Food rotting in Haitian Ports

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Barb
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Food rotting in Haitian Ports

Post by Barb » Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:38 pm

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23507559/

As Haiti goes hungry, tons of food rot at ports
Government effort to halt corruption creates bureaucratic barriers

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti - While millions of Haitians go hungry, containers full of food are stacking up in the nation's ports because of government red tape — leaving tons of beans, rice and other staples to rot under a sweltering sun or be devoured by vermin.

A government attempt to clean up a corrupt port system that has helped make Haiti a major conduit for Colombian cocaine has added new layers of bureaucracy — and led to backlogs so severe they are being felt 600 miles away in Miami, where cargo shipments to Haiti have ground almost to a standstill.

The problems are depriving desperate people of donated food. Some are so poor they are forced to eat cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable oil to satisfy their hunger.

An Associated Press investigation found the situation is most severe in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city. One recent afternoon, garbage men shoveled a pile of rotting pinto beans that had turned gray and crumbled to dust as cockroaches and beetles scurried about.

The men had found the putrid cargo by following a stench through stacked shipping containers to one holding 40,000 pounds of beans. It had been in port since November.

"So many times, by the time (the food) gets out of customs it's expired and we're forced to burn it," said Susie Scott Krabacher, whose Colorado-based Mercy and Sharing Foundation has worked in Haiti for 14 years. "The food is there. It is available. It just can't get to the people."
Though it is unclear how much of Haiti's food supply is tied up in the port delays, the effects could be serious. Haiti imports about 75 percent of its food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And there is little room for error in a country where the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that almost half the population was undernourished in 2002.

The U.N. World Food Program and large-scale U.S. rice growers say they have been able to get their food into Haiti by hiring local agents to handle bureaucratic procedures. But smaller charities, merchants and private citizens have often been forced by the delays to throw away containers of food or pay exorbitant fees.

The problems stem in part from efforts to clean up a port system the World Bank recently ranked as the second-worst in the region, ahead of only Guyana.

Customs reform efforts
Before the changes were implemented last fall, bribes flowed freely and goods passed through unsearched and without duties being paid. That deprived the government of money and helped make Haiti a major transshipment point for Colombian cocaine destined for the United States.
The international community has encouraged Haiti's customs reform efforts, with the U.S. government helping fund port security and U.N. peacekeepers stepping up anti-smuggling patrols along the coast and Dominican border.

But new requirements for licenses and manifests in triplicate have overwhelmed poorly trained workers and the country's archaic, handwritten customs system.

Unlike U.S. ports, where less than 5 percent of containers were scanned last year and only a fraction of those opened up and inspected, Haitian cargo handlers said each container at Cap-Haitien must now be completely emptied and inspected. Customs chief Jean-Jacques Valentin said that policy was Haiti's own decision.

Frustrated by the new procedures and demanding higher pay, striking workers shut down the port at Cap-Haitien for 20 days in December. Graffiti denouncing the port's director still mars its buildings.
And despite the reforms, some say the bribes are continuing.

Jean-Paul Michaud, a Canadian, said he sailed to the capital of Port-au-Prince late last year carrying 60 pounds of donated clothing and medicine — and that port authorities demanded $10,000 in "customs fees" — code for a bribe to make the fees disappear.

"I'd have rather thrown the aid in the water," said Michaud. The Canadian Embassy intervened and the fee was later waived.

Krabacher's group says it has paid nearly $16,000 in fees in the first six weeks of 2008 alone, compared to $23,418 for all of 2007.

Lawmakers concerned about the situation questioned Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis about the port delays during a February no-confidence vote.

"There is a lot of work being done in terms of the ports," Alexis maintained. "We are looking at a way to implement a 'fast-track' policy, so people can get their merchandise out more quickly."

President urges crackdown
He also recommended splitting the National Port Authority into two agencies, one focusing on the logistics of port management and the other overseeing customs because he does not believe the current agency can handle both tasks.

Haitian President Rene Preval echoed those concerns in a speech to parliament in January, calling for a crackdown on illegal contraband and a lowering of exorbitant container fees that are three times higher than those in neighboring Dominican Republic.

After opening the door of the orange container filled with rotting beans last month, the workers were hit by a revolting smell. They let the odor dissipate for a week before spending two days loading the beans into a flatbed truck and hauling them away for disposal.

The garbage collectors grumbled about the waste of precious food, with one saying he wished he could have taken the beans to his neighborhood before they rotted. The workers then went in search of a container loaded with spoiling rice.

Dimitri Torres, the director of container-handler Cap Terminal SA., said he doesn't even know who shipped the beans. They had already been transferred from one container to another during inspection and the shipping documents had disappeared.

Valentin, the customs chief, blames the backlog on shippers who are trying to skirt the new system. He said some intended to smuggle items into Haiti and avoid customs duties.

"They are people that weren't straight with not bringing contraband, and that's why they're making excuses and that's why things are slow," Valentin said.

Cap Terminal normally has about 50 containers at its yard next to the port, Torres said. More than 200 are now stacked up, at least half belonging to Miami-based Frontier Liner Services.

That company, like several others, has stopped shipping to Haiti until the delays are resolved and its empty containers are returned. Haiti-bound cargo traffic in Florida's Miami River is at a virtual standstill.

"We've had to lay off people," said Munir Mourra, president of Miami-based River Terminal Services. "Pretty much all the stevedores on the vessels have been laid off."

Dr Roger Malebranche

Post by Dr Roger Malebranche » Fri Mar 07, 2008 11:01 am

I remember the same thing happening in the late 1950s when Haiti was hit by hurricane Hazel. There was a great deal of suffering and devastation in the South. The WORLD came to help, with donations of medical supplies and foodstuffs. The Haitian Douanes of that time behaved the same exact way. Donated foodstuffs were confiscated by the well connected politically and sold on the black market. A lot of rice and beans were left to "ROT" because the hungry poor could not afford to buy them.

Place a Haitian in foreign lands and he shines. Place him in power in Haiti and he becomes a dictator, a killer, a thief, a tyrant, a liar... mean to the marrow of his bone. And don't talk to me about the color of his skin and whether or not he is from the elite, the peasant class or whatever. Haitians seem to hate Haitians and they go out of their way to destroy each other. Is that a genetic trait? Is it the air we breathe? Am I being paranoid or is it just the human race?

Roger

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Post by Guysanto » Fri Mar 07, 2008 1:18 pm

Dr. Malebranche, when it's not easy to find the true causes of a baffling disease, we fall prey to cheap diagnostics. As a doctor, you know that.

[quote]Is that a genetic trait?[/quote]Roger, I believe you know the answer.
[quote]Is it the air we breathe?[/quote]Again, Roger, I think that deep down you know the answer.
[quote]Am I being paranoid or is it just the human race?[/quote]
Well, there are a lot of things wrong with Haitians' self-perceptions and that's just the beginning of our problems. And it might be the end as well, if we don't have the confidence to recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong with us.

WE HAVE REAL PROBLEMS!! LET'S FACE THEM WITHOUT KNOCKING OURSELVES DOWN.

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Sat Mar 08, 2008 12:22 am

If that's the case (Haitians alawonnbadè don't like Haiti), what then could we say about the Katrina tragedy?

gelin

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Post by Serge » Sat Mar 08, 2008 9:44 am

This problem at the ports, like many other prolems, illustrates the frustrations felt throughout the society, from top to bottom and the origins is always the same.

We have a sitaution in Haiti where corruption effectively blocks developpment. A Gvt. is intalled and makes the fight against corruption a big prority, - as all gvts. should. However, 1) it is a long term process for us, because corruption is so institutionnalized; 2) in this fight, it is not enough just to say you are going to fight corruption, you also have to reinforce institutions or in many cases in Haiti, build them; 3) in the process, you need a competent personnel, from top to bottom: customs experts, administrrators, inpectors etc etc. Something Haiti is dire need of, because, as you say, Dr. Malebranche, Haitians abroad have been shining in all fields, courtesy of the Duvalier dictatorship which made Haiti loose 3 generations of young competent Haitians whose sons and daughters are shining abroad now. We are paying a very, very high price now. I do not think we will live to see the rebuilding process. But yes, we will see the foundation being laid out for that process to go forward, with all its aches and pains. We'd better be ready...and patient - at least those among us who can afford to be patient.

Whether it is the courts, our diplomacy, traffic control, you name it, se menm kout baton an! Progress is being made, but brick by brick, not floor by floor.


Serge

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:06 pm

It's an unfortunate thing that should have never been repeated, but I don't quite agree with the idea that there is something wrong with Haitians as far as their ability to make right decisions in the homeland is concerned. Errors of judgement exist, as well as faults or even worse. There is alsways another opportunity to do the right thing and correct the wrong.

gelin

Dr Roger Malebranche

Post by Dr Roger Malebranche » Sat Mar 08, 2008 11:00 pm

I was happy to see the reaction from my brothers and sisters from the homeland. As we all realize, we have real problems and we need real solutions. In order to get solutions we have to rely on SERIOUS people, people who love Haiti for herself and not for the amount of money they can squirrel away from her via the national budget ( some of our leaders use it as their own private funds ), drug trafficking etc... In other words Haiti would do well to rely on the brains of its diaspora.
Duvalier started the Haitian brain exodus and I cannot blame other countries like Canada and the USA for having profited of it. They saw a good thing and they grabbed it. When I came to this country, I was well on my way ( with Haitian love and Haitian money ), to be a finished product. The USA realized that but Haitian politicians were too happy to see me out. I was brain and they thought I would be competition.
This foreign land where I was forced to find solace was delighted to provide me with food and lodging and use me as a caregiver for their citizens. I tried once to break the spell and go back but it was at the time of the Namphy's massacres and I was lucky to be able to leave just before the explosion. I have been waiting since for our land to cool down and I don't think I will ever see that. Perhaps I should look at the state of the world, Palestine, many of the African countries and think that we are not that bad after all... but then I see people going to the Dominican Republic ( which in the 1950s I looked upon with scorn ) and they rave about its beauty... and I ask myself : What happened to Haiti ? I know my history as well as anyone, I know we were not given a chance, I know we were asked to pull ourseves by our boot straps when there were no boots, I know the white word tried to squash us again and again...
but is it not about time we start some kind of unification process, working hand in hand for the progress of the Motherland ? I see RED when I am told that I am not Haitian that I am a member of a so called diaspora and that I am not allowed to contribute to making Haiti a better, safer place to live. What's wrong with our leaders ?
Unlike the USA, Canada etc... Haitians have been Haitians since the beginning of time. We are not "latter" day people. Most of us can trace our ancestry , our ties to the land to well before the 1800s. And now nearsighted politicians create some misguided rules and decide that I am not good enough to be Haitian. At the same time the are busy driving MY country into the ground. And then I have to make excuses for them !!!
Would it be that Haitians at home resent the Haitians abroad and fear that if they let them back to help and direct, the country will succeed and then they won't be able to use it anymore as their personal treasury?
Please fellows DIASPORANS, enlighten me.
Sorry to sound bitter but I see the years flying by and I feel powerless.
Roger.

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Post by Guysanto » Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:39 am

Aragorn: Posts have been editable in the past on a few occasions, resulting in attacks on forum integrity, such as members deleting the content of their posts or changing completely what they had said before. Because of this, I have completely taken charge of the editing process. It's better that we accept mistakes and post-script corrections than to have someone completely change the content of their arguments in midstream [or to erase it].

[quote]Lawmakers concerned about the situation questioned Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis about the port delays during a February no-confidence vote.

"There is a lot of work being done in terms of the ports," Alexis maintained. "We are looking at a way to implement a 'fast-track' policy, so people can get their merchandise out more quickly."

President urges crackdown
He also recommended splitting the National Port Authority into two agencies, one focusing on the logistics of port management and the other overseeing customs because he does not believe the current agency can handle both tasks.

Haitian President Rene Preval echoed those concerns in a speech to parliament in January, calling for a crackdown on illegal contraband and a lowering of exorbitant container fees that are three times higher than those in neighboring Dominican Republic.[/quote]
Is this perhaps a case of excess democratization where the Executive has become too weak or powerless? I hear a lot of talk and concern. but not enough action.

[quote]Whether it is the courts, our diplomacy, traffic control, you name it, se menm kout baton an! Progress is being made, but brick by brick, not floor by floor.
[/quote]
That is part of the problem, Serge. W'a di nou pi fò lontan nan fè bak ke ale an avan. The progress forward must be accelerated. Any suggestions?

Dunord

Port Problem

Post by Dunord » Tue Mar 11, 2008 10:04 pm

I am suffering thru this port blockage and I understand some of it. I agree with the Preval position that the corruption must be stopped though he understands that is not going happen but it may be reduced. In Okap things are starting to flow slowly but there's still a lot of containers sitting and rotting while the few inspectors open each box and record in writing each individual item. I have a few boxes in one of those containers that have been sitting since Dec.. The shipper sent the containers down from Miami with the usual paperwork and then found out the rules had changed. There suddenly had to be a complete manifest of what was in the container and the duty price was based on the true contents not at a private auction between the the government officials and the shipping agent. Now had the shipping agent known Haiti was actually going to get serious he could have been prepared. Had the Customs, APN etc guys known this was serious they could have looked for jobs that actually paid a salary and wasn't dependent upon what you could scam.
As it is turning out this entire matter is driving up prices because now Port au Prince is getting a bigger piece of the pie and the local officials certainly can't be expected to take a cut in "pay".
There is a duty schedule the government has and I have a copy but when I have shown it to some of these officials they are amazed and some even ask me if I could give them a copy.
When the government starts publishing the fees for the public to see and putting crooked port officials in prison I'll believe that they are serious. Until then I'll believe it's all only theater. We ARE good at theater among many other things including patience.
We'll just wait them out and things will return to what passes for normal here.

Gelin_

Post by Gelin_ » Wed Mar 12, 2008 7:54 pm

[quote]...Would it be that Haitians at home resent the Haitians abroad and fear that if they let them back to help and direct, the country will succeed and then they won't be able to use it anymore as their personal treasury?[/quote]
That's a possiblility. But you can also find former members of the diaspora among the traditional 'gran manjè', since 1986. Yes, the fear is there but there is NO guarantee that it won't be business as usual. What will help us is the rule of law, no more no less.

gelin

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