#851 – Dick Bernard: Haiti, remembering a December, 2003, visit to Port-au-Prince, and the time before the overthrow of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government February 29, 2004.

UPDATE: Yesterday my friend Jane Stillwater reported on a recent short visit to the same area I visited in 2003. You can read her comments, and see some photos, here.

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Map of Haiti, December 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Port-au-Prince Dec 2003

Back in the spring of 2002 my new friend, Paul Miller, began to lobby me to join him on a trip to Haiti. He’d been there several times, and while I knew where Haiti was, and that it was a very poor country, that was about it.
Paul kept working on me, and during most of 2003 we read and talked about Haiti, and on Dec. 6, 2003, we landed in Port-au-Prince for an astonishing and eye-opening week [Basic itinerary at end of this post]. I wrote here about that experience on the 10 year anniversary.
We had a full and extraordinarily rich week, ending December 13, 2003. At the end of December, 2003, I reflected on my experience in Haiti.
Our associations that week were with people who supported then President Aristide, and were attempting, successfully, to make positive changes in the lives of the poor. We knew Haiti as one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere and the world; nonetheless we saw hope and pride as Haiti prepared for the bicentennial of its achieving independence from France in 1804.
A few photos from that amazing trip floated to the top of my collection when looking for symbols of Haiti in December, 2003:
(click to enlarge)
Haiti Sculpture Dec 2003005
The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

The Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince, December 8, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

At Ste. Claire after Mass Dec 7, 2003

There are many more photos, of places and people, all conveying pride and even optimism. Nobody expected the end of poverty, but there was discernible pride and optimism, amongst the poor, to at minimum be working towards poverty with dignity; the more real possibility of they and their children becoming literate; and of being recognized as free citizens who could and did democratically elect their President and other officials, etc.
At the end of our week, we stayed the last night at the Hotel Oloffson, made famous in Graham Greene’s novel, “The Comedians”. We sat in the bar listening to RAM, the band of Richard A. Morse. It was in itself a powerful evening. You could almost feel the increasingly intense political intrigue in the bar and on the veranda.
RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

RAM at the Hotel Oloffson, about Dec. 12, 2003

The next day we left, flying to Miami, picking up the Miami Herald story about storm clouds gathering in Haiti: Miami Herald 121303001.
The building storm was, of course, a fact known to us.
While we viewed the common folks going about their lives, we were hearing from the rich assortment of people we met with about the storm clouds gathering which, less than three months later, would end with the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, being flown out of his country by U.S. aircraft, victim of a U.S. sponsored and supported coup d’etat.
“Freedom” and “Democracy” in Haiti were too much a threat to be allowed by the United States of America.
It was a harsh lesson for me, then and now: my own country could do this to not a dictator, but a democratically elected President of an independent country.
The coup happened officially on Feb. 29, 2004, denying even the ability to commemorate an anniversary at its 10th year, 2014.
Back home, as the coup happened, and the stories abounded, I tried to make sense of what I had witnessed, trying to find some facts among the sea of fictions that flowed, especially, from my own United States government.
In March, 2006, I took another trip back to Haiti. In the time period before I left, I condensed my concerns into a letter to the leaders of three major political influence entities in the United States, and even submitted a proposed op ed to the New York Times (not printed). For those interested, my thoughts remain on line here.
Life has moved on, and my several feet of files relating to Haiti have lain undisturbed for several years.
But this anniversary brings the memories back, and the lesson learned is to be less than trusting of “truth” conveyed through official or even news sources.
A healthy skepticism is deserved.
I was last to Haiti since 2006, but still keep in touch.
Keep seeing Haiti.
The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003.  Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The travelers above Petion-Ville, December, 2003. Leader Paul Miller is at left.

The General Itinerary as I recall it:
Stayed at Visitation House
The entire week was jam-packed.
We saw many of the places in the booklet Chemen Kwa Pep Ayisyen, in English, here: Haiti Stations of Cross001
Sunday, Dec 7, Mass at Ste Claire’s, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste
During the week, some specifics:
Driving tour of sights in the Port-au-Prince area
Dinner at home of our driver above Petion-Ville in Mont Calvare area.
Morning and lunch at BAI, advocacy group for victims of violence, primarily women
Visit Fonkoze, then beginning to mature into the major micro-finance organization it is today.
Visit Methodist Church under construction
Lunch at one of higher-end hotels above Port-au-Prince
Visit Hospice St Joseph
Visit SOPUDEP School Petion-ville
Visit the national television station/studio
Visit Fr Michael Graves at Orthodox Church
Visit President Aristide’s international press liaison
Visit Methodist Church Guest House
Visit Orphanage some distant into the countryside around Port-au-Prince
Overnight at Olaffson Hotel
from Peter B, Mar 1 (in 2003, this would have been Feb 29, the day of the coup):

In case you still want to put something in there about this:
The evening of the Haiti Coup I got on the phone with the State Department’s “Haiti Desk” and spent at least thirty minutes talking with a guy who was of course parroting the party line written by the Noriega character (not the Panamanian drug king, the State man in charge of the Caribbean)). I tried my best to explain that everybody knew (everybody who looked beyond the Washington Post and the New York Times that is, and could spell Haiti) that the thugs on the border in the DR were about to slam into Haiti, murdering, raping and pillaging, freeing the Duvalier Tonton Macoute killer police to add to the rampage, and destroying a functioning democracy.
He was polite and uncaring through out. I was not hurried off the line. I still can’t figure out how the single phone line to State about Haiti could be tied up by a citizen for that long in the midst of a very big military operation to capture a head of state and deport or kill him. But that’s how it was.
And of course my fears were fully realized, far worse than I ever imagined at the time.
I now understand that the cultural rules of “Market Rule” require that no successful alternative economy be allowed to function, let alone achieve a reasonable life for the citizens of any country. I now understand that the punishment meted out by Washington will be destruction, chaos and unimaginable slaughter. There is no place I am aware of today that is not subject to this other than (perhaps) Russia, which as an oligarchy, plays the game quite satisfactorily with the “Western Powers.”
I further understand that we don’t have a vote that counts on this. And that our elected officials are helpless to change it, because they are immediately drummed out of the halls of government, and if they won’t shut up, they find themselves standing next to a spouse at a news conference apologizing for human trafficking.
We’ve seen it all before. We might possibly escape total enslavement, but probably because the environment will drop on the population first, and we will be once again reduced to roving bands of hunter-gatherers.
Gloomy? So what? Show me some evidence to the contrary. Hunker down. Gonna be a long hard one. The old folks hereabouts say they never have seen weather like this. When Vermonters complain about the weather you know something is up.

#16 – Jane Stillwater: A flu survivor, 2009

A reader comment follows this post.
Note from the moderator: For most of us, the flu hysteria of Spring 2009 has (thankfully) been a spectator sport. Jane Stillwater, her friend, and her granddaughter happened to have the flu during the peak news time about the feared “Swine Flu pandemic”. Jane writes from Berkeley CA. For certain, read the end note, received this morning. I posted previously on this topic at April 27, 2009.
Jane Stillwater: After a friend of mine came down with a severe dose of some kind of terrible flu and I nursed him back to health, guess what happened next? Yeah, I got sick too. Really sick. “OMG, now I’ve got swine flu!” I whined — in between trips to the bathroom.
But in my more lucid moments, I managed to do some research on the subject (as we all know, Google is the poor man’s health insurance). Just how serious IS swine flu? I know that I am feeling like heck-warmed-over right now, but let’s put this thing into perspective. According to my friend Joe Thompson who loves to send me statistics, within one year in America over 61,000 people will die of pneumonia. One out of every 20 who contract pneumonia will die. And since January of this year alone, over 1,300 people have died from ordinary flu. But only one person has died from swine flu.
Great. Now we have put this so-called pandemic into perspective. But does that make me feel better? No. So I trudged off to the local ER to get treated for swine flu — or not. And they gave me a face mask as soon as I walked in the door. “Do you get many swine flu patients here?” I asked the triage nurse.
Actually no,” he replied. “We get several people a day coming in with flu symptoms and we test them, but so far no one has tested positive.” There were only eight people in the waiting room and only two of us had been handed face masks. It’s hard to breathe with this on.
Then I sat around the waiting room for an hour and watched a History Channel segment on gangs. “It’s all about protecting the lucrative drug trade,” said the TV. “They’re going to do whatever they can to keep the money flowing in.” In case you might be wondering why swine flu is being hyped as this horrible death machine but pneumonia, a proven killer, is not? Could it be “all about protecting the lucrative drug trade” — and keeping the money flowing in at all costs?
Then I saw the doctor, described my symptoms to him and whimpered a bit more. He said to take Pepto Bismo, stay hydrated, eat healthy and wait it out.
“Flu is a virus then?”
Yes. There have been several anti-virals developed to combat HIV that might be used to treat it, but mainly you just wait it out.” I didn’t know that. “And just in case you do have swine flu, remember that swine flu is milder than regular flu.” I definitely did not know that!
“But do I — or do I not — have the swine flu?” I asked. So the doctor pulled out some sterile swabs and took samples from my nose.
We send them off to the State of California for testing and you’ll know the results in a few days. It might be five days because of the weekend.” If this is really a super-emergency, five days is a long time! Plus if this is really a national crisis, then why aren’t the state lab guys working on weekends? “And if you do have swine flu, they’ll come to your home and ask you who you have been in contact with and try to figure out how you got exposed to it. There is a seven-day incubation period so it would have to have been someone you have been around approximately seven days ago.”
Then I went home and drank plenty of liquids.
After undergoing this bit of involuntary research on flu symptoms, I have been forced to come to the painful conclusion that this whole swine flu pandemic scare is both a hype and a hoax — and that our media, our politicians and corporate America have failed the American public yet again in their efforts to scare us into giving them our money, just like what happened in Vietnam and Iraq, and in the savings and loan debacle and the AIG bailout.
America is a democracy ruled by us? What democracy? Apparently we are being played like a fiddle. Again.
PS: Regarding “protecting the lucrative drug trade,” Dr. Joseph Mercola, medical consultant on CNN and ABC News, has this to say:
According to the World Health Organization’s Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response site; as of April 27 there are:.” http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/04/29/Swine-Flu.aspx
109 laboratory confirmed cases in U.S. — 1 death (reported by CDC as of April 30)
26 confirmed cases in Mexico — 7 deaths
6 confirmed cases in Canada — 0 deaths
1 confirmed case in Spain — 0 deaths
Additionally, nearly all suspected new cases have been reported as mild. Personally, I am highly skeptical. It simply doesn’t add up to a real pandemic. But it does raise serious questions about where this brand new, never before seen virus came from, especially since it cannot be contracted from eating pork products, and has never before been seen in pigs, and contains traits from the bird flu — and which, so far, only seems to respond to Tamiflu. Are we just that lucky, or… what?
“Your fear will make some people VERY rich in today’s crumbling economy. According to the Associated Press, at least one financial analyst estimates up to $388 million worth of Tamiflu sales in the near future — and that’s without a pandemic outbreak.
“More than half a dozen pharmaceutical companies, including Gilead Sciences Inc., Roche, GlaxoSmithKline and other companies with a stake in flu treatments and detection, have seen a rise in their shares in a matter of days, and will likely see revenue boosts if the swine flu outbreak continues to spread. As soon as Homeland Security declared a health emergency, 25 percent — about 12 million doses — of Tamiflu and Relenza treatment courses were released from the nation’s stockpile. However, beware that the declaration also allows unapproved tests and drugs to be administered to children. Many health and government officials are more than willing to take that chance with your life, and the life of your child. But are you?
“Remember, Tamiflu went through some rough times not too long ago, as the dangers of this drug came to light when, in 2007, the FDA finally began investigating some 1,800 adverse event reports related to the drug. Common side effects of Tamiflu include:
All in all, the very symptoms you’re trying to avoid. More serious symptoms included convulsions, delirium or delusions, and 14 deaths in children and teens as a result of neuropsychiatric problems and brain infections (which led Japan to ban Tamiflu for children in 2007). And that’s for a drug that, when used as directed, only reduces the duration of influenza symptoms by 1 to 1 ½ days, according to the official data
End note received from Jane overnight, May 5, 2009: No word from the state health dept so I guess that I am officially swine-flu-free. Not many people can say that with certainty but I can! It seems like everyone in my family is now finally well again. It’s been a very rough week.
End note from moderator: It is little more than a week since “Swine Flu” grabbed and continued to dominate the headlines (see Apr 27 09 posting). From potential pandemic status, Swine Flu has moved off the front pages after “infecting” virtually everyone in the media, or public policy. There are charges of over-reacting, or under-reacting, or reacting improperly in other ways. Perhaps Swine Flu was never a threat at all, perhaps it will become one still. Whatever the case, the explosion of publicity and near panic has not helped enlighten or protect the public. Why believe the next burst of publicity about Swine Flu or anything else? One is reminded of the “cry wolf” story we learned as children.

#15 – Dick Bernard, Grandpa's Slingshot; and Jane Stillwater, a Letter to the Editor

A reader comment follows this post.
Today is my 69th birthday. I share the birthday with grandson Parker, 7, and a great number of others. Parker and I shared birthday cake yesterday.
To a great number of people in my assorted constellations my age means I’m “just a kid”; to many others, including Parker, I grew up long ago in a simple time they cannot even imagine.
Today I take the time to share a couple of stories, one from me, a family story about my Grandpa and Grandma in Grafton ND; the other from a friend “out west”, relating a recent contemporary event that shows that, at heart, true community still lives in this country of ours. To me, the stories are related, and tell of being part of, rather than apart from, the community that makes up planet earth.
Grandpa Bernard: a story from the 1940s or 1950s:
My Grandpa Bernard was a crusty old French-Canadian. He’d served in the Spanish-American War; was chief engineer at the local flour mill; President of the Grafton Fire Department; lost one leg to diabetes in 1946, and the loss of the second leg in 1957 was his sayonara to life, 85 years well lived. I was told that he wasn’t one to run from a fight. I was 17 when he died so I got to know him pretty well.
We used to visit Grandma and Grandpa at their tiny, tiny, tiny little house down the street from the Court House in Grafton ND. Why they lived in that tiny, tiny house is another story for another time.
Grandpa enjoyed sitting outside, and they had built a bench of sorts outside the front door, and in good weather Grandpa was out there most all the time. He’d regale passers by and visitors with stories and wild tales, facing down moose in the woods when he was a lumberjack in Quebec, that sort of thing. We kids mostly reveled in his other antics: like he told us that, as a lumberjack, he wore the same long underwear all winter, and it was so dirty by springtime that it would stand by itself. I remember particularly one version where he recalled a caterpillar or some such crawling out of the button hole of one set of those “long johns”. Dirty underwear meant no baths: ah, that was the life!
And then there was the time when, at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, with all five of we impressionable kids at the table, he decided to teach us how to clean our plates…by picking up his plate and licking it clean. Made a great impression on us; somewhat less impressed were our parents and Grandma.
But I digress.
Grandpa was armed and dangerous to neighborhood critters.
They had a little garden out back, and hanging by the back door was a beebe gun which occasionally came in handy if something was out there munchin without asking permission. The back door faced an alley and a vacant lot, so there was not much danger or hitting somebody’s window, or rear end.
The front porch was a little different.
Out there Grandpa had a hand-made slingshot and a coffee can full of perfect pebbles. He was pretty accurate and it had good range.
One day we were visiting with him and he had an opportunity to show off his neighborhood influence.
He spotted a big dog trotting down the sidewalk towards his house.
When it got a couple of houses away, he told us kids “watch that dog”. So, of course, we did.
The dog trotted to slingshot range of Grandpa, made a hard right, trotted across the street to the other sidewalk, made a hard left, trotted on, then out of range, made another hard left, and then right, back on our sidewalk.
There was no hollering, no barking, no shots fired!
I’ve never forgotten it!
Thanks, Grandpa.
From Jane Stillwater
Berkeley, CA 2009:
A published letter to the editor, Berkeley Daily Planet:

I went to the April 22 Berkeley City Council meeting to see if I could snag some of that Obama stimulus package money for Savo Island Cooperative Homes, the South Berkeley housing project where I live. And as I sat there for over two hours while waiting my turn to ask for money to repair my home, I was forced to listen to speaker after speaker, all of them asking the council for money. And after listening to all these speakers describe all kinds of projects geared to make people’s lives better and realizing how many of these helpful and wonderful projects are funded by our city, it suddenly hit me. Berkeley is truly an amazing place.
Some of the worthwhile groups helped out by our city are a foster agency called A Better Way, Lifelong Medical Care (they fixed my teeth!), the Berkeley High School Bio-tech program, Berkeley Boosters police athletic league for kids, Strawberry Creek Lodge senior housing, BOSS assistance programs for the homeless, an Alzheimer’s center, a program to help deaf children, I forget what all else. If you had sat there for over two hours, you would have been amazed too.
Earlier this week, I had gone to a People’s Park anniversary event, and had thought to myself, “Those days are long gone. Berkeley just isn’t like that any more.” But after listening to all the wonderful people speaking up for their wonderful groups that help all sorts of people here in Berkeley, I suddenly realized that Berkeley hasn’t changed all that much after all.
Berkeley is still a wonderful, caring place—a place that takes great pains to make sure that those in need are taken care of and that we Do The Right Thing. I was very proud of my city tonight.