% of those registered actually cast ballots. In areas most affected by the earthquake the figure was half that, and it is not yet clear the situation will be vastly improved this time.

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  4. Pingback: Disaster Tourism Destinations | The Velvet Rocket

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