Saturday, February 21, 2004

U.S. volunteers won't stop, despite dangers in Haiti

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The news from Haiti is not good. Rebellion. Protests. Beatings. Death. Americans ordered to leave.

Cincinnatians with links to the Caribbean nation are not surprised.

For decades, Dick Taylor has taken area religious groups to Haiti to maintain a community clinic. He believes he is safe because he is foreign.

"The violence is Haitian-on-Haitian," said the founder and executive director of the Over-the-Rhine-based Foundation of Compassionate American Samaritans.

The violence is becoming increasingly common in Haiti. It is performed by both sides of the conflict, government troops and the rebels.

"They block the road with the carcass of a car and set the tires on fire," said Jean-Robert Cadet, an adjunct instructor of French at the University of Cincinnati's Raymond Walters College. "When a car stops that they like, they take the car. If the driver resists, they kill him."

Cadet returns to his native Haiti "every three months to deliver food and toys to children" in need.

He goes back home even though his documentaries and his anti-child slavery autobiography, Restavec: From Haitian Slave to Middle-Class America, have earned him death threats.

"I return," he said, "because the children need help."

He last visited Haiti in December. In the capital, Port-au-Prince, he saw demonstrators protest the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He heard their chant, "Cut their heads off and burn their home."

And he saw evidence that they meant business.

Cadet walked down a street and saw "a headless corpse put out for the garbage, next to a house that had been burned because the owners supported Aristide."

Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin said "Every year I've gone to Haiti, the State Department, and my wife, have said: 'Don't go.' But I went anyway and I came back."

For eight out of the past nine Januarys, Dowlin has visited Haiti on missions organized by his church, Sharonville United Methodist. He has painted clinic walls and cuddled babies at orphanages.

He has seen great poverty. "In this village where we work, they bathe, drink and wash in the same stream." Dowlin has never felt threatened in the French-speaking nation. "Because we are 'blanc' - white."


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