Tet Mon 20th Anniversary

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 marked the 20 year anniversary of the Jean Marie Vincent Forest on Tet Mon. The forest was the first major initiative of the reforestation program that is now housed at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepen, Haiti. A barren hillside 20 years ago, Tet Mon is now home to over 200,000 trees. From the beginning the vision for Tet Mon was that it be a model project to demonstrate the impact of reforestation. Father Ronel Charelus (Father ChaCha) recalls:

It was a pilot project for the whole country. We had a conviction that if we were able to make this tree planting in Gros Morne successful, there would come to be many other places in the country that would be interested in this project. 

Father ChaCha also explains the connection to Jean Marie Vincent,

We chose to give the project the name of Jean Marie Vincent, a Montfortain priest who was assassinated on 28 August 1994. Why did we choose Jean Marie? We chose him because he had a dream for Haiti. His dream was for all peasants to have life, to live like people. This dream is for the country of Haiti to be covered with trees one day. It was an audacious project. But he had conviction in God and he also believed in people. For Jean Marie, the hope of the country lay in planting trees. He put this awareness in the lives of all of the school children. Jean Marie died, but his dreams are not dead. We can say that he is still here with us. Grepen will always remain a reference for all of the Montfortain priests who want to continue the work that Jean Marie was doing in the country of Haiti.

As with everything that is done at the Grepen Center, the celebration was itself part of an educational event – the Third Annual Agricultural Conference at Grepen.

The celebration of the forest began with a blessing at the tree nursery at the Grepen Center.

People then hiked up to the top of Tet Mon for a ceremony at the Gazebo that sits at the peak.

And, of course, what better way to celebrate the forest than to plant a new tree.

We like to think that the celebration of the forest marks the beginning of the next 20 years of work together with our partners in Gros Morne. Over the previous 20 years the program has grown from this one effort on Tet Mon, to a multifaceted initiative that engages grassroots activists in educational programs throughout the region of Gros Morne. We have been truly blessed to walk with our friends in Gros Morne and with those of you who have joined in support of their dream of a green Haiti. 

We hope you will join with us in celebrating this achievement.

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Haiti Update

Political stalemate continues, migration news and celebrating 20 years in Gros Morne

Photo: Estailove St. Val/EPA-EFE

The political crisis in Haiti continues to unfold. President Moïse remains in office despite a year of demonstrations demanding his resignation. Haiti has had four prime ministers during that time. Jack Guy Lafontant was forced to resign following massive protests last July that launched the country into the current period of instability. His replacement, Jean Henry Céant, was forced out after a no-confidence vote in Parliament following another round of national protests in February of this year. Céant’s replacement as acting prime minister, Jean Michel Lapin, was put forward in April. However, Moïse nominated another official, Fritz William Michel, as prime minister on July 22, because Lapin was unconfirmable. Michel must still present his government and policy platform to Parliament before he can govern. As a result

In reality, Haiti has two prime ministers. There is Michel, who is technically prime minister under the country’s amended 1987 constitution. And there is Jean-Michel Lapin, who officially announced his resignation after Moïse chose Michel on July 22, but remains in charge. Neither one, however, can enter into any legal accords.

The opposition, united in calling for Moïse’s resignation, is otherwise divided over tactics and what comes next should Moïse step down. Those who have mobilized to create a new society confront not just the current government, but those who simply want to replace the current cohort in controlling the existing apparatus of the state. At the official level, the House of Deputies has gathered three times in the last week to vote on an opposition motion to hold impeachment proceedings against Moïse. As of Wednesday this week, the vote has not yet happened – postponed indefinitely over security concerns. While President Moïse remains unpopular in the streets, he has sufficient support in the House of Deputies to most likely avoid the supermajority required for an impeachment vote – if the proceedings ever get that far.

The international community…

Meanwhile, the “international community” seems content to hold out for new elections, currently scheduled for October for parliament and local offices. As always, the hope for international actors is to both control the outcome and provide a veil of legitimacy over institutions under strain. The contradiction embedded in that model continues to escape the would-be doyens of international order, chief among them the United States foreign policy team, the same crew that facilitated Moïse’s tenure in office to begin with. It is the Catch-22 of the moment. Elections are probably necessary and will solve nothing unless deeper structural reforms are instituted; so there is an actual choice when people go to the polls in October. The U.S. government, not big on actual choices (especially when they lead to reform), will direct the process as best it can through funding conditions, and hope for the best. What could go wrong? 

Of course, until there is a government to form the electoral commission and pass the electoral laws needed to proceed, there will be no election. 

The standard of living in Haiti continues to fall as prices go up, investment stalls, and everyone seems to be in a holding pattern to see what happens next. Among the chief concerns is food insecurity.  In announcing a nine million euro emergency aid package, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations noted, 

In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically and the country is facing serious food shortages. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people in crisis situations or facing food emergencies doubled to 2.6 million, i.e. 25% of the population. Furthermore, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five remains high, and above World Health Organization (WHO) emergency levels in several locations, including the Nord-Ouest department. (emphasis added)

The nine million euro package will provide food security for 130,000 people.

The International Monetary Fund staff came to an agreement with officials in Haiti this past March for a $229 million loan, at a concessional rate (0% interest, repaid over a three year period). While this represents an infusion of money that might otherwise be welcome, this is the IMF and so, yeah, strings. Among the strings are budget reductions mandated in order to ensure “debt sustainability.” The IMF does not just hand out money in a lump sum, instead issuing “tranches” periodically, and only after staff review conditionalities put in place in the policy realm to ensure “progress” is being made. Currently the lack of an actual government is complicating final negotiations for the aid bill – which will be, at best, a mixed blessing. Remember that it was IMF pressure to end fuel subsidies last year that sent an already angry community out into the streets and brought down Lafontant’s government.

Migration policy

Press conference on Haitian Family Reunification Program. Photo: Miami Herald

The combination of political instability and a collapsing economy has led many Haitians to look elsewhere for places to settle. Over the last year, there has been an increase in people seized at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and naval patrols from other Caribbean states. There has also been an uptick in people from Haiti at the U.S./Mexico border. For some, arrival is complicated by the fact that they are arriving via Brazil or Chile where many Haitians resettled in the ten years since the earthquake and in some cases started families. The governments of Brazil and Chile have become increasingly anti-immigration amidst their own economic woes. Haitians have been a particular target of new laws to limit resettlement, especially in Chile.

In the United States, the list of efforts to limit migration for Haitians and to make it more difficult for them to stay in the United States continues to grow. 

As a result of the Trump administration’s not renewing Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in 2018, 40,000+ Haitians were facing removal proceedings this summer, starting in July (as well as the question for many about what to do with their U.S. born children). However, the effort to cancel TPS for Haiti (and other countries) has been tied up in court, and federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration in two separate cases involving Haiti. Both cases are still under appeal, but the result is that TPS remains available for Haitians for the time being – through at least December of this year and likely well into next year. It is not, however, secure long-term.

Last year the Trump administration decided to end Haiti’s participation in the federal H-2A and H-2B guest worker program. The program had benefited some Haitian farmers and laborers seeking to come to the United States as temporary, seasonal workers.

In the past few weeks, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service agency announced formal suspension of the Haitian Family Reunification Program, a special program that allowed Haiti family members awaiting visas – and otherwise fully qualified – to be allowed into the United States on a parole basis to wait out final determination here. The program had resettled just over 8,300 Haitians since 2014 – though USCIS had not issued any new invitations to Haitians to participate in the program since Trump took office.

20 years of partnership in Gros Morne

Here at the Quixote Center, we continue to work with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center near Gros Morne, Haiti on reforestation and sustainable agriculture. The forest celebrates its 20th Anniversary on August 28 this year. 

August 28 is the day in 1994 that Jean Marie Vincent, Montfortain priest, and strong advocate for Haiti’s peasantry, was murdered. Father Vincent argued against a charity model of working with the poor. His vision was an empowered community, in control of its own destiny. 

At the Formation Center, this vision still guides the work. The program is run by our partners in Gros Morne, in relation with the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and other local organizations. In this way, the program is responsive to the immediate needs of the community, as determined by the community itself. 

Over 20 years we have planted 2 million trees. But the real story is in the hundreds of workshops, thousands of family gardens, and the mobilization of 34 parish communities that form the Caritas network in the parish.  

In the context of the current political crisis, the importance of this work becomes ever more clear. Food security and independence is a necessary component of any sustainable future for Haiti. As Geri Lanham recently wrote, the project in Gros Morne has demonstrated its value to the community over the last year. 

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What political crisis means in Gros Morne, Haiti

Entrance to Jean Marie Vincent Forest, Gros Morne

Over the last year there has been a recurring cycle of protest sparked by ongoing anger at the current government. The underlying causes are complex, touching on a number of themes, but central to the frustration is the increasing cost of living that is driving people into more and more desperate conditions. Alongside of the daily struggle, corruption has emerged as a specific target of frustration as it manifests the insular world of Haiti’s wealthy class which continues to dominate political institutions. The PetroCaribe scandal, where dozens of politicians and well connected friends were found to have syphoned off billions in subsidized oil revenue for projects never completed, or, in some cases, never started has become a focal point for demonstrations demanding the resignation of president Jovenal Moise.  

Below, Geri Lanham, who works with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne, discusses what the crisis has meant in Gros Morne and some of the hopeful ways the community has responded.

Gros Morne is known for being a calm place where people go about their daily business of trying to support their families without much fuss. This daily endeavor is not without hardship, and is made more difficult by the lack of transportation and electric infrastructure, but it is generally carried out in a manner of purposeful action where each person strives to manage his or her affairs to the extent that he or she is able. This all happens within the local network of the eight communal sections of Gros Morne, which are connected via local markets and businesses which try to keep up a trade to more or less enable those people who are engaged within the network to strive to make ends meet. Hunger still very much exists in the zone, but thanks to local efforts to support and expand agrarian activities and family connections abroad, there are genuine attempts to lessen this daily struggle to provide basic needs. Life is difficult here, without a doubt, but the people of Gros Morne are incredibly resilient in the face of hardship. 

The recent recurring episodes of insecurity in the country have negatively impacted Gros Morne and the capacity and network that people here have worked hard to create in order to support their families. When the roads to the south toward Port-au-Prince are barricaded with roadblocks due to political frustrations, this means that the merchants of Gros Morne cannot resupply. Prices rise when everyday goods like eggs and flour become scarce, and when the roads open again, these prices do not fall back to the level where they were originally. The real difficulty is when local salaries for professionals who work in education and healthcare do not rise in response to these increased prices, and so the purchasing power of this professional class decreases. The merchants then lose some of their regular clients who can no longer afford to buy at the same level at which they had before the scarcity, and their network shrinks. 

When gas is not resupplied regularly to the four gas stations in town, transportation costs rise. This impacts virtually everyone in town who use the moto taxis to get where they need to go on a daily basis. Profit margins fall for small merchants who need to transport items farther out into the countryside, as well as for moto drivers, who realize that they cannot raise their taxi prices more than what people are willing to reasonably pay even when gas purchased on the black market is more expensive. People who were able to “make it” previously now find themselves in a difficult situation of needing some other activity or connection to fill the gap caused by the price increases which are the result of these roadblocks. 

With the transportation disrupted, people in Gros Morne felt the impact of these national strikes. This led to the desire from some in town to join in the protest activities to show their own frustrations and commiserate with their country people who are all very frustrated by the current situation of the unsustainable high cost of living. This disgruntled feeling manifested itself in a day of general protests in Gros Morne, which involved a group of people marching down the main roads, erecting rock barricades along the national highway that passes through town, and generally voicing their discontent with the status quo. Then the next day, all was back to business as usual, as people went about the daily struggle to provide for their families, which is only becoming more difficult. 

One positive ongoing change to emerge from these national protests and the disruptions that they have caused is a local desire for people to become more self sufficient in their food sources. The local agronomy team in Gros Morne, along with various community organizations, is striving to teach people techniques for increasing their garden yields and introducing them to new crops in order to fortify the local capacity to supply the nutritional needs of the population. Local women’s groups are supporting one another in efforts to create small front yard gardens of vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and okra, while community organizations are creating communal gardens to plant crops like corn, okra and sweet potatoes. Local farmers are receiving formation to plant a new variety of yams and are using land preparation techniques like double dug gardens to respond to the lack of rainfall in the zone. As families begin to identify the assets such as land, which they already have, they are then able to use what they learn from agronomy formations to put the land into use in an attempt to respond to the hardships facing their families. Coordination between leaders out in the communal sections means that different zones are planting different crops, so that they do not drive prices down when they bring their harvest to the central market in the town of Gros Morne. These small efforts are beginning to show results as everyone strives to go about living by finding creative ways to deal with the new normal. 

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Protests in Haiti

Protests against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse re-emerged last week as part of a year long campaign demanding his resignation. The movement against Moïse gained international attention last July when protests sparked by an announced end to fuel subsidies ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant*. A new government formed in October last year under Moïse-appointed Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant lasted less than six months when he was removed in a vote of no-confidence a month after February protests. Moise, however, remains in office and has refused to address the concerns of demonstrators directly. This week he made only brief remarks, denying involvement in corruption and demanding that people stay calm – making clear his intent to use the police to maintain order.

In the midst of the latest round of demonstrations, the United States State Department did change its travel advisory for Haiti from Level Four (do not travel) to Level Three (reconsider travel). This will offer some relief for businesses dependent on travel and tourism and make it easier for aid groups to provide services.

The current protests were launched with a transportation strike last Monday. Jacqueline Charles reported on the death of a journalist during the protests in the Miami Herald:

Late Monday night, a well-known radio journalist, Rospide Pétion, was shot to death in Port-au-Prince, authorities confirmed. Pétion worked for Radio Sans Fin…Three of the individuals who allegedly set fire to vehicles belonging to Radio Télé Ginen were arrested by Haiti National Police, who also opened an internal probe into the death of the motorcyclist after the head of the presidential guards, Dimitri Hérard, was accused of firing the fatal shot at the intersection of Delmas and airport roads.

After a pause on Wednesday, protests resumed on Thursday, Moïse’s tepid address Wednesday evening clearly having no impact. From yesterday’s New York Times:

Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse clashed with police Thursday as some tried to storm barriers outside the National Palace while others sought shelter as heavy gunfire echoed in nearby streets.

The demonstration came a day after Moïse broke his silence over the country’s recent unrest and rejected demands that he step down over allegations of officials misusing funds from subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe program. He denied any wrongdoing.

The immediate cause of the latest demonstrations was a report issued on June 4 that further documented corruption, directly implicating Moise. From the Miami Herald:

Months prior to Haiti’s deeply flawed October 2016* presidential vote, the man who would become president, Jovenel Moïse, received millions of dollars for questionable road rehabilitation projects that a panel of Haitian government auditors say were part of embezzlement schemes that defrauded the country’s poor out of billions of dollars in Venezuelan aid meant to improve their lives.

At least $1 million was for a stretch of rural road in northern Haiti that government auditors said was paid for twice, after the public works ministry issued the same contract to two firms in late 2014. The firms shared the same tax identification number, government patent, technical staff and resume of projects in their portfolio, auditors said.

The only difference between the firms, auditors noted, was their heads. Agritans listed Moïse, a relatively unknown businessman and eventual handpicked successor to then-Haiti president Michel Martelly, as its head, while Betexs, the second firm, listed someone else. Agritrans received a $419,240 or 66 percent advance on the project — two months before the signing of its contract with the ministry of public works.

“For the court, giving a second contract for the same project… is nothing less than a scheme to embezzle funds,” auditors said about the project involving the Borgne-Petit Bourg-de-Borgne road.

While the media focuses a great deal on opposition to corruption as the primary motivator of the demonstrations, the issues go much deeper. As in any movement, there are factions with different goals and coming from various ideological perspectives in the protests against Moise. However, as the popular mobilizations continue, it is clear that corruption is not ultimately the concern. Rather, it is the grave inequality in Haiti, in which a narrow spectrum of the elite, often defended, or at least shielded by the international “community,” control the economic and political institutions of the country. Corruption is thus an indicator of a deeper social crisis. Increasingly the demands from the movement are directed at confronting these systemic issues.

A recent profile of youth activists, who have been critical in the evolution of the movement helps provide some context:

“But now, the PetroCaribe challenge is not something against a president. It’s not against a dictatorship,” she said. “It’s people asking for accountability, and this is a huge problem in Haiti. But it’s been a long time since we have had so many people coming together to ask for it. I think this is really new.”

The Petrochallenge movement is comprised of two groups: Nou Pap Dòmi, or “We keep our eyes open,” which is focused on government accountability in the short term; and Ayiti Nou Vle A, or “The Haiti we want,” a group that encourages ordinary citizens to get involved in shaping Haiti’s longterm future by encouraging civic engagement, online and offline. Both groups started in the wake of Mirambeau’s tweet.

For inspiration, the Petrochallengers have looked to other youth-led movements around the world that used social media, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Y’en a Marre, a Senegalese movement created by young rappers and journalists to protest ineffective government and register youth to vote. They’ve also looked to France’s Yellow Vest protests[…]

Social media is a key component of the Petrochallenge movement, said Gaëlle Bien-Aimé, 31, a Haitian women’s rights activist, comedian and Petrochallenger. For example, people have tweeted photos of vacant lots and skeletal structures where some of the nearly $2 billion in PetroCaribe funds were supposed to have been spent.

For an excellent, detailed analysis of the roots of the protest, I highly recommend the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s (IJDH) recent report, “Haiti at a Crossroads: An Analysis of the Drivers Behind Haiti’s Political Crisis.” In this report, IJDH breaks down not just recent developments, but the historical/structural drivers of the crisis that are important for understanding the current moment. From the executive summary:

This report seeks to put the current crisis in Haiti into context by explaining the short-, medium- and long-term factors driving the unrest, including detailing some of the gravest human rights violations in Haiti during President Moïse’s tenure. In the short term, the PetroCaribe scandal galvanized civil society and was the spark that brought Haitians into the streets. In the medium term, the movement is a response to the Moïse administration’s broader abuses of authority and de-prioritization of the rights and needs of the impoverished majority. President Moïse assumed office without a true popular mandate, having been elected in a low-turnout process that left him beholden to foreign and elite interests and a patronage network over the impoverished majority. In office, his administration has engaged in human rights abuses, flouted the rule of law, and mismanaged the economy in ways that disproportionately impact the poor. In the long term, this administration’s failures are enabled by years of flawed elections, a dysfunctional justice system and domestic and foreign economic policies that have impoverished the majority of Haitians.

The drivers behind the movement reflect repeated failures by Haitian leaders to serve their people, but they are also the result of decisions made by actors outside of Haiti. While the international community has invested billions in building up rule of law institutions in Haiti, powerful governments and international institutions have also exerted influence on Haiti to forge ahead with problematic, exclusionary elections and to accept a system of justice that allows foreign and elite actors to operate above the law. The faults of the decades-long prioritization of short-term stability over rule of law are now cracking. If the international community is to support a sustainable way forward for Haiti, it must finally take its lead from Haitians and support systemic reform that will be long and difficult. Systemic reform is the only way for Haiti to emerge out of this crisis into a place of true stability.

As the protests continue into this week, pressure remains on Moise to step down. What a transition would look like were he to do so, is not clear. Elections for Haiti’s Parliament are scheduled for October and the current crisis will certainly weigh heavily on them. But absent major reform they are unlikely to settle anything or offer resolution to the underlying structural inequities that are driving the current mobilizations. The people of Haiti have always been on the leading edge of democratic mobilization in this hemisphere, from the revolution in 1804 to today’s confrontation with the brutal political structures and consequence of neo-liberalizaton. Too often, victory has been stolen through retrenchment of the elite and an international community that wants a compliance. It is hard to see how things will turn out this time. But the determination to create a new political and economic order is strong, and the protests will almost certainly continue until something significant changes. 


*Corrections:

An earlier draft mistakenly identified Laurent Lamothe as the prime minister who resigned in July of 2018. Lamothe is a former prime minister (2012-2014) who served under President Martelly – he has been implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal as well.

The date for elections in the Miami Herald article quoted above is incorrect. The original election was October 25, 2015 – the results were widely protested, and ultimately annulled. The new “deeply flawed” elections were held on November 20, 2016. 

h/t to Reparations for Haiti (@ReparationsH ) for the call out and corrections.

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Gros Morne 20th Anniversary Stories: Roy Lanham

As part of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launch of the reforestation project in Gros Morne, Haiti in partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, we are sharing reflections from people who have been a part of the program over the years. This week we are sharing a reflection from Roy Lanham, campus minister & advisor for the Haiti Connection at Eastern Illinois University.

Gazebo at the peak of Tet Mon

As part of our mission experience in Haiti, Amy Jobin invited us to come to Gwo Mòn to experience the beauty of the place and its people. At the time we were open to exploring other options and missions. And so we came. As part of our exposure to the area, Amy and Sè Pat took us to what would become the Jean Marie Vincent [JMV] forest. It was just like every other hill top  in the area: I do not remember a single tree. (I was also thinking, Amy this is not as beautiful as Barassa.) Amy and Se Pat shared with us the vision of what was going to happen there. There were men already at work on the hill: cutting out scrub brush and preparing the land to receive the first set of trees, building the “ditches” with this cool “A” frame tool that allowed the ditches to all fill up at the same time to keep the water from just rushing down the hill.

I was impressed with the desire to “get it right.” I was hopeful because it wasn’t just a Sè Pat project, but it seemed our Haitian brothers and sisters believed in the value this forest would have. I have to admit it was hard to see success. They took us to Grepin Center and the tree nursery where the trees were being prepared. I remember them not just speaking about the new JMV planting, but their efforts to get farmers to plant trees throughout the zones. In fact, they showed us the room where formations took place and pictures of people picking up their trees. It was a vision of what could be.

As we continued to come over the years we watched the trees grow and the along with it the vision. The first set of trees were planted in rows and it had an “English garden” feel because it all seemed so tidy. I remember on a number of those early trips when Sr. Pat (Amy no longer lived in Gwo Mòn) asked us to cut the vines that encircled seemingly every tree they had planted. We had a big team and she said, as only she can: “Since we are here visiting imagine if every one of you would cut 100 of the vines off of the trees. This would keep 1800 trees from being choked.” We did  it. And we did this on more than one occasion over those early years.

We never gave money to this project, but it was always an important part of our experience of Gwo Mòn to visit JMV. I know my memory has faded over time, but I am almost certain Sr. Pat took us to the forest the first 10 years. I remember how energized she was and still is about trees.

I believe like all things, the value of the forest has deepened over the years, but with a twist. At first, I sensed it was like: hey someone wants to plant trees and give some jobs, great. It felt like any other “project” in Haiti. But it did not take but a couple of years and there was this energy. . .groups began to be formed (AJGR, Association of the Youth of Gros Morne, for example) that wanted to imitate JMV and what was happening there. When the sisters moved to their new digs, Sr. Pat transformed that piece of land, I believe because she saw what was happening at JMV and knew it could happen where they lived in town. I remember another tree nursery starting, I remember other smaller efforts, throughout the zone where the Monfortains did ministry: ti forèt yo. Some with success and some not, but all of them efforts born out of JMV.

And so the number one value would be HOPE. They have this beautiful and constant reminder of what is possible. I do not believe we will have “green hats” on every mountain any time soon, but you realize it is possible to show people how to restore the land. How to believe that the last chapter is not written, and it is possible to renew  the land. It is a living laboratory for sure.

The other piece which is not lost on the people of Gwo Mòn, is the forest has become a place of prayer. Isn’t it amazing that folks come to pray there. The link between the God of Redemption and the God of Creation is so beautiful and probably best exemplified in the way of the cross/stations on Good Friday.

Finally, the Grepin Center keeps expanding their efforts to create a vision for the people. I think the agronomists, the benefactors, the priests, the people  only have to look up the hill and see what is possible whenever they get overwhelmed by the myriad of problems that beset Haiti. Right here, right now this works.

I have to admit it was not until the second planting that we began to see the real value of the trees. For the first time we began to hear birds and then see them. The Gazebo became a place where we would reflect a bit on what was going on around us (we don’t do this anymore) and we would wonder about what if every mountain in Haiti began to have a “green hat?” It had this effect on us, and we were just visiting…The trees of the first planting are twenty years old and there is a sense of look at what it possible. Having said this, it is when you get into the second planting that you feel you are in a forest. I guess that is the effect pines have on you.

This change might seem strange: First there was a real concern to keep the canals cleared, so they could fill properly and aid with keeping the water from causing erosion and to keep some on the mountain. I think it is amazing that twenty years later they are allowed to be filled with leaves and whatever and they are becoming “Just memories,” because the trees themselves are doing what the canals did in the beginning. To me, that is one of the coolest changes.

Sr Pat in those early years and her desire to show off the forest, even when it was just a bunch of saplings was amazing. It didn’t seem like much was happening, but her enthusiasm was contagious.

The men we would meet on the mountain and listening to them talk about their work had a pride in what they were doing for JMV and for the community. Lives transformed.

The joy we have had over the years in bringing our mission teams to the top. Many times, it is seen as a thing “Roy wants us to do.” However, always, always afterwards the students talk about the beauty and the power of the woods. Isn’t that cool. They write about it in their journals. It has an impact on them to see what is possible. It is at moments like that I am reminded how we all are connected, and how all our lives are interconnected on this planet of ours.

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Gros Morne Stories: Amy Jobin, Quest volunteer 1999

As part of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launch of the reforestation project in Gros Morne, Haiti in partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, we are sharing reflections from people who have been a part of the program over the years. This week we are sharing a reflection from Amy Jobin who volunteered with the Religious of Jesus and Mary’s (RJM) Quest program in 1999 as the reforestation project was getting started.

I remember going to Tèt Mòn for the first time shortly after I arrived in Gros-Morne back in August of 1999 for a year of volunteering with Quest. I remember Sr. Pat first telling me about Tèt Mòn and how the RJMs and the Montfortain priests had made the [transfer] of the land possible [from the Diocese of Gonaives] so that it could be reforested.  I don’t recall exactly how many acres or hectares Sr. Pat told me had been purchased but it sounded like a lot – and that a lot of trees would need to be planted to cover this much ground.

I also remember the first time we went out to see Tèt Mòn, the name we called this mountain that was going to be reforested. It wasn’t much to look at, like many of the mountains in Haiti; it was brown, dry, eroded looking….. but whole sections had tiny new trees planted on it that ranged from about six inches to a foot or foot and a half tall.  When places like this become too deforested, rain stops falling, creating conditions that make places like Gros-Morne even more prone to drought which can lead to a host of other challenges in places where water and especially potable water for drinking is already on short supply. To combat the water problem, big blue plastic barrels had been placed all over Tèt Mòn that were periodically filled with water from [the river] and when we would go out to see the forest in the evenings, we would check the small trees, giving a sip of water to as many trees as we could before it became too dark. At the time, this struck me as a “nice project” that needed to be done so that there might be some tree cover on the mountain again and maybe more rain in that area. I had no idea when Sr. Pat introduced me to Tèt Mòn in the early beginnings of this project what it would one day come to be.

Fast forward to May, 2015. It has been over a decade since I have visited Haiti and when I arrive in Gros Morne, Sr. Pat says to me, “I want you to come and see Tèt Mòn while you’re here.” I had a much greater appreciation for trees and reforestation by this time in my life and I remember being excited to go and see this forest that had been in the re-making for over 15 years now. When I got there, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The once nearly barren land with small trees on it now had to be entered through a special path that was made so that anyone visiting could walk through the forest! I remember our first few steps inside, it had changed so much that we were no longer standing on a piece of land that was being reforested, but we were inside the coverage of an actual forest. The trees were anywhere from five to fifteen feet tall at least. And wonder of wonders, there were birds, insects – in particular, caterpillars weaving pupas and several different colored moths or butterflies, one a beautiful color of delicate yellow, everywhere we turned. Not only had the trees grown, but this now forest had an eco-system all its own, supporting a host of plants and animals not to mention the humans who were benefiting from its carbon-absorbing properties, not to mention its beauty.

I am still struck each time I remember and re-imagine my experience of the forest with Sr. Pat 15 years after it had been planted, struck by about how much it changed and transformed and came back to life, how even the animals and insects knew it was time to come back.  Is it a miracle, well, yes, in its own way, but it is also a testimony to a well planned reforestation project and care for our earth, who needs us to be awake to her condition so much at this time in our history.

During one of my early visits to Tèt Mòn, I was with Sr. Pat and one of our good Haitian friends, Jean (pronounced John) Desnor. Jean was instrumental in helping plan and coordinate this project, knowing which trees needed to be planted, how much water they would need, the growing cycles of certain trees, and many more agricultural complexities that needed to be carefully thought out as this project began. I hardly remember taking the photo, but I still have one of Jean and Sr. Pat up on Tèt Mòn back in the very early days and Jean has his hand on his heart and Sr. Pat is looking reflectively at the land. I didn’t understand what this project meant to either of them when it began, but the photo says it all; they knew it was possible for a forest to be re-grown here someday. Sr. Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, who was martyred in the Amazon in 2005 for her work empowering indigenous peoples to fight for land rights and for protecting the land itself, said “The death of forest is the end of our life.” She knew as she watched acre upon of acre of clear cutting in the Amazon that “the trees are the lungs of our planet” and that if we keep cutting them down without replacing and reforesting, we would be (and still are) on a fast path to self-destruction. Let us remember her words and let us continue to plant, support and celebrate forests like Tèt Mòn that remind us of the regenerative powers of our Mother Earth and that it’s our right and our responsibility to assist her. Thank you, Sr. Pat, Sr. Jackie, Jean, Pè Chacha, the Grepen farmers and agricultural workers and so many others who helped bring Tèt Mòn to life again, helping Mother Earth sustain, one tree at a time.

 – Amy Jobin, campus minister, Quest volunteer 1999

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20th Anniversary Stories from Gros Morne: Father Chacha

(Above Drone Video of Forest on Tet Mon and Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center [Grepen Center])

This year we mark the 20th Anniversary of our work with Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne, Haiti. Today we are launching a new blog series to celebrate the 20 year anniversary, which will focus on reflections from people who have worked on the program through the years.

One of the original visionaries of the program was Fr. Ronel Charelus (Father Chacha). Below he discusses the beginnings of the project back in 1999.

Fr. Ronel Charelus (Pere Chacha), former pastor of Notre Dame du La Chandeleur parish

Wi se avèk kè kontan  nou te pran inisyativ pou forè sa a nan Nan Gwomon.  Map sonje Sè Lise Brosseau, Barthelemy Garcon, Nesly Jean Jacques, Jean Desnor, père Cine syriaque, Sè pat Dillon, Sè Rose Gallagher avèk  lot moun anko ki te konprann valè plante pye bwa nan Gwomon.

It was with happy hearts that we took the initiative to start this forest in Gros Morne. I remember Sr. Lise Rosseau, Fr. Barthelemy Garcon, Fr. Nesly Jean Jacques, Jean Desinor, Fr. Cine Syriaque, Sr. Pat Dillon, & Sr. Rose Gallagher,  along with other people who understood the value of planting trees in Gros Morne.

Se te yon pwoje pilot pout tout peyi a.  Nou te gen konviksyon si nou rive plante bwa Gwomon si nou reyisi,  ap gen anpil lot kote nan peyi a kap enterese ak pwoje sa a. Se esperyans sa nou te fè apre kèk lane nou komanse ak pwojè a.

It was a pilot project for the whole country. We had a conviction that if we were able to make this tree planting in Gros Morne successful, there would come to be many other places in the country that would be interested in this project. This is the experience that we had and after some years we started with the project.

Pwojè a te demare  nan lane 1999 ak yon relijiez nan kongregasyon Sè Lise Brosseau ki rele Carol ??? mwen bliye siyati l.  Li tap travay nan Quixote center nan Washington ??. Sete Sè Rose Gallagher yon bon zanmi m ki te metem an relasyon avek li. Li te rive fe plizyè vwayaj  nan Gwomon. Se limenm ki te ede nou jwenn lajan pou nou komanse pwojè sa a.

The project kicked off in in 1999, with a religious sister in the congregation of Sr. Lise Brosseau [Holy Names of Jesus and Mary] who was named Carol [Reis]. She was working with the Quixote Center in Washington. It was Sr. Rose Gallagher, a good friend of mine, who put me in contact with her [Carol]. She came to make many trips to Gros Morne. She was the one who helped us find money so that we could start this project.

Nou te chwazi bay pwojè  a pote non Jean Marie Vincent , yon prêt monfoten  yo te asasine le 28 Aout 1994. Pou kisa nou te chwazi Jean Marie ? Nou te chwazi l paske li te gen yon rèv pou Ayiti. Rèv li se te pou tout peyizan yo gen  lavi, pou yo viv tankou moun. Rèv sa se pou peyi Dayiti kouvri ak Pye bwa yon Jou. Se te yon pwojè odasye. men li te gen Konviksyon nan Bondye, li te kwè nan moun tou… Pou  Jean Marie Espwa peyi a se plante pye bwa. Se mete konsyans sa nan lavi tout timoun lekol yo. Jean Marie mouri, men rèv li yo pa mouri. Nou kapab di li toujou la avèk nou. Grepen ap toujou rete yon referans pou tout Pè monfoten yo ki vle kontinye travay Jean Marie tap fè nan Peyi Dayiti.

We chose to give the project the name of Jean Marie Vincent, a Montfortain priest who was assassinated on 28 August 1994. Why did we choose Jean Marie? We chose him because he had a dream for Haiti. His dream was for all peasants to have life, to live like people. This dream is for the country of Haiti to be covered with trees one day. It was an audacious project. But he had conviction in God and he also believed in people. For Jean Marie, the hope of the country lay in planting trees. He put this awareness in the lives of all of the school children. Jean Marie died, but his dreams are not dead. We can say that he is still here with us. Grepen will always remain a reference for all of the Montfortain priests who want to continue the work that Jean Marie was doing in the country of Haiti.

Yon lot pwojè nou te gen pou Gomon se te pwoteje tet mon yo sitou Rivye Mansèl. Jodi a map mande si pwojè sa a toujou la ? Apre 20 tan jodi a nou kapab evalye ak moun yo, avèk jean Desnor pou nou we si rèv sa a Jean Marie te genyen an ap kontinye toujou.

Another project that we had for Gros Morne is to protect the mountain tops, especially in Rivyè Mansel. Today I ask if that project is still there. After 20 years, today we can evaluate with the people, with Jean Desinor, to see if this dream that Jean Marie had still continues.

 

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Daily Dispatch 3/13/2019


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Daily Dispatch

March 13, 2019


USCIS Set to Close Field Offices Overseas

In a new effort to make legal immigration even more difficult, the Trump administration is looking to close U.S. immigration offices overseas and transfers some of those responsibilities to the State Department.  

The Trump administration is seeking to close nearly two dozen U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field offices around the world in a move it estimates would save millions per year. But critics argue the closures will further slow refugee processing, family reunification petitions and military citizenship applications.

USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins announced on Tuesday the agency is in “preliminary discussions” to delegate its international responsibilities to the State Department, or to its own personnel in the U.S. In some cases, the workload would be absorbed by U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

Such measures may save money (the stated goal) but will ensure that backlogs for processing of visas, family reunification efforts and other normal immigration functions will be further delayed – likely increasing pressure for irregular border crossing.

Update on Arrests in Haiti

 

A couple of weeks ago we put out a dispatch focused on the arrest of five heavily armed, U.S. Americans in Haiti. Yesterday, Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a detailed investigative report about the arrests and the controversy that has ensued in Haiti over their release.

On February 17, Haitian police arrested seven Blackwater-like security contractors a few blocks from the country’s Central Bank. They claimed to be on a government mission, and had a cache of weapons. Four days later the US “rescued” them. What happened? Read the whole story here.

 

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Annual Report 2018

The Quixote Center’s Annual Report for 2018 is now available. If you like the work we are doing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. You can designate funds to a specific program, or put it toward general funds that support all of our work. 

 

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Daily Dispatch 2/21/2019: Report on Arrests in Haiti

Over the weekend eight heavily armed men were arrested in Port-au-Prince near a police checkpoint. The men were driving in two vehicles without license plates. Inside the vehicle were multiple automatic rifles, one with a scope, handguns, several drones, satellite phones and other weapons. NPR Reports:

“They said that they were here on a ‘government mission,’ ” Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles told NPR from Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. “They did not specify which government, but then they did tell the police that … their boss was going to call their boss.”

The implication, Charles says, is that someone high in Haiti’s government would be able to free the heavily armed group — and she adds, “members of the administration of President Jovenel Moise did try to get these gentlemen released from police custody — but that did not work.”

On Tuesday this week it was revealed that one of the vehicles was registered to an advisor of President Moïse. From the Miami Herald:

A letter from a local car dealership to the prime minister revealed that one of the vehicles, the Ford, was purchased by a former government official and sent to the care of Fritz Jean-Louis, an adviser of President Jovenel Moïse. Jean-Louis has since fled the country, police said. Police found license plates inside the vehicles, and at least one was registered to Jean-Louis.

So who are the men? Five of them are U.S. citizens, four of who are known to have military backgrounds. Two are Serbian nationals and one is Haitian:

  1. Talon Ray Burton, the director of security for Hawkstorm Global Ltd, an international security firm run by Talon Ray Burton’s brother, Lance Burton.
  2. Kent Leland Kroeker, A 20-year Marine Corp vet who is a member of Kroeker Partners, a security advisory company (The company’s website states that it has no active mission in Haiti.).
  3. Christopher Mark McKinley, who is a former Navy SEAL, and founder and CEO of  INVICTVS Group, which is simply described as a “consortium of U.S. special operations veterans” that delivers “corporate team building services.”
  4. Christopher Michael Osman, another former Navy SEAL, who has claimed on social media to have been engaged in “classified operations” in the Arabian Gulf and Afghanistan.
  5. Dustin Porte, who operates Patriot Groups Services, listed as an electrical company based in Louisiana. Jacqueline Charles with the Miami Herald notes the company received a recent $16,000 contract with the Department of Homeland Security. There is no other known link to military or intelligence services at this point.
  6. Danilo Bajagic, a Serbian national currently working with K17 Security based in Rockville, MD. The company also claims to have no current operations in Haiti.
  7. Vlade Jankvic, another Serbian national about whom little is known.
  8. Michael Estera, a Haitian about whom little is known.

The men were held by police in Haiti until Wednesday, at which point they were flown to the United States, escorted to their plane by U.S. Embassy staff.

Airport employees say the men seemed quite at ease and were taken inside the VIP diplomatic lounge to wait on the flight after their tickets were purchased at the counter. One of the two Serbians initially was not allowed to board the flight by Haitian immigration because he had no stamps showing where he resides. After a few calls were made, he was put on the flight. The Haitian national, Michael Estera, who goes by the pseudonym “Cliford,” was not among those sent back to the U.S. He faces illegal weapons charges.

Below is a brief video clip of some of the arrested men deboarding their flight in Miami:

At this point, no one seems to know what they were doing in Haiti. If they were on an advisory mission with the government, or to there to provide security, it seems that would be an easy question to answer. The silence about their activities, is thus encouraging a great deal of speculation, especially in light of reports of people shot during recent demonstration. Now that they have been flown out of Haiti by the U.S. government we may never know.

UPDATE: It now appears that the none of the men returned to the U.S. will face criminal charges. From the Miami Herald:

The five heavily armed Americans arrested in Haiti earlier this week are back on their home soil and won’t be facing any criminal charges in the United States — a decision already causing outrage among some Haitian leaders.

Federal sources told the Miami Herald that the men will not be charged criminally, but are being debriefed. They told U.S. authorities they were on the island providing private security for a “businessman” doing work with the Haitian government.

 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)