Mission in Haiti
15 h 06 min in Bulletin by Webmaster
In the summer of 2007, I was asked to complete a two-week mission to Haiti. My specialty being in port engineering, I will speak to you first of all about the Haitian ports before telling you the memories that came up on the surface when I trampled the soil of this country, which I frequented regularly Since 1982.
1 – The Haitian ports
1. 1 – Restarting vessel traffic
With the arrival in 1971 of the son Duvalier, Jean-Claude, at the head of the Haitian state, a hope of change provoked a real economic recovery. It was accompanied by international funding agencies. For example, Haiti benefited from loans from the World Bank, CCCE (now CFD), KFW, IDB, among others, to rehabilitate the country’s essential infrastructure, which had been abandoned During the reign of François Duvalier, father.
In the port area, the first achievements were made in the mid-1970s. Haiti began by building the international port of Port au Prince. The study and the supervision of the works were entrusted to an American engineering office, and the realization to an equally American company.
Immediately thereafter, Haiti undertook to launch the projects of several cabotage ports to facilitate connections between the capital and areas difficult to reach by road.
The first ports selected were Jérémie, Port de Paix and Port au Prince, whose cabotage port was located north of the international port. They were carried out between 1978 and 1982. The studies and supervision were entrusted to a French design office. It should be emphasized that the invitation to tender required the association with a local firm in order to revive the engineering of the country that had been isolated from the outside world for several decades.
1. 2 – RECONSTRUCTION OF THE PORT OF CAP HAITIEN (1979 – 1984)
The Port National Authority (NPA) raised significant revenues with the commissioning of Port-au-Prince International Port, and decided to continue the renovation and expansion of its domain, while participating in its financing.
Thus, in 1979-80, BCEOM was commissioned to carry out the feasibility study for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the port of Cap Haitien, located in the north of the country, and then of the execution project.
The new port included:
– a quay reserved for the international traffic of general goods, with a total length of 250 m, with 10 m draft, and realization of a Roll on-Roll off (Ro-Ro) post.
– a cabotage wharf, with a length of 100 m, founded at – 4.00.
– a terminal for the reception of cruise ships, with access independent of that of the commercial port. The 176 m long wharf is equipped with Alaskan ducks for docking. It has 11.00 meters of draft.
An area for yachting, with a developed length of catwalk of 100 m.
This work was accompanied by the construction of a storage platform for the trailers transported via the Ro-Ro substation, dredging works and the access channel markers.
Between 1982 and 1984, I resided in Haiti to supervise the work
The amount of the work amounted to US $ 15 million (1982 base). Studies and supervision amounted to US $ 1.5 million.
In April 1984, the cruise ship Jean MERMOZ arrived at the new port on an inaugural voyage. He had a number of personalities on board, including Bernard Pivot, who is known for his animation of the TV show “Apostrophe”.
Similarly, at Christmas 1983, one of the first sailing boats that touched the marina was barred by the navigator, and ex singer, Antoine.
1.3 – SEMANAH
Following the reconstruction of the port of Cap Haitien, the Government of Haiti launched the institutional study of the reorganization of navigation in Haiti.
Prior to this study, the AFN, which was under the authority of the Ministry of Finance, was in charge of everything related to shipping and shipping.
The attachment of the AFN to the Ministry having public works in its attributions;
The creation of a Maritime Navigation Service in Haiti (SEMANAH), responsible for the management of the maritime domain and all problems related to navigation, including maritime marking.
The study report contained many proposals, and draft texts of decrees and organic texts. These proposals were accepted, and SEMANAH was established in 1984.
In addition to public ports, Haiti has a number of private ports. Thus, near the capital there are three terminals; A cement port, a grain port and a hydrocarbon port. Other private ports have existed, such as a mineral port, abandoned after the operation has ceased, and projects exist such as the Port of the South, whose access road was built, but not yet the port terminal , Due to lack of capital.
Haiti has a number of secondary harbors that are more or less well equipped, some of which have been the subject of work entrusted to local companies, to which BCEOM has not participated. This is the case of Saint Mark and that of the Isle of Gonave. Some infrastructures are in a state of advanced degradation, such as the Port des Cayes. In this case, traffic becomes again what it was: schooners unload their goods on boats which bring them to shore.
In Haiti, international maritime traffic remains heavily concentrated in the capital for reasons of flow control. Port au Prince thus secures 95% of the traffic, the rest being devolved to Cap Haïtien and to a lesser extent to Jacmel.
2 – Variety of Haitian landscapes
The dictatorship of Francois Duvalier was accompanied by a certain schizophrenia in the fear of being driven from power. Thus he ordered his tonton macoutes to destroy all the lighthouses which might have permitted opponents to disembark nightly, in order to overthrow him. He plunged Haiti into a dark period.
At the beginning of the 1980s, with the port infrastructures recovering a certain consistency in Haiti, the question of the safety of navigation quickly arose. The insurance companies imposed prohibitive rates because of the risks.
The Government of Haiti has turned to the French Cooperation which has agreed to finance the rehabilitation of maritime markers.
Having just arrived in the country, I was assigned to supervise this realization, which gave me the opportunity to go to all the inaccessible places of the country where one generally disposes the lighthouses and the beacons . Thus a few months after my arrival in the country I had traveled from north to south and I had also visited the Isle of Gonave and the Isle of the Turtle, famous landmark of the flibustiers.
I was struck by the diversity of landscapes gathered on the equivalent of two French departments.
On the south-west coast, beaches and coconut trees make Irvine think of Polynesia.
When we leave Port au Prince to go north for several tens of kilometers we have on our right the mountain, of violet color, which falls in the blue sea overseas located on our left. We are transported to Greece.
After passing the town of Saint Mark we cross a plain 4 to 5 m below sea level. There is not much outside the candlesticks, and here we are transported to Mexico.
You have to cross two parallel mountain ranges to reach the town of Cap Haitien in the north. To do this, it is necessary to cross the collar of the golden ox, not it is not the golden calf. There, if one disregards the population and some banana trees one is in Tyrol.
In 1984, I met a ship commander who inquired about the new port facilities and invited me to his table. He was a burglar! He knew all the islands of the Caribbean, and for him Haiti was the most beautiful in its diversity. This reinforced my opinion.
I also met treasure seekers. The southern side of the Turtle Island is steep and full of caves, while from the crest of this cliff the land joins the gently sloping sea to the north. I met a former gendarme, married to a Haitian, who often disappeared for three or four days. He left harnessed and equipped with two powerful torch lamps. He was seen coming back exhausted and covered with cobwebs. He was sure he would find a treasure hidden there by a pirate.
Towards the year 2000, I learned that for lack of maintenance and means, the markings had suffered much, that the French Cooperation had been solicited again for a new renovation of maritime markings. I do not know what happened to that request.
3 – THE SOUTH COAST AND THE Port of Jacmel
In 1997, I was asked to start the reconstruction project of the port of Jacmel in the South of the country. This project included a wharf for merchant ships and a second wharf to allow cruise ships, anchored offshore, to land their passengers with stars.
The new port was inaugurated in 1999. I carried out many missions in Haiti for 3 years which allowed me to follow this realization and hear a lot of things.
He murmured during Aristide’s presidency that the South Coast had become a hub of drug trafficking to the United States. This traffic does not require ports, and is not the subject of statistics. At that time, the press reported that drug trafficking was rampant in the Caribbean. In the middle of this coast there is the port of Jacmel! So why a port. The US Coast Guard regularly cruises off Haiti and a port where they could have found stopover facilities was welcome. Funding for the works was found easily ….
It is said that the traffickers condition their goods in tight packs, which they throw in the water when they see a coastguard vessel that comes to meet them. They do not always find what they threw overboard, but it should not be lost to everyone because I was told that someone who had a difficult life suddenly decided to build a new floor To his house, or another to the cramped life was seen at the wheel of a big German car.
4 – The Vaudoo and the Zombies
The proximity of the United States makes that one finds in Haiti the last technologies, but Haiti is also the country of the Vaudoo where one sometimes finds zombies. The soul of this people is difficult to grasp for those who are not natives of the island.
In France, when a new government is named, some people worry about who is a Freemason. In Haiti we try to count the number of ministers who are at the same time priests Vaudoo.
Every time I spoke with Haitians about this subject the answer always started in the same way: “My dear, all this is crap, however ….” And they all have stories to tell you!
During my first stay, in 1983, a resident of a northern village reappeared. The press and the international medical corps were interested in this exceptional case. He had died 20 years ago and had been buried in great pomp. The burial certificate had been issued by an American missionary doctor. It happened that this individual had been zombified and had since worked on an agricultural property, costing his master only his meager meal. The old owner had finally died, and his young, dynamic son, having studied in the United States, decreed that there was no reason to follow in his father’s footsteps. Thus the individual, left to himself, found himself wandering about the square of his native village.
From my reading of the time I can summarize what I understood. Anyone who sets his sights on a young and sturdy being must circumvent someone around him. At the time we talked about 500 US dollars. He gives her a potion, prepared by a vaudoo priest, that must be introduced into the food of the victim. Rapidly, the latter decays, then alights, and finally dies. In fact it is a state of apparent death that sometimes happens to deceive doctors. After the funeral, it is necessary to recover as quickly as possible the false cadaver. But his stay confined in a coffin deprived him of oxygen and this absence has already begun to cause lesions of the brain due to lack of irrigation, which will give the subsequent impression of a brainless being. The few recovered remember that they received violent slaps, and that is what made them return to life, with undoubtedly antidotes prepared also by the same priest.
After this event, I was speaking at a party with one of my Haitian deputies. He told me that when he was 14 he had attended the funeral of one of his uncles near the town of Les Cailles. This is the opportunity for the whole family to meet and eventually to make feast. At 4 o’clock in the morning, several of his uncles took out the corpse of the coffin and cut off its four limbs, so that it would not be zombified.
Henri FLEUR – August 2007