Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Can Trade Policy Help Haiti?

Last week, I attended a conference at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. The conference sought “to raise public awareness about serious human rights violations currently being perpetrated on women and children in Haiti.” Haitian dignitaries as well as representatives from Haitian and U.S.-based NGOs attended the conference to detail a lack of access to basic services for women and children, including denial of education, health and safety protections. According to conference presenters, women and children are routinely trafficked for prostitution and to serve as modern-day domestic slaves. Just a few weeks ago, a judge in Florida convicted two women of conspiring to violate the 13th Amendment rights of a young Haitian girl who served the family in virtual slavery for over six years. Lured away from her home under false pretenses, Simone Celestin arrived in the United States at age 14 to labor upwards of 15 hours per day for Evelyn Theodore and Maude Paulinto and their family. She was routinely abused physically, made to shower using a garden hose, and had no access to schooling. All of this took place in the shadow of American institutions and laws meant to guard against such atrocities. The situation in Haiti itself is even worse because these children—often called “restavek”—have no recourse to justice.
I walked away from the conference feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic. There are so many problems to address, I wouldn’t know where to start. And as a Haitian-American, I would have liked to have made some concrete contribution but felt my own expertise in trade policy had little relevance for Haiti’s current needs. Ironically, just a few days later I received a phone call from a colleague seeking a trade policy expert to assist Haiti in devising and implementing a coherent trade policy position. The call forced me to ask the question: Can free trade help a country like Haiti? The short answer from my perspective is “I don’t know.” While the current government of Rene Preval is stable, Haiti’s infrastructure and educational system are broken almost beyond repair. The electrical grid is in shambles with power outages being routine. And large-scale agriculture is impossible given the eroded state of the soil. The population is smart, savvy and incredibly entrepreneurial, but the illiteracy rate is high. Foreign investors are not exactly rushing in. My work focuses on using trade as an engine for economic development, but the notion presupposes that certain basic needs are met. It will be interesting to see how this project—and my own views—evolve.


Unknown said...

I am very interested in following this project!
Haiti is a disaster currently, and I think providing the people with basic needs (education, electricity, water) would be amazing to help the mentality of the people and help to maintiain the stability as well.
I'm starting to be more active in helping Haiti, and I love reading about the diffent projects that are going on.

Marjorie Florestal said...


Thanks for your comment. My family left Haiti when I was 4, but somewhere in the rear of my brain lies some happy memories of life there. I remember big, green mountains, trees everywhere and running through my grandmother's fertile garden. When I returned to Haiti as an adult, I was astonished to see how different reality is from my memories. Part of that perhaps is the inevitability of viewing life through adult eyes (our old house looked much smaller than I remembered!) but part of it is that Haiti has regressed since the early 70s. It is devestating. I look forward to sharing thoughts on some of the the projects I will undertake in Haiti. Likewise, I'd love to hear how your own are progressing!


Based on fact:
• One of the family members who faced the same charges as the others has been found not guilty! What does that say about the overall process?
• One can say if this family member can be found not guilty on all counts, technically she has been wrongly accused for a crime that she did not commit! The same can also be true for the others.
• A certified letter from Simone’s uncle her closest family member, residing in Haiti, stated that he voluntarily registered Simone to the orphanage because her mother was mentally ill and, for financial reasons, he was unable to provide for her.
• The emergency room where she went after she left the Paulins’ house reported that there were NO sign of abuse. There were no bruises, nor marks on her body. Since she complained that she was not feeling well, they gave her a Motrin and she went to her journey.
• The HRS agent who came over the Paulins’ house reported there were no sign of abuse and advised the family not to send her back to Haiti because if was unsafe to do so due the political turmoil. (It’s all on paper)
• The court brought in an officer from Dade County school system. The Defense has asked the agent “based on the paper in front of you, did the family try to register Simone but the system have turned them down?” The agent replied YES. Then who has failed Simone the Paulin or the system?
• Several witnesses have come forward. Several teenagers have testified that they have known Simone. They used to play, eat, watch TV and go to the Mall together. Not once, have they seen the family mistreat her, they said in Court.
• Pastor of the church has explained that Simone has participated in their youth program. She was an happy teenager and when she wanted to attend the youth program at night, she would call them for a ride and they would have one of the parents pick her up.
• A garment she has purchased at the mall was shown to her during trial. She admitted that she purchased it at the mall when she went to the mall with one of the teenager of the family.
• Many teenagers came forward and explained to the Court how they used to go to the movies together. One of them precisely said that they have seen “Batman” together
• Even Momperous the prosecutor’s witness stated that Simone has never been sequestrated at home nor refrained from going out.
• Simone has told the jurors that she was able to go to south beach, and had boyfriends.
• Slavery and Harboring for profit – can you please define these charges? Does this sound like this teenager was abused or did the family have her working for others and kept the money? There was not one witness who came forward saying that they used to pay the Paulins for service rendered by Simone.
• Our government went to Ranquitte, Haiti seeking a witness and found the family’s worst enemy, issued a visa to her and her husband, whom she would not leave behind.
• Our government had Marie Philip known under the name -Avrina and her husband stay at a hotel during the whole trial. Under oath, Avrina stated “When I was 35yrs old I have worked for this family as an I used to live 20 minutes away from them. Mrs. Theodore had me sign a contract for 10 years and they didn’t pay me. After 2 months I left the job. So, Mrs. Theodore owes me 10 year of work at $300.00 per month. Avrina is now 62 years old. This has happened 27 years ago.
• Did our government try to find out the salary wage of Haiti NO.? Back in 1980, when dictator Jean-Claude (”Baby Doc”) Duvalier first set the minimum wage, it was at 13.20 gourdes per day, about $264 per month. And that was for a factory worker. What does this have to do with Simone being abused anyway?
• Mrs. Theodore came with her passport proving that the time Avrina has mentioned she was not even in Haiti. Was this taken into consideration? NO.
• While doing my research I have interviewed several Haitians when they hear about the $300.00 salary a month they have told me not even the chief Police in this area was making that kind of money. How credible was the government witness?
• Let say you were in Avrina’s position. You are 62 years old and you are offered a visa for you and your husband and you will be staying at a hotel in a country you have always dreamed to see. Unfortunately, you barely made it from the countryside to Port-au-Prince the capital of Haiti. In addition to this, there is a possibility to get a compensation for $36,000.00. Would you have said NO to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA?
• During research I have found out that Ranquitte is a remote area. The people living there suffer from famine all year long. There is no water in the area, not much crop grows there either due to the fact that the area is mountainous. Deforestation is one of the major problems. People cut the trees to feed their family. Famine is so severe that part of the population eats mud for food.
• Getting a visa to come to USA is considered like GOLD or even going to heaven for anyone living in third world country who is having financial hardship. Some will do anything to come to this country to seek for a better life, others have died in the middle of the sea seeking for a better life in the “land of opportunity.” but does this mean that someone is allowed or have the right to mistreat someone NO abuse is not acceptable here and nothing can justify it? Considering all the fact do you think this family has committed the crime they have been accused of?
• This is a public matter. Records are available to everyone, if you want to form an informed opinion, please access the court archives.

I am an American. My ideology of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is that you are innocent until proven guilty. I am proud of my country and I take great pride in my juridical system. In 2000, the law on slavery was reinforced to enable us to keep criminals at bay, and to protect victims. I am happy that the law is enforcing it. Slavery and human exploitation should have no place in a civilized society like ours. But, all things considered, was this family treated fairly or has someone misled our prosecutors. I wonder, has someone, once again, fooled the system.

Please let us hear your opinion

Marjorie Florestal said...


Thanks for your comment, however much of it is beyond the scope of my post. While I did cite the case you reference, I did so not to comment on whether the ruling was justified but merely to point out the problem of restaveks, which does exist in Haitian society. A number of Haitian organizations have acknowledged the problem (I cite to one in my post), and I have seen it first hand on my visits to Hait. Of course, this form of enslavement of children--and that is what it is because short of slavery, we would not allow employees to work under such conditions--is not unique to Haiti. My point though goes beyond the case and asks whether trade policy can be useful in this context, or must a country first deal with some of its more basic and pressing concerns?


It breaks my heart when I hear the name “restaveks” our generation should do the very best to remove this negativity in our society. It’s is sad enough to see some profit from something so ugly then again you have some will go to any extend to help, but get stab in back just because one is desperate for a green card.