By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Violence, safety issues cancel Bettendorf trip
Political unrest in Haiti prompted cancellation of St. John Vianney Parish’s medical mission trip to that country this month.
A delegation of 26 people planned to leave Jan. 22 for Jean-Denis, Haiti, but organizers decided Jan. 21 to cancel the trip for safety reasons, said Ann Wester, who chairs the Haitian Connection medical mission at the Bettendorf parish.
“Thousands of protesters are rioting in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the country against President Michel Martelly and the upcoming election to determine his successor, which they say is rigged in favor of his ruling party. Demonstrators have torched electoral offices and destroyed vehicles. They have erected road blocks and shattered windows. Tear gas was used on the demonstrators,” Wester said.
“We were told that if the election would be postponed then the violence would subside and we would be able to travel without a problem. On Thursday (Jan. 21), it was anticipated that Martelly would postpone the election, however, he stubbornly refused.” On Jan. 25 the presidential election was postponed indefinitely, according to news reports. The opposition candidate argued he had no chance to win because balloting is not fair and is rigged, Wester added.
The committee had been watching the situation since October when violence began to increase in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. The St. John Vianney group has been working with Nancy Anderson, who is involved with the Haiti organization Hands Together of the Palm Beaches in Florida. “Nancy and several (people) from Florida always join us in our mission trips to Jean-Denis,” Wester said. They also have been in touch with Erinece Saint Jean of Hands Together and Father Jean Salomon, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary in Jean- Denis. “He told us that we need to cancel and it is not safe for us to be in Haiti at this time.”
The U.S. State Department also issued a travel alert, which continues through April 7 for U.S. citizens residing in or traveling to Haiti.
According to the State Department, “Tensions remain high and we strongly urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution and remain abreast of the security situation as the electoral process progresses to a resolution. Particular possible flashpoints would be the period leading up to and immediately following the date of the election, the date results are announced, and the inauguration of a new President – constitutionally set for Feb. 7.”
Wester said the unrest is primarily in Port-au-Prince, but violence and burning of buildings has also been reported in other areas. The possibility of roadblocks on the three-hour trip to Jean-Denis was also a concern. The St. John Vianney group would like to reschedule in a few months, but that won’t happen until the situation calms down. “We cannot put our team members at risk and their safety is our first priority.” Members of the Haitian Connection mission team and the Jean-Denis parish are disappointed that the trip was canceled.
“We are very thankful for all of the support — financial, donations and prayers of our parish and so many others,” Wester said. Donations will get to Haiti, just a little later than planned. “It is so upsetting that the people who are going to suffer from this political unrest are the ones who have nothing to do with it and also have no voice in the government.”
ServeHAITI cancels trip due to security concerns
Security concerns led to cancelation of the ServeHAITI trip to Grand-Bois, Haiti, but those concerns appear to be unrelated to the political unrest.
Liz McDermott, an organizer for ServeHAITI and a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, said trips had been scheduled for Jan. 29 through March 3. They were cancelled “due to a security issue on the road we travel (non-election related).”
Several volunteers from the Davenport Diocese, including fellow parishioner Pam Hughes, were scheduled to travel to Haiti, McDermott noted.
The ServeHAITI board, based in Atlanta, Georgia, posted on its Facebook page: “A delegation of volunteers was returning from the St. Vincent de Paul Health Center in Grand-Bois to Port-au-Prince on Sunday, Jan. 10, to fly back to the states the next day, when a group of armed men on motorcycles attempted to stop the ServeHAITI vehicles. A confrontation ensued and one of our Haitian drivers, Philibert “Boulé” Anice, was assaulted. With intervention from one of ServeHAITI’s leaders, the men thankfully stopped and drove away. The ServeHAITI vehicles and volunteers were able to get to the local police station in Thomazeau to report the incident, and the U.S. Embassy and Haiti National Police were immediately notified of the situation.” The driver was taken to the hospital, but was not seriously injured, the post stated. Arrest warrants were issued for the perpetrators.
“After careful and prayerful consideration, and keeping the safety of the volunteers and our staff our highest priority, the ServeHAITI Board of Directors has regretfully made the decision to suspend all upcoming travel to Grand-Bois until we can reasonably assure the safety of our drivers and volunteers. While this is a great loss to the community we serve, there is not enough information at this time to fully understand the implications of such a situation. The Haitian Consulate in Atlanta has been notified and we have been communicating with them and other authorities to better understand the risk of travel in the area.”
The board expressed certainty that travel will resume in the future.