In 1985, the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, Archbishop Paolo Romeo, and then-Bishop François Gayot, smm, President of the Haitian Bishops Conference (CEH), approached the USCC with the request that our Conference devote special attention to the Church in Haiti. It was a time of great social and political agitation in that country, in which church figures and institutions played a major role. Ever since the visit of Pope John Paul II to Haiti in 1983 when he declared, in the presence of President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier, that "things must change here," the Church at every level had become a principal agent for change, leading to the February 1986 removal of the Duvalier regime.
In that same year, USCC episcopal delegations twice visited Haiti (March and December) at the invitation of the CEH. The Haitian bishops at the time proposed a formal arrangement between the two conferences, committing each to annual ("home and home") meetings, however, the Nuncio and the US bishops agreed chiefly to continue meeting on an ad hoc basis, the utility or necessity of continuing to be determined later.
Since the two meetings in 1986, there have now been six others. Because of the upheavals that Haiti has experienced in these ten years, all subsequent meetings have been held in the US (with the exception of a 1991 meeting in Nassau of the Bahamas, requested by the Antilles Bishops' Conference). This recent meeting was thus the first since 1986 to be held in Haiti.
Overview of the Visit
THE DELEGATION: Four NCCB/USCC committees have traditionally been involved in these visits: the USCC Committees on International Policy and on Migration, the NCCB Committee for the Church in Latin America, and Catholic Relief Services. Participating this time were Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, Chairman CIP, Bishop Raymundo J. Peña, Chairman CCLA, and Bishop James M. Griffin, Board Chairman of CRS. They were staffed by Drew Christiansen, sj, and Thomas Quigley of the Office of International Justice and Peace, Fr. James Ronan, Secretariat for the Church in Latin America, and Sister Suzanne Hall, snd, Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees. Local CRS staff, headed by CRS country director Greg Hofknecht, provided additional assistance.
The delegation was lodged at the Foyer de Charité "Sainte-Marie," a retreat and conference center where the CEH was also holding its week-long fall meeting. Dates for their regular meeting had been altered to accommodate our visit.
Monday, December 11: delegation was met at the airport by Bishop Louis Kébreau, sdb, Secretary of the CEH, and staff, and taken to the Foyer de Charité, followed by informal meeting and dinner with Haitian bishops and staff.
Tuesday, December 12: Day-long meeting with CEH, all bishops present except Bishop Hubert Constant, omi, then en route from Rome. Con-celebrated Mass with all bishops and local community. Informal evening meeting with Bernard Belaire, sj, and Donald Maldari, sj, staff of the new multi-disciplinary Centre Pedro Arrupe, with emphasis on spiritual and religious formation.
Wednesday, December 13: Meeting at Inter-Community Center for Theology of the Haitian Conference of Religious (CRH); Jan Hanssens, cicm and Filteau Regis, csc.
Meeting at OAS/UN Civilian Mission (MICIVIH); Javier Zuñiga.
Meeting at US Embassy; Amb.William Lacy Swing.
Meeting at UN Mission; Chief of Mission Akdar Brahimi.
Visit to CRS Headquarters; Bishop Griffin blessing of new building.
Farewell dinner with bishops and staff of Foyer; Advent/Christmas celebration.
Evening meeting with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio.
Thursday, December 14:
Meeting with CEH and CRS-Haiti personnel for morning session on CEH-CRS relations. Departure for airport.
The CEH-USCC Meeting.
The agenda, as proposed during the summer by Archbishop Gayot to Cardinal Keeler, was essentially unchanged:
- Reconciliation in Haitian Society
- Social-Political Situation in the Country
- Social Pastoral Agenda of the Church
- Development and Aid
- Refugee/Migration Problems
What follows is a partial record of the presentations and discussions, grouped by major subject headings rather than by the broad agenda topics. The exception to this is a more extensive treatment of the first, and presumably most central, agenda item.
Reconciliation in Haitian Society. Reconciliation has been a "permanent theme" of CEH, from the moment of the Duvalier ouster in 1986 to the present. Their call misinterpreted by many as ignoring the need for justice, but justice understood as vengeance. At present, whole sectors (labeled as macoutes) are excluded from participation; people are being manipulated by psychological techniques, calling for class struggle, hatred and violence, seeking to arrive at a classless society. In the meantime, people suffer undeserved misery, with unemployment, hunger, illiteracy, AIDS and drug use all increasing.
The bishops call for people to accept one another with all their differences, to reorganize Haiti's structures (guaranteeing security, protection of human rights, technical assistance) in order to make reconciliation possible, and to reassert a common purpose for the nation to live together. Question: How can the US and Haitian bishops work together to help realize this?
Divisions within the Church seem to be moderating. Some priests had led people to expect miracles with Aristide's return and, in face of weakened state, saw their own role increased. Today, more realistic views, pro-reconciliation; priests who were not talking to one another are now coming together.
Unlike the politically-motivated "justice first" people, the general populace more easily forgives, even forgets. But they are frustrated, and say those who used to persecute us are still in power. Church role is to bring these people together, both rich and poor.(Case of merchants withholding produce, then bringing onto market to maximize profit, causing people to riot.)
Church-State Relations. A formal agreement between church and state (deriving from the 1860 Concordat with the Holy See and modified subsequently, most recently in early 1980s) is still in force. A mixed commission of bishops and government ministers exists, dealing with such questions as the support of schools and dispensaries, salaries for priests and teachers, the university project, etc. The Church would welcome collaboration on literacy programs and agrarian reform projects; on the latter, the bishops stress the need to carry out reforms with due respect for persons, the society in general, and within the Constitution.
Because of inherent weakness of the state, the Church has had to make up for government deficiencies: special attention to the sick (including AIDS patients, 6% of the population), to the young (work with street kids, maintaining orphanages), to the blind and deaf. The Church runs school feeding and literacy programs, and is becoming involved in reforestation efforts.
In general, while it is difficult to give precise figures, the Church's social activities are greater than those of the state.
Privatization of State Enterprises. An issue which the US, the World Bank and the IMF have made an essential condition for loans and economic aid, it is highly controversial in Haiti, with the dominant Lavalas movement generally opposed. The bishops have not taken a public position, believing that the issue has now become so politicized that their intervention would be criticized as purely political. The archbishop's personal view is that not all of the proposed privatizations are justified, the principle of efficiency should be the main criterion, and that those enterprises turned over to private investors should return a high percentage of their profits to the state in order to create new jobs to make up for those lost. "No privatization without state supervision."
In subsequent discussion with the Conference of Religious, Fr. Hanssens made the following points: 1) privatization should be seen within the broader context of economic reform; 2) the Bank, IMF, AID are clearly pushing a market policy more forcefully and uncritically than the Church (Centesimus Annus); 3) most Latin American experiences suggest a disaster, more marginalization, etc.; 4) the distinctive aspects of Haiti need to be taken into account: the state barely exists, has relatively few companies (unlike Mexico's hundreds), but for all their shortcomings, the state enterprises are major sources of employment. A better approach than radical privatization would be the para-statal model found in Canada and Europe where the state has 51% control. If outside capital invests, at least they can be taxed; at present, Haiti has among the world's lowest tax collection rates, about 5%.
Radio Soleil. Arguably the most powerful radio voice for change during the '60s, Soleil is today barely functioning. The bishops are blamed for replacing the previous staff with less competent people, for replacing Creole with French, and for avoiding news or commentary. When the College St.-Martial was returned this year to the Spiritan Fathers, Radio Soleil was expelled from the property and is now temporarily housed at Villa Manrese. It is said to be broadcasting two hours a day, hymns, prayers and meditation. The goal is to return it to sixteen hours, to widen diffusion throughout the country, and to become again a source of information and a means of formation for the people. For this, the bishops say, they need competent people, funds for inadequate (and sometimes destroyed) facilities and equipment, and training for technicians.
No direct request was made for funding as in the past, but there was discussion of possible SCLA assistance if a fully cooperative program, involving church critics as well as supporters, could be developed. The relevant bishops seemed open to this.
Misyon Alfa. The ill-starred national literacy program of the CEH, begun in 1985, was ended by the bishops in 1988 due to what they considered its excessive politicization. It continues in certain dioceses today, "perhaps better than before," according to the archbishop, but without national coordination or control. The charge is that, in the previous era, the national bureau would sometimes send out orders to stop literacy programs and begin popular mobilization.
The Conference of Religious agrees that the Church's efforts for literacy should increase and is prepared to cooperate with the presently limited diocesan programs. They insist also that since literacy is a right of the people, the government must be more active, and propose that the bishops and religious seek to press the government on its responsibility.
Clergy and Religious. According to the archbishop, there still remains a nucleus of highly politicized priests, who enjoy both political and financial power, but the vast majority can be seen in two groups: those who are afraid and are willing to be led, and others who are strong spiritually, not letting others lead them. As noted above, there is some coming together, partly because of the worsening political situation; the politicized nucleus is feeling insecure and, by joining with others, may hope to melt into the crowd if things get worse.
Education. An educated citizenry is the sine qua non for Haiti to emerge from misery. The state role is very weak; the state schools are inadequate; the church-run schools, both Protestant and Catholic, are generally the best. The Church has 70% of all education on its shoulders. Haiti needs many trained technicians and skilled workers, not more lawyers; "Haitians can talk; they're not good at math." While in the countryside, families hope their children can finish grade school, all parents in the towns and cities want them to complete high school, without which they can do nothing. Because of poor preparation at every level, even those entering university are poorly prepared. But today--something new--all young people want to get an education.
The state has begun an educational reform that, with a few weak points, is generally good and supported by the bishops. One problem is that, while salaries for national school teachers has been increased, church school teachers still receive less than a fifth of that. The state has promised to increase them but the bishops are not sure it will happen.
The education area seems to be one where the cooperation between bishops and religious is more advanced. Roughly half of all religious are in education and are active in diocesan Catholic education associations and are thus in contact and dialogue with the diocesan leadership.
Université Notre-Dame d'Haiti. The bishops view the long-standing university project primarily as a means of preparing middle-level technicians, with an emphasis on Christian ethics; they seek to contribute to the development of the country, not to create just one more university. They are aware that there will be problems, so they are going at it slowly, organically. At present, three faculties are in the planning or early implementation stages:
- In Cap-Haitien, a teacher training facility has opened, as well as an institution for administration and management. Because of the low level of schooling, the pedagogical training begins with a full propaedeutic year to help up-date incoming students.
- In Port-au-Prince, they want to address health problems, providing nurse training and courses in medical ethics to produce well-formed personnel to care for the sick. There is also a concentration on an Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, seeking to form future leaders in Catholic social teaching, helping to contribute to the formation of a political cadre.
- In Les Cayes, the emphasis is on agriculture. Two committees have been formed, one to study the issues and means of starting, the other on managing and administering the facility, and hope to be in operation by October 1996. Some 42 parishes in the diocese participate and have raised 50,000 Haitian gourdes, a modest amount but, considering the poverty of the area, a generous one. They expect to start with an experimental farm where young people can learn animal husbandry and agriculture.
Migration/Refugee Issues. Finally, the bishops presented a listing of the tragic experience of most Haitians who had fled in recent years, those repatriated from Guantánamo (including some 2,000 HIV-positive cases), from the Dominican Republic (estimated by UNHCR at 80,000-115,000, other sources say many more), from the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos (where the ICMC was able to turn over about 1,000 refugees to Caritas of Port-au-Prince to resettle), Venezuela, Honduras, Surinam, the French Antilles and elsewhere. Many who left in small boats drowned at sea. Most who came back were treated harshly and left with nothing.
Archbishop Gayot reflected that exactly nine years ago, December 12, 1986, the Haitian and Dominican bishops met over the question of Haitian migrant workers in the Dominican Republic and issued an unprecedented joint statement of solidarity and mutual concern for the migrants. The active cooperation of that period appears to be gone, the archbishop said, and he does not understand why. Perhaps with next year's ten-year observance of the founding of a joint pastoral center in the D.R., staffed by both a Haitian and a Dominican priest, efforts to rekindle the cooperation may be possible.
US Embassy Meeting
Ambassador Swing presented an expectedly upbeat view of US policy and efforts to assist Haitian recovery. He did note that "everything in Haiti is broken but the human spirit," and observed that the economic situation is the most disappointing aspect of the return to civilian government. He felt the President's commitment to Haiti is strong, although clearly overshadowed these days by Bosnia and the budget. He called the privatization efforts essential to US aid, said the drug traffic problem was extremely serious (many of the anti-narcotic agents of the previous regime were drug dealers themselves and helped establish Haiti as a major trans-shipment area), doubted that there are as many unrecovered weapons among the population as often alleged (the US and UN have collected 30,000 to 35,000) and characterized Aristide's style as that of consensus-builder and mediator.
UN forces will definitely leave at the end of their mandate, February 29; the ambassador wondered "if 5,000 newly-minted police can take over from 6,000 superbly trained UN military" and suggested that, if the new Préval government does request a longer stay, it would probably at most be a force of less than 800, more police than military, and centered mainly in the capital. The US would like the OAS/UN civilian mission to stay longer, although many Haitians want at least a residual UN military presence.
The US expatriate community numbers between 6,000-8,000, half of whom are Haitian by origin but US citizens; roughly half of these are children. Most of the non-Haitian ex-pats are related to business concerns, health care, and religious organizations.
Akdar Brahimi, a retired Algerian diplomat and personal friend of Secretary General Boutrous-Ghali, presented a moderately optimistic view of the political prospects for the country. He observed that predictions of dangers are always, fortunately, exaggerated and suggested that Archbishop Gayot is given to fears that will likely not materialize. The Haitian people he described as "surprisingly non-violent," despite instances of horrible behavior such as necklacing. As to the degree of disarmament of the former army, departmental chefs de section, and FRAPH, he observed that "what is not exaggerated is the perception of Haitians, and that is what is important." The environmental situation is a disaster and will require outside help for a long time.
Despite misgivings earlier in the year on the part of Archbishop Gayot as to the feasibility of the meeting taking place in Haiti, the Haitian bishops seemed genuinely pleased and grateful that we had come. What, if any, role we can play in the future in assisting the difficult and complex process of national reconciliation is far from clear. But, given the dire straits of the Haitian people, the particular difficulties facing the Church there, and the historic involvement of the US in the life of Haiti, we believe that the special relationship that our two Conferences have developed with one another over the past decade should be maintained.