Posts Tagged ‘Ben’


This weekend Jillian, Ben, Alexis and I traveled down to the southern coastal town of Jacmel to see what this whole Carnival thing was all about, and it was pretty amazing.  Hundreds of thousands of people were there to see what had to be thousands of hand made paper mache masks in one of the coolest cultural celebrations I have ever experienced.





Like I said before, Carnival was canceled last year because the earthquake had hit less than two months before, so many of the mask-makers still had the masks that they made for last year but were never able to use.  In addition, many of them made a bunch of new masks for this year, so at times the streets were just packed with them.


The parade lasted for HOURS, with artisan after artisan showing off their creations.  There was also a concerted effort to get out the word about issues that are currently hitting Haiti.  There were a few groups that used their paper maching abilities to portray cholera, and show what people need to do to avoid it.  There was also some political messaging as well, with some groups calling for the return of Aristide, and others showing Preval as an alcoholic devil. (All in good fun, of course…)


But Carnival is actually more than just scary masks, music, and dancing.  There are a number of groups who decorate themselves symbolically in a way that portrays a time in Haiti’s history.  For instance, there are the Chaloska, who “mimic Charles Oscar Etienne, chief of police who in 1915 killed the political prisoners which led to the fall of Vilbrun Guillaume Sam and then to the American occupation.” (Thanks Christina Schutt!)  Their enormous red mouths filled with large protruding teeth make them hard to miss, and they march down the roads acting out the prosecution of said political prisoners.  It’s actually kind of creepy, but incredibly interesting at the same time.




Also there was the Lanse Kod, or “The Rope Throwers”, who take sugar cane syrup mixed with charcoal and cover their bodies in it.  They are meant to portray the slaves that made up this country before becoming the first independent nation in Latin America after it revolted in 1804.  The ropes signify their slavery, and they run around blocking roads with their ropes and asking for “ti-kob”, or a little money.  They also run around terrorizing revelers, and spreading the black paint all over the place (I ended the day with a big black splotch on my face and arm).




There were a ton of other groups which I’m not really sure of their origin, or what they tried to signify, but it goes without saying that it was incredibly interesting and made for some amazing pictures.  It was really nice to see the people here stepping back from the normal craziness of life in Haiti and just enjoying themselves and their culture.  The country needed this, they needed to be able to celebrate something, and having Carnival has given them something to be happy about.

Ben and I are working on making a multimedia with pictures and video that we took from the festivities, and once that is finished (and hopefully bought by someone), I will throw that up here for everyone to enjoy.  Until then, feel free to click the link below and check out some more pictures from the weekend!



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While waiting 10 and a half hours last night (yes, 10.5 hours) at the CEP for the final results of the election to be released, sometimes the only thing you can do is lay back and relax.  The makeshift briefing room prepared for the announcement was filled with journalists who eventually turned the space into a massive bedroom, with journalists sprawled out in every corner, and on every pillow they could find.



At 10:45pm, CEP spokesman Richard Dumel came out and asked that we have patience, and that they are still working, so hang tight and he’ll be out later.  Ben and I hung out for another 7 hours, and after waking up from a nap around 5:30am, we decided to call it a night (or morning) and head home.  Of course, two hours later Dumel came out and announced the results.


All I know is I’m glad that this circus will only happen once more for this election, after the results of the March 20th run-off are tallied.  But next time Ben and I are coming prepared with Scrabble, granola bars and a case of beer, because if we’re going to sleep on the floor of a briefing room again, we’re doing it in style…

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Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, leaving the city crippled after the results of the November 28th presidential elections were announce late Tuesday night.  The protesters, many of which were supporters of Michel Martelly who was left out of the country’s January 16th second-round run-off, erected roadblocks at practically every major intersection in the city.  By using burning tires and cars, as well as rocks and rubble, the streets quickly became completely impassable for anything other than a motorcycle.



Ben and I traveled around the city with the help of an awesome moto-taxi driver who seemed to know every single person at every single road-block.  At one point a group of protesters surrounded us holding rocks and demanding we give them gas from the motorcycle so they could light a barricade on fire.  He looked around and found someone he knew who quickly explained to the people that we could pass, and we drove away safely before they got the chance to use their rocks.  Bottom line, he’s a keeper.

We maneuvered through protests and barricades, as Haitians ran through the streets holding Michel Martelly posters, and in the mean time destroying Jude Celestin and Mirlande Manigat posters along the way.  Businesses had boarded up their windows and doors, and the entire city was practically closed down, but the streets were packed with people chanting, “We don’t need Celestin!  Down with Preval!  We want Martelly!” in Kreyol.




And while many of the protesters marching the streets were peaceful, some resulted in violence and destruction.  At the Port-au-Prince campaign headquarters for Jude Celestin, protesters broke in and looted the building before lighting it on fire.  Local firemen (which I didn’t even know existed) sprayed down the smoldering remains of the HQ, which was filled with piles of burning Celestin campaign posters.

Unfortunately, it’s acts like this that detract from the real message, which is that these people feel that their democratic process has failed them yet again.  Like I said yesterday, it appears that the real results of the election actually included Martelly in the top two candidates who would move on to a run-off, winning over Celestin by over 10%.  They have the right to fight for that, but they should not do it at the expense of those whose personal property is now being destroyed because of it.




We traveled further downtown to the presidential palace, which had a peaceful march of a couple thousand Haitians.  “Celestin bought his votes, he bought this election,” explained one of the protesters as he passed by the palace, “But we don’t need money, we need a president that can lead our country.”  We doubled back towards the Delmas region, which holds one of the main arteries of the city.  Our moto-taxi driver expertly maneuvered around rubble that had been thrown into the street, and we came across one of the offices of the Provisional Electoral Commission (or the CEP).  Remember, these are the guys who ran the elections, and are also the ones that many hold responsible for having reported fraudulent results.

UN troops were standing guard at the CEP office building when suddenly rocks and bottles came raining down on their heads.  The protesters, who had been peacefully held back until this point, started to approach the line of troops, and the UN engaged.  Using flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, the UN troops pushed back an increasingly violent crowd that was slowly creeping towards the CEP.  The rocks came from all directions, and the UN troops were outnumbered.  They jumped into their tanks and drove full speed towards the protesters, temporarily scattering them before they would quickly reconvened.





Tear gas filled the air and we left the area, heading up the hill towards the CEP office in Petionville.  There we found another protest that, while much smaller, proved to be much worse.  About a dozen protesters were throwing rocks at UN troops there, but the UN response could only be characterized as irresponsible.  Rubber bullets flew past the protesters and into crowds of people surrounding the area.  A tear gas canister also missed its target and landed in the middle of a nearby tent camp, causing it’s residents to flee from the toxic fumes.

And then, just 10 feet away from Ben, a flash grenade exploded right underneath one of the protester’s feet.  He hobbled away from the intersection and looked down at his foot, which was now riddled with shrapnel and bleeding profusely, and then collapsed on the sidewalk.  He started to moan as fellow protesters assessed his wounds.  His foot was badly injured, and the first layer of skin on his legs had been burned off.  We helped him up, and then carried him to a clinic nearby where we left him slumped on a chair as he waited for medical attention.



The question now is whether the protests will continue with this intensity.  President Rene Preval spoke on the radio this afternoon asking for protesters to stop the violence and accept the results.  Michel Martelly came out with a statement of his own saying that the people have the right to fight for their vote, but also asking that the violence end.

The city will remain on lock-down until this dies down, but that could take days, if not weeks.  American Airlines has canceled its flights for today (Wednesday) and tomorrow, and the US embassy has warned American citizens to avoid the streets.  There are less gunshots tonight than last night, which is a good sign, but only time will tell if that means that order is being restored, or if the people are just resting for yet another day of chaos in Port-au-Prince.

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Today were elections in Haiti, and I can tell you first hand that they didn’t go well.  Ben, David, and I went out all day to cover the elections, and have been up since 5:30am driving around the city.  Because of that, I’m going to bed, but tomorrow I’ll thoroughly post on the happenings from this Sunday’s elections.  There were allegations of fraud, MAJOR issues with voter registration, protests that disrupted polling centers, and an enormous protest that ended the day.  Stay tuned…

P.S. Because of the influx of journalists here in Haiti that are trying to upload photos just like me, the internet was too slow to upload even one…hopefully tomorrow morning will be better.

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(Photo by Ben Depp – www.bendepp.com)

Just over a week ago, Wyclef Jean was denied the chance to run for President of Haiti by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) because he hasn’t lived in Haiti for the past five-years consecutively, a clear constitutional requirement.  Wyclef conceded defeat the next day, writing a letter accepting the CEP’s decision, and moving on: “Though I disagree with the ruling,” he said in a statement posted on his blog, “I respectfully accept the committee’s final decision, and I urge my supporters to do the same.”

‘WOW!’ I thought to myself, ‘What a stand-up guy!’  Not only did he respect his country’s constitution, but he also asked everyone to not protest in an effort to stop violence!  This was a perfect example of how someone should act, a clear model for how things could be done here in a safe and respectful way.


Wyclef Jean – Prizon Pou K.E.P.A. by user2508181

As if he wanted to hammer the final nail into his own coffin, Wyclef released this song to Haitian radio stations, entitled “Prison for the CEP”, as a (somewhat stupid) last-ditch effort to appeal his exclusion from the race.  The song is in Kreyol, and throws accusations at both the CEP and President Preval (you can read the English translation, courtesy of Newsweek, by clicking on “Continue Reading” below).  In it he claims that the CEP is controlled by Preval, and that Preval is the devil, so as a child of God he cannot be excluded (duh…):

The CEP [Provisional Electoral Council] disqualified me.
Don’t forget my father was a pastor. The God who is with me is stronger than Lucifer.
Lucifer is in control of the CEP. The Satan disqualified me. The children of God cannot be barred.

He also calls his supporters to mobilize, to continue the fight against the CEP and Preval, as if we need more social, and/or political, unrest in Haiti.  I’m not sure what Wyclef thought he could achieve with this song, because I can tell you for sure that Preval is not going to all-of-a-sudden hear it on the radio and change his mind (if it’s even his mind to change).  The people of Haiti already don’t trust the government, and this song disempowers an already floundering system.

Before this whole song debacle I had drank a little bit of the Wyclef koolaid, thinking maybe an outsider might be the right thing for Haiti, but now it’s blatantly clear that this rapper from the United States does not belong running this country.  In the song, he defends his ability to speak Kreyol, a criticism that has been cast upon him since he announced his intention to run for office.

While there are conflicting reports about whether he actually can speak Kreyol or not, it is 100% true that he does not speak French, which is the official language of the government.  Imagine a new President Wyclef Jean, meeting with the Haitian Senate to discuss the rebuilding effort…and he needs a translator.  Give me a break!

But the bottom line is that Wyclef wants the government to bend the rules of the constitution so that he can become president of Haiti.  That doesn’t set a very good precedent, if you ask me.  If you think the constitutional rule that’s barring you from running is unimportant, then what stops you from ignoring the rest of the constitution once you’re in office.  Haiti needs someone who is going to respect those rules, from start to finish.

But don’t take my word for it.  If you haven’t already, watch the interview he did with Wolf Blitzer to announce his candidacy to the world (yes, he announced his candidacy for president of Haiti to an American news show):

After 8 minutes of listening to Wyclef refer to himself in the third person, I pretty much decided to throw out the rest of the Wyclef koolaid we had in the fridge, and focus on more important things…like Olie.  It pisses me off that what seemed at first to be a really great way to keep the spotlight on Haiti turned out to be yet another circus making the country look woefully inadequate.

The CEP has no mechanism to appeal their decision, so for Wyclef, this is the end of the road.  While the government has dropped the ball in almost every conceivable way after the earthquake, this is not one of those instances, and Wyclef needs to realize that.  If he decided to write a song about how the government has yet to address land tenure issues, or has continued to allow land owners to forcibly remove those living in tents on private land, I would be all for it.  But this song seems so self-centered, so petty.  Haiti needed someone to say “we can be better”, not “look how bad we are.” And unfortunately for Wyclef, he’s taken himself off the list of those attempting to prop this country up, and instead is now doing his best to bring it down.


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As you probably already know, Wyclef Jean was deemed not eligible to run for President of Haiti yesterday by the country’s electoral council (the CEP), a decision that everyone pretty much already saw coming.  In an effort to stop violent protests from starting after the announcement, and also to make the members of the council feel like they were celebrities for as long as possible, they held the list of candidates until 9pm Friday night, a move that totally ruined Ben and my’s dinner plans.


Ben and I decided to head over to the CEP earlier that day to see if anything was going on, and in the lobby was practically every journalist that works in Haiti, all anxiously waiting in the lobby of what used to be a Gold’s Gym.  The gym was confiscated from a drug dealer last year after police determined the building was actually just a front for peddling drugs, and was converted into the CEP just after the earthquake.  Now it houses some of the slowest election officials in the world.


Ben and I figured that waiting all day in that lobby was a complete waste of time, so we went out and grabbed some lunch, drove out to a tent city an hour outside PAP, picked up Ben’s wife from work, arranged Kreyol lessons for me, and grabbed a beer, all before returning.  When we got back, all the same people were exactly where we left them, and then we waited for another 4 hours.

So the officials came out and told us to arrange around a table. “It was here,” they told us, “that we would be given the list of candidates!”  About 3 dozen journalists, most of them Haitians, flocked around the table, trying to get the best vantage point for the impending announcement.  And then there was a gun shot…

No joke, out of nowhere, someone ran beside the building, shot a gun into the air, and then ran away.  Many of the journalists, including me, ran to see what was happening.  I mean, in America, this would mean the building is shut down, helicopters are looking for a suspect, and the list of candidates would have to be released at another time.  But here in Haiti, the office workers looked at each other and laughed, the police shrugged their shoulders, and most of the Haitian journalists didn’t even leave their positions next to the table.


But after the gun shot, the whole idea of holding the results until late at night kinda made sense.  Wyclef’s supporters are extremely passionate, and have been known to get violent.  Unfortunately for them, the harsh reality was that their candidate was just not eligible.  Wyclef has not lived in Haiti for the past 5 years straight, a clear prerequisite in the constitution of Haiti for presidential candidates.  There are no if, ands, or buts about it, so protesting against it seemed futile.

But this debate is what everyone has been talking about in PAP for the past couple weeks.  A celebrity candidate who actually had a chance to become the president of a country!  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  You can liken it to the idea of Bruce Springsteen running for president in the States.  Almost everybody loves the Boss, and crazily enough a bunch of people would actually vote for him, but in reality would he be a good president? Probably not.  (I can just see the campaign ads against him…”Do you really want a “tramp” in the White House?”)

And whether Wyclef’s exclusion from the race was done as a political move because the opposition thought he could actually win, or because the elite just didn’t want a president who wanted real “change”, the bottom line was that he didn’t qualify.  On one side it’s a pity, considering no matter how inexperienced he is politically, there’s really no way for him to do any worse than any of the presidents prior to now.  He would have come in, already a wealthy man, and shook up a system that needs it SOOOOO badly.  It would also keep the international community interested in what is now a pretty lack-luster election, which is now full of a bunch of usual suspects running to have the chance to steal billions of dollars from people who really need it.


So after they moved us to yet another room with another blue table, Richard Dumel from the electoral board sat himself behind about two dozen microphones, and just as many cameras, and announced what we had all been waiting for.  Of the 34 candidates that had applied, 15 of the were deemed ineligible, and Wyclef Jean was one of them.  That was it.  The entire thing lasted about 3 minutes, tops.

Once the press conference was over there was an incredibly anti-climactic feeling.  It was almost as if you had been on a 10 hour flight, knowing that there was a 99.9% chance that you are going to land safely, but there’s always that chance that something else could happen.  This plane landed, just like everyone knew it would, and then everyone went home.

Ben and I left the CEP and headed back to his house, where we were supposed to eat dinner with Jillian and his wife, Alexis, earlier that evening.  We grabbed a quick veggie burrito and then drove through the streets looking for some semblance of protests, which everyone had been expecting once the decision was made.  But there were none, the streets were bare except for the usual prostitutes that perch themselves on the street corners, chatting with the local police forces.  We headed home, disappointed that the day had ended with such a fizzle.

As a journalist, I can say that this whole election story is not off to a good start.  For me, a Wyclef ticket on the presidential ballot would have made this election so much more interesting, and garnered a bunch more attention from the States.  Now expectations are lowered for yet another sketchy election in “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.”  Whose going to win?! Could it be Aristide’s old Prime Minister?!  Preval’s old Prime Minister?! Any of the other 17 candidates?!?!  Either way it’s kind of a snoozer, and means another five years of the same old politics in Haiti, which makes the decision to leave Wyclef out of it that much more depressing.

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One of the biggest tragedies to hit Haiti after the earthquake was one that you would never expect.  We noticed it almost immediately once we returned to Port-au-Prince, after sitting down for some fine dining at the local pizza joint.  Looking to the waiter, we absent-mindedly ordered our drinks, “Two Prestiges please.”

It was the clear choice of the three beers available, but unfortunately not the correct one.  “No Prestige…Presidente or Heineken,” the server responded with a slight twinge of annoyance, as if she’s had to explain this to 10 million people before us.  We looked at each other in amazement, “What do you mean, ‘No Prestige’?!”

Prestige is a staple in Haiti, the only locally produced beer in the country, and it’s the lifeblood of the happening afterhours of Port-au-Prince.  It’s one of the products that Haitians talk about with pride, something that they have created that is wonderful.  But the server explained to Jillian in Kreyol that the factory was “kraze”, or damaged by the earthquake, and production of the beverage had come to a screeching halt.  “She says no Prestige until April!” Jillian translated.

After working at a restaurant that served over 200 different varieties of beer, I can tell you that Prestige is not going to impress any of the beer-connoisseurs out there.  It’s a simple lager that doesn’t carry any overwhelmingly impressive characteristics.  But with just a touch of caramel, it’s a deliciously easy-drinking sidecar to any meal.  So when we asked Jillian’s old staff to come by this weekend for drinks and desert, we knew there was no other option….we had to find Prestige.

But that was easier said than done.  It was nowhere to be found.  The grocery stores were out, the restaurants were out, the gas stations were out, you couldn’t buy it anywhere.  I even went with one of NBC’s local fixers to the Prestige brewery just by the airport to see if they would sell it to me direct.  “We don’t have any…but we’re working on it,” they explained.  It seemed hopeless.

So when I went to hang out with our friend Ben today at his house I told him that we had to look again.  “It’s gotta be somewhere around here,” he said, “we’ll check the gas station.”  So we jumped on Pinotage to do some other errands in the neighborhood, and on our way back we stopped by the Texaco on the corner of our street.  They hadn’t had Prestige before, so I was pessimistic that this time would be any different.  Unfortunately, my intuition was right, no Prestige there.

Across the street was our last hope, a wholesale drink depot that sold cases of sodas and juices.  I had just bought a jug of water there earlier in the day, and hadn’t seen any cases of Prestige laying around, so I was again keep my expectations low.  He walked out with a smile on his face, “How many beers are in a case?”  “24,” I quickly responded.  “Well, they have one case left, it’s going to be 800 goudes, and you have to exchange a case of old bottles.”

Jillian and I had scored big on this one.  In the endless reasons why our Ti Kay is awesome, there just happen to be a case of empty Prestige bottle laying on the porch behind the bar!  I jumped on Pinotage and gunned it home, praying that some lucky Haitian didn’t stumble upon the same news that we had just learned before I returned.  I ran onto our porch, cleaned off the bottles, strapped them to the back of Pinotage, and gently navigated the pot-hole riddled roads that connect our house to the depot, careful not to destroy my precious cargo.

I think it goes without saying that today was a success.

This is SUCH a sweet victory.  I really have been looking for this ever since we returned to Haiti after the quake, and to finally have found it (thanks to Ben!) feels so good.  It’s almost as if I don’t even want to drink them, because who knows when we will find it again.  And I think the fact that I took the case outside and posed it for pictures makes it pretty clear how excited I am about it.

But in a way, this is a good sign in a country that could really use some normalcy.  Once Prestige is back, people will have some sense that things are returning to the way they were before the quake.  Some things will never go back to normal, some things have changed forever, but if you can sit down and order an ice-cold Prestige with your rice and beans, well then, life if pretty good again.

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