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August 19, 2018

Five years after quake, Haiti struggles to reopen its doors to the world

Growing up on the Haitian island of Ile-a-Vache, Exerre Dieunest used to hate going to school in the rainy season. It was bad enough that there were no buses, but there were also no roads. He walked two hours each way from Kay Kok, and when the paths turned to deep mud, he could hardly manage the trek.

It’s different for kids today. Kay Kok now has a school, “and it’s thanks to tourism,” says Mr. Dieunest. Tourists came, saw the need, established a foundation, and funded the building of a school. Tourist donations also helped expand a local orphanage.

Ile-a-Vache residents see great potential in hospitality, but when the central government tried to launch a major tourism plan here in 2014, it sparked protests from locals who feared a land-grab. The tourism ministry has since achieved buy-in from much of the community, but now it faces another challenge: Keeping the confidence of investors as Haitian democracy teeters on the brink.

Recommended: Where does Haiti stand three years after its 7.0 earthquake?

Just over five years ago, Haiti looked relatively ripe for investment. Crime was low, there was a reprieve from anti-government demonstrations, and democratic institutions seemed to be functioning better than ever. Haitian and foreign leaders said Haiti was stable, and ready to grow.

That’s when a 7.0 earthquake struck the country, killing tens of thousands of people.

Today, Haiti is rebuilding, still mired in the poverty people had hoped to escape before the earthquake, and now trying to avoid a massive political upheaval – one that could scare off the very investors who could help the country develop. 

The prime minister was deposed in December, and on January 12 most legislators’ terms expire – with no one to replace them due to a failure to hold elections. Popular protests against President Michel Martelly have grown, along with fears he will rule by decree – unless Parliament approves on Monday an agreement reached Sunday night between President Martelly and opposition leaders.  

Ile-a-Vache feels far from the tumult of the capital, but its struggles may exemplify Haiti’s challenges in democracy and development. 

TRUST AND DEVELOPMENT

Ile-a-Vache is a 16-square mile jewel of an island, with rolling hills, paths connecting sweet cottages on a candy-colored bit of Caribbean Sea. But its residents – roughly 15,000 farmers and fishermen – say the government has continuously left them in the dark, literally, with no electricity or roads. Health care and potable water aren’t delivered by the government, and tourism remains at a trickle.

But this might change.

After the 2010 earthquake, a government came in with the motto, “Haiti is Open for Business.” The government wooed investors – with massive tax breaks and supportive infrastructure supplied by foreign aid – to take part in an industrial park and capital city hotels. They drew up plans for massive tourism developments, including one on Ile-a-Vache complete with roads, an airport, a port, a marina, 1,000 hotel rooms, and an 18-hole golf course.

The island was finally getting attention, but residents weren’t happy. In early 2014, protesters took to the newly carved roads. A presidential decree declared the island a tourism development zone, property of the government. Waterfront residents were driven from their homes without compensation and roadside dwellers lost fruit trees vital for their livelihoods. Riot police appeared on the island to back up the few officers already there.

But when the tourism minister met with community leaders, gave checks to those robbed of their land, and implemented projects for the community – like drinking wells, a community center, and subsidized community cafeterias – many residents began to show support for the government’s tourism plans, in spite of lingering fears.

An elderly islander named Myltha Boulot says there is no knowing whether or not the government will take her land, but when it comes to tourism: “That’s another thing entirely. If tourists come, they’ll give jobs to the poorest men and women, so people can survive.”

Yet now, if locals don’t block the tourism plan, would-be investors might.

Haiti has peaks and valleys of instability, says Mark Schneider, a long-time Haiti-watcher and senior vice president of the International Crisis Group. “I think we’re at a point close to a peak,” Mr. Schneider says, prior to Sunday’s agreement.  That is, if there is no executive-legislative agreement, Martelly might rule by decree, causing more protests, and possibly violence, Schneider says. In which case, “there’s no way for investors to tell their boards or financial backers that the situation is on its way to being resolved and they can go back to expanded plans for development.”

Pamela Cox, who was the World Bank’s vice president for Latin American and the Caribbean at the time of the earthquake, says when nascent democratic institutions fumble, everyone gets spooked.

“Any time there’s huge political uncertainty, it scares investors away,” Ms. Cox says, especially in countries like Haiti, where there’s a lack of domestic trust in the government, and likely civil unrest.

In the coming days, Haiti’s political leaders will signal to investors and constituents whether or not their country is on solid ground.

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Five years after quake, Haiti struggles to reopen its doors to the world

Seventeen migrants dead, 278 saved in Strait of Sicily: navy

ROME (Reuters) – Italian sailors have rescued 278 migrants in the Strait of Sicily but found 16 others dead in their inflatable boat and one more who died shortly after help arrived, the navy said on Friday.

The dead apparently succumbed to hypothermia and dehydration in one of three boats found on Thursday south of the island of Lampedusa, it said.

There were 75 survivors from the boat carrying the corpses and another 202 people were rescued from the two other inflatable boats found in the same area.

Photographs released by the navy showed standing passengers packed into the overcrowded outboard-powered boats.

Some 3,200 migrants have died this year trying to reach Europe from Africa, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said. Many of them are fleeing conflict and human rights abuses at home.

Italy is closing its “Mare Nostrum” search and rescue mission which has saved some 100,000 migrants, and making way for a smaller pan-European project called Triton.

Mare Nostrum, which included five warships on permanent patrol, was launched last October after more than 360 migrants died when their boat capsized a mile off the coast of Lampedusa.

The mission cost nearly 10 million euros ($12.35 million) a month, becoming a controversial strain on an economy that is suffering its third recession in six years.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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Seventeen migrants dead, 278 saved in Strait of Sicily: navy

Shaheen Denies Flip-Flopping On Nuclear Power

Incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen claimed in Tuesday’s New Hampshire U.S. Senate debate that she has never opposed using nuclear power as an energy source, though her past statements tell a different story.

“I’m glad we’re talking about energy. As you know many people have received their electric notices,” said Republican challenger Scott Brown. “They’re going up 50 to 100 percent right now.”

“As a result of the efforts, not only of President Obama, but Senator Shaheen to curtail not only oil but natural gas. She’s against nuclear,” said Brown.

At that point Shaheen interjected and said Brown was wrong about her stance on nuclear power.

“Where did you get that?” asked a bewildered Shaheen.

“When the Seabrook nuclear power plan was in effect you made an effort to stop it,” said Brown. The construction of the Seabrook plant became a hot-button issue in the 1986 New Hampshire gubernatorial race. Two plants were planned, but the first plant was completed around the time of the Chernobyl accident in April 1986.

Shaheen denied opposing Seabrook in Tuesday’s debate.

“I was not in office at the time,” she said to Brown to raucous applause.

But while Shaheen was not in a position to pass or block laws related to Seabrook or nuclear power, she did advocate strongly against building the second plant when she worked as campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paul McEachern.

McEachern was challenging the pro-nuclear incumbent Republican governor John Sununu.

“What Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have shown us is nuclear power is not a safe way to generate power,” said Shaheen, according to an Oct. 11, 1986 dispatch from United Press International.

According to that article, McEachern considered the election a “single issue race” with nuclear power being the focal point.

Other reports from that election show that Shaheen went past mere campaign rhetoric to fight the second Seabrook facility.

“[Shaheen] is lining up the anti-nuclear forces, which have kept Seabrook at bay for 10 years, to go door to door for McEachern – as they would for anyone breathing who tries to stop the plant,” reads a Sept. 14, 1986 Washington Post article. “She will emphasize phone calls and house calls to counter the huge television war-chest amassed by Sununu.”

Sununu defeated McEachern in that election.

A Youtube clip circulating on Twitter shortly after Tuesday’s debate provides video evidence that Shaheen opposed nuclear power in the past. During a television debate – which is from 1987, according to the Youtube page – in response to a comment that forgoing nuclear power leaves the U.S. reliant on the Middle East for oil, Shaheen responded “That argument just doesn’t wash, sir.”

The Shaheen campaign did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment. (RELATED: Liens Filed Against Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen And Her Husband For Failure To Pay Creditors)

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Shaheen Denies Flip-Flopping On Nuclear Power

EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union plans to launch a mission to help Italy cope with swarms of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa, the EU said on Tuesday.

Called Operation Triton, the mission will be managed by Europe’s border control agency, Frontex. It will reinforce Italy’s own rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, which began after 366 people drowned just a mile from the Italian island of Lampedusa when their boat capsized a year ago.

Italy has repeatedly called for more help from the EU to cope with the record number of sea-borne arrivals from conflict-torn Libya and Syria over the past year. Mare Nostrum, or “Our Sea,” has been costing Italy 9 million euros a month, straining the resources of its navy and coastguard.

“With the launch of the Triton operation, tailored to the needs and requests defined by the Italian authorities, the EU can show concrete solidarity to Italy, by reinforcing its border surveillance and supporting its humanitarian efforts,” said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in a statement on Tuesday.

Frontex has called on member states for contributions to the new mission, which is expected to cost 2.9 million euros ($3.66 million) a month, so that it can begin on Nov. 1.

In addition to two Italian patrol vessels, Frontex is hoping for two surveillance aircrafts and three more vessels to patrol the waters up to 30 miles from Italy’s southern coast.

EU officials said Germany, France and Spain had already indicated they would help, although they could provide no details on what the three countries might contribute.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived by sea so far this year in Italy, and in September the International Organization for Migration reported than almost 3,000 people had drowned in shipwrecks in the Mediterranean in 2014.

Questions remain over the future of Mare Nostrum, which was originally envisaged as an emergency response to the flows of migrants from North Africa. Last Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Mare Nostrum would not be stopped until the EU came up with something just as good or better.

Given that Triton’s budget is just a third of Mare Nostrum’s, it is unclear how Frontex would manage to patrol the seas if Mare Nostrum were to be abandoned.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Larry King)

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EU mission to help Italy with migrant crisis to start in November

Chinese patriotism fuels cruises to disputed isles

ABOARD THE COCONUT PRINCESS (AP) — On a cruise more about politics than pleasure, Zhang Jing watched the gray shells of the Paracel Islands emerge from the purple, pre-dawn South China Sea.

Cheers erupted on board at the sight of the distant land, and Zhang and the other passengers scurried to take pictures of each other at the railing holding China’s bright red flag. A few miles away, a Chinese navy frigate cruised by silently, part of the country’s continuing watch over the tiny islands it has long claimed as part of its territory.

“This is the southern frontier of China,” Zhang, a policeman, said when he had reached one of the islands. “As a Chinese, I feel proud to come here and declare sovereignty.”

With the Tangshan resident and 167 other Chinese tourists on board, the ship had traveled more than 200 miles south of Hainan Island off China’s southern coast to what they said was an indisputable outpost of their country.

Each had waited months for permission to join the five-day tour, and spent from $1,200 to about $2,000 to visit these barren patches of sand, making do with the bland cabbage and noodles on board and blackouts of cellphone service.

The passengers came to celebrate China’s growing power in the region, and to help press its claim to the 130 coral islands and reefs of the Paracels, known to the Chinese as the Xishas.

China is locked in disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors over much of the strategically crucial South China Sea, which holds important shipping lanes, rich fishing waters and — possibly — billions of barrels of oil. Patriotic tourists have become the region’s latest territorial chess pieces.

China has stationed hundreds of troops on the Paracels and even built a massive government headquarters in the northern islands, though Vietnam and Taiwan also claim the territory.

The tour company that Zhang used visits the southern Paracels. Since starting the tours in May 2013, it has ferried some 3,000 people to the islands, which are no bigger than a square mile. Videographers from The Associated Press were the first foreign journalists to join one of the tours.

The cruises are useful to China because under international law, it must prove a civilian and not just a military use for the islands to claim sovereignty, said Kang Lin, a researcher at China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

“Tourism to Xisha is a very good civilian tool to declare our sovereignty over the islands, and it is supported by international laws,” Kang said. “China will speed up its exploration in the Xisha Islands.”

The dispute has at times become heated, and there are concerns it could escalate. Over the summer, Vietnamese and Chinese boats repeatedly rammed each other in the Spratly Islands, several hundred miles south of the Paracels, after the Chinese moved an oil rig into contested waters.

Bernard Loo Fook Weng, a military studies professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said stoking nationalist fervor could backfire on leaders in Beijing if they eventually opt for a more conciliatory approach with China’s neighbors.

“Playing the popular card is always potentially dangerous because you may unleash forces you can’t control,” Weng said. “But if the Chinese really want to reinforce its claims to the Paracels and if necessary resort to military force, it helps to get the population on its side.”

Other than the passing navy frigate and a few sailors hitching a ride on the Coconut Princess, the tour group saw few signs of territorial tensions.

At dawn on the second day, the ship anchored a few miles off the coast of what the Chinese call Quanfu Island. Later, motorized inflatable boats took the visitors to three different islands where they snorkeled, swam and posed for pictures with their ever-present flags.

Chen Junxiang, an environmental agency official from the central Chinese province of Sichuan, donned an oxygen tank and dove among the coral and fish off Yagong Island. He said coming here was a lifelong dream, though he could have taken a more luxurious cruise somewhere else for the same money.

“I am here for tourism, but also to declare sovereignty and advocate for environmental protection,” Chen said. “We really should protect the environment here, otherwise we have nothing to leave for our next generations.”

Fisherman Fan Qiusheng waited for the group on the beach of Yingyu Island outside the wood-and-tarp shack where he lives nine months of the year. He and 18 other people are paid to live on the island; he said the central government gives him 1,350 yuan ($220) a month plus food, water, electricity and other supplies. His wife and five children live on Hainan, and he visits them about every two months.

“Making money is important, but keeping the islands is also important,” Fan said. “If we don’t live on these islands, other people like the Vietnamese will come and stay here. We are living here, so these islands are our territory.”

___

Jack Chang reported from Beijing.

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Chinese patriotism fuels cruises to disputed isles